Friday, May 22, 2009

Missing the Miracle - An Epilogue

When I first started my degree in Theology a number of years ago, I was a fervent reader of the Bible. I read it every morning without fail. That continued through my degree and my years in the ministry. Somewhere along the way howver, my faith in the Bible, along with my faith in general, collapsed with the persistent thought that I was missing something. I didn't know what it was, because I could quote whole texts of Scripture and give you their specific location by number and verse. ("Scripture and verse" was a process drilled into myself and my pastoral colleagues at school.) When it came to Scripture, I was taught a number of things, not the least of which the simple ability to quote the text should be enough to answer questions or deal with difficulties in my life. Unsurpringly, it didn't work. I still remember the morning I looked at my Bible and put it down for the last time. What was the point? I knew the answers anyway? The 'benefits' of memorizing all that Scripture.

I didn't pick it up again for three years.

The emphasis on Scripture in the Evangelical world is not a bad thing. It is actually a very good idea. Unfortunately, the beauty and art of Scripture is mostly lost because we more interested in proving Truth than living Truth. I know because I was there for so many years. As a pastor, I remember my congregants, many of whom thought highly of their Bible (the inerrant, inspired Word of God Himself, they would tell you), but would leave them on their pews to mark their seats for next week. They, like me, had been walked through it so many times there was no room for it to teach them something new.

It is hard for us to grasp the massive difference in culture between the time the Bible was written and now, or the fact that it has been two thousand years since Jesus walked among us. Especially in our culture, where change comes so quickly we can barely remember the last century. (Women first voted in Canada in 1929, a mere 90 years ago) And Western Europeans, yes, that's us, have never really done well understanding other cultures.

Reading the Bible remains a tricky experience for me, but in the stories, I look for the things that I was never taught, the innocuous seeming statements that lend the narrative such weight. In reading John Chapter 9 a few weeks ago, I let my imagination get hold of the story and tried to forget my learned pattern of "breaking it down". By the end of the week I hadn't moved from the Chapter in my morning readings, and the Friday morning tears came to my eyes as I read the verse that has affected me so powerfully this past month. "When Jesus heard they had thrown him out, he went and found him" (John 9:35) It's a small verse overlooked by the power verses Christians often quote, but in the context of this story, it reveals everything about the character and humanity of the man we claim to follow.

The story of the Blind Beggar is not an easy one, and while it lends itself naturally to sentiment, it also bleeds into tough questions. The Jews knew that being born with a handicap was a sign of sin. Jesus said no, it was to reveal the glory of God. Most of us quote that quite happily, and yet for centuries many Christians did not see how that story related to slavery. Slavery was acceptable because it was in the Bible, wasn't it? Didn't Paul order his slaves to be obedient? And what about women, how can they vote if their supposed to be quiet in the back of the church? Aren't they supposed to reflect the glory of (their) man? Stories like this should not be driven by sentiment alone, but for the disturbing truths they reveal about ourselves and our prejudices. When we think about Jesus challenging the "black-and-white" thinkers of his day, remember their response, and think hard about what yours will be.

It often amazes me how much garbage there is floating around in my belief pool. Sometimes I wish I could just empty the whole thing and start over, but that's not what given for us. A vital part of being human and developing our character is about sorting through our beliefs and picking out the trash, one piece at a time, if necessary. It's a part of God's gift to us to help us learn humility. One thing we do know however, is that when we care more about being right than witnessing good, it reveals a piece of ourselves that can not be addressed by more rules or better faith. It means there is yet more cleaning to be done.

My prayer is that the church will more embrace her humanity, her errors in thought and judgement, so that we will become more like the God we serve. That we will presume less, and ask more. And that we will see in others what God sees in us, and love them accordingly.


Monday, May 18, 2009

Media Friday - An American Idol Disgrace

Yes, I know it isn't Friday, but seeing as it is the long weekend, I hope you'll forgive my tardiness this week. This season of American Idol has probably been my favourite, and the final three contestants are terrific singers and seem like genuinely good people. This past week also marked my favourite episode of the year, the Homecoming. While I think it's a bit insane that so many people turn out to see these young performers, its always a treat to watch their responses, especially with their respective families.

A few notes about last week's shows. First, the GOOD:

Homecoming: Very moving watching Chris interact with his family, especially his dad. I've been impressed by Chris this year, more his humility than his talent. Here's hoping he remembers that even as his adoring young fans propel him to stardom. It was interesting watching Danny's homecoming, and as he said later, it was bittersweet. (Remember, he lost his wife just last year.) More on danny a bit later. As for Adam, it was weird, because the family homecoming wasn't really there. Adam's been performing for years, and there seemed to be a disconnect between his homecoming and the other ones. I went online to try and find some answers, and all i could gather was that somehow his sexuality seems to be involved. (Would American Idol show him going home to his boyfriend on homecoming day? No, I don't think so either.) Still, that bit with him and the kids at the MET seemed like it meant quite a bit to him.

Results: I think the results were about right. Danny's a brilliant vocalist, but Chris's rendition of Heartless was just too good, along with his "cute/humble" attraction. Adam is a star. Period.

