Archive for August, 2009

Matthew 6-8

Posted: August 28, 2009 in Uncategorized

Jesus goes on a talking rampage. And so he should. These people are a mess! I don’t know how they got to be such pious, demon-possessed derelicts, but God should have just wiped out everyone in a flood and started over. Again.

I see why the Jews are down on pork. Pigs get totally shafted in the New Testament. My favorite sentiment is: “Don’t throw your pearls to swine.” pigBasically, don’t share with people what is in your heart if they are not going to understand. I think I have not heeded that about 14 times in the last week. I might do it once more:

On a night in 1977, I woke up choking. This went beyond the shared gag reflex my brother and I share, which is always entertaining at parties. This was a choke hold. A finger pushed into my neck and when I put my hand there, the finger was beneath my own. I tried to sit up, but was pushed down into the bed. Fortunately, I had God, so I prayed, my lips letting the words come out loud. “God protect me. Devil leave me. You are not welcome here.” (Although I am trying to keep a serious story serious, I have to interject that I find it amusing that Christians use the phrase, “You are not welcome here.” So formal and polite.)

I was awake. I did not have a fever or any other illness. I saw nothing in my room. And once the presence was gone, it was gone. Of course, I stayed awake for a long time in fear that I would not make it to morning.

My church did not preach about the devil. We were Baptist evangelicals. We focused on bringing more people into heaven. We were different from the Pentecostals who focus more on the power of God, miracles and spiritual warfare. (“Spiritual warfare” is the term used for the battle of good and evil [angels and demons] that fight for souls in the spiritual realm.)Spiritual Warfare

So I didn’t know much about the devil. I only knew that he, or some form of him, was in my bedroom and continued to come for the next 15 years.  Sometimes I actually saw demons. Yes, they looked like what I see on book covers these days, but this was before we had good book covers, so I don’t think I was influenced. Many times I was asleep and felt myself being pushed down into the mattress, almost feeling like I was being dragged into hell. I would wake and grab the sides and pray for minutes or hours until I was freed.

As I grew older, I confided in spiritual leaders. I was prayed over many times. I had demons cast out of me. I was told that I was to be an important person in God’s army and that is why I was a threat to the devil. Many times I just wanted to give up and not be so important so I could get some sleep.

One person had me take off a piece of jewelry and throw it away because they felt it was carrying a curse. I did it all.

As a missionary in Dominican Republic, I remember meeting a man in the park. I was with some other missionaries and we were talking as this 50 year old man was crying. He said he had walked away from the church when he was young–the day of his Confirmation. He was so nervous that when he went to receive the wafer (the body of Christ in the Catholic faith) he threw up on the priest, the wafer coming out too. Because it was the holy body of Christ, the priest made him clean it up right then, in front of the whole congregation.

As he cried he began to gag and cough on his tears. The leader with me put his hand on the man’s back and said, “Cough it up.” This I would hear many times over the next few years: a person, if taken over with demons, can cough them out.  I, however, coughed, got prayed over, was anointed with oil and still was plagued with horror and restlessness.SonScents-AnointingOil

When Jesus is walking around preaching in Matthew, there are demon-possessed people on every corner. What did they do to become that way and what would they have done if Jesus hadn’t walked by? He began healing lepers and breaking fevers and began to gather his followers. Harshly he told one guy he could not wait for him to bury his father. If he wanted to follow Jesus, “let the dead bury their own dead.” He does some mind-reading in Chapter 9 and heals a paralytic too.

He is no lightweight, that Jesus. In Chapter 8 when he is on a boat and the waves nearly capsize he and his friends, he scoffs at them, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid? Then he did a hand swoop and the waves calmed down. But Jesus did not go for the whining. Which, as a demon-possessed girl is why I kept my mouth shut for years about my “issue.”

In fact, Jesus is p.r.e.t.t.y tough. He snaps at people, he tells them they have no faith and he gets blacklisted by PETA for casting demons out of a man and putting them into a pack (flock? gander?) of pigs—which go and drown themselves.

But the message he really gets across is that he didn’t come to appease those who thought they were right with God, he came to do justice and to hang out with sinners. The Jesus we discovered in the 70s. The one who was more like Che Guevara than like the oil paintings our grandparents had.jesus-people-time-magazine

Twice, however, Jesus does something I have overlooked many times. After he heals someone, he tells them, “Make sure you do not tell anyone.” Is this for fear of being captured and killed for heresy? Although I don’t know why, I am more perplexed as to how it gets written. Jesus didn’t write it. The leper didn’t write it. If the conversation not to tell anyone is between Jesus and the person healed, one of them broke their promise. Which one? Or, the third answer: neither one?

More perplexing is the end of Chapter 8. After he sent the demons into the swine, “those tending the pigs ran off, went into the town and reported this, including what had happened to the demon-possessed men, then the whole town went out to meet Jesus. And when they saw him, they pleaded with him to leave the region.”Demonios_expulsos

What? He healed about 7 people, told off hypocrites, cast foaming, leprous demons out of people and calmed a storm. You want him to leave? No explanation?

All people say these days is, if Jesus is real, prove it. Seems like the ancients were a little harder to please than us. He proved and proved and proved and they still wanted him gone. He showed what happened when you throw your pearls to swine.pig pearls


Matthew 5

Posted: August 3, 2009 in Matthew
Tags: , , ,

The Beatitudes, or as a pastor once referred to as “The Beautiful Attitudes”, should go fist to fist with the Ten Commandments and take them down.  If people really want God to stay in schools, this list of dos and don’ts in chapter 5 should be the list cross-stitched and hung in school hallways.

