Jesusians

A Courteous Contrararian

Kindness is Wrong

Written By: Jon Jaroszewski - Apr• 14•15

What kind of world are we making for ourselves? When did being kind to another human become wrong?

You know what I’m talking about.

The Bible doesn’t talk much about pizza or wedding cakes, so we’re pretty much on our own, but again, when is it wrong to be nice? I just can’t get past that question.

I can imagine the early drafts of one of Jesus’ sermons: Do unto others as you think they would like to no, that’s not quite right, Do unto others only if…wait, let me channel my inner Father,,, that’s better. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, for in that way you fulfill the Law and the Prophets. That’s it! Cool, right?

Right, Jesus. The coolest.

If I would like somebody to cook me a pizza, I should endeavor to cook pizzas for other people. If I would like my wedding to be a joyous occasion, with the best cake I can afford, then   “But” you might interrupt, “those people” (we are gonna have problems whenever we disassociate another group from ourselves) “live a lifestyle that I can’t condone.

If this is the new litmus test, if we are setting a threshold for the amount of sin that is allowable in our customers, then we should make any prospect fill out a questionnaire before serving them.

Q.  Can I get a coney dog and fries?

A.  It depends. How often have you looked lustfully on a woman who is not your wife?

How can they hear unless someone preaches to them?  Seems like a reasonable question. Will we only preach to them if they don’t seem incorrigible? Or is our gospel message essentially, “Jesus loves you but me – well, the world is looking at me to see if I will condone your lifestyle. If I make you a pizza someone might turn gay.”

We don’t preach with our mouths anyway. Words aren’t trustworthy. We admit as much when we refuse to serve LGBT people. And how can they hear unless comes from Paul in Romans 10. He is referencing the OT, Isaiah, if I remember correctly.

In Romans 10 Paul is giving us a logical path to salvation in a series of questions, and he concludes with our actions as paramount in bringing the gospel message. I’ll start with a quote, Romans 10:13  for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”  and now I’ll paraphrase

How can they call on him if they haven’t believed in him?

How can they believe in him unless somebody tells them about him?

How can they tell him unless they are sent?

Then Paul concludes, but without a question. How beautiful are the feet of those who bring the good news! 

The messenger might have a nice mouth, but it is the feet that are beautiful to Paul. It’s actions, not words, the cake maker would agree. But what about the good news part? Is meanness ever good news? Because if it’s not, how did we ever start to think being nice is plain wrong? “Good news, Mister and Mister, no cake for you!”

If the feet of those who bring good news is the answer to the opening statement, (everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved) – and it is – then we need to act like we’ve got good news.

When we concentrate on sin and “lifestyle,” when we point away from grace and toward works with our actions, we are playing into the devil’s hands. We are pointing people smack dab onto the center of the broad road that leads to destruction instead of taking them by the hand and leading them onto the narrow road that leads to life. That’s the road that few people find, so we have to lead them. Hence, blessed are the feet of the messenger.

Maybe we could go back to the way laws were in the 1960s. Then we could throw gay people into prison for their iniquity. But then, we’d have to visit them according to Jesus. And bring them a drink of water. But no pizza!

The only argument for denial of service that makes any biblical sense is the proverbial bad company ruins good character train of thought. We might think if we make it easy for LGBT people to live, we are somehow promoting their lifestyle; harming society as we acquiesce to society’s very different standards. Biblically speaking, that’s wrong.

Here is God’s advice to the Israelites as they trudged in chains toward Babylon. Israel was no more. The Temple had been destroyed. Countless thousands had died in battle or in the sacking of towns and cities. Thousands more had died during the sieges, from famine and disease.

The survivors, witnesses and participants in the recent horrors, were on a forced march to a strange land where they would most likely become slaves. It seemed as though YHWH had abandoned them. They went to a land more amoral than their own, and filled with idols to other gods.

On the march, God sent word by Jeremiah; an encouragement. The famous verse 29:11 about the plans he had for his people – to give them a hope and a future. An assurance (that they desperately needed at that moment) that he planned to help them not harm them.

And how were the displaced Israelites to avail themselves of the blessing? Surely they were to keep to themselves pure in regard to their surrounding evil culture. Surely they were to not make any wayward pizzas or wedding cakes?

