Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Welcoming Church: North Carolina Episcopal Bishops Wade Into the Toilet Issue

Those visitors from across the pond may need a little background on the current stink in North Carolina about legislation regarding who might use public toilets. Recently the Charlotte, NC council passed an ordinance which, in hopes of preventing discrimination, would have made it legal for a man to use the woman's restroom. The NC State Legislature quickly responded to public outcry and passed a bill (HB2 link to the actual bill) that would nullify the city of Charlotte's law. The LGBT community has made this a national issue with new boycotts against North Carolina being issued every day.

In the past, people with boy parts would use the "Men's Room" and people with girl parts would use the "Ladies' Room." This arrangement worked well for generations until just recently. Because humanity has evolved beyond biologic sex, we now have something called "gender identity" where a biological male can decide that he is inwardly female and a biological female can decide that she is inwardly male and thus claim that they are most comfortable when urinating or defecating by entering into whichever restroom they feel like on any given day. One of the favored terms used to describe these folks is "trans-gendered" as opposed to those of us who are "cis-gendered". None of this is to be confused with the rare individual with Klinefelter syndrome (47XXY) or Turner syndrome (XO) who, curiously, have not spoken out on the subject.

I grew up in a large city where all sorts of weirdos would frequent public restrooms to the point where children and teens were taught to "hold it" until they got home. Eventually, the city had to put undercover police in the restrooms to catch the pervs which cleaned things up, but there were laws against certain behaviors back then. I am sure that there were occasional acts of vigilante justice where the public took matters into their own hands, but I cannot recall any that made the news. Also, most transvestites (at least the most convincing ones) could sneak in and do their business in whichever restroom corresponded to their dress and their makeup.

Even if these new laws claim to affect just public facilities, it has been the trend in the U.S. to define any place of business as "public". New construction permits are already subject to laws regulating the numbers of  toilets and handicapped accessible restrooms. Most older businesses do not want to invest the 20-40,000 dollars to add a third restroom for the trans-gendered, and the trans lobby is not interested in creating a "separate but equal" potty. I believe they consider that a form of discrimination.

It is a stinking mess, and never the ones to avoid putting their foot into it, here come the Episcopal Bishops of North Carolina with a position paper on bathrooms (from the Episcopal Network),

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, 
In our baptismal covenant, we commit “to strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.” For many, this is the most difficult promise in the covenant, as it calls us to move beyond our differences, expectations, fears, prejudices and misunderstandings about other people and meet them where they are. At times, it means standing up in the world and speaking truth to power, knowing that there will be resistance. This promise takes us out of our comfort zone and into the uncharted territory of God’s grace. 
In the highly polarized and political environment in which we live, we may be tempted to take sides on an issue or to back off entirely and be silent. But the issue of discrimination is not partisan, nor is it secular. The practice of discrimination by a state or institution limits, even prohibits, us from respecting the dignity of another human being. It inhibits our very capacity to care for one another and to work for the common good. This affects all people. 
On March 23, 2016, the North Carolina General Assembly passed House Bill 2 (HB2). This bill overtly discriminates against LGBT people and goes further by cutting back on protection against discrimination for anyone in the state. HB2 does this by:
• Refusing to understand the complexity of the lives of transgender persons and criminalizing nonproblematic behavior by members only of that community; • Overturning the local passage of laws by the city of Charlotte to allow transgender persons to use the gender-specific facilities matching their identities, and requiring all people to use facilities according to the biological sex listed on their birth certificates;
• Preventing cities and counties from establishing ordinances extending protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender persons, while making no effort to call for protection at the state level; • Making it more difficult for people who are being discriminated against for reasons of race, age, sex, religion or disability to take legal action by making them take their cases to federal court instead of to the state;
• Discriminating against the working poor by restricting a community’s ability to demand that contractors raise minimum wages to living wages and pay for vacation and sick leave.
In the weeks since the passing of HB2, other states have followed suit, putting forth bills openly supporting discrimination against LGBT persons. Such discrimination by the state reinforces the fear and prejudices of people who do not know or understand the lives of people who are already marginalized in our society. It cultivates an environment in which we do not respect the dignity of each person but instead fight to hold on to personal power and privilege. 
The response against HB2, in North Carolina and around the world, shows evidence that this bill affects the lives of more than a few people using the bathroom; it touches on the ongoing struggle for equality. 
As a Church, we seek to love unconditionally as witnessed in the life of Jesus and follow his example by embracing those who are marginalized by society.
We affirm that all people are created in the image of God and are loved by God.
We oppose laws supporting discrimination against anyone by race, religion, color, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, political affiliation, genetic information or disability.
These are complex issues with wide-reaching ramifications. HB2 was introduced and passed into law in one day, without sufficient time to listen to the voices of all who are affected by the bill. The mounting economic losses for North Carolina show this hasty process did not leave room to consider what impact HB2 would have on our state. We are all paying the price. 
Because we strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity every human being, we call on the North Carolina State Legislature to repeal HB2. We encourage our leaders to listen to the experiences of LGBT citizens and to seek to understand their lives and circumstances. Furthermore, we offer our prayers and support for the LGBT community, and for all who are affected by this bill.

