Friday, August 30, 2019


Passing an old leaf
beside the tired amber stream,
she called out to me

she called me by name.
Daniel, she said, formally,
Where are you going?

I was stupefied
I rarely talk to the leaves
and, well, that's my fault

Downstream, I reckon
lest I decide otherwise...
My mind could be changed.

The leaf said no more...
I think she was satisfied
and I'll try to be

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Yet More on the Pharisees...

My pastor, in her sermon on Sunday, read the passage from Luke about the Pharisees. The same one I spoke about in a recent post on Pharisees ("More on Pharisees. And Harsh Insults"). Interesting timing. Here are some excerpts from that sermon...

Because we’ve been focusing on “table graces” during this season of Ordinary Time, we’ve been looking at those scriptures through which we can see God’s grace revealed at the table. It’s been good to hear stories of how that has happened in some of our lives, and we look forward to hearing more along the way.

While this morning’s scripture reading is a story about Jesus at the table, though, it’s a little more difficult than usual to see the grace there. But let’s look for it! 

...I’ve mentioned before that Karen, our pastor-friend in Morocco, told me once that she is convinced that Jesus grew up in a Pharisaic home, and that that's why he was always attacking them. It was what she calls 'insider critique.' It's like me feeling free to criticize Southern Baptists at will. You don't often find me criticizing Presbyterians or United Methodists or Episcopalians or Roman Catholics or Muslims or Jews, but I feel like Southern Baptists, of which I was one for so many years, are fair game.
It certainly is true that Jesus had much in common with the Pharisees, and I find her theory, which she says is also shared by some French theologians, compelling.

When I hear Jesus railing at Pharisees, she said in an email about this, I cannot help but think that he knows he is justified in his critique because they are his own people. It’s clear from scripture that he still hangs out with Pharisees and gets invited into their homes – likely because they were his friends and family. Jesus may well have been inducted into the party of the Pharisees himself. (Their deep concern was righteousness, after all.) Yet as God worked in his life, and as he came to understand more fully who he was and what his calling was as Son of Man and Son of God, he had to reject the religious tradition of his beloved family and friends.

So, if that is the case, it might shine a different kind of light on this morning’s passage than the one we saw at first... today’s reading, we don’t really see Jesus do any of that [being calm, kind, gracious ~dt] at all. What we see is Jesus just going at them. And when one of the teachers of the law tries to calm him down, pointing out that he’s not just being negative toward the Pharisees, but is pushing up against him and his peers as well, instead of saying, “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings,” Jesus confronts, and if we weren’t talking about Jesus, we might be more comfortable saying “attacks” the teachers of the Law as well. Makes them and the Pharisees so angry that they begin to “oppose him fiercely.” And I will remind us again that some scholars believe that the main reason that Jesus was executed had to do with his table conversations.

So okay, then, where is the “grace” in this table story? Well, actually it’s right in front of our eyes, big time. Because here’s the thing…Jesus’ message to the Pharisees and teachers of the Law had to do with grace for those who are vulnerable…Be generous to the poor, he says, and everything in you will be clean. Do justice, don’t load people down with burdens, and then not even lift a finger, to help them out. He is speaking on behalf of those who are being oppressed and beaten down by those to whom is speaking.

And so while at first glance, this might not sound like a table grace story, it definitely is. It’s Jesus’ voice pushing and arguing and fighting for grace for those who don’t have it to those who can give it...

...I think that this morning’s story, while it doesn’t really show Jesus being contemplative during the confrontation, it does show that he has been contemplative and that he is being intentional. Because he comes to the meal and he doesn’t wash his hands. That wasn’t just something that was gross, that was something that was seen as a sin. You had to wash your hands. And yet, given that that’s how he grew up, it seems to me that this was something that Jesus planned. He intentionally did not wash his hands. And then when the Pharisee shows surprise, as Jesus knew he would, Jesus makes his point:

Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also?  But now as for what is inside you—be generous to the poor, and everything will be clean for you.”

