Who Really Speaks for God?

I've been watching Facebook posts by high school and college classmates who quote the Bible in their political tirades. When called out on misogynistic, homophobic, racist, Islamophobic or jingoistic views, their response is, "Don't be a hater. These are God's views too. I'm just repeating what the Bible says. Because it's the Word of God, I have to say and believe these things, and so should you." Actually...

What you are saying is NOT the Word of God. It is your conditioned interpretation of cherry-picked passages from Scriptures composed by men writing about their experience of God from their Iron-Age cultural perspective.

When a position no longer commands logical or moral respect, the last resort is to trot out a Scripture passage. The Bible has been quoted with deep sincerity to support any number of positions which we now deem downright sinful, such as denying women the right to vote (I Timothy 2:11-14), slavery (Colossians 3:22), and a callous disregard for those living in poverty (John 12:8).

While most of my former classmates use Scripture to "prove" right-wing political stances, a radically different perspective can easily find standing in Scripture:

  • What were the Sodomites doing that so offended God that God incinerated them? Ezekiel 16:49 - "Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy." The sin of Sodom sounds more like a gathering of Congressmen with their behind-the-scenes funders than the elderly lesbian couple trying to get married in your state. If anything, this Word of God would denounce laws and policies that further fatten the wallets of the military industrial complex, oil companies and pharmaceuticals...and thus fatten the wallets of their the expense of peace, the environment, and the health of the general public. Instead, the true "anti-Sodomite" Word of God calls for a livable minimum wage for all workers.
  • Leviticus 24:22 - "You are to have the same law for the foreigner and the native-born. I am the Lord your God." and “Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt." Exodus 22:21.  How should those whose ancestors were once foreigners treat foreigners now? How can those who benefit from a self-created system that legitimizes and rewards their own status treat those who lack any status? In these passages, the Word of God calls for a path to citizenship for all resident aliens (yes, amnesty), the elimination of squalid detention camps for immigrant mothers and their children, the extension of the Affordable Health Care Act to undocumented workers, and a little humility about our own status here in the land of the free.
  • Exodus 22:25 “If you lend money to one of my people among you who is needy, do not treat it like a business deal; charge no interest." The Bible does not endorse a specific economic system, but it certainly is no friend to unfettered capitalism. This Word of God would require mega-banks to open branches in impoverished neighborhoods and offer no-cost loans to businesses and individuals trying to rebuild their communities. During the mortgage crisis, the Word of God would have demanded that bailout money actually bail out families struggling to keep their homes rather than enable the ongoing folly of Wall Street's gambling addiction.

Thus says the Lord!

Scriptures violate the Spirit that sparked them when they are used to crush the soul, institutionalize oppression, or uphold the status quo at the expense of the common good. Without that Spirit, a semantically accurate rendering of a text fails to be God's Word for us today, and a seemingly literal truth becomes patently false.

The Bible turn us upside down with an experience of God, of Christ, of Spirit that ever-expands compassion, joy, inclusivity, reverence for Mystery, commitment to justice, and a sense of communion with all life. Scripture inspires the embodied knowing that neither we nor anyone else are ever beyond the embrace of the Divine.

Any use of Scripture conflicting with that Spirit is not the Word of God. It's merely a human opinion hiding behind a fading religion.

Seeing Right Through Disguises

Growing up I loved reading comic books. I could believe storylines about other dimensions, magical villains, and mutant superpowers. What I found hard to believe was the notion of secret identities, that superheroes could walk around in everyday life undetected. Why didn’t everyone notice that Clark Kent was obviously Superman? His disguise was a pair of glasses. That’s it. How was everyone so blind? All they saw was Clark, a mild-mannered reporter. I shouldn’t be too hard on comic book writers. Most of us wear disguises. We put on various masks to fit in and make ourselves look good, but they rarely fool anyone. On the other hand, our magnificent essence is often obscured by our faults and frailties.

In the Bible is a story about a blind beggar named Bartimaeus. (Mark 10:46-52; Luke 18:35-43). Like most good stories, the irony is the point. The blind man sees what no one else does. The crowd of sighted people see their latest superhero, superstar, prophet and magician. Bartimaeus sees deeper.

