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    And Now For Something Weird in the End Times

    In today’s edition of signs of the end times, we’re going to talk about vanity, the anitchrist, lion’s teeth and Marian apparitions. Among other things. Because part of my calling is to make your brains hurt. But don’t worry, it’ll be fun! And fun is good until somebody pokes an eye out. But I promise I’ll be careful not to poke your eye out.

    So, about 10 years ago, my dear Catholic mother sent me a book called For the Soul of the Family. It’s the story of a woman named Estela Ruiz, a woman who began experiencing visitations from Mary back in 1989 and her family. Marian apparitions are one of those things that I deliberately choose to neither accept or reject. They could be true or they could be false, who knows?

    Over the years, I’ve read accounts of quite a few Marian apparitions and come to the following conclusions:

    1. Like all mothers, Mary repeats herself a lot. Seriously. Her motto might as well be “if I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times.”

    2. Like all mothers, Mary is really worried about her kids and absolutely certain that terrible things are going to happen to them if they don’t stop what they are doing and start listening to her.

    3. Mary thinks we need to spend a lot more time praying.

    So, one of the things I remember from this particular book that my mom sent me is that Mary supposedly told Estela that TV was the antichrist. And I think she said movies are too. Which sounds crazy, of course. But consider this; there is a long tradition in Christian thought which says that Jesus is the model of the true man. Like, if we want to know what human beings are meant to look, act and be like, we should look to Jesus.

    Media, on the other hand, has long presented us with a false, often idealized, exaggerated picture of how human beings look, live and behave. And it does affect how we think about ourselves and each other. It’s a powerful force in shaping our ideas about what is normal, desirable and acceptable. You could say that where Jesus is a picture of man as he truly is, media shows us a false picture of who mankind is. Which you could say makes it the anti (as in against or opposed to or opposite of) Christ.

    So, the claim that TV is the antichrist is crazy, but not entirely implausible. I’m not saying you should all go throw out your TVs, except it probably wouldn’t be such a bad idea. :p

    Anyhow, one of the most problematic aspects of TV and movies is that the people they show us are tend to all be very attractive. Which is nice to look at, but in real life only about 1 in 5 people is actually all that good looking. Once upon a time it, there was nothing particularly wrong with being plain or dowdy or even just ugly, but today pretty much every ugly woman in America has been told at some point that she should not be inflicting her ugliness on the rest of us by going out in public. I have heard people say that they were too ashamed to go shopping or to meet new people because they are fat.

    Of course, being attractive doesn’t make you good, kind, loving, generous, clever, creative, interesting or any other worthwhile thing. It doesn’t even mean you’d be particularly good in bed, for pity’s sake! It just means your features grew in a symmetrical way. That’s it. But we are obsessed with it.

    I know, I know, people have always been obsessed with beauty, right? Sure. Except here’s a coin with Cleopatra’s face on it:

    Here’s what Hollywood said she looked like:

    Notice the difference? Because it’s not enough to be powerful, charming and intelligent. A woman worth admiring must first and foremost be stunning with high cheekbones and purple eyes. Or how about this picture from South Korea where plastic surgery is the #1 graduation gift year after year:

    Those are 18 different women. They all look the same because there is one ideal look for women in South Korea to have and since you are expected to send in a picture with your job applications, you may be unemployable if you don’t look like that.

    Perhaps you don’t view this as particularly alarming because humans have always gone to extremes in order to be attractive. The Chinese deformed their daughters feet. Some South American tribes wear spikes through their faces. There’s that one African tribe that puts giant plates in their lips and ear lobes. Which is all true, except none of those practices required you to be born looking like that. If you were a Chinese woman with a face like Methuselah and teeny, tiny feet, you were hot. We, on the other hand, aren’t just going to extremes to adorn ourselves with beauty. We have basically gone to war against our bodies for daring to grow with bumps and lumps and eyelids.

    At this point, some of you are thinking, “OK Rebecca, our fixation on looks is unhealthy and unkind. And I promise to never again walk around Walmart offering paper bags and tent sized mumus to the ugly people I meet there. But what on earth does all of this have to do with the end times?!?!”

