“Why I Am an Atheist Who Believes in God” – a book review

whycoverWhen I read this title, my first thought was that people are going to think this is a kitchy attempt to evangelize atheists or to teach people how to evangelize atheists. However, I had the opportunity to spend a weekend at a conference with the author, Frank Schaeffer, last fall, and I know that he is the kind of man who comes at you straight on,  full frontal, with no guile, with his understanding of the world or politics or life, not like a breath of fresh air, but like an ocean breeze that just blows the blinds open and clears out all the cobwebs! I read this book in two sittings. It is that wonderful. I did have to come up to take a look around and check in with my family, once.

This book is not about the debate between theists and atheists and it is all about the debate between theists and atheists. Frank takes us to a different space in that debate, however. He reveals why this is so emotional for so many; why it is so “hot button.” It is really a debate within each of us. What Frank is doing in this deeply personal book of self-examination is calling us to stop shouting at each other long enough about what we claim to believe, whether that be Christianity, Judaism, Islam, atheism, Buddhism, Hinduism, or whatever, to listen to our own doubts and insecurities; then look honestly at the inconsistencies in our own systems of belief.  All of the world’s religions have changed over the centuries, and evolved. Just read the words of Jesus to see how radically he changed the Israelites’ religion. Paul tried to walk back some of Jesus’ more revolutionary ideas by silencing women in the church after Jesus encouraged them to speak. So we are whatever religion we are, or are not, mostly by accident of birth. Let’s be humble about that. If we read the words of Jesus, we are not supposed to judge, so let us not put other people in hell, not even for a little bit. Sometimes atheists make the best Christians. Sometimes Christians don’t know where God is. “My God! My God! Why has thou forsaken me?” “Lord I believe. Help thou my unbelief.”

The words “objective reality” are just a metaphor for something I’ll never encounter. …

Anyway, since no one is ever just one thing, who are we planning for? Which “me” should be running the show? We’re all in the closet, so to speak. We barely come out to ourselves and never completely to others. I’ve never met an unequivocal atheist or religious believer. I’ve only met people of two, three or four or more minds—people just like me. Atheists sometimes pray and eloquent preachers secretly harbor doubts. The evangelist Billy Graham preached certain salvation and heaven guaranteed yet privately told my dad, a friend and fellow evangelist, that he feared death and had many doubts.

We’re all of at least two minds. We play a role and define that role as “me” because labels and membership in a tribe make the world feel a little safer. When I was raising my children, I pretended to be grown-up Daddy. But alone with my thoughts, I was still just me. I’m older now, and some younger people may think I know something. I do! I know how much I can never know.

Muslim, Jew, Hindu or Christian, you are that because of where and when you were born. If you are an atheist, you are that because of a book or two you read, or who your parents were and the century in which you were born. Don’t delude yourself: there are no good reasons for anything, just circumstances. Don’t delude yourself: you may describe yourself to others by claiming a label of “atheist,” “Jew,” “evangelical,” “gay” or “straight” but you know that you are really lots more complicated than that, a gene-driven primate and something more. Want to be sure you have THE TRUTH about yourself and want to be consistent to that truth? Then prepare to go mad. Or prepare to turn off your brain and cling to some form or other of fundamentalism, be that religious or secular. You will always be more than one person. You will always embody contradiction. You—like some sort of quantum mechanics physics experiment—will always be in two places at once.

It came home to me personally on a number of levels. I have always loved church. I have been ordained four or five times in five or six churches. (The disparity is due to whether you accept my infant ordination at my baptism in the Episcopal Church. The bishop gave me the laying on of hands of Peter. No one knows why.) I currently cannot attend. I suffer PTSD from being bullied and having my life threatened by clergy. I have also discovered that I have a developmental defect in my brain, and subsequent strokes in my right parietal lobe. Limited blood flow and damage to that part of the brain tends to make the ‘victim’ more religious. So the fact that there is such a defect effect could be considered evidence for the existence of God as this is all part of the design; or it could be an explanation for my quixotic quest to find the church that would not betray me, all my life. Christian me believes one. Atheist me  believes the other. Simultaneously.

The one thing I know for sure is that I need to serve the poor in Jesus’ Name. I don’t care who joins me as long as they are not there to save anybody but themselves.

