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Civil Rights For The Mind

Updated

Lexidelphia

20161229_121405 Washington D.C., Dec. 2016

I enjoy the observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day because I enjoy the freedom that he and others with him have brought to my mind.  Many of us forget to appreciate the courageous acts of those who struggled for equality, because we often assume that, had we lived then, we would have been on the “right side” too.  I, on the other hand, recognize that I believe what I believe much because I was born when I was.  Would I have marched along with King in the name of civil rights, or would I, like many southern whites at the time, have favored the status quo of segregation?  Or going back a century prior, would I have been an Abolitionist, or one of those who would have rather just let slavery continue?  Would I have considered it my problem?  In both cases, I’d like think the…

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Grace- The One Thing About Christianity Christians Are Afraid to Believe

Seneca

an autumn journey to the rock

If you ask a Christian what he believes, he’ll say, “I believe in Jesus.”  Usually, that answer is an abbreviated version of “I believe that I am saved from condemnation by Jesus’s death and resurrection, and it’s through him that I have fellowship with my Creator, the LORD, who is commonly referred to as the Judeo-Christian God.”  Sure, there is a bit more to it, but that’s basically what the average Christian believes.  Do you want a little more?  The idea is that Jesus, the Son of God, rescued all humankind who were separated from God because of our sin.  God is Holy, and sinful creatures cannot abide with holiness, so they cannot abide with God.  And since God is life, then sinful creatures must die, instead.  (You’ve heard preachers say “The wages of sin is death”?  That’s what that means.) Yes, death is the only choice for the sinful being… UNLESS something else dies and takes the sin down with it.  That’s what sacrifice was all about.  And if a perfect person volunteers to take on that death, it’d be good enough for all the sins of all the people of all of the world.   Who is perfect?  Jesus the Son of God.  He was the atonement.  The triumphant part of that story is that Jesus didn’t stay dead.  After he paid for all sins, he was resurrected.  So the sins went down with death, but the person, Jesus, came back sin free.  Death and sin were conquered all at once, and hope for eternal life was restored.  And IF we accept all of this (the term is “believe and receive”) we are considered to be “dead to sin”, and “born again” like Jesus.  Jesus is alive and his grace applies to all who accept it, past, present, and future.

Yes, that is what the average Christian believes.  You can see how heavily it relies upon the work of Jesus the Christ.  Hence the term “Christian,” meaning “Christ-like.”  And just about any Christian, when pressed with the standard questions like “How do you know, you’re going to heaven?”, they are going to say something resembling the classic Sunday School response, “Because, I believe in Jesus.”

And really, it’s not a bad answer. Saying, “Because Jesus!” may seem vague and oversimplified, but it does get to the point of what Christianity is all about: a reliance upon Jesus.

I’d say it’s all pretty simple EXCEPT for one thing… If you look closely, many Christians do not live as if any of this is true.  Don’t get me wrong.  Christians believe it… basically.  They just have some serious trouble internalizing the deepest part of the story.

I’m not talking about the supernatural elements of the story.  The average Christian is more than willing to accept and admit belief in what the non-religious person might consider the “crazy” stuff:  The existence of God, the amazing attributes of God, the fact that God by his holiness sets the standard of what good is, the fact that God created two people who sinned against him, the fact that all people are the offspring of those first sinners and therefore inherit sin and the sinful nature, the fact that Jesus is the Son of God, and the fact that people can have eternal life. Hardly any Christian has any trouble with any of that.  From the virgin birth, to walking on water, to raising the dead, to the resurrection… most Christians do believe it.

What they really have trouble accepting, is that ALL we have to do is believe in Jesus.  Yeh! Many Christians have trouble accepting their own Sunday School answer.  “All I have to do is accept the grace of Jesus, and that’s it?  That just seems too easy…  WAY TOO EASY.”  It does seem that way, and it scares people.

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Little River

1560741_10152223897335079_2511710132699238986_n
There was a little river
With aspirations grand
To be the first to circle the earth
And cut through every land

He, through the narrow canyons, passed
Through woods of thirsty trees
But found all his ambitions lost
When he fell into the sea

-JSMB

Photo by ASMB

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Sir Mix-a-Lot’s Thesis

The reason people like Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back” is not because of the catchy beat. It’s because he speaks in a clear declarative sentence that states his point of view. “I like big butts and I can not lie. You other brothers can’t deny…” Consider weaker versions of his thesis. Here is one in the passive voice: “Big butts are liked by me. You other brothers must agree…” Or here’s one that apologizes for the author’s beliefs: “In my opinion big butts are attractive. You other brothers be proactive…” See? Not as good.

So take a writing lesson from Sir Mix-a-Lot. Next time you find yourself being verbose and indirect, just say to yourself, “Shake that healthy butt!” and you’ll remember to be clear and strong.

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Smart-Aleck

Can God make a rock so big he can’t lift it?  Can God make a hole so small that he can’t go through it?  Can God microwave a burrito so hot he can’t eat it?  When I was a smart-alecky kid in Sunday school, I loved to ask these questions.  I, of course, did not invent them.  They were handed down to me from the previous generation of smart-alecks who had inherited them out of the endless cycle of youngsters who think themselves the authors of sarcasm and mockery.  This article, loaded with logical fallacy, is dedicated to those smart-aleck kids.  After all, today’s punk is tomorrow’s poet, painter, or theologian.

