Friday, May 31, 2013

Consider the Birds of the Air...

Redwing Blackbirds by paynehollow
Redwing Blackbirds, a photo by paynehollow on Flickr.

I was reading a blogmentary and the resulting comments today and thought I'd correct someone on the internets who was wrong.

The blogger said...

Have you heard of "red letter Christians"? That's a cute way of indicating those people who classify themselves as Christians by taking those red-letter texts -- you know, the ones that Jesus said -- as absolutely true and setting the rest aside as questionable at best...

...who would not be fine with it? Well, Paul, for starters. He's the one who wrote that all Scripture is God-breathed (2 Tim 3:16-17). So if Jesus is God Incarnate (John 1:1-3), then all Scripture is, technically, the words of Jesus. (Remember, John refers to Him as "the Logos", the Word, the actual expression of God.) Even Paul's. Peter held that Paul's writings were Scripture (2 Peter 3:15-16). So if all Scripture is God-breathed, then what Paul wrote is just as much Jesus's words as what the red letter versions put up as Jesus's words. And, of course, Jesus held the Old Testament as Scripture, so that would be just as much Jesus's words as anything in the New Testament.

What do I do when Jesus and Paul disagree? Nothing, really. Because, well, they don't. So the problem isn't them. The problem is me. That's when I back up and figure out where I made the wrong turn. And, as it turns out, I usually find it pretty easily. But pitting Scripture against Scripture -- even Jesus against Paul or Peter or anyone else -- is a bad option if you're going to take Scripture seriously. Countering a Scripture with a Scripture is all well and good as long as you plan to make them agree...

And a commenter added the little jab...

The "red letter Christians" really tip their hands by implying that those words are inspired and that others are not. But why would they trust one Apostle's account of Jesus (any Gospel) and another Apostle's account (from Paul)? They implicitly deny the inspiration of scripture, and, not surprisingly, a lot of mischief follows.

The problems with this criticism (and ensuing false charges and attacks)...

1. We who are followers of Jesus, the Christ, really OUGHT to consider closely and take seriously Jesus' actual and direct teachings.

2. It demonstrates a bad, irrational, unbiblical approach to Bible study.

2a. The Bible makes THIS claim about "all Scripture..." That it is God-breathed/inspired and thus, useful for teaching and correction.

2b. The Bible does NOT make this claim about the Bible:

* That the 66 books of the Bible = "all Scripture.";

* That it is a magic rule book and if you only can read all the rules pretty (but not exactly... sort of, but not always, but kind of literally) and rightly apply them all in your (and you, in everyone else's) life, then you will find salvation and the Right Way to behave (and the Right Way to tell everyone else how they should behave);

* That it never contradicts itself in any manner;

* That each line of text in the Bible is equally valid as all other lines;

* That if an OT rule and a direct NT teaching of Jesus conflict, that we MUST find a way to make them not contradict one another...

3. Indeed, it is abundantly obvious that the Bible DOES contradict itself, at least as far as moral teachings go. The OT quite clearly teaches that God's people should NOT eat shrimp, for instance, that doing so is an "abomination." AND YET, Jesus and other NT writers directly contradict this teaching. "It's NOT what goes in to a person that makes them unclean or a sinner, but what comes OUT of them..." Eating shrimp is specifically NOT a sin or an abomination in the NT. That is a contradiction.

4. So, the problem here is treating the Bible as if it claimed that it was a rule book (magic or otherwise). The idea - "IF there is a rule in the OT, THEN Jesus' teachings can NOT contradict it, we must make Jesus' teachings mesh with OT teachings." - is simply sloppy reasoning and Bible study. Additionally, this is a way (perhaps unintentionally) of undermining the teachings of Jesus, making them subordinate to OT Jewish rules and teachings. I would call that sloppy Bible study and disrespectful to the actual teachings of Jesus.

5. And as soon as I say that, someone will sputter, "but, but, but... Jesus SAID 'I did not come to destroy the law, but to fulfill it...'" and indeed, he did. But "fulfilling it" does not mean accepting each OT teaching and rule as a universally moral teaching. That is another way (perhaps unintentional) of undermining Jesus' teachings, making them captive to ancient rules and understandings and mores.