Yours faithfully, 
The Right Reverend Anne E. Hodges-Copple
Bishop Diocesan Pro Tempore of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina
The Right Reverend Porter Taylor
Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Western North Carolina
The Right Reverend Robert S. Skirving
Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of East Carolina
The Right Reverend Peter James Lee
Bishop Assisting of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina

If they really respected the dignity of every human being, they would not want men in the Ladies room!

I ask you, have the parish churches in the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina changed all the signage on their bathroom doors to be more welcoming to the transgendered, the transvestite, the transsexual, or the transcurious?

Has the Diocese of North Carolina looked into the cost of renovations to all those small struggling parish buildings if they were to add a special bathroom for those who feel uncomfortable entering into either of the two usual choices?

Why hasn't the Presiding Bishop (an NC bishop himself) waded in?

The great flushing sound you hear is the Episcopal church going down the drain.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Keeping “What God has made clean, you must not call profane” in context

In this Sunday's reading from Acts 11:1-18, Peter explains why he ate with Gentiles. He claims that God presented a vision of forbidden foods along with a command to break with tradition. Three times God ordered Peter to abandon the dietary code of his upbringing and eat "unclean" creatures,
Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, ‘I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me. As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. I also heard a voice saying to me, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” But I replied, “By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.” But a second time the voice answered from heaven, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven. (Acts 11:4-10)
How many times have Peter's vision and God's command been twisted and recast by revisionist preachers in order to turn homosexual acts into blessed relationships?  It is hard to see how a change in a dietary rule could be equated with a change in teaching on sexual morality. This is only possible by taking the vision out of context. The real context was the problem for the early Church on how to integrate Gentiles into the congregation and issues of circumcision, foods, and human sexuality were at the forefront. In Acts 15, at the Council of Jerusalem, the disciples decide on just exactly how the Church should handle Gentiles who are coming to Christ, and the limits they impose would certainly seem to exclude sexual sin which at the time included homosexual acts,

Therefore I have reached the decision that we should not trouble those Gentiles who are turning to God, but we should write to them to abstain only from things polluted by idols and from fornication (sometimes translated as "sexual immorality") and from whatever has been strangled and from blood. For in every city, for generations past, Moses has had those who proclaim him, for he has been read aloud every sabbath in the synagogues.’ 
 Then the apostles and the elders, with the consent of the whole church, decided to choose men from among their members and to send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They sent Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leaders among the brothers, with the following letter: ‘The brothers, both the apostles and the elders, to the believers of Gentile origin in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greetings. Since we have heard that certain persons who have gone out from us, though with no instructions from us, have said things to disturb you and have unsettled your minds, we have decided unanimously to choose representatives and send them to you, along with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, who have risked their lives for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will tell you the same things by word of mouth. For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to impose on you no further burden than these essentials: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication (or sexual immorality). If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.’
And how did the people react to the new commandment?

They rejoiced!
So they were sent off and went down to Antioch. When they gathered the congregation together, they delivered the letter. When its members read it, they rejoiced at the exhortation. Acts 15:19-31 
How would people in today's Episcopal church react if they were read such a letter?

They would scoff!

