Tag Archives: Jesus

1 Corinthians 13 (III)


reLOVEutionWe continue with my meditations on 1 Cor 13, Pauls love chapter. See also part I and II.

The next verse is the last of the first part of this chapter, and goes on in the same way as verse 1 and 2 which we’ve already read:

If I give away everything I own,
and if I give over my body
in order to boast,
but do not have love,
I receive no benefit.

(I recommend you to read this several times and think about it in all its implications and everything else that comes up when you read this. Asking the Holy Spirit for guidance before you do this is not a bad idea either.)

Paul still talks about all we can have and do without having love. This time he says we can sacrifice all we have including our own body, but without love we will not benefit from it.

The interesting thing is that when we compare the 3 first verses, the first verse says that without love we will just be meaningless, the second verse says that we are nothing, and the third verse says we won’t get any benefit. We can’t bypass love as a Christian. Not with knowledge, nor with strong faith, nor with any sacrifice we could make.

In medieval times we did have places called ‘godshuizen’ (god-houses) in this part of Europe, in which poor people were given housing and food. Sounds very good, but in fact the whole idea was that the (rich) people who founded such things just did it because they wanted to be sure they would go to heaven after they died. If this was indeed the reason why they built those houses and took care of the poor without really caring for them, we can doubt that it did really work. Paul here seems to assume otherwise…

Without love we are nothing!

There is some ambiguity in the original meaning of the second part, so some translations speak about giving over the body in order to boast, while others speaking in giving over the body to be burned, but the principle stays the same. Modern people don’t bother much with giving up their body anyway, so I don’t know if this particular sentence is that relevant for us. We do seem to revere our body more than that we are willing to sacrifice it.

But what Paul says here is very important. We can give and sacrifice everything we have and more, if it isn’t out of love (or at least creates love in us in the process), it will not do any good to us.

I must think of one more thing here: Jesus quoting the prophet Hosea to the pharisees in saying “Go and learn what this saying means: ‘I want mercy and not sacrifice.’” (Matthew 9:13). Let that sink in, here is the Living bible version:

‘It isn’t your sacrifices and your gifts I want—I want you to be merciful.’

We need to be merciful. We need to be loving. Sacrifices of any kind are meaningless without love…

Without love nothing can ever mean anything at all…

So what is love? What characteristics does it have? That’s something for next time. (you can cheat by opening your bible though…)

Peace

Bram

Do we Christians really live as followers of Jesus in the Spirit?


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How would the world look if all who call themselves ‘Christians’ and affirm that Jesus is Lord would take verses like the next ones foundational to their every-day life and to every decision?

How would the world have looked if people who claimed to be ‘Christian emperors’ or kings over ‘Christian countries’ filled with ‘Christian people’ would have meditated on verses like these every morning and did everything to let the Spirit transform them in such a way that this was the ‘normal’ for everyone?

Why, for those who dare to call ourselves Christians, is this so often not the ‘normal’, but do we derive our ‘normal’ from the fallen world around us because we need to be ‘realistic’? Don’t we believe that the Kingdom of God is a reality that will stay when this reality has faded?

Don’t we have to stick to what’s more real? Isn’t our world just a ghost compared to what is to come, and is the way of life laid out in these verses more real than our world now in a sense, even though its hard for us to see this and to align ourselves with the coming Kingdom.

 

Luke 6
27 “But I say to you who are listening: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 To the person who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other as well, and from the person who takes away your coat, do not withhold your tunic either. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and do not ask for your possessions back from the person who takes them away. 31 Treat others in the same way that you would want them to treat you.

32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do the same. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you hope to be repaid, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, so that they may be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to ungrateful and evil people. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

Are we even among ‘those who are listening’ that are addressed here?

It is said elsewhere that we will be known by our love as Christians. I must say I don’t always see that. I do see a lot of seminars in Christianity, about leadership and being a good Christian man and be victorious in Christ and whatever. Where are the seminars that help us find ways together to love our enemies, give to those who ask, resisting violence with love and not hate? Why don’t we do everything in our might to grow into what is described by Jesus here?