The crowd tries to silence Bartimeaus when he calls out to Jesus. But Bartimaeus yells out all the louder, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”...Son of David. David, that woefully imperfect king who nonetheless was said to be a man after God’s own heart. Bartimaeus sensed in Jesus that heart of God, the heart of compassion, Life Essence, the Web of care connecting all.

Jesus stands still. It takes conscious intention to stop midst the inertia of the crowd (or the inertia of our own ego), get still, check in and then act from a deeper place, from the heart of compassion.

“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asks him. What an odd question. Isn’t it blatantly obvious? Not really. The unfortunate truth is that most of us would rather stay in the familiar dark. Did Bartimaeus really want to see? It would come with a cost: he'd have to let go of his identity as a blind man; he'd have to find a new line of work; he'd have to let go of all reasonable excuses and entrenched story lines about his life.

Do you really want to see? To see things as they are always requires that we sacrifice cherished illusions. The excuses, blame, judgments, self-centeredness, arrogance, self-pity, apathy…they fall like scales from our eyes. We see life as it is, stripped of our familiar narratives and prejudices. It’s liberating but uncomfortable.

Bartimaeus makes his choice, “I want to see again.” Jesus replies, “Receive your sight; your faith has saved you.” Does he physically see again? Maybe. We only know a small fraction of what is possible in this surprising universe. But if all we get from the story is that a man named Jesus performed unrepeatable magic tricks 2,000 years ago and therefore must be praised and obeyed, then we've missed the mystical juice that still heals today.

Bartimaeus takes a leap of faith, which saves him. Is it possible that Bartimaeus takes that leap out of the familiar toward wholeness and finds in himself the very Life-Essence that Jesus radiates? It's interesting that Jesus doesn't say "I saved you" but rather "Your faith has saved you."

The constant choice is between a familiar, fear-based existence and greeting life as it is, with openness and kind eyes. To see life as it is requires faith because we must be willing to surrender our set story lines for an unpredictable, emerging story. If we are willing to make that leap of faith, then we will be saved in every way a person can be saved. We will see right through every disguise, including the one we see in the mirror, to the very heart of God. We'll recognize the lively sparkle in the eyes behind those glasses.

Life Isn't Fair

How many times did your parents respond to your complaints by saying, "Life isn't fair!" While annoying, their analysis is proving increasingly true. Our global economic system rewards "the winners" at the top with far more than they deserve while "the losers" (everyone else) suffer. For instance:

  • U.S. CEO's are paid 380 times the amount of the average employee salary. CEO's certainly work hard, most likely harder than most of their employees, but 380 times as much?
  • The richest 300 people in the world have as much wealth as the bottom 3 billion people.
  • While the industrialized nations send $180 billion in foreign aid to poor nations each year, $2 trillion shifts from poor to rich countries each year through tax avoidance, trade agreements that favor multinational conglomerates, and debt service. 
  • 30 multinational U.S. based firms with $160 billion in profits paid $0 in taxes over a recent three year period. 25% of the largest corporations pay no taxes. And we recently learned that Apple Computers paid virtually no tax on $102 billion in profits.

The result is an ever-widening income gap (as graphically depicted in this video) in which the poor become more desperate, the middle class evaporates, the upper class struggles, and those at the very top reap the benefits of everyone else's toil. And it's all perfectly legal, but not perfectly moral.

Sadly, large segments of the Christian Church remain silent on economic justice, turning a deaf ear to the suffering of the nation and the world. Trusting more in the free market than in justice or mercy, much of the church barely resembles its namesake. The words of Jesus in Matthew 25 echo in my ear. In that passage Jesus separates true followers from the fakes based on how they care for the most needy among them. What would Jesus say to many who claim his name today?

I was hungry, and you said it was my own damn fault. I was thirsty because your company polluted my town's river in order to make a quick buck. I was a stranger, and you called me a wetback and paid me slave wages as I worked in unsafe conditions so that you could live in comfort among friends. I was sick, and you chose to start wars instead of providing me with access to healthcare. I was in prison, and you let me suffer in the hands of the prison industrial system, never admitting how your own greed led to my desperation. I tell you the truth, when you treat one of the least of these members of my family with such callousness, you have done the same to me.