Tears: I have to admit my eyes started clogging up as Danny sang for the last time. I was sitting with Bethany, wondering what would be going through my head if I lost her, knowing that the amazing journey propelled by my wife was coming to an end. Touching moment that should make all of us appreciate our loved ones.

The BAD:

Anyone who follows this blog knows that my fiance, Bethany, grew up in Africa, so I usually turn to her when it comes to things like having that Rwandan teenager perform for Idol Gives Back. Let's be straight, that was a total disgrace. It was racist, plain and simple. "Everyone text five dollars. See, we have a monkey to perform for you." (Racism intended.) I get tired of hearing people say that Africans need the money, so what diffference does it make. Those of you who say that are acting like nobility does towards peasants.

First of all, Africa is not a country! And American Idol, a billion dollar behemoth, is not simply being generous. They use the "good will" to further their own reputation. People say that I am cynical. Really? What on the show IS NOT A COMMERCIAL? The whole show is a commercial. Yes, it's well done, and yes, I enjoy it, but don't be blind to the advertising dollars it gets even from programs such as "Idol Gives Back". This idea that we have more money and they need it doesn't wash with human dignity. If you wanted someone to perform from Rwanda, then get a seasoned performer who is actually good. That would show respect, instead of just getting some kid to bounce around with twenty back up singers. It amazes me how we think we are so superior simply because we have money. That was perhaps the worst moment in American Idol history, made more so because most people (all of whom will be white) will shrug their shoulders and say things like, "Well, we're giving them money, what's the big deal."

"Great. Thanks 'mas'ser. Drop a quarter in my hat, won't you? Maybe one day I'll be rich and noble like you. Oh wait, that probably won't happen, since Western Europe raped our continent. Guess we'll just have to eke out a living on the "Dark Continent" and pray for you Americans to save us, espcially since we can't seem to stop having sex with everyone and spreading AIDS."

-Sorry. Just threw up in my mouth.

Other Media:

Still haven't seen the latest Star Trek. Wedding plans have picked up, but next week I promise I'll review at least one movie.


Saturday, May 16, 2009

Missing the Miracle - The Conclusion

Jesus was sitting quietly, sharing lunch with two other Pharisees near the town gates. They were discussing a section of Leviticus, particularly the notions of Sabbath and what it meant. Normally he would have entered the discussions, but he was tired today. He was thinking about the blind beggar he had healed that morning. How could his colleagues and his disciples so easily miss the point of God's heart? It saddened him that the beauty and dignity of people were so easily disregarded in the religious community. They meant well enough, he knew that, but it was for them to lead. If those who studied the Writings did not see the extraordinary love of God, who would?
He picked a stone out of his sandal and chewed his last bit of bread. Off to the side, he noticed a commotion amongst his disciples.

"They did what?"

"They threw him out!" John said.

Jesus stood and quickly walked over.

"What happened?"

The two disciples sighed and looked down.

"Tell me." Jesus said.

"They threw him out, Rabbi. The beggar you healed this morning. They threw him out of the Temple."

Jesus bit his lip and shook his head.

"Did they say why?"

"The way my cousin heard it, I guess he tried to stand up for himself. So they called him a sinner from birth and threw him down the steps."

Jesus rubbed his forehead. When would people learn? When would the religious leaders learn that the Sabbath had been created for them, not them for the Sabbath and whatever rules they summarily attached to it?

"Do we know where he is?"

The two disciples looked at each other, before John spoke.

"Rabbi, do you think that is a good idea. If they threw him out... They're already after you, and-"
"Where is he?"

John nodded and indicated the direction.

"Behind the market."

The group headed out, the mid-afternoon heat slowly fading as the day passed towards night. The Pharisees had become quiet upon learning the news about the beggar, and they followed discreetly, a few steps behind the disciples. They pushed through the crowded market, with the calls and yells of the vendors blending with the odours of spiced meat and vegetables. Once on the other side, Jesus saw the group of beggars. David sat near them, but farther away then the others. They wouldn't chase him away, but they wouldn't welcome him either.

Jesus stopped at the sight of young David, so filled with joy this morning, his heart breaking at the emaciated young man with his hands cupped out in front of him. The sadness in his face and movements was so profound, it was all Jesus could do to start walking. It was shocking how people could be, at times so generous and giving, and others so profoundly cruel.
Jesus motioned to his disciples and they followed him towards the beggar.


David looked over at his fellow beggars, but didn't try to speak with them. He wouldn't tell them what had happened in the Temple, because they might force him to move again. For the past two hours he had wandered around the city. He'd stolen an apple that had fallen off the cart of one of the merchants, but other than that he'd yet to eat. He'd given his change away to Benjamin when he'd left that morning, and now here he was, without the blind man's condition to evoke sympathy, and without the blessing of not witnessing the cruelties he'd seen since that morning.

A group of dust kicked in the air, and when his fellow beggars started their sing their chants, David looked up. The Rabbi? He watched, his jaw dropping as the young Rabbi made his way across the clearing and bent down across from him. David stared at him, his eyes filling with tears at the Rabbi's compassionate gaze.