Thank you, brother Frank, for letting me know I am not alone in this insanity we call human life. Let us dare to “create beauty, give love and find peace!”

God, whoever he, she or it may or may not be, bless you, Frank and Genie Schaeffer!

Peace,
Cranford Joseph Coulter

 

“I Like Ike” Pork Tenderloin

Dwight Eisenhower, Mamie EisenhowerWhen President Dwight David Eisenhower was running for re-election in 1956, he came to Minnesota. My parents were GOP state committee persons. At the parade that was held to welcome Ike, I was presented to him. He kissed me and held me high in the air! Of course, I was just a little more than a year old at the time. I still have the rhinestone IKE brooch my mom was wearing for the occasion. My mom had a hand signed, black and white photograph of Ike and Mamie Eisenhower sitting in the rose garden of the Whitehouse, in a brass frame, sitting on her dresser next to her bed for four decades, until she passed away. I have several “I Like Ike” buttons, even one in Norwegian. I did say I’m from Minnesota after all. Ike dreamed big. More importantly, he led a nation who was tired of war to dream big, and to work together for some things that were bigger than themselves.

Ike had seen Hitler’s Autobahn and envisioned the Interstate Highway system to knit our country together as one nation as it had never been before. He witnessed the scourge of polio and mobilized free, universal immunizations for every child in America to wipe out this crippling disease. He wanted to go further and have universal healthcare for children. Schools and universities were built and a generation of veterans and their children were educated, thanks to a progressive income tax and a high corporate income tax. The middle class was established and the war debt was paid off. It seems we have now lost that spirit of bold cooperation for anything other than endless warfare. Ike warned us about that as well when he told us to beware of the military industrial complex. Well, I have gone on long enough. What does this have to do with a recipe?

I got to thinking what to call this and it hit me that this would have been impossible without Ike’s input and vision. It would have been impossible when I was a child. I was able to go to the grocery store and buy all of these ingredients for reasonable prices thanks to Eisenhower’s Interstate Highway system. So here goes.

Ingredients:

  • ~ 1/4 cup lard
  • ~ 2 pound pork tenderloin
  • 1 small sweet onion, diced
  • ~ 1 cubic inch ginger root, peeled & finely chopped or grated
  • 1 papaya, peeled, seeds removed & cut into bite sized chunks
  • 3 Hass avocados, pitted, peeled & cut up
  • 2 kiwis, peeled & diced
  • ~ 1 Tablespoon ground mustard
  • ~ 1 Tablespoon ground turmeric
  • 5 ounces Gorgonzola cheese
  • 6 ounces fresh, baby spinach (1 Dole salad bag)

Slice the tenderloin into 1/2″ to 3/4″ thick medallions. rub it down with the turmeric and the mustard. Heat up the lard in a large skillet, preferably cast iron. I used our 13″ one. It was full by the time I was done. You are going to need sides. Start cooking the pork the onion and the ginger root in the lard. Let it cook for a bit, turning frequently. You don’t want to carmelize the meat. You want it tender, not crunchy. As you prep the fruits, add them to the skillet. Stir the mixture, so nothing burns. The only thing that should have carmelized would be the onions. You can put a lid on it to help hold the moisture and the heat in to help cook the meat and reduce the heat to medium. Slice the meat open to test for doneness. If it is about done, crumble the Gorgonzola on top of the mixture and cover for a few minutes, reducing the flame to low. Rip up the spinach and pile it on top. Replace the cover. Turn off the stove. Just let the steam and heat from the cast iron pan and the other ingredients cook the spinach. Serve.

It makes six servings. It took about half an hour to make. It is a one pan meal. It is super interesting! It has so many different flavor notes and textures. It is the rare recipe in which I did not use garlic or pepper. The ginger provided enough heat. I preferred it in little chunks rather than grated so it would surprise the tongue now and again. The kiwi are an element of whimsy. Each serving may get just a tiny bit of it. It wakes up the palate with a bit of tartness. The cheese melts in with the fruit and meat juices to form this uniquely luscious sauce. When I was all done, I wanted to pick up my plate and lick it to get the last gooey drop of it.

Bethann and Hilary told me I could definitely make that again. It is gluten free, low carb, and includes two super foods.

