Tag Archives: Church

Bill Nye and Ken Ham: Why the Bible convinced me Young Earth Creationism isn’t science

So there is this big ‘debate’ coming up. Bill Nye is debating Ken Ham. Bill Nye the Science Guy I watched and loved as a kid, I even watched him on Stargate: Atlantis and The Big Bang Theory (yes, I am that big of a nerd). Ken Ham is a big Young Earth Creationist… from what the internet tells me. I haven’t watched anything with Ken Ham in it.

The two are going to debate evolution or something like that.

Now, I am a nerd, but no science whiz. If science tells me that I flip the switch and light turns on – great! If the science dudes say evolution is how it works – awesome! Well, okay, maybe I am not that unaware, but I trust the scientists to be the scientists.

There is a reason, however, that I know that Young Earth Creationism isn’t scientific. Nor is Day Age theory, nor Progressive Creation, nor Intelligent Design.

That reason is the Bible.

You see, the creation that the bible actually describes happens very differently than the Young Earth Creationist version.

First of all creation happens twice. Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 are different stories, they are not one unified entity. Read them again. Draw what you see. They will look different. Even more than that, the two accounts are written with different style and genre, they have different qualities and different ways of describing God, EvCr1and most importantly they describe a 3-tiered universe (see picture).

They are poetic stories from the oral tradition. The ancient people who told them and then wrote them down never wanted them to be understood as science.

Genesis 1 uses Hebrew poetry to both help tell the story and help EvCr2the teller remember the sequence of events. Days 1,2,3 the space for the stuff of creation is made. Days 4,5,6 the things that go in the space is created. You only need to remember the order to 3 things.

Now there is a lot of textual, literary, historical, aspects of the scholarship that I won’t get into, but I think you get the point: Genesis 1 and 2 are not science text books and nor were they ever meant to be.

When I was in university, I took classes on science and religion from Prof. Denis Lamoureux. He is an evolutionary biologist and a theologian. His courses were designed for science students and fundamentalists alike to better understand the “Science vs. Religion” debate. But the thing that most students didn’t know, he was actually using the science stuff to teach basic introductory hermeneutics and biblical scholarship.

I took two classes with Denis. The second was a seminar where we had guest speakers representing different views on creation. One class he invited the president of the Alberta Young Earth Creation society to speak to the class. She was a woman with a PhD in botany. She came and presented all kinds of the same kind of “scientific” ideas that Answers in Genesis does. Of the 15 of us in the class, I was the only humanities/theology student. My classmates were all science majors. During the Q&A time, they debated the science, they asked questions of genetic expression, geological record, quantum physics and offered smart evolutionary evidence. This woman had answers for all of it.

Then I asked my question. I asked her what she thought about canonical development, and how that affected divine inspiration. I wanted her to explain how those early church councils determined what they accepted or rejected as the canonical books of the bible. I wanted her to explain how divine inspiration worked with books written 300 to a 1000 years previously.

She had no answer for me. In fact, she entered into what seemed to be a state of cognitive dissonance and told me over and over again that my question was “silly.”

She was the president of the Alberta Young Earth Creation society and she couldn’t answer a basic question of biblical scholarship.

This is the Achilles heel of Young Earth Creationists and their kin. I am surprised that those who debate these folks don’t use biblical scholarship against them more often. I am surprised that atheists like Richard Dawkins don’t do some homework on real biblical scholarship to use against the fundamentalists he is so fond of debating.

Creation pseudo science will always sound convincing enough for fundamentalists. They aren’t looking for real answers, they are looking for evidence that will support their biblical claims. If I were to talk to a Young Earth Creationist I would deal only with what the bible actually says, in Greek and Hebrew, in context, and with an understanding of ancient cosmology. I would make them deal with what serious biblical scholars have been talking about for centuries.

If I was Bill Nye, I wouldn’t even bother talking science with Ken Ham. I wouldn’t legitimize his pseudo-science by making it seem debatable. Ham will have an answer for everything, and that is the only foothold he needs to sound plausible – to have Nye, a real scientist acting as if Ham is worth debating. Evolution is still a big puzzle being put together, even if we can now tell what the picture looks like. Creation science is a neat little set of pseudo theories and logical fallacies meant to prop up poor biblical understanding.

If I was Bill Nye I would ask questions like my canonical development question. I would ask why  St. Augustine wouldn’t convert to Christianity until Bishop Gregory told him that much of the bible was allegorical. I would ask why Roman Catholic Priest and Physicist Georges Lemaitre could propose the Big Bang Theory and still be a faithful Christian. I would ask why Genesis and all of scripture is pretty clear about a 3-tired universe. I would ask about Hebrew poetry and oral tradition.

And then I would ask, why most biblical scholars, theologians and mainline denominations accept evolution with no problem at all.

Bill Nye could challenge Ken Ham with questions like these. Bill Nye could really make a statement about what Young Earth Creationism and biblical literalism is about. Bill Nye could pop Young Earth Creationism’s intellectual bubble and challenge the idea that the bible is a science text book.

Most christians who study the bible seriously  figured out centuries ago that Genesis is not science. We figured out that Genesis is not making a scientific point, but a theological one. Genesis is not telling us how creation happened or what it happened with.

