Good Friday Brain Droppings, 2020 Edition

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If Jesus’ demise is construed merely as a death — even as a painful, tortured death — the crucial point will be lost. Crucifixion was specifically designed to be the ultimate insult to personal dignity, the last word in humiliating and dehumanizing treatment. Degradation was the whole point.

Crucifixion as a means of execution in the Roman Empire had as its express purpose the elimination of victims from consideration as members of the human race. It cannot be said too strongly: that was its function. It was meant to indicate to all who might be toying with subversive ideas that crucified persons were not of the same species as either the executioners or the spectators and were therefore not only expendable but also deserving of ritualized extermination. Therefore, the mocking and jeering that accompanied crucifixion were not only allowed, they were part of the spectacle and were programmed into it. In a sense, crucifixion was a form of entertainment. Everyone understood that the specific role of the passersby was to exacerbate the dehumanization and degradation of the person who had been thus designated to be a spectacle. Crucifixion was cleverly designed — we might say diabolically designed — to be an almost theatrical enactment of the sadistic and inhumane impulses that lie within human beings. According to the Christian gospel, the Son of God voluntarily and purposefully absorbed all of that, drawing it into himself.

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Confession: I [HEART] SCIENCE

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i heart scienceIt’s no big secret that, as a young boy growing up, my parents raised me not only in the Christian faith, but also to have a love of science and intellectual pursuits. I was probably one of the few 7-year-olds that had an ongoing subscription to Discover Magazine. Even after embracing my Christian faith and pursuing further intellectual studies in the Scriptures and theology, I still maintained a strong interest in science and scientific thought, and never succumbed to the whole “fear of science” that many of my fellow believers seem to subscribe to. Even during my brief stint in a church that actively encouraged avoiding critical thinking, I never thought that my interest in science and logic was anathema to my faith.

Some ways of understanding Christianity do not see the scientific studies as an integral aspect of the faith. Many forms of Pietism, for example, hold that the Christian’s sole responsibility is to focus on a personal devotional life rather than to become preoccupied with intellectual issues. Others would suggest that Christianity is primarily a religion of salvation and that a concern with offering an explanation of our world does not feature prominently (if it features at all) in the New Testament. I remember, ten years ago, being told in one of those Evangelical Christian chat rooms, “The only important thing is winnin’ souls, so stop wastin’ time with all this intellectual mumbo-jumbo.” I still run into this sentiment today.

While I agree that Christianity does indeed encourage a “discipleship of the heart”, there is also an obligation to develop a “discipleship of the mind”, something that many other fellow believers either are ignorant of, or outright ignore. In Matthew 22, Jesus replied to a question posed by one of the Pharisees about which is the greatest commandment in the Law with, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (v.37). This view was certainly held by C.S. Lewis, whose personal journey from atheism to Christianity resulted from his judgement that Christianity offered a better vision of reality. Sir John Polkinghorne, Cambridge quantum physicist turned theologian, is another Christian thinker who believes meta-questions that arise from our scientific experience and understanding can point us beyond what science by itself can presume to speak about:

Religion — or rather theology — is, I think, the great integrating discipline. It takes the insights of science — doesn’t tell science what to think — but it takes science’s insights and understandings, it takes the insights of morality, takes the insights of aesthetics, the study of beauty. The wonderful order or pattern of the world that science discovers and rejoices in is a reflection, indeed, of the mind of the creator, whose will and purpose lie behind the world. Our moral intuitions, our intimations of God’s good and perfect will, our experiences of beauty, I believe, are sharing in the joy of the creator, the creation. You can soon see the gross inadequacy of thinking that science can tell you everything that you could possibly know.*

Mind you, I’m not an academic; my exploration of both science and theology is purely from a layman’s perspective. But, I have come to a place now that I don’t see my faith and science to be opposition to each other. If anything, I can see how they both can be very complimentary, in both my spiritual and intellectual growth. It has become, not a war between Christianity and Science, and more a dialogue between the two. Take that as you will.

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[*=”Sir John Polkinghorne on Science and Theology”, Religion & Ethics Newsweekly, May 8, 1998]

We are the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world…

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The panic over COVID-19 has been steadily climbing. Mass toilet paper shortage due to everyone buying in bulk and stockpiling. Some places short on non-perishable food items. The Walmart in Blair, Nebraska on Sunday were completely out of the regular $.98 packs of regular hot dogs, and surprisingly low on Ramen noodles.

I do not fear the Coronavirus; I am, however, quite wary of everyone’s collective reactions to it.