The actions of General Convention 2015, and Presiding Bishop Curry's words rejecting the wisdom of the Anglican Primates are witness to that assertion.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

My Identity is OK, Your Identity is OK, Be Whatever You Say, and Accept the Cultural Decay

What happens after a culture adopts as its worldview that there is no right or wrong? What is the end result of either secular moral relativism or "subjectivism"?

In the video below, the interviewer asks college students how they would feel if he claimed to be a woman, or a Chinese woman, or a six foot five Chinese woman, etc. Their reactions to the gender claims go something like this, "I'm okay with that, I mean, if that's what you want to be, as long as nobody is being hurt."

H/T The Heidelblog

This is how Relativism and Subjectivism eventually lead to absurdity.

How did we get here? As one Episcopal priest told me, "This is the result of being taught there is no objective reality, only 'many truths.'"

Looking for the roots of this belief system (acknowledging that we have failed to rear our children so that they might carry to college a Christian worldview), I had a flashback to 1960's pop-psychology and the best seller, "I'm OK--You're OK" by Thomas Harris MD which seems to have become the mantra of today's youth.

Here is the basis of "I'm OK -- You're OK" according to
"Eric Berne initiated the principle within Transactional Analysis that we are all born 'OK' -- in other words good and worthy. Frank Ernst developed these into the OK matrix, (also known as the 'OK Corral' after the famous 1881 Tombstone shootout between the Earps and the Clantons). These are also known as 'life positions'."
Stop for a minute and recognize the Pelagian heresy in the "we are all born OK" hypothesis.

Let's get back to and examine the matrix of possibilities in this OK worldview,
1) I'm not OK - You're OK
When I think I'm not OK but you are OK, then I am putting myself in an inferior position with respect to you...
2) I'm OK - You're not OK
People in this position feel themselves superior in some way to others, who are seen as inferior and not OK. As a result, they may be contemptuous and quick to anger. Their talk about others will be smug and supercilious, contrasting their own relative perfection with the limitation of others...
3) I'm OK - You're OK
When I consider myself OK and also frame others as OK, then there is no position for me or you to be inferior or superior.
This is, in many ways, the ideal position. Here, the person is comfortable with other people and with themself. They are confident, happy and get on with other people even when there are points of disagreement...
4) I'm not OK - You're not OK
This is a relatively rare position, but perhaps occurs where people unsuccessfully try to project their bad objects onto others. As a result, they remain feeling bad whilst also perceive others as bad...

It would seem that today's college students fit into "the ideal" category 3, and lowly, "relatively rare" Christians fit into category 4. The reason that I say that Christians fit the "I'm not OK - You're not OK" description is that Christians recognize that we are all fallen and we are all in need of a Savior, and I'm OK with that, but I am not OK with a worldview that follows position 3 to its ultimate end. That end is what our college kids will face in the future of their own making. Relativism and Subjectivism such as seen in the video above paint a picture of a culture that today cannot even decide where to go to the restroom, and  predict a society which in the future will decay into confusion because of its refusal to make value judgments.

Pray for our youth that they might receive the Spirit of Truth and find the words to say, "I am not OK, neither are you, and we both need Jesus to make things OK."

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Shepherd and Deputy Shepherd Sunday

This Sunday's readings share a common theme starting with Psalm 23 (Dominus regit me),

1 The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not be in want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures *
and leads me beside still waters.
3 He revives my soul
and guides me along right pathways for his Name's sake.
4 Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I shall fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
5 You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me;
you have anointed my head with oil,
and my cup is running over.
6 Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

I love John Rutter's version,

I was once asked to name my favorite Psalm, and that was it. The Lord is my Shepherd. I wonder how many sermons today omit any exposition on "thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me"?

In our next reading, Acts 9:36-43, we hear about Peter raising Tabitha from the dead. Was this the act of a "deputy shepherd"?

Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity. At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs. Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, who heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him with the request, ‘Please come to us without delay.’ So Peter got up and went with them; and when he arrived, they took him to the room upstairs. All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them. Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, ‘Tabitha, get up.’ Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up. He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. Meanwhile he stayed in Joppa for some time with a certain Simon, a tanner.
Notice that Peter never claims to be the Messiah, nor does he create a following of worshippers.