"Do you believe in the Son of Man, David?"

David could hardly speak. He'd lost faith in everything, or so it seemed. He thought about the Temple, about its priests, about the cruelty and air of business that rang through its courtyards.

"Tell me, sir, who he is, that I might believe. Because I'm not sure I believe in anything any more."

"It is the one you are speaking to, David."

David wiped his eyes, and as he gazed at the Rabbi, he understood. Perhaps it was because he'd been born blind, or perhaps he was just desperate, for whatever reason, David stared at the young Rabbi's eyes, and within them he saw that which he had never seen, an intense and yet compassionate understanding of humanity, and an abiding love for the same. It struck him so deeply that he was unable to move, and simply bowed his head at the force of it.


John came over with a blanket and wrapped it around the young man's shoulders. James, another one of Jesus' disciples, handed the former blind man some food, and Jesus waited until his disciples had put change in the all of the beggar's bowls. A few of the women took David with them. They would introduce him to some of the others, and ensure he had a place.
Jesus watched them go, his gaze trailing into the burgeoning night. Still Sabbath. There would be unrest over this one.

"For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will be blind." He said, half under his breath.

The two Pharisees had come up beside him.

"What? Are we blind too?"

Jesus turned. He hadn't seen them approach. His smile was sad.

"If you were blind, you wouldn't be guilty. But since you claim to see, to understand what God wants from us, your guilt remains."


David followed the women, who addressed some of his minor scrapes and introduced him to some of the others. The one woman, tall and statuesque, was checking a list of some kind.

"Um, miss-"

"Call me, Mary, David."

"Yes, ma'am, um, Mary. What is that list for?"

She smiled without looking up.

"The Rabbi travels every day to another village. He still has to eat and find a place to sleep."

David thought about that for a second.

"Um, Mary, is Jesus, you know, the One?"

This time she put the list down.

"What do you think, David?"

David looked at the food in his hand and the cloak about his shoulders, then realized he was able to see them both, and sort of shifted in his seat. He thought about seeing his parents for the first time, about the Temple. Mostly though, he could not stop thinking about two moments. The moment his eyes first opened, and the profound love he'd witnessed in the eyes of the Rabbi the first time he'd looked into them. He turned back at Mary, who was watching intently, and smiled.

"Is there anything I can do to help?"

She nodded and pointed in the dircetion of the market.

"We need to eat tonight. How about getting the food?" She paused. "Do you cook?"

David paused at the question, and the smile playing around the corner of her mouth. He thanked God for the wonderful gift he'd been given, and took a deep breath.

"Not well." He said.

"That's okay, you'll learn."

Authour's Note: This script has been taken from John chapter 9 in the New Testament. While I have added some things to the story, most of which has been added takes into account the culture of the time. Too often today, we read the Bible as a set of rules, breaking down beautifully moving stories by number and memorizing text instead of narrative. The early readers would have heard the stories as they were originally intended. This is my small attempt to remind us of the profound love of God, that even though we may feel rejected and alone, God does indeed, seek us out. If there are any errors here, of course, the fault is not with the original text, but with my own limitations and biases. My prayer is that you will be encouraged to read these stories, and find in them the love and peace that the young Rabbi still offers today.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Missing the Miracle - Part III

The religious leaders were waiting for him. David bit his lip and watched the young boy scuttle off into the crowds. The large man spoke first, rustling importantly under his robes.

"It is good that you came to the Temple to give glory to God, because the Rabbi who healed you is a sinner."

David let his jaw drop. As a blind beggar, he'd learned little about politics. Most of his life had been about survival. But still, it didn't make any sense. Why weren't they praising God for the young Rabbi? He remembered what his father had whispered to him however, and how scared his parents had been.

"I don't know if he is a sinner or not." He paused. "What I know is that I was blind and now I can see."

One of the other priests, a short, bristly man with thin shoulders, shuffled his hands together.

"What did he do to you? What kind of black magic did he use to open your eyes?"

David stared at the intent faces looking at him. Among them, there was not a hint of joy or compassion or excitement. He glanced over their shoulders and up towards the rising columns and sacred carvings of the Temple. The idea of the Temple, of what it meant, was taught to every Jewish boy growing up, including those born in sin like himself. Somehow, David knew that his faith would never be the same. It was as if something had died inside him. The Rabbi had opened his eyes, but David was no longer sure it was a gift.

"We asked you a question."

"What do you want me to say?" David said. "I told you already. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples?"

He bit his tongue as soon as he'd said it, but it was too late. The group of them, as one, seemed to rise above him.

"You little jackass! What the hell do you know? We follow Moses!"

"You're nothing but an ignorant little piss ant! You probably do follow that blasphemous rebel! We know where Moses comes from. Where does he come from?"

David felt his ears burn. He'd been called names and insulted his entire life, and for the most part, he simply accepted it. Not today. Not in this place. Not after what he'd been given.

