Category Archives: Best Posts

The Mockingbird at Halloween

Classic Japanese samurai film meets great Southern novel. Universal themes, some more obvious than others, beg comparison. To Kill a Mockingbird (novel) and Samurai Rebellion (1967).

A mockingbird sings in the tree one night and a little girl finds out that the ghosts and haints aren’t anything to fear after all, but that some real men are murderous monsters. The boogeyman of her childhood “comes out” and the Grey Ghost reveals himself to be her guardian angel. And this epiphany happens on Halloween night.

Abuse of power destroys the most innocent and vulnerable among us. To kill a mockingbird is to destroy something which is harmless and helpless, to pervert something righteous, or to abuse someone weaker who looks to you for protection.

Says Scout Finch’s father: “’As you grow older, you’ll see white men cheat black men every day of your life, but let me tell you something and don’t you forget it—whenever a white man does that to a black man, no matter who he is, how rich he is, or how fine a family he comes from, that white man is trash.’ Atticus was speaking so quietly his last word crashed on our ears. I looked up, and his face was vehement.”

Finally we see vehemence from Atticus Finch, this unflappable, even-tempered man. His passion is a shock to his children but they cannot be surprised at his disgust. By now, they have seen enough of real life and real people in Maycomb to understand.

There are many mockingbirds. Crippled men of a less-favored class; young children; the daughter of the indolent bitter drunk, crushed under the weight at the bottom of the bottom of all classes.

In Kobayashi’s film Samurai Rebellion, the peerless Toshiro Mifune as Isaburo is a samurai during the Tokugawa dynasty.  He is an even-tempered, pleasant man, a faithful vassal to his daimyo lord.

Twenty years of service and political imposition borne with a smile are not a stretch for Isaburo. His married life has been unpleasant. “If only she changed a bit all would be well. The world never seems to go right,” he says, but he guffaws good-naturedly.

Isaburo’s friend and fellow swordsman Tatewaki (the also matchless Tatsya Nakadai) suspects that, for all his appearance as a henpecked milquetoast, Isaburo is not a man to be pushed far. He knows Isaburo to be a man of longsuffering patience, but never a man to lose a fight. Tatewaki alone expects Isaburo’s unbreakable will; even Isaburo does not suspect it of himself. But this is speculation in this era of unbroken peace.

Theirs is a highly ordered society. Throughout the film, rigid architectural structures contain or proscribe the action of the characters. But as characters begin to defy their societal structure, they begin to transgress footpaths and even dismantle wall screens.

A concubine has been discarded by the daimyo for “losing her head” and striking him. Isaburo’s son Yogoro is commanded to marry her. Isaburo’s family reluctantly accepts the marriage as commanded. But demure Ichi surprises them all as she humbly cultivates a happy home for her new family.

Imposition turns to outrage. After two years of faithful marriage and the birth of a daughter, all the world insists that Ichi return to the unfaithful, unprincipled daimyo who had thrown her away. She is expected to exchange her respectable marriage for mistresshood and to abandon her legitmate child. Then Ichi is kidnapped to be returned to the lord and Yagoro is commanded to ask permission to send her back.

Power abused by the powerful. Power discovered by the weak in the face of evil. Isaburo, Ichi, and Yagoro take a stand upon the only solid ground in their world, their own righteous integrity.

“Ichi” means “one.” Ichi’s unwavering virtue inspires the sublime quality of her marriage to Yogoro. An ember of righteous outrage is fanned in Isaburo. The testimony of  Yagoro and Ichi’s lovingly faithful marriage speaks volumes to his heart and strengthens his undiscovered steel will.  He tells Ichi: “You’re worth ruining our family for.”

Each one, in his own time, experiences a personal realization that his or her stand for principle will be a fight to the death. It is a shocking epiphany to Yagoro in this time of peace. And in this time of peace, Isaburo’s reputation as the best swordsman in the clan has been all but forgotten.

In both stories, good people have tasks thrust upon them which are doomed to failure, and they know it before they begin to fight. They nearly defy fate but in the end fail. “I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do,” says Atticus.

Atticus loses the case and his client dies. Finally, he does not recognize the real danger and fails to protect his children.

Isaburo and his son persist though their rebellion is hopeless. His final goal to expose the clan’s tyranny teeters on the edge of oblivion. The clan intends to bury the matter with the bodies of their challengers. Their causes are taken up by the invisible, the unseen hand which rescues righteous causes and succeeds.