He set them up for that, or so it seems to me. He was contemplative and then intentional with his actions and his words...

...You see, grace doesn’t have to be sweet and nice.

The poet
Rashani writes:

There is a brokenness
out of which comes the unbroken,
a shatteredness
out of which blooms the unshatterable.

Jesus caused a sense of brokenness at the table that day as he stood up for the vulnerable ones. He cut at the very hearts of those who were there with him. Our hope is, of course, that some of them though cut to the heart, were then able to enter into a new place, a place of true grace. May we have the courage to be like Jesus. May we have the courage to be like Jesus. 
~Pastor Cindy

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Speaking of Pharisees...

Apparently, very recently a church kicked another lesbian couple out of the congregation. The couple went to the media about it, it appears to me, to let the greater world know the sort of ugly, filthy, disgusting discrimination that still exists amongst some in the Pharisee crowd (remembering that the Pharisees are the ones who create rules and demand that others live up to those rules, whilst forgetting the more important work of grace and justice). 

Some conservative Christian blog covered the story (offering an especially ugly take on an already ugly story) and posted the letter from the pastor to this dear lesbian couple. Just to let people know that this awful discrimination still exists (amazingly), I'm posting the letter here, with the names of the lesbian couple removed, but the church name and the pastor's name still left in.

Here it is. Trigger warning, the Pharisaical arrogance is strong, here...

Greenwood Baptist Church
Southaven, MS

Dear Mary,

It's been about a year now since you left your church family to live an unbiblical lifestyle with [your spouse]. At the outset, I kindly, but firmly reminded both of you that a homosexual relationship is forbidden in Scripture and against God's original design. For a professing Christian to live openly and unremorsefully in sin is degrading to the name of Christ, defiling to his/her church family, and destructive to himself/herself. I told you that the church could not allow you to live in unrepentant disobedience without addressing it. We love you too much to neglect you.

I had hoped you would repent. However, after numerous attempts by family, church members, and friends to convince you of your error, you have remained resistant. In fact, you entered into a “marriage” contract with [spouse] on Father's Day, no less. Therefore, on July 14, 2019 the deacon body unanimously recommended that your church membership at Gracewood Baptist Church be terminated. With much sadness, the church held a special business meeting on August 7, 2019 and voted without objection to end your membership.

Upon your request and evidence of repentance and reformation, however, you may be restored to full fellowship at Gracewood by the vote of the body. As the Father rejoices over one “lost sheep” being found, we will celebrate your “homecoming.” We will pray and wait expectantly.

In Christ,

Barry Baker, Pastor


For most people today (I believe, and thankfully), the arrogance, presumption and Pharisaical nature of this letter is evident. The shame is on this church and her congregation who, if it can be believed, voted unanimously to kick these dear sisters out of their church. 

The joy is that, increasingly, these sorts of perverts (the church and her arrogant congregants) are a dying breed. The strong, brave, noble LGBTQ crowd and their allies have won this argument in the population at large. We're not going back to days where gay folk were shamed into hiding... no, it is deviants who believe writing a letter like this who are increasingly shamefacedly hiding in the shadows. And good riddance.

To be sure, giving them the benefit of the doubt, the members of this church are, no doubt, trying to be sincerely helpful, even as they adopt an evil level of arrogance. But the road to hell, good intentions and all that.

So, I'm just writing this because it is in fitting with the review of Pharisaism I've had going here and just to celebrate the golden efforts of our LGBTQ sheroes and heroes out there and the progress they've made in human rights.

I'm not looking for any further comments from any who'd try to defend this church. As noted, the fundamentalists (Muslim, Mormon, Christian, whoever) have already lost this argument. It's not up for debate. I might entertain very respectful, sincere questions, but no negative comments or attacks on LGBTQ folk. Not here.

