Solid Ground is Overrated

solid-javascriptOn Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand…

I love the hymn, but it lies.

It doesn’t mean to, of course. It means to tell a deep truth…but I think the way it is put in practice, at least, is a lie.

Because while we may talk about God as “solid ground,” and the God seen in Christ as “solid ground,” we also talk about God as breath and wind.

So which is it?  As Nicodemus asks Jesus, “How can this be?”

Well, it is because it’s not true…it’s deeper than truth.  It’s more than true.

What I’m getting at is: it’s all metaphor. God may be unchanging, but is also the “wild goose” of Celtic wisdom, running roughshod and rampant across existence.  “God can’t be boxed in or pinned down,” we say, and yet we sing of God as “the rock.”

Faith turns into lunacy when the metaphor becomes the idol.

And let’s be honest: you don’t want solid ground.  Solid ground is difficult to till.  Solid ground is brittle, and breaks but doesn’t give in the way you need useful ground to give.  Solid ground may not shift, but living things need shift.

You cannot root in solid ground.

You cannot breathe in solid ground.

Solid ground is a tomb which could not contain the Christ.

The quest for the spiritual seeker, then, is not to find the solid ground and build a house there, but rather to embrace the uncertainty of life and living.  Hug change and keep it close.  Learn to keep your heart nimble, to dance when the “earth moves under your feet” as St. Carol of the Kings sang.

Because God is only solid ground insofar as existing in God allows you to shift and move with the waves of life.

Because God is only secure insofar as rooting yourself in God pushes you toward the skies, toward change and growth…and nothing alive escapes change, Beloved.

Base religion speaks of God and God’s ways, “God’s laws,” God’s edicts as airtight and immovable.

And yet the Christ spoke of God’s ways as moving mountains (Mark 11:23) and likened them to weed infestation. (Matthew 13:31-32)  Dynamic, not stoic.

I knew someone who told me that they, when visiting Colorado, had told a mountain to move.  They stood at the base of a mountain and did this. They were so secure in their faith, they said, that they were certainly hopeful, if not certainly certain, that it would shift ever so slightly. Or, perhaps, a stone would fall at that very moment.

Something.

Nothing happened, of course, because the analogy is not reality. It is truer than reality…we have trouble grasping that, but that’s kind of the point: it can’t be grasped.

Instead of viewing God as a solid rock, or an old man in the sky who sent a memo in the form of the Bible giving instructions for life (which, honestly, is largely what base religion has taught us: that God is just a more perfect version of the most powerful self we know, giving orders), try viewing God like a doe deep in the woods who you have trouble seeing, but chase after.

Imagine the chase as being the goal, the pursuit. Imagine the tracks you find here and there, as enough evidence to give your soul hope and nourishment that something is worth following, and that the playful way the prints dance gives you a hint that the doe knows you’re following, knows you even, and desires the chase, too.

And when you spot the doe, those times that you do, you only do so because the doe lets you watch it eat, and you’re still enough to notice it.  Both things have to happen.

Solid ground is overrated, Beloved.

God is only solid in being fluid.  God is only secure in God’s wildness.

I mean, it’s almost like the kind of paradox Jesus spoke about all the time, right?  That “lose your life to gain it” thing?  I mean, it’s almost like Jesus was dropping hints, making tracks for us to follow the whole time, but we were too busy making him into an idol to see it…

 

Frozen 2 Almost Said Something True About Reconciliation…Almost…

34605751714_d713169d14_bFrozen 2, you were so close.

Let’s be honest, this shelter-in-place has given a lot of us the unwanted time (and responsibility?) of watching, and re-watching, a variety of children’s movies over and over and over again.

And after some…lengthy…”research,” it is indeed my estimation that: Frozen 2, you were so close.

While most watchers were dazzled by your exquisite animation (seriously, topnotch…though, can we all agree that everyone’s eyes are about two-sizes, too big?) and your earworm of a musical score (the ode to 1980’s music videos in Kristoff’s ballad had me longing for jams and slap-bracelets again), I was drawn to the story itself.