A song in the tree of presence, of triumph. A mockingbird will soon destroy the murderer. It is the invisible, Boo Radley, who saves the children’s lives and restores real justice.

Like the mockingbird in the tree, all mockingbirds sing of their presence in the world: Dill’s dreamy tales woven for the children to play-act, Mayella Ewell’s row of beautiful geraniums in the trash dump, Tom Robinson’s selfless acts of compassion, Arthur Radley’s secret treasure cache in the hole of a tree. But like the bird song we tune out, these signs of existence are overlooked and invisible.

In both stories, the deaths of the murderers are hidden from the world. Scout’s murderer fails to accomplish his will; her invisible protector intervenes but the Invisible which sets things right does not call attention to itself. Even his noble act remains hidden to the world.

In the end, the arrogant tyranny of the clan will not be hidden. The invisible, the forgotten wet-nurse, who has secretly followed Isaburo, picks up the baby, clasps her affectionately and heads to the capital to fulfill the goal of Isaburo.

She will tell the girl of her mother and father’s self-sacrifice to justice and love, and her grandfather’s last command: to be a woman just like her mother, and to marry a man like her father.

Years later, Scout will tell the story.

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Someone in My Place

A thousand miles of pain I’m sure
Led you to the threshold
Of my heart’s screen door
To tell me what it is I’m dying for
Gravity comes
Like a cold cold rain
To lead me to the rope again
But someone is standing in my place…

These words are a stanza from John Mark McMillan’s Carbon Ribs. More famously the author of the Christian culture standard How He Loves, JMM writes lyrics which hold their own as poetry. (Look up Ten Thousand sometime.) His lyrics are so good they don’t need the music, but the music is just about sublime sometimes. The words punch me in the gut and bring tears to my eyes; the music puts me in another place.

I experienced actual worship through music for the first time, almost the only time, at a JMM concert. We were outdoors on the lawn of a church.  It was June, and all around us the sky was full of darkening clouds and distant lightning.  But there was literally a circle of clear sky over our heads. The storm never reached us.

As JMM sang praise and love to his Savior. What allowed me to worship wasn’t the weather, but the music shared together in praise of Someone else. For once the music was not just for my listening pleasure.

I want to think about someone standing in my place.

It’s all about love. Jesus said:

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. John 13:34

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. John 15: 12, 13

Not luck and lollipops, not a panacea, not a magic gesture which makes everyone happy in the chick flick or the Disney.  Not fair-weather love. Love which I can know is genuine because it costs.

Love is love when it costs the lover to love. What can the cost be? It can be self-determination, self-interest, turf…my time, my schedule, my priorities…my things, my personal space, my comfort…my goals, my dreams, my plans…my self-esteem, my truth, my pride…my safety. My life.

Jesus gave up every one of these things. He gave up all self-interest in a way no one else ever has. He never, not one time in his life, made a choice because it was what He wanted, because it made him comfortable, or because he preferred it.  He always chose what His Father wanted, every time, every minute of his life.

It is the literal truth that He went to his death in my place, and in yours. He rejected the credit, the adulation and the power, all he had every right to claim. He truly deserves all the glory, honor, love and obedience that there is. Instead he chose loneliness, ridicule, rejection, humiliation, torture, and excruciating death.

That humiliation is what I have earned. That death I deserve.. I must let this sink in and really believe it, or I let it become a catchphrase with no real meaning. I deserve the grotesque punishment he received. Me.

Cause I’m a dead man now
With a ghost who lives
Within the confines of
These carbon ribs

Remember facing something overwhelming. That awful thing looms over your every minute and you can’t forget it. You want with all your might to go back to your careless mundane everyday life; you’ll be so thankful if you can ever be there again. Or you’re going to have major surgery and you’re imagining all possible ways that something could go wrong.  You’re imagining dying. You can’t forget your anxiety til it’s over.

Then someone knocks on your door.  You open it and it’s an acquaintance you haven’t thought much about for weeks.  He tells you that he will undergo the surgery in your place.  In fact, he’ll take your cancer from you and put in in his own body, and then he’ll have the surgery for you. And he’ll make certain you never have cancer again. He can do all this.

Imagine your reaction.

Imagine you’ve committed terrible crimes. You’re repulsed by what you’ve done to fellow human beings. You’re horrified that what you’ve done can’t be undone. Your guilt is real; any hopes for your future, all your comfort with yourself, all gone. You are tried, convicted and sentenced. The sentence is death, right now, and you deserve it. You’re led up the stairs to face the noose.

