Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Beginnings ...

New Year’s Eve: Just the mere phase conjures up questions on what the New Year will hold for us or perhaps what our resolutions may be. The completion of a year on our calendar is a worldwide event of note. It is celebrated in every country and culture. Some mark the occasion with fireworks, or dropping balls and apples, with parties and concerts; most stay home and watch all these events on their televisions. Families may get together to just “be together” to mark the occasion. What is it about annual advancement that seems to stimulate within us the idea that somehow tomorrow is substantially different that yesterday?

It is interesting to me that our culture embraces the idea of “New Year’s Resolutions” as if they had any merit at all. A careful self examination of any past self-declared resolution, would likely find it was abandoned within the first few weeks of the new year itself. A few last through the first quarter. Some diehards make it into the 2nd or 3rd quarter. But almost no-one on New Year’s Eve can categorically state strict adherence to last year’s resolution. In fact, most people can hardly remember last year’s resolution, unless they intend to use it again this coming year. But despite the facts, we continue to embrace the process over and over and over again.

The funny thing about a New Year’s resolution is that once you blow it, you’ve blown it. The calendar date only moves forward one day in 365, so if you give up on a resolution, it takes quite a few days before you can make another New Year’s declaration. And that is pretty much how society treats these statements. I think they are meant to inspire us, to try harder to improve ourselves or our community in the coming year; or perhaps to remind us of what we did not finish in the last year. I guess the feelings are positive while we make them. The intentions seem to be affirmative.

But isn’t that all a load of hooey (note the extreme language – hooey being heretofore defined as cattle excrement in large quantity)? We all know full well, we are not going to end the year having kept our resolution. We may not enjoy admitting it, but history is prologue. Our record on keeping promises and resolutions is dim at best. Dads try real hard to keep a promise to their children, but sometimes life or a boss has other plans. Moms try real hard to keep promises to their families, but the unexpected can certainly throw a wrench into that process. Even special occasions like New Years do not impact our ability to follow through on our promises.

Is it that we over-commit perhaps? We pledge more than we expect to be able to perform (again in order to inspire us to shoot for the stars). Or do we consider “circumstances” as viable disclaimers to our intentions of good will? And yet what is the impact of our lack of follow through on the resolutions we declare? The world does not stop revolving. Life goes on. The planets align as they should. No cataclysm. No catastrophe. Nothing really bad happens when we do not actually follow through on the good works we planned to do. But then again, nothing gets better either. It is the lack of improvement that is the invisible catastrophe in our inevitable malaise. We do not realize what it is we are missing. Poor, blind, naked … comes to mind.

But if our intentions are truly good, and motivated to do good, then isn’t that in itself enough? Isn’t the point of this process to inspire good thoughts within us, and to help us to look for things that could be improved? But if so, then seeing without doing is of what value? Yet none of us seems to languish in guilt over broken annual commitments to make our world a better place. I never hear a single person making a new resolution, consumed in guilt over losing the last one. It is rarer still to hear a success story of a resolution either. Does this make us sociopaths? I doubt it. But it does give a clear indication of how much we expect the success we are willing to commit to. And rightly so.

Christ said it best. “Let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ mean ‘no’.” The idea of making verbal commitments beyond a simple answer is meaningless. If you do not have absolute control, you cannot make absolute commitments. Since almost every bit of life is beyond your control, your promises of any kind are simple vanity. You commit to mark your intentions, but not your reality. And yes, this affects a great many things beyond simple New Year’s resolutions. It includes the promises we make to our children; the promises we make to each other, like a marital vow for instance; and even more disturbing the promises we make to ourselves.

So does this mean we should not swear to anything, or make any promises or verbal commitments? Sounds like it, but if you look closely enough there is more the story. Take a marriage vow for example; we make all these commitments to each other, yet 50% of us end our marriages completely, and even those who survive often do so because of forgiving the breakage of vows of our partners. Not promising, and not committing, does not lessen our obligations or more importantly our intentions in the process, so what is the answer? How about recognizing what does last? How about seeing what is eternal and unchanging and making commitments based on Him.