I know want to be sure as protestants that we are ‘not saved by our works’.  But isn’t the goal to be the sort of people that love God and our neigbor with everything that we are? The kind of people that would populate heaven (or the new Earth), the kind of people that are at home in a place were all evil is taken away?

Are we different as Christians? Are we known as Christians because we are ‘kind to ungrateful and evil people’? Are we known to be merciful because we believe that Our Father is merciful?

Galatians 5
13 For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity to indulge your flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole law can be summed up in a single commandment, namely, “You must love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 However, if you continually bite and devour one another, beware that you are not consumed by one another. 16 But I say, live by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh has desires that are opposed to the Spirit, and the Spirit has desires that are opposed to the flesh, for these are in opposition to each other, so that you cannot do what you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, depravity, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hostilities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish rivalries, dissensions, factions, 21 envying, murder, drunkenness, carousing, and similar things. I am warning you, as I had warned you before: Those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God!

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Now those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also behave in accordance with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, being jealous of one another.

How many of the ‘works of the flesh’ are not present in modern Christianity, even apart from the hidden sexual sin and horrible abuse that’s going on.  Things like “hostilities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish rivalries, dissensions, factions and envying” for example, can sometimes be on the foreground without anyone even noticing them. And they seem to have been since the early councils…

Note also that the freedom spoken about in Galatians 5:13 is the opposite of what our modern individualist sense of freedom (especially in the way some Americans are obsessed with it). We have the freedom not to indulge in our own longings but to serve the other in love!

Why are we as Christian so often even worse than the ‘sinner and tax collectors’ Jesus talks about? why don’t we assume it normal to go beyond this and really love our fellow humans, whether they are our friends of enemies, so people see Gods love through us?
Why are we as Christians so often distracted with stuff that go against the words of Jesus here, or are very clearly in Paul’s list of ‘works of the flesh’.

I can ask myself, but it would be very different if I as a Christian had always had examples of people living like this around me and finding it as normal as Jesus and Paul and the first church did… The world indeed would be very different if all Christians would find what is described in those 2 bible passages as normative and reality-shaping.

These verses  could be normative and reality-shaping for Christians.

These verses SHOULD be normative and reality-shaping for all of us Christians…

Can we please please please take this stuff more serious as Christians?  This broken world needs it.

Holy Spirit come!

The power found in the True Language of the Universe…


I know I’ve not been very active lately here on this blog. I’m wrestling with some stuff in and outside of my head -it’s not because it’s in my head that it isn’t real…- and though I do have a lot of unfinished posts on various subjects that will hopefully be finished and posted one day although a lot of them might see the light, I’m quite unsure about what to write at the moment. This post is another impulsive train of thought that just needed to be written down, and it does most probably fit somewhere in my demodersiation-project.

As some people kearthseanow already, I’m an enthusiastic reader of fantasy and scifi and likewise books, so after re-reading some Narnia, LOTR, and a few Terry Prachett books late last year I’m currently (re)reading Ursula Le Guins Earthsea series. I do say (re)reading because I’ve only been reading the first 4 ones before, and now I’ve also reading the collection of short stories called ‘tales from Earthsea’, and the last novel ‘the other wind’. It’s both interesting and challenging to me that the worldview in those books is sometimes much further away from mine. LOTR, Narnia, and even Harry Potter (indeed, Harry Potter) do have a pretty Christian background-worldview, while Earthsea seems to have some taoist and pagan (Native American?) concepts incorporated that are further away from my own thinking, with sometimes concepts and philosophies that I can’t agree with, but still very interesting to think about.

For this post there is just one idea I want to touch upon, which is the background behind the magic in Earthsea but also interesting outside of that context: the power of the old speach, which is the language of the making of the world. For those unfamiliar with the books: the world of Earthsea is created by some creator being name Segoy, more specifically it is called into being using that ‘true speech’. (There is a parallel with Christian thought here, but also differences: the world is called into being by the word of a creator as in genesis, though not ex nihilo, nor is the creator very active in the world anymore. So maybe there’ a more deist touch here even…) Wizards in Earthsea still use this very language of old speech since it is very powerful, if you do know the ‘real name’ of something (or someone) you have power over it. It is sort of the language underneath the universe of Earthsea.