Nope, they were to be peaceable, and nice. They were to live among the Babylonians, to pray for them, even to pray for the Babylonians to prosper, as a rising tide raises all boats.

This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon:

“Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease.

Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” [Jer 29:4-7]

God seems remarkably consistent in the passages I’ve selected: We can’t be mean to evil people, we should pray for their peace and prosperity. We can’t be mean if our witness is at all important to us, and we can’t be mean if we choose to heed Jesus’ commands, especially that Golden Rule one. That being said, have I mentioned that I can’t think of one good reason not to be nice to unbelievers.

Well, maybe one; if we don’t interact with unbelievers, they won’t know how mean we can really be.

 

 

Blinded By The Light

Written By: Jon Jaroszewski - Apr• 11•15

We’re all blind to a certain extant, biblically speaking. There are passages we read and yet are unable to fully comprehend. And why? Because the Lord has decreed that it be so. He “blinds” us and freely admits it. Here is the first passage in the Bible to use the word blind, The LORD said to him, “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the LORD?” [Exodus 4:11] It sounds like Yahweh is talking about physical blindness but we know better, don’t we? There are too many passages in which God claims to blind us spiritually.

If I were to dispute that God blinds us, I would probably claim that the unbeliever is blinded while the believer can “see”. But scripture tells us differently. Who is blind but my servant, and deaf like the messenger I send? Who is blind like the one in covenant with me, blind like the servant of the LORD? [Isa 42:19] It is hard to dispute that it is the believer who is blinded; the one who is a servant, a messenger, the one in covenant.

“Ah,” I can hear you thinking, “but that was the OT believer that was blinded. Now we have the Holy Spirit to teach us. And we have the mind of Christ.” The Holy Spirit undoubtedly illuminates the texts for us, but perhaps he blinds us to certain teachings until we are ready for a more advanced class. This is why I speak to them in parables: “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand. [Mat 13:13 NIV] Jesus admitted he spoke to us in parables so we would not see!

“No,” I hear your imaginary voice exclaim once more, “he spoke in parables so the Pharisees could not understand. The believer understands the parable.”  Nope. The disciples didn’t understand the parables either. They admitted as much. Jesus explained a couple of parables to them, but even today we argue about what Jesus meant by some of his stories.

I imagine you to have one final defense; one more way in which you could claim that although others have been blinded, you are not. “All of these passages occurred before the crucifixion, before the Spirit came to indwell us.” Here’s a quote from Jesus about believers who have been blinded even though they have the Spirit within. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. [Rev 3:18]

Here are a few more of Jesus’ deliberate blindings. Jesus said,”For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.” [John 9:39]

“He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn–and I would heal them.” [John 12:40]

as it is written: “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that could not see and ears that could not hear, to this very day.” [Romans 11:8] This last one is from Paul, about the Jews. But he also warns us to be careful, because God can do to us what he did to the nation of Israel.

So why would God deliberately blind his Chosen people, and why might he choose to blind us even today? Great Question! We’ll begin to deal with it.

Next time.

Not About Easter

Written By: Jon Jaroszewski - Apr• 06•15

Today’s service was great. The music, the preaching, the bonhomie. It was a good gospel message on a day when a good gospel message is somehow even more appropriate than ever. We went to a crowded restaurant after a Baptist nap, the usual Easter. It was great but this post isn’t about Easter.

It is about our perceptions of people. Or at least, my perceptions of people. I am surprised by how shallow I am.

I went to a party and I knew that someone at that party had recently had a particular augmentation, actually two of them. I was excited to see the results but not out of prurient interest, it was because I could personally observe the “after.” I had never known someone that had that particular set of enhancements that I had known “before.”

I was afraid they would be garish; that she would want to get her money’s worth. I came up with a little joke in case they were. I knew she would want a compliment, if possible, and I wanted to be ready to change the expectation if need be. I wanted to be nice without lying.

When I saw her at the party she was absolutely stunning. She had not gone overboard. I wouldn’t have to lie.

I thought I would use my joke anyway. “You look great! …Did you do something with your hair?” She laughed and told me what had really changed, as if I didn’t know. I asked her if young men still looked her in the eye and she told me not so much.