    Well, I’m so glad you asked. And here’s where I’m going to get extra weird with you. If you go to the book of Revelation, in the middle of all the seals being broken and disaster being unleashed, there’s one particular pit that spews forth an unusual hoard of locusts. These locusts are described as having the shape of horses and as wearing what appeared to be crowns of gold on their heads. Further it says, “their faces were like the faces of men. They had hair like the hair of women, and their teeth were like the teeth of lions.”

    In addition to their peculiar looks, these locust could only hurt men, not any other part of the earth. And they couldn’t kill men, but instead caused a painful sting like that of a scorpian that went away in time, but was bad enough to make people wish for death.

    Admit it, those are some mighty fine teeth.

    Now, I readily admit that this is an entirely speculative reading of the passage, but I believe that this is a figurative description of the destructive vanity which has overtaken mankind. The long hair and the lion’s teeth. Do you have any idea how much we spend on cosmetic dentistry, teeth whitening, hair care and the like? Billions. And those things on their heads that “appeared to be like crowns of gold” sound an awful lot like the figurative halos we see our favorite Hollywood golden girls and boys wearing.

    Plus the effects of these locusts fit. The only part of creation affected by our fixation on looks are human beings. And it’s not fatal, but the rejection people experience when they are judged by themselves or others as not attractive enough hurts. Sometimes it hurts because of eating disorders or the pain of plastic surgery. But sometimes it’s just the pain of being rejected. Did you know that the same parts of our brain that process physical pain also process  pain from being rejected? When we insult someone for being unattractive, we might as well just walk up and slug them as far as our brain’s concerned. And even Americans know that it’s not OK to punch people for not looking like Brangelina.

    Now, in Revelation, people are protected from the sting of the vanity locusts if they “have the seal of God on their forehead”. So that means no credit cards. No wait, that can’t be right. OK, so it means you shouldn’t let President Obama give you an obamacare RFID chip implant. No, no, that can’t be it either. Wait, I’ve got it! How about we assume that it means having a mind set on the things of God:

    For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God . . . ~ Romans 8:5-7

    There we go. That makes more sense. If you are concerned with the things of God, you will not be affected by the torments which come with having a mind set on the flesh.

    So, today’s lesson is that in the end times, our vanity will be used to torment and torture us and everyone else, unless we refuse to play along. So, let that armpit hair grow, ladies. Embrace your moobs, fellows. And maybe, just maybe, you should pay a little more attention to your mother Mary. She’s worried about you. :)

  • Oppression, Starvation and Christ

    The hallmark of an oppressive system is that it benefits some people while harming others. Because the system does provide benefits to some people, many believe that the system is fundamentally good. The fact that the system harms some people is attributed not to the oppressive nature of the system, but to the failures of the people who are being harmed. This has the effect of shoring up support for the system, even among those who are harmed by it because to admit that you are suffering is to admit your own unworthiness. Any evidence of harm being done by the system becomes evidence that the system is required to protect what is good about the system from those who are unworthy.

    Those who are unable to hide the extent to which they are suffering are unlikely to stand up for themselves, because as members of the human race, they inevitably will have faults and failures. Sometimes they themselves believe the narrative which says they are to blame for their own suffering. Other times they are resigned to suffering in silence, knowing that however unjust it may be, their faults and failures will be used to condemn them and dismiss their complaints against the system.

    We see a prototypical example of this sort of oppressive system at work in the book of Job. Job’s friends believe that suffering is caused by sin, that this is as it should be, and that Job’s suffering must therefore be the result of some secret sin on Job’s part. In the story of Job, we see that this is not the case. Job was specifically identified as a good man and God himself rebuked Job’s friends for suggesting otherwise. However, rather than understanding God to be rejecting the oppressive habit of blaming suffering on sin, we tend to read this as the story of a man who was an exception to the rule that you get what you deserve in life. A caution against relying on the system to excess rather than a denunciation of the system entirely.

    At the other end, oppressive systems claim that those at the top are owed a larger portion of the benefits from the system because they are simultaneously very good and very bad. They are very good in that they are smarter, more ambitious, more fierce, closer to the divine and capable of wielding more power than the rest. They are very bad because if they are not amply rewarded, they will not use those abilities for the good of others. Their demands are allowed to grow, unbounded by anything outside of themselves as the people who support the system trust them to provide for their wellbeing, provided their demands are adequately satisfied.