Because the plot of Frozen 2 is basically a metaphor for racial reconciliation in the United States, both in form and its largely failed outcome.

Yeah, yeah…I know you think it wasn’t meant to be a commentary on contemporary issues, and maybe you even think that I’m reading too much into it all, but I don’t think we should underestimate the subconscious mind’s ability to influence our work and our play.

Quick plot recap, ready?

Something is wrong in Arendelle. The ground is no longer stable, there’s menace in the air, and everything seems to be out of balance.  Elsa and her companions go in search for the reason for all this unrest, leading them to an enchanted forest where they meet a people they’d only heard of, but never actually seen.

And in that new territory where these people are seen and known they find out a terrible truth: the people of the enchanted forest have been oppressed for the benefit of Arendelle.  They were promised parity and equality.  In treaties long ago they had been assured of partnership, ending years of animosity.

And they were lied to.  They, and their way of life, was instead attacked.

I mean, do we need a clearer example of our treatment of First Nations people?  Do we need a more on-the-nose example of the slave trade, of Jim Crow and “separate but equal?”  Do I need to point out how ironic it is that on the streets of America you can drive on Robert E. Lee Lane and pass by Confederate monuments, all while people claim that “we’re past all that…” and act like everything is normal?

Driving on a street named after a General who worked hard to keep you working hard as a slave is a continual attack, in my estimation.

Back to Frozen 2…

This truth is devastating for Elsa and Anna, as they must wrestle with the reality that their beloved grandfather was a liar who participated in, and even instigated, this oppression.

This truth is devastating for Elsa and Anna because they must wrap their heads and their hearts around the fact that their whole world, Arendelle, and their whole way of life, is built on this oppression.

They have overlooked these people, but now that they’ve been seen they can’t unsee them.

The remedy?  They must find the blockage in society and destroy it, allowing the creative forces that they had dammed up to flow freely again.

I mean, I took the plot line out of cartoony language, but can we agree that this is pretty much it?

Up until now I was all in on this movie.  I was like, “Yes!  A Disney film with actual, cultural import!  In Frozen they tackled the misogyny of the traditional princess story, and here they’re going to tackle the hard reality of true reconciliation!”

But they didn’t.  They chose a fairy tale ending.

See, here’s how it went: the earth elements destroyed that oppressive dam that prevented true life from flowing, and as those waters flooded the valley, the result was clear: Arendelle was going to have to be destroyed by the coming tide.

The people of Arendelle were alive, of course. They would live. But they’d have to find a new way to live and be in this world where the truths of oppression had been exposed.

But…that’s not what happened.

In the end Elsa uses her magical powers to spare Arendelle, saving the structures of the society built and sustained on the oppression of the people from the enchanted forest.

And in that moment, the plot was blown.

Because here’s the truth: once the inherent oppression of a society is exposed, once the way the system works to keep the powerful powerful and the disenfranchised largely unseen, you cannot go back to “the way things were.”

You cannot keep the structures in place in the same way.

Arendelle, as they knew it, had to be destroyed.

Or, if it wasn’t, the salvation of the structures could not come from the oppressors, but only with the cooperation and permission of the oppressed.

Because no magic can right this kind of wrong. It takes hard work.

How cool would it have been to see the aftermath of Arendelle’s destruction where the two people come together in actual unity to create a new society not built on subjugation but on an actual dependency on the skills, creativity, and beauty of each other?

Yeah, it’s a fairy tale…I get it.  But, ugh, it could have been so much more.  It could have been a teaching tool for a society who has deluded itself into thinking that just acknowledging the dam that keeps whole people and demographics parched is enough (if we want to continue with this analogy).

It’s not enough to say there is a problem.  And it’s not enough to point to the dam of inequality and racism and wealth disparity.  We can’t just name it!

Acknowledging the dam is step one.  Step two is destroying it and letting it do its thing.

Step three is coming together to rebuild a new way of being that actually repairs what the dam, and the people who built it, destroyed.

See, here’s the thing: I was really thinking that through this film they might get a message, subliminal as it would be, that spoke a deep truth.

Actually, they did…but not like I wanted them to.