Reason 1—They are more recent, thus maybe, more pertinent.

Reason 2—There are two different Ten Commandments. One found in Exodus Chapter 20. Moses breaks those, then God tells him He will write them again, and gives Moses a whole different list in Chapter 34.

Reason 3—Fourth graders rarely need to be told not to covet their classmate’s wife.Fields of the Wood

My school years were ideal. My elementary school was attached to my church through a maze of open-air hallways and resource buildings. The school and the church shared the same building. On weekdays they housed the upper grades and some art classrooms and on the Sundays they were for Single’s Sunday school and Adult 1 and Adult 2.  Adult 3 was at the cemetery.

I could roam around the place as if it were a neighborhood.  After school on Wednesdays, before church would begin, my friend and I would eat a snack in the cafeteria, run through the parking lot, put lip gloss on in the ladies’ bathroom, pretty much making our own kingdom on earth.

My principal was a woman of about 5 feet tall with a humpback and the surname of an British University. She was a kind woman, but just her presence and name were enough to keep everyone in line…which could be hard because many church schools have two types of students:1) the Christian kids whose parents want them to grow up with knowledge of the Lord and 2) wayward kids whose parents want them to be disciplined into an inch of them crying out, “Oh Lord.”

The playground is where it all happened. Away from the strong gaze of the teachers, kids snuck behind a big tree to practice curse words or gang up on an innocent victim. I remember getting hit over the head by Trip Willington with the board of the teeter totter. Life was tough for a gangsta. I heard that some kids actually had their first kisses behind that tree—a literal Tree of Knowledge.

The teacher’s aides who watched us had to sit in a kiddy seat in the Florida sun. Some were quiet and let the kids run around like red ants while others couldn’t wait for authorization to pull out the Old Testament rod and let the kids have a whack.

The playground was gated on three sides, sharing the fourth side with the wall of the church’s Sunday School building. It was three stories tall and made of red brick. With a stroke of 1970s genius, someone had built it with some bricks protruding further out than the others to make the design of a three story cross. No matter what time of day, the sun would cause a shaded pattern against the wall so that even from the busy street, drivers would get the message.

And the message was this: God is love.bumperlovekill

That is what I am going to keep a farsighted eye out for in the New Testament. Starting with Jesus’ first sermon—the sermon that should be the one plastered in front of courthouses and student water fountains.

Posting “Blessed at the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God,” instead of “make no graven images” might cut down on the bootlegged selling of golden idols being sold on school grounds.

Kids would learn to “Simply let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no’. We can eliminate those essay questions at the end of tests that make students expound and save paper by moving everything to scan trons.

Fights would be predictable and short—how long does it take to get hit and turn the other cheek?

“If someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.” This is  sound reason for uniforms in public schools. At least both thieves and victims will come home in something similar to what they went to school in.

Then there is the section about cutting off limbs and gouging out your eyes if they lead you to sin. Middle schools alone could pull America’s education system out of debt by selling dirty-minded kids’ organs on the black market.

“The meek shall inherit the earth.”  For those who don’t know what is happening to the earth, the rumor is that after Jesus returns and the Rapture occurs (that is when all the people driving the SUVs with fish stickers on the trunks disappear and the ones who are driving Volvos and Subarus have to turn down NPR and attend to the chaos) well, then the saved in Heaven get to return to earth. There are a thousand variations on this, but that is the most common. So, does that mean the meek will then be the rulers of the planet? Will they be the richest? Will they get the whole place to themselves while all the others live on some other planet?

meek shirt

"The Meek Are Getting Ready"

If kids aren’t willing to save the earth for the sake of the future generations they will never see, perhaps they can be persuaded to save it for the cute, meek girl in Social Studies.

Kids won’t go hungry or without school supplies because they will read, “Give to the one who asks you, and do not run away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” Until, of course, someone calls it socialism.

Though these new commands are universally good ideas, Jesus doesn’t let up with saying that having a good attitude is going to get people anywhere. His first words about getting into heaven are: “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees (pious little church men) and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Um, heaven seems to be pretty empty to me now. UNLESS, he was digging at jimbakerthe Pharisees, saying that “if you can’t stay more moral than Tony Alamo, Jim Bakker, Ted Haggard (pious little church men) then don’t think you are getting in these pearly gates.” That I can understand.

Of course, the best line is “love your enemies.” Though everyone seems to be going to hell in this chapter, speaking of love always stands out. Does it overshadow all the doom? No. But it gives a little hope. However, how do we do this? How do we love Saddam Hussein and the man who killed a child? How can we l.o.v.e. them? And, should we? Should we reward those people with our love? I find that difficult to reconcile.loveyourenemy-2

But, that is the least of my troubles, because Jesus ends his sermon by asking us to do the impossible triple Lutz, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

I guess these shouldn’t be posted to school walls. How can anyone, especially a kid, abide by these? Live up to these? They aren’t suggestions; it clearly states you won’t get into heaven if you don’t do them.  When I read these when I was young I always reminded myself about grace. But, reading now, I haven’t gotten to the part about grace yet. In fact, I am sort-of depressed.

Some people are just not going to make the cut, me included. They might need to find creative ways to get to heaven. Maybe they can be like the kid at my elementary. He climbed up the brick cross like it was a step ladder. Getting about half-way up, the lady watching us made even the kids smooching behind the tree freeze by yelling, “One more step and I’ll nail you to it.”brickwall