You’ve got your standard panic–THE WORLD IS ENDING!–which is expected. Some are convinced this is a bioweapon developed by China. Some seem to think this is a plot by President Trump to secure his re-election. On the other end of the political conspiracy spectrum, some think this is a “leftist” plot to sink the economy and prevent the re-election of the Orange Faced One.

Restaurants, bars and various other small businesses are closing. Movie theaters are cutting back ticket sales to only half of the seating per capita. Those of us who work jobs and live paycheck to paycheck will feel the brunt of this economic devastation.

The most chilling thing of all, is that the elderly, the infirm, the impoverished and the homeless are being referred to as “collateral damage”, rather than fellow human beings that need our best efforts to protect them.

Alas, there is no spiritual-sounding platitude to accompany this entry. We’re all full of shit when it comes to talk of charity and love. But when something happens to allow us to finally put that talk into practice, we would rather run down people in the Cosco parking lot and knock everyone over for that last roll of precious butt napkins than practice what we preach.

I’m done.

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And now a perspective from the Phoenix Preacher:

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We in the church are faced with both the greatest crisis and greatest opportunity of my lifetime. We have the opportunity to demonstrate to a culture that has rejected us what the love of God looks like in action. We can drop our temporal political and denominational differences and represent Christ in our homes and in our circles of influence. We can work together to share the Gospel and alleviate suffering.Maybe…maybe…this pandemic isn’t a leftist plot to take down Trump, but a God ordained opportunity to build us up in one, holy, faith…maybe…they will know us by our love…I’m praying…

phoenixpreacher.com, “Things I Think”, March 16, 2020

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What Does A Faithful Christian Response To The Corona Virus Crisis Look Like?

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plague doctorUse medicine; take potions which can help you; fumigate house, yard, and street; shun persons and places wherever your neighbor does not need your presence or has recovered, and act like a man who wants to help put out the burning city. What else is the epidemic but a fire which instead of consuming wood and straw devours life and body?

You ought to think this way: “Very well, by God’s decree the enemy has sent us poison and deadly offal. Therefore I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine, and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance infect and pollute others, and so cause their death as a result of my negligence.

If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others.

If my neighbor needs me, however, I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely…. See, this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God. – Martin Luther

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March 11, 2020: BRAIN DROPPINGS

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“I have not made trouble for Israel,” Elijah replied. “But you and your father’s family have. You have abandoned the Lord’s commands and have followed the Baals. Now summon the people from all over Israel to meet me on Mount Carmel. And bring the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.” So Ahab sent word throughout all Israel and assembled the prophets on Mount Carmel. Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.” But the people said nothing. (1 Kings 18:18-21)

When the Israelites elected to worship Baal, they didn’t do so with evil intent. On the contrary, they bargained that Baal would save lives because Baal was believed to have the power to bring about prosperity and fertility. Fealty to Baal was a kind of backup plan in case God didn’t work quickly enough, or satisfactory enough.

The Israelites thought they could have their Baal and their Yahweh, too. The Israelites’ assimilation of pagan beliefs and practices while placing too little faith in God’s provision and plan spurs the question: When does our faith in politics overtake our faith in God?

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MARCH 10, 2020: A Bit Of Goodness Tucked Out Of Sight…

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orb web spiderHuman beings are creatures made for joy. Against all evidence, we tell ourselves that grief and loneliness and despair are tragedies, unwelcome variations from the pleasure and calm and safety that in the right way of the world would form the firm ground of our being. In the fairy tale we tell ourselves, darkness holds nothing resembling a gift. What we feel always contains its own truth, but it is not the only truth, and darkness almost always harbors some bit of goodness tucked out of sight, waiting for an unexpected light to shine, to reveal it in its deepest hiding place. – Margaret Renkl, Late Migrations: A Natural History of Love and Loss

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Confessions Of A Depressed Christian: Psalm 42

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As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? (vs.1-2)

…and normally we all stop at the end of verse 2, there. Because, as bite-sized verses go, this one looks great as a bumper sticker, or on a tee-shirt, or put in with whatever inspirational “quiet-time” picture you’re posting to Insta-Twit-Face. It is seen as someone engaged in a passionate worship session. Indeed, one of the first worship songs I learned to play on guitar years and years ago for the youth group cribbed the first verse as its focus.

But, there’s more to this Psalm than just that. There’s this immediate passage:

My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me all day long, “Where is your God?” (v.3)

…that tends to kicks the expectations of those seeking only life-affirming, positive happy thoughts from the Psalms right in the Olsteens.

