Thursday, October 29, 2009

Jesus and Judgement

I have been involved in a few conversations here in recent days via email on the subject of Jesus and judgment. As those of you who know me personally are aware I do not accept the traditional evangelical definition of eternal punishment as judgment as being a gospel idea. This philosophical idea changes my worldview in a way that often causes me to be challenged and oft even abused by those who claim a more traditional interpretation. This is an attempt to cull together a myriad of paragraphs that I have written in the context of the a fore mentioned discussions into a singular essay. I am deeply appreciative of my friends who have challenged me, and even those who have abused me, for requiring me to think critically in order to offer an explanation of the place I stand.

The message the world attributes to "Christianity" is a message of moral superiority, building programs, political ambition, a legacy of abuse, and an obsession with infighting over semantic disagreements. The exclusivity created by concluding that God will endlessly torture those who disagree with my theological understandings is an arrogance that affronts the very character of Jesus gospel. The idea that God is required to act in certain by any active causation neuters the "free" nature of the gift being offered. Jesus is the ultimate example of inclusiveness, and being transformed by that idea would quickly humble the pride of our superior revelation of God.

Still being fair, the idea of judgment certainly comes from inside the text of Jesus' own stories. So one has the responsibility to harmonize the inclusiveness and judgments into a functional paradigm. I will first say, that this harmonization is impossible outside of the active work of the Holy Spirit to reveal the heart of God for his creation through the person of Jesus and the community of his church. It is in the practice of living counter to the system of oppression that divides the world through walls of oppressor and oppressed, that we see salvation and judgment manifested in everything. The gospel must be Good News for the oppressor and the oppressed, because we are all slaves and masters both. So we look at Jesus' words committed to their meanings being shaped by these lenses.

Here Jesus has sent out his disciples to participate in the practice of gospel throughout the region. This passage has been used to justify a doctrine of eternal judgment. However, I would break it down to a few separate thoughts. First off, I think it is important to look at what "gospel" did Jesus send these disciples out with. Their "gospel" like Jesus' own proclamation of gospel in Luke 4, is active in the current world. Sickness, death, leprosy, demonic possession these are real world examples of the conditions of falleness. These problems exist because the problem of sin exists. "Kingdom of God is near" is proven by the facts that the effects of falleness can be proven as powerless. This message proclaims the current world power (money, power, greed) is a worthless power. There are places in this world that are too vested in the current system to receive the new system, they will reject it, and so they will sit in the consequences of siding with a system that has already found itself judged. They MUST be reforged, they must have their swords beaten into plowshares. This will be painful, but it will not be merely punitive.

It would be quite easy to fast forward this text out of it's historical placement and place it as a reference to a judgment that is an eternal punishment. However, as the Oxford scholar of first century history NT Wright points out in "The Challenge of Jesus" there is a better alternate reading of both these passages. He Notes that Jesus, in his vocation as a first century Judean prophet in an occupied state, would have been fulfilling both his role within that vocation and his role in the vocation of "Immanuel." Israel was the people of God, the recipients of Torah. However, God's design was never to bless Israel as an end to itself. God's design for Torah was for Israel to be a peculiar people, a blessing to the world. Israel rather than becoming a people of the Torah had become the keepers of Torah, and Torah had been reduced to a God management system. Israel's nationalism stemmed from their belief in this concept. The Jewish nationalism would be their downfall. Those who live by the sword will die by the sword. In this case that judgment did come for this place when Judea was ravaged by Rome in 70AD. There is a timeless truth for us to not trap God by our ideas and into our identities as these people
had done.

I want to note first that the 10 virgins were friends of the Bridegroom, the wicked servant was a servant of the master, and the sheep and the goats are in the shepherd's flock. I note this because these passages seem to be the most serious words Jesus has to speak about judgment. However despite the usual way they are presented, as an invitation to become part of Christianity or be subject to eternal judgment. Instead the stories share common theme about who God's judgment is directed toward, and that is at the insiders. The 5 foolish virgins were not unaware of the Bridegroom's intentions. The wicked servant was not unaware of the way's of his master. So too there is an expectation Jesus has of those who claim membership in his flock. Note to return once again to Jesus' own proclamation of gospel in Luke 4 in the "sheep and goats." This is a serious warning to any version of "gospel following" that is not rooted in participation with God in the margins. If we do not "lose our life" for the cause of those in the gutters we remain in the perpetual state of missing finding our life in living as part of God's Kingdom.

The issue I see as most pressing in this entire discussion is Christianity's need to interpret texts based on ideas that we hold sacred, not because they are sacred, but instead because they a protect a system we have come to like. By this I mean to conclude the whole discussion by going back to the outside world's perception of Christianity. The outside world's perception is right because it is based not on Christ's church commitment to his command of "Follow Me" but instead a civil institution that spends 80% of collected offerings on buildings, staff, and programming. The institution of the Christian religion is NOT Christ's church. Building programs, workshops, political causes, and a paid clergy are corporate functions for a civil institution. Christ's church is not a civil institution; it is the living incarnation of Christ on earth. Jesus said you would know a tree by it's fruit. If the fruit of the Christian religion is judgmental moral fundamentalism, righteous superiority, and intolerance then it is connected to a different vine than the fruit that comes from the life of Christ.

This is a very serious accusation because when Jesus speaks of judgment he is speaking to EXACTLY this problem. Jesus speaks of judgment for those who count themselves as insiders of God's work. Those who claim ownership of God, and use his name to perpetuate ideas that they hold personally profitable are looking forward to reaping the fruit of their actions.

In closing I note that there has been shared with me a Quaker idea that presents the cross as the ultimate act of solidarity by the creator with his creation. I think this idea has power to shape the praxis of our theology. It calls me into a deeper solidarity with the brokenness that Christ wishes to redeem through my hands and feet. If we can not join God, in community and in solidarity with those suffering oppression, then we stand judged already by Jesus' gospel that we claim to be the keepers of.

Monday, October 19, 2009

A Little Food For Your Tummy

I know it has been forever since I posted, but I really have not had anything to say and I have no desire to talk just for the sake of talking. I know the laughter is abounding at the idea of me not wanting to talk needlessly. I am coming out of this hiatus, just to post a recipe that I made yesterday and was a big hit. ALL THREE KIDS liked it, and that may be the first dish ever I could say that about.

  • 5 Medium Tomatoes
  • 1 Bunch of Asparagus
  • 2 Bunches of Green Onion
  • 1 Medium Red Onion
  • 1/2 Head Cabbage
  • 1/3 bag of baby carrots
  • 2 TBS Garlic
  • 1 TBS Dried Basil
  • 1 Tsp Dried Thyme
  • 1/4 Cup Olive Oil
  • A Pour of Balsamic Vinegar
  • A Splash of White Wine Vinegar

Noodles and Beans
  • 2 Cups Boiling Water
  • 1 Bag Al Dente Whole Wheat Pasta
  • 1 Bag Sun Dried Tomatoes
  • 1 TBS White Pepper
  • 1 15oz Can Dark Red Kidney Beans (Drained)

  1. Prep Sauce vegetables as per normal
  2. Bake all Sauce Ingredients 3 hours on 350 in dutch oven
  3. Blend to sauce with immersion blender
  4. Bake an additional 15 minutes
  5. In Bowl mix Pepper, Kidney beans, and Sun Dried Tomatoes
  6. QUICKLY add bean mix, noodles, and water to dutch oven. Mix and replace lid.
  7. Wrap dutch oven in towels and serve in about two hours.
DO NOT try and substitute another noodle. The wonderful physics of the Al Dente brand noodles make this dish possible.