What if the promise I made to my wife began as follows: “It is my clear intention to honor you as my wife, to love and serve only you for the remainder of my life, to be with you both in this world and the world to come – so I recommit myself to my Lord and Savior, and I trust to His strength to see my intentions become reality. I pledge now and always to take our struggles to Him, to employ His forgiveness when we both fall, and to embrace His redemptive power to change what must be changed within me to truly be your husband.” In so humbling myself before my wife and my God, I place my words in His hands for fulfillment – A God who has NEVER failed me or anyone I know. My commitment now extends beyond the boundaries of even our life on this planet, as God is eternal, so is the intention of my marriage. If I am looking for death to cut my bonds, I must ask myself why. When we say we want to be together forever, do we truly mean it? This kind of vow has that potential.

My promise only has merit when based on my humility in accepting God as my guarantor. Where my words cannot be backed with control, His grace is able to overcome any obstacle the world may present. Even my commitment to my God, must be backed with the strength of my God to see it last and not rely on me in any way. All my promises must be made this way. Some have shortened this idea to the phrase “God willing”. But this over-simplifies what it is we are saying and negates what we should truly feel when committing before God. It is not God’s willingness that affects our abilities to keep our commitments, it is our trust in Him that does so. Letting God lead. Allowing God to change us, mold us, and recreate our very thoughts in His own image. This rebirth is our only surety. It does not make our words any stronger. It does not make us more faithful. It acknowledges that He alone is faithful. It is a testament to all who know us, and who hear us commit in this way, that we know our own unworthiness and therefore trust completely in the faithfulness of our God. His strength. His ability. His love.

When we learn to think this way, New Beginnings can happen all the time. We do not need to wait for New Year’s Eve, a birthday, or some other special occasion in order to mark what our lives will be like going forward. And what is more, when commitments are made in this way, they last. For it is not us that sees to their fulfillment, it is our God that does. We are effectively giving God the carte blanche He needs in our lives to keep us moving forward. He is able to remind us, to inspire us, to alter our perceptions, increase our abilities, and provide us with the motivation we need to complete the works He sets before us.

As this process increases, we promise less and less. It is not our fear of commitment that deters us, but the realization that God must lead and not us. We become more content to follow than to strike out on our own. This is how it should be. It is our pride that must be killed in order for humility to truly be born in us. As our own self interest disintegrates, selfless service is put in its place. Becoming changed is a process that begins as soon as we let it. It was designed this way. No need to wait for heaven to start. No need to postpone freedom from the self-inflicted-pain we call evil. The time to begin is now. Success is not in our hands, and so therefore is a surety from our God. Will you join me in humbly accepting His gift to us? …

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Unwrapping Ecstasy ...

Tis the season one more time! Oh I know the purists out there realize this is not the actual date of birth of Jesus Christ, in point of fact this date has clearly pagan origins. And I know the politically correct crowd would wish me a Happy Holidays rather than a Merry Christmas, after all I may celebrate Hanukah or Cuanza as well. And still the militant Christians are careful to remind me that the only reason for the season is still Jesus. But this year, none of that matters, I finally unwrapped ecstasy and my world may never be the same.

I often wonder where the custom of exchanging gifts came from as it is tied to the celebration of the Birth of Christ. Maybe in honor of the greatest gift ever given to the world, we make a pitiful attempt of our own to commemorate it? Or perhaps since Jesus is no longer available in the flesh to us, we give gifts to each other in His place? But if this is so, then perhaps we should not give to those we know, but to those in need – that would seem to be more Christian than the current practice. Nonetheless, it cannot take away from the present I was given this year. Ecstasy wrapped in a rather plain wrapper, a no frills packaging, I guess you could call it.

The present was not even kept under our tree this year. Strangely it was kept in the bathroom, my bathroom to be precise. Strange place for a gift I imagine; particularly since I do tend to be spending more and more time in there these days as I get older. The wrapping paper was red and black, with gold trim, but there was no bow to speak of. And no really clear tag of who it was from, it seems as though several folks who care about me got together on this gift and each made their own contribution.

Most guys I know would love a HUGE flat screen TV in full 1080p high definition, with a surround sound BluRay player to go with it. My gift was better than that. Other folks I know would love a new computer with dual quad processors and 20 terabytes of hard disk storage running a 64 bit OS. My gift contained more capability, more speed, and is more reliable than that. Some guys I know would settle for something ornate to wear on their wrists, a new Rolex or Omega perhaps with rose colored gold bracelet, and a meteorite face place. My gift is more accurate than that, and worth far more.

