Showing posts with label Theology. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Theology. Show all posts

Friday, May 20, 2011

Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story (2008) (Struggle with Cancer and Deathbed Conversion)

The final part of this film of course deals with Lee Atwater’s struggles with brain cancer beginning in 1990.

Tucker Askew describes Atwater as being consumed with fear during this period. Askew also noted that fear had been a staple of tool chest in politics. Ironically, when the gravity of his illness became apparent, Atwater had an attitude of sheer terror with respect to the imminence of the after-life.

In an interview in the film, Ed Rollins indicates that as Atwater’s health deteriorated, he and Atwater reconciled. Atwater asked for his help and indicated Rollins was the only person he could trust as others were trying to get him out of the RNC.

It was also noted that during this period of his life Atwater went on a frantic search for spiritual meaning, and had clergy of many faiths waiting in the halls to meet with him in the hospital. One friend indicated that Atwater told all of the clergy he was on board with their beliefs in the thought that if one of them were right, he’d be ok.

Another friend indicated Atwater told him he had never read the bible until his illness. He indicated he was consumed with the verse from the New Testament: “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?”

Despite the “boogeyman” person he cultivated, Ed Rollins expressed in the film the belief that Atwater was not evil, he was just insecure. His whole life was spent trying to gain power and prestige, and when he achieved it, Rollins believed he was terrified of losing it.

Mary Matalin expressed disgust with the misrepresentation of Atwater’s death bed conversion stories. I found this to be a fascinating attitude, but unfortunately it was not explored sufficiently in the film and I am not sure what exactly provoked her disgust.

The final scene in the film involves footage from the interview with Ed Rollins who explained that Atwater had indicated that a Living Bible was what was giving him faith in his final days. Rollins states that he said to Mary Matalin after Atwater’s death, "I really, sincerely hope that he found peace.” In the film, Rollins states, that Matalin responded, “Ed, when we were cleaning up his things afterwards, the Bible was still wrapped in the cellophane and had never been taken out of the package.” Rollins add that that fact “just told you everything there was. He was spinning right to the end."

That was certainly a fascinating way to end the film. However, I was left with certain questions.

Earlier in the film, Rollins had indicated that he himself was a former altar boy, but politics was not a field that typically recruited altar boys. Rollins also described with an incredible tirade of profanity his reaction to Atwater’s betrayal of him and the threats he made against Atwater at the time. Thus, it was evident in the film that Rollins had an extremely negative view towards Atwater and still held a lot of anger for him. Nonetheless, he later professed in the film that his anger for Atwater melted away when he saw how sick he was. The bottom line of all this is it is unclear to me whether one should even believe Rollins’ story about the cellophane.

Maybe Matalin made the statement, maybe she didn’t. Again, it is not clear in the film what provoked Ms. Matalin’s disgust at the deathbed conversion stories. Maybe it was because she had found a bible in Mr. Atwater’s office and it was in the cellophane. Perhaps Ms. Matalin’s disgust was prompted by her belief that Mr. Atwater’s deathbed conversion was insincere. But perhaps something else provoked her disgust. The reaction inside the Beltway towards Mr. Atwater’s tragic illness and death were enough to provoke disgust in plenty of people.

Indeed, that cellophane statement just seems odd to me. I myself own more bibles than I can count. Some were gifts, and others I bought myself at various times in my life. I’m not sure any of my bibles ever came wrapped in cellophane.

Even if Matalin did make the statement and even if it were true, it is not clear that it has the significance that Rollins suggests, i.e., that Atwater’s conversion was insincere. Like me, perhaps Atwater owned multiple copies of the bible and the one in the cellophane was one that he didn’t make use of. That doesn’t mean that he wasn’t reading another copy (or copies) regularly. Many people don’t do the bulk of their bible study at work. And it seems unlikely that Mr. Atwater would have been at his office much in the latter days of his life anyhow.

Although I own a lot of bibles, I have a few that I read more than others. I have one at my office at work that I have consulted most over the years for a variety of reasons. It is pocket size and has a bookmark ribbon that I find helpful. I have another bible with a different, more modern translation that I keep on my nightstand to read before I go to sleep. A third is one that I tend to use when I take a bible to church or when I go to our church’s small group meetings. Many years ago I tabbed the books in that particular bible, so I can find particular passages very quickly. A few other bibles of mine get read occasionally, but others are frankly rarely (if ever) opened. Though none of my bibles are wrapped in cellophane, if you judged my devotion to the bible based on the frequency these latter bibles are opened, the judgment would be skewed.

In the end, it is not for any of us human beings to judge the sincerity of Atwater’s death bed convergence, the sincerity of his statements of religious devotion he made to friends, or the frequency of his bible study. It does not really matter to me. That is not my place.

I disagreed with many things Mr. Atwater did in his earthly life, but I hope and believe he is at peace in the afterlife. As a Christian, I view God as merciful even when we are undeserving—and we all fit that description. Jesus taught us that God is not a vengeful god, he is the joyful father of the prodigal son.

To me, the ultimate take away from this film was that those who generally work in politics do not have the kind of values or ethics that I would aspire to embrace. I cannot ever see myself working in a political capacity. I cannot imagine ever deciding to run for public office or working in more than a casual manner (e.g., stuffing envelopes) for a politician.

These are not conclusions I have come to simply by virtue of watching this particular film. Experiences I had growing up in DC also underpin that decision. That does not mean that I am apathetic about politics or I’m disengaged. I think civic engagement is important. But I don’t have any illusions about politicians and those who get them elected. Even when I agree with the positions they take, I am not always convinced of their sincerity and I frankly doubt their integrity. Perhaps that is a horribly cynical view, but that seems to be a basic truth of the political process. I’m disappointed in the electorate that we’ve allowed that to be the case.



Acts 26:8
Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead?

Romans 14:9
For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Life and Death

This has been a particularly tough week.

Like people around the world, I’ve been grieving for the destruction and loss from the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Our family has relatives who are stationed in Okinawa. My sister thoughtfully sent a note immediately after the earthquake and tsunami to let us know they were ok. My kids have been praying in thanksgiving for the safety of their cousins, aunt and uncle. But we’ve also been praying for God’s provision for those who were impacted by the earthquake and tsunami. It is hard to comprehend the scope of the devastation.

And the grief for the destruction and loss from the earthquake and tsunami has now been overtaken somewhat by a pressing fear of potential nuclear catastrophe at the crippled nuclear plant. I worry about a catastrophe impacting the whole region. I worry that it will impact my sister’s family in Okinawa. Heck, even in Arizona some folks have been stocking up on potassium iodide, which apparently can provide the body with some protection against radiation.

Closer to home, I’ve also had several pieces of heartbreaking news this week. A dear friend of our family has been diagnosed with a particularly vile form of cancer. A beloved relative of ours has been in and out of the hospital a lot in the last few weeks; we just got word today that he is back in the hospital. A relative caring for him has now begun to face her own health issues in part due to the stress of being a caregiver. I also learned that a wonderful friend, who has been in a seemingly happy and stable marriage for several decades, is currently going through a divorce and custody battle. And then I learned of the sudden, unexpected death of a lovely young man I knew. I actually was in a situation where I had to break the news to a group of his friends, which was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do. The young man had a wife and child, and I’ve been torn up by their loss.

Just before this tough week was the beginning of the season of Lent, which is the forty day period leading up to Easter. Easter is the celebration of Jesus’s resurrection, his triumph over the grave. It is the high-point in the Christian year. It celebrates the most pivotal event in the earthly life of Jesus. Indeed, Easter is the reason we call him the Christ. Because of the supreme importance of Easter, many Christian denominations prepare for the celebration by observing forty days of sacrifice and prayer.

Lent begins with Ash Wednesday. Like many Christ followers, our family went to church on Ash Wednesday and our pastor smudged our foreheads with dark ashes. When she did that she reminded us that we came from ashes and will return to ashes. It is a reminder of the finite nature of our time on this planet. It is not meant to be depressing. The reminder is supposed to give us a reality check that although we get caught up in the crises of what is going on on Earth, all of that is only a blip on the radar of time. It pales in comparison to the eternal nature of God’s Kingdom.

That reality check has come at a good time for me personally. It doesn’t take away the worry and the pain due to the recent tragedies I’ve mentioned. But it helps put things into perspective. It helps me to remember that although these tragedies seem overwhelming right here and right now, the pain and suffering will not last. As a Christ follower, I am comforted that Jesus has overcome the grave, death has no lasting sting. Death is only a temporary separation.