I couldn’t get over how different she looked. She was pretty before but now she was exotically beautiful. Like a model. How could the change she made make her face prettier to me?

I thought about when somebody loses a lot of weight, how their skin folds because the fat is gone but the skin that covered the fat is still there. I thought maybe the opposite principle was at work: she had the same amount of skin but it stretched now over a larger area underneath. Maybe her facial skin was tauter and that made her prettier. I didn’t think it was just her makeup.

And then she ‘fessed up about the other change she had made. She had ordered colored contact lenses from Italy. They were more subtle than the ones I’ve seen people wear here. The total effect shocked me. The hair, the makeup and the eyes, the …

I can’t believe how shallow I am, how I judge a book by its cover. I have known this normal, modern American middle-class girl for years. She has brains and drive and a kind heart. But suddenly today she seemed like an angel, noble and courageous, and every other trait one could wish for in someone they knew well. But she hadn’t changed. She was still the same girl I have always known.

I have always thought I was a good judge of character, but then, doesn’t everybody? And I think I am really good at reading someone’s character from their face.

When President Lincoln’s Secretary of War (now called the Secretary of Defense) resigned in the middle of the Civil War, Lincoln’s advisors were almost unanimous as to who should replace him. He picked another man instead. When they asked him why, he said he didn’t like the first man’s face. When they protested that a man isn’t responsible for his own face, Lincoln told them every man over forty is responsible for his own face.

I guess I have to face the fact (pun intended, but only as an afterthought) that I am not as good at reading faces as I thought. Because when the face changed ever so slightly, my opinion of which character traits were predominant in the person changed drastically, until reality corrected my forming opinion.

Perversely, I like it when I discover I am wrong about something I was sure of.  Maybe it’s because I’m so rarely wrong. Maybe I enjoy the novelty. Or maybe we all like learning new things. Especially when the new things are about us.

Really, I think it is a confirmation that my mind is still functioning. It is not what it once was, a marvelous tool that was truly a gift from the Lord. Time sands away the once-sharp edges. Time, of course, is a euphemism for older age and a rotten lifestyle.

But though I squander his gifts, he remains lavish in his gift giving. Awareness of my own mortality, perhaps the source of all sin (Hebrews 2:14-15), turns out to be a great gift as well. It focuses my attention on the more important tasks that remain uncompleted. I watch progressively less TV. I think more. I try to serve my family and friends better. I am learning – ever so slowly – yet life has enough time in it for the tasks and for the learning.

So thank you Lord for all of the gifts you have and continue to bestow on me. Daily. The gift of life, of breath, of understanding, of love and being loved. And thank you that you, more aware of your own mortality than anyone ever, you who knew the time and the place and the means of your own death, still did not sin.

More than that, more improbably than that, you did it for the joy that was set before you, which can only be the salvation of people everywhere. Because of love, the very love of God for us.

And more yet, you rose from the grave and appeared before us. Not because you needed to, you could have ascended directly from the tomb, but because we needed you to do it, to demonstrate that it could be done. As a tacit promise, a broad stroke comprehensible to all: one man rose from the dead and promised we could all likewise arise from the dead.

He changed the lives of about a dozen common men who followed him, the resurrection made them capable of more than they had ever imagined for themselves. Today he changes lives in the same way, in every minute of every day.

We all have our perceptions about people, right or wrong, and we all have our perceptions about Jesus. But every perception about Jesus revolves around one thing. Did he or didn’t he rise from the dead to live forevermore?

Oops. I wasn’t going to talk about Easter.

 

What’s Up With? 2

Written By: Jon Jaroszewski - Apr• 04•15

Maybe this will be a sporadic series about things I don’t understand about science.

I have a theory about Christian thought and science. Some of the major tenets:

1.) The Bible in no way contradicts science – and vice versa. For example, I believe the nearly 14 billion years the universe has existed is exactly the same length of time as the seven days of Genesis. (Thanks to Dr. Gerald Schroeder) I don’t subscribe to young earth creationism or gap theory or any quasi-scientific attempts to reconcile the two time spans. I just believe they are the same when we take perspective into account.