When you think about all the things you have collected and received in your life, you can conjure up some fond memories. But most of the things in your life tend to get old, fade, and ultimately lose their value. I’ll grant you it takes much longer for a watch to lose utility than a new computer, but the truism still holds. The relationships you have in your life can be much longer lasting, and more rewarding, but they too are impacted by the effects of evil and self interest. Some relationships expire due to these two inexorably bound concepts; so even memories of people and of your interactions are sometimes limited in scope and length.

There is however a gift that can last a lifetime and more. It comes like everything else of an infinite nature from the source of all infinite gifts. Beyond the gift of Salvation, which is our only road home; beyond the gift of our Savior’s birth, which was the miracle that began the enactment of our Salvation is a gift of truth in a world of half-lies, darkness, deception, and despair. The present I unwrapped was packaged in my Bible, it’s now faded red cover, gold trim, and black ink reached out and took hold of my heart. A common text, a common memory verse every child learns, a billboard held up at NFL football games by a clown in a brightly colored wig – John 3:16. “For God so loved the world, He gave His only Son …”

So many new truths jumped out at me from this old text of scripture. First, was WHO God loved. It says God loved the “world”; NOT God loved those who professed faith in Him. God does not love ONLY those who say they love Him, He loved every single life on planet earth, every single human who has ever lived regardless of their status in the faith. The world is God’s enemy and yet God follows His own advice and truly loves His enemy. The world takes from God without so much as a thank you. And God’s response was to give it more and more, and finally everything in the form of His Son.

I cannot even begin to imagine, WHY God loves the world. It is certainly NOT because the world deserves His love. We have done nothing to earn love, rather we have done much to earn punishment and contempt. We are known for our hatred of each other, more than our generosity. We do little to honor our example of love and much to destroy it completely. So the question of WHY God loves His enemy must be answered only in the definition of love itself. Perhaps as a parent loves a child because they are biologically connected. Even when the child has mis-behaved, or like in our case, has contracted a fatal debilitating disease that impairs judgment and inflicts pain on everyone around. Maybe only in this was can we begin to comprehend WHY.

Regardless of WHY remains the FACT that God does love us. Love that holds nothing back. Love that defines happiness. Love that is eternal. We have been looking through blinded eyes, at blurry images, with distorted sound for so so long. Our vision is worse that our old TV’s not even the black and whites were this badly deformed. But for so long the devil has made us think that God had nothing good to offer us; and sin and evil were the fun things, the cool things, the only things were having. He was putting poop on our plates and calling it caviar. And like idiots we were eating it by the handful. But when our vision is corrected, when we open our eyes for the first time without our disease impacting our sight, the truth becomes clear.

We have relied on the wisdom of men, and on our technological prowess, substituting the simple wisdom of God, for the complex situational ethics of evil. We hope for Google to have our answers, and our hard drives to have the capacity to store them. But the simplest of people, the lowest of IQ’s is able to grasp the simple concept in action of love. It is God’s love for us His enemy that can boggle the mind, and make meaningless our technical accomplishments. We need no answers beyond a love that would give us EVERYTHING. We need no search engine to define the meaning of sacrifice that would offer us EVERYTHING and demand in exchange nothing. God offers us complete release from our pain, and our evil, as nothing more than a gift.

This truth is ecstasy. It cannot be taken away. It cannot be changed. It cannot dull over the years but in fact only gain in strength over the years. It’s meaning and its definition only continue to become clearer and more in focus as we experience the transformational love of our Savior. To realize that God only ever wishes to offer us ecstasy on a level we are hardly ready to experience; there is nothing more under my tree that can move me like this. There is nothing under heaven as important or meaningful to me as this. Truth is worth more than any lie ever told. It is worth more than the entirety of man’s ‘wisdom’. It is not just a matter of faith to me, but a matter of fact to me. For I can see no other transformational power in all the universe, that is at work in the lives of men to redeem them from the pain they are diseased with, than that of our Lord Jesus Christ. Happy birthday to our God [belated as it may be] and thank YOU for a gift of sheer ecstasy that continues to warm my very soul.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Cussing My Head Off ...