Tithing: 10% of what?

comic_greekfortitheIn recent years there has been a lot of talk in different circles relating to the tithe principle of the Mosaic Law. People think that a flat tax sounds fair.  Those who earn more would pay more. Those who earn less would pay less. This seems to make perfect sense on the surface, but when we examine the reality in the light of Scripture, it is not so simple.

Many evangelical churches and cults teach that one should give 10% of one’s income to the church. The Mormons require members to file an income tithe return to the church. Among evangelicals there is always the discussion of whether this tithe is to be on net or gross income. The practice of ‘tithing’ has now spilled over into the Antiochian Orthodox Church as Metropolitan PHILIP introduced it as a prescription for stewardship. Many people have rebelled against it, saying that it is not biblical, since it is from the Old Testament and we are not under the Law. Apparently, they have carried over their dispensationalism with them into Orthodoxy.

The tithe pre-dated the law of Moses. Moses only codified it for the Israelites and for our example. However they would be correct to say that a tithe on income is not biblical. It is, in fact, found nowhere in either testament. The concepts of measuring annual income and of income tax are quite modern, and thus, of necessity, measuring and giving a percentage of income must be modern as well. To be fair to Metropoiltan PHILIP, he was just trying to get Orthodox Christians to support the Church, on a level on par with how the “schismatics” support theirs. He was actually going easy on most members relative to what the New Testament standard for giving truly is. Dues paying is hardly New Testament, after all.

This is where things get exciting. For years, demagogues have been citing the Bible to support a flat tax, claiming that it would be fair, all the while knowing that it would favor their rich supporters, while shifting more of the tax burden onto the middle class and working poor. They got many people to support the concept, because it sounded fair and it sounded simple, and it resonated with what they ignorantly claimed the Scripture taught. The tithes of Moses (yes, there were three!) were on property, not on income. Furthermore, they were not the only taxes. No, they were not voluntary.

It always sounds fair and simple that everyone just pays 10%. What is interesting is that churches that teach “tithing” only receive on average about 2% of their members’ average income in offerings. That percentage is lower the wealthier the members are; a bit higher, the poorer the members are. People who have more money tend to hold onto it more tightly. The New Testament pattern for giving and that taught by the Church Fathers, most notably and most eloquently, St. John Chrysostom, is not tithing, but rather jubilary giving. It is not based on what one starts out with, but on what remains once one has given. What is right to give is determined by what is left. The goals are to further the Kingdom, to live in the Kingdom, to recognize that we own nothing, to use everything as stewards to further the will of God and His Kingdom, knowing that his mercies are new every morning. The Mennonites, Brethren, Amish, and Brethren in Christ used to all teach jubilary giving. When they did, their average giving compared to their members’ income was over 5%. This is still not great, but more than double the “tithing” churches.

I said that the Mosaic tithes were on property, not on income. This is an extremely important detail. This makes them much higher taxes. Every year, a tenth of the crops was to be paid to the Levites. Do not be distracted by the language in some translations that say the “increase” of the wheat, etc. to think that that means the net increase. It does not. It just means the yield of the land. There were no deductions for hired labor, for purchases of tools, for land rental, feed for draft animals, tool repair, work clothes, medical expenses, legal expenses, etc. It doesn’t even matter if there was a drought and one harvested less than one planted. 10% went to the Levites. That was not all. Actually before the harvest was taken, the first measure of grain was harvested and presented to the Lord as a wave offering. The harvest was also not done in such a way as to squeeze every last bushel of grain or fruit out of the field. It was an abomination before the Lord to harvest the corners of one’s field and not leave them for the poor to glean. It would result in being ejected from the congregation, in other words, losing one’s citizenship and inheritance and land.

When it came to the animals, they were all put in the corral and driven through a cattle shoot under the Levites’ rod. Every tenth one went to the Levites. This is interesting. It is by nature not regressive. It is not going to take a man’s lone cow. The tax only starts on a minimum herd of ten. Again, it matters not if the herd has increased or decreased during the year, or what the rancher or dairy farmer paid for feed; or how much he may have had to pay his hired help or what it cost to feed, house and clothe his slaves. One in ten went to the Levites, randomly. If he wants to redeem his prize bull from the offering, he must give an equivalent plus 20% as a substitute. This is all spelled out in Leviticus 27.