    An oppressive system always relies on an idol at the very top in order to operate. The idol allows the men who benefit from the oppressive system to lay claim to their right to power as the result of being the living embodiment of the idol. An idol may be a god or spirit, such as the ancient pagan gods or anthropomorphic spirits of the earth even ancestor worship. Or it may be an idea about the proper ordering of humanity such as in monarchies, gender roles or caste systems. Or the idol may be a virtue which is elevated above all others such as intelligence, ambition or strength.

    Idols, of course, are by definition false gods, unworthy of worship and unable to provide what they promise. The systems which grow out of them are inevitably oppressive, providing benefits to some while leaving others to suffer. Frequently this suffering is incurred in service to the system itself such as those who sacrifice their children to idols or who work themselves into an early grave providing for families they barely know.

    While many today view Jesus as either harmless or an advocate for the system de jour, in reality, Jesus subverts every oppressive system. He demonstrates that only God is worthy of the devotion we humans habitually give to idols. Unlike the idol, which is functionally viewed as simultaneously very good and very bad, Jesus shows us the face of a God who is good in all his ways. He does not provide for us according to our fealty, but causes the rain to fall and the sun to shine on all the same. Rather than demanding disproportionate benefits in recognition of his worth and power, God demonstrates his worth and power by giving up all benefits and sharing in the lowest human’s suffering. Continue reading

  • Of Camels and Gnats

    Gnats are annoying. Biting gnats leave welts that are much itchier than mosquito bites and when they swarm, you’re likely to wind up looking like an idiot flailing your arms around in a futile attempt to keep them away. Not to mention that you’ll inevitably end up inhaling or swallowing one on accident. For the next hour you’ll feel like there’s something disgusting stuck in your throat or nasal passages. As small as they are, gnats aren’t the sorts of things you live peaceably with.

    So you can imagine that back in the days when camels were a normal mode of transportation, if you hired a camel to carry you and your goods on a long trip, and your guide showed up with a gnat infested camel, this would be an issue. A long trip on a gnat infested camel was probably a known cause of nervous breakdowns in the ancient world. So, of course, you would demand that the guide you hired for the trip do something about the problem. Attach fly paper to the camel’s ears and provide you with a climate controlled helmet to wear on the trip or something.

    Now, a camel has a thicker hide than a human. But a serious gnat infestation isn’t fun for a camel to endure. Particularly since the little devils will target soft spots like the nose, eyes, mouth and other more unmentionable areas on a camel. Camels aren’t particularly know for their sweet dispositions anyways. So it’s easy to imagine that a gnat infested camel may be a particularly ill tempered beast.

    In fact, while you are busy figuring out what to do about the gnats. the people tending to and attempting to load and prepare the camel are liable to get bit, spit on, kicked in the head, crapped on and otherwise injured by the camel. Imagine for a moment if you responded to the various cries and complaints of the people the camel is hurting by telling them to be more careful in doing their job, to stop with all the complaining. Maybe you fire the person who had the gall to come to work covered in camel dung.

    Or maybe you’re not quite that insensitive so you say, “once we get this gnat situation worked out, the camel will settle down and you’ll be fine. But right now I need you to shut up so I can deal with this gnat problem.”

    Or if you fancy yourself as a sensitive person who understands the plight of dealing with a gnat infested camel, you might say, “the camel kicked you in the head? That’s awful. I know what it’s like. You should see the bites I got while I was sitting on it. I feel your pain. In fact, you really ought to be over here tending to my welts instead of laying on the ground moaning like that.”

    It seems to me that as a people, this is exactly how the problems we face play out. We are so fixated on the problems of those who are riding the camel that we end up not tending to the injuries inflicted on less powerful people who have been injured by the camel. Continue reading

  • Why the White Dude Crossed the Tracks

    Back when I did prison ministry, we used to have this crazy old white dude who would come in to talk with the boys. He had a ministry working with gangs on the streets of Chicago. He had occasionally even managed to bring high up people representing large, dangerous gangs together to reach agreements which would reduce the levels of conflict, and therefore the levels of violence between them.

    Youth for Christ, a national organization which includes Campus Life, City Life, and Juvenile Justice Mission, provided funding for his ministry by employing him between 1982 through 2008. Which is a really long, long time to be a youth minister. Most burnout within their first decade.

    At the time I was involved with prison ministry, crime had just reached a 20 year high, and the problem was most acute in urban areas like Chicago with high density, segregated housing. There were some places that police avoided patrolling out of fear of being targeted by violence, so his ability to develop relationships and gain trust among the gangs was the subject of a lot of interest.