Genesis is telling something though. Genesis is telling us who created it all (God) and why (out of love). Genesis is reminding the faithful of the most important things to know about creation… about why we are here at all.

Many christians have known this truth about Genesis for a long time. Many christians have understood that an allegorical Genesis is not a threat to our faith, even though Young Earth Creationists are ready to stake their faith in Jesus on whether Adam (the mud creature) was a real dude 6000 years ago. And creationists do this because it is intellectually easier.

Understanding the truth about Genesis would mean doing a lot less pseudo science, and instead doing some scary biblical scholarship and asking some scary questions about God and Christian History. It would mean revising stances on gender issues, sexuality issues, economic issues, and theological ones. It is really inconvenient to revise one’s theology like that, and to be prepared to do it often. But the Church hasn’t crumbled with its greatest theological minds being totally okay with an allegorical Genesis, and we won’t be crumbling any time soon.

Most importantly, we haven’t crumbled because many of us have understood the bigger issue at stake here:

You can take the bible literally.

You can take the bible seriously.

But you cannot do both.

So what would you say to Bill Nye or Ken Ham or me? Share in the comments, on twitter: @ParkerErik or on Facebook

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Why I should have spoken up for LGBT rights in the church.

This week, some blog comments have been getting to me.

I have been reading too many comment sections on blogs, Facebook and too many tweets. In fact, this article about blog comments by Popular Science, and why they aren’t doing them anymore has been one of my most retweeted shares.

I have an internet rule:  “Don’t read the comments.” I regularly break it. But when you run your own blog, you have to moderate, even when random people get into arguments over things unrelated to your writing, like on this post.  However, this week I spent some time over at Micah J. Murray’s post, “Why I can’t love the sinner/hate the sin anymore.” and Rachel Held Evan’s post “When Evangelicals Support Phil Robertson.” The comments on those posts bother me too, but not because they are bad, but because they say out loud what I have not.

Image source -http://confessionsofadevoted.blogspot.ca
Image source -http://confessionsofadevoted.blogspot.ca

Until now, I have never really have said much publicly about my position on LGBT issues and rights in the church. Maybe it is time that I should. Maybe I should have a long time ago. Maybe I am partly bothered by my own sitting on the sidelines as brothers and sisters in Christ fight to be seen and heard as equals in the body.

It occurs to me, that I really have no reason to say nothing or to be afraid of saying something.

I live in a country where any two people can be married, regardless of gender, and it is has been the law of the land for nearly a decade.

I serve in a denomination that recognizes the diversity of human relationships, sexual orientations and gender identity. Since 2011 we have allowed anyone to be a candidate for ministry regardless of sexual orientation or gender, and pastors are permitted to marry according to the laws of province in which they serve (which means same-sex blessings are permissible).

These policies and social statement have been in place for nearly 3 years, and still I haven’t spoken up. 

And there are more reasons why I should speak up. I also understand the biblical witness full well. I know the scripture passages that refer to marriage, sex and homosexuality, and I understand their context. I understand the hermeneutical methods, the greek, the historical situation. I know that biblical marriage is a messy idea based in chattel contracts, polygamy and incest.

I know that Abraham married his half-sister and consistently gave her up, to Kings and their royal harems, to save his own skin. I know Tamar pretended to be a prostitute so that Judah would impregnate her, as was his duty. I know the only scandal was her pregnancy, not his paying for sex.

I know that in Mark, Jesus’ prohibition of divorce was for the protection for women, so they would not be cast off like damaged property at the whim of their husbands. I know that Matthew was uncomfortable with this and added the unchastity clause.

And I definitely know that homosexuality in the bible is even murkier. I know that homosexuality was more about conquering armies raping their enemies, about older Greek and Roman men “mentoring” young boys, about teaching foreigners a lesson or two for wandering too far from home. I know that sex in the bible is far more about power and pleasure, about the god-like power to create life, and not so much about love, respect and commitment.

I know that the bible has little to say about gender identities, sexual orientation and homosexuality as we understand then today. I know that the bible also has little to say about romantic love and marriage either.

I know all this stuff, I have two university degrees in it after all.

And yet I still haven’t spoken out in favour of LGBT rights in the church. 

I grew up in a congregation full of wonderful people that loved me and I them, but who made a point of “standing up for the biblical definition of marriage.” They left my denomination shortly after I became a pastor. It was messy, it was painful, it was ugly. I have lost colleagues and friends because they simply couldn’t go along with what our denomination was doing.

And I knew they were wrong. I knew my colleagues understood the hermeneutics enough to be okay with women’s ordination, which is the same hermeneutical step to understanding that the bible is talking about a different homosexuality than we mean today. You can’t accept one and not the other.

It made me angry that pastors were leading churches out of fellowship, and into sketchy situations with little denominational support. I ranted and complained to friends about these colleagues.

And still I didn’t speak out. 

In my first parish, as the decisions regarding same-sex blessing and LGBT candidates for ministry were coming to our national church, we discussed what it would mean for our congregation. My church council had the most beautiful discussion of the issue that I have ever witnessed.