"What? You don't know where he comes from? He opened my eyes! God doesn't listen to sinners! And no one has ever even heard of a man born blind suddenly able to see! If he wasn't from God, he couldn't do anything."

The large man moved suddenly, at a speed that belied his size, and seized David by the back of his cloak. He dragged him to the top of the stairs in the outer courts and threw him down the stone steps.


He moved down the steps to where David lay groaning, and kicked him roughly.

"You ignorant piece of pig swine. Of all people, a sinner from the time you were born. How dare you lecture us!" He paused and stepped back. "You will never set foot in this Temple again!"

A squad of six Temple guards came running. He pointed to David.

"Get that little turd out of my sight."

Two of the guards picked David up roughly under his armpits and dragged him through the courtyard. People looked over in astonishment, but moved quickly out the way. They dumped him outside on the Temple steps.

"You heard the priest." The guard said. "Don't come back."

David watched them tromp back inside, and lay in misery as the crowd flowed around him. Some of them glanced at the bedraggled form and offered a look of sympathy, but most passed without noticing, or seemed offended by his presence. David felt himself grow small inside. It was horrible to beg for your survival, but never before had he witnessed such cruelty. His eyes had been opened, and as a result, everything he had ever believed in, everything he'd ever hoped for was gone. His parents would disassociate themselves from him after what he'd done today in offending the priests. He would never worship at the Temple. And the only friends he knew, the community of beggars and poor, were gone as well.

Maybe the priests were right about the Rabbi. David closed his eyes and felt the tears run down his face, remembering the way Jesus had touched him, had spoken so gently. He pushed himself to his feet. It didn't matter now, what was one beggar to a man like that? David crossed down in front of the steps. His feet lurched and a sharp pain in his side forced him to go slowly as he looked for a new place to beg.


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Missing the Miracle - Part II

It didn't take long for David to find his feet, to match his steps to the cacophony of sounds around him. He walked in wide-eyed wonder, gawking at the colours and people around him as if he was in a trance. Women strolled by in bright, shiny robes. The merchants flagged their wares, and David had to resist the temptation to touch everything. His hand brushed against the stucco walls and he watched as a group of soldiers tramped by. He could not seem to stop smiling. The hot air swept dust into his face and he ducked his head to avoid it. When he opened his eyes, his step faltered as he thought about what God had done for him, and for a moment, he could not move.

What have I done to deserve such a gift?

"Hey! He looks like one of the beggars over by the pool." A woman's voice said.

"What are you talking about, Myrna?"

"I'm telling you, he's the blind beggar."

David had a hard time locating the people talking, as he was still adjusting to associating sight and sound. He finally saw them, off to his right. A small group had gathered, and they were pointing at him. David recognized some of the voices. He recognized the voice of a large, bearded man, who was wearing an expensive looking robe. The woman, Myrna, was older, and she was staring at him as if he was a murderer.

David walked a few strides towards them.

"I'm telling you, Myrna, that can't be the beggar. He was blind!"

"No, um, sorry to interrupt." David said. "I'm that man."

"How were your eyes opened? Do we look like idiots?"

David glanced nervously at the people starting to gather. He swallowed and forced himself to continue. God had given him this gift, and it was his responsibility to tell the story.

"It was the Rabbi they call Jesus. (David had learned the young Rabbi's name from Benjamin) He put some mud on my eyes and told me to go wash in the Pool. So I, um, I went and washed, and now I can see."

The bearded man did not seem impressed. He stroked his beard and nodded thoughtfully. After the burst of emotions from his friends, David did not understand why these people were not happy for him. Why were they so upset?

"And where is this young Rabbi now?" The bearded man asked him.

David looked around the milling street and realized that in his excitement, he'd briefly forgotten about the one who had opened his eyes.

"I don't know."

The bearded man looked at David one last time and strode away, along with the woman, arguing about something to do with the Sabbath. David watched them go, watched the crowd disperse, and took a deep breath. He looked up at the sky, and at the sun. He wished he could identify the colours, but it didn't matter. It all seemed so beautiful. He slowly started towards the Temple. He hadn't forgotten it was the Sabbath, but he wondered what it had to do with him. The people flowed around him, and David felt small and lost in the crowd.

The sun was high now, and it was hot and oppressive as he made his way to the Temple. His dingy robe clung to him like a second skin. He narrowly avoided being run down by a cart, and when he finally looked up a few paces later, his breath caught at the sight in front of him.
The dome rose majestically, shimmering under the afternoon sun, the gleaming white porticoes and columns rising so high they seemed to reach Yahweh Himself. People swarmed up and down the Temple steps. The bleating of the sheep and goats blended with the acrid scent of burnt meat and the sweet perfumes and sweated stench of the people. All of it rising towards God from the most sacred of places. David swallowed hard and started nervously up the steps. He wasn't sure what he was to do. He needed to find a priest, but he didn't have money for a sacrifice. He spotted a priest near the edge of the outer court and headed toward him. He would know what to do.

