Saturday, March 8, 2014

"Not My Will, But Yours Be Done"

This Lent I am trying to read the Lectio Divina every day. The lectionary reading from March 7 (the first Friday of Lent) was from Isaiah 58:1-9; Psalm 51; and Matthew 9:14-15. I also discovered (just yesterday) how to pray the rosary, so I am looking at the Mysteries each day, too. So I finished reading the above Scriptures and pondering how fasting is a spiritual act not because it in itself is so very holy, but because it serves as intercession for the oppressed, and for God's "will to be done on earth as it is in heaven," and then clicked over to read through the Sorrowful Mysteries. The first one caught my attention:

The First Sorrowful Mystery THE AGONY IN THE GARDEN
  1. Jesus comes with his disciples to Gethsemani: "Stay here, while I go yonder and pray."
  2. Entering the garden with Peter, James, and John, Jesus prays, "My soul is sorrowful unto death."
  3. Jesus sees the sins of all mankind, whose guilt He has taken upon Himself.
  4. He sees the wrath of the Father which His sufferings must appease.
  5. So great is his anguish that His sweat becomes as drops of blood falling to the ground.
  6. An angel appears to Him from heaven to strengthen Him.
  7. "Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet, not My will but Yours be done."
  8. Finding the disciples asleep: "Could you not watch one hour with me?"
  9. Jesus is betrayed by Judas, cruelly bound and led away.
  10. Father, by the merits of the agony of Jesus in the Garden, have mercy on us and on the whole world.
Spiritual Fruit: God's Will be done

I had never noticed in the Scriptures before that an angel appeared to Jesus while He prayed in Gethsemane. So I of course had to look it up myself to verify. It wasn't in Matthew, Mark, or John, but then I finally came across it in Luke. While Jesus prayed in the Garden, saying, "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will but yours be done" (Luke 22:42), "An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him" (verse 43).
This happened to Jesus on another occasion, too: the temptation in the wilderness. Matthew 4 tells us He was "led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil" (verse 1). The three temptations bear at least some resemblance to some commonplace temptations for Christian complacency today: gluttony while our neighbors struggle and starve, superspirituality (or being so heavenly minded that we are of no earthly good), and prosperity (name it and claim it; if you really have faith, you should be driving a late-model Cadillac). Perhaps the great spiritual battle Jesus fought in the wilderness, leaving him weak and in need of ministration from angels, was wading through all the theological "fluff" and distractions of the day and deciding to stand on the true ethos of the Word of God: love for God and one's neighbors, and justice for the oppressed.
An angel also appeared to strengthen Elijah, after he had successfully challenged the prophets of Baal and subsequently received a death warrant from Queen Jezebel. First Kings 19 finds him in a cave asking God for sweet release through death. And God did not tell him to get up and shake himself out of it and get back to work. The angel first ministered to his physical needs, sitting beside him while he slept, waking him every so often to eat.


Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Preparing for Lent

So...this post will be quite different from the one I wrote earlier this week. But now it's back to life. I made my big announcement; I posted some alternative views of Scriptures having to do with it. Now I'm just going back to being me, thinking about the things I think about, doing the things I do, and trying to understand life and God better.

And this week, Lent starts. I just realized it a little while ago. So I looked up some mass times at a local Catholic church on Wednesday (might as well kick it off right) and put some thought into how I might observe it this year. I'm not Catholic, so I've never observed it very strictly. But I learn a little more about it and what it means each year, and each year I try to do something for it. This year I'm going to try a little harder.

I'm going to take something up. Besides looking at the daily Lectio Divina readings on my Android app, I am also going to make it a point to intentionally clean something every day. I'm kind-of a slob. And I have the sort of personality that allows me to "overlook" untidiness that isn't directly affecting me at that moment. So I'm going to work on that.

I'm going to lay something down. And by that, I mean I'm going to get up. I'm a third-shifter, and sometimes I get into an almost-"normal" groove of "regular" sleeping and waking times. But here lately it feels like I'm sleeping more than I'm waking, and not getting much of anything done. So I'm going to make it a point to be up by a certain time each day. (Unless I get in bed unusually late or something - I'm not going to be legalistic about it. Just more disciplined.) It will give me more time to focus on practical things (like cleaning something and playing with my puppy and paying bills and stuff like that) as well as spiritual things. (I woke up this afternoon with an intense desire to find some solitude and just pray. I need more Jesus in my life right now. I think managing my time better will allow me to get back on track with that.

And here's a biggie: I'm going to observe the practice of not eating meat on Fridays. I think that is integral to the "preparation" part of Lent, looking in anticipation to the Friday of the Cross. I want to make it a point to study the Cross this season, and what it means to me in my life right now.

Here's my prayer for the moment and the upcoming liturgical season:

Lord Jesus,
You know this has been a week of revealing to others where my heart is, and it has upset many people who care about me, who think I am wrong. You know what? Maybe I am. I don't think so, but I also want to remain open to Your Spirit to lead me in the way of Truth. You know my heart, even if others doubt it. I want to please You. I love you, and I desire to love You and my neighbors more. Please, whether I am right or wrong, please lead me. Don't ever leave me. Help me to do and be better. I love You. I trust You and Your grace. Thank You for peace.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

I Came Out on FB This Week: My Response to Critics

I "came out" on Facebook this week. Having been a preacher, and having come from a fundamentalist Christian background, I pretty much got the scripture-laden response I expected. While I in no way asked for people to inform me of the Bible's stance on homosexuality, many of course took it upon themselves to do so anyway (including a few who, I would bet, have never actually opened a Bible themselves). Let me state this clearly: I am very aware of what the Bible says about homosexuality. My understanding of God and the literal/nonliteral nature of biblical texts has undergone a drastic change in the last couple of years, including my views on homosexuality and whether or not it is a sin. (Here is a post I wrote a while back about literal interpretation and biblical inspiration/inerrancy.)