They were a generations-old farming community. Salt of earth, practical, hard-working people. They started out the conversation saying things like,

“That’s not the way I grew up.”

“I am just not comfortable with it.”

“My parents and grandparents would not want to see two grooms in our church.”

“That’s not what our community believes in.”

But without any prompting from me, they worked through the issue out loud,

“We wouldn’t want strangers coming to get married here, but what if one of our kids or grandkids came? What would say to them?”

“Would we really tell some of our children that it is okay for them to marry here, but not all of them?”

And then, as I still sat and listened, they agreed,

“Well, when the time comes, we know we will have to change our minds.”

They didn’t know that they already had changed their hearts.

That was 3 years ago, and still I haven’t spoken up for LGBT rights in the church. 

And yes, all along the way I have had questions. Questions more to do with evolutionary biology, and with the deep brokenness, alienation, estrangement and distortion of this condition we call sin and the impact it has in our lives, including our very genetic and biological makeup.

But I know the question don’t really matter in real life, and especially not to God.

And so it is better late than never right?

Maybe now is the time to speak up. 

And maybe now is still the time because there are Phil Robertson’s, Mark Driscoll’s and dudes on Facebook making idiotic comments.

And maybe now is the time because I am an ordained pastor and theologian of the church who has been called to say things about people, about the gospel, about the bible, about God.

And maybe now is the time because in a few months, my wife will have our baby and I will be a father. I will be a father who wants my child to know that I love him or her no matter what, no matter who they are. I want my child to know that his or her father believes strongly that all people – regardless of sexual orientation or sexual identity, or race, or class, or gender – are loved by God.

I want my child to know that there is no sin too great for God to forgive, especially the sin of “being different” that human beings loudly condemn, but also the more quiet sins of being bigoted, or failing to speak up.

So let me speak put now:  I support LGBT rights and equality in the church.   

Have more to say on this issue? Share in the comments, on Twitter: @ParkerErik or on The Millennial Pastor Facebook Page

Why Christians have lost the argument for faith before it started.

argumentsThis week, a blogger I respect, Tony Jones, wrote a post “Why Are You Still a Christian?” It was an open and honest piece about his personal struggles with doubt and faith. His basic assertion could be characterized as saying that he is a Christian because most people believe in God. Not the best argument in my mind.

He was also unfavourable towards Atheists. A prominent Atheist blogger then shared the post and the comments started filling on Tony Jones blog with arguments against faith.

Tony Jones tweeted that he was feeling a little beat up after it all.

A post like that, trying to give his reasons for his faith, was destined to fail in the face of “rational” scrutiny. But the point of the post wasn’t to give THE argument for God, it was to share what he is clinging to at the moment. However, the responses in the comment section cannot really be faulted either.

The problem is ‘Christendom’  and how Christendom’s argument for faith and for God has been playing out over the last several decades. Now, bear with me for a moment as I try to explain.

I heard Nadia Bolz-Weber last fall in Winnipeg, and one of my favourite “Nadiaisms” that she uses to describe her church, House for All Sinners and Saints is:

We are high commitment, low obligation.”

Theirs is a culture that allows people to participate in planning and leading as they are able, people can come and go as their interest and availability changes.

Sounds like great system, if you can work with change and chaos.

But the issue of obligation vs. commitment is one that has been rumbling about my brain for months, and I am starting to realize it is much more than a quaint idea for a little mission congregation.

Obligation vs. Commitment is at the heart of Christendom’s argument for faith.

Or more precisely, Christians have been trying to obligate society to observe, defend, practice, uphold, and respect Christianity. Then while society pushes back against being obligated in such a way. As a pastor, I get to hear the lament of failed obligation attempts pretty regularly. The lament is for a loss of privilege:

“They used to say the Lord’s prayer in schools, pastor!”

“Stores used to be closed on Sundays so people could come to church.”

“Kid’s play sports on Sunday mornings, and that is why our Sunday School is so small. It never used to be like that.”

“The cashier at (insert name) store said “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.””

“People need to start coming to church to fill our pews and give offering! People should be here.”

“This is a Christian nation founded on Christian values.”

“They took the 10 Commandments down from the courthouse, what is the world coming to?”

I cringe when I hear these statements. I would be willing to bet they bother me as much any non-Christian. But they bother me for a different reason.

We have lost of the plot when we think that we can obligate belief or faith.

This is why Tony Jones, who did not set out for a debate, lost before he even began. Christendom got in the way of his point. Christendom has been trying to obligate faith for decades, and people who don’t want to be obligated anymore are rightfully protesting. It is pretty hard to make an argument for faith and for people not to hear the Christian attempt to obligate everyone to follow our religion.

But the bigger issue is for those of us who are Christians.

Is forcing everyone to say a Christian prayer in school or to say ‘Merry Christmas’ or to come to church because the rest of the world is closed on Sundays really a valid evangelism or discipleship method?

I think it is time for Christians to give up trying to reclaim the obligations of Christendom past.

I think it is time for Christians to say sorry to the world for trying to legislate our faith into their lives.

I think it is time for Christians to stop trying to argue people into believing in God. 