David sat in silence. He'd been waiting for an hour. His thoughts kept turning over the events of the day. The young Rabbi who had healed him. Leaving his friends. The shock of witnessing the world with his eyes for the first time. He'd told his story to the priest, who had listened in sympathetic silence, though David had no idea why the man was sympathetic. Didn't he know that he had witnessed a miracle?

"Is this him?" The voice was loud and imperious.

"Yes, sir."

The second voice belonged to the bearded man David had met earlier. He did not recognize the first man, but judged from his robes and manner that he was somehow important. A few others followed in behind, and soon David was the center of the group, where he was quickly hustled into a private corner.

"Now then," the first man said, "Tell us how you were healed."

David shifted from side to side.

"Um, the Rabbi Jesus put mud on my eyes and told me to wash them off in the Pool. I did, and then I could see."

The bearded man coughed and put a meaty hand in the air.

"I told you that rabbi is not from God. He heals on the Sabbath!"

"Don't be ridiculous, Elam. How can a sinner heal?"

The group of clergy turned towards each other, and soon David was forgotten. He slid back further into the corner, thinking about the kindness with which the young Rabbi had spoken to him. He ran his hands over the carved stone wall, and kept his head down while the leaders argued.

What did I do wrong, God? Why are they so angry?

"What have you to say about him?" One of the leaders said suddenly, stepping close enough that David could smell the garlic on his breath.

"I-I think he is a prophet."

"Bah! I don't even believe this boy was ever blind! How do we know he's not just creating some great story for himself?"

The bearded man frowned.

"I thought you'd say that. I had his parents brought here. Bring them in"

David's eyes widened. His parents!

"David?" His mother's voice was shaky. She was smaller than he thought she would be, bent a little from age, with a wide face and long hair. A tremulous smile crossed her face. Standing beside her was a tall, lean man wearing a worn robe.


She nodded, and David rushed to hug his mother. Tears flowed down her face as she embraced her son.

"Mom! I can see, mom!"

"I know, son." She cupped his cheek and stared at him. His father stood stiffly to the side. He pulled himself from his mother's embrace and moved to his dad, who seemed to be battling his own emotions.

"Dad..." David's voice trailed.

His father gave him fierce, quick hug. David closed his eyes, remembering the sour smell of his father's reassuring embrace from his childhood. His father suddenly whispered into his ears.

"Be careful what you say, son. The priests are going after that Rabbi."

David was confused but didn't say anything. He moved to the side as his father addressed the clergy.

"We can tell you that he is our son, and that he was born blind. But how he can see now, we do not know. Ask him, he is of age."

David watched his mother tuck herself in behind his dad. Both of them stood rock still, and David realized that they were scared. But why? Why would they be scared?

The priests looked at the small family and waved them away, with a warning to David not to go far. They would speak to him again. David walked to the edge of the outer courts with his parents.

"What did you mean, dad, about the Rabbi Jesus?"

His father's lips were tight.

"The Temple doesn't like him. They say he is a blasphemer. The crowds follow him, and he is very... unconventional. He says things about Samaritans and women that, frankly, are pretty upsetting." His dad paused. "Protect yourself, son. Say what they want to hear and get out. Remember, you can live in community now. I think I can help you find work!"

At this, David's mother broke down and embraced her son.

"I'm so happy for you, my son. So happy."

David felt tears come to his eyes as he let his mother go and waved goodbye to them. He watched as they made their way slowly through the gates and out of sight. A few minutes later, a small boy ran up to him, and told him the elders would see him again. David nodded, looking back where his parents had just disappeared, and followed the boy back inside.


Monday, May 11, 2009

Missing the Miracle - Part I

A cool breeze rippled the waters of the pool, as David listened to the sounds of the morning. The clatter of hooves from some merchants bringing in their wares, the moaning of the other beggars, the heated discussions of some priests passing by. He turned his face towards the sun, enjoying the ambience of light that for a time seemed to conquer the blackness. He'd often wondered what it'd be like to see the world, to connect sounds to pictures, but he'd been blind his whole life. When he was younger, he'd asked that question to everyone who would listen, and they had all told him the same thing. These days, he no longer wondered why he was blind. He knew the answer to that. He only hoped that God would accept him anyway. He wished there was a way for him to atone for his sin, but a blind beggar was not welcome at the Temple. David sighed and held out his bowl. At least the breeze was cool this morning.

Change jingled into his bowl.

"Thank you, sir." He said, the early morning gift unexpected.

The Pool of Siloam was not a great place to beg, but there were stories of healing that stretched back through the years, and David had decided that he had nothing to lose. At least there was the scent of hope in amongst his friends. Unlike the others, he had nothing that could be healed, since he had been born deformed, but even the thought of witnessing a miracle gave him hope.

The sound of another early morning group echoed across the pool. David held up his bowl, hopeful for another gift.

"We'll need to get lunch ready a little sooner today, John. How is Philip's mother?"

"She's good, Rabbi. Just lonely."

"When you lose a loved one, it's to be expected." The Rabbi said. "Let's have dinner with her tomorrow. Tell Philip."

"He'll like that, Rabbi."