2.) Whenever a Christian “thinker” tries to reconcile the two, he or she invariably gets it wrong. On the one hand, the words science uses to describe the measurements and theories they have found are only that – words. On the other hand, when Christians try to use those words and concepts, they appear foolish to actual scientists.

 

In celebration of these two ideas, I think an occasional blog poking fun of my own scientific inadequacies might be in order. I think of myself as a reasonably intelligent being. I like to think I understand many of the latest ideas and observations from within the fields of cosmology and quantum physics, and yet in some areas my own ignorance astounds me. This post (like my last with the same title about the spring equinox) is about one of those areas.

This one is about logical discrepancies between phases of the moon and lunar eclipses.

First, the phases of the moon. When we observe a crescent moon, that fingernail-clipping shaped sliver that occurs every 28 days, we “know” that the earth is between the moon and the sun and keeping the sun’s ray from hitting the moon and reflecting back toward earth.

During a new moon phase (Why do we call it a new moon? The moon is as old as it ever was, in fact it is 28 days older than it was during the previous new moon. And it’s not like it appears to be new. We can’t see it at all during this phase.) the earth totally blocks the sun’s light so there is no reflection.

So what’s the difference between a new moon and a lunar eclipse? Isn’t the earth blocking the sun’s light in both events? Is the new moon an eclipse that just lasts longer than the event we think of as so spectacular and noteworthy?

By the way, there will be a lunar eclipse Saturday night visible in the western United States. During Passover and Christianity’s holiest weekend. It is one of four this year. End Times Christians (a majority in the US but a minority worldwide) say it is one of the four “blood moons” that portend significant events in Israel. But can it be significant to Israel if Israelis are unable to observe it?

All of this has been a little tongue in cheek, as I said, to poke fun of my own ignorance. But there is one thing about the moon that really does puzzle me. Back to the crescent moon, it is a sliver shaped like a fingernail clipping because the moon is round and the earth is round. So what about a half moon? Why is the delineation between light and shadow a straight line instead of curved? Does the earth suddenly change shape, becoming a square without its inhabitants being aware of the fact, and so casting the edge of a square shadow over half the moon?

I can’t reconcile this discrepancy logically. There is some type of conspiracy at work. I’ve come up with these possible explanations.

A.) There is a huge square extraterrestrial spaceship that blocks half of the light that would otherwise reflect back off the moon. It would have to have the capability to bend light around it for the rest of the month so we can’t observe it with our telescopes and satellites. The intentions of this alien race, besides giving us a half moon every 28 days, is unclear to me.

B.) The sun itself is a square.

C.) God has created a second moon with the appearance of half-ness.

D.) The moon is self-illuminating from within. Every 28 days someone (or SomeOne) turns off the lights in half of it.  Or

E.) It is some type of conspiracy by the NSA or the Trilateral commission, in which mass hypnosis is employed to bring us under the delusion that half the moon is no longer there.

Well, that’s it. Those are the only possibilities I can imagine. Perhaps someone else has a better idea.

 

 

The Cross

Written By: Jon Jaroszewski - Apr• 03•15

Today is the anniversary of the Last Supper. I think. Or maybe the last supper was eaten on a Friday. Definitely one or the other. Unless they started eating while it was light (Jewish Thursday) and ended the festivities after dark (Jewish Friday).

I read that this year our days of the week sync up with the days of our year 33CE, the year Jesus died. So he was resurrected on April 5th, 33CE. CE stands for Common Era, so named I think because Resurrection Sunday was when it became possible for non-Jews also to be saved. Christianity was somewhat like a form of Judaism without the nationalistic exclusivity, even the Common man could be saved. Hence, the Common Era.

Because it’s Holy Week I have begun thinking more, and more deeply, about the Cross.

I don’t ignore it during the rest of the year but … I think you might know what I mean.

During the rest of the year, the Cross is one element of many. I think of the Cross and Jesus’ absolute commitment, but I also think about God’s love and loving my neighbor and a multitude of other Christiany things, but this week the Cross becomes prominent; the thing among the many.

This week when I think about God’s love, it is in relation to the Cross. How he has laid his life down for the many because of love. The crucifixion is Jesus jumping on top of the grenade. And more. It wasn’t a split second decision to save others in his platoon that he wouldn’t live to regret, it was the long, slow, painful, deliberate, and careful execution of a plan that had been unfolding since eternity.