Now outside of those books, the idea is still a very interesting one, and, dare I say, important one: If you know the language of creation, the language by which the world was made, and can speak it, you have power over the world.

I don’t think that true name magic is very original, nor do I expect Le Guin to claim that it is a new idea. Ideas like this do exist in a lot of cultures and more ‘magical’ thought (it’s behind the idea of most ‘spells’), but in a way the same idea also lies underneath modern science. We just don’t expect that language by which the world is made to be an actual language with words.

einsteinLet me explain what I mean with that: We modern people describe the world in formula and theories, looking for the ‘true name’ of things in the abstract language of mathematical equations and weird symbols, so we can not just explain the world around us, but also have power over it. We can visualise how an atom looks, and split it, either to make energy and electricity, or to make one of the most abominable weapons ever. We can unravel the language of DNA, and not just to find out how certain characteristics are coded in our genes, but also to alter organisms.

If you learn the language of the making of the universe, which is the same language the universe still speaks, you sometimes can control it. That’s one of the reasons why a lot of scientists are still looking for the ultimate formula that describes everything. We want to unravel the code in which the universe is programmed, so we can be able to re-program it in our own taste… Which is still the same goal that any serious magician had. I’ve said before that science and magic are like twins in a way.

And yes, it is true that to do anything at all, you need to understand the way the world works, learn the language, and submit to it. It is in submission to the rules of the language of the world that we can gain power over it, not just by writing symbols on a board. By submitting to the rules of the grammar of creation we can make the word submit. And as humans we do want this to be absolute. But the question here is ‘can we?’? I do find the modern idea that the universe can be completely understood ‘rationally’ in our terms, in our language and abstract system, to be naive hubris at least.

Now, science is only one attempt to try this, and one that is very useful in one area (the visible, material part of the world), but there are more dialects of the true language of the universe that the universe speaks, and though magic might not be in vogue in the high places nowadays (although our technology can be more evil than a lot of dark magic), there are working systems of magic that have found bits of the language to the universe useful to exercise power. (Chaos magic can be quite effective in the right (?) hands I think for example, if we get outside of the realm of more traditional occult magic(k) )

Let me note here that religion can probably be viewed in similar ways, but with a big difference: the ‘control’ part on our side should be absent for healthy religion, lest we fall back into some form of magic. This is often the case though, and not just in pagan systems, but also in some parts of Christianity. But that would be one more adventure in missing the point. We can use the language of the world (insofar we decipher it) to be able to understand and master nature, but we can only learn to speak the language of God (or the tao, or the order of the universe, depending on your tradition) in order to align ourselves more with Him. But we can’t put the Source of Being in our pocket or use it as a pet hawk to catch the hare we want to eat for Christmas…

In the end we are part of a bigger whole. We humans are not to be masters of the universe. We are almost gods maybe (see psalm 8 in the bible), but we never will be gods. We didn’t make this place, and didn’t invent the rules that were written in all of creation…

So we can try to learn to understand the language of the universe (in part, and in our fallible human way) but we will never be God, never be the Source of being, and in the end we will always be answerable to the Ultimate Source of Being.

(And as a Christian I must add that, while it is impossible for a human to really learn ‘the language of God’, it actually works the other way. God came down and learnt to speak our language, and became human in the person of Jesus. This is the opposite of all our power games. God did not come to make us submit in that way of power, He came as we are. See also this post)

Peace

Bram

I don’t care how ‘big’ you are…


babelThis world seems to be obsessed with celebrity sometimes. Everybody wants to make a name for themselves, or follow those who have made a name for themselves as if they are very important. Sometimes to the point that I wonder if the cult of celebrity is some replacement of the pagan worship of all kinds of minor deities, or the exaggerated saint worship of some of our medieval Christian ancestors.
Which is quite weird to me, because the objects of this worship are humans after all. We all are just humans. It’s not because someone is more known that he or she has more to contribute to humanity, or is more interesting. Au contraire, we have a phenomenon in our Western world of people who seem to be known just for being known. Or what would you say is the reason Paris Hilton is famous?