    He was invited to speak to kids in prisons all over Northern Illinois and served as a youth chaplain for the Cook County Sheriff’s department. He made sure that at every step along the path a vulnerable kid was taking, he was there to tell them about Christ’s love.

    The man’s name was Gordon and he looked like a comedy version of a used car sales man. Wore ill fitting and mismatched business clothes. Had a BAD comb over. He was in his late fifties when I met him. But I was 18 at the time, so he could have been my grandpa. If my grandpa were a used car sales man in the early 80s. Gordon had a way of talking that was slightly disjointed, but jokey enough that he kept his audience engaged. He came off as a bit of a fool, really.

    But it was all very deliberate. Continue reading

  • I See Rich People. They Talk to Me. . .

    The mouse on my computer broke. So now I’m back to writing on my kindle. Which is a marvelous bit of technology, but it has all sorts of quirks which can easily double the time it takes for me to do a post. And the spacebar for the keyboard is gimpy. But since I don’t even have money to replace the mouse, I’ll just have to limp along the best I can.

    I’ve been thinking a lot lately that when I finally break free of all these obstacles, I’ll astound everyone. It’s like I’ve been trying to play the game wearing weights. If I could just get free and have a fully functioning computer, a good internet connection and a few hours a day without children, well, you just won’t believe what I can do.

    As I was contemplating the rather unpleasant task of writing on my kindle (something I did exclusively for at least six months), it occurred to me that this is why we hear so much more from rich people than anyone else. If you’re rich, you can grab a few hours which you would otherwise have spent playing Sugar Crush and write something thoughtful on your nice computer without any real delays or impediments. Or maybe you’re more of a take my Macbook to Starbucks to write sort of writer.

    But when you’re not rich, you have to type out the word six because the six key doesn’t work any more. And putting in a hyperlink requires the sort of planning skills normally reserved for major military operations. It’s like driving one of those cars that you have to roll down the window to open the door. Everything’s just much more work when you don’t have access to resources.

    And having crappy, unreliable technology is a first world problem. Imagine what it took for those women in Nigeria to get the world’s attention when their girls were taken! It’s really no mystery as to why people who are powerful and influential are usually white American men. It’s not that every white American man has resources. It’s just that nearly everyone who has resources is a white American man. Having resources removes so many obstacles that what is impossible for other people is possible for them. And that is a big part of our problem.

    Having resources doesn’t necessarily make the path to sucess a clear and easy one. You still have to work harder and be smarter and overcome more than everyone else in order to acheive great things. I mean, Paris Hilton’s family says she works very hard and I believe them. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if she puts in sixty hour work weeks. The thing is that my husband has put in sixty hour work weeks pretty routinely for nearly 20 years. And we can’t even afford to buy a mouse.

    (The first person to ask why I don’t get a job wins the chance to find me a job with hours that work for our family, arrange the care of our kids by someone who is able to provide high caliber, on demand tutoring, counseling, and training in the ways of the world customized to each child’s needs, obtain transportation, clothing, housekeeping, cooking and taxi services to make that all happen. Good luck. Let me know when you get that all worked out.)

    Aside from being bullshit, the connection between who has the existing resources and who gets seen and heard and rewarded is more sinister than we realize. You know the proverbial “they” we always hear about? The ones who tell us what other people think of us and what’s normal and what’s a problem and what’s expected of us and what failure looks like? Sometimes people will joke and say, “who is this ‘they’ you keep talking about?” Well, the answer to that is simple. Continue reading

  • What’s Up With the Nigerian Church?

    My brain is all confudled after all the technical difficulties over the last few days. And the $900 car repair bill. And the fact that my husband has been traveling and I have too many children and I’d really just like to go veg somewhere for a week without being interrupted multiple times an hour. So this post is going to be really unfancy, but I think it’s important.

    I mentioned recently that a small group of Nigerian Christians found the blog and reached out to me not long ago. And they are awesome. Real keepers. Some of our discussions have centered on the state of the church in Nigeria and their relationship with it. And what they share, while more extreme than what we usually find here in the West, is sadly familiar. There’s serious work to be done.