They were told the reliable, and unfortunately just as deep, truth that if given the choice, humanity will always choose the fairy tale ending instead of tackling the hard realities that change, justice, and righting wrongs actually requires.

Frozen 2, you were so close.

The Passion According to St. John

I worked on this with Rev. Jason Chesnut, Rev. Lenny Duncan, and Tracy Radosevic so, if they needed to, churches could use it at the center of their Good Friday virtual worship.

Or, for anyone actually.

Take a listen.

“The Passion of Christ as told by the writer of John’s Gospel stands at the center of the holiest three days of the Christian year, the Triduum.

It’s a drama, and is not read so much as told. It’s told because it’s a story worth passing on, worth hearing in all of its intrigue and inflection, in all the ways it challenges presuppositions, powers, and principalities just in its very recitation.

The Passion of Christ is not a Biblical reading so much as a word to a weary world about the Word.”

Jesus Died on a Friday, Right?

ET_ecQpXsAEESMcJesus died on a Friday, right?

I don’t think so.

In fact, I’d say, probably not.

Maybe, though…

In yet another file on “the scriptures aren’t internally cohesive and that’s OK because they weren’t written to be,” we take a quick look at the Last Supper-Crucifixion-Resurrection arc in the gospels.

Also: don’t @ me, bro.  I know you may not like what follows, but…well…pastors really should be more intellectually honest about this stuff.

This question is particularly timely for two reasons.  First, it’s Holy Week and these events are on the minds of Christians today.  And secondly, tonight begins the Jewish feast of Passover, so it is especially timely.

There is a third reason, though…but I’ll get to that in a minute.  Just wait.

I should note that Passover and Holy Week don’t always align, though…and Christians are surprised to hear this.  Passover in the Jewish calendar is on a fixed date. But on the Gregorian calendar the date of Passover changes because the lunisolar calendar, on which the Jewish calendar is based, doesn’t align with the Gregorian calendar precisely.

Easter is also based on the lunisolar calendar, but on a fixed sign: the Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox.

Confused?  Yeah, there’s a lot of qualification there…

Bottom line: they don’t always line up, and aren’t meant to.

And maybe it’s better that they don’t always line up because, and here’s the big kicker: Jesus was preparing for Passover in Jerusalem when he was arrested, tried, and crucified, but his “Last Supper” was actually not the Passover meal.

Probably.

I know. Your Sunday School teachers and parish pastors oversimplified things a bit, but it is more than likely, in my estimation, that Jesus was not celebrating the Passover at the Last Supper.

In fact, and here’s the other reason that I think this conversation is important today (Wednesday, April 8th 2020) of all days: I’m pretty sure that tonight is the memorial of the Last Supper for Jesus…even though Christians will celebrate Maundy Thursday tomorrow night.  Which means the Last Supper was on a Wednesday, and Jesus may have died on a Thursday.

Why do I think this?

Well, tonight starts Passover on the Jewish calendar.  But they won’t they eat the Passover meal until tomorrow night, right?  That’s the important thing to remember: though Passover starts tonight, they won’t eat the meal until the end of the day (sundown-sundown).

Today is all about preparation.  In the gospels Jesus sends his disciples to go and prepare a place for them to celebrate the Passover meal…which they do, in all the Gospel accounts.  And it says they finish preparations, and then have a meal.  But is it the Passover meal?  It never indicates it is.  It just says they make preparations and then share a meal.

This is a pretty important detail to leave out of the account.

And because it’s never clearly spelled out, and for the reasons below, it actually seems more likely that the meal that Jesus shares with his disciples is actually the meal before the Passover meal, not the Passover itself.

Another indicator that it’s not Passover, but actually just the meal before, is that Jesus is not celebrating with his mother and sisters.  As the head of the household, he wouldn’t miss celebrating Passover with his family.

It’s also worth noting that the word used in all of the Last Supper accounts for the bread, artos, points to a regular yeast-loaf.  Were it the unleavened bread of the Passover, matzos would have been used.