Many years ago, I heard a pastor give a sermon with the refrain that he could live and face today because of the knowledge that Jesus had died. To a non-Christian that may sound weird, even nonsensical, but it was the same point I have just described. The pastor’s point was that if Jesus had not truly died (and then risen from the grave), then the problems of this world would be too overwhelming to even get out of bed. But the hope and faith we have as Christians (i.e., that this life is not all there is) helps us face and even triumph when painful events occur.

This week I attended a service for the young man who died. I was very proud of his friends and colleagues who worked so hard to put together the service very quickly. They did a great job. It broke my heart to see all the tears, to hear people get so choked up when sharing their memories. Just before I left the service, I ran into a young woman I had not seen in many months. She was very pregnant with her first child. She is due in a matter of weeks and very excited. It was a real blessing to run into her in that context and learn of her impending motherhood. How wonderful at a time like this to know that she is bringing new life into this world to love and nurture. God does heal our wounded hearts.





2 Kings 20:4-6 (The Message)

Isaiah, leaving, was not halfway across the courtyard when the word of GOD stopped him: "Go back and tell Hezekiah, prince of my people, 'GOD's word, Hezekiah! From the God of your ancestor David: I've listened to your prayer and I've observed your tears. I'm going to heal you. In three days you will walk on your own legs into The Temple of GOD. I've just added fifteen years to your life; I'm saving you from the king of Assyria, and I'm covering this city with my shield—for my sake and my servant David's sake.'"

Monday, January 17, 2011

Lessons from Dr. King in an Era of Incivility

This weekend at church, as our pastor led us in praying for our congregation, our community and the world, we prayed in thanksgiving for the “life and ministry of Dr. Martin Luther King.” That phrase has stuck in my mind.

We often hear Dr. King’s name invoked in secular, political contexts these days. And many gloss over the fact that Dr. King was a Christian pastor and his civil rights work was rooted in biblical teachings. I like using the phrase “ministry” to describe his work. I think it is very apropos. As Christ followers, a basic tenet of our faith is that God created all human beings in his image, and each one of us is infinitely valuable. We also believe we are part of the Body of Christ, and all parts are critically important. There are no second class citizens in the Body of Christ.

As I have been thinking about the gift of Dr. King’s life and ministry, it occurs to me that he provided us a wonderful example to follow in our current climate of uncivil public discourse. Two points from his ministry seem particularly helpful.

First, Dr. King was courageous and fair in flagging injustices. He didn’t just tell his flock to suffer through the indignities and dangers of Jim Crow. Dr. King had vision to decry long-established social norms that brought misery and kept African Americans from fully developing their potential. He encouraged people in the pews to go outside and peacefully demand justice outside the walls of their church.

Second, as Dr. King was flagging injustices, he did not demonize those who opposed his work. Instead, he appealed to our better nature and spoke in terms of brotherhood. Even after his home was bombed and his family was nearly killed, Dr. King preached love, not violent retaliation.

In “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” Dr. King used the occasion of his incarceration to take time to respond to Christian leaders who had condemned his civil rights work. The text of the letter is available at the following link: http://abacus.bates.edu/admin/offices/dos/mlk/letter.html.

It is a beautiful, eloquent, wise letter written under challenging circumstances. Had I been in Dr. King’s shoes, I would have been sorely tempted to name-call the critical leaders to whom he was responding. At the very least, I would have wanted to use sharp language to call them hypocrites. The spirit is willing, but my flesh is weak. A more mature Christian than me, Dr. King refrained from such unproductive pettiness. He opens the letter calling the condemning clergy “men of genuine good will” and expresses his aspiration to respond to their criticisms in “patient and reasonable terms.” He clearly succeeded. In the letter, he is firm in pressing for the cause of social justice, but Dr. King’s words are full of respect, humility and love. They are a tremendous example for us all to follow at any time in human history. But they seem to have particular resonance in this current American climate.

One of my favorite parts of the letter is when he responds to charges that his actions have been extremist in nature, Dr. King writes:

But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as
I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of
satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: "Love your
enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for
them which despitefully use you, and persecute you." Was not Amos an extremist
for justice: "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an
ever-flowing stream." Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: "I
bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus." Was not Martin Luther an
extremist: "Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God."

Another passage that also speaks to me is the following:

Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states.
I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in
Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught
in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.
Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford
to live with the narrow, provincial "outside agitator" idea. Anyone who lives
inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its
bounds.

May you have a blessed day, gentle reader. May you be enriched by the words of our brother, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.





Hosea 10:12-13

Sow with a view to righteousness,
Reap in accordance with kindness;
Break up your fallow ground,
For it is time to seek the LORD
Until He comes to rain righteousness on you.
You have plowed wickedness, you have reaped injustice,
You have eaten the fruit of lies
Because you have trusted in your way, in your numerous warriors




Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Christian’s Take on Ghosts

In recent posts on the debate between those who embrace the Theory of Evolution and those who embrace Creationism, I noted that scientists tend to like certainty and focus their attention on ideas that can be proven empirically. By contrast, religious faith involves concepts that are not provable in the same way, and requires an acceptance that we humans don’t have all the answers. Around the time of Halloween, I read an interview where an author discussed similar themes. The link below contains the interview.

http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2010/10/29/catholic-author-says-his-haunted-house-deepened-his-faith/?hpt=C2

In the interview, the author, Gary Jansen, indicated he is a Christian. He also indicated that his family’s home was haunted. He apparently wrote a book about the experience expressing that the experience was initially frightening, but ultimately deepened his religious faith. I have no doubt the interview was considered by CNN as a Halloween fluff piece, but perhaps surprisingly I thought it was actually rather interesting. Not exactly the typical story of Christians at Halloween.

I’m not exactly an expert on the subject of ghosts, but it is interesting that the concept seems to exist in all human cultures. Both the Old and New Testament have references to the concept. I’m not a theologian, but the concept of ghosts doesn’t seem to jive with basic Christian theology. Nonetheless, I know at least a few Christians who have shared with me that they believe earnestly in ghosts due to first hand experiences.

Many years ago, my husband and I were also intrigued by a sermon given by our pastor at a church where we were once members in Houston. He gave the sermon just after Easter, and the topic of his talk was that Jesus’s resurrection gives us courage to face each day despite the knowledge that our life on this planet is finite. I forget how it was relevant, but the pastor began his sermon with a ghost story anecdote. In much more compelling detail than I can currently remember, he described how he and another priest were living in the priests’ quarters at the church, and they were woken up several nights in a row by music. As I recall, each thought the other was playing the piano at night and was trying to not be annoyed with the other. Finally, one night it was particularly loud and woke the pastor up. He went downstairs to the room where the piano was. No one was in that room and the other priest was in his bedroom upstairs. I’m not doing the story justice, and can’t remember all the details. But when the priest told the story, it was very creepy. My husband and I were amazed that this priest apparently believed in ghosts. He told the story in such a sincere and calm manner. It was parenthetical to the focus of his sermon on the resurrection. Our pastor was a very somber, intellectual man. He was a very lovely and gentle person, but he was so rational and cerebral. He was also a learned theologian. As a result, this pastor was the last person we would have imagined to endorse the concept of ghosts!





Isaiah 29:4
Then deep from the earth you will speak; from low in the dust your words will come. Your voice will whisper from the groundlike a ghost conjured up from the grave.

Luke 24:39
Look at my hands. Look at my feet. You can see that it’s really me. Touch me and make sure that I am not a ghost, because ghosts don’t have bodies, as you see that I do.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Evolution, Creationism, Intelligent Design...and Jesus

I was thinking more about the whole issue of Evolution and Christianity. Some people clearly think they are in conflict. There is the whole silly bumper sticker feud between the Christian fishes and the Darwin fishes that grow legs and eat the Christian fishes. And there are obviously much more protracted, serious feuds on school boards and elsewhere.

I don’t see Christianity and the Theory of Evolution as being in conflict, but I certainly respect Christ-followers who do. As I’ve mentioned previously, I love and admire many people who embrace such beliefs. However, there are also plenty of Christ-followers I know who are firm believers in the Theory of Evolution. But there are plenty more I know who have never indicated to me where they come down on this issue—if they have given it any thought at all.

I have never once heard even the most devoted Creationist or the most ardent supporter of Intelligent Design say that rejecting the Theory of Evolution is a key tenet of Christian faith. Further, I have never heard anyone say Jesus came to Earth to show up know-it-all scientists. Frankly, I believe he came here for much more important reasons. And in the whole debate on this topic, I get concerned that that key fact gets overlooked.