Jesus, by dying without sin made a mockery of death. If he could die although he never sinned, then death was no longer just. It had lost its claim to justice. The wages of not sinning were also death.

Death was no longer an Absolute. It could not be the sole basis of a physical judgment. Love was shown to be the finer Absolute, the better and more just basis.

Loving my neighbor, because of this (the Cross), because Jesus showed us love, should be easier.

This week, when I write the word Cross, I capitalize it.

This week I remember, although I have not experienced it yet, that Jesus made a public spectacle of sin, and of death.

Animal Theology and Praxis Part 2

Written By: Jon Jaroszewski - Apr• 02•15

I said in the previous post that I used a leash while God uses circumstances. That list of God’s tools was woefully incomplete. He communicates to us in various ways at various times, as the beginning of Hebrews tells us. Previously by his prophets, and so his word. Now we add Jesus’ example and the Holy Spirit.

It is the Spirit and the spirit that I want to talk about. Specifically the Hebrew words we translate or understand as spirit. The Hebrew word for Spirit, as in the Holy Spirit, is Ruach. Humans also possess a ruach. You probably know it can also be translated as wind or breath. It is also sometimes translated as heart or mind, so trying to keep track of it in English is hard. The takeaway as I see it is that both God and people have a ruach, a spirit.

Animals also have a spirit, or mind or heart; a lifeforce. The Hebrew is nephesh. It also can refer to the fact the an animal breathes. The funny thing is, humans also possess a nephesh. So according to the Hebrew Bible, we have two spirits, or two kinds of spirit, within us. I have wondered if they synch up with Paul’s old nature/new nature in the NT, but it doesn’t appear as though it does. There are correlations but it isn’t watertight. Sarx and nephesh are not quite a match.

Speaking of matches, the primary Greek word for spirit, built off the pnuema base, translates very well from the Hebrew. Right down to its multiple meanings; spirit, mind, heart, wind, breathe. There are quite a few words that carry the same multiple meanings in both languages, Like eretz or geo, which can both mean earth, land, area, and even dirt. The translatability between Hebrew and Greek is one of the proofs that God knows what he’s doing, right down to being intentionally vague in more than one language.

There is one more word in Hebrew that refers to the spirit, neshama. Not surprisingly, it can also refer to breathe. It is the neshama that God breathed into Adam to animate him. Job, our most underrated prophet, uses neshama in a telling verse. But it is the spirit in man, the breath of the Almighty, that makes him understand. [Job 32:8 ESV] Other translations say gives him understanding.

It was the neshama that God breathed into Adam and it is the neshama that God breathed into us to give us understanding. It is the thing that makes us human. It is the spirit that allows us to reach back toward the Divine. The neshama separates us from the animal kingdom. The word is used of God and of people but not animals. Well it was used once of animals, but that was a mistake. (of course it’s not a mistake, but to properly explain that one usage would take a couple of blog posts by itself.)

To recap, ruach and neshama are used to describe the spirits of people and God. Nephesh is used to describe people and animals.

By the use of inference and the extrapolation that perhaps comes from the human experience, in other words, by tapping into my neshama, I’ve used this word study to draw some shaky theological conclusions.

Think about how you communicate with your pet, if you have one. We can use words, but our dogs and cats can’t. We use tone of voice and volume and so do our pets in their own way. We use body language with our pets, pointing, petting, wrestling. Body language is a biggie for pets. My dog walks away when her feelings are hurt, wags her tail, jumps up and down, walks up to a bag of treats and stares, and plants herself by the door when she wants to go out. I mean, my dog taught me to communicate with whistles.

My theory is that our interactions, our lifelong communication with our pets, is a communion of the nephesh. We both possess a spirit called the nephesh and it is the reason we can understand one another. We’re told that 70% of our communications with other humans is nonverbal. I think this is primarily also the nephesh. As a quasi-proof I offer flirting. Think how much of flirting is non-verbal, from a smile to playing with our hair to a kiss. The nephesh, I think, is much more in touch with our primal urges.

On the other hand, our communion with our pets can’t be as complete as our communion with other people because we also share the neshama and the ruach with other people but not with pets.

