The king said to Daniel, ‘May your God, whom you faithfully serve, deliver you!’

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Chick-fil-A and "Biblically-based principals"

Please note that it is not my intention to be controversial, but to educate. I pray that you find no fault in this article, and if you do, I trust that our friendship is stronger than our opinions.

As many of you know, I love Chick-fil-A. My friends T-bone and Heidi used to drive nearly an hour to sit down with me in our Thursday booth and bite into a chicken sandwich. I have even been to the Mecca, the original Chick-fil-A, known as The Dwarf House in Hapeville, Georgia. It was a diner that served Chick-fil-A food on plates, where the manager gave us free fried ice cream because we told him how excited we were to be there.

Yesterday I found myself at the mall, looking for something to eat in the food court. Chick-fil-A called to me, but I did not answer.

I have long been a supporter of Chick-fil-A in part because of their Christian Values. I respect that they are closed on Sundays, and I know many gentle Christians who work at these establishments. I have been trying to read on both sides of this issue in an effort to justify my desire to eat Chick-fil-A. In my reading, I came across this article from which made its defense of Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy for his anti-gay-marriage remarks over the past week. As a Republican and a relatively conservative human being (I am after all, a minister), I want to find an argument that will allow me to pardon Mr. Cathy, or to at least figure out where exactly gay marriage is an offense to heterosexual marriage.

The arguments that most people make about Christian-based stances against homosexuality are, so called, on the basis of scripture. And, for their point, there are a few instances where that provide a biblical base for these arguments. Marriage is defined as the joining of a man to a women consistently in the bible. There were no such things as civil unions or gay marriage, so naturally no one reported on that. The name Chick-fil-A does not show up in the Bible either. Does that not mean that God doesn't think chicken sandwiches can make a delicious meal? My experience says otherwise.

I believe we have reached a tipping point  in our society (or perhaps we are already post-tipping point) in which our politics influence our religion, and not the other way around.

In the article the phrase Biblically-based values/principles shows up four times. This is the point at which while reading the article I started taking notes. Biblical misrepresentation is my biggest pet-peeve. Have your opinions all you want, but do not say that you believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible when you mean to start with the interpretation, and then pluck up the words on the page, and twist them to fit.

If you are against gay-marriage, own it as opinion. If you are homophobic, talk about it with your counselor. Please, do not further corrupt the best scripture we have, the closest we have to words from God, by treating the Bible like a Rorshach test.

We all ought to confess before God that we frequently see what we want to see, look for what we want to find, and claim for ourselves the words that fit our opinions.

It would also be fruitful to admit that the Bible does not always give good easy answers. Many times in scripture a law is given within the context of a set of laws, as in the case of Leviticus. It is plain to see that these laws were made for a certain people in a certain time. And unless you're devoutly Jewish, you already do not follow any of these laws. You follow the laws of your area and culture. You do not offer sacrifices, you do not celebrate in the tabernacle, follow the year of jubilee, prepare for the day of atonement, swear off shellfish, eat unleavened bread, speak Hebrew, or even  call God 'Yahweh'-- so why would you dream of lifting one of these laws and make it the foundation for your "biblically-based values?" This is not literal biblical interpretation. This is biblical convolution.

Literal Interpretation of Leviticus 18:22    
"You should not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an Tōʻēḇā." Speaking literally, of course, the second person, "you" is clearly speaking to a male. The laws in the Hebrew Bible were predominately written to keep men in line. Literally, then, this text speaks out against male homosexuality, but not lesbianism. Actually, almost nothing in the Bible speaks about lesbianism. The word that we usually translate, "abomination" is a hold-over translation from the King-James. The word more closely used would be "taboo," or something that is not widely accepted. Leviticus 15 is about how unclean a man is after "discharge" and how a man should not lie with a woman around the time of her menstrual period. I'd like to find a married man who does not sleep in the same bed with his wife during her menstrual period. I'd listen to him about how we should follow Leviticus.**    

Did you know?
There are more biblical rules, laws, and commands in the bible against offering interest on a loan than there is against homosexuality. How many business with "Bible based values" offer interest-free mortgages? I would love to do business with them.