To those who support this church, just know that in 20 years, you will truly be dinosaurs. You will be viewed by your children and grandchildren in the same way that the bigots and anti-miscegenists are today (usually). You will be laughed at for your shameful, sick behavior as just sad and deluded. Hopefully, you'll one day recognize the error of your ways while you're still living (as I have) and have time to repent and begin to make amends. 

Why not open your mind, your eyes and your heart and repent today? Save yourself some shame later on, down the road.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

More on the Pharisees. And Harsh Insults.

“I know you Pharisees burnish the surface of your cups and plates so they sparkle in the sun, but I also know your insides are maggoty with greed and secret evil. Stupid Pharisees! Didn’t the One who made the outside also make the inside?

Turn both your pockets and your hearts inside out and
give generously to the poor;
then your lives will be clean, not just your dishes and your hands.

I’ve had it with you! You’re hopeless, you Pharisees! Frauds!
You keep meticulous account books, tithing on every nickel and dime you get, but
manage to find loopholes for
getting around basic matters of justice and God’s love.
Careful bookkeeping is commendable, but the basics are required.

You’re hopeless, you Pharisees! Frauds!

You love sitting at the head table at church dinners, love preening yourselves in the radiance of public flattery. Frauds! You’re just like unmarked graves: People walk over that nice, grassy surface, never suspecting the rot and corruption that is six feet under."

One of the religion scholars spoke up:
“Teacher, do you realize that in saying these things you’re insulting us?”

Jesus said,

and I can be even more explicit.

You’re hopeless, you religion scholars! You load people down with rules and regulations, nearly breaking their backs, but never lift even a finger to help.

You’re hopeless! You build tombs for the prophets your ancestors killed. The tombs you build are monuments to your murdering ancestors more than to the murdered prophets. That accounts for God’s Wisdom saying, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, but they’ll kill them and run them off.’

What it means is that every drop of righteous blood ever spilled from the time earth began until now, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was struck down between altar and sanctuary, is on your heads. Yes, it’s on the bill of this generation and this generation will pay.

You’re hopeless, you religion scholars! You took the key of knowledge, but instead of unlocking doors, you locked them. You won’t go in yourself, and won’t let anyone else in either.”

~Jesus, who knew a thing or two about insulting and WHO to insult

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

The Sins of the Pharisees (Both the Ancient and Modern types)

Stan, at his blog, recently posted his hunches about why modern day "fundamentalists" or "conservative evangelicals"* are viewed as Pharisees. I have heard this before and this (as always) is not directed to Stan specifically, but just to this protestation that, "We aren't Pharisees!"

Stan (speaking of those who'd accuse conservatives of being Pharisees) said...

"I'm a pharisee because I believe Scripture teaches X and we ought to do it. They don't think we ought to do it, so I'm the pharisee.

I'm a pharisee because I take Scripture seriously and they don't.

I'm the pharisee because when God speaks, I intend to listen. They're not because when they speak, the listen intently. I'm the pharisee because they perceive an hypocrisy that isn't actually real."

So, I'm really trying to deal with this one point, so let me make it clear:

It's not (NOT NOT NOT) because you "you take Scripture seriously and we don't..." That is NOT IT. Let me say it again: It is NOT because we think you take Scripture seriously. That is just laughably NOT the point.

It is because, like the Pharisees, you miss the point of Scripture.

The Pharisees WERE good people, well-intentioned men who tended to live very moral lives (at least at a shallow level). They were rule followers and rule teachers. The Pharisees' sin (and it was huge) was in approaching the bible as a magic rule book. IF you just understand all the rules and apply them correctly, THEN you will be good with God. IF you FAIL to read the magic rule book correctly (at least on some key points), you were a sinner bound for hell.

So, to make even more explicit what rules we need to follow (this, according to the pharisaic interpretation of the Scripture), they "clarified" by adding rule upon rule to make it clear what it means to "observe the Sabbath" or to "honor your parents..." So, while the number of steps you could take without dishonoring the Sabbath was never told to them by God or the Scripture, they "clarified" the matter by defining how many steps one could take. It was a Pharisaical rule THEY ADDED that said, "No more than 3000 steps on the Sabbath..."