Jesus came here to show us tangibly that he loves us and to teach us about our Father so that we could be reconciled to him. To me, that is what the essence of the Gospel (i.e., the “good news”) is all about. I was in the car thinking about all this. (Yes, I do some of my most important pondering in the car; it is one of the few times a busy mom and professor has a few moments to herself.) It occurred to me what an incredible red herring the whole Evolution debate is. The debate often distracts Christ-followers from truly following our Savior. It seems like there are so many more fruitful things we could be doing with our time. After all, for the short time we’re on this Earth, we’re supposed to be Christ’s feet and hands to bring his love to a world of hurting people. We’re not supposed to waste our time bickering amongst ourselves over things that are relatively inconsequential in the grand scheme of things.

If my jargon were more like that of my Evangelical brothers and sisters, I would not use the term “red herring.” If I were to use a more Evangelical way of speaking to express my belief, I would say the Enemy is trying to deceive, distract and divide the Body of Christ via the whole debate on Darwin. (Parenthetically, I tend to be hesitant to use such Evangelical word choice in part because I know secular people are turned off by it; such wording sounds paranoid and nutty to many non-believers, who then are often disinclined to listen to the substance of the speaker’s words.)

As I was driving (and pondering deep thoughts), I was also listening to a Christian music radio station. It occurred to me that the lyrics of our most popular Christian songs often express the most basic, most important aspects of our beliefs. That is probably why Christ followers can generally go to pretty much any Christian church, and participate in the “praise and worship” portion of the service without being offended or annoyed by the lyrics of the songs. The sermons can cause disagreement and controversy because that is where faith communities get into some of the specifics of their precise beliefs and interpretations of Scripture. Unfortunately, there is plenty of disagreement in the Body of Christ with respect to some of those details. But I have never heard of the lyrics of a mainline Christian song dividing Christ followers. Significantly, I’ve also never heard a Christian song about rejecting Darwinism. Maybe such a song exists, but it has not caught on because that is not a core part of who we are as Christ followers.

Maybe it is a stretch. Maybe I’m just looking for any lame excuse to share some good music. Regardless, I’d like to share a few songs that I think epitomize beliefs that are most important to Christians. The songs are available at the links below. I apologize that some of the videos have a high cheese factor. If the visuals are distracting, ignore them and just listen to the music. The lyrics are quite beautiful and convey some of the key truths cherished by Christ followers. Enjoy.

…And even if you are a serious person who doesn’t go in for frivolities like music, I encourage you to give these songs a listen. Music is very powerful. It speaks to us in ways that nothing else can. I remember after the horrific tragedy of 9/11, Oprah’s first show was simply a compilation of Gospel music performances. She chose to feature such music because it spoke to her and helped her heal after that tragedy; she thought it would minister to others as well. I myself am essentially tone deaf, sing off-key, and honestly have to concentrate pretty hard just to clap to the right beat in songs. Though I have no discernible musical talent of my own, I enjoy Christian music tremendously and it is a meaningful part of my worship experience at church, at home or even in my little car.


Amy Grant’s “El Shaddai”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jy5XA4SwuPg


Dolly Parton’s “He’s Alive”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UbRPWUHM80M


Chris Tomlin’s “How Great Is Our God”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0OsyiGgSlqY&feature=related


Mary Mary’s “Shackles”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wRayKxgePQI


“I Could Sing of Your Love Forever”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B8ppaRmdtCU







Genesis 1:1-3 (English Standard Version)

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.
And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light.

Matthew 4:16 (New Living Translation)

“The people who sat in darkness
have seen a great light.
And for those who lived in the land where death casts its shadow,
a light has shined.”

Matthew 5:16 (Wycliffe New Testament)

So shine your light before men, that they see your good works, and glorify your Father that is in heavens.



Thursday, November 4, 2010

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed (2008) (Extreme Views of Darwinism)

The first half of the film focused on the issue of academic freedom, which I found pretty intriguing and compelling. But then the film took a rather odd turn. After a promising start, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed became more of a documentary in the Michael Moore style. Ben Stein purported to investigate questions, but had a pretty obvious political aim by the second half of the film. After the mid-way point, the focus shifted from an exploration of the persecution of the scientists who embrace or even just explore intelligent design concepts to a full-on attack on Darwinism and Darwinists. And at times, the attack was pretty over the top.

Particularly in the second half of the film, Stein spoke with scientists whose study of science led them to lose all faith in religion. Some of those interviewed even went so far as to express rather shocking hostility towards religion, and the desire to have it rigidly contained or wiped out entirely. It is explained in the film that Darwinism leads to believing that evolution simply occurs, there is no life after death. And from there, it is an apparently simple extension to decide life is not really all that important, it just comes and goes. Essentially, it is explained that an embrace of Darwinism leads to a belief that there is no sanctity of life and no basis for morals. Although they had me with the persecution of dissenting scholars and the restrictions on academic freedom, the film lost me when it came to conclude that Darwinism leads ipso facto to such a nihilistic view of the world.

Interestingly, it is then extrapolated in the film that Darwinism leads to viewing human beings in merely economic terms; the branch of Darwinism called eugenics springs forth naturally. It is noted that Margaret Sanger was a believer in eugenics and founded Planned Parenthood. It is insinuated that the mere availability of birth control is a conspiracy to form a master race. From there, Mr. Stein then goes to Germany to visit Nazi death camps to learn about the Nazis’ embrace of Darwinism and eugenics to exterminate “useless feeders” and those who were viewed to be of lesser genetic pools that were holding back the human race. I’m not kidding. With a straight face, Stein seems to suggest that when we embrace the Theory of Evolution, it is just a matter of time before we start rounding up “undesirables” in torture camps and committing genocide.

It is subtle but the film mentioned briefly that these repulsive views of rabid atheistic scientists and the eugenics supporters are based on just a very radical and extreme notion of Darwinism. I find it hard to believe that more mainstream understandings of the Theory of Evolution lead ipso facto to atheism and genocidal tendencies.

There have been many surveys over the years that indicate most scientists are atheists or agnostics. The reasons for this are not clear, at least to me. I’ve always suspected that it had something to do with the personality type of someone who is attracted to the sciences. Science involves proving laws of nature via evidence-based tests. I have sometimes found chatting with scientists on even non-religious topics to be irksome because if something cannot be proven, they often don’t believe it to be true.

That attitude goes against my orientation as a lawyer. In my discipline, we rarely have absolutes and we live in the grey areas. When opposing parties argue a case, there is not one absolute truth as to who has the winning side. In many respects, it depends on how persuasive the lawyers are in arguing their positions and how inclined the finder of fact is to accept one side or another. Indeed, we have several stages in the appellate process, and different courts often come to different conclusions. And we have nine justices on the Supreme Court. Rarely do they all agree on how a case should be decided; unanimous opinions are quite uncommon.

In light of these observations, I personally doubt that it is Darwinism that leads scientists to be more skeptical of religion. I rather suspect that the sorts of folks who are most skeptical of religion and other beliefs that are essentially not provable and require faith, are the same sorts of folks inclined to like the black or white nature of science. As a result, it seems a stretch to me to argue that Darwinism must lead to atheism. I also don’t particularly see how one can argue with a straight face that believing in the Theory of Evolution leads one to devalue of human life. Unless they were leading a secret double life, none of the science-y folks I’ve know over the years have been sociopathic or genocidal.

And as noted before, not all Christians reject the Theory of Evolution. As mentioned previously, my first high school biology teacher, who taught me what I know about evolution, shared early in the school year that he was a Christian and active in his church. As I recall, he shared that information with us so we would know he did not see his religious faith and his scientific expertise as being in conflict. I think he meant it as an encouragement for anyone in the class who might have been concerned about a potential conflict between their own faith and the subject matter of the course.

Though out my adulthood, I have had a number of friends at churches I’ve belonged to who were scientists. I remember one friend, who was a Ph.D. candidate in physics at the time. He shared with a group at our church that it was sometimes lonely at school because most of the other grad students and professors were non-believers. Yet he described quite beautifully how his study of science fed his religious faith. He explained that the more he learned about the way the universe was organized, the more convinced he was that it did not just come into being by accident but was the deliberate crafting of a higher being.

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed seemed to align sanctity of life issues with an anti-Darwinist agenda. As I watched the film, it occurred to me that it was odd that some folks can be so passionate about the sanctity of human life when it comes to issues like abortion and euthanasia, but then that same passion somehow does not carry over to other issues involving economic justice and human rights. Apparently, a slower death from food insecurity, a lack of (safe) housing and inability to access medical care do not always merit similar sanctity of life concerns. Issues involving an affront to human dignity but not death (e.g., torture, hate crimes) also do not seem to warrant the same type of passionate response. I find it highly ironic that some who are passionately opposed to Darwinism in the scientific arena don’t seem to mind Darwinism in the economic context. I don’t understand that, it does not seem to be consistent. And that inconsistency makes me suspicious of a political manipulation of issues like abortion and euthanasia for the benefit of those who would not benefit from similar attention paid to economic social justice issues. Perhaps it is thought that if we in the electorate are encouraged to spend our time on just a few sanctity of life issues, we won't have the time or energy to also focus on other issues that impact the sanctity of human life.