Then someone knocks on the door. The door is opened and it’s that acquaintance again.  He walks decidedly to the stairs and climbs up to the platform.  He looks you in the eyes, gently but firmly pushes you aside and stands in your place.  He puts the rope around his neck and falls through the trap. He is executed.

Yes, he can do this too, though He has committed no crime; because He has committed no offense. Your crime is recompensed. Justice is satisfied. You are redeemed to live free and without guilt.

All of these hypotheticals are true; I am guilty enough to die. I have callously offended God and his invaluable human creations. Self-cancer is eating away at me. I cannot save myself in either case. But that Someone is able to do all the rescuing, and He did.

And one day when I’m free
I will sit

A cripple at your table

And I sit beside you

 

I Am Officially Against Genocide

Is there a way to say it with less hyperbole?  I don’t think we can afford to be diplomatic anymore.

There is no difference between a community which ignores the concentration camps in its backyard and the community which ignores the Planned Parenthood offices on its Main Street.

Many people believed that the German people were complicit in the genocide of millions of Jews and other “undesirables” because they knew about the camps in their own countryside but did nothing, said nothing in protest. They rationalized it away, they put it out of their minds.

We all know what they do at Planned Parenthood. There is a genocide being carried out every single day there. It’s the extermination of a race of human beings.  The “race” is not of an ethnic type; the victims are identified by their age and their weakness. They have no power to defend themselves and no protectors are permitted there.

We all know they’re babies. We all know they are living human beings. That debate is long over.

Normally, we all agree that killing other human beings is wrong and is properly against the law. We all condemn the powerful oppressing the weak and the rich taking advantage of the poor. We all are outraged at the torture and abuse of the defenseless. Yet that is precisely what is going on at abortion clinics everywhere.

We also all know that they are helpless. That’s what allows us to kill them so easily.

And well…we do know they’re human but in reality, some adult people are so victimized by the culture that they need their rights protected but other tiny defenseless people don’t have legally recognizable rights. It’s alright to kill some human beings, and our reasons can be totally subjective, personal, and never exposed to legal scrutiny.

So they go to their deaths, every day, with the approval of our laws and of our society. We have rationalized their deaths in order to believe we are good people while we approve of their murders. Our society has no excuse. We have abandoned lawfulness in order to reach the ends we want.

How do I separate myself from the guilt?

I want to distance myself from guilt in this horror, but I’m not sure I really can. Without my permission, my tax dollars fund Planned Parenthood in my community and across the U.S.. My tax dollars fund the exploitation of women around the world under the guise of the promotion of “family planning” to poor women in third world nations. When we impose our first-world upper class vision of family health on cultures we do not care to understand, when we offer them desperately needed money in return for their agreement to commit their own genocides upon their own people, my money supports that effort.

Now we learn that there is no horror that fine, first-world Progressive women and men will not accomplish. It’s no real surprise that Planned Parenthood sells the body parts of the innocent dead for profit.

http://www.centerformedicalprogress.org/

A woman who can business-lunch on salad and wine at a nice restaurant while coolly brokering a professional arrangement which is dead baby parts in exchange for money is one whose humanity is in question. This is a person without conscience or soul. And she is the face, now, of a multi-billion dollar industry which receives my money and yours in order to operate.

I do not want to be mistaken for someone who supports this in any way whatsoever. I believe that what I have done, and failed to do, will be subject to scrutiny by the true Judge one day. My motivations will be transparent and accountable.

Here are some of the ways I am able to be innocent.

I am not a Democrat and I do not support or vote for candidates belonging to the party which names the unqualified right to baby slaughter among the main planks in its platform. They protect this right to selectively kill us and convince us that they are our champions of justice and public safety, defenders of the rights of the oppressed. I am sorry to be undiplomatic but I do not understand how any person with a conscience can be associated with this party anymore.

This may be harsh, but here goes. In order to support this party, at least one of three things has to be impaired: willingness to engage the issues, moral compass, or critical thinking skills.

I have no illusions about the other party, but at least its party platform includes a pro-life plank. What “pro-life” means has been diluted over time but the official stance allows those public officials who have engaged with this issue to act on their convictions within the law. Any small steps we can make with pro-life legislation can actually save actual lives.