The next reading from Revelation 7:9-17 re-directs our worship towards the real Shepherd,

After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying,‘Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!’And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshipped God, singing, 
‘Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdomand thanksgiving and honourand power and mightbe to our God for ever and ever! Amen.’
Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, ‘Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?’ I said to him, ‘Sir, you are the one that knows.’ Then he said to me, ‘These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.For this reason they are before the throne of God,   and worship him day and night within his temple,   and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them.They will hunger no more, and thirst no more;   the sun will not strike them,   nor any scorching heat;for the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd,   and he will guide them to springs of the water of life,and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’

And our final reading, John 10:22-30, uses Jesus' words to convince anyone who has not yet figured out the identity of the Shepherd. He also spells out the unity of himself with the Lord, the Shepherd in Psalm 23,

At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, ‘How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.’ Jesus answered, ‘I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.’

 For once, the Lectionary editors got it right. It is nice when everything fits together so neatly. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Rector Search: How To Wind Up With A Revisionist Rector

Looking back at the decline of the Episcopal church and my sixty years in that organization, I have often tried to analyze exactly what we did wrong. It is far too easy to blame revisionist seminary professors, deacons, priests and bishops. While they own a large part of the blame, it is us who pay their salaries who have to confess that we too are to blame. How many rector search committees and bishop search committees stocked with pewsitters like me have contributed to the decline by making ill informed choices when given the responsibility of selecting clergy?

I continue to be amazed at how thinking Episcopalians on vestries or search committees can be so easily swayed by emotion when selecting a priest in charge or rector.
After having served in such a capacity, let me suggest some reasons for the poor choices that Episcopalians make, but first I would like you to imagine the following dialog from a hypothetical? search committee meeting that I may or may not have participated in once upon a time...

Hypothetical Pewster: "You know, this priest hosted lectures by (liberal) scholar 'X,' quotes (liberal) theologian 'Y' in their sermons, and sponsors a book study using 'Y's' book!"

Sr. Warden: "X, Y, I don't know either of those people."

Hypothetical Pewster: "One says that God is conflicted, and the other says the disciples didn't really meet a resurrected Jesus in the flesh."

Jr. Warden: "Well, I didn't listen to his/her sermons on-line."

Hypothetical Pewster: "They were taken down shortly after this search process began."

Secretary/Treasurer: "That's probably just because the web page was redesigned."

Sr. Warden: "Maybe I have just been too fat and lazy to study 'X' and 'Y', or maybe I just don't care if the new rector is influenced by them. To tell the truth, I don't know much about that kind of thing anyway. "

Hypothetical Pewster: "Theologian 'Y' is a heretic."

Vestrywoman1: "Don't call them heretics. People shouldn't call other people heretics."

Sr. Warden: "I wouldn't know a heretic if I met one."

Hypothetical Pewster: "They tend to be charming and attractive."

Sr. Warden: "I still don't think I would recognize one."

Hypothetical Pewster: "Exactly."

Hypothetical Pewster: "We want the church to grow, their church hasn't grown."

Vestryman1: "Well, I didn't look at his/her parish growth charts."

Vestrywoman2: "All the mainline churches are having the same problem."

Hypothetical Pewster: "He/she said that they would be okay with same sex blessings if the Bishop approved of them!"

Sr. Warden: "I don't see where that should make a difference."

Hypothetical Pewster: "I read that they went to Seminary 'Z'."

Secretary/Treasurer: "Why should it matter which seminary they went to?"

Hypothetical Pewster: "But he/she omitted the Nicene Creed and the Confession of Sins during the Eucharist!"

Vestrywoman1: "I thought he/she was nice."

Vestrywoman2: "I thought they were very spiritual."

Jr. Warden: "The Bishop liked them."

Vestryman2: "I liked their spouse."

Sr. Warden: "Let's vote."

Most vestries in the Episcopal church probably don't have a hypothetical pewster raising such questions, so their decisions are probably even less well informed than the example above.

Imagine the consequences.