“I’m pissed off, and I am not going to take it anymore.” Was that one strong enough? How about – “I’m mad as hell, and I am not going to take it anymore.” Any better? Maybe better to be more simplistic, something on the order of just plain old – “damn it”. Have I communicated my frustration effectively yet? Do you get it that I am mad? And being a follower of our Creator God, does my choice of language seem contradictory to you? Most Christians I know think that cussing, or swear words, are evil and in fact a sin. I say they are wrong, here’s why …

Ironically, my thinking on this topic has been heavily influenced by two figures, George Carlin and Jesus Christ. Find that hard to believe? But they seem to agree on this topic. George points out that when you examine our language, our speaking, and our communication in a deeper thoughtful manner – you realize that all we have is words. Some words are spoken to generate an emotional response, some are considered slang or having multiple meanings, some are considered guttural in nature and are used mostly for shock value. It is the last category that tends to comprise what we now call swear words, cursing, or like they say it down south – cussing.

But any modern curse word you can think of is really only a word. No different than any other word, except in its commonly held definition and purpose. A highly derogatory word for a woman’s genitalia for example, is often used to describe a particularly objectionable woman herself. Also used, is a technical reference to the female of the canine species or perhaps references to general sexual promiscuity. You see, I have just called to mind three words in your head without actually spelling them out for you. But everyone knows what I am talking about. It is the application of these three words that conjures up the “shock value” of the speech itself. And thus, three words with only slightly relevant associations, become swear words in the English vernacular.

George Carlin nearly pioneered this thinking in his now infamous bit entitled “Seven words you cannot say on television”. I love that one. What’s more I used to play his CD of it, in my car on family vacations with my young teenagers in the car. Does that shock you? It shouldn’t. George merely makes the point that our language is a product of our thinking, and our association of words is largely dictated to us. We rarely think independently from the masses, and therefore we deserve what we get, be it in politics, language or society in general. My intention was not to teach my children “how” to swear effectively – they would learn that really well in school. My intention was to teach them something much deeper – how we speak is an indication of how we think, and what we value.

This is where Jesus continues the lesson. In His day, swearing had a bit different meaning than ours. Swearing or vowing in His day, was language used to commit oneself to a binding agreement or contract between two people. If you swore to provide 2 cows to your neighbor by the 25th of the month, on the head of your first born daughter – then you better fulfill the contract, or your daughter’s head would literally be cut off. It was no light matter. The words were strictly and literally enforced. Christ pointed out the fallacy of this thinking by advising we “simply let our yes be yes and our no mean no”. He further pointed out that we “control” nothing. “Leopards cannot change their spots.” “We cannot add one day to our lives by simply wanting it”. In effect we can’t control anything, so it is pointless to swear before God, or before each other as to the validity of our commitments.

But Christ had more to witness on the topic. James and John a couple of His first picks for disciples were known throughout their home geography as “sons of thunder”. The literal meaning of this meant – they swore like sailors – conjure up an image of a Marine with Terets. And these 2 were the first representatives of the meek, mild, savior. Peter went off half-cocked all the time, and had no formal education; you can only imagine the choice of words these “fishermen” were used to saying prior to really knowing Jesus. Yet there is no written reprimand of Christ to correct the language of any of His disciples in the entire New Testament. And in my reading, I have not found the use of curse words in what they said.

Christ too got angry more than once, when he saw how His temple was being treated by the folks who were supposed to be ministering to their fellow believers. The level of apostasy that turns true religion into a purely financial industry made Christ very angry. Enough for Him to take physical action and “cleanse” the temple by overturning the tables setup for money making, and scaring the money changers out of the place. But nowhere in scripture was there recorded a tirade of curse words during the process. Nor are the pictures of Christ using a horse whip accurate. For a brief moment, divinity simply flashed through His humanity, and when the money changers looked at Him their own sinfulness was revealed. This image was too intense for them, and they fled on their own from the revelation. The witness to this truth, is the fact that immediately after the “cleansing”, Christ ministered to the children and believers who had come to the temple. If you run screaming swear words, and cracking a horse whip, into a room of children they will be the first ones out the door (and you should prepare for a heavy lawsuit and criminal penalty).