Genesis 4-25

These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens.
When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for the LORD God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground, and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground— then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers. The name of the first is the Pishon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. And the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there. The name of the second river is the Gihon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Cush. And the name of the third river is the Tigris, which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.
The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, "You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die."
Then the LORD God said, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him." Now out of the ground the LORD God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he madeinto a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said,

"This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
because she was taken out of Man."
Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed (2008) (My Own Experiences with the Evolution v. Creation Debate)

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed is a film that purports to expose the hypocrisy and persecution of non-Darwinists in the science academy. When I first popped the film into the DVD player, I have to admit that I thought this was going to be a film with a rather paranoid, over-the-top perspective. But I try to have an open-mind and listen to different perspectives. So, I must admit that (somewhat to my surprise) I found parts of this film to be rather compelling.

To avoid misunderstandings, let me first make a few things clear about my own perspective on this debate between Creationists and Darwinists. I am no scientist. I took a couple years of biology in high school, along with a fair amount of geology and a bit of chemistry in college. But I was not particularly interested in (or adept at) science. I was a liberal arts major after all. I have studied the Theory of Evolution at a basic level, but that was many (many!) years ago and I cannot say that I ever studied it in depth or pondered its implications deeply.

In the past and the present, I have known plenty of Christians who embrace Creationism and think “Darwin” is a four letter word. Some such folks are people I love and admire very much. I must say though that I’ve never understood the Creationist perspective. When I accepted Christ and decided to be baptized, I did so in the Catholic Church, which is a denomination that does not teach a literal interpretation of the Bible and has no opposition to Darwin. (Maybe the church learned its lesson after persecuting Galileo over the flat v. spherical earth debate?)

In speaking with Christians who embrace Creationism, they have often expressed to me that their belief is rooted in the notion that the Bible is sort of a touchstone for all human knowledge—even scientific knowledge. That perspective does not jive with the faith traditions of the two churches to which I have belonged (i.e., Catholic and Episcopal). Instead, in those traditions, the Bible is viewed as the central text containing God’s spiritual truth as revealed over many hundreds of years to multiple people. Though incredibly important to discern spiritual truths, the Bible does not necessarily purport to have scientific truths to teach. As a result, I have never viewed the Bible and Darwinism as being in conflict, and I’m not alone. I remember vividly that when I was still an atheist, my first high school biology teacher (at a public school) began the school year explaining briefly that he was a Christian who accepted that the Theory of Evolution was well-proven scientifically. And as a conservative Christian homeschooling mom our family knows recently stated, “I keep my son’s Bible study and science curriculum separate!”

I’m cognizant that the Holy Bible came into being in a very different manner than the Book of Mormon or the Qur’an, for example. Those books are considered to be holy scripture by the LDS church and by Muslims, respectively. As I understand, it is believed that the Book of Mormon was given by God (through an angel) to the first LDS prophet as an intact text; Joseph Smith just had to translate and transcribe God’s word. It is my understanding that the Qur’an is believed to have been the memorialization of words spoken by God directly to Mohammed. Per my understanding, in both faith traditions, the belief is that God provided direct revelation to human beings, who wrote down those revelations for others to read and understand God’s words.

But the Christian scripture came into being in a very different way. The Old Testament was in oral form for hundreds of years before it was ever written down. While in oral form, it changed (one might say evolved!) over time and was not a static text. The New Testament had a very different “genesis.” It consists largely of correspondence from the early church fathers to fledgling church communities around the Mediterranean. St. Paul wrote the lion’s share of the text. As I’ve often heard mentioned from the pulpit, Paul didn’t know he was writing a sacred text, he was dealing with real life problems with a far flung set of believers during the infancy of the church. Other portions of the New Testament are memorialized summaries of the life and ministry of Jesus to explain to readers why he is recognized as Messiah. Those summaries—the four Gospel books—were written later in time than Paul’s letters, so they are not written by witnesses with first hand accounts of Jesus’s life. Instead, the early church believed Jesus’s second coming was imminent, so they did not initially feel the need for written accounts of his teachings. The Gospel books are memorializations by four different individuals of stories of Jesus's earthly life that were initially shared orally in the early Christian communities after Christ's resurrection and ascension. As a result of this history, many Christians would never think to rely upon the Holy Bible as a touchstone for all questions, and specifically would never look to it for scientific insights. I have tried but just do not understand the perspective of Christians who look to the Bible for scientific insights.

It is interesting because this issue of the scope of insight provided by the Bible causes a good deal of tension. I have known non-religious people who are very turned off to Christianity—though they often know very little about Jesus and his teachings—because they understand incorrectly that all Christians believe the Bible to contain literal truths such that they deny all modern scientific insights. I have also known wonderful Christ-followers, who initially had a hard time embracing Christianity and finding a church home, because they could not stomach belonging to a faith community that rejected Darwinism. It is interesting to me because the folks I have known in both groups were not scientists. Just as I don’t understand the perspective of non-scientist Christians who embrace Creationism with incredible zeal, I also don’t understand others who lack scientific training who embrace Evolution with unwavering dedication.

So, the upshot of all this is that I have never been aligned with the side of “Creationism.” I certainly believe God created the physical world we know, but I don’t believe the two creation stories from Genesis are literally true. As I have been taught in churches to which I belonged, the two creation stories reflect metaphorically truths about our omnipotent and loving Creator, but they aren't to be understood as insisting that God created the world in six 24-hour days. Personally, I don’t know the details of how God created the world, I'm not a scientist. But on some level, I also have a certain skepticism that any of us can ever know all the details, no matter how much science we use. Maybe I'm wrong.

I guess I tend to favor some form of Darwinism because I understand it to be the overwhelming majority consensus among scientists. I tend to have a lot of respect for those who have studied a subject in great depth. I recognize that until one delves deeply into a subject, one’s understanding and insights might be limited and even incorrect. In my opinion (based on my own life experiences), the opinions people form based on lengthy study of and experience with a particular topic tend to be better informed and more accurate.

Nonetheless, I never feel comfortable fully endorsing positions when I am not terribly knowledgeable about the subject matter. That is my M.O. in the area of science and pretty much every other discipline. Any other approach would require blind faith in the conclusions of other human beings, which just does not suit me.



Genesis 1:1-2:3 (English Standard Version)

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.
And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
And God said, "Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters." And God made the expanse and separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse. And it was so. And God called the expanse Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.
And God said, "Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear." And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good.
And God said, "Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth." And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.
And God said, "Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth." And it was so. And God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.
And God said, "Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens." So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth." And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.
And God said, "Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds—livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds." And it was so. And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the livestock according to their kinds, and everything that creeps on the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.
Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth."
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
And God blessed them. And God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth." And God said, "Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food." And it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Thy Kingdom Come by Randall Balmer (Battles Over Schools, Evolution & Environmentalism; Political Expediency & Hypocrisy)

Thy Kingdom Come provides insightful history lessons on a number of hot button issues involving the Religious Right. Balmer describes the growing debate over school vouchers and inadequate financial support for public schools. He goes into great depth to explain the continuing cultural scars to fundamentalists from the humiliation of the Scopes “monkey trial,” as well as the more recent quest for legitimization via the label of “intelligent design.”

Balmer also notes that one would intuitively predict Creationists would be passionate about conserving God’s creation, but that has not been the case in recent years. He explains how the Religious Right came to align themselves with conservative, pro-business politicians that worked aggressively to fight against any legal efforts to protect the environment. He also describes how some Evangelicals are beginning to rebel against this approach based on biblical principles of stewardship.

In his “Conclusion,” Balmer reflects back on the bottom line of the various themes he has explored. He concludes that the Religious Right has distorted the teachings of Christ by ignoring clear teachings on protecting the vulnerable in society and peacemaking in favor of politically expedient themes with flimsy biblical support. He notes the hypocrisies of leaders of the Religious Right including Tom DeLay, Ralph Reed, William Bennett, and Randy “Duke” Cunningham. Balmer concludes that the ultimate aim of the Religious Right is to establish a “homogenous theocracy” analogous to that in seventeenth-century Massachusetts. But historian Balmer describes the lesson of Puritan New England as being clear:

Religion...functions best outside the political order, and often as a challenge
to the political order. When it identifies too closely with the state, it
becomes complacent and ossified, and efforts to coerce piety or to proscribe
certain behavior in the interests of moral conformity are unavailing.

