Subway Prophet

…and the words of the prophets were written on the subway walls…

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Living black and white in a world of grey.

“They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them” John 14:21
“I know your works, you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” Revelation 3:15-16

In liberal circles, we like to use the phrase, “seeing grey in a world of black and white.” This is the title of a book by Adam Hamilton, which I have heard great things about, yet have not had the chance to read. I like the idea of seeing grey, especially in a world which is so black and white, conservative or liberal, Democrat or Republican.

However, my views of grey have shifted since reading this article about a new poll which was released by the Pew Research group on Friday. In it they surveyed how religion affects people’s political views and not surprisingly it revealed that on the hot button issues, religion played an important role in their opinion. For same sex marriage it was 35%, abortion 26%, and the death penalty 19%.  The respondents were also asked about how much religion factored into their opinions on government assistance to the poor (10%), Immigration (7%), and the environment (6%). Do you see the problem?

Since I do not have the time right now to do a comprehensive study on this, i did a quick survey of google for bible verses and did my own poll to see if the issues which are important to Americans are equally important to the writers of scripture. For the issue of same sex marriage, I found about 7 bible verses which dealt with homosexuality, but none about homosexual marriage. Similarly I found a few bible verses about God making children in their mothers womb, but none specifically about an abortion or when or if one would be acceptible. The death penalty, however, had quite a few scriptural verses. In this case, we might be too lenient. In the Hebrew Scriptures (our Old Testament), you can receive the death penalty for murder (Ex 21:12), as well as Adulery (Lev 20:10), disobeying your parents (Deut 21:20-21), and picking up sticks on the Sabbath (Num 15:32-36). Now Jesus on the other hand has a few different ideas such as, “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged” (Matt 7:1)). and “He who is without sin, cast the first stone” (John 8:7). So therefore that matter gets a little more tricky, but it is definitely important. One out of three ain’t bad.

Now on to the least important things. When I looked up what the bible says about assisting the poor I found a list of over 100 verses while another site cited over 300, all in agreement that we as a society need to take care of those in need. A quick search found that the bible mentions foreigners (immigrants) over 100 times, frequently reminding the Israelites that they were once foreigners in Egypt. And finally, when I was looking up verses on the environment, I used by Green Bible which highlights passages which deal with the environment. On almost every page is at least one section in green ink. Their website cites over 1,000 verses which deal with the earth alone.

I say all of this to say that it is enlightening to realize how our belief in Jesus affects the way we live, the way we interact with others, and the way we vote. The verses I used at the beginning highlight what I think is a central aspect of being a Christian. If you are going to be a member of a church, call your self a follower of Jesus the Christ, and seek to be the person God has called you to be, then that should inform more decisions than how early you are waking up on Sunday morning, or what book you are reading before you go to bed.

Now I am not, at least in this post, advocating what your views should be on issues. I have my own opinions, some of which are perhaps evident in this post, but other people have theirs as well. I am a firm believer that in this world of black and white we need to understand that people differ, however, Jesus was not grey. Jesus was a black or white person. You were either in or out. Not lukewarm. So, if you are going to have an opinion, and you are going to consider yourself a Christian, than that distinction should not be grey.  Let your opinions be shaped by earnestly searching scripture and eagerly praying for guidance.  If after that process of discernment you come to a conclusion than allow that to guide your decisions, and if that conclusion differs from the result of someone else’s similar process of discernment than in that case we need to be in respectful discussions guided by the humility of the Holy Spirit.

Here is a link to an article:

And here is a link to the actual report:

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A Parable

There are I think two ways in which this blog can go. The first is that I present my musings on my experiences in general as based on my life in seminary and my experiences in my classes themselves deriving some spiritual meaning from that. The second way is to present spiritual musings on my actual class material bringing the high concepts from the classroom into my own life. This second, for me, would be rather redundant seeing as I have discovered that the life of a seminarian is made up of short papers which are a reflection on the material in one page. While these are interesting, in their own way, they are not exactly the sort of thing which makes for interesting blog posts for subway walls or anywhere else. Therefore, the majority of my posts, I think, will and should be of the former sort where I allow my classroom education to inform and mold my experiences and interactions, viewing these theologically.