The Rev'd Tim Fountain once wrote,
"Many congregations (and in a denomination like TEC, it might be MOST congregations) are, if not revisionist, at least theologically indifferent clubs for people who are comfortable together, who like to accomplish some fun stuff together, maybe build something, maybe even do a good deed or two. But they are not interested in the Gospel that much except as a therapeutic tool for the random bad day. They are certainly not interested in the Gospel going out and changing the minds of those who don't believe it.

And such congregations put forward as clergy candidates folks with whom they are comfortable. And those folks become part of the clergy club that keeps the laity in the dark about spiritual monstrosities in order to maintain the comfortable relationships and pleasant good deeds and building nice stuff."
I said that I would speculate as to the reasons why congregations willfully choose revisionist priests, and while there may not be one unifying cause, let me suggest that people cannot know what they should look for, or look out for, in a religious leader if they have not studied the mistakes of the past as recorded for us in the Bible and in the history of the Church. Generations of American Episcopalians have not been grounded in Bible study or in the study of Church history and doctrine, and therefore are no longer capable of making choices that are truly Spirit led.

In addition, when the list of candidates is supplied by a "Canon for This and That" from the revisionist diocese headquarters, it tends to boil down to a Hobson's Choice.

It becomes a death spiral for the denomination when the keys to the Church are handed over to revisionist bishops and priests time and time again who ensure that the fundamentals of Christianity are not taught to future generations. Those future generations of blissfully ignorant pewsitters will continue to make poor choices, and as long as there are enough of them to pay the bills, the church will stagger on... its doom.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Fishing for Fish

This Sunday's Gospel reading tells the story of the resurrected Jesus appearing to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberius from John 21:1-19,
After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. Simon Peter said to them, ‘I am going fishing.’ They said to him, ‘We will go with you.’ They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, ‘Children, you have no fish, have you?’ They answered him, ‘No.’ He said to them, ‘Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.’ So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’ When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the lake. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.
When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.’ So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’ Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ A second time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’ He said to him the third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ And he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.’ (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, ‘Follow me.’
Time and time again the behavior of Jesus' disciples prior to the day of Pentecost demonstrates their human weaknesses, Here they are having returned to their old jobs as fishermen. Weren't they called to be fishers of men?

One of the things about the Bible that convinces me that these stories are not things that the disciples made up is how Jesus' closest followers are often shown in a less than favorable light.

They were fishing for fish!


No wonder Jesus had to set them straight and spell out to Peter exactly what he was to do.

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Do not be Misled by the "Fifth-columnist in the soul"

Much of my days are spent with my mind busily engaged in solving work related problems or in conversations with students and co-workers. The business of travelling from spot to spot either on foot or by vehicle takes up a small fraction of time, and after getting home, I have a set schedule of completing office work, Bible study, and at least an hour of practice on my 88's. During its idle moments, my brain prefers to "veg out" ingesting some mindless nonsense from the idiot box,

Most of us can probably count on one hand the minutes in a day that we think about existential questions or the time that we have set aside to spend with God.

When we do think about God, all too often we do so when drawn to read articles with "grabber" headlines that promise something new and different such as this one that recently appeared in the Huffington Post,
"The Bible Unlocked: It took Two Jesus Children to Make THE Jesus"
Now that title should turn a few heads. The problem is that it might also turn a few minds away from Christ. Let me quote from the article,

"I have written about this in detail in my book Who is Jesus : What is Christ, Vol 1. Why mainstream theologians do not explore this information is a mystery. Others have written about it and some artists have painted the two Jesus children. In this painting Raphael has painted them with John the Baptist and the Luke Jesus’ mother."

Madonna Del Duca di Terranuova by Raphael (Wikipedia)

