Friday, November 23, 2007

Two knds of unity (Psalm 133)

A song of Ascents, of David

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!
It is like the precious oil upon the head, coming down upon the beard, Aaron's beard.
Coming down upon the edge of his robes.
It is like the dew of Hermon,
Coming down upon the mountains of Zion;
For there the Lord commanded the blessing - life forever.

- Psalm 133

The last thing Jesus prayed for before he went with his disciples to Gethsemane was "that they may be one, just as we are one," "that they may be perfected into a unit." Paul in Ephesians 4:11-13 wrote as follows about what that looks like, confirming just as Psalm 133 says that this unity that Jesus prayed for comes from above, from the Father, like the dew or like oil poured on the head of the anointed. It definitely does NOT come from ourselves:

"He gave some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God. . ."

He goes on to say that this unity is brought about by God through our doing the truth in love.

Since true unity is this precious, it's not amazing that it gets counterfeited. Instead of getting it from God, we manufacture our own. When they shouted "Sieg Heil" in the Nazis rallies at Nuremberg, they were finding their unity in Adolf Hitler. When they shout "United We Stand!" in the United States of America, they're plainly stating that they stand in their own unity, of their own devising, not in the God of truth.

These kinds of unity demand conformity and the annihilation of our integrity because, as James wrote, they do not come from above, but are earthly, soulish, and demonic (James 3:13-18). "Soulish" (Greek psychikos) contrasts with "spiritual," deriving from our appetite and lust rather than the anointing from above that we read about here in Psalm 133. It's grounded on unbelief, not looking to God for our provision but saying "What will we eat, what will we drink, with what will we be clothed, whose petroleum can we seize?" - all these things that the nations eagerly seek (Matthew 6:31-32).

As we read in Genesis 11, this earthly unity is the bitter enemy of the God of truth, being based on lying about how wonderful we are and how evil the others are that we are uniting against in hatred and fear, and God opposes it to the end. It's all about pride, and it makes the unity of God described here in Psalm 133 completely impossible.

The unity of God comes from above. It's obvious here that it's not of ourselves or our effort but the expression of God's grace, which he gives to the humble. Therefore we ascend into this unity as we humble ourselves, which is why this Psalm is called a song of ascents. Just as God resisted the unity of Babel because it was, as they say on their bumper stickers, THE POWER OF PRIDE, God gives the grace of true unity to the humble, when we look up to him in our need and emptiness, hearing and telling the truth. Two kinds of unity and two spirits behind them, the spirit of Christ and the spirit of Babel, of antichrist.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Education news

We signed a tolling agreement with CVUSD, so we have more time to negotiate, since we no longer have to sue them by December 1st. We've agreed to try mediation after the IEP meeting, which SELPA wanted to schedule for the 29th, but which won't work because the evaluations won't be in on time. We will probably end up doing the IEP in early December.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Veterans Day

A woman in church today wanted us praying for the veterans, and how we're supposed to be thankful for their sacrifices for our freedom.

Well, yes indeed, we should be praying for them. They have sacrificed, or more precisely, been sacrificed, by this nation that has played them for suckers - using them to crush others in their own homes and to subvert American liberties by cultivating militarism, by building a cruel empire, and by providing an excuse through permanent war to build a police state at home.

As we read in Jonah, Nineveh was not saved from destruction by its armies, and Nineveh owed no thanks to its veterans, who had only made Nineveh an object of wrath through their cruel deeds, as we read in the prophet Nahum. Nineveh was saved by its little children, and even its cattle, who turned back the wrath of God through his compassion. You want to see who's protecting America? Don't look up at that F-16, or at the arrogant young men turning Okinawan women into whores or shooting up the ragheads in Iraq. Take a long look at that baby there, playing with his mother in the park. Thank God that he's there to turn away the wrath aroused by America's killers, as it was in Nineveh.

When these veterans come home, every bureacratic device is used to screw them out of treatment for the injuries they sustained through the wicked deeds they were lied into, and to deny them as much other help as they can be done out of. After all, the money is needed for more wars and to pay off war contractors and other campaign contributors, so how can we waste it on binding up their wounds - never mind those they were sent to torment abroad?

As Juan Cole pointed out today, veterans are 11% of the population and 26% of the homeless, so if you want to do something for veterans, then support homeless shelters, not more lying imperial wars to turn more men into shattered veterans, laden with the guilt of innocent blood and lying on our sidewalks.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

"Until I find a place for the Lord" (Psalm 132)

A Song of Ascents

Remember, O Lord, on David's behalf, all his affliction;
How he swore to the Lord, and vowed to the Mighty One of Jacob,
"Surely I will not enter my house, nor lie on my bed;
I will not give sleep to my eyes or slumber to my eyelids;
Until I find a place for the Lord,
Dwelling places for the Mighty One of Jacob."