However, the number of party movers who see the pro-life stance as anything more than a tool to be used then discarded when inconvenient, (which is also how they see pro-life voters) has dwindled.  I must choose the Republican party because any other alternative is worse, even though the party establishment is embarrassed by me. And no. It’s a two-party system and no third party will ever get anywhere near being elected in a national race.

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves…” says Proverbs 31: 8. I am newly declaring that I grieve over the killing of over 50 million children by my countrymen. I will look for ways to persuade others that we cannot call ours a civilized society while we endorse the commission of these outrageous atrocities. Consider this notification that I’m going to be one of those people.

I think we may be more culpable than Germans of the 30’s and 40’s because we have arrived at this place totally by our own choice, with our free speech, free exercise of religion, free press, and freedom to vote our consciences intact.

I do believe that God will hold us accountable for our actions and attitudes. I do not want to be accountable for this. Did I put the killing of millions of innocents on the back burner while I focused on my own small concerns? Did I get lazy and jaded about speaking out on behalf of those who could not protest their deaths? Did I play down that hackneyed old issue because I was tired of the media battles? Or because I didn’t want to be identified as one of those Christians?

Most importantly, what did I do about it?

Now is a moment.  We are all being given an opportunity to see clearly, be appalled, and detach ourselves from an utter abomination. No matter what your political affections have been, no matter what you think about the plight of women in our society, you are being given an opportunity to run from the slaughterhouse and escape implication.  Take the offer.

We Would Crucify Him Today

All the relevant conditions here and now are identical to the time of Jesus’ crucifixion, and I firmly believe that we would execute Jesus today, just as his contemporaries did..

Fascinating reading, John 19: verses 1 to 24.

Everything which is said, regardless of the intended nuance or connotation of the speaker, is absolutely true. Who says each thing is also meaningful; ironies and revelations abound when one “reads” the intentions of the speakers.  It’s just as if God wrote out a script for this incident in history and his actors played it out. Most of those actors were unaware of the playwright’s scripting, acting out their own parts as they wanted.  But there was not so much as an ad-lib in that play, and God had foreseen and packed every word so full of significance that we can find new insights each time we read it.

It’s very clear in the text that all principle parties were doing just as they intended, and that they were making their intentions open and transparent for the world to see.

Pilate was carrying out the execution of a man who he repeatedly declared innocent because it was politically expedient.

The chief priests knew what they were doing. They were killing their God.

We like to take comfort in the trope that in all old timey times, all old timey people were ignorantly more religious than we are now, because they were so superstitious and primitive. Please take another look at this religious book written by hopelessly religious people in that religion-benighted time.

Pilate is a relativist, a believer in relative truth claims. “What is truth?” He is declaring that there is no Truth.

The Sanhedrin were utter secularists. The first person we see Jesus engage in philosophical discussion is a priest from the Sanhedrin. (John 3) This man, Nicodemus, needs Jesus to explain the existence of the supernatural as though he is a spiritual preschooler. This priest does not even recognize that there is a spiritual dimension to his religion.

And he was the one with an open mind!  As you read through the gospel of John, written by an eyewitness who was a member of the inner circle of the inner circle of the apostles, the actions of the Pharisees can be quite puzzling. Happily John, as a witness and with the insight of the Holy Spirit, reveals to us the Pharisee’s reasoning. The Son of God came to his people as predicted and those to whom he came did not recognize that He had to be a spiritual figure.

They did not care about his transcendent purpose.  They wanted only a political solution.

They did not even consider that he ought to be honored as God; they did not give Him his place.

Jesus earlier tells the parable of the vineyard workers who kill all the owners’ representatives, then kill his son, reasoning that they, the workers, will inherit the vineyard if the son is out of the way. It’s a brilliant story because, not only does it reveal how nonsensical the Pharisee’s reasoning is, but it actually reveals what they think of their God.  A machine to be worked; the heir dies, we inherit the goods. They recognized no sentient Person who might react with intention.

The thought process of the vineyard workers make no more sense than the chief priests’ demands for execution of their long-expected Messiah, unless the demands are coming from people who are totally secular. They recognized no spiritual reality; they recognized no claims of the God to whom they belong.

The whole point of the history of the Jews told in the Bible is that God had lovingly created, preserved and protected his chosen people, yet they had continually turned away from Him to adopt foreign gods, follow other cultures, submit themselves to lesser idols; outwardly observe the nuts and bolts of religion but inwardly submit only to their self-oriented desires.  Anything but to be accountable to this Holy God.