More important to Christ than your ability to speak, or your choice of words, was the thoughts behind them. Using appropriate legal language to break the commitment to honor their parents, was deemed wrong by Christ in His time. Christ saw that commitment as binding for life. Every time local leaders tried to trick Christ with no-win questions, he would confound them by revealing their motives, and showing them what was really important. Using religion to justify murder was how our Savior was killed on this earth. Upright, believers, who professed a lifelong belief in the coming Messiah, refused to accept the truth when they heard it, and using proper language and horrific motives, crucified the very Messiah they should have worshipped.

And we have still REFUSED to learn this lesson in Christianity. Christian beliefs are SO often associated with hate speech. Christians carrying signs at protest to offer death to homosexuals. Christians who take it upon themselves to reason they should kill abortion doctors in order spare the “innocent”. Christians who devoutly support a death penalty in spite of evidence that many “innocents” have been wrongly executed, and even those who are guilty are offered hope through a plan of salvation by God. Christians, content to sit in judgment of others, while full of sin in their own lives. Complete hypocrites. Complete abomination – liars, whoremongers, adulterers and these are those who profess to serve our God. And you worry about cussing?

Shock jocks, use language to achieve the exact same result as those who swear. But they do it for money. Rush Limbaugh and Howard Stern to name a few. Ironically, I hear less condemnation on Howard’s show than on Rush’s. But then I hear no hope on Howard or Rush. I am angry because I want the hate speech to stop where Christians are concerned. Angrier still because I know the hate speech comes from a heart diseased with the same condition. Words do reflect our motives, and our attitudes. When our minds are occupied by love, and by the transforming power of our Creator God, we do NOT condemn our brothers. Instead we see our own need of Christ, and simply love our brother unconditionally. His need of Christ and reform of his life, is exactly like our own. We are all THE SAME. We all desperately need Christ. We all radically need a change in our thinking and our motives, that will lead to a much better level of spoken words.

Christ focused on the motives of what we say, not on the particular words. He sought to correct problems where they originate, not just superficial symptoms of much larger problems that lay underneath. I can politely, in the sweetest of words, declare my absolute apathy for your life and your problems. More to the point, I can lie and fake a superficial interest in you as a person, and have no real underlying interest in you. In this, I reveal the absolute lack of God in me, and overabundance of evil. Better I tell you how fricking much I love you and mean it; than use extravagant words to convey no real emotion and leave you alone. I wish Christian’s would get pissed off, at hypocrisy in their own lives. I wish they would get a passion for love back in their hearts. I wish they would hate seeing their religion turned into a simple financial enterprise. If enough of us did, we would not have to worry about cussing, we would be too busy loving, and the whole world would change for the better …

Friday, December 11, 2009

Barefoot, Pregnant, & in the Kitchen

Who comes up with these sayings? More to the point, whoever believed this was an expected role for a woman? I have heard of cultural disparities but even against some of those, this tag-line seems extreme. In “traditional” Japan, for instance, women walked several paces behind their husbands as a sign of respect. But even more than 50 years ago when this might have been more normal in Japan, women always wore shoes, were frequently out of the home itself, and child rearing was still an important decision – note that not many Japanese families had 10 or 12 siblings. So where does this stuff come from?

The sad part about tag-lines like this; is that some folks believe this to be the ONLY expected role of a woman, and that somehow God set it up that way. Of course this is yet another lie spread by the master of lies who often blames God for the things he initiates. But while most Christians will dismiss this idea of a role as the poop-factory it is, they still cling to a few preconceived ideas about roles we take on in our marriages and the church; i.e. who should have them; and in general our attitude about them.

For instance, the text advising “wives to submit to your own husband’s” is now completely out of favor; mostly because it has been overused, and is rarely quoted completely. Most preachers stop at Ephesians 5:22 and do not continue the thought all the way to verse 25. If they did, they would get a better picture of the kind of “submission” the inspired author (Paul) intended. But in these texts is a key point that has been largely missed by greater Christianity, the role of submission to God. Even the council to wives to submit to their husbands is followed by saying “as unto the Lord”. We tend to ZOOM in on the submission part related to the husband, and forget totally the submission part related to God.

This is our human weakness showing. Men like the idea of a woman having to “give in” to their final authority under the auspices of marriage so this is the part of the text that gets the most attention. But I submit, the first part is null and void without considering the entirety of the advice. Submission to God MUST preempt even the thought of submission to men. Until we are willing to want what God wants, need what God needs, and love how God loves – we are in no position, i.e. we have no ability to submit to each other. Submission of our will to God is the beginning of Salvation. It is the mechanism of our freedom from sin, and our entrance into enlightenment.