Now, despite all this, Matthew, Mark, and Luke do present the Last Supper in such a way that it would be easy to point to Jesus dying on a Friday and the Last Supper being a Thursday Passover.  In fact, it may be that those Gospel writers did think that, though they also could have had a copyist make revisions, placing it on Thursday-Friday-Saturday path (which is a long story…primarily about a copyist adding the word “again” into a certain line in Luke 22:14 to do all this, but we need not go there today).

John seems pretty convinced that Jesus died on a Thursday, though.  How do we know?

He writes that the Last Supper happened “before the festival of Passover.” (John 13:1)  The writer of John’s gospel also notes that, when they handed Jesus over to the authorities, the accusers wouldn’t enter Pilate’s courtyard because they would be unclean and therefore unable to eat the Passover “that evening.” (John 18:28)

It’s also worth noting that, after the crucifixion, they wanted to remove Jesus’ body from the cross because it was a Sabbath day of “great solemnity.”  Now, to the untrained ear, that would be an “ah-ha!” moment pointing to a Friday death.  Sundown on Friday is the start of the Sabbath, yes?

Except…

There are other marked Sabbaths in the Jewish calendar, including any Passover.  And in this particular year it appears that there are two Sabbaths back-to-back, which does happen (as it does this very year, 2020!): there is the Passover Sabbath break, followed by the weekly Sabbath break.

In addition to the above, the indicators outside of the gospels themselves point not to a Passover, but to a meal before the Passover.

In 1 Corinthians, which provides for us the language of the liturgy, the Apostle Paul, a Jewish leader, does not mention that Jesus was at Passover when he took the bread and blessed it, but rather notes instead, “on the night in which he was betrayed…” (11:23)

Why would he leave that important detail out?  And his writing was the first one we know about on the matter.

Another little tidbit comes from one of the only extra-Biblical sources of the time that mention Jesus at all (a blog for another day), the Talmud notes that, “They hung Joshua the Nazarene on the ‘eve of the Passover.'” (b. Sanhedrin 67a and 43a)

And finally, though not really finally because we could certainly go down the rabbit hole farther, it’s important to note that the tradition that Jesus was in the tomb “for three days and three nights,” which is internally consistent in the gospels, cannot be accurate by the Jewish calendar if Jesus died on a Friday.  If Jesus died on a Friday, assuming he was placed in the tomb just before sundown, he was actually only in there about two days and two nights.  I mean, while this little detail could be chocked up to hyperbole or whatnot, it’s worth noting that for this particular arc of the Jesus story, the days and nights are significant because it tied Jesus back to the salvation story of Jonah, which they wanted to do.

By this point you may be asking yourself: why does any of it matter?

Well, I think it’s significant for a couple of reasons.

The first?  It’s further evidence that any attempt to say that the scriptures are inerrant or infallible is a fool’s errand.  They are internally inconsistent in a number of ways, and the magical “innerancy/infallbile” cults are literally ruining the beauty and complexity of the religion not only for the rest of the faithful, but also for the unfaithful who can’t even begin to look at a faith they find so ridiculous on the face.

The second?  There’s no such thing as a “Christian Seder,” and we really shouldn’t be celebrating them.  It is absolutely fine to attend a Jewish Seder as a guest and enjoy the hospitality of our Jewish sisters and brothers, but to usurp a sacred festival for our own use is something Christians just shouldn’t do.  So many Christians think they can Christianize a Seder based off of the Last Supper account…but we can’t. And shouldn’t. It’s not ours.

A third reason?  The connection between Jesus and the Passover lamb is important for the faith, but only in analogy and not in actuality.  We even sing that Jesus is the “lamb who was slain,” but when we do so we sing it as a point of theological reference, not necessity.

What I mean is: Jesus was not sacrificed for humanity.  Jesus was certainly killed by humanity, but what that means is complex, not simple.  It’s not an exchange of blood for blood. God is not bloodthirsty. And when we make Jesus the Passover lamb, and only that, instead of just use it as an important tool of imagery that would have connected with the ancient people, we make God a bloodthirsty deity who demands sacrifice.

According to the prophet Micah that’s not what God desires, right? (Micah 6:8)  So why do we continue to make Jesus exactly what God does not desire?