Even if there was some argument that could once and for all prove that God is real, and the Trinity is that God, and that everyone should believe… it would be the worst idea in the world to use it. What good is a Christian who has been forced to faith?

I actually don’t like it when people who think they should be there, come to my church. I don’t want people to come to church or be Christian for the sake of filling pews and saving souls.

I want people to want to come to church. To want to become Christians. To want to have a relationship with the Body of Christ.

I want people to feel like church is something they need, not something forced upon them. 

You know who makes my heart leap for joy at church? People who can’t imagine being anywhere else on Sunday mornings. People who choose church over the other options.

But we can’t all feel that way every week. Even the most devout Christian cannot want faith enough sufficiently every day, every week, every month.

And that is where I come back to Tony Jones’ post.

“Because everyone else is doing it,” is simply not a good reason for faith. Yet, I didn’t hear that in his post.

“Because on the days when I don’t have enough faith on my own, my brothers and sisters in Christ will have enough faith for me” is what I did hear. This is one of the most important theological, ecclesiological, liturgical reasons that I can imagine for why most of us are still Christians.

Because we are committed to each other, because we commit to share our faith and to share our doubt as a community, because everyone is else is doing faith WITH me. This is one of the most important reasons in the world.

Our desire to obligate people to faith is a desire to preserve Empire, but Christians, the Body of Christ, cannot be about Empire anymore.

The Body of Christ does not obligate you, me or anyone to faith. The Body of Christ commits you, me and all creation to God.

This idea changes everything. Wanting people to believe in God is one thing, but what if Christians strived to help people to want to have faith? We would be a different Church if we tried that.

Have Christians lost the argument for faith?  Is there a defense for faith that will help? Share in the comments or on twitter @ParkerErik or on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/millennialpastor

Want more drama? Check out the high school drama of Evangelicalism.

Evangelical drama needs Mainline experience

high-schoolThese days, Evangelicalism makes me feel old. And tired.

The week that Phil Robertson was suspended, I was preparing for the funeral of a 16-month old girl killed in a car crash. The week he was re-instated, I was preparing for a funeral of man who took his own life, leaving 3 young children behind.

Throughout the last few months as a famous pastor was accused of plagiarism, as the Pope was called a marxist, as the issue of the role of women in Evangelicalism continued to rage, as the war on Christmas rolled into full force, it just made me tired.

I watched as progressive Evangelicals bemoaned the state of their tribe. As some called for schism, as others resolved to quit fighting about it, even others thought about leaving altogether,  and still others spoke thoughtfully into the cacophony that is Christian twitter, blogs, and media.

All Christians in North America, if they are paying attention, are forced to watch the Evangelical tribe as it rumbles and quakes about whatever is the issue of the day is. And I cannot help but see it all as some grandiose high school drama.

________

There is the usual cast of characters:

The Football Team (Mark Driscoll, John Piper, John Eldredge). The crowds love them, but most cannot see that they are also the bullies. They are pretty sure the football is only for boys, and the only sport for girls is cheerleading.

The Rich Kids (Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer). They are generally oblivious to the fact that there are other students at the high school. No one really likes them, but many want to be like them.

The Valedictorian (Rachel Held Evans). She is bright and well-liked, but constantly at odds with the football team for pointing out girls can play sports and the football team is getting too much money.

The Hipster School Newspaper Reporter (Micah J. Murray). He is interested in the truth and real stories. The football team can’t stand that he keeps writing about girls and the glee club.

The Debate Team (Zach Hoag, Tony Jones, Fred Clark, Benjamin Corey and others). They are passionate and articulate, and even agree about almost everything. But they often sound like they are fighting.

The Misunderstood Artist (David Hayward/Naked Pastor). Everyone loves his work, even if they don’t quite get it.

The Foreign Exchange Student (Sarah Bessey). Many love her, but the football team is suspicious because she has introduced this thing called “Jesus Feminism.” This new idea is causing quite the stir.

The Activist Club (The Junia Project). They are a group of passionate students, working to get their message out, and the football team is ignoring it at all costs.

(There are certainly more characters and roles than I have named here).

And there are us non-students. Those of us who are part of the story, non-Evangelical Christians, but not central figures.

There is Grandma (Roman Catholicism) and she has long been loved by the football team. Grandma used to knit scarves as Christmas presents for the team, but this year she decided that instead she was going to give goats and wells to poor people in their name and they didn’t like that at all. But the valedictorian, newspaper, activist club and debate team loved it.

And there is the star Substitute Teacher (Nadia Bolz-Weber), and the students think she is cool and hip, even members of the football team think she is badass. The students hear what she has to say as if it is fresh and new, but the same stuff the rest of the teachers have been saying for years.

(Again there are more characters than I can name.)

___________

So yes, I watch this drama and it is tiring, but there is no choice. As a young Lutheran pastor and a Mainline Christian, I know that many in my tribe feel the same, Evangelicals tire us out. They tire us out because we are the frazzled teachers and haggard parents to these high schoolers. We brought them into the world, and so we bear some responsibility for their drama. Yes, we can seem remarkably like their Grandma, but she and us had a big fight long before the high school students can remember, and we haven’t totally got past it yet. But as their parents and teachers, most of them find us uncool, irrelevant, wishy washy, out of fashion, and boring. There are a few who are starting to find us interesting and worth hearing out.