David listened to the Rabbi's voice, surprised by the gentleness in it. David had never heard this Rabbi before. He sounded young. Religious leaders occasionally talked around the pool, but mostly in argument about points in the Law. David waited for the Rabbi to pass by, but feet scuffed to a halt in front of him. The bowl trembled in David's hands at the thought that a Rabbi, even a young one, had noticed him.

The rest of the group followed in behind the Rabbi in front of David, blocking the sun. David was encompassed in blackness.

"This beggar was born blind, so who sinned, Rabbi? Him, or his parents?"

"Bah. You haven't been listening, John. You sound like the other Pharisees, more concerned with the law than with the people. What makes you assume he is a sinner?"

"Well, he's blind. Clearly, that is not a blessing, so God must be angry with him for some reason. Or his parents, I guess. It says in Ezekiel-"

David felt a light touch on his knee.

"What is your name, son?" The Rabbi asked him.

David swallowed hard, and his voice coughed out in the form of a whisper.

"David, sir."

"I have a cousin named David." He paused. "Do you want to see, David?"

"Yes, sir. Although, I, um, don't know how... yes, sir."

The ground crinkled in front of him and suddenly he felt a cool paste being applied over his eyes. No matter what happens, David thought, this has been the greatest day of my life.

"You see, John." The Rabbi said. "This man was not born in sin; the purpose of his blindness was to reveal God's glory. We have a tendency to look at people who are different, people outside our purview, and judge them. We do it because we do not understand, because it is safe. When we do that, though, we miss the miracle of who God is and why we are here." The Rabbi paused, and David could feel the breath on his face. "Go and wash in the Pool."

With that, the Rabbi stood and left. David could hear him talking to his disciples as they walked away. Slowly he clambered to his feet. He touched the mud on his eyes. There was so much going through his mind he didn't know what to think. The mud represented his sin. Or something like that. He was sure of it. Somehow, this Rabbi was cleansing him. What a day this would be! He would tell the others at the fire tonight. They would know more about this Rabbi.
He bent over the pool, and slowly washed the mud from his eyes. He took his time, enjoying the way the water trickled over his face. Thank you, God, he thought. I am so sorry for my anger. Thank you for this great day. He lavished the water over his face a final time and wiped away the last fragments of the mud.

As he stepped away from the pool his eyelids fluttered and then the strangest thing happened. He began to see pictures, or what looked like pictures. The sounds were the same, but suddenly his world was bathed in light and colour. He shut his eyes, and opened them again. They were still there! He took two steps and then stumbled to the ground, unable to navigate this new world.

"I can see! I can see!" He said suddenly.

"Yeah, and you can't walk, you drunk!" It was Benjamin, his old friend and fellow beggar.

With careful strides, David walked over, noticed the scars on his friend's hands and back, and stopped short. Benjamin looked up at him.

"Have a seat, David, but don't act so drunk! No one gives to the drunken beggar, and you should know better."

David merely looked at his scarred friend.

"Your scars, Benjamin. I never knew. Do they hurt-"

His friend's eyes widened and he leapt to his feet. "You can see? You can see!"

He hugged David hard and kissed his face. Tears streamed down his face.

"Surely God has been good to us this day!" He hugged David again and the two wept together for what seemed a long time. Others around the pool heard the shouts and soon enough the small community of beggars and sick were in an uproar. For the first time in his life, David was able to see his friends, and it was shocking. Some had lost limbs to diseases. Some had pockmarked faces. Some, like Benjamin, had been beaten so many times in the past their bodies were a mass of scars. And yet, here they were, united in their joy and hope for their friend, who to them had suffered the greatest affliction of them all. Blind from birth. Sinner from birth. Today, that had changed, and David made his way carefully around the pool -- it was still hard to walk and look at things -- exchanging hugs and kisses.

Benjamin's face was still red from the tears by the time David made his way back.

"What do I do?" he asked Benjamin.

"You must show yourself to the priests. You have been redeemed, David." The older man took a deep breath. "We will miss you."

"What do you mean, miss me? I'll still be here."

Benjamin smiled and propped up David's shoulders.

"No you won't. No more begging for you. You can work now, perhaps as soon as this week. You must become a part of the community again."

"But this is my community-"

"No!" Benjamin said fiercely, before softening his voice. "You give us hope by not being here. Your absence will remind us every day that God still cares for us. If you stay, it will be as if it never happened." He paused. "I love you, brother."

David nodded and hugged his friend again. He waved at the others, suddenly sad, and slowly headed towards the Temple.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Entertainment Fridays

American Idol, Star Trek, and the Rest of the Weekend

Welcome to Entertainment Fridays, everyone! Although this blog usually centers on issues of faith and politics and life, I will be posting a Friday blog on the entertainment world. It is impossible to separate culture from life because it is the "soup we swim in." (Doug Ward) That said, it is also a chance for those of us who love narrative, be it movies or TV shows or books, to comment about the latest events in the entertainment world.