Sure, there are a lot of people who are known for good reasons. There are some good musicians who sell a lot of records, and those are known for good reasons. There are also a lot of people who sell millions of books because they are good at writing or have ideas that should be known to more people. But this should not at all be reversed: there is no guarantee that celebrity means quality… And it is, sadly enough, also not true at all that quality or substance will lead to celebrity or having a platform that can share your message to the world. Some of the greatest artists of all time have only become known after their death anyway, like Vincent Van Gogh, and probably some of the most important thinkers and artists have died unknown.

Being known means nothing except that you’ve made a name. It does not mean that you have quality, nor it does not mean that you don’t have quality either…(Furthermore, celebrity can be detrimental to quality, and those who are too interested in it and obtain it do sometimes even destroy the reason why they might be of any real interest to people, beyond their mere state of celebrity… A lot of people sacrifice quality for celebrity)

A lot of the best things might be unknown. A lot of the best music is never heard on the radio or found in the CD-store. The psalters for example are one of the best bands ever in my opinion, and one of the most impressing examples of religious music; even though unknown by most people. I do have a lot of lesser known artists in my library who have made songs that are better than the songs on the radio, sometimes even better than a lot of songs in our lists of ‘timeless classics’. Yes, I know, all of this is subjective, but exposure to it might increase the chance that people will like something, but it won’t change the quality… The guitar-riff of Soul-junks ‘may my tongue be stuck up on the roof’, for example, a psalm 137 song about the rivers of Babylon has a killer riff like ‘seven nation army’. But it’s completely unknown…

Same with writings things like blogs. (btw, I do generally have more readers as a ‘christian blogger’ than I do have listeners as a musician, although I don’t have a big audience anywhere.- I do have some links in my blogroll here, and those are just chosen because I like what those people are writing. I actually don’t even notice how ‘big’ a blog is when I read it, link to it or recommend it. If someone says things worth reading I will read and quote them, makes no difference be it a completely unknown guy with great ideas or one of the most-known thinkers on the earth.
I’d quote a friend as much as I would quote Plato if his saying is true and says what I wish to communicate. Truth is not linked to celebrity.
Staying in the field of Christian blogs, I don’t have more respect for a blog with 100ths of comments or one with a comment here and there, if they have something to tell that’s worth reading I’ll read it and recommend it. No matter if it’s Scot McKnight, Andrew Jones, Morgan Guyton, Lana Hope, or Rachel Held Evans, or some enormous star (I do like the new series on the bible by Rob Bell here, who seems to be a Christian celebrity for example) or someone no-one has ever heard of. I frankly don’t even have a clue who the big Christian blogs are, and I probably wouldn’t even interested in those. But I can recommend everyone to read the monthly post of Vinoth Ramachandra, or the weekly post of Eric from the Jawbone of an ass. Those are blogs I learn from! Even though I hardly see anyone quoting them.

C.S. Lewis describes an interesting scene in ‘the great divorce’, a weird book about a guy who visits heaven with a bunch of people from hell, and meets some interesting people there and sees other from a distance without interacting with them. One of them, who seems to be an enormously important saint, happens to have been a simple unknown woman during her life on Earth. She is honored as the greatest saint of all, while big figures here on earth are just shady and deluded ghosts there.
It is this way in the kingdom of God anyway: the least are the most important, and those who think they are big might turn out to be not much…

So it might be true that celebrity gives you a bigger audience, which is good if you indeed bring something that’s good, but which is quite bad if what you bring is bad. And actually, there is no reason at all to think that louder voices are more valuable and more worth hearing. (I even think that there’s good reason to be very careful with them…) Maybe the little kid next door has some wisdom that none of the rockstar preachers, academic masterminds and other mighty idea leaders will ever tell you because they don’t know it themselves.