Behold, we heard of it in Ephrathah;
We found it in the field of the wood.
Let us go into his dwelling places; let us worship at his footstool.
Arise, O Lord, to your resting place, you and the ark of your strength.
Let your priests be clothed with righteousness,
And let your godly ones sing for joy.
For the sake of David your servant, do not turn away the face of your anointed..
The Lord has sworn to David, a truth from which he will not turn back:
"Of the fruit of your body I will set upon your throne.
If your sons will keep my covenant, and my testimony which I will teach them,
Their sons also shall sit upon your throne forever."

For the Lord has chosen Zion; He has desired it for his habitation.
"This is my resting place forever; here I will dwell, for I have desired it.
I will abundantly bless her provision; I will satisfy her needy with bread.
Her priests also I will clothe with salvation; and her godly ones will sing aloud for joy.
There I will cause the horn of David to spring forth;
I have prepared a lamp for my anointed.
His enemies I will clothe with shame; but upon himself his crown shall shine."

- Psalm 132

It's been impossible for me to write about this one with any integrity, because I've needed to be busted by the Lord for having no real interest in finding a place for the Lord and giving him rest. As I walked and talked with him last week, I saw myself an idolater. I've looked for rest in my own victory, my own success, my own accomplishment - hoping in these to escape my futility, incompetence, and uselessness.

In fact, to find a resting place for the Lord is not about being so sweet that I just care about God and not about myself. I really can't stand that sort of religious sentimentality, which wrecks the life of everyone I've known that indulges it. No real human being can afford it for long, and God evidently hates that pretentiousness, too, since he calls himself the God of Jacob. You don't see a lot of that stuff in Jacob. Jacob talks like this (Genesis 28:20-22):

If God will be with me and keep me on this journey that I go on, and will give me bread to eat and garments to wear, and if I return to my father's house in peace, then the Lord will be my God.

This kind of practical talk makes the hemorroids of religious people twitch, but it's how Jacob talked because it is the whole truth of what human beings need out of their God, and this Jacob is who God is not ashamed to call himself the God of, because he is the God of Truth, and truth is what Jacob spoke here. It's pretty conceited to assume lightly that we can be better than our father Jacob - and it simply isn't true.

Considered from this viewpoint, David made sense when he vowed not to give rest to his body until he found a resting place for God. We learn immediately that this can't be about making him a building, although David did intend to have a place built to worship God, because sleep can't be put off more than a few days at most. David's point is that he needed to find rest for God every day before he could find rest for himself.

The letter to Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-22) shows us how that happens. We find a resting place for God when we hear him knocking and let him in by receiving the truth, especially what he needs to show us about ourselves. It's not a problem to be miserable and wretched and blind and poor and naked. All that is provided for - eyesalve, white garments, and the true gold are promised and available. But to be wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked and not to know it because we won't let it be made known to us, that's trouble.


Sunday, November 04, 2007

"But, God knows, they had learned how to resist temptation."

I've been reading Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, 1963. It's one of those things I should have read a long time ago.

A brief guide to the perplexed. Hannah Arendt was a German Jewish political theorist and philosopher who covered the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem in 1961. Eichmann was a colonel in the SS, a specialist in the technology of mass deportation who really had no hatred of the Jews but who did his job as well as he could. His job included arranging for the annihilation of 400,000 Hungarian Jews in 1944. Like many other Nazis he escaped to Argentina after the war, where Israeli agents had picked him up in 1960 for trial.

Banality, for those unused to the word, means triteness and total lack of originality - a remarkable insight, since people think of evil as fascinating, whereas its alienation from the Creator must eventually result in its being totally uncreative. Pornography, the titilllating details of celebrity lives and their immoralities, various drug experiences, conquests, and mens' empty praise are frustrating because in the end they're completely boring. "Futility of futilities, all is futility!"

Consider just this paragraph at the end of Chapter 8, "Duties of a Law-Abiding citizen:"

And just as the law in civilized countries assumes that the voice of conscience tells everybody "Thou shalt not kill," even though man's natural desires and inclinations may at times be murderous, so the law of Hitler's land demanded that the voice of conscience tell everybody: "Thou shalt kill," although the organizers of the massacres knew full well that murder is against the normal desires and inclinations of most people. Evil in the Third Reich had lost the quality by which most people recognize it - the quality of temptation. Many Germans and many Nazis, probably an overwhelming majority of them, must have been tempted not to murder, not to rob, not to let their neighbors go off to their doom (for that the Jews were transported to their doom they knew, of course, even though many of them may not have known the gruesome details), and not to become accomplices in these crimes by benefiting from them. But, God knows, they had learned how to resist temptation.