Every Friday you'll have a chance to comment or promote your own reviews or blogs about the latest entertainment news. Narrative is wonderful way to bring people together. Often times it provides a bridge between people, especially for those of us who find it difficult to open up to one another. Please feel free to comment or email me with suggestions or possible topics in the coming weeks.
This Week - May 2 - 8, 2009

American Idol Update: It's crazy that I'm a fan of American Idol. It is by the far the most commercialized, over produced show in television history. It is also one of the most entertaining. I will post my American idol updates late Friday nights, because Bethany and I tape the show during the week so can enjoy the show every Friday, usually with a bottle of wine. The last three weeks we have correctly guessed who would be voted off. As of this writing, there are four contestants left (yet to watch the May 6th and 7th episodes).

Idol Pet Peeves: Every time an American Idol contestant uses the words "my fans", I want to throw something at the TV. "THEY ARE NOT YOUR FANS! THEY ARE FANS OF THE SHOW!" A few contestants this year were particularly annoying, especially "L'il "not so little" Rounds". Wow. She always looked grumpy, always had something to say back to the judges, and never did get it. Artist vs. singer. Artist vs. Singer. Artist vs. Singer. There was this sense of arrogance with her, which unfortunately was not accompanied by much intelligence. When she started throwing around the "my fans" phrase, I actually dreaded hearing her perform, just in case they asked her question.

The Necessity of Paula: I do not like listening to Paula Abdul. It's like listening to someone speak Swedish or Mandarin who think they are actually speaking English. The rational and intelligent part in me (not that big a part!) cringes every time she opens her mouth. That said, I do think she's necessary. Sometimes we forget that these kids are performing in front of millions, and no matter their previous credentials, they are obviously doing the best they can. Paula is the necessary break for the ones who struggle in their performance. Simon is caustic and unforgiving, and Randy and Kara can be tough too. In that context, it becomes clear why Paula's positivism is so necessary.

Final Four Predictions: This is definitely the most wide-open show in a long time, but I'll stick with my early picks of Danny and Adam. Understand that I like all four contestants, and with this being Rock Week, Alison has a chance to get to the top three.


Anyone else looking forward to the new Star Trek? Origin stories are generally my favourite type of narrative, such as we saw in Batman Begins (I haven't seen the new Wolverine). If you've seen Star Trek, feel free to post a quick review.

There'll be more in the coming weeks as I fine tune this section. I'd love to get your comments and suggestions for it. Have a good weekend, everyone. Remember, we only go around the planet once, don't forget to hug someone tomorrow.


Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Mail, Comments, and Complaints

Well, the last article really hit some sensitive spots, so I wanted to address some of the issues that I touched on in No More 'Christian' Organizations, Please. If something I said offended you, please don't be afraid to leave a comment. Most of you choose email, but I am not offended either way. I've said it before and I'll say it again. To think is to win. If you are thinking about your faith, about God, and asking questions about what it means to be human, then I am happy, whether we agree with one another or not. That said, I still have some strong opinions about certain things, not the least of which is the arrogance of so many Christian leaders.

Is the Bible Actually Holy? Or is it God who is Holy?

Humility remains the core of being human, as I read Scripture at least. When we assume we know it all, or that there is only one way to read the Bible, we are, in effect, appropriating divinity. In the Old Testament, we read that the Jews considered Yahweh to be 'Kadosh', which means Holy Other. Completely separate from humanity. Yet somehow we have translated Yahweh into the equivalent of a book that must be read a certain way. That strikes me as both arrogant and not well considered. What did Christians do for the first 1400 years before we had a printing press? The Bible (as we call it now) was read in community, even as Paul's letters were circulated through the early church. At no time would an early Christian consider the Bible to be the "Word"(as taken from John 1:1) and for that "Word" to be equivalent to the Creator. That is a modern and new understanding of Scripture that most scholars reject. This doesn't lessen the reverence for the text. I believe the Bible is theology in literature, the story of God's love for humanity, but it is the STORY of God, not God Himself.

I hear commentators say that God is "bound" by "His Word", and think again to how much we like to make God... god. How we like to put Him in the square box we claim to understand. It is the religious nature of humanity to worship something we understand, but it is the eternal set in our hearts that whispers God is bigger than us. We prefer the rituals and sayings and interpretations that reinforce our belief that we know everything about God, and that it is all in this handy book you can buy at the nearest Barnes & Noble.

That seems pagan to me. And mildly offensive. While the Bible is to reverenced and read and learned from, it should never be considered the replacement for God Himself. Much harder than deciphering "God code" is accepting our humanity and working on our relationship with the One who Created us. Silence and meditation is harder than study. Prayer is more difficult than ritual. And relationship takes more work than our Sunday affirmations.


Note: I'll be addressing another comment from my mailbox later this week. Don't be afraid to comment here! Much love...

Sunday, May 03, 2009

No More 'Christian' Organizations, Please

I wonder what it was like the first time someone called the early Christians a 'Christos'?(Greek word for 'Christian') What was it like to have the people of Antioch suddenly remind you, as a new member of this growing religious sect, that the person you worshiped was nothing more than a meddling rabble-rouser who had been crucified fifteen years earlier? Only the infinitely stupid would follow someone like that. Yeshua was not a distinguished Rabbi, but a poor carpenter who became an overnight sensation with his populist, ambiguous moral pap. (Your neighbour is a Samaritan? Women support your ministry? We are all sinners?) At least the Zealots made sense. At least they stood for something. Following a mob leader was one thing, but following a crucified criminal and passing it off as serious religion -- AND claiming he was God -- was disgusting.

