Sunday, March 26, 2006

On learning to love

I've had to get involved in a struggle to rescue three little kids that fell into the hands of Los Angeles Dept. of Child and Family Services and a nice "Christian" family who wanted to adopt them against the will of their mother. Being a superior form of spiritual life, they were doing right in their eyes to act in such cruelty and deceit as you may be sure they would find fault with, if they saw the same behavior in a Muslim or a Jehovah's Witness!

Like Adonijah acting like he was king in order to become so (1 Kings 1), these players tried to make facts on the ground by cutting off court-ordered visitation and filling the kids up with candy and trashy toys (and about 15 cavities in 3 months) to distract them from their family and attach them to themselves - as Satan does to alienate people from their relationships with God and others. As I write, praise God, these "Christians" seem to have abandoned their effort.

We were speaking about it a week ago, and it became clear that loving the little kids was not at first what made me fight for them. I have fought for them because we have to for them as we know we would want others to do for us if we were helpless in the hands of the wicked as they were. We do not want to have to explain to them in 15 years why we abandoned them, and we sure don't want to discuss it with them at the judgment seat of Christ.

But we could not sustain our commitment to them without learning to love them more. Only love never fails. Love is not something we do because we're so wonderful, a superior form of spiritual life. Love is the muscles and calluses we develop when we are forced by duty to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God - what it takes not to do to others what we would hate to have done to us, as Rabbi Hillel said.

We don't learn to love so we can display our magnificence like some guy showing how buff he is in an exercise machine commercial. We learn to love as we are compelled to do so in order to remain decent human beings instead of becoming like the rest of this crooked and perverse generation. We have nothing to brag about, because if we didn't have to, we'd do it some other way. Only love never fails.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Reading "Revelation," the rest of the Bible - life in general

My friend and I were in church together hearing the preacher flog the people to greater efforts and devotion to God (Ezekiel 34).

I looked at Bill and said, "Get healed!"
He answered, "Next month!"

Reader, can you make sense of that conversation on its own, without some background? I didn't think so. I'll fill you in.

1) "Get healed!"

Back in 1979, I was telling my friend Pat the weird stuff this counselor was doing to me, like telling me that my wife who had left me was man-crazy and that I had to do something about it, when he knew I could do nothing. Pat sat there - large, impassive, and six inches from the ground in a little cloth chair - as I stood there recounting all this weirdness, finally asking, "Fine - he hates me as he has said - but what's in it for him to do this sadistic crap?"

Pat quietly explained, "Look. He's running a healing factory. You're supposed to get healed and prove how wonderful his ministry is. You're supposed to come out looking like a car, and you're coming out like a baby buggy. So - get healed, asshole!"

2) Next month!"

Bill, some years before, had belonged to a ministry that was evangelizing in Southern California. Under the direction of Phil, Bill and several other button men (to use the Mafia term), were supposed to organize new Bible studies of 12 people each, and they weren't doing too well. So Phil was riding their butts like he didn't notice those butts weren't equipped with handrails.

Bill, quite entertained, was quietly sniggering. Phil presently noticed, and turning to him said, "And I want you, f*cker, to have a study together next month!"

And in that group, he had to do it!

Now that you have the background, let's review the bidding:

The preacher rides the people.
I say, "Get healed!"
Bill says, "Next month!"

Now it's clear, right?

What kind of preacher are you? Are the people you "minister to" supposed to vindicate your "ministry" - and what happens if they don't? Are they accountable to you to get a Bible study together next month, or to tithe, or otherwise to make you (excuse me, God's work) a success?

Getting back to my title, the Revelation seems weird due to the same lack of background. To understand it, you just need to get the background behind the words you read, just like with this little conversation between me and Bill. In fact, the rest of the Bible is that way too.

And here's one more thing. People and our weird behavior is like that. Nations are like that. All of life is like that. The Bible is written this way to teach us how to read everything else, because everything else is this way. What we have to learn in order to make sense of the Bible is meant to form in us the mind that can make sense of ourselves, other people, and everything else.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Sobering up

I visited Praise Tabernacle last Sunday, around the corner from where I live. I couldn't stay for the preaching because I had to go with a friend to a lunch at an AME church in Granada Hills, but I got something out of the song service.

The first song praised the Mighty God (Isaiah 9:6) for His power and holiness, and I got to thinking. As G. K. Chesterton wrote, people don't eat people because they don't know it's wrong; they do it because they DO know it's wrong. We soothe our feeling of helplessness and make ourselves feel strong by doing evil and enjoying our power to get away with it. Thus powerless Palestinians blow up kids in a pizza parlor, Israeli snipers pick off little kids for fun, and American soldiers enjoy breaking bottles on the heads of people in the street - all of these finding relief for their frustration through doing evil acts. Doing evil because we can, we prove to ourselves and others that we're powerful.

Of course all these deeds worsen our case and weaken us in reality. Israelis are not softened by exploding pizza parlors, Palestinians and others are not inclined to honor an army that condones the cold-blooded murderers of little girls, and those bottles do not inspire those they hit to think of ways to ease the lives of those who throw them.

God isn't thrilled like us by having the power to do evil. God is thrilled by having the power NOT to do evil. He is pleased to exercise the power to let people slap His other cheek. God gets a kick out of being able to be powerless and win anyway. He is mighty, as they were singing, in power and in holiness. He knows that his weakness is stronger than men (1 Corinthians 1:22-31).

His promise is that we can learn to see it His way, to have in us the mind that was in Jesus, and therefore to become like him. We're actually called by Him into that same divine nature, and that's what makes us truly human. The proverb says that it is sport to a fool to do evil, but so is wisdom to a man of understanding - and we can acquire from Him that understanding and learn to live that way (James 1:5-6).

It was good for me to see how much I've soothed my powerlessness in life by exercising my power to get away with malicious acts to prove to myself that I have power after all. It's drug addiction. It's not a pretty sight, but the snare is laid in vain in the sight of any bird, so I'm glad to see that snare in my soul. When I do evil, I always turn out to be my own target. To stop hurting myself feels all right.