Jesus of Nazareth, although I had never seen it quite this way before, puts it far more starkly in Luke 16:15. "That which is high among men is detestable before God." This is no exaggeration. Men don't generate big campaigns to do really decent things like treating others justly, showing mercy, or doing the truth. Big campaigns with shouted slogans are always for shameful things, like bombing and robbing others, forcing peasants into collective farms, fulfilling 5-Year Plans by grinding up mere human beings, spying on and denouncing our neighbors, and such like.

In Acts 12, Herod picked up Peter and put him in a cage, not because he had done anything wrong, but because he would gain favor with religious leaders by publicly executing him after Passover. He assigned 16 soldiers to guard him, but the angel of the Lord led him out of there. The soldiers, having obeyed Herod's law by holding him to be murdered, had ignored God's law, which says, "Justice, justice, you shall pursue." They didn't earn Herod's gratitude for their obedience to the law of evil. Herod "examined" them and ordered them to be "led away" - suffering the fate they were bringing about for Peter. Were they tempted not to participate in the murder of this innocent man? Probably, but being servants of Herod and not of God, they had learned to resist temptation.

The son-in-law of a woman we know went off to Iraq for the noble task of freeing the Iraqis and their petroleum from themselves. Their American Christoid world agreed that this was a noble deed, although she knew well that she wouldn't have felt that way about the Chinese army acting just that way in her own neighborhood, and she has heard how Jesus said, "Whatever you want men to do to you, do so to them." She, her daughter, and her son-in-law were certainly tempted to avoid harming themselves and others by participating in this evil. But her "Christian" friends were all shouting "Support the troops!" The world defined this wickedness as his duty, so off he went, and they all rejoiced in their noble service to the world and its lie.

What reward have they found? His wife played the whore and became a drunk while he was away. Their marriage is over, and the lives of their little kids are shattered. How has the world rewarded them for obeying its law of murder and robbery? Now Mom feels forsaken by God, but where does God promise to reward us for being conformed to this world, with its lies and cruelties?

They would have done better to yield to the temptation to be decent human beings and not to suffer in order to do criminal acts to other people that they would not want done to themselves - even though their "Christian" friends were telling them how noble it was. But, God knows, they had learned to resist temptation.

On September 11th, 2001, men grabbed and flew airplanes into the World Trade Center, killing thousands of people. I bet they were tempted not to kill themselves in this way, and not to kill thousands of people they didn't know. But, God knows, they had learned to resist temptation.

Roman Catholic bishops all over the world have covered up the criminal acts of pedophile "priests" to keep their organization looking good at the expense of the victims, even shipping the perps from parish to parish. The current pope has even counseled the bishops to obstruct justice in American courts. Were any of them tempted instead to protect the victims, even at the expense of the perps and their bureaucracy? Probably. But, God knows, they had learned to resist temptation.

Was the school administrator that sent Linda Casas to traumatize, falsely imprison, and defame my son tempted not to commit such an act of abuse to a 14-year-old child? Probably. Did Casas have the common human decency to be tempted not to lie to the cop in order to have Stephen dragged away and terrorized as she did? Most likely. Was Superintendent Heatley, who came up in special education, tempted to admit that Stephen had been wronged and to try to figure out a way to make it right instead of how to cover up and justify this abuse, like those bishops? I bet he was. But, God knows, they had learned to resist temptation.

Are these people all like Eichmann and other Nazi mass murderers? No, what's rather more alarming - this is Hannah Arendt's point - Eichmann and the other Nazis were like these ordinary men of the world, cynically destroying fellow human beings to obey the world's law of inhumanity. You don't have to be unusually bad to be a reliable servant of Satan; you just have to blow off justice and mercy in the interest of some higher purpose.

I think I see better now why Christians and other religious people tend to be even worse than others in this way. They think God is calling us to resist temptation, and virtue is the strength to do so. That's why the scribes and the Pharisees, resisting temptation and proud of it (Luke 18:9-14), were so much more criminal, much farther from the kingdom of God, than the whores and tax gatherers, who were guilty of ordinary human corruption but also capable of ordinary human decency.

God is not calling us to resist temptation. God is calling us to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. If we're tempted to do that when the world calls us to noble acts of domination and injustice, cruelty, and pride, let's give way to that "temptation." Real temptation, in the biblical sense, is any incitement to abandon justice, mercy, and the love of God, however noble the world says it is to do that - and nothing else.