Jesus and John Wayne

Since the time of Constantine, as Jesus has been brought to the nations of the world we have been constantly recreating him in our own image. In some ways it’s good and makes sense. We can relate to people like us. At the church of the annunciation in Nazareth, there are images of Mary from all around the world, done in style and appearance of the artists. They are beautiful. When we make Jesus relatable it’s good. When we turn him into a warrior in order to justify our wars though it is the furthest thing from beautiful.

Maybe it’s because I was raised Mennonite; not buggy driving suspenders wearing Mennonite but centrality of Christ and the Sermon on the Mount Mennonite, but I grew up with a certain distrust, coupled with a lack of knowledge of other denominations. Maybe because I’m Canadian (and yes that is possibly an expression of nationalism), but I’ve always been somewhat suspicious of Americans too. I vividly recall attending a hockey game between the US and Germany during the 1988 Olympics in Calgary and seeing some of the US fans getting very upset that there were people there who weren’t cheering for their team. That is just the tip of the iceberg compared to the degree of nationalism that we see in the US now.

While I was (and still am) a fan of westerns, I was never a big John Wayne fan. Maybe it was just that his career was winding down as my interest was winding up. I certainly was a fan of Clint Eastwood, and as mentioned in a previous post, I still own every Louis Lamour book. As I start to read through them again, we’ll see what I think now. I know many are formulaic, but those weren’t my favourites. I’m also reading through some other books that I thought were classics that have some very disturbing aspects. There are likely many people who do admire Wayne who will be offended by the revelations and comparisons presented in this book, but there will undoubtedly be some whose eyes are opened.

As a youth and young adult in the 1980’s, I admit that I didn’t know much about Jimmy Swaggart or Jim Bakker other than they came across as hypocrites who fell victim to their lust for power. Jerry Falwell with his Moral Majority seemed just as bad but hadn’t been caught yet. Billy Graham was in a different category. While still an “other”, he didn’t seem to have the baggage that Swaggart, Bakker, or Falwell did.

Move forward to the ‘90s and early 2000s, as I moved, married, became a father, and started attending a church that was, while still not mainstream, somewhat more evangelical, Focus on the Family and Promise Keepers were both championed as organizations geared to helping build strong Christian homes. Having been taught that faith starts at home and the best way to usher in the kingdom was to be a light that would draw people to Christ, I was comfortable with much of what I saw in these groups.

After reading this book, some of my feelings have changed. While I believe every reporter brings some bias to the table, this does seem well researched and a lot fits in with some of the feelings I had. But that is also a biased opinion.

How did reading this book affect me?

Let’s start with Tim Lahaye.  I only knew him as the “left behind” guy. The first few books in that series didn’t seem too bad as works of fiction. I had no idea of the degree of influence he and his wife had.

James Dobson. As I said above, he was seen as a good resource for parenting through culture. As a family, we enjoyed listening to the Adventures in Odyssey tapes. We have been largely removed from that world for a few years now and I’m happy to say that.

I didn’t know much about Mark Driscoll other than he was very successful. I had even expressed a desire to check out his church in Seattle one time.

My opinion of Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell Jr. and Robert Jeffress were formed over the past few years and the information in this book only cemented those ideas.

I was a fan of the Robertsons of  Duck Dynasty for several years. Until recently, I even had a Jase bobble head and a Si blue Tupperware glass.  I suppose that whether they were dangerous, or fun depends on the worldview you approach them with. I guess many things are like that.

What made this book most shocking was the total quantity of stories that were all compiled together. I’m fearful of where we’ve gotten to and even more fearful of where we’re going. One of the things that marked anabaptists from other reformers was their desire to separate church and state. It saddens me that we still haven’t been able to do that, that Christians are still vying for power in the world.

My Morning Prayer

Thank you, Lord, for the night that was, for the rest that you give during sleep.

Thank you, Lord, for the day that’s dawned, for the new mercies that come each day.