6. The use of "red letter" by some folk (such as the ones cited) is a way of disrespecting/mocking those who hold fast to Jesus' teachings and seems odd to me. Why would followers of Jesus (and his teachings) NOT be especially concerned about the "red letters..."? We in the Baptist/anabaptist tradition (and others) approach Bible study with this attitude: That we understand all of scripture through the lens of Jesus' teachings. Why wouldn't we? We're followers of Jesus!

7. We who do strive to hold fast to Jesus' teachings are not saying that some Bible teachings are inspired and some are not (well, some "red letter Christians" might, but it's not a given or a universal trait at all). Rather, we understand ALL of Scripture to be inspired and useful for teaching (what the Bible actually claims) but don't conflate that to mean that each line in the Bible holds equal weight and are equally valid moral teachings. Clearly, according to Jesus, this is not true (well, unless you try to make Jesus' captive and overruled by OT interpretations and rules).

Indeed, we strive to use Jesus' teachings as a lens to biblical interpretation BECAUSE we value all biblical teachings. Biblical teachings are only useful IF they are rightly understood. Jesus' Gospel teachings help us to rightly understand.

Again, why would followers of Jesus NOT pay particular attention to his teachings?

I know I've said much of this sort of thing before, but I had a little time and thought I'd do that silliest of things: Correct someone who was wrong on the internet. Call me sick.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

IRS "Scandal..."?

Watch your step by paynehollow
Watch your step, a photo by paynehollow on Flickr.

Far be it from me to defend the IRS, but as I've been listening to this news story, I have some questions...

No doubt you've all heard the story, "IRS employees targeted conservatives unjustly...," etc, wherein some in the IRS are accused of singling out and targeting for extra scrutiny conservative groups who've applied for non-profit status. My question has to do with the way this charge has been framed.

IS there any evidence that, in general, these IRS employees who've allegedly targeted "conservative" groups HAVE done so?

First, it appears clear that, if nothing else, we've sort of set up rules that make this job difficult for IRS employees. Some groups will apply for non-profit status, presumably so that they can do good for the community and some in the IRS are charged with the task of deciding if the application is legitimate.

The purpose of the non-profit status is to help those groups whose PRIMARY purpose to is promote the social welfare. Or, as it reads in the IRS code...

An organization is operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare if it is primarily engaged in promoting the common good and general welfare of the people of the community.

The problem is, WHAT is the measure for "primarily engaged in promoting the common good..."? It appears to be left rather vague, making the job of this department of the IRS a difficult one. It would seem obvious that a group providing housing or job skills for the homeless or unemployed is primarily promoting the common good, but what of a more political organization that, say, is fighting against (or in favor of) abortion? Is that "primarily promoting the common good"? Who decides?

If nothing else, hopefully this "scandal" will raise attention to this problem and help lead to clarification.

But, back to my problem with this "scandal."

First, let me be clear: IF it turns out to be the case that this office of the IRS was populated by partisan Democrat hacks who deliberately targeted conservative groups because they were conservative, that is wrong, wrong, wrong and the problem should be addressed.

However, from all evidence that I've seen thus far, these employees (and their managers who knew about it) weren't generally targeting conservative groups at all, much less for political reasons.

Rather, at a time when many tea party-type groups were being formed and applying for non-profit status, these employees made the call to target specifically applications that were "tea party" or "patriot"-styled groups. And what was the reason for this?

Was it because these groups were primarily conservative and these were liberal partisan hacks? Then hold them accountable and clarify the rules.

On the other hand, if they did it because tea party groups have tended to be pretty virulently anti-gov't, anti-tax groups who have tended to be more political in nature, rather than "primarily" operating for "the common good," well, then, give these employees Gold Stars, they seemed to have been doing their job.

The tea party-types that I have read have tended to say things like "taxation = theft!" and "Big gov't is STEALING our money, let's put an end to it!"... that is, they come across as pretty politically opposed to taxation in general AND pretty political in nature and those qualities SHOULD raise a red flag for a tax collecting agency.

Consider: There is on the Left in the Peace Wing, a pretty small group that supports withholding a percentage of tax dollars - those dollars that would go to the "war machine." I'm not entirely unsympathetic to the notion, myself, although I'm not part of it.