Still, Evangelicals need us. They need our experience, our wisdom, our calmness. They need our depth, our ability to see the grey areas of faith, our comfort with the tensions. They need us because we have been where they are going as they grow up. After our big fight with Grandma, we started fighting with each other, armies got involved, and people died. We have had our drama too.

And we need Evangelicals. We need their drama. We need their drama to remind us of how important this faith business, how important Jesus, is. Their drama reminds us of the passion we once had 500 years ago, of our own willingness to fight for every inch of the gospel. The high school might rumble and quake, and we will get tired of how loudly each mole hill gets argued over. But they keep us from getting apathetic, from getting too comfortable, and too familiar.

Hopefully, they will eventually come to see how they need us. Maybe they can stop looking for our flash when we offer rootedness. Maybe they will stop hoping for our strong declarations when we offer complex responses. Maybe they will stop seeking our innovation when we offer submission to the traditions of the faith community over time. Maybe they can stop wishing for big personalities from our pastors, when we offer professionalism and education.

Evangelicals, with their drama AND passion, need the Mainline.

Hopefully, we will accept that we need them. Maybe we can stop looking for their traditionalism, when they offer creativity. Maybe we can stop hoping for institutional cohesiveness for them, when they offer a grass roots touch. Maybe we can stop seeking them to honour what has “always been”, when they offer excitement for what is new. Maybe we can stop wishing their pastors will fit the mold, when they offer dynamic leadership. Mainliners, despite being tired AND experienced, need Evangelicalism.

In the meantime, despite myself, I will continue watching the high school, being exasperated by the drama and walking with my Evangelical brothers and sisters… because the Mainline needs them.

What do you think? Is Evangelicalism high school drama? Share in the comments or on twitter: @parkererik or on Facebook

Want more drama? Read: 12 Reasons Why Being a Male Pastor is Better

The Magic of Christmas is Gone – when a child dies

*Note: On December 16th, a 16th month old girl was killed in a car accident in our community. On December 21st, our congregation held the funeral. 

HolyInnocents-Atlanta-monkimage.php_Matthew 2:13–23

Today the magic is over. The real Holiday began on Boxing Day as thousands, even millions of people across Canada spent their time worshiping at the altars of Wal-Mart, Zellers, The Bay, Sears and more.

All that magic at Christmas, is as easily returned as a faulty watch or an unwanted pair of socks. Boxing Day, or Week, or whatever the tag line is, is a sobering reminder about how quickly the world forgets Christmas and moves on to more important things.

And the reality is, being out shopping seems a lot more normal than what we are doing here. In fact, we haven’t done anything in step with the rest of the world for quite a few weeks now.

All throughout December we decorated with blue instead of reds and green. We sang Advent hymns instead of Christmas carols. And on The Eve of the Nativity of Our Lord, we listened and watched as Christ was born in hotel room and visited by rejoicing Shepherds in the middle of the night. On Christmas morning, we sat down at a different meal, not turkey and mashed potatoes, but bread and wine, body and blood.

And this past week, when all the newspaper flyers and radio stations were telling us that we should be at the stores to get the big deals, we are here. We are here, listening and watching as the Holy Family escapes from real danger, and as all the other children in Bethlehem are massacred. The magic of Christmas is gone indeed.

The story of the massacre of the Holy Innocents does not seem like an appropriate Christmas story. Or at least is isn’t a story that you can buy, wrap up and then return on boxing day. However, it does follow the real Christmas story right in step. Last Sunday, Joseph saved Mary by choosing not to stone her when he found out she was pregnant. During the week, the two traveled a long and rocky road to Bethlehem full of thieves and other perils only to then give birth in the place where animals are kept. And now, as the paranoid King Herod orders the murder of babies under the age of 2, Jesus, Mary and Joseph escape to Egypt. The drummer boy, and the reindeer, and a tree adorned with lights and tinsel are not, and never have been, a part of this story.

Side by side, Boxing week, and this scene in Jesus’ life show us a darker side of the holiday. They show us the side of greed and fear, sides of cruelty and despair. They suck all the Christmas magic out of us, and leave us empty once more. The Joy of Christmas was supposed to last a year, but it has barely stayed with us a few days.

The story of the massacre of the Holy Innocents, of all the toddlers and babies in Bethlehem,  is not an easy story to hear. It is especially poignant this year as we had to burry an infant in our community. Our hearts ache hearing about the death of children, we know, somewhere deep inside of us, that this is unbearably sad. There is no need to compare it to the tragedies of human history that have followed since King Herod gave the order. We know what the slaughter of children was like for that town of Bethlehem, because it has not stopped. Children die each day, all over the world, of hunger, war, disease and poverty. This is not just Bethlehem or Selkirk in grief and mourning, it is a whole world. A world now even more desperate for a Messiah. Jeremiah speaks of grief for us all:

A voice was heard in Ramah,

wailing and loud lamentation,

Rachel weeping for her children;

she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.