Though most of the people I know will accuse me (and have accused me) of trying to "twist the Scriptures in order to justify my sinful lifestyle," I have never intentionally tried to do that. I don't want to believe a lie and be damned. I don't want to twist anything in order to justify selfishness or sin.I always want to know the truth. However, I have come to believe that the truth about God is that God loves us and wants us to love God and each other. Most of everything else is open to interpretation.

I do not feel like I have to justify myself to anyone on whether my "lifestyle" is "wrong" or "right," but just in case anyone does care to know what I believe about it, I would like to just briefly address the biblical references to homosexuality and how I have come to "twist them"...er...I mean...believe that all Scripture was written by imperfect humans who did their best to write about the God they loved, but Whom they understood through their own human culture, bound by sometimes erroneous understandings of the world around them. Where I do not provide a link to an external article or source, it is because I had the Bible and a concordance open before me and was typing as I read it for myself, not taking someone else's word for it.

1) The simplest reference (and favorite go-to Scripture in my family) is Leviticus 18:22, which says (in the King James Version, because we all know that is the truly inspired translation), "Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination." A couple chapters later, in Lev. 20:13, it says that those who do so are to be put to death.

Two things can be pointed out here. First of all, the term "abomination" never refers to anything inherently sinful, but to things that were ritually sinful (not part of a certain code - like the one God made for Israel after the Exodus...the law that served as a schoolmaster to teach us why we needed Christ, because we were unable to keep even those few written rules contained in the Pentateuch ((see Galatians 3:24-26))). Other things the Bible calls abominations include eating seafood (Lev. 11:10); eating certain kinds of birds (Lev. 11:13); sacrificing one's children to God (Deut. 12:31, which demonstrates that even God realized how much the people were influenced by surrounding cultures); remarriage after divorce (Deut. 24:4); "haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers" (Prov. 6:17-19, NIV); a faulty balance/scale (Prov. 11:1, which basically means ripping people off in business transactions); someone who mocks (Prov. 24:9); and a number of other things.

Leviticus 18-19 not only outlaws homosexuality, but having sex while a woman is menstruating, harvesting a field without leaving back some of the crop for the poor, social injustice, gossip, planting a field with two different crops, wearing clothing made of two different materials, taking "a little off the sides" of your hair, eating a steak rare, and not standing up in the presence of the elderly. I am unclear why homosexuality is so often plucked out of this context and delineated as the worst sin in the list.

2) Sodom and Gomorrah. I will try to state this succinctly and not write a book about it. Basically, you can read the account yourself in Genesis 19, but the people of Sodom wanted Lot to send his angelic visitors out into the street so they could rape and humiliate them. They were inhospitable, comparable to the people in Judges 19 who demanded the visiting man be turned over to them for the same fate. The sin was violent rape and inhospitality to strangers. Interestingly enough, Judges does not say God destroyed this other city even though it was guilty of the same sin. Ezekiel 16:49, however, lists the sins for which Sodom was destroyed as pride, gluttony, sloth, greed, and failure to help the poor. Inhospitality also fits with Jesus telling His disciples that houses and towns that did not welcome them would receive a fate worse than that of Sodom and Gomorrah (Mathew 10:14, 15). Further, Amos 4:1, 11 warns that Israel might be destroyed like Sodom and Gomorrah for "oppressing the poor and crushing the needy."

3) Romans 1:26-27. Honestly, there are other interpretations for this one too, including the idea that it speaks to heterosexuals who experiment with homosexuality, thus denying their own God-given sexual orientation, but even I think that is stretching it. If you want me to "justify" this one, the only thing I can say is that I believe it was a cultural pronouncement. As far as what Paul considers "against nature," he includes short hair as being natural for a man (1 Corinthians 11:14). This view is culturally relative; just ask a Native American. There is also the consideration that the sexual acts described by Paul consist of lust and not committed, loving relationship. (Here is a link to an article that outlines it a little bit more in-depth.)

4) 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. This article from Human Rights Campaign addresses this text briefly. Also, I read another one recently that discussed the word meanings. The actual word(s) translated "homosexuals" in some versions have a more difficult-to-discern meaning, and meant something closer to pedophilia. If I find that article I will come back and edit it into this.

Of course, there is also another side to the "Homosexuality in the Bible" ticket, including a lot of questions regarding the relationships between Jonathan and David and Ruth and Naomi. If you go back and re-read some of the texts describing Jonathan and David's love, you actually might find it hard to argue against that idea. I don't know whether they were gay or not, but there is good reason to question it.

In Mathew 19:12, when Jesus spoke of "some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother's womb" (KJV), some people believe He refers to men who were not sexually attracted to women. In fact, the Early Church Father Clement of Alexandria wrote that "some men, from birth, have a natural aversion to a woman; and indeed those who are naturally so constituted do well not to marry" (Miscellanies 3.1). Granted, this does not expressly encourage homosexual relationships, but it does give biblical merit to the possibility that homosexuals are "born that way."

Okay...it is not my intention to write a thesis here. But Bible was thrown at me (though the throwers already know well that I know what the Bible says about it), so here is just a very small example of the possibility of various interpretations of Scripture. Other writers have written more and better on the subject; you can look them up if you so desire. So when I say I love Jesus AND am in a same-sex relationship, don't breathe fire at me and say it is impossible. Don't tell me God said, "If you love Me, keep My commandments." In fact, if you are not clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, and visiting the sick, widows, orphans, and imprisoned, don't talk to me about "what the Bible says" at all, because apparently you don't know as well as you think you do.

Oh yeah, and beyond the biblical, there's a little thing called science to consider, too. But of course, that's another post for another day. ;)