A critique on all this comes from theological corners concerned with our sacramental theology.  “Didn’t Jesus change the Passover meal to be about him?” some sacramentalists would ask.

I mean, maybe.

But the sacrament of Holy Communion, while heavy on Passover imagery, remains just as heavy utilizing Sabbath meal imagery.  Jesus may be seen and spoken of as the Paschal lamb, but the bread of life is not sacrificed every Sunday in a Christian church.

Praise is sacrificed.  This is why it’s probably the best practice to not break the bread at the altar during the Words of Institution…it sends the wrong signal.

Note: this last critique is heavy on the insider imagery…I digress…

In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, it appears that Jesus may have been celebrating the Passover.  In John, where Jesus pretty clearly dies on a Thursday, it appears he was not.

So what day did Jesus die?

I don’t know.  No one knows.

Was Jesus’ Last Supper a Passover?  I don’t know…but I don’t think so.  No one knows.

The Gospels don’t agree on it all.  And those first scholars who put the Gospels together surely saw that it was not internally consistent, and it didn’t really bother them…so it probably shouldn’t bother us either, right?

But if Jesus did die before the Passover meal on a Thursday, then it lines up with this year’s Jewish calendar in such a way that’s it’s pretty poetic, pretty interesting, and, I think, pretty beautiful.

What Your Church Teaches Has Consequences

teaching_preaching_church_teachersCame across a quote from Isaac Asimov today on social media.  It’s from 1980, but I fear has a shelf-life well beyond thirty-nine years…and was certainly true even before it was spoken.

The quote is,

“There is a cult of ignorance in the United States…[It is] nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'”

Whelp. If that’s not a punch in the old stomach-of-truth I don’t know what is, and it’s being displayed in full force these days, especially in these White House briefings happening on the regular where the President gives his opinion about the effectiveness of this drug or that drug, contradicting the experts around him.  He follows it up with, “What do you have to lose?

I mean, anytime it comes to ingesting chemicals of any sort that aren’t naturally found in your body, I think there’s QUITE A BIT YOU COULD LOSE just by going off a hunch.

Or take the news reports out this morning about the in-fighting in the administration where one official wants to push a drug on the public that “could work” over and against the trained doctors in the room who caution it.  And the official’s defense?  They’re a “social scientist”…which, apparently, gives them the right to endanger human health, just because “scientist” is in their discipline’s title.

Opinion and expertise are not the same.

I digress, though.

I saw this quote on social media and I responded, “Looking at you, church…”

And I wrote that for two reasons.

The first? I had just been in a conversation with a friend who comes from a different theological point of view. They have no formal training, but take issue with my theological analyses quite openly, and even went so far as to suggest that their years of Sunday School and small group studies was equivalent to scholarly theological rigor.

The sum was, in effect, “It’s just a different point of view.”

The problem with this “point of view” is not that it’s different, though, it’s that it’s ill-informed at best, and uninformed at worst.

Now, I’m not suggesting that I’m always correct. By no means, just ask my partner. I’m wrong all the time, as much as I hate to admit it.  But I do know the difference between informed work and opinion, and so much that flies around as “theology” today is just mere opinion, brought on by years of the church, writ large, encouraging people to buy into the idea that their thoughts about the Bible, or their desires for what it means, trumps scholarly, rational, and even scientific study.

This is why I have so much trouble with churches who explicitly or implicitly teach that the Bible is inerrant and/or infallible.  It creates such a closed-loop system of truth inquiry that the oxygen is sucked out of the air and you end up with nonsense and the necessity of having to deny things that are plainly true. For example, the statement “there are two different, unique, and theologically divergent creation stories in Genesis 1 and 2” should be open for scholarly debate and discussion, using all the tools available to investigate that claim.

This is not a problem, unless you need there NOT to be two different, unique, and theologically divergent creation stories because inerrancy and/or infalliblity are the foundation of your argument.  And so you end up making all sorts of excuses and qualifications for how there are not two different accounts with unique, divergent theological claims…which is nonsense. There clearly are.

That’s a small thing.