It is very interesting that there are going to be many who will read this and start screaming about ‘how is this relevant to a modern society’ and ‘do you want to drag us back to the stone age’ before giving up their concept of a flat tax that they claim to be just, because they think they took it from the Law of Moses or it resonates in peoples minds that it is from the Mosaic Law. You can’t have it both ways. Just because it is 10% or just because it is a flat tax, doesn’t mean it is fair. It all depends on what you are taxing to begin with.

Who decided that what happened last year is the only thing that is important? You could have a very good year and get nailed with high income tax, even though you had several years before where you had terrible years of losses and expenses. By the same token, you could have loads of money and no income at all last year, millions of dollars of assets. Is it right that you should be afforded all the privileges of protection and citizenship and community without paying your fair share? No. Not according to the Law of Moses, which was the only  model handed down to us by inspiration of God for a pattern for human government. The model we are given in the Mosaic Law for taxation is not an income tax at all, but a tax on actual property, so that everyone who has means bears their fair share.

A Saint for Our Time

Verily, we celebrate the memory of thy Prophet Nahum. Through him we implore thee, O Lord, save our souls.

By the mid 14th century the Byzantine Empire had accumulated quite a few enemies both external and internal. They had forgotten to let their theology inform their economy and government as in earlier days and it had cost them the empire. They had lost most of their territory to the Ottoman empire and most of their people to Islam. Then there was the civil war with Serbia, where they lost most of the remaining territory to Stefan IV. 100 years later Constantinople finally fell. When it did, the nobles and church leaders could not even raise an army among their own people, because they had neglected them for so long. Why should they come to the aid of the elites? It wasn’t their war.

It was during this time that there was a significant devotion to Prophet Nahum in the rural areas of Europe, in areas that felt oppressed and neglected by the powers that were vying for dominance. St. Nahum wrote a beautiful prophetic song about Nineveh, the capital of Assyria. It came to pass very specifically then. We are told that the Old Testament is given to us for our admonition and instruction. There are lessons and warnings for us so we do not repeat the mistakes of those nations. The Byzantine Empire fell and it is not coming back, just as it was prophesied to Nineveh: “trouble will not come a second time.”

There was a cult of the Prophet Nahum as the Byzantine Empire was waning and that is interesting. The parallel is not as compelling as it is to the USA today, however. The Byzantines were basically enjoying their privileged position and trying to hold on to the vestiges of a bygone era without understanding and applying the elements of the faith that had given them that greatness. The US, through its corporations, its banking, and its massive military presence and 10 to 15 active military engagements at any given time, controls, colonizes and oppresses an overwhelming majority of the world’s population and consumes the lion’s share of the world’s natural resources. The US likes to think of itself as bringing freedom, but it does not. In Yugoslavia, we brought death and elimination of most of the Christian population. In Iraq, the Catholics and Orthodox and Jews who had been living and worshipping there safely and undisturbed for generations have been killed or driven out and their temples burned. In Afghanistan, the heroin producers are the only ones who have benefited by the US occupation. In Syria, we are supplying arms to massacre Christians. Our plants in India and Africa pollute and kill the ground. We export death in our GMO seeds and Round-Up. We are the only nation that openly discusses and approves of torture methods. Internally, we incarcerate more of our own people than any nation in history, with a strong racial bias against blacks and Latinos. Income disparity is well beyond the tipping point at which other empires (including the Byzantine) have fallen. Upward mobility has vanished. Elections have become a sham due to gerrymandering and dirty tricks and corporate ownership of lawmakers. So-called Christians have been more concerned with being blue or red than being Christian, so have lost effective witness.

We have become a pariah state.

Judgment is coming.