Jeremiah’s words first expressed the grief of his people, the mothers of Israel, as they wept for their children who had been taken away to exile in Babylon. Then people of Bethlehem would have know the book of Jeremiah, and the story of the exile. But now they carry new meaning as they are stamped again to the hearts of the mothers of Bethlehem. And we know the stories of exile and the story of the Holy Innocents, but this year they carry new meaning as they are stamped upon our hearts. Tragedy upon tragedy. Heartbreak upon Heartbreak.

The darkness, that the Messiah was supposed to shine light into, appears to have returned.

Yet….

Yet….

Yet… Jeremiah’s words do not go unheard. The weeping of Rachel and of all the mothers of Israel is not ignored. God speaks to this suffering. God speaks to the people that Jeremiah first wrote to, God speaks to the mothers of Bethlehem and God speaks to us, to all who know tragedy, pain and loss. We hear the words of Jeremiah applied to massacre of the Holy Innocents, and applied to our tragedy. But Jeremiah doesn’t end with tragedy. Matthew only quotes tragedy, but the mothers and fathers of Bethlehem would have know what follows in the book of Jeremiah. And today, we hear this promise again:

Thus says the Lord:

Keep your voice from weeping,

and your eyes from tears;

for there is a reward for your work,

says the Lord:

they shall come back from the land of the enemy;

17 there is hope for your future,

says the Lord:

your children shall come back to their own country.

17 there is hope for your future,

says the Lord:

   your children shall come back to their own country.

God has not forgotten the cries of his people, and God’s messiah, Christ has come into the world for a purpose.

The newborn Messiah does not “escape” to Egypt. Instead, the Messiah travels the path of his people. The Messiah goes down the roads that the Israelites have traveled, so that God knows their suffering.

Just as the nation of Israel fled from Pharaoh in the Exodus, so too will the Messiah follow their path to Egypt and then back to the promised land.

And just as the exiles of Jeremiah’s day returned from Babylon to Jerusalem, to the holy city, the Messiah is also on his way to Jerusalem.  Egypt and Babylon are just the beginning of the Messiah’s journey. Jesus the Messiah is preparing to take on all the suffering of his people.

As the Messiah escapes to Egypt it is really only a delay of King Herod’s order for death.  Make no mistake, the destination of Messiah, from the moment he was laid in the manger, and was worshipped by shepherds and magi, is the cross. Christ the Messiah has been on his to the land of the dead this whole time.

And surprisingly, this is the hope, this is the promise that the Lord speaks to the people of Israel. This is the promise that is beneath the star, that is born into the stable, that is a little baby in Mary’s arms. The promise that is not just a baby, but a baby who will die. But not just die, but who will rise again. But who will not just rise again, but who will bring us back from the land of the enemy, who will call us to rise from our graves too…

There will be a lot of Christmas promises that are returned and exchanged for something else this week. There will be a lot of greed and darkness, that quickly returns into the world after what is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year. And beyond our shopping malls and box stores, there will still be guns fired, hungry children, disaster, epidemic and suffering.

And it is in to this troubled world that God come to us… God comes to us as a baby shining light into our darkness and bringing the one Christmas promise that cannot be returned or exchanged.

17 there is hope for your future, 

says the Lord:

   your children shall come back to their own country.

Christ, the Baby Messiah, born in stable, sleeping in a stable manger, has come into our world, to bring us out of the land of the enemy. To pull us from the chaos of the shopping malls, from the despair of grief and loss, from tombs where we do not belong. And Christ shall bring us back to our home, back to the love God.

This is is the promise of Christ’s coming. This is the hope that the angels proclaimed. This is the Good News of great joy that was given to the Shepherds, and that has been passed on to us this day.

Amen

 

A Story for Christmas – Part 1

Luke 2:1-14(15-20)

snowed-inMarlena heard shouts from behind her. She looked in her rearview mirror to asses the situation. Her oldest, David, was reaching across the back seat to his sister Lizzie, threatening to wipe his snot in her hair. David was grinning devilishly while Lizzie screamed in terror. Marlena’s husband Jim was playing with the radio. It was Christmas Eve, and the family was on their was across provinces to Marlena’s parents for Christmas. Marlena had been prepping for weeks, wanting to bring the perfect Christmas to her parents, who could no longer come to them.

“Jim, can you get them to stop it?” snapped Marlena.

“Stop fighting you guys” said a disinterested Jim without looking up.

“Whatever” sighed Marlena to Jim.

“David, Lizzie if you don’t stop fighting right now, there will be no presents for Christmas”.

Marlena hated making that threat, but lately it seemed to be the only thing that got her kids to stop.

“But mom!!!! David…”

“Enough!” shouted Marlena. “If I hear another word, I will turn this car around and we will go back home with NO CHRISTMAS!”.

The kids were instantly silent.

Jim muttered under his breath, “Sounds good to me”.

All this work for the perfect Christmas, had made the family irritable, Marlena most of all. She wanted so much to have a good time with family, but December had been full of fights and stress. As the family continued to drive in silence, the storm came upon Marlena’s family very suddenly. The dull morning sky had all of a sudden turned white with falling snow. Marlena’s anxiety shifted from being about her fighting children, to simply making it to the next town.