We share these traits with God but we also don’t have a perfect understanding of him, or a perfect communion this side of paradise. We are limited by our nephesh.

And so, in a way, our lack of perfect communication with our pets serves as a good example of our present lack when it comes to God. perhaps he has allowed us domesticated animals just to teach us how far we fall short in our relationship to him. And yet how close we can be.

Theology and Praxis In The Canine Population

Written By: Jon Jaroszewski - Mar• 31•15

Don’t let the title of the post scare you. I want to talk about the way my dog acts.

First a disclaimer: I don’t actually know for sure if any of my dogs have held to any specific theologies. I can’t claim to know what they think or believe. But based on long observation of their actions, I suspect they don’t, with two possible exceptions. The second first – they all may indeed have subscribed to a particularly canine form of Zen Buddism. They are happy to be in the moment. And as a matter of fact, they have all become agitated when they are pulled out of the moment by anticipation, as when they are promised a treat or asked if they would like to go for a walk or a ride in the car.  Because of this, i think they do not practice Zen  at the level of the average cat, but they remain better at it than most humans. The first exception will come later in this learned dissertation.

I have been the “master” of three dogs in my adult life; Love, Fate, and Ellie.  I tried to call Fate Faith, but it wouldn’t stick. If it had, we would have had to name Ellie differently. We would have had to name her Hope. Love, Faith  and Hope. They were all female mutts, which I believe are the best dogs.

Love was first, and the finest of any dog I have ever known; the greatest of these is Love. The greatness of Love was not just my opinion. Many of my friends have said the same thing. She was smart, sensitive and gentle.

She taught me how to walk her. At the time we lived together, it was in a bad neighborhood of the city. Since she was so smart and sensitive, I preferred to walk her without a leash. I had no worries that she would run off or become aggressive with strangers. But I hated calling to her, especially in a dark alley with gangbangers present. Yelling “Love!” just didn’t sound like the type of impression I wanted to give to those fine young men.

So Love taught me to use whistle commands. Once, while sharing that alley, I whistled instead of calling to her and she came running back to me as if this were some sort of prearranged signal we had always used. She taught me to use short, quiet whistles to get her to change direction and louder, more sustained whistles to call her back to me. Because she always responded, I was able to trust her enough to give her her head. She could wander and smell poop and do all those things dogs like to do, and do them in complete freedom, because I never worried that she would scare little children or run into traffic.

Fate was a definite step down in the obedience department. She was rarely content to let my will be done. She pulled against me on her leash as if I were her worst enemy. So much so that by time we were half way through her walk, her breath would be ragged and noisy because of the strain. I was told that this is because dogs are appositional; they by nature pull back against the leash if they feel tension on it.

The only exception to her unruliness were when we came to a street. She had learned she needed to sit and wait for me to give her a command before we would begin to cross. Because she would follow this command, and this command only, I was able to unleash her halfway through her walk when we came to her favorite alley. By this time I had moved to the suburbs and alleys were more scarce. By the time we got to the alley, she was exhausted from her appostional straining and content to stay within the alley’s confines.

Ellie, our present dog, is a horse of a different color, so to speak. She is as appostional as Fate was, right down to the ragged insistence on pulling against the leash no matter what, but she also refuses to obey any command I give her under any circumstances. She is smart and sensitive, but not so much as Love, so I know she understands my commands, but she is pathologically unable to obey them when we are taking a walk. If I have let her leash out and call to her so I can reel her in because I foresee a situation with strangers or traffic, she is unable to come back to me. the best she is capable of, if I am particularly loud and strident, is to sit and wait for me to catch up to her. So I tend to keep her on a short leash. The only times she is fully compliant is when she knows there is something in it for her. She can do any number of tricks but she will generally only do them if she knows a treat is available. She can sit quietly at my feet but only to make it easier for me to attach her leash if she realizes a walk or car ride is imminent.

There is a great theological lesson in all of this. Think about it. All the dogs enjoyed walks. All of the walks were essentially the same; a circuit from my front door back to my front door. Yet they experienced far different walks depending on their obedience. Ellie is generally on a short leash. Fate had a longer leash and a period of (for her) exhilarating freedom once we reached the alley. And Love was totally free to be a dog from start to finish; no leash.