Seeds of New Life

About a week ago we planted various seeds for our first garden here in California: swiss chard, okra, bush roma beans, butter lettuce, arugula, sweet corn and leeks, to be adorned with marigolds and zinnias. Seeds are now pushing their way through the soil toward the beckoning light. I can't help but ponder the timing of these rising seeds. This is known as holy week in the Christian tradition with its theme of Christ's death and resurrection. Whether or not this is your tradition, the message is universal. Something is always dying, and this death is necessary so that something new can be born. For a seed to sprout, it must be buried and left for dead in the earth. This surrender is necessary for new life to break through.

In the Biblical stories about people encountering Jesus after his resurrection, there is a common theme. They don't recognize him. He appears to be a gardener...a traveling stranger...a beach bum. Then suddenly, their eyes are opened and they see Christ. The Christ of their expectations, the Christ they could control and predict, the Christ they could confine to one human body, had to die. Then they saw the Christ, the divine...everywhere. Their eyes were opened to a world of wonder. The seed planted within them had sprouted.

What in your life needs to die? What needs to be surrendered so that something new can emerge? Is it that tired story you retell that needs to be laid to rest so that you can birth a new narrative? Is it an outdated image of the divine so that something truer can emerge? Is it an addiction to control and perfection so that something surprising and uncontrollably alive can spring up? Is it a prejudging of a person or group that must be sacrificed so you can start to see the divine, see something sacred and precious, in more and more faces? (Of course, no aspect of us totally disappears but rather is accepted, transformed and integrated.)

Whatever needs releasing, the first and only required step is a willingness to surrender it. How does that willingness to let go actually result in letting go and then give birth to something new? That no one knows. It is a mystery called life.

P.S. If you want to let go of what no longer serves so that something new and alive can be born, join us on Tuesday nights, starting April 16, for a weekly gathering called Tuesday Night Live.

Stratego: A Poor Strategy for Life

My Uncle Frank came to visit my grandparents every summer when I was growing up. He and I would play games and cards hour after hour. I particularly liked Stratego, a board game in which two players pit their armies against each other. I developed a strategy that I employed every time, which almost always resulted in a win. Basically, it was a defensive posture focused on protecting my flag and setting traps in which the parts of my defenses that seemed weakest actually obscured hidden dangers.  I rarely went on the offensive, trusting that the way I set up my army usually guaranteed victory before the first move was even made. By the time my uncle figured out where my flag was, he usually did not have enough resources left to capture it.

Looking back now, I realize that I also began to employ this same strategy with life. Prepare thoroughly in advance, survey the board and plan for every possibility, control everything you can, and then trust that things will go your way because they should go your way. For the most part, this strategy worked well in school. (Isn't school essentially a prolonged board game?)

When entering the world of work, relationships and adult problems, however, this strategy simply did not work anymore. There were too many variables. No matter how hard I prepared and planned, the unexpected happened. Life turned out to be a Mystery that could be neither controlled nor understood.

Somehow this didn't seem fair. Why shouldn't life function like Stratego? If I did my part, shouldn't the world do its part and cooperate? Through all my hard work, have I not proved my worth and earned some sort of reward?

My resentful attitude reminds me of a character in a story Jesus told, which is commonly known as "The Prodigal Son". Both sons in the story are actually lost. The younger son wasted his inheritance on partying. The older son stayed behind on the farm as he thought a good boy should, yet he resented how his life was turning out. He worked hard every day, followed the rules, and was the poster child for responsibility, yet no one seemed to notice. No one even gave him a "like" on his Facebook page. Yet, his irresponsible partying brother comes home, and his father throws him a ginormous party. And the kicker: the older son stays out in the field all day working while the party is underway. No one even bothers to tell him about his brother's return and the shindig.

The father's words to him as he sulks in the unfairness of it all still resonate for me today: "All I have is yours already." This is the message the older son and I both need to hear:

By all this hard work, you are trying to earn what is already yours. You are innately worthy and beloved. No amount of strategy or work can earn what must be received as a given. Receiving your "belovedness" as a given, life starts to feel more like a gift and less like an imposition. A joyful balance of responsibility and freedom emerges. Yes, your brother needs to learn responsibility, and you need to learn freedom. Wholeness is the balance of both. And the balancing point is compassionate self-acceptance.