This is a lament. Well, technically, this is listed as a maskil, which–after doing a quick Google search to make me sound all smart and stuff–I’m told is a Hebrew term that may mean a “contemplative poem” in this context, but scholars (i.e.–people who are way smarter than I am) aren’t entirely sure.

What I do know is that, this particular Psalm was written by the sons of Korah, descendants of the Levite that attempted a coup against Moses in Numbers chapter 16. These “sons of Korah” are a testament to GOD’s ongoing and powerful grace and mercy in not holding it against Korah’s sin against his decedents, as they remained faithful to GOD and served in His temple. But, that’s besides the point of this rambling article I started.

Let’s read the rest of the Psalm:
These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go to the house of God under the protection of the Mighty One with shouts of joy and praise among the festive throng.

Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.

My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember you from the land of Jordan, the heights of Hermon–from Mount Mizar. Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me.

By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is with me–a prayer to the God of my life.

I say to God my Rock, “Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?” My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long, “Where is your God?”

Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. (vs.4-11)

I can only imagine what was the writer of this Psalm was experiencing emotionally as he was penning these words. Personally, I can identify greatly with his words of anguish as he longs to seek the Lord, thirsty as we are of water, only to find feelings of abandonment, dark loneliness, suffering from what Martin Luther called “the dark night of the soul,” while his enemies and critics constantly mock him for continuing to seek after GOD, Who from their perspective, has completely abandoned him.

Some days…okay, some entire months it seems that the depression I suffer is soul-crushing, and I am alone in the pitch darkness. But, like this particular Psalmist, my lament always ends, despite all the hopelessness, the self-loathing, the pain of living, the suffocating darkness, with the admonition to “put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God.” Not because it magically fixes everything I’m going through (far from it); instead, it’s really the only thing I can do.

Praise the Lord, oh my soul…

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Obligatory Pious-Sounding Lent Post, 2020 Edition

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Yesterday was Ash Wednesday. The beginning of what we devout types refer to as Lent, the six week period leading up to Easter. Basically, a time of fasting and abstinence from something that’s considered important to them. Sometimes it’s something obvious, like chocolate, or television, or even avoiding the internet somehow. Nowadays, swearing off the internet for 40 days is equal to, if not worse than, swearing off sex for a perpetual horn-dog. I wouldn’t know anything about that later part.

“What are you giving up for Lent?” That’s a question that I’ve come across with less frequency than back when I was in primary and high school. But it does pop up every year. I’ve never really participated in the abstinence part of Lent growing up, despite growing up in a Methodist-based family. Later, after I began my ongoing post-Evangelical wilderness wanderings, my answer would be, “I gave up Lent for Lent.” Ha ha, funny. Pause for laughter. Such wit.

Personally, this year I believe it would be beneficial for me to instead use the time to study the Scriptures, expand my knowledge through books and studies, instead of “giving something up.” I’m doing this all the time; I just want to focus more on this during the Lenten period, rather than distract myself with other pursuits. That’s not to say that I won’t take the time to take in a movie or actually do something to enjoy life. I’m not pious, you know.

For others, to give up something during this time of reflection on the ministry of Jesus, His road leading up to the cross, His death and resurrection, would be beneficial. For me, what I detailed is what I’m going to be focusing on mainly during the next 39 days. Everything I’ve already scheduled to be posted won’t be changed–I’d hate to disrupt the ongoing 366 Days Of Metal thing–but I’ll definitely get back to things after Easter Sunday. Cheers, all, and don’t overdo it on the Cadbury Eggs…

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This Is How “Amish Vampires in Space” Got Started…

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Last weekend, a friend posted on her Facebook page a picture of the bread she found at the local Trader Joe’s in Omaha, proclaiming it to be the best and most delicious kind of French bread she’s found in a store. Or something like that. She also posted a picture of the wrapper (that’s not it up there, btw); it was the slogan underneath the label that got my attention: “Buttery, Moist and Perfectly French”. I quipped in her post that “Buttery, Moist and Perfectly French” was the name of my upcoming Christian romance novel. Laughs all around…

…however, due to the way my brain works, something inside me took that and actually ran with some ideas of a satirical Christian romance story based on that alone. As a matter of fact, ideas are falling into place far easier than it deserves to. To the point where I have a very rough bare-bones outline for at least a short story.

Will I end up writing something? Probably, as that’s how I make the voices in my head go quiet. Maybe I’ll even post it for all the world to scoff at. All I know is, I’m going to have to bone up on Christian romance stories to get a grasp on the structure and tropes, and maybe also go to a Trader Joe’s to research the interior design or something.

Also, “bone up” probably wasn’t the best choice of words to use this early in the morning…

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