"Not only that but also these children were born at different times. The Matthew Jesus was older, born at the time when Herod ordered all male children to be killed To make sense of this story we also need to keep in mind that Jesus and Christ are different beings. Matthew states it clearly when we read the original Greek. Immediately after the genealogy he writes: 'Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way.' In the original Greek it says, tou de iesou christou he gennesis outos ne which more accurately translates as ‘of the yet anointed Jesus the origin thus was’. Christ comes from christos, a Greek word meaning ‘anointed.’ Matthew is saying Jesus is yet [to be] anointed, Christen-ed, which points to the future baptism."
Before that can happen, these two Jesus children will become one. We read about this event in Luke when his parents lost track of him. They found him three days later and he was a changed person.
In our busy world, people want the new and controversial. Nobody wants to take the time to look up traditional interpretations such as this one,
Why are there different genealogies for Jesus in Matthew 1 and Luke 3?
There are differences of opinion with two main options being offered. The first is that one genealogy is for Mary and the other is for Joseph. It was customary to mention the genealogy through the father even though it was clearly known that it was through Mary....The Bible should be interpreted in the context of its literary style, culture, and history. Breaking up genealogies into male and female representations was acceptable in the ancient Near East culture since it was often impolite to speak of women without proper conditions being met: male presence, etc. Therefore, one genealogy might be of Mary and the other of Joseph even though both mention Joseph. In other words, the Mary genealogy was counted 'in' Joseph and under his headship.
I am not going to go any deeper into the debates over the two genealogies, and the controversial stance of the author of the Huffington Post piece is provided to show how we can be easily led down rabbit trails once we are tempted to leave the traditional path.

Is there something inside us that is working to keep us away from traditional Christianity? Is there something trying to draw us away from God, the very person that we should desire more than life itself? Is it our own highly touted "Reason"?

There may be, as C.S. Lewis once put it, a fifth-columnist at work within us. A fifth columnist is defined as a person within a country at war who is sympathetic to or working for its enemies.
Just as the Christian has his moments when the clamor of this visible and audible world is so persistent and the whisper of the spiritual world so faint that faith and reason can hardly stick to their guns, so, as I well remember, the atheist too has his moments of shuddering misgiving, of an all but irresistible suspicion that old tales may after all be true, that something or someone from outside may at any moment break into his neat, explicable, mechanical universe. Believe in God and you will have to face hours when it seems obvious that this material world is the only reality; disbelieve in Him and you must face hours when this material world seems to shout at you that it is not all. No conviction, religious or irreligious, will, of itself, end once and for all this fifth-columnist in the soul. Only the practice of Faith resulting in the habit of Faith will gradually do that….
He is pointing out a difference between conviction and Faith. Conviction obtained through reason will not sustain you in the spiritual battle. You must have Faith, and Faith has to be practiced until it is a habit. Daily prayer, regular corporate worship remain vitally important to the Christian because there are forces (like articles in the Huffington Post) constantly at work whittling away at our convictions.

Lewis continues,
Reason may win truths; without Faith she will retain them just so long as Satan pleases. There is nothing we cannot be made to believe or disbelieve. If we wish to be rational, not now and then, but constantly, we must pray for the gift of Faith, for the power to go on believing not in the teeth of reason but in the teeth of lust and terror and jealousy and boredom and indifference that which reason, authority, or experience, or all three, have once delivered to us for truth.  
C.S. Lewis, Christian Reflections (Grand Rapids, MI, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995), pp. 41-43.
Here, he says that Reason itself is dependent on Faith. Without Faith our Reason will eventually succumb to the power of "This fifth-columnist in the soul."

Sunday, April 03, 2016

The Skeptical Witness Leads Us to the Truth

Today's reading from John 20:19-31 tells the story of Jesus appearing to the disciples in the locked room.

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’
But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’
A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name. 
Thomas earned the moniker "Doubting Thomas" because his statement,
‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’ 
Just remember that the other disciples were shown those same stigmata when Jesus appeared to them earlier. How many of them would have doubted if they had not been shown Jesus hands and side?

Those who were not first hand witnesses to the resurrected Jesus may have been envious of those who had seen Him, but Jesus' blessing of "those who have not seen and yet have come to believe" must have served as an encouragement to the early hearers of John's Gospel then just as it is an encouragement for us now, for we, like generations of Christians before, have not seen.

Today, we need all the encouragement we can get, for we live in an age in which the credibility and reliability of eye witness accounts are increasingly doubted.

In the case of Thomas, we have an example of something like the scientific method (in which an experiment must be duplicated by an independent researcher) at work. Jesus appeared once in the locked room, and when this was repeated, we got an affirmation of the original account. So, thanks to Thomas showing up late, we end up with the testimony of multiple witnesses to one event being confirmed by the second event using a new, skeptical investigator.