Life is far more mysterious, complicated and glorious than a board game. Perhaps the greatest mystery is that I am already worthy and forever ok without doing anything! Living from a sense of being irrevocably loved, that resentful sinkhole of compensating for the feeling that I'm never enough...that sinkhole starts to fill from the inside out.

I'm learning a new approach to this board game of life, and living from my "belovedness" may turn out to be the riskiest yet most rewarding strategy of all.

P.S. Beginning in mid-April, a new group will meet every Tuesday night to experience and explore together this mysterious freedom and "belovedness". For more information, go to: Tuesday Night Live.

The Pecking Order: A Brief Followup to Chik-fil-A

In reading the flurry of online activity about Chik-fil-A's financial support of anti-gay marriage groups, I finally realized what's actually going on here beneath the veneer of Bible quotes and the first amendment. The voices of privilege, in this case evangelical straight folks, feel threatened when a group that does not have the same rights insists on equality. Fuming evangelicals say they are the ones who are being persecuted because of their beliefs. It dawned on me that the angry voice of privilege is really a voice of fear, fear because those not privileged are challenging the established pecking order and the sense of identity derived from it. Whether the oppressed are women, people of color, immigrants, the poor, people of other faiths, or the LGBT community, the response is fear disguised as anger.

I also realized that my role is not to fix or change anyone. My path is to keep my heart open and reflect the truth of my experience as given the Light to do so. In effect, I become a mirror.

Privilege when seeing its own prejudice in the mirror, complains that the mirror itself is a bigot. 

Chik-fil-A and the Palins: a Very Unhappy Meal

Today I saw a a photo on Facebook of Sarah and Todd Palin holding Chik-fil-A bags. They were exuberant, smiling ear to ear with Sarah giving her trademark "you betcha" thumbs up. When I saw that this picture received a large number of "likes", I decided to post the following reply on Facebook: I am saddened by the Palins' public and gleeful support of Chik-fil-A's all out effort to deny other taxpaying citizens the opportunity to enjoy the 1,000+ rights they enjoy as husband and wife. It's not asking for a "special right" when someone seeks the same rights you already have. Why would anyone jump for joy over denying someone else the same privileges they have? Bigotry? Let's hope not. It must ultimately stem from deeply held religious beliefs.  That's the most charitable reason I can imagine.

There are a few problems, however, with that explanation. First, marriage is a civil arrangement, not a religious one. Religions issue doctrinal statements, but states issues marriage licenses. That makes marriage a civil right. It's one thing to hold personal religious beliefs about any number of issues. It's quite another to make those beliefs into laws affecting everyone else. Prohibiting others from basic human experiences, like coming together in marriage with all the legal protections and benefits that it affords, is neither civil nor right.

For those who seek to legally prohibit gays and lesbians from getting married because they believe they are upholding the traditional, Biblical view of marriage (e.g., Chik-fil-A's president), I have to ask, which Biblical view of marriage are you thinking of? The view of innumerable churches who until a few decades ago used the Bible to prohibit interracial marriage? The Biblical patriarchs who had multiple wives?

For those who believe that the Bible should be read literally and that our nation's laws should reflect their interpretation, check out Deuteronomy 22:28-29:

"If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, he shall pay the girl's father 50 shekels of silver. He must marry the girl."

Is that the Biblical view of marriage (updating shekels for dollars, of course) that should be made into law? Why is that passage to be taken any less literally than the Leviticus verse so often used as the proof text that homosexuality is sinful?

And while you're looking through the first five books of the Bible, you'll find more of God's commands about marriage:

  • Marry your brother's widow (Deuteronomy 25)
  • Capital punishment for committing adultery with a neighbor's wife (Leviticus 20)
  • Priests put a curse on a woman whose husband suspects her of adultery (Numbers 5)

You'll have a tough time finding many, if any, passages after Genesis 2 that reflect the so-called traditional view of marriage. Then there are the polygamist kings, including King David, "a man after God's own heart". (1 Samuel 13:14) God says that it was God who gave David his wives (plural). (2 Samuel 12:7,8). One begins to wonder if God is familiar with the "traditional definition" of marriage.