    First, a little background. In addition to being the most populous country in Africa, Nigeria is one of the most religious countries in the world. Its population is divided mainly Christian and Muslim with Christians holding more power and wealth than Muslims. This disparity is at the root of the violence which has been in the news lately. Muslims have access to fewer resources than Christians and feel that they are being mistreated which is breeding violence and resentment.

    Much of the problem comes out of geography. The parts of the country with the most resources are largely populated by Christians and Christians hold most important positions of power. However, that power has not been handled responsibly. Nigeria is one of the most corrupt countries in the world which means that resources which could be put to use for the benefit of the people are siphoned off by those in power for their own use. People in the Christian parts of the country can at least improve their lot by catering to the moneyed elite who are busy feeding off the government and the country’s natural resources. People in the Muslim parts of the country don’t even have that possibility available to them.

    At the end of the day, Nigeria will not know peace until its government begins to serve its people. All of its people. Which is something the Christian church could be a vocal proponent of. Heck, they could just stand around reading out the writings of the Old Testament prophets and make their point. Given how religious Nigeria is, a church which spoke prophetically in favor of the needs of the poor over the desires of the rich could be a highly effective change agent. But this is not what is happening.

    I’ve just cut and paste portions of several conversations I’ve had with my Nigerian friends about the state of the church below. The dynamics they describe are familiar, although sometimes extreme. They show what happens when the errors of men find their way into church teachings. These errors are often viewed as minor or even desirable to those who are living in a place with a lot of stability and enough abundance to avoid serious suffering. But the fruit they bear in more challenging situations ought to alert us to the fact that we’ve embraced teachings which come from man and not God.

    Corruption in the church

    I am (ruefully) amused at your description of the American church. I think in many ways, the Nigeria church is about the same – but the challenge is that the American society is one where there is a significant amount of balance (which may not be very obvious from the inside) because of many dissenting voices and influences. Everyone, to a large extent is accountable – or appears to be – to someone.

    Nigeria is different. Corruption is blatant and there is a significant amount of poverty among the populace, making them perfect fodder for the religious elite – the ‘pastors’
    ‘Pastor’ or the more emetic ‘daddy’ is the title given to every guy who starts a ‘church’. Largely, the product peddled is hope and the power that comes through ‘Faith’ and the Blood of Jesus. With these combined tablets, you can cure your poverty, sin, sicknesses, chase demons – and do anything…and rise above your neighbour.

    Because their belief systems do not match up to reality, the result is a duality; double standards where there is ‘holy speak’ on Sundays and among the ‘brethren’ and gross corruption and hideous godlessness Monday through Saturday.

    In Nigeria, what is important is getting wealthy. ‘No one’ cares how you do it.

    The result is such a complex system of religious rot in a highly religious society. Armed robbers have been known to pray before robbery and even pay their tithes and offerings. Some pastors bless the guns of some armed robbers. I have heard someone say ‘you are stupid in Jesus name’, seen gross exploitation of people in the name of tithe and first fruit, seen musical instruments for the ‘church’ prioritized over people’s lives and it goes on and on…

    Authoritarianism in the church

    Sadly, the way the society is structured, there is a great emphasis on (pseudo) community; so the older ones respect elders and do not speak out if they have a different view point. If the ‘man of God’ says something, you obey and if he does something wrong, you say nothing because the bible says ‘touch not my anointed’…
    No matter how much you try to explain the context or show that we are on equal footing before God, it seems so difficult for people to understand and/or accept because of what has been soldered into their psyche over time.

    It has become a norm, the order of the day…that you dare not say a thing against the so called man of God or disagree with him on whatsoever he taught or he teaches. This is one problem of on an African man, when an elderly person has spoken you have no opinion.

    People seem to believe their pastor more than giving attention to the reading of the scriptures. An average African man believes in Christ for Salvation but he’s quickly introduce into a kind of Authoritarian-ship of man. Trusting Christ for Salvation isn’t enough here unless you have someone that is control of your life…

    The sad part of it is “you must submit to someone, he must be your covering, you must give your tithe to him and blah blah blah….” I’ve only met few Christians that I can engage on the things of the Kingdom..the rest seem to love the Church things more than the Kingdom. 