Nahum 3

Woe to the city of blood, full of lies,
full of plunder, never without victims!
The crack of whips, the clatter of wheels,
galloping horses and jolting chariots!
Charging cavalry, flashing swords and glittering spears!
Many casualties, piles of dead,
bodies without number,
people stumbling over the corpses—
all because of the wanton lust of a prostitute,
alluring, the mistress of sorceries,
who enslaved nations by her prostitution
and peoples by her witchcraft.
“I am against you,” declares the Lord Almighty.
“I will lift your skirts over your face.
I will show the nations your nakedness and the kingdoms your shame.
I will pelt you with filth, I will treat you with contempt
and make you a spectacle.
All who see you will flee from you and say,
‘Nineveh is in ruins—who will mourn for her?’
Where can I find anyone to comfort you?”
Are you better than Thebes,
situated on the Nile, with water around her?
The river was her defense,  the waters her wall.
Cush and Egypt were her boundless strength;
Put and Libya were among her allies.
10 Yet she was taken captive  and went into exile.
Her infants were dashed to pieces at every street corner.
Lots were cast for her nobles, and all her great men were put in chains.
11 You too will become drunk;  you will go into hiding and seek refuge from the enemy.
12 All your fortresses are like fig trees with their first ripe fruit; when they are shaken,
the figs fall into the mouth of the eater.
13 Look at your troops—
they are all weaklings.
The gates of your land  are wide open to your enemies;
fire has consumed the bars of your gates.
14 Draw water for the siege,
strengthen your defenses!
Work the clay,
tread the mortar,
repair the brickwork!
15 There the fire will consume you;
the sword will cut you down—
they will devour you like a swarm of locusts.
Multiply like grasshoppers,
multiply like locusts!
16 You have increased the number of your merchants
till they are more numerous than the stars in the sky,
but like locusts they strip the land
and then fly away.
17 Your guards are like locusts,
your officials like swarms of locusts
that settle in the walls on a cold day—
but when the sun appears they fly away,
and no one knows where.
18 King of Assyria, your shepherdsslumber;
your nobles lie down to rest.
Your people are scattered on the mountains
with no one to gather them.

19 Nothing can heal you;
your wound is fatal.
All who hear the news about you
clap their hands at your fall,
for who has not felt
your endless cruelty?

Thank You, Everybody!

As I am writing this, on Saturday evening, it is just Bethann and me in the house. Last week at this time, we had a house full. Our rent party was a roaring success! I was amazed at the variety of people who showed up and then there all those who sent well wishes and checks or cash with others, by mail, electronically, or the next day at church. One friend brought six other friends with him. So we made some new friends!

The evening started with Tadesse Abay offering a blessing for the food in his native Ethiopian. I don’t understand Ethiopian, but I know he did more than pray for the food. He blessed our home and family and our continued ministry. It was a real honor to receive this blessing from such an honorable and godly man.

Kevin Paige was an amazing minstrel. He started out playing the ukulele in the kitchen. He moved to the front parlor and played more on the ukulele. I walked through at one point and he was playing “The Girl From Ipanema” and a half dozen little kids were dancing like it was a rock song, looking like the kids in the Charlie Brown Christmas special. It was a happening! He switched to the guitar and then to the Dobro, at some point. Deacon Herman played a few songs by Dylan and a couple of his own. It was great. It wasn’t like a concert. It was party music. Conversations kept going. Kids were dancing and playing.

We met these friends over the span of nearly 40 years, but there is one thing they all have in common. They have all been involved in the work of The King’s Jubilee at some point, from the first person who responded to the first ever newsletter in February 1989 to the friend who drove me home from Phila. in the TKJ-mobile two nights earlier.

We received over $4,000 in gifts plus a sizable gift from the church. We used $500 as a first fruits offering to help a neighbor restore his electric service; and $300 to The King’s Jubilee to buy a computer for a recently homeless, faithful volunteer who needs a laptop for community college.

I started negotiations with the mortgage company for a loan modification to hopefully lower the interest rate, so we can manage better. I mailed in the payment to cure the default. When I spoke to the loan modification counselor and told him about how much we received in gifts, he was amazed. I told him that we have a lot of friends who care. We are quite frankly amazed! We need to send him a copy of the blog entry advertising the rent party and other evidence so the bank knows the story.

There are some takeaways for me from this. The first is that when one gets in trouble, one should not just go down quietly. I have heard of people watching their neighbors being evicted and they didn’t have a clue beforehand they were in trouble. If they had, they may have done something to help. People got through the Great Depression by working together. Of course, back then, people didn’t have cars, air conditioning, in-home entertainment and large suburban lots to keep them separated from one another. Make an effort to get to know your neighbors. Then there are people who work hard and still fall on hard times, but don’t have any friends who can help. This brings up the problem posed by the question, “Who is my neighbor?” We all know that Jesus answered with that it is the one who is in need, according to the parable of the Good Samaritan. That is where ministries like The King’s Jubilee come in. It is also why we need to protect our safety net as a society. If we can come together to help a friend or neighbor, why can’t we learn from the parable of the Good Samaritan and as a society help every neighbor?