But think on this: if, with such a small thing, you’re having to go around your ass to get to your elbow proving something can’t be what centuries (literally) of grammatical analysis, language study, theological inquiry, and historical, anthropological, and archeological research indicates it is, what about the big things?

The big things like not staying home during a pandemic because your religion teaches you, nay, encourages you to gather anyway because “God must be glorified and no one will tell me not to worship.”  Or, as someone legitimately offered just the other day, “Jesus died for me already, so I have nothing to fear by gathering at church.”

If the scriptures, or even your amorphous faith, is the center and locale of all truth because it is where inerrant and infallible authority rests, we create a system where your opinion becomes dangerous for our collective health.

And it starts with the small things.

If a collection of stories, full of contradictions, histories, myths, letters, apocrypha, and all sorts of kind of literature becomes the center for all your truth, then evidence will not convince you otherwise.

Normally the above is not a huge issue.  But in a pandemic, it can be.

And the second reason I wrote it?

Because I really want people to take a look at what their church teaches and consider the consequences.

I have friends who recently left their little church to go to the mega-church down the street. “It has better kid’s programming,” they said.

I get that to some degree, though if you want good children’s programming in a church, my suggestion will always be: create it, then.

But here’s the thing: their new church teaches a literalist understanding of the scriptures.  And although their “children’s church” is all sorts of flashy, the lasting intellectual incongruencies that their children may get as a result of an anti-intellectual approach to scripture will ultimately not be good for them.

Imagine being a doctor who can bring their brain to work, but not to worship.  This happens all the time, by the way, and I don’t know how people can look at evidence through a microscope or study the intricacies of a discipline Monday through Friday but endure a religious life that amounts to little more than a Sunday School lesson for infants throughout their life.

Or imagine a retributive God.  This pandemic could very well be seen as a response to human action, rather than the natural thing that happens when competing lifeforms compete.  Think of the mental anguish that is already stacked on top of the physical anguish that comes when we have to think that we are being punished by a God who supposedly “loves us.”

What your church teaches matters.

A friend of mine said once, “It’s nice to not have to think.”  Which, I guess it must be if you don’t think your religious life is consequential in this one.

But it is.

After posting my response, a good friend pushed back honestly suggesting that I not broad-brush the church.  I welcome that critique. And he’s right, of course.  I come from a tradition that encourages intellectual rigor in all parts of life, including spirituality. I don’t like being lumped in with those who don’t share my beliefs or practices.

And it is true that the church has done much, so much, to point humanity toward truth, encouraging intellectual inquiry and rigorous discipline.  I’m thinking specifically of our contributions in astronomy, sociology, art, architecture, philosophy (at times), and anthropology.

But, here’s the thing: I’m woven into the Christian fabric.  Which means the anti-intellectual parts of it are not “some other” part of it, but a close cousin to me.  And, like the “me too” movement forced me to wrestle with toxic masculinity even though I try not to fall into the trappings of it all, I need to be forced, even from my liberal corner, to wrestle honestly with the anti-intellectual history and contemporary factions of the church.

And one way I wrestle with it is by calling attention to it.

Because it may not, in most situations, seem like a big deal to attend a church that doesn’t take the life of the mind seriously, has a closed-loop view of scripture, and feels that pointing out truth in other faiths (or even in the secular world) threatens their own sense of truth.

But I really think it is a big deal.

Because if we disregard evidential truth, scholarly inquiry, and the like in one arena, chocking it up to “a difference of opinion,” we call into question, in an unhelpful and even dangerous way, truth in all arenas.

And, as we’re seeing, that has consequences.

Did Jesus Ride into Jerusalem on One Donkey or Two?

13slid1The answer to the title of this blog post is, “Depends on which Gospel you read.” It’s an appropriate question to ask as we cuddle up to Palm Sunday this year, because Matthew’s gospel, unlike the other gospels, has Jesus riding in on two, count ’em two, donkeys.

And it’s one of the bulwark examples of why the Scriptures cannot be inerrant nor infallible.

If your church teaches the infallibility or inerrancy of the Scriptures, send your pastor this blog and ask them to defend the position.  They will come up lacking; there is no defense.