Through submitting our will to God, we humble ourselves, and accept His gift – the gift of Salvation – of being saved from our sins and ourselves. This is what God has been longing to give us. It is NOT about going to heaven. It is about being made free from the bondage of sin. To be made free, someone has to do the work, and that someone is NOT you. You cannot. More to the point, you WILL not. Your entire life is proof positive of this. Humans do not have the will to become perfect, let alone the inclination. Most of us are content in the evil we hurt ourselves with. It is a rare thing that the evil produces enough pain in our lives to make us truly crave change. But were we to see evil as it truly is, were we to understand its horrific affects in our lives, in the lives of those we hurt, in the lives of those who care about us and our victims, we would crave to be freed from the evil we are slave to commit.

And this is the gift of Salvation, a freedom from the bondage of sin, that only Christ can create in the human heart and mind. We must allow Him to do so. In order for that to occur, we must submit or yield our evil, carnal, nature, our natural decisions up to God and let Him decide for us, sometimes in spite of us. If we try to keep control over our decisions, we end up making the wrong ones over and over and over again. In order for us to achieve Salvation from evil we must learn to submit. This is our weapon. It is not our strength of character that frees us from sin, but the recognition of our only hope in God. It is His strength, made perfect through our weakness, through our submission. It is His work to eliminate sin in us. We must let Him and stay out of the way.

But the entire process of Salvation depends on our willingness to submit. So of course, the devil targets submission and packages it as the worst of all crimes to commit. Rather than put God in the picture, the devil has only to use the truthful argument that women should NOT be submitting to men. That is actually true, and even Biblical. The text does not say for women to submit to men, it says “to their own husbands”. But it is easy to forget this distinction and maintain the original premise that women should not submit to any man. The devil fosters a spirit of independence in each of us. His intent is not to insure we do not submit to each other, but to make sure we forget to submit to God. Submission to God changes lives.

To further inflame the process, the devil invents tag-lines like the title of this BLOG entry, and then throws it out there as if it were from the Bible itself. He attacks weak minded men who are already prone to chauvinism and gets them to start misusing scripture to beat women over the head with. He tries to associate the first part of the text with the tag-line above and blend them together. But this is all lies, told by the father of lies, intended to keep us ALL from submitting to God. Submission to God brings about the enactment of Salvation in our lives right here and right now.

After yielding up our will to the Lord, we become changed. We begin to see things differently. Where once was arrogance, now we see the wisdom of humility. Where once was only self-interest, we see now the wisdom of truly loving another – to sacrifice at all costs for the happiness of another without any thought of our own gain in the process. This wisdom can only come to the changed heart, to the heart that has been literally re-created by our Creator God. This is what being Born Again truly means. It is not uttering silly sounds that masquerade as a ‘divine’ language while gyrating across the floor claiming to feel the Holy Spirit. That chaos is not a sign of redemption, it is a sign of anarchy. Being Born Again is the process of submitting our will to God, of trusting in Him to save us like a baby must trust its parent to keep it alive. All of our thoughts, all of our desires, all of our habits must be reborn with a new insight. That is being Born Again.

But nothing comes to those who strive to maintain control, which is only an illusion anyway. Women who will NOT submit to their husbands, usually will NOT submit to God either. But the danger is not just for women. Men are counseled in that same text to “love their wives as God loves the church”. Hello!!! Christ literally died a tortured death to redeem His church. He loves it more than His own life. He gave EVERYTHING to it, and for it. But again men are NOT capable of this kind of love, until they too learn to submit their own wills to God. Men cannot understand the beauty of this sacrifice, and the deep fulfillment of the gift of loving someone, until their own minds have been freed of the bondage of evil. Men too must submit, before they are truly capable of loving. But too many men have ignored this prerequisite and defined “loving their wives” to suit their own self interest. In this we miss the blessing the Lord intended, and again misuse His word.