    The Suffering Caused by Bad Theology

    Life is tough and God teaches you via processes and experiences. So it is not everytime prayers get answered the way we like and it is not everyone Jesus healed because he had to align with what the Spirit wanted to do, not just do miracles when he felt like it. So many people try to faith their way through pain and poverty, try to use the blood of Jesus to get through tough circumstances like it is an amulet, exaggerate ‘spiritual’ activity over pragmatic activity, ignoring the clear overlaps that we have when we deal with these spheres…and they get their fingers badly burnt. They lose jobs, they lose people, they cant pay bills, they run out of cash…and through it all, they fail to see that sometimes, hardship doesnt come about because of sin, or lack of faith…

    Continue reading

  • Manhunt for Peace in the Dark Heart of Africa

    You know my thing about Africa that I’ve mentioned a couple of times lately? Well, allow me to share a story out of the Congo and Uganda. Now, in Western minds, this part of Africa was long considered “the dark heart” of Africa. And unfortunately in the last few decades, there have been times when anyone who was paying attention would wonder if there wasn’t some sort of curse on that area.

    The details of the back and forth that got and kept the conflict going are long and boring. But the basic outline of what happened is this:

    A political uprising originally brought on, in 1986 and 1987, by genuine oppression (and thus serving objectives justified in the eyes of those who took up arms), so quickly mutated—by the end of the 1980s already—into a practice of radical violence, with no other aim, at the end, than its own perpetuation, beyond even the effective survival of the group.

    (This quote and all others used from the excellent story Sign Warfare, by journalist Jonathan Little, Asymptote Journal, April 2014)

    The way the conflict was fought was the sort of stuff you don’t say out loud when the kids are around and only in whispers in private. You don’t want it in their head that such things could exist. You wish it wasn’t in yours. So this conflict is the stuff of nightmares here. This is the conflict that gave us Kony 2012 and boy soldiers, the lost boys that some churches took in.

    Today, the government, which triggered the original conflict by refusing to allow freedom for an oppressed, mistreated minority, is engaged in a manhunt to find the last 150 or so soldiers still fighting. 150. That’s it. They can’t just ignore them because they are so violent. 150 is so few, but they still have the power to kill thousands. And I’ll tell you what? If you ever have to make a bet on a face-off between a Navy Seal and one of the Congolese soldiers involved in hunting them down, I wouldn’t be too quick to write off the Congolese soldier. I’m just saying. They’re kind of bad asses.

    But anyways, this isn’t your typical manhunt. What they really want is for the soldiers to desert and surrender:

    [The combatants] who surrender are well-treated, they are interrogated but without violence, it isn’t necessary, once out of the bush they have nothing to hide; then they’re sent back to Uganda, where they’re granted amnesty, go through a program of psycho-social reinsertion and sometimes get some professional training, before being sent back home with a little money and a few household supplies, or joining the army, more or less voluntarily. 

    The biggest reason for the ongoing conflict at this point is that the combatants don’t trust the government. They think offers of help are a trick. Because it’s been that kind of war. But this time, it’s real.

    That is amazing. This is not how human beings deal with their enemies. Especially enemies who are driven by a logic no higher thanwe just kill for the sake of killing. It humiliates the government, that’s good enough for us.” Those are the enemies you kill. The ones that you and your people and generations to follow never forgive. The people who, at the very least, must be held accountable for their crimes. 

    What is going on in the Congo has never been done before. We’ve never ended our conflicts by forgiving and helping our enemy get well. Never. I am not saying that the government is now perfect or that this particular policy is the be all and end all. But this is something amazing which uses the logic of God’s Kingdom to defeat the power of the enemy’s kingdom. Continue reading

  • The Real Challenge to Religious Liberty in America

    The things Christians decide are important enough to raise a stink over on religious liberty ground always astound me. Like the way we keep fighting for the right to say prayers at government meetings and such. As if such prayers have ANY meaning at all or losing them would be detrimental to Christianity. It’s a laughable proposition. Especially when the meetings that follow these prayers may wind up with a seriously anti-Christian law like this:

    Daytona Beach is one of a handful of cities that enacted ordinances barring individuals from serving food in public. . . Daytona Beach is just the latest city to crack down on groups that feed the poor in city parks. Other recent examples range from Birmingham to St. Louis to Raleigh to Philadelphiato Orlando

    That comes from a story about a couple who was forced to stop feeding homeless people in a park each week and given thousands of dollars in fines for daring to do so. And their story isn’t particularly unique. These cases pop up regularly if you pay attention to such things. (Here’s another example out of Raleigh NC from last fall.) Some towns have gone so far in their wars on the poor that they have made covering yourself with blankets or newspapers illegal, washing your face in a public washroom illegal and sitting in one place too long illegal.