Moreover, Balmer describes the Religious Right as more interested in moralism than morality, and are frankly “frightened by pluralism.” Consequently, the Religious Right is waging war on the First Amendment “in the interest of imposing its own theocratic vision” despite the irony that “no group has profited more from the First Amendment and the disestablishment of religion in American than evangelicals.”

Balmer ends the book with an exhortation to fellow believers:

[t]o reclaim their birthright as evangelical Christians and examine the
scriptures for themselves—absent the funhouse mirror distortions of the
Religious Right. For those equal to the task, I suggest a form of shock therapy:
juxtapose the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), arguably the highest expression
of Christian ethics, with the platform of the Republican Party.







Luke 11:9-10 (Darby Translation)

And I say to you, Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you.
For every one that asks receives; and he that seeks finds; and to him that knocks it will be opened.


John 9: 25, 30, 33

Then he answered, I do not know whether He is a sinner and wicked or not. But one thing I do know, that whereas I was blind before, now I see.
The man replied, Well, this is astonishing! Here a Man has opened my eyes, and yet you do not know where He comes from. [That is amazing!]
If this Man were not from God, He would not be able to do anything like this.

Luke 18:9-14 (The Message)

He told his next story to some who were complacently pleased with themselves over their moral performance and looked down their noses at the common people: "Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax man. The Pharisee posed and prayed like this: 'Oh, God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, crooks, adulterers, or, heaven forbid, like this tax man. I fast twice a week and tithe on all my income.'
"Meanwhile the tax man, slumped in the shadows, his face in his hands, not daring to look up, said, 'God, give mercy. Forgive me, a sinner.'"
Jesus commented, "This tax man, not the other, went home made right with God. If you walk around with your nose in the air, you're going to end up flat on your face, but if you're content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself."

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Peace with Justice Sunday

This past summer our family traveled to and around Texas to visit our relatives and do some camping. While on the road, we were blessed by some terrific preaching. We tend to be pretty ecumenical. Our family belongs to a wonderful Episcopalian church in Arizona, but denominational divides sadden us greatly. One Sunday during our trip, we worshipped with a lovely Methodist congregation. The day we visited was apparently “Peace with Justice Sunday” in the Methodist church. The link below provides some information about that day:

http://www.umcgiving.org/site/c.qwL6KkNWLrH/b.3833883/k.F990/Special_Sundays__Peace_with_Justice_Sunday__Overview.htm


The children’s pastor taught a great lesson to the kids gathered at the front of the sanctuary. She taught about how we all look different on the outside, but we’re the same inside and God loves us all equally. She used an analogy kids could understand: M&Ms. She had a volunteer child close her eyes and eat an M&M she was given. The child was asked to name which color of M&M she had eaten. She guessed incorrectly. The process was repeated several times. None of the volunteer children guessed correctly. The children’s pastor explained that our eyes can mislead us by having us focus on things that are irrelevant in the long run. And just like we enjoy all M&Ms equally, God treasures each of us the same regardless of what we look like on the outside. Amen!

After the children left the sanctuary to go to Sunday school, another pastor gave a sermon to the adults that hit upon a number of interesting points involving the overarching theme of “peace with justice.” The pastor spoke about the idea that justice is typically achieved via relationships. In one example, he spoke with humility that previously in his walk with Christ, he had been very bigoted against homosexuals. He shared humbly that God had softened his heart with regard to his attitudes due to a particular relationship.

The pastor explained he had had a friend at church for a long time, a very kind-hearted man who had ministered to this pastor spiritually and helped him in his walk. Eventually, the friend told this pastor he was gay. It was quite a shock to the pastor, but their friendship helped him understand homosexuality and his friend’s experience. The pastor went on to explain that because of that friendship he eventually became a supporter of an inclusive stance towards gays and lesbians in the church, and is an advocate of Reconciling Ministries. (For those of us who are not familiar with the Methodist church, an explanation of Reconciling Ministries is available at the following link: http://www.rmnetwork.org/).




Luke 5:27-29 (New King James Version)

After these things He went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, “Follow Me.” So he left all, rose up, and followed Him.
Then Levi gave Him a great feast in his own house. And there were a great number of tax collectors and others who sat down with them.

Luke 19:1-2, 5-8 (New King James Version)

Then Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. Now behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus who was a chief tax collector, and he was rich. And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw him, and said to him, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” So he made haste and came down, and received Him joyfully. But when they saw it, they all complained, saying, “He has gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner.”
Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.”



Saturday, August 28, 2010

Night by Elie Wiesel

Like watching Hotel Rwanda, I found Night to be a very difficult book and almost didn’t finish it. I think it is an incredibly important document. Like Hotel Rwanda, Night memorializes one human being’s experiences amidst a genocide. It is a remarkable account for a number of reasons. Mr. Wiesel was only a teenager when he and his family were deported and sent to a Nazi concentration camp along with other Jews from his town. It is amazing that someone so young could process the horror of that experience in such a sophisticated way. The book is beautifully written, though the adverb “beautifully” seems out of place due to the subject matter. Mr. Wiesel’s prose powerfully conveys the experience of concentration camp prisoners because it is not a dry, removed historical narrative. Instead, he reflects profoundly on the experiences he endured, which intensifies the reader’s understanding of the horror he experienced.

There were a number of things that struck me about the book. He begins the book by recounting his relatively carefree youth in a small Hungarian town, and describes his fervent religious faith. He went to synagogue frequently, read the Scriptures and prayed passionately to the God whom he knew and loved. Through out the book, he describes how the horror of the camps led him to lose his faith and curse God. Obviously I am of a different faith that Mr. Wiesel. But Christianity has its roots in Judaism, and Jesus was a devout Jew. So, our religious traditions are interrelated, and similar in many important respects. But even if they were not, it is excruciating for any person of faith to read of the loss of faith of another. Despite theological differences, I don’t think any person of faith can relish the notion that another child of God would become estranged from our Father.

Nonetheless, it is hard for any compassionate human being to fault Mr. Wiesel. What he endured and what he witnessed at such a tender age is incomprehensible and would test the faith of much more mature individuals. Particularly as viewed through the eyes of one so young, it is overwhelming to conceive of the rupture of the family unit when communities were shipped off to the camps. Upon arrival at the first camp, Mr. Wiesel and his father were separated forever from his mother and sister as the women and men were segregated and received differing fates. It is impossible to imagine such brutality and not even getting to say final “good-byes.”

As evident in Mr. Wiesel’s account, people were put in such impossible, dehumanizing conditions, that human survival instincts often led them to betray those whom they loved most. He describes how younger adults and teens often turned on their relatively weaker parents in a desperate effort to save themselves. Indeed, Mr. Wiesel expresses that his own prayer was that he would not fail that test and turn against his father.

As Night progressed, the inhumanity seemed to increase exponentially. The end of the book depicts the forced death march to another concentration camp ahead of the advance of Allied troops, and the slow, agonizing death of the author’s father. Of course, the risk in such graphic depiction of overwhelming brutality is that the reader will become numb to it. There is only so much horror that one can take in before one shuts down emotionally. Indeed, Mr. Wiesel references many times his own numbness and that of his fellow inmates. But the reader must guard against such numbness as best as he or she can. The subject matter is too important.

It is also critical that we who are fortunate to live in relatively prosperous and peaceful countries not fail to see the lessons of genocide in our own communities. One striking aspect of the initial reaction of the Jews in Mr. Wiesel’s town in Hungary was the pervasive disbelief that anything bad would happen to them. When the Nazis invaded Hungary, they didn’t think that they would get around to deporting Jews in the small towns. When the Nazis actually came to their town, they initially rationalized the situation by emphasizing the cordiality of the Nazi officer in charge. When they were put in a ghetto, they didn’t think the situation was that offensive. It was not until they were told of their imminent deportation and they began to be crammed into trains that the horror of their situation was apparent. To me, this human tendency to deny or rationalize bad, even potentially very dangerous situations, continues to take place all the time. If one group of persons is treated differently, there is often an attempt to justify the treatment and deny that it is inferior treatment. That seems to me to be a potentially very dangerous human tendency, one which we need to recognize and guard against.

In reflecting on Mr. Wiesel’s book, I asked myself what ordinary people might learn from the experience of the Holocaust. What came to mind was a particular sermon my pastor gave a while back. Last spring, she did a series of sermons on the Ten Commandments. She began the series with a sermon on the commandment to not commit murder. She pointed out that many of us may think that commandment is so simple and has no application to our own lives because we wouldn’t ever even contemplate taking the life of another human being. But the Ten Commandments come from the Old Testament, and my pastor focused us on Jesus’s teachings on murder in Matthew 5:21-22, which gave added insight. In the book of Matthew, Jesus elevates the sin of anger to the sin of murder, and not by accident. Anger towards another is really the root that leads to the evil fruit of murder, and it is important to guard against it in our own hearts.