As the Earth is turning to face the sun, help me to turn to face the Son.

Thank you for the love you give.

Thank you for the life you maintain.

Help me today, to laugh with those who laugh, to celebrate their joy.

Help me today, to cry with those who mourn, to sit in silence and share their pain.

Help me today, to live my faith, that others will see you reflected in me.

Thank you for having heard me.

Were They There?

As we approach Easter again, I thought it would be a good time to look at something that has periodically crossed my mind.  There is a spiritual/hymn that we often sing on Good Friday; “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?”  It’s a good question that should make us think seriously about how we often gloss over the crucifixion.  But what about some of the people who were there?  Were they there at earlier points in Jesus’ life?  I understand that lifespans were shorter 2000 years ago than they are now, but if some of the council were in their mid 60s at that time, they must surely have had started their service at the time of the nativity. Beyond the nativity itself, there are several incidents in Jesus’ life that are recorded in the canonic gospels, some that very specifically involved priests and/or rabbis. 

Were any of the council members starting their service in the temple when Zachariah was struck mute by Gabriel, and then had his voice restored when John was named?  That would have stuck in my mind. Would they have heard the song of Zachariah as recorded in Luke 2:67-79 and wondered about this baby and the one he was coming to prepare the way for? When John was baptizing and Jesus was teaching, did their minds go back to this day?

Were any of them serving in the temple a few months later when Mary and Joseph brought their baby to be dedicated and circumcised?  Would they have heard the words of Anna and Simeon above the other noises of the temple as they praised God?  Did it come back to mind 30 years later?

Were any of them in the service of the temple or the service of Herod when the magi made their way through Jerusalem seeking the child Jesus?  If they were, did they just presume that Herod’s soldiers were successful in their mission?  In the years that followed, whenever the people started to believe that someone was the messiah, did their minds go back to that time to see if the dates worked? 

Then there was the incident that started this train of thought for me.  It’s recorded at the end of Luke 2.  It was the Passover when Jesus was 12 years old.  His parents lost track of him for a while.  Verses 46&47 sum it up “After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers.”.  THREE DAYS. For three days he amazed the teachers with his questions and his answers. Surely that would have stuck in you mind.  Surely there would have been some who were there who were still alive at his trial and crucifixion.  Annas would likely have been old enough.  What about Nicodemus? Joseph of Arimathea? Gamaliel?  Others whose names are not recorded?

It is recorded that there were times when the leaders acknowledged that Jesus spoke, acted, and taught with authority. There must have been some whose thoughts and actions were influenced by these earlier incidents. I suppose we will never know, but it’s fun to wonder.

2020 Hindsight

Last year, on New Year’s Eve, I published a post title 2020 Vision. Such a cutting edge, original title, just like this one. I compared looking forward to looking back. Now it’s time to look back and see how my vision was. 2020 hindsight only applies if you learn from looking back.

I certainly didn’t predict a pandemic. I don’t think many people did. Maybe some who were close to what was starting to emerge from Wuhan. Remember when we were joking about Corona beer and kept saying ‘two more weeks’? Ten months later my mother just got word that the lockdown in her independent living apartment will be extended ‘two more weeks’.

In the shadow of the pandemic, so many other newsworthy items received less coverage than they would have in any other year. Amaud Aubrey, Brionna Taylor, and George Floyd and the reactions to their killings flashed and faded except in small circles. Here in British Columbia we were largely spared of wild fires this year, but first Australia, and then California, Oregon, and Washington State, had their worst fire years ever. For only the second time in recorded history, the Atlantic storm season counted over 26 and had to draw from the Greek alphabet for names. In all there were 30, the most ever. There were also the most category 4 and the last one of the year was only the second ever category 5. That was also the second storm in two weeks to follow almost the same path through Central America. We experienced our worst ever mass shooting in Canada. And Beirut experienced the 6th most powerful ever non-nuclear, man made explosion.