I would say that the point of Scripture/ethical living/morality/Godliness is grace, or at least Christians and reasonable people believe. That is the starting place for understanding. Scripture should be read by and in grace. Morality should be understood within the confines of grace.

But for the Pharisees (modern and ancient), the point of Scripture is that we have a list of rules that we can follow so that we can "know" we are living God's way. And some of these rules are serious as hell... you break the sabbath and you should be killed, says the OT ruling (taken literally). There was a death penalty attached to failing to honor the Sabbath. So, the Pharisees reason, we need to take these rules seriously and literally and, if we need to add some "clarification" to take it literally, so be it.

So, the reasonable moral person looks at two loving people wanting to get married, committing to a life of mutual love and respect and support, and we see that as a clearly moral good.

But the Pharisees look at two GUYS wanting to get married and they say, "Ah, but God has a rule prohibiting that."

Of course, the Bible has no such rule and God has not told them that. It's a ruling they added to "clarify" what the Bible says and, thus, what God thinks (they say).

So, there you have the first major sin of the Pharisees: "adding ruling upon ruling upon the backs of others..." a grace-less life of rule following. Missing the point of the Bible and morality.

And there you also have the second sin of the Pharisees... Arrogance and presumption. THEY are the ones who can rightly read the Holy Scripture and rightly tell everyone else what these various rulings mean and offer rulings that apply to everyone else.

This was true of ancient Pharisees and it is true of the modern evangelical/fundamentalist sect of "christianity..." a sect that completely misses the point of Scripture even with Jesus' help to make it clear.

Oh, and I would say that the third sin of the Pharisees (modern and ancient) was that they neglected the weightier matters of the law.

God, in the Bible, as Jesus in the NT makes clear, was a God of grace and justice. A God who, in his grace was concerned about specifically justice for the poor and marginalized. God was/is a God who sides with the poor, the immigrant, the stranger, the orphaned, the sick, the oppressed and the marginalized. God and Jesus teach throughout the Bible that THIS was the point of true religion: Aiding/siding with the down and out. In grace, working for justice.

But the Pharisees have always been more about a simple-minded, limited "morality" that was concerned especially with "sexual sins" and an outward appearance of cleanliness and "holiness..." but such a religion misses the point and, thus, walks by the neighbor in need, rather than stopping to help.

Concerned about "personal morality..." how much one gives and how "pure" one is sexually? Okay, that's fine, as far as it goes (and it doesn't go far). But we should not neglect the weightier matters of the law: Justice, working with and alongside the poor and marginalized.

Thus, in summation, the Sins of the Pharisees and why modern conservative Christians are comparable to Pharisees, and not in a favorable way...

1. Adding rule upon rule, creating rules that are not Godly or reasonable, adding a load to people's backs and doing so without grace or love - thus missing the point of Scripture - it is a book of Grace, not a rulings book;
2. Arrogance and presumption, that THEY are the true interpreters of Scripture and if you disagree with them on at least some key points, you're not likely a God follower;
3. Neglecting the weightier matters of justice for the poor and marginalized, while focusing on these outwardly "pure" rulings about sex and giving and "the Sabbath."

*Caveat: As I often note, I have problems with the terms "fundamentalist," "conservative" and "evangelicals..." in applying them to modern conservative Christians. I don't think they are in any sense advocating a return to "fundamentals" or to Good News ("evangelicalism"), nor are they especially "conservative..." but these are the best terms I have for them right now.