Be a priest, but understand your faith as only a hierarchical secular society with secular purposes, which are strictly social and political. Spiritual reality is not even on the radar. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day were completely blind to the spiritual dimension of their own world, and even their own faith.

And so when this upstart religious leader began collecting listeners, then followers, the leaders questioned his authority. When he made truth claims which they did not grasp, they were dismissive.  When he spoke to them as Authority they were offended. When he, as God, demanded an accounting of them for their stewardship of the faith, and for their faulty leadership of the people, they marked him for extinction. Away with him. When He threatened their secular power, they actively plotted to have him killed.

Here is your king!

Away with Him, away with Him! Crucify Him!

“We have no king but Caesar.”  This is a shocking admission by members of the Judaic people. God was their King. They were intentionally rejecting their God and demanding his crucifixion.

It was not a fundamentalist faction who killed Jesus.  It was not a religious people who executed him.  It was secularist non-believers who had Jesus killed.

We would do the same now. We live in a secular world, where even many Christian denominations admit of no spiritual element. Yet multiplied thousands follow and dutifully uphold these churches as secular, social do-good organizations. Are we more enlightened than they were?

If Jesus were to come now, we would crucify him. What is there about our time which would change the outcome?

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Something to Remember

I hesitate to share this. But if I identify as a Christian before the world, I ought to be transparent with my own story.

I spend a lot of my blog effort on workaday apologetics and one woman’s understanding of the application of Christian evangelical doctrine. But if I am not careful, my account of the Christian experience could become something dispassionate, held at arm’s length, and useful to no one.

Here is something different. It is my best attempt to describe one small passage in a relationship with God. I can confirm to you that He really is the still small voice amid the cacophony of life on earth and the distracting roar visible and invisible.

We foolishly try to translate the spiritual to the material with 1 to 1 correspondence, such as in ghost stories, but it is clumsy at best. I suspect it will be difficult to understand what I relate as I have understood it, but I hope I can tell you something real which doesn’t come across as only me relating my feelings. Personal experiences which happen in our heads are somewhat beyond words, and that must necessarily be true here. But I do not intend to tell you about my feelings.

A few years ago, I did something I don’t dare to do often. I asked him a direct and open-ended question. “Of all these plans we/I have for good things to do, which one? Which ministry should we throw our effort into? Which big plans should we pursue?  We can’t do it all, so which ones do we sacrifice?  What would you have me do?” And I really wanted His answer, not mine, for a change.

And he clearly said to me: “Love me.”

It wasn’t anything remotely like any answer I was expecting.  The answer came from outside of me and made itself known in my mind.

The full weight of the answer will be evident to many believers. When Jesus asked us to love Him and His Father, he also taught that the result of that love would be humility, sacrifice, obedience, and active love toward our fellowmen. That result flows supernaturally from the true source of intentionally and actively loving Him. Love for Him is the true act.

I’m a slow learner. In spite of his earlier conversation with me, I went on imagining myself an indispensable cog in Important Business.

Recently, I had the flu. I recognized the flu by its trademark impact on my mind. It was waaay too much trouble to think very hard about anything. Even more unusual for me, I did not much care about anything either.

I had no interest in food. After a few days, I realized that my body, normally a hypersensitive rollercoaster of alarming sensations, seemed to relax. (I must remember to try that fasting thing.) I lay almost comfortably content. My body felt calm; my mind was peaceful.

I will try to describe how God the Creator of the Universe, my closest Friend, seamlessly stepped through the barricades I had thrown up high against intrusion from anything but self.  He waited his opportunity, and simply became present. But He had something to say.

He had things to tell me. And what He had to say was the same as who He was. Becoming aware of His intimate presence was understanding what he wanted me to know.

Illness can be an excellent focuser. All the striving just became too much for me. The non-essentials put aside and cleared away, you can see more clearly. As I floated on the surface, sick, I realized that all the stuff could wait.

This caused, or allowed me, to step back from my frenetic wheel-spinning and to look at the bigger picture. You might be thinking: “Well, duh.”  Yes,  I knew all this stuff but the evidence all seemed to prove my indispensability.

But I am not really essential to anything. Keeping all the plates spinning is too much. I encouraged myself to lose my grip on all that I have to control. Let go of all the nonessential, the totally vital things I must do or the world is ruined. There is a chance here for humility.