But what about me? Let’s bring this in from the macro to the micro. I mentioned that I want to treat everyone with honour, respect, honesty, trust, and tact. I think I’ve done well, but you would really need to ask those I’ve dealt with. It’s a good reminder anyway. The requirements about social distancing have made it difficult to do over food. That will come back though too.

Travel was somewhat limited. We did get to go to a family wedding in the Kootenays shortly before things started shutting down, and a weekend getaway to Chemainus during a lull, but a Hawaii trip for last month was cancelled – hopefully to be taken next year. I’ve done a few day trips and short overnighters for work, but they’ve been very different than in the past too. There are other opportunities that may present themselves if things have settled down by summer.

Early in the pandemic I read a quote from Winston Churchill to the effect of “planning is essential. Plans are useless”. This is something we will be well served to remember. We can and should make plans but we can and should be prepared to have them changed through circumstances not of our control. I think I’m better with the second part of that than the first.

I will take that from 2020. I will try to continue to improve my relationships. I will strive to keep learning. And I will strive to roll with whatever punches are thrown at me.

Best Books 2020

Maybe they aren’t the best, but they are the ones I liked the best of the ones I read this year. I know there is still over a week left in the year as I write this, but I doubt that I will start one in that time that will either engross me to the point I can’t put it down or engage me so much that I need to constantly stop and reflect – or if I do I won’t be able to finish. so in no particular order, here are what I think are the six best of the 39 I read.

Ragged Company by Richard Wagamese.

Richard Wagamese has been one of my favourite authors since I was introduced to his writings. There is a reality to his characters and settings that I really enjoy. This story tells of four homeless people who find and share a winning lottery ticket – a big winner. It tells of how their relationships with each other change, and how they stay the same, particularly as they address new relationships, and their histories. It’s a reminder that everyone’s story is unique, even if their current circumstances are the same.

Letter From The Birmingham Jail by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

This was the shortest book I read last year. It was also one of the first books I read last year. On MLK day, so many people were talking about it that I figured it was time. I wondered why I never had read it before, and was able to apply passages from it in my weekly Bible study. It was truly a timely reminder of the dangers of complacency and silence.

All The Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy

This was the last book I finished (at the time of writing). I really like Cormac McCarthy and of the half dozen or so of his books that I’ve read, I think I enjoyed this one the most. I can’t pinpoint the date, but it’s not a classic western, and neither is it modern. Perhaps the 50s? Like Wagamese, here is a stark reality to the characters and situations. You get a sense that this could have happened. It isn’t really tragedy, but neither is it comedy. It’s just ‘reality’ and leaves you knowing the story isn’t over, but the unwritten chapters may not be as interesting.

Menno Moto by Cameron Dueck

This is one man’s journey by motorcycle from southern Manitoba to the tip of South America. On the way, searching out various colonies of Dutch/German/Russian Mennonites where they settled seeking to live free of secular government interference. Having the same ethnicity as Dueck, and loving travel stories, I found the experiences fascinating. His telling did not shy away from the problems that grew within these insular communities, some of which were very serious, but he did not dwell on them either. There are aspects to admire as well as to decry. We tend to always limit ourselves to one or the other, depending on our own worldview.

Green Grass, Running Water by Thomas King

I’ve been seeking out more works by indigenous authors to read. In the process I learned the Thomas King has written much more than just The Inconvenient Indian. His was randomly the first of the others I read, simply because it was available for the e-reader from my local library. I loved the way the real and the mystical (perhaps the more real) were woven together with humour and other emotions. There was much wisdom and even more irreverence in the old Indians. The fact it was set in southern Alberta helped too.

Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger by Ron Sider

This is not a new book, but it’s very timely. It’s one I’ve wanted to read for quite a while. Sider recognizes that capitalism is still the best of the available economic systems for our time, but left unchecked so that a very small percentage of people hold tightly to a high percentage of the capital it causes significant problems. He is probably more harsh on unchecked capitalism than on communism although he spares no punches for that system either. Although not original to this book, he reminds us that there is more than enough material to meet the needs of everyone in the world, but not enough to meet everyone’s wants. He provides cautions related to charity as well and a reminder that those of us who have, should not just give, but give in a way that it creates opportunities for development of others. While it’s better to teach a man to fish than to just give a man a fish, it doesn’t help if there is a fence around the pond or if it’s already been fished out.

And there you have it. I look at the stack of books beside my bed, and the others that I either already own or have just listed as ones I’d like to read and wonder what next year’s best will be

Ok. I didn’t expect that it would happen, but there is a book to add to this list.

The Curse of the Shaman by Michael Kusugak

When several additional moons were discovered around Saturn Michael Kusugak was invited to name four of them and he gave them traditional Inuit names. I learned that during an episode of the Unreserved podcast and it made me want to read some of his writings. I was enthralled by this story. Several times it was like I was listening to a storyteller beside a fire. Aren’t those the best stories?

Coal for Christmas

We all know that when Santa compiles his list of naughty and nice, the nice kids get toys and the naughty kids get coal. I heard things in three separate podcasts on one day recently that, although they all came from different angles, in hindsight seem perfectly linked.

The first was about Santa, and the history of St Nicholas as understood by one particular historian.  This was not just the version we’ve come to hear a lot, of the wealthy Greek man who slipped coins into peoples stockings while they hung drying at night.  Apparently there were many Celtic traditions that were merged in to become what we now know as Santa Claus. As an aside here, the word appropriation came to mind several times in regard to many of what we consider christian Christmas traditions.  Interestingly, in many of these traditions originally coal was seen as a good gift because it helped in providing warmth in winter.

The second was also about Santa, except this time the question was whether Father Christmas was synonymous with father God. While Father Christmas is a poor imitation of God, isn’t any allegory really just a poor imitation of what it is being compared to? While there are many differences, there are some similarities. After all both have big books full of names. Both are believed to hand out rewards and punishments. The biggest difference is in how we get our names into the book. We need to strive to be nice for Santa’s book and never really know until Christmas morning if we’ve made the nice list.  Having chosen to trust and follow Jesus, we know we are in God’s book of life and are living in gratitude.

God used coals, particularly burning ones in purification. Consider Isaiah 6:6-8 “Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!””

The third had nothing to do with Christmas at all. It was about how we relate to others, particularly those we don’t get along with. Jesus had a lot to say about that, but even in the Old Testament there is instruction that may be surprising.  In Proverbs 25:21-22 It says: “If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you.”  I’m not sure I understand everything that’s going on here, but one interpretation I heard suggested that the burning coals were a dynamic symbol of a change of mind which took place as a result of a deed of love.

God coming as a baby on the first Christmas and dying on a cross on the first Easter was the ultimate act of love. When I think of this, I think maybe I’d like some coal for Christmas.

Christmas has NOT been cancelled

I get it; there’s a pandemic going on. This has resulted in restrictions on travel and gathering, even as small groups. It really bothers me though when I hear people say that Christmas is cancelled. I hear it from news anchors. I hear it from friends. It’s a statement of grief. It’s also not true.

Christmas will fall on December 25th this year, just as it has on that date since the year 336. That was the year it was designated as a day to celebrate the birth of Jesus and the gift of the son.

Sure, a lot of the activities we traditionally take part in have been cancelled. There are no Christmas parties. As a family we like to spend a day downtown looking at the hotel and store displays of trees, gingerbread etc. There won’t be a candlelight Christmas Eve service. He light display in our local park has been own sized to limit traffic. We aren’t able to meet in each other’s homes to share baking, and gifts, and laughs. We won’t be able to share my traditional Boxing Day wonton soup with friends. Our groups, our ‘bubbles’ are small. In some cases,only one or two people. It will be hard.