    Now, how is it that we will fight for things we believe in, but which are never directly ordered by Jesus like praying before football games and town hall meetings or not helping women get birth control or whatever other thing we’ve decided is “an essential part of the Christian faith”. Meanwhile, we pass laws forbidding something Jesus specifically said to do, like feeding hungry people, and there’s nary a peep?

    I would love to see Christians challenging these draconian ordinances on religious liberty grounds. I would love to see Christian police officers refusing to engage in enforcement actions which violate their religious liberties. I would love to see Christian citizens engaged in mass civil disobedience in protest of these laws.

    Unfortunately, we seem far more invested in whether a multi-billionaire CEO has to indirectly fund his employees birth control than with feeding the poor like Jesus told us to. Is it any wonder the world is none to impressed with Christians these days?

  • In the End Times, We All Tell Our Story

    Remember me raving a few weeks back about Humans of New York? Well, I want to share a picture and the quote that went with it which was recently posted on their Facebook page:

    ““I had forty acres and a new home out in California. I was working as a stone mason. I could bring in $6000 cash some weeks. Then I was walking home one night and someone tried to kill me. I got brain damage. I lost my sense of smell, my sense of taste, most of my hearing, and now I can barely stand without getting dizzy. I must have fallen and cracked my head open thirty times since then. Everything I knew has been washed out into the water. I’ve tried to commit suicide several times.”

    The comments under this post were FILLED with various versions of people saying, “I always assume that the homeless people I see on the streets are there because they’re lazy drug users. I guess I shouldn’t be so quick to judge.”

    Now, this picture and this man’s story isn’t going to change the world all by itself. But there’s something powerful going on here nonetheless. Because it’s not just this one picture and one story. Right now, millions of stories that have never been told before are being told for the first time. And those stories are challenging long held assumptions about people who have long lived under the weight of humanity’s condemnation. Continue reading

  • There Are No Secrets In the End Times

    So, did you hear what NBA team owner Donald Sterling said to his mistress? Did you happen to see Prince Harry in his birthday suit a while back? Have you seen the video of family-values Congressman Vance McAllister kissing a staffer (who was not his wife)? Or maybe you gawked at pictures of the mansion and private zoo deposed Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych bought for himself with bribes and money stolen from government coffers.

    Within living memory, part of being rich and powerful meant having the freedom to behave abominably in private without having the public find out. At least not until you were dead. Today, all the money in the world won’t keep your secrets from being exposed.

    And it’s not just the rich and powerful whose secrets are being dragged into the light. Divorce courts are filled with people whose marriages are ending because of deception revealed by cell phone records, text messages, emails, instant messaging and internet browsing histories. You can now discover which of your neighbors have arrest records with a quick internet search. If you exclude a friend from a get-together, you’ll get caught when one of the attendees puts pictures up on facebook. And all you have to do is watch a true crimes detective show on cable to see how hard it is to get away with murder once science gets involved.

    This loss of secrecy and some would say privacy is so obvious and so commonplace now as to barely be worth mentioning. It’s just a reality of our age. What is shocking to me is how rarely it is mentioned that this is exactly what the bible said was going to happen:

    ^There is nothing concealed that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.” ~ Matthew 10:26

    “For nothing is hidden, except to be revealed; nor has anything been secret, but that it would come to light.” ~ Mark 4:22

    “But there is nothing covered up that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known.” ~ Luke 12:2

    Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts ~ 1 Corinthians 4:5

    There are many other verses which say that the time will come when what is done in secret will be known to all. It’s a concept which is found all throughout scriptures. And it’s a promise we are seeing fulfilled  in real time right before our eyes.

    As I said, the fact that nothing is a secret anymore is so commonplace that it’s not in the least bit shocking anymore. But consider what a radical shift this is in human affairs. 300 years ago, the average person living in areas ruled by the British Empire wouldn’t know what a British prince’s face looked like. Today, people all over the world have seen pictures of Prince Harry (and other lesser nobles) in the nude. The idea would have been astonishing to an Indian peasant in 1700. There has never been a time like this in all of human history.

    So, what should we Christians be doing in light of this fulfillment of scripture? Continue reading