Matthew 5:21-22 (New International Reader’s Version)

"You have heard what was said to people who lived long ago. They were told, 'Do not commit murder.—(Exodus 20:13) Anyone who murders will be judged for it.' But here is what I tell you. Do not be angry with your brother. Anyone who is angry with his brother will be judged.”

Matthew 5:21-22 (The Message)


"You're familiar with the command to the ancients, 'Do not murder.' I'm telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder.”

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Hotel Rwanda (2004)

I saw Hotel Rwanda several years ago. This film was extremely powerful, but it was so disturbing that I had trouble watching the whole thing and doubt I could ever sit through it a second time. The film tells the true story of a Hutu man married to a Tutsi woman in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide, in which almost a million men, women and children were killed in about 90 days. The film garnered a lot of positive critical attention, and was nominated for several Oscars.

Much of the power of the film is the personalization of the human tragedy that took place in 1994. We have all read news accounts of a generalized nature, and have some generalized understanding of what took place. Such generalized accounts are disturbing enough. My understanding is that no other genocide in history has been as efficient—killing so many in so little time. The statistics are absolutely staggering. But the power of Hotel Rwanda is that it tells the real life plight of one man, his family and co-workers during those terrifying days. We are shown at least briefly and to some degree what he went through, what he witnessed and how he survived. What he witnessed was absolutely astonishing and horrific.

Some modern Christ followers—perhaps especially those of us in relatively peaceful and prosperous Western nations—sometimes tend to doubt the existence of the devil. Indeed, in my observation, some who are well-educated particularly tend to scoff at the concept as being simplistic and out-dated. Indeed, I have witnessed that such Christians sometimes look down upon their brothers and sisters who fervently believe in a literal personified concept of Satan, who is actively interfering in the affairs of man and fighting the will of God. Such well-educated Christians seem to sometimes view such beliefs as provincial and unsophisticated.

Such skepticism may be understandable when one has been raised and has always lived in a relatively comfortable and benign world, and one has never been exposed to people that are all that corrupt. But I think that when one learns in more detail about the horrific evil of which humans are capable, such skepticism does tend to dissipate.

I am decidedly not a theologian. I have spoken to my pastor about the topic, but it is just not clear to me if the biblical representation of the devil is intended to be a literal personification or if it is intended to be a figurative representation of evil. Personally, I’m not sure it really matters. I do believe in evil. I do believe it can and does consume human beings. I remember watching Hotel Rwanda and reflecting on that point. I got chills at the superfluous references to Tutsis as “cockroaches,” the brutality of the agonizing machete killings, the mercilessness of massacring young orphans in the care of nuns, and the overwhelming body count. In my opinion, that inhumanity and evil has a very real source.




Mark 4:15 (Today's New International Version)

Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them.


Luke 22:3 (Wycliffe New Testament)

And Satan entered into Judas, that was called Iscariot, one of the twelve.

Monday, August 9, 2010

More Reflections On the Good Samaritan

Throughout the existence of this blog, people have been kind enough to share with me that various posts have been helpful to them in different ways. That is certainly very gratifying to hear. It is great to know that you have made some small positive difference in others’ lives. But in actuality, sometimes the posts really help me, too. I guess it is helpful to remind oneself of basic aspects of one’s beliefs. In that vein, the tail end of the prior post on Anne Rice reminded me of points that I recently had great need to remember.

This past weekend, our family went to a party with a lot of kids. We knew only a small handful of the families there. We are still somewhat new to this particular group. The kids were doing activities in different groups and one parent was incredibly inhospitable to our younger child. This parent actually went to pretty extreme lengths to get our younger child to play elsewhere to leave a budding clique intact. The other kids were oblivious, but this parent seemed to want a certain group of kids together without anyone else intruding. It later became apparent that this parent’s primary motivation was her desire to get some good photos with kids her child knew best. My husband was with our younger child when this parent was trying to exclude her, and he did his best to distract our child and shelter her from what was actually going on so that she wouldn’t get her feelings hurt. It is never easy being the new person in a group, and one is vulnerable when trying to make new friends. Obviously, it can really hurt a child’s feelings and damage their budding self-confidence to be rejected in that way. Heck, it can hurt an adult to go through that.

Perhaps it is our Texas upbringing, but neither my husband nor I said anything to this woman. Though our first instinct might have been to curse her out or kick her in the shins, we were gracious and polite. Nonetheless, we were horrified that an adult would behave so rudely for no good reason. Moreover, we just could not fathom an adult behaving so heartlessly to a little child. We were astonished that a grown woman would behave in such a petty manner that could well have crushed the feelings and self-confidence of a five-year old. In our minds, it is pretty inexcusable and unforgiveable.

But to Christians, of course, nothing should be unforgiveable. One of the foundational concepts in Christianity is that Christ died to forgive us of all our sins. The biggies, the little ones, everything in between. All of that is forgiven. And we are to love our neighbor—not just when they are being civil, but also when they act like jerks.

So, this little experience at the party got my husband and I talking about the Good Samaritan. The common understanding of the parable is that the Samaritan doesn’t know the man robbed and left for dead on the road. After all they are from different social groups, and the gist of the parable seems to be that the concept of “neighbor” is so broad that it also extends to strangers. We’re all brothers and sisters even if we don’t (yet) know one another. But on the way home from the party, my husband and I tried to imagine that the Samaritan did actually know the man left for dead on the road, and the latter man had been a real jerk to the former. In some ways it is easier to be merciful to a stranger with whom you have no past history. It is a much bigger challenge to be merciful to someone who has annoyed or offended you. But that is part of what Christ asks.

My example from the party is an admittedly petty one. (Though to parents, any offense to their child feels like a near capital offense!) But I remember a much starker example when I was reading about Corrie Ten Boom, a Dutch Christian woman whose family was sent to concentration camps in the 1940s for the crime of hiding Jews from the authorities. Somehow Ms. Ten Boom survived the ordeal of the concentration camp and after the war was an evangelist sharing God’s love with others. After a lecture she gave one night in Munich, a man came up to her to share how moved he was by her talk of God’s forgiveness and how tortured he had been by his past deeds. The man was a sadistic guard who had made Ms. Ten Boom’s life in the camp particularly hellish; he did not recognize her from the camp. The human instinct was to react to this man by lashing out in hatred. But Ms. Ten Boom however was true to her beliefs. She prayed and chose to forgive this man. She later explained, “I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on His. When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself.”





Luke 17:4-5 (Contemporary English Version)

Even if one of them mistreats you seven times in one day and says, "I am sorry," you should still forgive that person. The apostles said to the Lord, "Make our faith stronger!"

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Footprints of God—Paul: Contending for the Faith (2004)

I think the Apostle Paul is fascinating, so I recently rented this documentary about his life. It is part of a multi-volume series, “The Footprints of God,” but this is the only one I have ever watched. It was produced by a Catholic film company.

To be quite honest, my husband couldn’t get beyond the cheesy film techniques. The narrator was an American who dressed a bit like the Crocodile Hunter. His analogies and theatrics were at times a little over the top. My husband kept laughing and shaking his head.

I agreed the documentary’s style had a high cheese factor, but I was able to overlook these cinematic foibles. I thought the film did a great job of telling St. Paul’s story in greater detail than a lay person can glean from just reading the Bible. The documentary wove together coherently many different parts of the New Testament, as well as the research insights of historians, anthropologists and archeologists.

I would characterize the film as being like an episode of Rick Steves’ show if he became a televangelist with a Catholic bent. The narrator told the story of St. Paul’s life while traveling to the various places the apostle lived. I don’t know if I’ll ever get to visit the places where the people described in the Bible lived, so it was fascinating to at least see what those varied places look like via film.

There were several aspects of the film’s telling of Paul’s life that struck me in particular. I have always been amazed at the conversion story of Paul. A devout, zealous Jew goes from persecuting Christians to becoming the most celebrated Christian evangelist and missionary of all time. What a dramatic 180! The film talks about Paul’s prior confidence in the righteousness of his own observance of the Mosaic laws and persecution of the Christians. Then he has a miraculous encounter with the post-Easter Jesus, who asks “Why are you persecuting me?” The narrator emphasizes that Jesus did not ask why Paul was persecuting the church or his people, but “me.” The film talks about how that encounter laid the foundation for much of Paul’s later theology.

Subsequent to the encounter, Paul is humbled; he is physically blinded and led to Damascus like a child. The Bible tells us that the miraculous encounter on the road to Damascus convinced Paul that some of his most strongly held beliefs had been incorrect. What tremendous humility Paul must have had to accept that. It is probably human nature to be very confident in our own beliefs and think others are wrong. I’m not sure all of us would have had Paul’s humility to admit he had not been as correct as he thought. What a great example for the rest of us.