I think this is how we must seem to God. He uses circumstances rather than a leash, but to the same effect. The more we show ourselves willing to yield to his will for us, the fewer doors he closes, the more he unleashes us.

It is a matter of trust. Not so much his trust in us, like with me and the dogs. It is a matter of our trust in him. We, like my dogs, all walk the same circuituous path in life from birth to death. But how we respond, how we trust, determines the quality of our experience and the freedom of our “walk.”

More about that first exception I promised, the theology of dogs, next time.

What’s Up With?

Written By: Jon Jaroszewski - Mar• 18•15

I’m easily puzzled sometimes, and when I am, it usually is by some scientific principle I thought I knew that doesn’t  hold true.

I love science, I really do. We are becoming so much more precise in discovering and measuring God’s great universe. Cosmology, paleontology, biology, quantum physics… and what’s up with quantum physics? How is it different than sub-quantum physics? I suspect it is two different names for the same thing like string theory and super-string theory.

Today’s puzzler is the vernal equinox; the first day of Spring. It is one of the two days each year when day and night are the same length: 12 hours each, right? Hence, the equi in equinox. Equal.

Yet, on the first day of spring this year, March 20th, the day will be 12 hours and eight minutes long. If I assume, and I do, that March 2oth won’t suddenly be 24 hours and 16 minutes long, how can it be the vernal equinox?

The real equinox this year was yesterday, March 17th, St. Patrick’s day. The sun rose at 7 am and set at 7 pm according to Accuweather, and I see no reason why they would lie to me. So why wasn’t yesterday the first day of spring?

I suspect it may be a conspiracy or something peculiar to Chicagoland where we have a reputation for voting early and often. Maybe spring comes early or more often for area residents only.

Or maybe it was a scheduling conflict that caused “Science” to move the first day of spring. We know the Roman Catholic Church – specifically one of the Pope Innocents – that moved Christmas to December 25th to avoid a scheduling conflict, although we don’t know what date it was moved from. Maybe scientists thought it would be too hard for pagans to celebrate both the equinox and St. Paddy on the same day.

Whatever the reason, conspiracy or not, the whole Northern hemisphere looks forward to springtime. Renewal, fertility, the greening of the earth. (We dye the Chicago River a bright green every St. Patrick’s Day, maybe that’s the reason for the switcheroo, but we won’t see green grass or trees here for weeks yet.)

Every spring reminds me of one of my favorite poems:

A young man’s thoughts turn to spring

They say the bird is on the wing

But to me that seems absurd

I think the wing is on the bird

 

Preaching at Standing Stones

Written By: Jon Jaroszewski - Mar• 15•15

I preached today at Standing Stones Church, where I regularly lead worship. I loved it. It was a wonderful experience.

But not in ways I expected. I expected to be nervous and I was, body-numbingingly nervous at first. I expected that I would probably preach badly and I did.

I expected to stay fairly close to my script and I didn’t. I wrote and timed it; 42 minutes. I rewrote it many times, crafting it until it was the best I could do. I spoke the whole sermon out loud four or five times to get me mouth used to forming the words. I didn’t abandon it but it was remarkable how little of it I actually spoke out loud, maybe a third pf it altogether. What did I talk about for the other 30 minutes?

But what happened during that time was far more important than anything I did or didn’t do. More important, and as I said at the start, more wonderful and more loving. And unexpected.

The congregation was pulling for me. They were almost willing me to do well, or at least to make it through. I didn’t realize it at the time. At the time, that body numbness had pervaded my mind and everything except the next words faded away. I probably focused on five people’s faces during the whole sermon. Where was I looking the rest of the time?

When I finally spoke the lasts words (not the one’s I had written, not the rousing and inspirational plea to change their lives forever for the better –  and the rest of the world at the same time) and the sermon was over and the service ended, they applauded. They applauded. This congregation that I know and love so well were so happy I made it through in one piece that they did something they had never done before; they applauded at the end of the sermon.

Well, maybe they have and I don’t remember or I wasn’t there. Heck, maybe they do every Sunday and I’m just too zoned out to appreciate it. But they clapped and I think it was for joy because they had all shared the experience of pulling for me. I got plenty of “nice sermon”s and “good job”s after the service even both they and I knew better.