Ready for the in-depth analysis?  Here we go…

Matthew’s “entry into Jerusalem” begins in Matthew 21 and goes through verse 11.  And Matthew, as he’s wont to do, likes to cite the Hebrew scriptures in his writing because he thinks it gives him both credence and authority.

And for his accounting of Jesus’ “triumphant entry” he borrows from a few places: Psalm 118 (this is where the Hosanna’s come from), Isaiah 62 (this is about the entry of salvation coming to Zion), and the prophet Zechariah, chapter 9.

It is Zechariah that Matthew struggles with here, and Zechariah is the one who mentions donkeys.

So, read Zechariah 9:9.  Zechariah has this long poem, and in it he recounts the Messiah’s entrance into the hearts of the people, and he does this thing in his poem that lots of Jewish poets did at the time, something that I think Matthew doesn’t understand…or if he does, he’s ignoring it.

See, in ancient poetry, especially Jewish poetry, you’d offer up one line of poetry, and then follow that first line up with a second line that reinforced that first line, further emphasizing it.  You see this in the Psalms all the time.

And Zechariah does this.  He notes that salvation will “ride in on a donkey, on a colt the foal of a donkey.”  Zechariah is talking about one donkey here, with the second line repeating with emphasis that first line.

But Matthew doesn’t get it.

And so, in Matthew’s gospel, the disciples go and untie two donkeys: an adult and a colt.  And they bring them both to Jesus and, the writer says, “Jesus rides them” into Jerusalem.

Now, think about it: this makes no sense.  Riding one donkey is hard enough. Can you imagine riding two?  And not just two donkeys, but two of differing heights and sizes?!

Impossible.

Why does Matthew do this?  Because he really wants to cite Zechariah, and this is what Zechariah writes.  And so he paints this picture of Jesus riding two donkeys.  He says Jesus rode two donkeys.

And listen folks, this isn’t a case of “well, different people have different perspectives of the same event…” which is what literalists usually argue has happened when the Gospels differ.

It’s clearly not that.  It’s clearly wrong!  Matthew doesn’t get what Zechariah is writing, and gets it wrong.

To say the scriptures are inerrant would mean to say that Matthew gets it right…but in doing so, you’d say that Mark, Luke, and John get it wrong, which cannot be.  To say that the scriptures are infallible would be to say that Matthew understands Zechariah, which clearly he does not.

So what can you say?

You can say that Matthew is really dedicated to the Hebrew scriptures, so much so that he really goes to great lengths to use them as proof texts in his accounting of Jesus’ life, and he sometimes misses the mark.

And that’s OK. It doesn’t have to be inerrant or infallible to hold the truth.  Inerrancy and infallibility are brittle things.  Poetry is flexible, and this is more akin to poetry than prose, Beloved.

So, did Jesus ride two donkeys or one when he entered Jerusalem?  Eh…depends who you ask.  The point?

He got there.

 

 

A “How-To” Guide to Becoming a “False Prophet” in the Eyes of Popular Christianity

false-prophets-101-700x380The message was predictable, and I should have seen it coming.  I’ve received a number of them before in my years of public writing.

“False prophet” was the first term that popped out as I scanned the message.  “Leading people astray” was another ominous one.

This last one came in response to my blogpost yesterday where I called out the My Pillow CEO for being ridiculous and dared to suggest that the idea of God wreaking a pandemic upon humanity was not only theologically abusive, but literally anti-Christ.

Friends, strangers, even sometimes classmates have peddled these phrases around and hurled them with intent to hurt, sometimes at me, other times at others.  Oh, they claim the intent is to “lovingly chastise,” another idea that conservative Christianity likes to pass off as true love.

True love only hurts the lover, not the beloved.  True love sacrifices, it doesn’t demand a sacrifice.  You’d think people who hear the Jesus story on the regular would know that, but somehow I have to keep explaining it.

These phrases are usually hurled from people under the sway of big-box church preachers who prattle off crypto-Calvinist theology that would make even Calvin blush with its concreteness.

Faith, by definition, isn’t concrete.