Why? Because my part is to do my little bit, but God really has the grip and the control. Just do the next right thing, step by step, and God will have it all in His hands. I don’t need to know everything.

It’s not ME accomplishing the great things.

For my part, doing the essentials is enough. If all I can do is nothing, everything will still get done.  So if I do my little bit, and discern my little bit well, I will be being faithful. I want to do simply the right thing.  Which is whatever He wants.

Whatever you want me to do, that is what I am ready to do.  I don’t want to bother with what I want plus what you want. Just tell me in your way, what you want from me, and that is what I will gladly do.

Be conscious and mindful about now, keep close and connected with Him. And just do the next thing.  Ask him what the next thing is, or do the next thing that has presented itself. Take your time. There’s no panic. Do it, quietly, don’t hurry. He is guiding and He is accomplishing. Do the obviously right thing by Me without projecting the result and weighing whether you think it’s worth it. 

A  few days later, we were with dear friends with whom we’ve been meeting for Bible study for several years. As we discussed the passage, our friend Rob asked a question which I don’t even remember.  Suddenly I began processing my recent experience in quick-time.

I realized with almost with a start what God had been saying. It was simple yet awesome.

He is here by me. I mean really here, in my life, in me, a Someone not to be dismissed and ignored. He is there. As in: I’ve been standing here all this time. Now you can see me!

And that place I had arrived, courtesy of the flu: He’s been waiting for me to get here, with everlasting patience; he would have waited as long as it took for me to get around to waking up.

It’s interesting to note that The Almighty God of the Universe, the Creator of all things visible and invisible, the Alpha and Omega…whom unbelievers  label an avenger, a genocidal destroyer, a petty accountant of our sins…actually interacts with us with what seems like respect and humility. He can wait for me. He gave us our own free will and knows the danger, yet waits on our slow-witted epiphanies.

He seeks us out.  Like “The Hound of Heaven” referenced by Stott*, he pursues us relentlessly.  But he pursues less like a hunter and more like a spurned yet hopeful suitor. We would rarely seek Him.

There is a private place where it’s only He and I. I’m ashamed to say that I don’t go to that quiet place often enough. But that has to change this time.

* Why I Am a Christian by John Stott, chapter 1

We Would Crucify Him Today

All the relevant conditions here and now are identical to the time of Jesus’ crucifixion, and I firmly believe that we would execute Jesus today, just as they did.

Fascinating reading, John 19: verses 1 to 24.

Everything which is said, regardless of the intended nuance or connotation of the speaker, is absolutely true. Who says each thing is also meaningful; ironies and revelations abound when one “reads” the intentions of the speakers.  It’s just as if God wrote out a script for this incident in history and his actors played it out. Most of those actors were unaware of the playwright’s scripting, acting out their own parts as they wanted.  But there was not so much as an ad-lib in that play, and God had foreseen and packed every word so full of significance that we can find new insights each time we read it.

It’s very clear in the text that all principle parties were doing just as they intended, and that they were making their intentions open and transparent for the world to see.

Pilate was carrying out the execution of a man who he repeatedly declared innocent because it was politically expedient.

The chief priests knew what they were doing. They were killing their God.

We like to take comfort in the trope that in all old timey times, all old timey people were ignorantly more religious than we are now, because they were so superstitious and primitive. Please take another look at this religious book written by hopelessly religious people in that religion-benighted time.

Pilate is a relativist, a believer in relative truth claims. “What is truth?” He is declaring that there is no Truth.

The Sanhedrin were utter secularists. The first person we see Jesus engage in philosophical discussion is a priest from the Sanhedrin. (John 3) This man, Nicodemus, needs Jesus to explain the existence of the supernatural as though he is a spiritual preschooler. This priest does not even recognize that there is a spiritual dimension to his religion.

And he was the one with an open mind!  As you read through the gospel of John, written by an eyewitness who was a member of the inner circle of the inner circle of the apostles, the actions of the Pharisees can be quite puzzling. Happily John, as a witness and with the insight of the Holy Spirit, reveals to us the Pharisee’s reasoning. The Son of God came to his people as predicted and those to whom he came did not recognize that He had to be a spiritual figure.

They did not care about his transcendent purpose.  They wanted only a political solution.

They did not even consider that he ought to be honored as God; they did not give Him his place.