The people of Standing Stones are so gracious. When I took over as worship leader a year and a half ago I was terrible. But the people of the church knew the situation and they didn’t complain and they didn’t find fault. They just loved me and we made it through. The worship this morning was awesome, and I can brag about it because I didn’t lead. The compliments this morning were a continuation of the way my people ahave always been.

The second unexpected thing that was both lovely and wonderful was the intercession of the Holy Spirit. He, without a doubt, changed things I was going to say, and clarified, and anticipated what was coming later. He took my sermon, the “written masterpiece” portion of it, and carved it up into something digestible. What a loving thing to do, for the congregation as well as myself.

At one point in the sermon I actually thought right after I said something, why did I say that. That’s part of my rousing ending? Now I know why I said it then, otherwise I would have never gotten to it. The Spirit must have liked it and wanted to make sure I got it in.

Although He must have known early on that I wasn’t going fit in much of what I had planned to say, it didn’t occur to me until much later. But when it did, when I saw there were 15 minutes left and (at the pace I had been going) 2 hours of material left to cover, I didn’t panic. It didn’t even bother me. I actually made a couple of jokes about it. And now I’m thinking that maybe I was misinterpreting the Peace of God as mind numbness.

When I’ve complimented Pastor Bob for a sermon, he’s usually said something like, “don’t thank me, praise the Holy Spirit.” I always thought he was being humble but now I’m not so sure.

I received so many blessings today. I have a blessings buzz even now. But I don’t feel the need to ever preach again.

 

True Religion

Written By: Jon Jaroszewski - Feb• 25•15

The Dalai Lama has reputedly said, “My religion is kindness.”

It struck a chord with many people, it seems like such a noble practice. We all love to be treated kindly. Most of us would like to be thought of as kind. It hardly seems like a controversial statement.

Yet if there is blowback, or controversy, about such as stance, I’m somehow sure that it would come from a certain type of my fellow Christians. In a way, that’s understandable. When I first heard quote, I looked for the appropriate box to store it in. That’s what we do as thinking humans; classify. We hour-by-hour adjust our worldview by our experiences to fine tune our realities.

The box that his quote best fit, it seemed to me, was secular humanism. I don’t see such a view as evil in the way we are sometimes taught, as a worldview inherently opposed to Christianity. Secular humanism is a worthy practice – yet it doesn’t seem to be a worthy goal. It is a fine road to travel as long as we are on our way to someplace better.

When I thought about the quote more deeply, I filtered it through my Christian perspective. Are we here to be kind or our we here to follow the Lord wherever he may lead? Yet what do we say about Christianity? “It is a relationship, not a religion.” And although I love the relationship, I’m not quite ready to throw out the religion. Religion has its place. Religion is actually important. Secondary perhaps, but nonetheless important.

I say this because, as I was filtering, I filtered the quote, as I always do, through the lens of the Bible. The Bible doesn’t think religion is so bad when done properly.

The Bible tells us true religion is caring for widows and orphans. Widows and orphans in that time were poor and powerless. In our times we would say they are under empowered and economically disadvantaged. Same thing.

Helping people less fortunate than ourselves seems like the epitome of kindness and so the Dalai Lama agrees with our quote from the book of James. Kindness is indeed a fine path to travel.

All this has been to make a bit of a point: secular humanism is not a bogeyman. It is Christianity, most likely learned at the feet of Christians (or even Jesusians!). It is only Christianity without Christ. And after all, that’s what we think religion is, the practice without the Savior.

Of course Jesus should be our example and our goal, but we aren’t here to knock those without Christ, we’re here to show them Christ. We can’t complain, “Oh the world is so misguided.” We can only say, “Oh the world needs Jesus.”

And so humanism is not an enemy. Thank God that it influenced by Christian thought through the ages. Humanism is preferable to tyranny or oppression or injustice. We can think it the lesser of two evils or we can see it as a step closer to Jesus. I view it as part of God’s plan to improve humanity.

I wrote a song (We’ll All Go Together) with a line I think defines me as a Christian and it is not so far from secular humanism except that it motivated by Jesus.

I’ve been on a quest for mercy/ Mercy is the best of me/ The best should be the road that takes us home