 
The questions listed above do have answers, but they are not the kind that anyone who asks them really wants to hear.  Typically, the kid who blurts out “Can God make another God even more powerful than himself?” already knows the answer.  He just wants to see his old teacher fret and blush and reluctantly admit, “No he can’t.”  This sets him up to throw out the second swing of his one-two punch, “But I thought you said that God can do anything.”  Now he’s got that old Sunday school teacher cornered!  There is no way she can respond to that, and the class has been thoroughly disrupted which is what he’d really wanted all along.  If she is daring, she might admit that there are, in fact, things that God can’t do.  If she is a coward, she might tell that smart-aleck to keep his mouth shut and stay in his seat.  If she is a former smart-aleck herself, she might say, “Sure there are things God can’t do… but that doesn’t mean he won’t.”

 
“What do you mean?” the smart-aleck wonders.  Now the old Sunday school teacher has the smart-aleck right where she wants him.  These questions, like many we ask about God are from human perspective, which is temporal and limited.  Human beings typically rule out the paradoxes that a supreme, infinite being can create.  Light, God’s first creation in the book of Genesis, is a perfect example.  Like light, which acts as both a wave and a particle, travels away from its source at the same amazing speed no matter how fast the source is traveling, and whose components possess the mysterious ability to exist at more than one place in the universe simultaneously, God can do many seemingly irreconcilable things at once.  Consider how God addressed these other, more important, questions:  “Can God die?”  “Can God physically weep for the poverty and death in the world?”  “Can God allow human beings to look at his face?”  “Can God be tempted?”  “Can God be hungry?” “Can God suffer for sin?” “Can God ever not know something?”  Perhaps when one focuses on God the supreme being, who no man can see and live, the answer is “no.”  And yet, we all know that through the incarnation of Jesus, the answer is “yes.”

 
With Christ, God revealed some paradoxes that had always existed, but only the prophet and daydreamer could have understood prior to.  Like light, which seemed so common, simple, and easy to control before Planck and Einstein, God proved to be something more than provincial logic could contain.  Much of what seemed impossible before was now, paradoxically, impossible and possible at the same time.  “Can God die?” No.  But Jesus could, so yes.  “Could God allow human beings to look at his face?” No. But Jesus could, so yes.  “Could God be tempted?” No.  But Jesus could, so yes.

 
So… Could God write a book so long that he can’t read it? No, but yes.  Could God make a taco salad so gigantic he couldn’t eat it?  No, but yes.  Could God make a video game so difficult he couldn’t beat it?  No, but yes.  It’s just that those things never came up in the life of Christ.  He spent his thirty-some years reconciling mankind to its creator and satisfying the most profound of human needs, instead of responding to our wry questions.  If you look at all of the moments in the gospel stories in which people tried to trick or trap Jesus in a question, the wise young man always answered the question in a way that confounded the inquisitor (Matt 22:17-21, Luke 4:1-8).  Then with the inquisitor thoroughly stupefied, Jesus went on to give his time to those who had real needs and genuine questions.

 
I expect, by now, the reader may feel that something is amiss.  Although, these answers seem adequate on a smart-aleck’s terms, they can’t be all there is to this discussion.  That is true, for even our most brilliant questions (sincere or otherwise) about God and other unfathomable topics, are an attempt to capture the uncontainable, to comprehend the incomprehensible.  The question is made of human reason and it expects a certain kind of answer.  Since the source of the question is limited, the question itself has limitations that render it inadequate to receive the infinitude of the response.  It’s like walking up to Niagara Falls with a paper cup and saying, “Can you get in this for me?”  It is only by the grace of God that any human receives an answer to anything.  With this in mind, the answers provided by the life of Jesus seem to be the apex of grace.

 

So, I hope in some small way this article has satisfied the smart-aleck.  I know that, as a kid, I would have appreciated such a straight-forward discussion, although it wouldn’t have stopped me from looking for ways to annoy my teachers.  That said, I wonder if God could make a Sunday school class so interesting that even he wouldn’t get bored?  I really don’t know.

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Mother

West of Everything Else

Look at you, Eve,
On the edge of your world
Quiet in the wind
You’re a pregnant girl

And your son is a murderer
Your daughter a whore
Your grandson the father
Of a billion more

Your daughter’s a poet
You are her muse
And she can write away
Mankind’s abuse

And your son’s a farmer
And that prairie there
He can clear out the brush
Plant food everywhere

And your grandson’s a prophet
A mad lovely jewel
He can save ten billion
By acting a fool

And you are my mother
Somewhere I’m there
Between your dirty bare toes
And your wild-smelling hair

I stretch from the grass
From the pollen and spores
See your wet eyes
Touch your fingers once more

Surrender to the wind
I fall across the sea
Where death, life, and death
Will work its way to me

 

-Jared St. Martin Brown

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