Jesus earlier tells the parable of the vineyard workers who kill all the owners’ representatives, then kill his son, reasoning that they, the workers, will inherit the vineyard if the son is out of the way. It’s a brilliant story because, not only does it reveal how nonsensical the Pharisee’s reasoning is, but it actually reveals what they think of their God.  A machine to be worked; the heir dies, we inherit the goods. They recognized no sentient Person who might react with intention.

The thought process of the vineyard workers make no more sense than the chief priests’ demands for execution of their long-expected Messiah, unless the demands are coming from people who are totally secular. They recognized no spiritual reality; they recognized no claims of the God to whom they belong.

The whole point of the history of the Jews told in the Bible is that God had lovingly created, preserved and protected his chosen people, yet they had continually turned away from Him to adopt foreign gods, follow other cultures, submit themselves to lesser idols; outwardly observe the nuts and bolts of religion but inwardly submit only to their self-oriented desires.  Anything but to be accountable to this Holy God.

Be a priest, but understand your faith as only a hierarchical secular society with secular purposes, which are strictly social and political. Spiritual reality is not even on the radar. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day were completely blind to the spiritual dimension of their own world, and even their own faith.

And so when this upstart religious leader began collecting listeners, then followers, the leaders questioned his authority. When he made truth claims which they did not grasp, they were dismissive.  When he spoke to them as Authority they were offended. When he, as God, demanded an accounting of them for their stewardship of the faith, and for their faulty leadership of the people, they marked him for extinction. Away with him. When He threatened their secular power, they actively plotted to have him killed.

Here is your king!

Away with Him, away with Him! Crucify Him!

“We have no king but Caesar.”  This is a shocking admission by members of the Judaic people. God was their King. They were intentionally rejecting their God and demanding his crucifixion.

It was not a fundamentalist faction who killed Jesus.  It was not a religious people who executed him.  It was secularist non-believers who had Jesus killed.

We would do the same now. We live in a secular world, where even many Christian denominations admit of no spiritual element. Yet multiplied thousands follow and dutifully uphold these churches as secular, social do-good organizations. Are we more enlightened than they were?

If Jesus were to come now, we would crucify him. What is there about our time which would change the outcome?

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The Godfather and The Essence of Relationship

Everything is personal. Someone tell Michael Corleone.

In The Godfather II, we have an opportunity to compare Michael with Vito, his father, at the same stages of life. We watch as Michael wends his way to dismal failure by his father’s standards. And it all has to do with human relationship. In Godfather I, we see where Michael departs from his father’s path, and it’s right from the start. Remember that famous line?

“It’s not personal, Sonny. It’s strictly business.”  

Everybody but Michael knows that’s a lie, and that it’s totally personal. His father had been gunned down, he knew by whom, and he intended to inflict payback and then some. It was what brought him into the “family.”

But to Godfather Don Vito Corleone, there was business, and there was personal. I do not think his conceptions of business and family were conflated, even though to us, they seem hopelessly mashed up and arbitrarily differentiated. His family relationships were warm and real. The business was called a “family.”  It made sense to him, and to those in his world.

Even his illegal business dealings were conducted on the basis of an objective code and the justice he meted out had objective rules which adhered to his subculture’s community standards, brutal but measured in accordance with the offense. Because of this code he could put aside the personal offense of the attempted murder of himself and the murder of Sonny in order to maintain the balance of power and peace with his competitor “families.” Don Vito honored his code even when it hurt very much to do it. The code was surprisingly nuanced in its complexity, but everyone in the subculture knew the score.

You almost feel sorry for hapless Solozzo, the foreign upstart, trying to wield Old-World vendetta thuggery against this professional class of organized crime, and for thinking that his clueless police bodyguard, truly a stranger in a strange land, would be of any help. They did not understand who, and what, they were messing with.

Doors shut out Michael’s wife, Kay, more than once.  Also an outsider, she could never really enter their world.

Michael brought in a newer New World. Did Michael blend the Old World (remember his Sicilian bride) with the New, and invent a third? Or was this just America?  Let’s just try to stay on a track.

His sense of justice, and his code, were based on his subjective preferences and definitely more relative.

He blurred the distinctions between the business and the personal. Superficially they were strictly divided. That is seen in his fierce insistence that his wife should never ask about his business (even when business included the murder of their brother-in-law); but in practice, personal/business distinctions were self-serving. If someone offended Michael’s sense of family pride…offended him personally…it became a “strictly business” item to be punished without mercy. That nearly none of his victims suspected what was coming tells us that he was operating according to his own codebook.