Stardom is so relative, and it has cost a lot of people their soul…

peace

Bram

Evangelicals don’t listen to Jesus enough?


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Sometimes when I read the gospels and then see myself and fellow Christians, I wonder about the difference between what I read and what is expected as ‘normative’ in contemporary Christianity.  As a non-American I do see a lot of weird Americanist synchronism hiding as ‘conservative Christianity’. Sometimes when I see the Christian subculture with all its distractions I really understand Ghandi who said ‘I like your Christ, but I don’t like your Christians, they are so unlike your Christ’

Today I read an article by what looks to me like a good oldfashioned American baptist preacher, that reminds me that evangelicals, that all christians who proclaim to be ‘followers of the bible’ can in no way be expected to sweep the words of Jesus under the mat. There is no alibi for that. Read 10 big things Jesus said which you and I keep conveniently forgetting by pastor Joe McKeever here.

I am quite sure we all need to be reminded of a lot of those, or even if you’d disagree with some of his conclusions, just take all his bible verses as a starting point, or start with the words of the sermon on the mount (Matthew 5-7) of the sermon on the plain in Luke 6 read every day and taken serious in all aspects of our lives are enough to shake and challenge a lot of our traditions and assumptions. And let’s not forget that both pieces of teaching  I’ve named are concluded by Jesus with :

Matthew 7:24 “Everyone who hears these words of mine and does them is like a wise man who built his house on rock.25 The rain fell, the flood came, and the winds beat against that house, but it did not collapse because it had been founded on rock. 26 Everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.27 The rain fell, the flood came, and the winds beat against that house, and it collapsed; it was utterly destroyed!

So would living according to the words of Christ maybe be a good idea for those who claim to follow Him? Is it not the only thing we should expect that anyone who claims to be a ‘bible-following Christian’ tries to do. Love our neighbour, love our enemies, bless those who persecute you (even rejoice when they persecute you for Christ’s sake!), take care for the poor and sick, etc…

And yes, I know I’m still nowhere with that either, but I wish we would see that as a real problem, more than a lot of problems we evangelicals like to see that might be quite irrelevant…

Bram

Susanna Krizo on economics…


And now for something completely different: economics…

I found this an interesting quote, that was posted on FB by Jason Dye, who blogs here on left cheek. It’s from Susanna Krizo, whose new book “Essential Inequality & Social Justice in an Unjust World”, which will be out on Amazon at the end of this month, is going to be a primer on economic justice issues. The quote is on why the giving money to the pockets of the poor works better than tax breaks for the rich:

The neoclassical theory of economics (otherwise known as trickle-down) is based on the idea that demand and supply would always be balanced if the market was free to do what it does best; the gov’t is what causes the market to be imbalanced. But here’s the catch: the neoclassical theory doesn’t include human need. Those who cannot translate their need into demand are excluded from the theory, and life in general – they just don’t exist. The theory does not address poverty, old age, illness, other than with a withering announcement of the poor as lazy. By giving more money to the wealthy, our economy becomes lopsided, (since it removes demand) until supply engulfs demand, and the economy grinds to a halt – which was what happened in 2008. Human need cannot be transformed into demand without money, which is what the Keynesian theory recognized. To get the economy going, we need more people who can balance by demand the already bloated supply section. This is not done by giving more money to the wealthy, but to the poor and the middle class, who put the money right into the economy, instead of hiding the money in overseas tax havens. (via Jason M Dye)

I’m not an economist, but the whole ‘tricle down’ idea has always seemed nonsense to me, and as a Christian I don’t see any justification for favoring the rich over the poor. That’s just not compatible with the teachings of our Lord Jesus….

(Maybe running an empire isn’t compatible with following the teachings of our Lord either, I don’t have my mind made up about that yet…)

what do you think?

shalom

Bram

fallible language IV: The bible contains everything?


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