It's hard to imagine, of course, because the word 'Christian' has been sullied and dirtied through the past two thousand years to mean something far different from what those first followers of Jesus experienced. From about the time of the church's marriage to Rome, through a thousand years of Christendom and even through the Reformation, being called a Christian, or naming oneself as a Christian, has meant something altogether different.

Today, the word has different implications in different cultures. There are still countries where Christians get a taste of what the early followers experienced, places where the word implies shame, and sometimes, danger. In those places, the word is sacrosanct, as it should be, and it carries both meaning and depth. To be a Christian, to identify oneself as a follower of Jesus, can be a matter of life or death. For most of the world, however, the word is associated with 'white' and 'colonization' and 'prejudiced.' In fact, the word has been so bastardized it is no longer a noun, but also an adjective. Here in North America, we are especially guilty. We have changed the word, and in so doing, changed the nature of how we approach both the world around us and our own faith.

This is not a happy story.

In Roman times, Antioch was a unique place. The Roman emperors favoured the city from the first, seeing it as a more suitable capital for the eastern part of the empire than Alexandria could be, because of the isolated position of Egypt. To a certain extent they tried to make it an eastern Rome. Antioch was the chief center for early Christianity due to its large Jewish population, and so was a chief target for early missionaries, including the Apostle Peter and later Paul and Timothy. Despite its Jewish influence, Antioch was a learned and educated city, know for its styles and fashions and hedonism, comparable to today's Hollywood in its influence and culture.

When it was first used around 47 A.D., being called a Christian was derogatory, especially since many of the Romans did not understand the nature of certain terms that these people used in their Jewish sect, like breaking the "body and blood of Christ". That said, it wasn't dangerous to be a Jesus follower until Caligula came to power in 54 A.D. (And would later become a terrifying decision under the emperors Nero and Domitian.)

It is difficult to find evidence when Christians first started to refer to themselves by the very name used against them, but it makes one wonder what an early believer would think of the word's use today, in how we have 'Christian' organizations and 'Christian' music and 'Christian' books.

This is all ridiculous, of course, because it is impossible for an organization to be Christian. An organization cannot follow Christ. Last I checked, organizations can't have relationships with the family dog, let alone a supernatural God. Strangely, whenever this is brought up in discussion, it is often waved away. "You know what I mean, Steve, we stand for Christian things. Christian ideals."

Unfortunately, what is missed is that there is both an exclusivity and buffer for people who work for these so-called Christian organizations. There is an implication that the organization is especially 'blessed' or made 'holy' because of their associations. If an organization is holy, people don't have to be. Why do you think some of the nastiest Christians in the world are the ones who go to hyper conservative churches or work in 'Christian' companies? People become excused from their behaviour with the outside world, and within the 'Christian' organization, which is inherently self-ruling, it becomes a place of both piety and hypocrisy. The greatest example of this is a Bible College or an organization like World Vision, who recently took down their 'Christian' label. (And rightly so. World Vision is a political organization and does far more harm than good in Africa. Don't believe the infomercials.)

'Christian' organizations exist only to preserve their own hegemony, so convinced are they of their God given right to rule. As well they should be. If you believe your organization is in place as a direct result of its relationship to God, then you will work to preserve it, regardless of culture or human concerns, because your organization has been touched by the divine. For example, examine the many missionary organizations that still operate under white control in Africa. Why are they there? To help? Haven't we done enough through hundreds of years of pillaging and raping the continent? In most 'Christian' organizations, especially missionary ones, there are a number of rules that reflect profound class-ism and racism, not to mention misogyny. There are strict rules about inter-cultural marriage. There are rules about white control that reverberate through the suburban churches in North America. "We can do it better. We'll give the money, but we need one of 'us' putting in our plan of action."

To be part of a 'Christian organization' is to be different. Better. Oh, that won't be said, but if you listen closely, you can hear it in the tones of many of its adherents. In essence, it is Christendom all over again. Except this time, the marriage is to companies and corporations, not the crown. Ironically, the Protestant reformation was started by a monk who felt there was too close a connection between dollars (indulgences) and the church. How is it that we now use the word 'Christian' to squeeze the pockets so we can build our own utopias?

Isn't it about time we went back to the origin of the word? Isn't it time Christians stopped pilfering money from other Christians to build bigger barns with the word Jesus painted on the side, and give it to those who truly need it? To be a 'Christian' is to follow Jesus. It is to follow a populist Rabbi crucified as a common criminal. And its time we stopped using the word to spice up our next commercial, capital venture or campaign stop, and remember who we are and where we come from.


Authour's Note: (This is a systemic issue, not an individual one. There are a number of wonderful people who work in these organizations and have done so from the heart.)