Michael called all things business matters, but all offenses were personal and the only penalty was death without mercy. Personal and business were one but he rationalized acting on personal feelings by calling them business matters. Personal was business, business was personal.

By creating this professional class of criminals, Francis Ford Coppola was trying to communicate that the Mob is an illustration of American business: hypocritical, dishonest, greedy, power-hungry, murderous. Many mob characters from the older generation draw the same false dividing line, and excuse terrible personal betrayals on the basis of “strictly business.”

Tessio: “Tell Mike it was only business. I always liked him.”

But Michael had moved away from a family context toward a business model. He had always deceived himself with the belief that business is not personal.

The most fascinating layer of meaning to me in The Godfather films  is cosmological. In this universe, Don Vito is God the Father, Sonny is Christ the Son, Tom Hagen is the Holy Ghost. Each one functions rather consistently as a corrupt version of his symbol. So who is Michael?  I leave that to you, but here are some items of evidence: he lies; he twists the meaning of his father’s words in order to satisfy his own desires; he is all about personal power and revenge. He winds up alone and bitter, ruler over an empire of fear. All personal relationships are cold, estranged or literally extinguished. He murders his own brother Fredo when he is no longer a threat. It simply must be done in order to satisfy his own feelings of justice.

The jewel of his father’s life, his family, is utterly destroyed. Kill, steal, destroy. And it was so easily done for Michael the Berserker.

All this to illustrate something I’ve learned from the Bible? The cosmology of The Godfather strikes me as remarkably consistent and valid.  Don Vito, Michael, Sonny and Tom Hagen, as well as Clemenza, Tessio, and Kay, sometimes in spite of themselves, act out some of the deepest and most significant principles that I find in God’s Word.

If I look at the Word through the lens of relationship, as surely God wants us to, I can distill three messages.

Everything is personal. Life is all about relationshipThe God of the Bible is a personal being. He has personality and mind; He is not an impersonal force or a principle. He defines himself as love, and expresses Himself in loving His human creations.

In the Upper Room, Jesus celebrated his relationships with the men who had followed him:

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.  

If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love.  I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.  

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.  

You are my friends if you do what I command.  I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.  

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.  

This is my command: Love each other.  John 15: 9-17

Relationship means identification. In the Gospels, the purest and most ideal relationships shown to us are those of connection so close that the participants lose distinctions and become intertwined. The marriage relationship, in which two become “one flesh,” is the perfect symbolic illustration for the truest intimate relationship: God’s love for each of us.

My beloved is mine, and I am his. Song of Solomon 2: 16

How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?  Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.  Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me… John 14: 9-11

 On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.  John 14: 20

I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.  John 15:5

Even within our closest relationships, there are limits to intimacy. We are imprisoned in our bodies and in our own minds. We can empathize but we cannot literally feel any feelings but our own. We can’t enter the thoughts, the emotions, the soul of another human being. At times we feel this desperate isolation even in a crowd of family.

But with God, there is no limit to intimacy. He is a Spirit who communes with our spirits. There are no barriers on God’s side.  If I find brick walls or blank ceilings when I try to communicate with God, I am the builder.

“I am in you and you are in me, and I am in the Father.”  “I and the Father are one.” When Jesus has stood in your place in your greatest need, God does not distinguish between you and His Son. And that is the third theme that I see shining through the pages.

My life for yours.

This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. John 15: 12,13

Jesus Christ, True God of True God, chose to suffer lonely torture and horrible execution in our place.  His life for mine, his life for yours.

And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world. By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.  John 1:1-2

This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. I John 4:10

Sadly, there is no Savior in the cosmology of The Godfather. If Sonny is the Savior figure, he fails famously. Without a savior, a redeemer, a reconciler, there is no hope.  There is no foundation or reason for maintaining a code.

In conducting his family and his business as he did, Godfather Vito Corleone had a distinct goal:  “Senator Corleone, Governor Corleone…” The Godfather’s goal was that his dearest son Michael would one day be on the throne, a legitimately powerful man.

But Vito also said ,”A man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man.” Michael’s reach for power blends those two worlds and he is surprised at the inevitable price to his family.

In the end, we see that Michael Corleone has tragically missed the value of the things his father lived for, and thrown away that which was his father’s dearest goal to give him. He has substituted power, control and retribution for familial love. He has cynically destroyed the future his father built for him.

As do we if we miss our Father’s message of personal relationship, identification, and selfless love.