All this being said, however, it is of the latter sort out of which this post comes. For our readings in Church History, we are learning about one of the church fathers named, Irenaeus who lived in the early 3rd Century (200s). He wrote a fascinating work called, Against Heresies in which he argued, surprising, against heresies-namely those called Gnosticism and Marcionism. In his first book of AHhe presents this beautiful parable which I will paraphrase for you: Imagine that there is a mosaic of a King which is created out of many jewels all placed together. Someone comes along after the artist and destroys the picture, rearranging all of the stones so that now, instead of a King, they represent a fox. Now this man shows people this ugly picture of a fox and convinces them that it is in fact the picture of the King. The people having not seen the King for themselves believe the man and thus are led astray.

For Irenaeus, this story depicts what was happening by the Gnostics when they used the Christian scriptures to support their own heretical understandings of the world deceiving people into thinking that they had the correct, “knowledge” or “gnosis” in Greek. I want to make the connection however, with what is happening in our society today with some “Christian pastors” who have taken the scriptures and so manipulated them and distorted them so that their ugly fox-Jesus commands them to commit heinous actions like burning the sacred books of another religion in a perverted sense of evangelism. Sadly, these actions are not new. In fact, they have been used all too frequently in the Middle East where some people took their mosaic of fox-Muhammad and convinced men to board planes and fly into the World Trade Centers killing thousands of Americans.
Here I think, Irenaeus’ lesson holds true for us today. The way he pushed back against those heretical teachers was to show them the picture of the King, Jesus the Christ, the risen Lord, the one who reveals who God is, the one who died for us and thus set us free. By giving them this picture, Irenaeus helped his readers to recognize an ugly distortion of a gospel from the true and beautiful gospel which is the good news of Jesus. My prayer today and for this week as we come closer to the anniversary of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington that we can remember the true mosaic, the true Lord and allow that picture to give us the hope we need to transcend the anger and the fear and the frustrations which so often allow others to distort our views and distort our lives.

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Sunday morning adventure.

“Trust the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6.

So for the first semester or so of Seminary I have decided to go church shopping, or rather discerning. My mentor suggested that I do this for the entirety of seminary because I will never really have this chance again, and I think that I agree with him, however, I know also that at some point I will need to be a part of a community and not an itinerant wanderer with no home. I say all of this as a long intro to why I was looking for a church this morning.

Last night as I tried to determine which church to attend I googled UMC in Google Maps and found Trinity UMC-Durham. The name was certainly familiar and had a lot of good emotion attached to it, so I decided to try it out. I got the directions ant they were really easy, just get on main street for a while, one left hand turn and you are there. Perfect.

I got dressed and left the apartment with about 20 min to spare thinking that I would get there early and look around before worship. I got on Main St. and drove for a while looking out for the road to turn on. I entered downtown, slowed down and made sure that I saw each sign. After a while I found myself in the middle of this neighborhood in East Durham and the street was no where to be found. Frustrated, I pulled out my GPS and tried to type in the church. At this point I had only 10 minutes before church began and I certainly did not want to be late. THe GPS couldn’t find it because I did not have the address. With my excellent memory and navigation skills I had neglected to write down the address or the directions before I left.

I turned the car around and made a random turn about where I thought the church should be and looked up trying to get my bearings. Just barely visible over the buildings of downtown Durham was a steeple with a cross. I instantly recognized the cross from the church’s website and continued down the road using the steeple as my point of reference. As I pulled into the parking lot I realized how common of a mistake that is for us in our Christian lives.

So often we look at the tasks God has given to us and use our God-given abilities and intelligence to figure out how to get the job accomplished, and yet in our eagerness to serve we forget to keep checking in with God for the directions. Instead of giving God all of our support we push on with our lives and wonder, in the end, how we ended up so lost and frustrated when we were doing what God wanted us to do.

I hope that seminary is not like that for me. I know that God has called me here and given me this time to prepare my mind and my heart to serve God’s Church, however, I know that the temptation will be there to lean on my own intelligence as I memorize theologians and Old Testament concepts. I pray that each time I look up and see the massive Gothic tower of Duke Chapel peering over the tree tops on my way into school that I will be reminded of the proverb and lean on God rather than my own understanding.

What is it for you today? Which area of your life do you most take pride in? How much more successful and fulfilled would that part be if it was given over to the One who empowers us to do what we are called to do?