We are trying to write thank you notes or send thank you emails to all who gave. We are not sure if we are remembering all who gave, since there were bills slipped in handshakes and stuffed in pockets. Just know that we are very grateful and feel very blessed to be surrounded by such a community of caring and generous souls. May God bless you all!

Rent Party

We organized a “rent party” last week. I have been wanting to do this for some time. It is a practice that comes out of 1920s Harlem in New York City. Fats Waller and James P. Johnson used rent parties to help get by. When someone was going to come up short on their rent, they would throw a party to raise the rent. You clear the furniture out of the main room, invite all your friends and neighbors. Tell them to invite all their friends and neighbors. Charge a cover charge at the door. Provide some food. Have some musician friends play and sing for their supper and free drinks. Have some cheap beer and wine available for more contributions to the cause. This is where line dancing was invented. The most famous of these is the Electric Slide. These parties would be so crowded that, in order to dance, you had to synchronize. It was only later that Nashville expropriated it to turn the Electric Slide into country line dancing. It was a good way to have some fun on a Friday or Saturday night; for less money than at a bar or nightclub, with people you knew, while helping someone out of a tight spot.

Hard times are here again. But unlike during the Great Depression, most of us are unaware of one another’s situations. We are used to being anesthetized by the internet and by cable TV and by constant, on demand entertainment, infotainment, news and propaganda. We have been conditioned to think that anything that is not packaged and branded and sold to us is inferior, and possibly suspect. We get upset about the statistics we see on whatever “news” outlet we prefer, and we will argue about politics that ultimately will benefit the rich regardless of which party is in power, because, let’s face it, they’re all rich and out of touch with any personal sense of neighbors in need. A lot of people on the right are screaming that government is not the answer. A lot of people on the left are crying that the government is too slow to respond. Yet most, on both left and right, just continue to holler at each other while we could actually be doing something to address the suffering and the poverty about which we all say we are concerned.

A rent party is the perfect blend of free enterprise spirit and socialist concern! It’s a cheap date with live entertainment, good, home-cooked food, spirits, laughter, and friendship. Or you can choose to give more with the expectation that when you are short, the others will come to your aid. Another thing I want to say is that there is no shame in coming up short some times. “Events conspire” as they say. Kids get sick. Hours at work get cut back. Utility prices change. Oil and gas prices change. Appliances break or wear out. Expected Christmas bonuses are not given or are miserly. There are dozens of nickel and dimey things that can get a household behind the 8 ball before you can say, “Bob’s your uncle!” Then there are the salesmen and bankers who can paint a rosier picture of the future to get one to finance things one shouldn’t and acquire more debt than one should. Then there is student loan debt. When people are working hard and still not able to make ends meet, there is no shame.

We had a great time. The duo of Kevin Paige, who teaches music at Clemmer Music in Harleysville, PA, and Jeff Bonnet, who usually is part of a classic rock cover band “Out of Touch”, provided most of the entertainment. They were joined on some of the numbers by Dr. Raymond Acker, known to some as Deacon Herman, who also did some solos on guitar and vocal, both originals and some by Bob Dylan. His two sons did a beautiful medley from The Lord of the Rings acapella. April made a leafy salad, rice and beans, veggies and dip, chips and salsa, and coffee. Bethann made chicken breast, potatoes and peppers, orzo and spinach, pigs in a blanket, and wacky cake. Uncle John tended bar with a box of Merlot, a box of Chardonnay, a case of PBR, a case of Icehouse, and a mixed case of Mike’s Hard. We bought way too much alcohol. We have lots leftover. I guess we need to have another party. Thankfully, somebody bought some of the leftovers.

Unfortunately, it was a foggy night, so a number of people did not feel confident to travel. We charged $10 cover and $3 suggested donation for beer or wine or hard lemonade. We had a great time! We raised about $700 to help a young couple with their mortgage. Everyone said we should definitely do this again.

I hope the idea catches on. We could use more live music in our homes. We could use more joy and happiness. We could use more helping one another in hard times.

“What’s so funny about peace, love and understanding?”