But as I heard on a podcast the other day; as Christians, we don’t celebrate Christmas. We celebrate Christ and we do it on Christmas. I will celebrate the birth of Christ on the 25th. In fact, I think I will celebrate it every day. As the grinch learned, Christmas will come, even without ribbons and tags and boxes and bags (although I’m sure there will still be those things). It will come without parties and many of the other traditions because ultimately Christmas means something more than anything that could be cancelled.

Advent Peace

Today is the second Sunday of advent. Advent means ‘coming’. The four Sundays leading up to Christmas are the advent Sundays when we anticipate and celebrate the coming of the messiah. Last week we celebrated hope. In the coming weeks we will celebrate joy and love. Today, the second Sunday we celebrate peace.

One of the names of Jesus given in Isaiah 9 is “The Prince of Peace”

The angels in Luke 2 announced his birth by declaring:

            Glory to God in the highest and on Earth PEACE to those on whom his favour rests.

This peace that is declared by the angels, is the peace that passes all understanding; the peace that we can have through Jesus.

In John 16 verse 33, Jesus says “I have told you these things that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have troubles (the RSV translation uses tribulations), but take heart, I have overcome the world.”

It seems like the past year has had more than its share of tribulation. Isn’t it comforting to know that the One we follow, our lord and messiah has overcome the source of our tribulations? Isn’t it good to know that as we face our struggles and trials, He walks beside us, offering His peace?

The bread and the cup are reminders to us of Christ’s overcoming. We share them now in communion with Him and with each other.

“The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.””

1 Corinthians 11:23-25 NIV

May he peace that passes understanding be with you through this season and always.

Cancel Culture

I think culture is beautiful and necessary. I don’t know why so many people want to cancel it. Seriously though, I think the idea of ‘cancelling’ someone that you disagree with is a dangerous thing. There may be, and probably are, times and places where it is legitimate, and necessary for an individual to say that someone is dead to them, but those should be extremely rare and always leave a window for reconciliation. It should never become a culture. I suppose the idea that it is even becoming a culture is a separate topic for debate. The whole concept of cancel culture seems to be causing a significant amount of cognitive dissonance in many of those who support it. I understand that much of what we were taught in school and in our homes was biased toward the dominant culture and we are learning now how much damage has been done; and how many of the people we were taught to respect (and even occasionally revere) were not so worthy of that.

We have a desire to be surrounded by what is agreeable to us. When those people and things that have been agreeable in the past are challenged by what is perceived as right currently, we often struggle with whether to believe the new, and in so doing the tendency seem to be either to dismiss the new or to completely discard (cancel) the old. When it is an idea, it’s probably good to discard it. When it is a person who promoted that idea, a bit more care should be taken.

The dead will never have an opportunity to change. We must be careful how much of what we judge them for is a product of their culture and how much was intentional.  Those who drink the koolaid are not responsible for preparing it. Christians used to love to tell of how a frog could boil to death without even realizing it was in danger if it was paced in cold water which was gradually heated. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but it was used to warn us of the gradual descent into sin. Sometimes it’s difficult to see what’s wrong with the culture we are a part of, especially when we are constantly told there is nothing wrong by people we trust. Does that mean the people we trust are evil? Not necessarily. The problem could have been initiated dozens of degrees of separation away.

I wrote previously about statues and the number that were being torn down (and in a few cases safely removed). I’ve modified my opinion a bit since then. It seems that we’ve created graven images which, even if not replacing God, have been elevated far above what they should be. John Calvin, whom I don’t often agree with, said that the human heart is an idol making factory.  It is quite devastating when our idols are smashed, when our heroes are shown to have feet of clay.  Don’t we all have our own feet of clay and Achilles heels?  We generally are resistant to change, but we need to change. The more aggressive the attack, the more we dig in our heels.

Living persons can change and need an opportunity to do so. What about those who have died? Do they only have God to answer to now? And what about those who may have been complicit?