The film also describes Paul’s later presentation to the leadership of the early Christians, and how he spent a number of days alone with Peter, who gave him instruction in the faith. How remarkable that Peter, who had much to fear and mistrust from Paul, was able to see that God was going to use Paul to spread his message of unconditional love. And it was striking that Paul, the learned scholar, would humble himself to take instruction from Peter, an uneducated fisherman. How amazing that God can use each of us, regardless of our backgrounds, to do great things. I admire Peter’s courage. And again, I admire Paul’s humility.

It was also amazing to me that Paul was almost constantly in trouble with the authorities. He was often jailed, or he was fleeing those who wanted to arrest him. I guess I had not previously thought of St. Paul as an outlaw. But indeed that is exactly the point that the film made. The film demonstrates quite dramatically the daring escapes Paul made to avoid capture by the authorities, and it describes how he was often fleeing just one step ahead of the law. It is interesting to me that Paul did not just turn himself in to authorities when they were looking for him. On at least one occasion, God did perform a miracle to get him out of jail. And Paul trusted God fully, constantly putting himself in harm’s way to do what he understood to be God’s will. Paul survived all kinds of things that ought to have ended his life, e.g., shipwrecks, a snake bite, a stoning. As a result, Paul did not have reason to fear the authorities. But perhaps Paul did not equate compliance with misguided human laws or fallible human authorities with compliance with God’s will.




Acts 16:25-26 (King James)

But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were loosed.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Reflections on Patriotism

Our pastor gave a wonderful talk this weekend. She shared that it concerned her that a lot of the build-up to Independence Day (and talk about patriotism generally) involves the promotion of "American Pride." She noted that as Christ-followers, it is clear that we are to avoid pride, which involves exultation. The Bible teaches us that we are only to exult God. The Bible has plenty of warnings about the poisonous effects of pride.


Instead, she suggested we abandon the phrase "American Pride" to talk about the blessings of living in the United States. Instead of boasting of pride, we ought to adopt a spirit of humility and gratitude. Instead of indulging in pride, she encouraged us to recognize and give thanks for the blessings we enjoy.


She shared that she was thinking this week about all the many blessings we enjoy by virtue of living in this country. For purposes of her talk, our pastor said she just wanted to focus on the blessings of the people in our lives. This week she didn't want to give a sermon on the many freedoms we're blessed with, though those are very important too. Instead, she encouraged us to give thanks for our friends and family, and everyone else who makes our lives safe and happy. Our pastor said she was grateful for teachers who share their knowledge with students, for people in the medical field who keep us in good health, for police, firefighters and soldiers who keep us safe, for the folks who take away our trash so we don't live in squalid filth. She said she was even thankful for politicians, who do a very unpleasant job in her opinion. They work hard and are always criticized from all corners.


Our pastor closed her talk by reminding us that the Body of Christ recognizes no nationalities, and every single human being ever on this planet is a beloved child of the most high God. Amen!






Proverbs 8:13 (King James Version)
The fear of the LORD is to hate evil: pride, and arrogancy, and the evil way, and the froward mouth, do I hate.

Proverbs 13:10 (King James Version)
Only by pride cometh contention: but with the well advised is wisdom.

1 John 2:16 (King James Version)
For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Guest Blogger Reverend Roger McClellan on the Progressive Christian Alliance

In the spring of 2008, four pastors from Alabama, Florida and Georgia began sharing some of their disillusionment with much traditional church structure and dogma. As the discussions progressed, a vision of a different type of church began to coalesce. All of us were drawn to a progressive Christian ethos, and had learned much from our associations with organizations such as The Center for Progressive Christianity and Network of Spiritual Progressives; but we felt that there was a need to transcend the typical definitions of both "denomination" and "network" and not only try to connect Progressive Christians, but also to organize ministries with similar vision even calling ministers and organizing local communities of progressive faith. As a result of these discussions and the perceived guidance of the Spirit, the Progressive Christian Alliance was born.

From the inception of the Progressive Christian Alliance, we have had a vision for reaching out to “the least, the lost, the left behind, and those for whom religion has become irrelevant." We see this position to be very much in line with the teachings of Jesus, teachings that have sadly fallen into neglect. The Church has often become such an institution that it spends more time and resources maintaining itself than reaching into the world beyond itself. As a result we have seen more and more people pushed to the margins and even outside the doors of the church. Progressive ideals or un-orthodox beliefs are unwelcome, as are different cultures or orientations. What remains are many different church institutions ministering to the core groups within their doors, and paying little mind to those outside the doors; those who differ from what they consider the norm.

So, when we in the PCA were trying to paint a picture of our vision; we settled on the following principles:

1. We consider ourselves Christian. We chose this particular and unusual language out of a recognition that oftentimes the institutional church attempts to set litmus tests of orthodoxy or tradition that define what Christianity is to them. In truth, however, no church institution has the ability or right to judge the soul of a person. That right and responsibility lies solely upon the shoulders of God. Therefore, we seek to avoid the traps of orthodoxy and grant grace to one another by affirming that we seek to serve God, and follow our understandings of the teachings of Jesus, to the best of our ability. We seek to judge no one, lest we be judged by the same unfair and inaccurate standards. We embrace those on the margins or outside the margins of orthodoxy.

2. The Progressive Christian Alliance maintains a focus on Social Justice. We believe that the gospel of Christ calls us to minister to the last, the lost, the least, and the left-behind of society, as well as those for whom church has become irrelevant. Jesus and the latter prophets of Judaism speak extensively about caring for the poor, the hungry and the marginalized in society, recognizing them all as God’s creation. Unfortunately much of this focus has been lost in the institutional church as it has become more and more concerned with maintaining its own identity and growth. As a result, the rights of many of God’s own children are widely ignored by those that profess to worship God. We embrace those on the margins of society, as Christ himself taught.

3. We respect theological diversity. Faith is not about concrete answers, religious absolutes, creeds, or dogma. Faith is about the search for understanding, the raising of important questions, the open honesty of having doubt, and the realization that no one has it all completely right nor does any human hold all the answers. Therefore, we recognize and affirm those whose faith systems fifer from our own; recognizing that many streams flow from the same source. Furthermore, we recognize that truth and understanding often are nurtured by the open exchange of thoughts and ideas from diverse sources. We embrace those around us; those on the margins of tradition or practice.

4. We affirm the dignity of all of God’s children and welcome all to take their rightful place at God’s table. We recognize that in Christ there is no gender, no orientation, no nation or race. We are all heirs to the kingdom. Often, the institutional church has sought to exclude those of different race, gender or orientation from participating fully in the life of the church. We find these practices anathematic to the teachings of Christ, therefore we readily and heartily welcome all to their rightful place at the table that God has prepared. While we applaud the efforts of many denominations to formulate inter-communion agreements with other denominations, we feel that these inter-communion agreements do not adequately recognize the value and beauty of diversity. The PCA, rather, practices an Open Communion, recognizing that the Table of Communion is not ours to govern, but God's.

There are also many churches who seek to fully include those of other races, genders or sexual orientations, and we applaud those efforts; but by writing this inclusivity into our organizational DNA, we hope to avoid the political and dogmatic struggles that accompany such efforts so that we can concentrate more fully on the task at hand.Many have asked, “With all of this inclusion, where then is your identity? Simply: that is our identity. Inclusion. A church for those who don’t like church and a church for those who love church but seek to lovingly correct it. We strive to embrace all and welcome all: those pushed to the margins or outside the margins. In so doing, we have our own identity, a church on the margins for those on the margins.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Birthday Reflections

I recently celebrated a birthday. It was a lovely day. I didn’t do anything special. When I woke up, my children hid in their room to jump out and yell “surprise!” at me. Later that day, my family cooked me a special dinner. Several friends and family members called, e-mailed or sent cards to express good wishes. I am very fortunate to have people in my life who took time out of their busy day to wish me a happy birthday.

One relative sent me a check and told me to treat myself. I felt very blessed to reflect that there was nothing I really wanted to buy to treat myself. I told my husband and my children they were the best birthday gifts ever!

I was reflecting through out the day at my contentment, and feeling much gratitude for my life and the many, many blessings I enjoy. The day would have been perfect except that I kept thinking of all the suffering in this world. My heart is heavy with the continuing suffering due to the recent earthquakes in Haiti, Chile and China. I am devastated whenever I read about the human trafficking and sexual exploitation of children. It breaks my heart that so many people go to bed every night hungry and/or without a roof over their head. I feel anguish at the plight of parents around the world who cannot provide for the material needs of their beloved children. Being in Arizona, we can no longer count how many families we know who have lost their homes due to foreclosure and/or have a parent who is looking for work. As I write these words, we have friends and relatives who are struggling with life-threatening diseases.