Men want to win the arguments with their wives focusing on the idea that their wives should be submitting, without asking themselves first – why is there an argument in the first place? Is it over money, career, friends, food, or household items? Then no argument could exist, if like Christ did for His church, the husband simply demonstrated His own love for his wife. Where men were meant to lead, was in the spiritual matters of the home. In this area, they were “supposed” to be the authority. Men were to set the example of submission to God, before expecting their wives to see the wisdom of submission to them. It is easy to love a man who submits himself wholly to God, as it easy to love a woman who does the same. But again it is submission to God that BEGINS this process, and for that matter completes it. Without submitting to God first, failure is sure to result.

Once we accept the humility of submission to God, we are far more willing to accept His council in whatever format it comes. The roles we take on in the church can come without expectation if we look first through humbled eyes. When we accept our condition, and our healing, we are thankful for God’s guidance whether it comes from the mouth of a child, or a parent, or a friend, or a stranger, or even an atheist. God can send us guidance through anyone. He is not constricted by prejudices against sex, or age, or race, or even orientation or beliefs systems. He is willing to work for ALL men, and through ANY who are willing to be used. We should not judge the truth by the package it comes in. We should accept the truth and adhere to the council without glorifying the messenger, only the message. Were we to see this, our lives would be so much more full, so much better …

Friday, December 4, 2009

Tall Pointy Hats ...

Have you ever wondered where the tradition of headwear came from? After all covering our heads in the cold seems like a good idea, but when practicality is no longer the goal, it seems being ornate takes over. You used to be able to tell the good guys from the bad guys in a western by the color of their hats – good guys wore white, bad guys wore black. But color has long since lost any value in this regard; John Travolta made wearing black cowboy hats a fad after the movie Urban Cowboy; and as I recall the KKK prefers wearing white sheets on their heads. So color does not mean anything anymore.

In times of wars past, a helmet protected the head, and generally identified which side you were fighting for. Not anymore; these days it looks more like those in a uniform and those who are not. Berets were worn at one time by elite fighting forces, we even named one of them “Green Berets” but I am not certain the name has remained in effect, it seems to have been subsumed by the terms “Special Forces” or “Rangers” today. In any case headgear seems to have always had a role in military activities.

I guess the most identifiable place where “hats” make the biggest difference is related to royalty. Crowns and tiara’s are where the big money lies. The more ornate the crown of course, the more valuable. Crowns were meant to be rare, generally only the King ever wore a crown. Peasants would not dream of such a thing. But peasants were meant to take pride in the audacity and beauty of the crowns belonging to King and country where they were from. Adding jewels, adding artistic carvings, constructing them of complex design – all of these considerations go in to the making of a crown that is “fit for a king”. But then, who wears crowns anymore? Most are now found on display in Museums.

You could argue that due to the invention of democracy, people think differently about crowns now. No one would dare to wear a crown anymore, either for fear of it getting stolen, or for ridicule in implying they were somehow superior to their peers. As I stated above, it is not as though practicality is the goal of headwear anymore. But there is one trait in ornate headwear that seems to have survived the ages; it seems the taller the hat, the more regal, or more important must be its wearer. Look at the head-dress of American Indian tribes, the chief has many many feathers, the braves have a few depending on age, and skill. The crowns of the Pharoah’s of Eqypt were tall for the Royal couple, much less so for any other positions. Even the grand dragon of the KKK has a more ornate Sheet than his co-conspirators. And one last place I can think of off-hand, within the Catholic church, the Pope alone wears the most ornate of head-gear left on the planet. Do you ever wonder why this trait has endured?

I have a theory about it. I believe the premise was derived from Heaven itself. I imagine that the King of Kings and Lord of Lords has a crown fit for His position in the Universe. I can imagine it is taller and more elaborate than any the world could ever imagine. I imagine that He sits at the right hand of His Father, who sits on the Throne at the highest pinnacle, or highest point within the city of Heaven itself. A brilliant shining beacon of light that emanates to the entire Universe. So if the most important guy gets the tallest most important hat, then it stands to reason that our God probably has the tallest, nicest one ever conceived.

My guess is that in an effort to foster vanity and inequality in our perceptions of our fellow man, Satan polluted the idea of crowns and introduced them into our various cultures with as much negative baggage as possible. Examine the contrast for a second; God our Father, despite whatever head-gear He prefers, is willing to give us any good thing at a moment’s notice – He spends His time trying to think of things to do FOR His creation, not what He can get FROM it. Yet when an earthly king puts on his elaborate crown, he very rarely puts it aside to do the work of a servant. More often, he gets caught up in the perceptions of superiority that accompany a crown, and does only the work he believes is worthy of him or his position. When we put on a crown, we become the object of service, not the instrument or the tool of it.