Unless we just want to refer to them as Modern Pharisees, which, sadly, is an apt name for too many conservative Christians. **

**Additional caveat: This is not true for all conservatives. I was raised by some excellent, Godly conservatives, both at home and in my church. These "moderate conservatives" we might call them, still had that tinge of Phariseeism about them (about US, since I was one), but it was at least moderated by grace and that goes a long way.***

***Additional caveat: This temptation towards Pharisaism is one that I think can affect liberals, as well. I mean, at least with liberals, they DO tend to start from a place of taking seriously the weightier matters of justice, as opposed to just rule following "purity..." but they/we do have a tendency to be pretty dogmatic about adding rule upon rule for others to follow (don't drive, don't eat meat, here SPECIFICALLY is how you ought to recycle... No! You oughtn't recycle at all, you ought not generate waste!) to the point of where it becomes a weight upon our backs and the backs of others and we certainly face the temptation of arrogance, that WE are the true interpreters of righteousness, the Bible, God and morality... so, this are of concern is one I have for me and liberals, as well as conservatives... it's something to watch out for.

Which is why, Grace.

Friday, August 9, 2019

When Remaining Quiet is Not Loving

The difference between "loving everyone" and being quiet in the face of false charges, attacks and vilification...

I know that I sometimes come across as strident in discussions with my more conservative neighbors. I stand strongly for some points and strongly against some points and use harsh words sometimes to describe what I believe to be harmful points.

Why not get along? I hear regularly.

And getting along is vital and important and by and large, I strive for that.

But here is an example of where, it seems to me, we need to “get along” and where and when we need to draw lines and speak out:

A more conservative friend recently posted that great meme that says something like, “Love your neighbor who doesn't... Look like you; Think like you; Speak like you; Pray like you; Vote like you... Love your neighbor. No exceptions.”

Excellent point and of course, I agreed and I said so.

But then, someone (let's say, Ralph) added in a comment below that, “Ah, but it's not plausible with Muslims because they are required to assimilate or annihilate all non-believers...”

Now, I'm getting along with everyone. Loving everyone. Loving the Muslims this person mentioned and loving the man who's probably Christian who made that comment.

BUT, here's the line: When christian Ralph made that claim (which is, of course, a false claim), because I love Muslims, I need to speak out and point out that the claim is a false one. And given the minority and sometimes harassed status of Muslims here in the US, it is a potentially harmful false claim, as it demonizes a group that are at risk of being targets for oppression/harm.

Because I love Muslims, as well as other believers and non-believers, it is important to speak out.

It's not enough to “live and let live...” To say, “Oh, Ralph! He just says stuff like that and I kinda disagree... but I'll be quiet because I don't want to confront him...” It's not enough to quietly ignore the false and potentially harmful claim because to do so is to help allow an oppressive foothold to take hold.

I pointed out, politely, that the claim was, of course, false. I politely noted that passing on false claims is not helpful in the cause of Loving Everyone, which was the point of the post.

Ralph responded by saying “YOU HAVE NO FREAKING CLUE WHAT YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT...” He then cited a video by “Dr David Woods, PhD in Philosophy of Religion” as “proof” that I was wrong and his claim was factual.

I watched the video and I tried to discover what Woods' expertise is in Islam. There's not much out there about Woods except what he claims. He claims to be an expert in Islam, saying he's read some ancient Islamic writings and quotes the Quran. He claims to have this PhD from a reputable college.
However, there are no books by Wood, no peer-reviewed articles that I could find. Nothing I could find to even validate his studies or his PhD. Just his claims. Oh, and by the way, he is a very conservative Christian.

Now, could Wood be an actual expert in Islam... or could he at least have studied Islam some? Sure, it's possible. But when he talks in his videos (most of his “work” I could find consisted of his videos harshly criticizing Islam and Atheists), he does not present as scholarly. He presents as bigoted and arrogant... as if HE is in a better place to say what “true Muslims” believe, because he read several books and the Quran... perhaps even read them multiple times.

But then, I've also read actual Muslim scholars (which includes Muslim scholars, as well as former Muslims who are informed about Islam and able to critique it from a place of expertise, as well as Christian scholars who are actually familiar with Islamic writings and traditions... people with some credentials beyond their claims of expertise) and know that, of course, as with all religions, there are a range of beliefs in Islam and that no one group within Islam can speak as the authoritative deciders for what is and isn't “true Islam...”