At noon, they pulled in at a roadside hotel, there were already many cars there and the minivan barely made it through the snow to one of few remaining parking spots. They trudged into the lobby and waited to get a room. Jim did the booking while Marlena phoned her parents.

“We won’t make it for Christmas” Marlena nearly sobbed into the phone.

But her parents didn’t seem too upset. They had been invited to the neighbours and they wouldn’t be alone on Christmas Eve. Marlena was devastated… she had worked so hard and now none of that work mattered, Christmas was ruined for everyone.

Jim had managed to book the final room in the hotel… actually it was the executive suite, but he had gotten it for the same price as the other rooms. The hotel clerk was feeling in the Christmas spirit.

When they got to their room, the kids squealed with delight as they leapt onto the beds and started jumping. Jim and Marlena dropped their bags and went to unpack the rest of the van. As they made their way through the hotel lobby, their could hear the clerk telling someone that there were no more rooms. It was a young couple and they looked defeated… “Maybe you can make it to the next town” the clerk offered, trying to be helpful. Marlena knew they wouldn’t make it out of the parking lot. She approached the couple and offered to share their room. There were two beds and a pullout couch in the executive suite, it would be crowded but they could all fit. Jim was looking skeptical, but eventually he shrugged and went back out to the minivan. Marlena showed the couple to the room, and offered them a bed. They introduced themselves as Jesse and Miriam, They were so grateful and polite, while Marlena was embarrassed by her kids who hadn’t stopped jumping on the bed. The couple offered to pay for half the room, but Marlena refused their money.

“The hotel gave us the room for the price of a regular one”, she said. “Let this be our present to you”.

As Marlena, helped them with their things, Miriam took off her heavy parka to reveal that she was pregnant. Very pregnant.

“How far along are you?” Marlena asked.

“I am due next week,” Miriam answered.

The two families spent the afternoon settling into their room.

As the group scrounged for supper at the vending machines, since the hotel kitchen was closed, they sat in the lobby and chatted about their lives, while the kids bounced off the walls. Jesse was a contractor building houses, they had been living away from home, but they were on their way back to have the baby.

The snow had not let up, and the cars in the lot were covered in snow. Afternoon turned into Christmas Evening. Marlena was staring out the window thinking about the Christmas they should be having, when Miriam grabbed her large belly. Jesse looked over and said, “Must be those false labour contractions, no need to worry”.

But the contractions were real.

A few hours later, Miriam was in bed and in full labour, with Jesse at her side. Jim was on the phone with Emergency services who said they couldn’t get an ambulance out in the storm. Marlena was helping the couple as best she could. Eventually it became clear that the ambulance was not coming, and Miriam was going to have a baby in this hotel. They readied themselves as much as they could, then it was time.

“The Baby is going to come now”. Marlena said “One more push.”

Miriam gritted her teeth and Marlena got into position. With the last push, into Malena’s hands slithered a slimy and wailing bundle of legs and arms, hands and feet. Marlena gave the baby to Miriam, who was exhausted but so happy. Jesse looked stunned. Marlena brought some water and towels to clean and then swaddle the newborn.

“Christopher” Miriam said. “His name is Christopher”. Soon mother and baby were sleeping quietly in the bed.

Jim and Jesse waited in the lobby late into the night, David and Lizzie slept on the couches. Jesse couldn’t believe he was now a father. It was Jim who spied the headlights appearing in the white out. Three big 4x4s rolled up to the front door, trucks with skulls, and flames and hunting gear. Several men poured out of the trucks, they were loud and boisterous. They looked like bikers or hunters, wearing balaclavas and carrying tools. They came to streaming into lobby, they looked like a gang out for mischief.

Jesse moved to the door, Jim could see his body tense. Jim followed, worried there would be a brawl. But the group of men quieted down. One stepped froward,

“I am an EMT the volunteer fire department, we are here for the pregnant woman. My name is John Shepherd.”

Miriam was waiting at the door of her room with the baby, she was grateful for the EMTs and firefighters to check her and the baby over. When John Shepherd and his team did their work and left, Jesse came to Jim and Marlena,

“You have been like guardian angels to us. Thank you, you saved us”. He went to sit with Miriam, the two gazed at their Christmas baby.

Jim and Marlena stood nearby watching the young couple. Jim looked at his wife,

“A full motor inn, a baby born on Christmas, an EMT named Shepherd… this has been and incredible night. This is a special baby.”

Marlena looked at her husband, and she couldn’t help but think of Mary and Joseph. And angel who announced a pregnancy to an unmarried virgin and her fiancee. The promise of a baby who would change the world. A baby just like this one, who could not lift his own head, who could not survive unless his mother kept him warm with her body heat, who could not be fed unless it was his parents who gave him food, who could not be alive unless this unlikely couple worked to keep him so. The story of angels and shepherds had never seemed so real as it did tonight.

“Look at that beautiful child” Marlena whispered as she wrapped her arms around Jim.