Yet the Old Testament of the Bible outlines very clearly the idea that NO man is superior to another in any way shape or form. Abraham, Joseph, Daniel, Elijah, and many others refused to bow themselves down in the presence of earthly kings or warlords. It was not the humility they were supposed to lose, but even the remote idea of worshipping anything other than God. To bow ONLY before God, was to show the proper respect to the proper source that alone deserved it. Bowing down before idols was considered a major affront to our Creator God. Sticks, stones, sculptures and our fellow man were not to warrant the same respect as that given to our Lord in Heaven. Many times Biblical patriarchs refused to bow themselves down to powerful earthly Kings, and risked their very lives in this seeming act of defiance. Not so with us.

When you consider the Bible’s view that indeed ALL men are created equal, and are equally flawed, it seems the teaching of bowing in submission only to God to be another reinforcement of the gospel itself. In order to be saved, we must humble ourselves only to God, accept only His gift, and submit our will ONLY to Him. It is God alone who can change us; not our pastor, or our parents, or our therapists. It is God alone who can redefine the creation of a man. It is in God alone we can be born again through the miracle of His redemptive power.

This should be a liberating concept particularly to our pastors and spiritual leaders. Those who take up the work of the Lord to spread His word, and His gospel, should be freed by not carrying the burden of undo respect or homage by their brothers in Christ. Pastors are NOT our role models, Christ alone can fulfill this calling. Pastors are NOT expected to be perfect anymore than the man in my mirror is. If I seek perfection, I should look to Christ, not to those who try to teach me. This is a liberating idea that maintains the equality of our humanity, no matter what role He chooses for us in fulfilling His good purposes and work. All the glory, all the honor, all the respect, can go to Christ – we can save the humility for each other.

As I thought about this, the concept of the pointy hat began to eat at me. Not only is the papal headwear ornate, taller than almost any other hat on planet earth, it is inscribed with the latin words – Vicarious Filii Dei – meaning ‘replacement for the Son of God’. Catholic tradition is built on the idea that the Apostle Peter was named the first Pope of the church. That Christ’s statement regarding building His church “upon a rock” was meant to mean Peter. Subsequent interpretations of this same scripture have alternate meanings, in that Peter was referred to as a Stone compared to Christ alone referred to as “the Rock” upon which the church would be built. This has been a point of contention between Catholics and Protestants for years.

But looking past which side of the interpretation you subscribe to, there is a much larger issue at hand. Where in the Bible anywhere does it recommend that any church leader should put on a tall, ornate, pointy hat? You see what happens to men in politics when they wear a crown, happens to men in religion as well. The idea of being servant of all, is replaced by becoming the object of all service. Men bow before the Pope, kiss a ring he wears on his hands. Men humble themselves before the Pope and the entire world covers him extensively in their news media. Why? ALL men are created equal, and are equally flawed. It occurs to me, the Pope must suffer much by carrying the undo burden of men bowing to his frailty. Yet I have never heard of a Pope asking believers to show homage only to Christ. Should not the greatest teacher of all direct all to the source of love, and true source of worship? Isn’t that what the original Christ did?

Throughout the life of Christ on earth He wore no kingly robes. He wore no crown, except one made of thorns to mock Him at His death. He who should have been King of all, was in fact, servant of all. Christ served us. He served the poor in person, with kindness, with healing, with truth taught in gentle humility and love. He did not command throngs to serve Him, but instead served them all Himself. Our example, was the Son of Man, the true leader of our faith, of our religion, who dressed modestly, who acted incessantly, and who loved as no other ever could or will. He wore no pointy hat in our world. He showed us what to aspire to. I wonder if there will ever be a Pope of the Catholic faith, who foregoes the pomp and circumstance, who casts down the hat in humility, and directs all those who follow him to follow Christ. I wonder if other Christians, and leaders of the faith in other churches, will ever cast aside their wealth, put aside their fame, and direct others to follow only Christ. The danger in our leaders is their belief that they in fact lead, when the truth is that only Christ can lead. We are ALL only His humble servants …