As I was thinking about all this, and the frustration of an individual at not being able to solve these problems, I remembered Dr. King’s famous words from “Letter from Birmingham Jail” (April 16, 1963):

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an
inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever
affects one directly, affects all indirectly.


When I first heard those words long ago, I was a teenage atheist. I thought the words sounded noble but they did not ring true to me. Many people around the world (myself included) go about our daily lives, enjoying ourselves and never giving another thought to the suffering of others.

Now as an adult Christ follower, I understand these words very differently. I think that Dr. King was expressing a great spiritual truth. To me, he was referring to the Christian concept of the Body of Christ. Each of us is a component of that Body, we are all interrelated. If one part of the body is suffering or in pain, the other parts feel it too and cannot be fully at peace until that suffering or pain ceases.



Romans 12:4-5

Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Celebrating Easter

Some non-religious readers may wonder how Christians celebrate this most important of holidays. Of course, the secular celebration of Easter involves baskets of pastel packaged candy including chocolate bunnies, and hiding dyed eggs. As far as I know, that has nothing to do with Easter. Indeed, some Christians forego those activities altogether due to their pagan, non-Christian roots.

For many folks who believe in Christ but are not active in a faith community, Easter is one of the only times all year that they go to church. Some congregations have special services on Easter Sunday. Some have services on Good Friday too. Still others have special celebrations through out Holy Week, i.e., the week between Palm Sunday and Easter.

In some churches, the Thursday before Easter is a particularly important day. It is called Holy Thursday or Maundy Thursday. It is the day we remember the Last Supper, when Jesus celebrated the Passover with his disciples. In the Gospel of John, after the meal, Jesus displays an act of great humility and love by washing the feet of his disciples, and instructing them to the same for one another. Afterwards Jesus was betrayed by Judas Iscariot and arrested. At Holy Thursday or Maundy Thursday services, these events are remembered and often reenacted.

Members of the congregation may wash the feet of others in the congregation. It is often a little awkward and can frankly be embarrassing for people to be in their bare feet in church and to have others come into physical contact with such a vulnerable, unattractive part of our anatomy. But oddly enough, it can also be a very moving ritual. As our pastor explained her understanding of Jesus's washing of his disciples feet, he was not just giving an example of humble servitude. Instead, he was showing us to love one another deeply, to take care of one another, and to be open to the love and care from others who make up the Body of Christ. As our pastor explained, Jesus wanted us to love each other so tenderly to be an example to the rest of the world.

At Holy Thursday or Maundy Thursday services, communion is often shared to remember Jesus's Last Supper with his disciples. Communion in many Christian traditions is a very meaningful ceremony.

Holy Thursday or Maundy Thursday services sometimes end with a stripping of the sanctuary to remove all adornments and to extinguish lights and candles. The congregation is left to imagine the emptiness and darkness that the disciples must have experienced when their beloved Jesus was arrested and taken from them. They must have been terrified, not knowing what would happen to Jesus or if the authorities would come for the rest of them as well. At our church this year, the service ended in silence--no music, no farewell greeting. We just filed out in semi-darkness, many of us moved to tears to think of the emptiness we would feel if Jesus were not in our lives.

On Good Friday, Christians remember with heavy hearts the crucifixion of Jesus. It is a heart-breaking day. Churches that have Good Friday services often read the passion story from the Gospels. We remember the physical agony Jesus suffered, as well as the humiliation and the abandonment. We mourn for his suffering, and we relate to the sorrow of his friends and family members who were powerless to help him.

After the emotionally draining experience of Thursday and Friday, Easter is a jubilant reward. We remember Mary Magdalene's confusion that Jesus's tomb was empty; she thinks someone has stolen his body. But then she encounters the risen Jesus, though she initially does not recognize him and mistakes him for a gardener. She runs to tell the disciples. Jesus lives among his friends for a period, not as a ghost but with a body. He walks and eats with his friends. He even makes them breakfast at one point. The suffering of several days ago is past and it is a time for rejoicing. Churches are often filled with decorations and flowers. Special, joyful songs are sung. It is the high point of the liturgical year.


John 21:12
Jesus said to them, "Come and have breakfast." None of the disciples dared ask him, "Who are you?" They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

What's the Big Deal About Easter?

It is probably understandable that the editor of a blog on Christianity has not had time to post anything in the last week! It has been a busy time for Christ followers.

When I was a little kid, however, I did not grow up in a household where we went to church regularly, and for many years I did not even realize the religious significance of Easter. I just knew the bunnies and the eggs. Where I grew up on the East Coast, I was also not really aware of Good Friday because it always coincided with our spring break so everyone was already on vacation. When I went to college in Texas, I was stunned that Good Friday was celebrated by so many; people did not go to class and offices were closed or closed early. Even at that time in my early adulthood, I still did not understand why Easter was such a big deal to Christians. As a result, I recognize that some readers of this blog may have the same reaction--what is the big deal about Easter? I thought I would take some time to try to explain.

Christmas is a great holiday, don't get me wrong. But there is nothing like Easter. Indeed, as I understand, the early church did not even celebrate the birth of Christ for a few centuries. Easter was its main celebration.

And even today, some Christian scholars debate the factual accuracy of the virgin birth. Of course, it is an essential tenet of the faith for many Christ followers. But it is not even mentioned in all of the Gospels. The Gospel of Mark and the Gospel of John (considered by many to be the first and last gospels to be written) begin their narratives with the ministry of John the Baptist when Jesus was already an adult. Apparently those Gospel writers did not think Jesus's birth to be of great theological importance.

I'm no theologian or biblical scholar, I don't know who is factually correct. But to me, it is actually not that important. I can appreciate Mark and John's greater emphasis on Jesus's teachings, the passion story, and the resurrection. After all, it is the resurrection that is the key to our faith as Christians. If we did not believe that Jesus rose from the grave, then his beautiful teachings would not have the authority they do. Instead, we would simply consider them to be the insightful teachings of a wise human being--like Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln or Oprah. But because we Christ followers do believe in the resurrection, we believe they are much more than just the teachings of a wise person. We put our faith in Jesus's teachings, we study them and we try our best to live them in our imperfect lives.

Some may ask why we Christians believe in the resurrection. That is a fair question. It is also a personal one that is bound to be answered differently by different people. An obvious answer is that the New Testament tells us that Jesus rose from the dead after three days in the tomb. But I can appreciate that that may not be enough for some folks.

To me, there are a couple of other things that really inspire my faith. First, something pretty impressive must have happened after Jesus's death because the disciples turned from utter despair (after the arrest and cruxifiction of their leader and friend) to an amazing, unshakeable faith. With that faith, the disciples (other than Judas) went on to organize the early church and to spread the good news of Christ to those who had not yet heard it. They sacrified mightily and suffered horribly to do that. Something very impressive happened to inspire that type of dedication in the face of all kinds of obstacles and dangers. In my mind, if they had not experienced the risen Christ, they would have taken a simpler path. I think Peter would have just gone back to a quiet life as a fisherman.

Another thing that convinces me of the factual accuracy of the resurrection is the life of Paul. Clearly, he was initially no friend of the Way, as the early church was called. Paul was a devout Jew, and was not keen on the followers of Jesus. Though he never met the pre-Easter Jesus, he did have a pretty impressive encounter with the post-Easter Jesus. It was so impressive that Paul did a 180, and devoted the rest of his life to learning about Jesus's teachings, trying to follow them, and bringing new people to the faith. Indeed, Paul wrote the vast majority of the books of the New Testament. None of us were on that road to Damascus with Paul, but clearly something pretty darned impressive must have happened to change his mind so drastically and convince him to sacrifice so much.

For those who believe in the resurrection of Christ, Easter is an amazing celebration. Like the disciples during Jesus's earthly ministry, we can be impressed by the wisdom and beauty of Jesus's pre-Easter teachings. But the resurrection shows us they were more than pretty words, they had divine authority to back them up.

And the resurrection is the ultimate victory. Jesus was betrayed, humiliated, tortured and abandoned, then he suffered an agonizing death. But despite all that suffering, he prevailed. No power on Earth could keep him down permanently. Even death, which seemed horrible and final, was not "the end of the story" as my pastor expresses it. The real end of the story is that like Christ we have eternal life with our Heavenly Father. If we no longer have reason to fear death, we are really liberated during our time here on Earth. That is the big deal that Christians celebrate at Easter.


1 Corinthians 15:55

O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?