For millennia people have been misrepresenting God's interests as their own. Read the Bible for yourself. If you think that its central message is anything other than to love God and one another, you might want to have a conversation with your minister about what parts of the Bible take precedent. Martin Luther called the Bible "the cradle where Christ is laid." For us Lutherans, it is the Gospels that show the full revelation of God, not Leviticus.   

Every once and a while, let's leave the Bible and tradition out of our political opinions, and just admit that we came to them independently before someone showed us where to look in buried scripture. Let us also learn to use reason and experience to admit truthfully how we came to those opinions.  

There have been Christians both for and against gay marriage for decades. And now, there are Christians for and against Chick-fil-A.

**(Romans 1:25 is another commonly used verse against homosexuality. I mention this only for your reference as it is not my goal here to academically argue for or against any biblical text. I would rather that you read your Bible with an open heart.)

Friday, July 20, 2012

This week's sermon: Shepherds and Apostles

In case you are wondering, I am crazy enough to post a sermon before I actually give it. If you read it before you hear it, I pray you glean something new Sunday!

Thank you to all who are following this blog. I believe we are sharing in a new kind of church ministry. 
Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  
My son Jacob has a reoccurring question for me each day as I leave home: It goes something like this: 
Are you going to work AGAIN! Daddy, what do you do all day? 
This is a good question. I have learned, through my children, that children ask the questions that the rest of us don’t dare ask. 
What do you do all day, Daddy? I often cannot give him a satisfactory answer, because on no two days are the same? This question cuts to my soul, because very often I am unsure about what exactly a Pastor is.  
On Facebook I am part of a group of ELCA clergy that is thousands strong. We post discussion questions to each other and provide support.  
 This question came up within the last week: What do you do as a pastor? As people started to respond, the list was 10 pages long.
 Here are some of the ones I liked, some because they are funny, others because they were poignant:
 A Pastor listens to you, your spouse, your child, your co-worker, neighbor, Aunt Betty, grandpa, and whoever else might need to talk. With no judgement, and no insurance paperwork to fill out.
 A Pastor cooks for visitors to the house, and for congregational meals.
 Stop by the church at 10:00 pm and turn off the lights that someone missed earlier.
 Share in the most sacred and profound moments of life.
 Make coffee. Lots and lots of coffee.
 Sit in the hospital and hold a loved one’s hand. Be a shoulder for family members to cry on as they grieve.
 By just by being present, a pastor can lower the average age of the congregation.
 Attend sporting events, concerts, and other school activities for youth of the church.
 Models the love of Jesus, even when you are in a really bad mood.
 rushes to the emergency room in the middle of the night when there is a tragic accident, whether or not it involves a member of the congregation.
 Write a pile of letters of recommendation. Write birthday cards and thank you notes. Lots and lots of thank you notes
 Keep up with all the news and how it impacts the community: read newspapers, blogs, magazines and keep up with the latest in theology in biblical commentaries, books, and scholarly journals.
 Dream about the future of the congregation: What is possible for us? Where is God leading us?

Know who is in the hospital . Even when no one tells you.
 Visit with people in Nursing Homes and hospitals, knowing at times that you are the only visitor they will see.
 Tend the headaches created by the previous pastor; create headaches for the next pastor.
 Supervises interns
 Makes jokes to reassure the bride and groom who just saw their unity candle go out right after they lit it.
 Fold chairs. Move tables.
 Choose hymns for worship – Hymns that are contemporary, but not new; hymns that everyone knows but that aren’t the same hymns we always sing.
 Study the Bible. Read the Bible. Pray the Bible.
 Does Paperwork! Write reports to Council, write reports to the synod, write proposals for committees, reports to the congregation …
 Hear Confession- sometimes formally and ritually, sometimes informally over coffee or a beer.
 Go to an endless stream of meetings:
 Prepare sermons for Sundays, weddings and funerals. Practice your sermon so you sound like you know what you’re talking about.
 Communicate: through newsletters, bulletins, facebook, telephone, email, face to face visits, twitter, and another means possible.