Now, if groups who agreed with this idea started proliferating in the way that the tea partiers did in the last decade and they began organizing and applying en masse for non-profit status, then I would expect it to be not unreasonable for the IRS to "target" groups with "anti-war tax" in their title/mission statement.

By "targeting," they weren't simply dismissing the tea party groups - indeed, it appears most groups got their non-profit status. It just means that because these groups seemed to be questionably out to "primarily promote the common good" and more political in nature, that they looked at their applications a little more closely.

From all I've seen so far, this does not seem inappropriate to me, nor does it seem to violate any laws or any internal IRS rules.

Am I mistaken? If so, where specifically? What rules have they violated? What laws have they broken?

Do I support clarification of these "primarily for the promotion of the common good" rules so it's not left so vague? Sure, that would be a good thing. But let's not blame the IRS if their only sin is doing their job as best they can. If it turns out that these employees and managers did NOT "target" the tea party groups as part of a partisan attack, but just doing their jobs, I am hopeful that Congress and the Right-eous attackers will apologize for creating a "scandal" where none existed.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Best Final Episode Ever?

Flowers Watercolor by paynehollow
Flowers Watercolor, a photo by paynehollow on Flickr.

The TV show, The Office had its final episode last night. Now, I am no fan of TV, as a general rule, and think we'd do better to spend less time watching it. I am, therefore, loathe to spend any time talking up a TV show, but, well, here we go....

I have enjoyed The Office over the years. The last few seasons, the quality of the shows has declined, as is common in even good TV shows, and I didn't watch it as regularly. Still, I tuned in last night for the final episode and must say that I thought it was great, perhaps the best final episode of any TV show ever.

(NOTE: Since most Final Episodes have not been all that good, that may be feint praise... my previous favorite Final Episode was Newhart.)

This Office finale was almost certainly too sentimental. Some might complain that being sweet and sentimental forced some characters to play out of character. But it's a final episode, I can cut them some slack for even over-the-top sentimentality.

I thought it had a nice balance of wistful remembrances and solid humor.

But probably the reason I enjoyed the show so much was because they took the opportunity to wax poetic and philosophical - and a departing is a perfect time to do that - and they did so in a way that I didn't find preachy or treacly, just pleasant.

A few favorite quotes...

Jim, reflecting upon his years in the incredibly inane and unimportant "paper selling" business...

“Even if I didn’t love every minute of it, everything I have I owe to this job. This stupid, wonderful, boring amazing job.”


“I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days before you’ve actually left them.”

What do you think? Any Office mates out there?

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Save Your Indignation, Part Deux

Sad by paynehollow
Sad, a photo by paynehollow on Flickr.

On the same theme as the last post, a whiny blogger recently listed a whole list of religious folk getting in trouble for refusing service to others because of their "religious beliefs..." for things like a florist not being able to refuse service to send flowers to a wedding between gay folk or adoption agencies refusing to allow gay folk to adopt, etc.

The blogger said...

What is in common with all these stories? Yes, there is a whole lot of "look what 'gay marriage' is doing to religious freedom", but that isn't in all of these cases. Yes, it does look like religious persecution is starting in America, but it's a little hard to support the term "persecution" when it is so spotty and rare. What, then? The common element is religious convictions in the public square. Obama, for instance, allowed the Roman Catholic Church an exemption for contraceptives because the Roman Catholic Church is, well, a church. Their subsidiaries, their services, their other programs? Not protected. Neither are private citizens who own businesses such as Hobby Lobby. That is "the public square" and religious persuasion in the public square will not be countenanced. You are free to believe what you want in private; just don't exercise your religious convictions in public.

And he may be right that some people are getting in trouble for their "religious beliefs" but he reaches the wrong conclusion. They are NOT getting in trouble for exercising their religious convictions in trouble. You can do that all day long if you want.

They are getting in trouble for illegal discrimination which results in harm to others.

That is a big difference.

Let me run down a list of examples of the difference.

Does your religion teach you to help the poor? You are free to express those religious beliefs publicly.