And then, I had Wood and his claims of his expertise on Islam, and I had Ralph, who thought Wood's video was sufficient “evidence” to “prove” that I was wrong and had “NO FREAKING CLUE...”

So, returning to the idea of loving everyone, which would include speaking out in defenses of a group or the Other that is being attacked or slandered, I made a polite follow up comment, saying that I watched Wood's video and was not impressed and that there are other experts out there with whom I am more familiar and find more credible. And I asked the question, “Why is this one conservative Christian the right 'expert' to rely upon over and against all the other experts and scholars I am more familiar with?”

Ralph's response was, “You're a f****-ing idiot! Dr David Wood... is as much an expert on Islam as exists on this planet.”

That was helpful. But why? Why is he a trusted expert? Why does his opinion outweigh all other opinions? And, really, a leading expert on Islam “as exists on this planet...”?

No answers from Ralph.

Of course, we can see that Ralph was getting very emotionally distraught and not responding to correct his false claims, nor responding to reasonable questions, nor acknowledging the existence of other Muslim scholars who disagree with Woods and Ralph, and that Ralph was responding with ad hom attacks instead of reasonable dialogue. Which is fine, he's free to do so.

But the point is, the person who made the post about Loving everyone, even those who disagree with you, is one who often finds my comments divisive and arrogant (or so he says). And yet, in this lovely post about loving everyone, even those you disagree with, he remained silent in the face of the false claim about Muslims and the personal attacks on me.

And again, I don't care about the ad hom attacks, that's not the point.

The point is that it is not divisive to point out a potentially harmful false claim. We owe it to our neighbors who are being vilified to correct false claims... especially if they are part of a potentially harassed minority, which in our circumstances, Muslims are.

By pointing out the false claim, I was not failing to love my neighbor with whom I disagree... I was siding with my (in this case) Muslim neighbors (with whom I disagree on points, to be sure), defending them against a false claim. And, truly, I was also loving my neighbor, Ralph, with whom I disagree, because he hopefully wouldn't want to pass on false claims that are potentially harmful.

So, yes, let's love our neighbors with whom we disagree. But part of that is not being silent when one neighbor falsely or unjustly attacks another neighbor. Being quiet in deference to the neighbor that perhaps I share more in common when they attack a minority, harassed neighbor is not “loving our neighbors. No exceptions.”

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Stop Trying to Erase People... You Lost

He said...

"How, then, am I not opposed to gay marriage? On the same basis that I'm not opposed to unicorns, pixies, or zombies. They do not exist."

They do not exist.

Thus, spake Hate.

To deny someone's very existence... the very existence of a loving married couple, as if they were nothing... This is the speech of the Enemy. This is the speech of Hate. This is the speech of the Oppressor.

It's one thing to say, “I really hate what you are doing there... that thing that YOU THINK is good, but is really (in my opinion) bad... I hate that...”

That would be arrogant and presumptuous, perhaps, especially if speaking about something as beautiful as marriage... as wonderful as two people committing together in love to form a new family. But you can understand that as at least possibly coming from a place of good intentions (whether paving the way to hell or not).

But “You do not exist.”

Your marriage does not exist.

Your family, your children, they do not exist. They are nothing but evil and a casting aside of all that is holy...

That is a whole other level of ugly, of danger, of threat, of oppression.

People need to embrace a bit of humility before the speak, before they write. If nothing else, consider how evil you present yourself when you announce publicly, “That person's marriage does not exist.”

This is the problem with the human tradition of conservative evangelicalism/fundamentalism today. They have embraced evil and arrogant ideas and a level of Pharisaism that is startling in its utter wrong-ness and danger.

And they have called this evil, “good...” and are amazed when people reject their views as at best, a pathetic, senile old irrelevancy and, at worst, a dangerous threat.

For my dear married friends, gay and straight and otherwise, you DO exist. These people who'd say otherwise are sad relics of an oppressive past and they are on their way out, dying out from a lack of reason and compassion. Believe it.