Toxic Religion

J Jones - Nancy Wong photo

“Then Jesus began to say to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray.  Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray.”    Mark 13:5-6

(Lectionary Reading for 11/18/18).

40 years ago today,  Jim Jones killed over 918 people in the Jonestown massacre, the culmination of years of manipulation, misconduct, drug fueled paranoia, violence and abuse of all kinds. A one time, Methodist, Disciples of Christ, Assembly of God preacher who shared a platform once with William Branham, Jones developed his own eclectic blend of evangelical, social justice, inter-racial equality brand of religion at the People’s Temple in San Francisco, CA but ended in the forced death of his followers and U.S. Congressman Leo Ryan among others.

Jones has been one of many that promised heaven but delivered death. Others have followed like David Koresh (1993- 80 dead) and Heaven’s Gate (1997- 39). In these cases, toxic religion may have first been an opiate that turned into strychnine.

Faith is a force for good in our world. Distorted religion doesn’t present itself as poison. It may look like Kool Aid (or Flavor Aid) at first. But when the gospel is replaced by an ideology, whether of the left or the right, or MAGA nationalism, or supplanted by a cult of personality, along with authoritarian demands for obedience, idealized, hero worship of political leaders as god-like, spineless clergy and court paid prophets, the suppression of dissent and a major dose of media propaganda,  then the body count will eventually add up.

trump kool aid

40 Years later…

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“We Three Cons of…”

Alison Jackson - Lyst

I drove by city hall and saw that the generic nativity scene was out already. I couldn’t wait for my new “MAGA — Trump”  Nativity scene to arrive! It came yesterday and I removed all the Jews, Arabs, and foreigners. Ended up with a jackass and a handful of sheep. Perfect!

Ode to Green Beans

dorcas

The woman who created a Thanksgiving staple enjoyed by millions — the green bean casserole — has died at age 92. Dorcas Reilly died on Oct. 15, 2018.

Loved or hated, if you have ever been to a church pot-luck, funeral dinner or otherwise, chances are a green bean casserole was somewhere on the table.

Reilly was a Campbell Soup kitchen supervisor in 1955 when she combined the famous ingredients of the now-legendary green bean casserole (green beans, cream of mushroom soup, topped with crunchy fried onions) for an Associated Press feature.

As for myself, I usually skipped the beans and focused on the crunchy onions!

Source   – D. Reilly

 

 

One Hundred Years After…

R.M. Mitchell - LondonW. Jochman WWI

My maternal grandfather, R.M. Mitchell  (left) served in the British military. As far as family records indicate he signed-up in 1916. He may have been at the Battle of Cambrai 11/30/17. He later was in the Royal Navy and was aboard the “HMS Adventure” after the war and may have been in the harbor of Smyrna in 1919 when the Greeks occupied the city as the Ottoman Empire broke apart.

Though details are few, it seems my great-great-grand father in law, Philip Jochman, served in WWI – for the Germans of course. I don’t know much about him except for a photograph.

Two men – warring nations- opposite sides – same war – both survivors, now one family.

WWI was a colossal destruction of human life that led to another more destructive and horrendous conflagration. Today, we remember Armistice Day as well as our veterans, past and present, especially those who have served (and continue to serve) in the U.S.’s longest war  in Afghanistan. Having worked with veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan who are trying to rebuild their lives, recovering from physical injuries or the wounds one can’t see like PTSD, support and care is still needed beyond the bromides and promises from Washington and the fake patriotism of MAGA propaganda.

 

To vote or not to vote…

County-Election

Should Christians vote? Honestly, I’m surprised the question even comes up.

I find the “no vote” view short on hope and at times, heavy on eschatological despair and cynicism, that may lead to a contraction from engagement in society. It has a dualistic view of government that I don’t think is accurate in light of Jesus Christ as risen, victorious and reigning in heaven over all powers since his ascension. Rev. 11:15 declares “The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever.” The aorist or past tense is used. That has been a present reality for almost 2,000 years. It is an accomplished fact. That shows some of my eschatological leanings. However, that does not mean I believe the current administration is the dawning of the millennium. Far from it. It’s testing the hearts of believers in this country to see where their allegiance lies – to the gospel or a vicious, white nationalist political ideology.

In contrast, I consider the example of the British member of Parliament and Christian believer, William Wilberforce who believed in political engagement for change and resulted in the end of legal slavery in the British Empire in 1807 (without a civil war as in the US, decades later). His life long battle had redemptive value that increased God’s justice and manifested God’s common grace in the world.

I have already voted for 2018. I count it a privilege to have a say in what happens in my community be it taxes, the retention of judges, public funding which helps pay for the roads I drive on or whether the incarceration of migrant children as young as 2 years old continues in the name of national security by my representatives in Congress. If the Apostle Paul, a citizen of heaven, used his Roman citizenship for the advancement of the gospel, then I think I ought to do the same when and where I can.

Voting or not voting, and who one votes for is ultimately up to each person that has no bearing on one’s salvific status.  But I’m all for an increase in God’s justice and common grace in the world.