And together as they looked at this little child, so new to world, wiggling and gurgling like newborns do, they saw skin and hair, ears, eyes and a nose. And yet as they looked longer, they saw something more, something so much more. As they looked into this child’s eyes they could see themselves, they could see everyone that they loved, they could see the whole world. In this little helpless child, they could see the divine, they could see a great passion for all creation, they could see God in flesh — Emmanuel. Looking at Jesse and Miriam, they could see Mary and Joseph, looking at Christopher, they could see Jesus. They saw the whole world differently than it was just a moment before. A world with God in it.

As the first wisps of light began to breach the horizon with the sunrise, the two families  watched this new light come into the world. As starlight and sunlight danced across the sky, they could almost hear voices singing in the sky,

“”Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom God favours!”

Amen. 

For Part 2, see here: A Story for Christmas – Part 2

Pope Francis is a Marxist, and all Christians should be too.

“Is it my job to feed my neighbour’s child? I don’t think so.”Jesus and Karl Marx

Just a couple of days ago in Canada, Federal Industry Minister James Moore made this statement. And of course, once the public and social media outrage (primarily on twitter) got to be too loud, Moore apologized (for being so foolish as to let his repugnant values show in public).

Also, recently the conservative right in the US (Rush Limbaugh, in particular) have called pope Francis a Marxist for advocating for the poor and speaking out against capitalism. Pope Francis responded by saying he is not a Marxist and Marxist ideology is wrong, instead he is a Christian. 

These two media storms highlight a bigger issue that we are facing and that is economic inequality. And I think Christians could benefit from a little Marxism.

Movements like Occupy Wall Street or the recent fast food workers strike show that the economic inequality created by capitalist policies is not really helping most people get ahead, but instead the majority (the middle class) is falling further and further behind the rich few.

Even here in Canada, I hear intelligent, well-meaning people tell me that capitalism is the best economic system for us. I am only 31 years old, but even I remember a time when the ‘capitalists fat cats’ were more joke than revered social leaders.

So here is the thing about Capitalism –  The majority of us are not capitalists in this economic system. Capitalists have the capital (money) to invest in stock markets, to own means of production, to run the economy.  We are workers, the proletariat, the ones off whom the capitalists earn their riches. Capitalism necessitates that the investors and owners take in the profit margins from the production of their workers. In other words, we must be paid less than we make, produce or earn for our employers. That is who capital is made. That is how capitalist invest in and own things. This is system is unequal from the get go, and most of have drunk the cool-aid thinking that capitalism is fair and balanced system.

Our blind support for capitalism is something that capitalists have convinced us is good for us… Christians included.

Karl Marx, on the other hand, said that the Capitalist promise, that what is good for the Capitalist (increased profits, lower taxes etc…) is also good for the average worker, is a big lie. Sounds like the lie of trickle down economics. The one that Pope Francis is naming.

Pope Francis, you are a Marxist.

Christians should be Marxists too.

Here is something else Karl Marx said:

“Society does not consist of individuals, but expresses the sum of interrelations, the relations within which these individuals stand.”

— Karl Marx, Grundrisse, 1858

Sounds a lot like another Marxist:

“for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

– Jesus, Matthew 25:35-40

We have all been told that Marxism is unequivocally bad.  And the examples of Marxism or communism that our world has put into practice haven’t been any better than capitalism for making people’s lives better. They have been pretty awful actually.  And I am not saying that we should switch to communism.

But unlike Capitalism, which is a system that is designed to be concerned with and favour those on the top, Marxist thought turns towards the poor and marginalized. Marx’s concern for society or community, was above his concern for the individual. That concern for the poor sounds a lot like that Jesus guy.  Marxism suggests an alternative to capitalism: socialism, perhaps leading to communism.

But this where Marxism and Jesus diverge.

Jesus points out that there is no system that will work perfectly.

“For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me.”

– Jesus, Matthew 26:11

Jesus didn’t say you will have the poor until you institute a capitalist, mixed-market, socialist, or communist economic system. He said always.

And this is where Pope Francis is calling us to turn our concern. Christians should not be about one system or another, we shouldn’t be advocating one political or economic system over others. But like Marx, our concern should be for the least of these, for the poor, the disadvantaged, the marginalized and the weak of the world. Those who are on the bottom and those who are losing ground. Not only is it our government’s job to feed our neighbour’s children, it is our duty and moral obligation.

And as Christians whose attention is turned to the poor, who like Jesus, like Pope Francis, even like Karl Marx,  we who strive for a better world need to balance our concern and work with a confession.

We aren’t going to solve the problem. Our systems, our economies, our politics will not find the solution to starving children. Marxists, nor Capitalists, will find the solution. Human beings will not and cannot find the solution. Every system we create results in someone ending up at the bottom, ending up in the margins.

And that is why as people of faith we turn the One who redeems our failures, who welcomed children when the disciples would not, who promises a new creation, a new system – not of our making, but of God’s.

And in Pope Francis, in food for our neighbour’s children, in small acts of kindness and mercy that go unnoticed each day, we see a glimpse of that New Creation breaking in here all around us – and still yet to come.

What do you think? Are you a closet Marxist? Share in comments or on Twitter: @ParkerErik

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