So, I thought I’d offer a short “how-to” for anyone interested in becoming a so-called false prophet in the eyes of what passes as popular Christianity today. It’s a short list, so have your pencils ready.  OK?

First, tell the truth.  And, like Pilate asks in John’s gospel, “what is truth?”  Well, to quote another (false) prophet of our times, St. Billy of the Joel’s, “shades of grey are the colors I see.”

The world is full of grey.  Theology is full of grey.  The illusion of black-and-white that is passed off in the sanctuaries and virtual live-streams of so many churches these days is not only harmful, it prevents humanity from actually grappling with, from actually dealing with the complex ambiguities of life.

Our minds like dualisms because they make sense.  But dualisms, in fact, are constructions that we’ve created to make sense, not because they make sense.  Do you see what I mean?

The concrete dualisms of right/wrong, God/Devil, saint/sinner offered by so much of Christianity is base religion, the starting point not the end-point.  Father Richard Rohr, himself labeled as “false” or “new-age” (another fun term grounded in opinion rather than actual taxonomy) points this out continually in his deep, complex, and soul-nourishing writing.

So much of Christianity has failed to advance past the soft-food of trite moralisms and neat dualisms that it actually holds its adherents back from learning from the beautiful and, yes, terrible reality that all things are fluid and complex.

The Buddhist idea that “life is suffering” sounds, at first, as if it is harsh and pessimistic.  But “suffering” here doesn’t mean “active pain,” it actually just means “active.”  Life is active. We know this from biology.  But humans don’t crave that!  We crave stability, not activity, at our core.

Base religion, of all stripes, offers a fake stability, an illusory hope that everything can stay the same.  That’s why some Christianity is called “conservative,” not because it is trying to preserve something sacred, but because it is trying to pretend conservation is actually possible when life-forms aren’t meant to stay stationary for too long!  If they do, they die…which is probably why so much of organized religion is struggling to live today.

So, step one, tell the truth: grey is the color of the world.

Step two: profess a love from God that can encompass the grey.  So much of the life and example of Jesus (who, by the way, was more Eastern than he was Western if you cringe at me quoting Buddhism above) is about widening the circles of God’s grace and love, not constricting them.

In short: if you think someone is out of God’s love, it’s probably you who is misplaced.

Step three: take the scriptures seriously. So seriously, in fact, that you take them for the different types of writing that they are: history, myth, legend, letter, poetry, and erotic novella (Song of Songs).

Not all scripture is the same, Beloved.  The base mind, the Christianity that likes to play in dualisms, will tell you it is.  But we know it’s not!  Jesus doesn’t even treat it all the same when he quotes the Hebrew scriptures.  He even changes it.  “You have heard it said,” he’s known to posit, “but I say to you…”

He changes it.

Now, some would (and have) rebutted that idea by saying, “No, Jesus corrects the misguided notions of the past…”  And when they do that, they betray their lack of understanding around how the Jewish faith held, holds, and argues with scripture.

Jesus was Jewish, and in that moment he was doing a very Jewish thing: arguing with scripture.  In fact, the Jewish notion of “white fire” and “black fire” might be helpful here, or as I prefer to call it “the character fire and the space fire” because black and white as dichotomies aren’t very helpful in our context.  The “black fire/character fire” was the writing on the sacred page of the Torah, the letters and characters themselves.  The “white fire/space fire” was the space between each character.  And the truth, this ancient line of thinking noted, was not in the characters or the word on the page, but in the space, the wiggle room, in-between them.

If that’s “new age”…well, literally there’s nothing more ancient than that idea of wiggle room, of grey, of fluidity and flux.

Step four: trust science and trust education as a way of progress that’s not ultimately threatening, but ultimately enlightening.

So, there you have it, a sure-fire way to get you called a false prophet today.

And to all you fellow false-prophets out there: thanks for your work.  The life-giving message stoked in the space between the logs of conservative religion continues to burn in the hearts of many, often those who no longer set foot in formally religious spaces.

And how do I know?

Because as often as I’m called a false prophet, I’m also sent messages saying things like, “I haven’t been to church in years…thanks for saying that.”

So keep saying it.