Life is but a brief layover

Suicide

The news of the death of Anthony Bourdain was a shock to hear. I admit I don’t watch much TV, so I confess my ignorance, but he seems to have had a love for life, for adventure, for people and of course for good stuff to eat. Food seems to have been the medium to build bridges between people of different lands and cultures. Why he killed himself is even more a mystery.  That is not judgement of his actions – but my pondering about what happens in a person’s life when they determine that their life is over.

Some months ago, a man I knew also ended his life – with a gun. I saw him the week before and he discussed business plans he had for his future. I recall no despair or sadness or a hint of what he was thinking of doing. He was stressed by his responsibilities but future oriented. I was shocked, saddened and angry at what he did to himself and what he left behind for his family, friends, and employees. As an older, white male, he fit the demographic profile of those who succeed at suicide. I don’t know what was going through his mind, but I wish there had been someone who did and had been able to help him choose differently. My assumption is that life is worth living – yours and mine, as people made in the image of God.

I know the theological opinions of some, past and present are harsh towards those who end their life. I focus on God’s mercy, which he delights to show (Micah 7:18), for the friends, the family and loved ones left behind and the one who decided such a course.

For those who hurt and suffer, there are people who care genuinely – reach out, don’t go it alone. There are people who will listen.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-8255

Text CONNECT to 741741 from anywhere in the USA, anytime, about any type of crisis.

Where Christ is Crucified Again

Religious institutionalism and exploitative consumerism turn Christ’s suffering, crucifixion and death into a historical artifact to be dusted off once a year.  Artifacts are convenient ways to ignore a disturbing truth.

peep

Christ’s suffering, death and victory on the cross are not only to be remembered as past tense, but are a present reality. Jesus’ death in the action of the Lord’s Table is a commanded practice, a remembrance, a proclamation of his victory (1 Cor. 11:26), a communion of a present reality between heaven and earth (1 Cor. 10:16), and a foretaste of his coming again in glory (1 Cor. 11:26).

Yet, Christ may be crucified again as the writer of Hebrews mentions (6:6).

Where is Christ crucified again?

celtic-cross-5329871

In the denial of his own people of his saving atonement or in the abandonment of their covenant with him when they substitute earthly powers for his Lordship whether out of fear or political or worldly expediency or their own self-righteousness for his blood bought gift.

He is also crucified again in the sufferings of his people who face rejection, loss, threats, beatings, prison or death whether in Iran, India or China.

He is also crucified again in the suffering of countless and nameless people all over the world who are flogged, tortured, kept behind bars, denied justice and voice to defend themselves as he was in the name of national security or the war on drugs or terror whether in Guatemala or Guantanamo.

In the prayers of the desperate and abandoned, and the singing of his saints, his cry of forsakenness and abandonment (Mt. 27:46) and his declaration of victory (John 19:30) have not been silenced.

A Moment of Silence Won’t Make School Kids Safer.

WHEEL

Saturday, the Florida Senate Republican majority refused to pass any legislation to make school kids safer from guns. However, they did have a moment of silence.  Their silence screams “it’s OK with us when a 19 year old with an AR-15 kills 17 adults and teens – we are OK with the loss of life, injuries and trauma that result.”

Their refusal to act speaks louder than any speech. I’m sure there will be more speeches, thoughts and prayers.  No real doubt – because somewhere, sometime for someone, the slaughter will sadly happen again. No matter how big the body count, the Florida Senate Republican majority along with most current GOP leaders prefer a moment of silence to action.

Forbidden Observances

PuritanChristmasBan

“Merry Christmas” has become the rallying cry of the jingoism of the (t)Rump pseudo-nationalistic ideology. However, Christmas has not always been popular even among Christians. In 1647, the Puritan-led English Parliament banned the celebration of Christmas, replacing it with a day of fasting and considering it “a popish festival with no biblical justification”, and “a time of wasteful and immoral behavior.” On May 11, 1659, the Massachusetts Bay Colony legislature officially banned Christmas and gave anyone found celebrating it a fine of five shillings

“For preventing disorders arising in several places within this jurisdiction, by reason of some still observing such festivals as were superstitiously kept in other countries, to the great dishonor of God & offense of others, it is therefore ordered … that whosoever shall be found observing any such day as Christmas or the like, either by for-bearing of labor, feasting, or any other way, upon any such account as aforesaid, every such person so offending shall pay for every such offense five shillings, as a fine to the county.”

Cotton Mather, New England’s most influential religious leader, told his flock in 1712 that “the feast of Christ’s nativity is spent in reveling, dicing, carding, masking, and in all licentious liberty…by mad mirth, by long eating, by hard drinking, by lewd gaming, by rude reveling!”

Most Western churches mark Dec. 25 for the liturgical celebration of Christ’s birth though the date is historically unreliable and most likely inaccurate. Many Eastern Orthodox churches mark the incarnation on Epiphany typically the first Sunday in January. Some, who are in the Puritan tradition make no big deal about it. Roman 14:5 tells us “one person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind.” That seems like a wise policy that spares making “much ado about nothing.” Sadly, Trump’s hijacking and distortion of the day to celebrate the wonder of the incarnation is far more damaging than any supposed “war on Christmas.” Slogans may pump up the crowds but it’s not the faith the church has confessed in the words “for us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.”

So then, either way, have a Merry Christmas, an incredible Incarnation, an effulgent Epiphany, and Happy Hanukkah or for any neo-pagans, a Super Saturnalia!