Jean Vanier, celebrated for his work with the disabled in the L’arche communities he developed was recently shown to have had a history of sexual abuse. John Howard Yoder was a respected theologian among many who knew him and more who did not. After he died, many stories came out of his abuse of those he was close to. More recently than either of those, Ravi Zacharias also was exposed as an abuser. Do we eliminate their legacies, or are we better off acknowledging both sides of their pasts, and seeking to do better, learning from their errors as well as their ideas? While I will continue to respect their works, there will always now be a taint to them.

While many people were intentional in their actions and how they hid them, our forefathers did not always know the damage they did. In the same way, we do not always know the damage we do. Sometimes we do know, but just don’t care. Sometimes we choose to not know.
When the damage is exposed/learned/recognized, we have choices;
• We can deny because we don’t believe we did anything wrong.
• We can try to excuse and justify.
• We can regret without repentance. Often this only means that we regret getting caught.
• We can repent – possibly for the action but possibly only for getting caught – and seek to repair. Sometimes we are put down for trying to fix things (but isn’t that what reparation means?). Maybe that’s when the desire to fix is not preceded by lament and repentance.
• We can feel shame and an inability to fix, and we can hide that behind a mask of denial.
• We can change our actions without changing our hearts.
It seems only one of these options is the correct one.
Is it only the injured party that can determine when reparations are complete?
Job made sacrifices for the sins his children might commit. The Israelites had specific sacrifices for sins committed in ignorance. When offering sacrifice and contrition for sins committed in ignorance, we must seek to be shown what those sins were, otherwise we cannot repent of them and they become sins of apathy and our sacrifices are no longer pleasing aromas to God

I’ve been reading through the John Carter of Mars series by Edgar Rice Burroughs again. They are books of their time that I had considered classic. Now I can see much of the inherent racism in them, and in his more famous Tarzan novels. If he were alive and writing today would they be different?  I would like to think so. I will continue to read through them and then will remove them from my shelves. I will recognize that they were products of their time with all their flaws.

What about music? Lynyrd Skynyrd was famous for “Sweet Home Alabama” in response to Neil Young’s “Southern Man”, and prominently flying the stars and bars of the confederacy. They also wrote songs decrying drugs and handguns. I may not like them as much as I once did, but I’m not ready to cancel them.

Then there is Louis L’amour; one of my favourite authors of my youth and young adulthood. Having read and listened to much about colonialism and settler/indigenous relations in the past few years, I’m a bit nervous about what I will think as I read through his books again. My memory says that most of them do not take the adversarial view of cowboys and Indians, but my memory could be wrong.

Niel Young sang that it’s better to burn out than fade away. Maybe we are better off to let things fade away rather than burn them up.

All Saints Day

I wrote this two weeks ago. It didn’t seem finished. I read it again today, and it does

All saints day

The day of the dead

My heart is heavy

As I remember those who have gone

Both this year and before

It has been a year of heaviness

A year of plague

Over a million lost to COVID

And some don’t seem to care

Twice that lost to suicide

But we don’t talk about that

Twice that lost to overdose

But they are lost in the shuffle

Cancer, heart disease, accidents, war

These are the killers that were here before

These are the killers that are here now

These are the killers that will remain

We mourn for those who have gone before

We mourn with those who mourn

Some losses hurt more than others

Stabbing deep into our souls

Every one who has gone

Has left behind someone

A parent

A child

A sibling

A partner

Later this month

Is Remembrance Day

Some will wear a red poppy

To remember the fallen soldiers

Some will wear a white poppy

To remember the innocents

Some will wear neither

But will remember both

Some will shout in anger

That because we don’t wear

What they wear

We don’t care

About that which they care

Why do we villainize

Those who mourn differently

You do not grieve enough

So you must not care

You grieve too much

So you can’t face reality

You grieve your enemy

So you must not truly

Care about your friends

But Jesus told us to love our enemy

Today we will share

In the bread and cup of communion

We remember one who died

The one who defeated death.