That was the question Nick Lowe asked in his song made popular by Elvis Costello. It is a serious question that  needs to be pressed especially hard to professing Christians these days. Jesus is proclaimed as the Prince of Peace! At Christmas we sing songs of “glad tidings of peace and good will among men.” Of course, in recent years, with the rightward turn of many in the pulpit, it has been stressed that “a more accurate translation of the Greek would be ‘peace to men of good will.'” I don’t know how this revision sits with Jesus’ message of turning the other cheek and going the second mile and forgiving those who have wronged you 70 times seven times in a day. I really don’t think he was worried we were going to be overzealous in our peacemaking. I wonder what the original Aramaic said. I’m sticking with the Christmas carol and the King James Version on this one, and the testimony of the whole direction of God’s word and Jesus’ ministry.

God came into the world not just to bring peace to good people. It’s a good thing, because none of us are that good. Christ is our peace, not only with God, but to bring peace to the nations:

“For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.” (Ephesians 2:14-18)

The first petition of the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom of the Orthodox Church is “For the peace from above, and for the salvation of our souls, let us pray to the Lord.” This is foundational, because the Scripture says “God does not hear the prayers of sinners.” The second petition where our real work as a kingdom of priests starts is: “For the peace of the whole world; for the good estate of the holy churches of God, and for the union of all mankind, let us pray to the Lord.”

What’s so funny about peace, love and understanding, indeed!? We pray for them, right there at the beginning of every Liturgy: the peace part is obvious; love: when the churches are in good order, they are sharing the love of God through good works and breaking down walls of discrimination and ethnic and national hatred; and bringing all to unity in mutual respect and equality under God.

So why are so many of my Christian brothers and sisters so nationalistic and promoting the use of assault weapons to overthrow a government that might make you buy insurance for your employees? Why are so many of them racist? Why are so many talking of secession and stirring up anger and hatred just because their candidate didn’t win an election? Why do so many people think its OK to follow a bitter, atheist, immoral, hypocritical Ayn Rand as a moral leader in economics and totally ignore the teachings of Moses, the Prophets, Jesus and the Apostles? Or divorce them, by saying one is for private life and the other is for public life? How very De Peche Mode of you? You have your “own personal Jesus” but He has nothing to say about how we conduct civic life? The slave holders of the 19th century would solidly agree with you. It was the abolitionists who held that Jesus and the Prophets were going to call the nations to account, that dragged this country, kicking and screaming, into the modern age.

We need to revisit the Scriptures to unearth our sense of justice. We have lost our way. We have left Christianity and become Americans only. We have bought into the myth of the rugged individual. We think that if we can choose wisely, and get the right education, and land the right job, or invent the right gizmo, we can end up on top. Reality check. America now has the second lowest chance of upward mobility after England. Our middle class is disappearing at an alarming rate. Our income disparity between employers and workers is many times that of Mexico’s. That wall we are building will soon be keeping us in, if we do not do something quickly to correct things.

American Christianity has been very pietistic and individualistic to the point that modern evangelicalism is so disembodied as to be gnostic. Christianity’s roots, however, are not so. Hebrew did not have separate words for just and right or justice and righteousness. The singular and the corporate or the personal and the societal were so intertwined. The Bible is not just concerned about personal morality; it is concerned about social responsibility. God is not just going to judge individuals for their personal stewardship. He is going to judge the nations for their economic justice: their treatment of the poor. Read the Prophets. They still apply. Jesus did not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them. Our righteousness is to exceed that of the Scribes and the Pharisees, not mimic Rome.

We will examine the tithes of the Mosaic Law. Yes. There were more than one. We will look at the sabbath years, the gleaning rules and the Jubilee, to see a pattern of second chances, economic redistribution, and social justice, that God was setting forth as a pattern for the nations. We will see how God reinforced this message through the captivity and the warnings of the prophets to the nations. It was no accident that Jesus used the Jubilee song of Isaiah to introduce his earthly ministry. It was also not surprising that the entrenched political powers immediately wanted to stone him for preaching that kind of radical redistribution. St. James preached economic equality, as did St. Paul. We will include a few quotes from the Fathers and some examples from the Byzantine Empire. The point is not to push a particular party’s agenda. The point is to get people to think about economic justice and social justice in a more Christian way and bring that to the debate. We need to do like the old preacher told us to do: “Quit your meanness!”