Some Christians say the commands in the "Old Testament" (a.k.a. the Hebrew Scriptures) no longer apply to them since Jesus came. If you hold to this perspective, for the sake of your own integrity, please never again use any passage from the Hebrew Scriptures (including stories about Adam and Eve or Sodom and Gomorrah) to justify legislation restricting the rights of lesbians and gays.

Jesus, while saying nothing about homosexuality, did insist that the only reason a married couple should be allowed to divorce is adultery (Matthew 19). Where is the outcry to repeal and replace the lax, "unbiblical"divorce laws in this country? Where is the picketing of divorce courts? If it's fair game to enforce one's perception of a Bible-based view of marriage on gay people, why is a Bible-based view of marriage (including divorce) not also enforced through law on straight people? Could it be thinly-veiled yet unconscious prejudice? What else would explain why good-hearted Christian folk try to impose their marriage standards on gay people but let their own demographic off the hook?

Hopefully, it's merely a lack of not yet taking the time to fully think through the implications of one's positions. I've certainly failed to do that myself many times and have to keep careful watch over my strongly-held opinions and beliefs, which so easily morph into something unhealthy and lacking any semblance of Christian compassion.

So, before cheering the Palins, please take a moment to consider the genesis of your own thoughts on this issue. While it may seem like an innocuous photo of a married couple holding Chik-fil-A bags, it actually is an attack, (hopefully on account of understandable ignorance) on the identity, relationships, legal equality before the law, and inherent worth of your fellow Americans. That is nothing to celebrate.

That was my posting on Facebook. I know I'm probably "preaching to the choir" by posting this on my blog. But every now and then a preacher needs to hear an "Amen"...or at least get a "like" on Facebook. 

You Say You Want a Revolution? Read Leviticus

The Biblical book of Leviticus is a tedious read, and so, with the exception of homophobic rants about a man not "lying with a male as with a woman", the text is quoted about as often as President Warren Harding's Inaugural Address. Recently I attended an event at a nearby seminary where the topic of discussion was Leviticus 25:

Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you; each of you is to return to your family property and to your own clan...Everyone is to return to their own property...The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you reside in my land as foreigners and strangers...If any of your fellow Israelites become poor and unable to support themselves among you, help them as you would a foreigner and stranger, so they can continue to live among you. Do not take interest or profit from them, but fear your God, so that they may continue to live among you.  Leviticus 25:10, 13, 23-24, 35-36.

So, let's see if I get this right. God's command is that every fifty years there's a total economic "do over".  And here are the tenets of God's economic platform:

  • No matter what happened in the previous 49 years, everyone gets back their historic family property. (Socialism?)
  • Land is never permanently sold, because it really belongs to God and the entire community. (Communism?)
  • If, for whatever reason, someone becomes poor, the nation is called on to support them. (Welfare state?)
  • The poor are to be helped just as foreigners and strangers should be supported. (Immigrant rights?)
  • Don't take interest or profit from the poor so that they can prosper. (Not even sure what to call this other than a violation of every principle of the market economy.)

Anyone running for president on this platform wouldn't stand a chance in hell (perhaps heaven?) of winning.  Of course, outside of a few isolated attempts, these words were never taken literally. They were simply too revolutionary. So much for a nation based on Biblical principles.

What if, however, the spirit of these words challenged us to evolve our economics and our spirituality until we could not consider one without the other? What if the measure of our spirituality included not only personal salvation/enlightenment but also a shared responsibility for the wellbeing of all the inhabitants of our community: rich and poor, native and immigrant, human and other species? What if "we" became just as prominent as "me" when talking about economics and spirituality?

While a literal year of Jubilee is unlikely, we can catch the spirit of Jubilee and put our spiritual energy to use for the public good. A start is to educate ourselves about how "the public" is actually doing,

"The Human Development Report" provides census-driven data to analyze longevity, income and access to education, healthcare, and affordable housing. Reports have been generated for 161 countries, three states in the U.S. (Louisiana, Mississippi, and California) and for the first time ever, a local community: Marin County, California. We get a better understanding of how people are doing from a tool like this than we do from the distant rumblings of the stock market. To learn more, go to

While I don't expect that many of us will pick up Leviticus for a light summer read, I do believe that it is time for us to evolve our spirituality so that our individual Jubilee is not complete without including in our hearts and actions those for whom Jubilee is a distant dream.