Does your religion teach you to kill the infidel? You are NOT allowed to express that belief publicly.

Does your religion teach you to not steal, to not lie, to not cheat? You are free to express those religious beliefs publicly.

Does your religion teach you to discriminate against "the gays," "the Jews," Muslims, Christians... and refuse to let them in your business? You are NOT allowed to express that belief publicly.

Does your religion teach you to hate the behavior of gay folk, black folk, muslim folks, Christian folks? You are free to express those religious beliefs publicly.

Does your religion teach you to kick "the gays," "the Blacks," Muslims, Christians, those who fornicate out of your rental property? You are NOT allowed to express that belief publicly.

Get the difference. Yes, there ARE some limits we place on our liberties. We are free to think that some people are hell-bound sinners, but your liberty to believe that STOPS at the line of harm. You can think Muslims are sinners, but you can't kill them, beat them or refuse service to them.

So it's NOT the case that "religion in the public square is not to be countenanced." It's the case that we have reasonably concluded that your right to believe what you want ENDS at harm.

Stop whining and complaining about the pending "persecution..." you just look silly.

Or not, you remain to be whiny as hell in the public square in the name of your religion. It just comes across as a rather pathetic, wimpy religion, but you remain free to be pathetic if you want.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Save Your Indignation

Compost by paynehollow
Compost, a photo by paynehollow on Flickr.

...and put your persecution complex on hold, right-winged zealots.

Recently, some in the more fundamentalist/extremist camp have been up in arms (literally??) about a news story. The Pentagon has recently reiterated an existing policy against proselytizing. Some in the extremist camps have pointed to this to prove their poor persecution and the state of our godless society and president.

They are, of course, never ones to let facts interfere with a good pity party.

The facts, from the Pentagon...

A statement released May 2 by Defense Department spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen clarified the military’s policy that “members of the military are free to share their faith as long as they don’t harass others.” Christensen continued:

“Service members can share their faith (evangelize), but must not force unwanted, intrusive attempts to convert others of any faith or no faith to one’s beliefs (proselytization),” said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen, a Pentagon spokesman, in an email.

“If a service member harasses another member on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, national origin, age, or disability, then the commander takes action based on the gravity of the occurrence. Likewise, when religious harassment complaints are reported, commanders take action based on the gravity of the occurrence on a case-by-case basis.”

Christensen said there are no plans to single out evangelical Christians for punishment, despite claims of activists.

“The U.S. Department of Defense has never and will never single out a particular religious group for persecution or prosecution. The Department makes reasonable accommodations for all religions and celebrates the religious diversity of our service members,” he said.

"Free to express their faith AS LONG AS they don't harass others..."

So, is it the case that these extremists want to reserve the right to harass others or are they just looking for reasons to whine?

Or maybe a bit of both?

Facts: 1
Zealotry: 0

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Happy Bicycling Month!

Bike Whiz by paynehollow
Bike Whiz, a photo by paynehollow on Flickr.

An 80-year old man goes to the doctor for a checkup.

The doctor is amazed at what good shape the guy is in and asks,"How do you stay in such great physical condition?"

I'm a cyclist," says the old guy, "and that's why I'm in such good shape. I'm up well before daylight and out and ride my bicycle."

" Well," says the doctor, "I'm sure that helps, but there's got to be more to it. How old was your dad when he died?"

"Who said my dad's dead?"

The doctor is amazed. "You mean you're 80 years old and your dad's still alive. How old is he?"

"He's 100 years old," says the old cyclist. "In fact he rode with me this morning, and that's why he's still alive . . . he's a cyclist, too."

"Well," the doctor says, "that's great, but I'm sure there's more to it than that. How about your dad's dad? How old was he when he died?"

"Who said my grandpa's dead?"

Stunned, the doctor asks, "You mean you're 80 years old and your grandfather's still living! Incredible! How old is he?!"

"He's 118 years old," says the old cyclist.

The doctor is getting frustrated at this point, "So, I guess he went bike riding with you this morning too?"

"No. Grandpa couldn't go this morning because he's getting married today."

At this point the doctor is close to losing it.

"Getting married!! Why would a 118 year-old guy want to get married?"

"Who said he wanted to?"