Teach. About theology, about church life, about social issues.
Participate in churchwide ELCA and the synod.
Discard the day’s plan in order to respond to emergencies.
Love the people. Love the people. Love the people.
This is a pretty honest look at what a Pastor can do, could be the answer I give my son on any given day about what his dad does. When I think if some of the best pastors I know, they do these things, and they do them well.
Here’s an interesting fun fact for the day: The word Pastor- in greek- is poimen, which means literally, shepherd. The word pastor has the same root word as pasture, where sheep graze. 
Our gospel lesson has some interesting things to say about pastors and shepherds and apostles that lies just below the surface of the text. The story opens with some tired people- Jesus and his disciples. But the text calls the disciples something different. Did you catch it? This is one of only two times that Mark calls the disciples the other word, “apostles.” We use these words interchangibly, but there is a difference. A disciple is a student. The word apostle means “sent out.” I liken it to this: A disciple is like a student in law school. An apostle would be the district attorney. 
So, back to the story, Jesus and the disciples- I mean apostles- have just come back together after performing miracles and working around the clock. They go to a deserted place to be alone. But they do not find rest. While they are going from one end of the lake to the other, people recognize them and get to their landing spot on the other side before they arrive. These people were those faithful to John the Baptist, who has just been killed. Mark calls them sheep without a shepherd, without a pastor.
Jesus and the apostles do not turn them away- even though they are tired and in need of a break. Rather, Jesus teaches them, and the story that we miss in our gospel lesson is the feeding of the 5000. Essentially, Jesus and the disciples together care for these sheep.
But look at this. 
 Today’s gospel is Jesus living out the promise set forth in Psalm 23. The Lord is my Shepherd. Jesus takes these shepherdess people and leads them beside still waters. He makes them sit down on green grass and he provides them food. After this, he takes the disciples on a boat and calms a bad storm, as if to fulfill “as I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil”
Jesus is the good shepherd. We pastors just try to dress like him. We pastors are blessed to have the calling to take care of people in their times of great need, and rejoice with them in their moments of great joy.
All of us go through points in our lives when our needs change. Sometimes our basic needs of food, shelter, and safety are the primary concerns. Other times we may struggle with wanting to belong, with relationships, with our self-esteem, and sometimes with our self-actualization. We run up the steps of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, sometimes up and down in a single month.
We pastors are ready and willing to tend to the flock, to pull thorns from your paws, lead you in the right paths, and help you shed your old coats.
But most of the time, we’re just here to be near you and to encourage you.
One last point. I believe that Mark is drawing a parallel between the disciples now becoming apostles and not sheep. It just so happens that God equips the disciples just in time for this hoard of people to come looking for leadership. There is no need for them to act sheepish. God has a great ability to do that, to call people up to the big leagues just in time to use them.
So consider this: Sheep are usually contained. Even when they are out of the pen, they are discouraged to leave the safety of the group. Sheep always need supervision. At one point, so did the disciples. Jesus was babysitting them for the past 6 chapters. Now he does a completely new thing. He sends them out. He makes them apostles. He makes them messengers.
Jesus calls you to do the very same. We are not to remain needy, mindless sheep who are confined and safe in Jesus care. We are all called to be sent out into the world and help those without a shepherd or a flock- to love the people, love the people, love the people.    
Thank you for calling me to dress like a shepherd. I may never be able to answer my son’s question on my way to work in the morning, but, I can always tell him what a pastor does at day’s end. So, thank you for that.
And thank you for answering God’s calling for your life as God’s messenger, as God’s apostle, always on the lookout for sheep in need of the one true shepherd. Amen.  

Thursday, July 19, 2012


Dear Friends, Family, and Parishoners-

I am committed to writing this blog in hopes that it will develop a deeper conversation in our lives. Every week or two I will write about scripture, books I'm reading, sermons I preparing, and how God is working at Augsburg.

Like Daniel and the Lions' Den, may the Lord Bless and Preserve You. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Book of Daniel

The book of Daniel has long been a source of inspiration for its readers/hearers. There is no consensus on when the book was written, but most biblical scholars suggest that Daniel is a heroic character whose stories are historical fiction, along the same lines as Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, or Seth Grahame-Smith's Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Daniel was a popular Hebrew name and character used in tales about lions, dragons, and kings. I have come to believe that the book of Daniel can be linked to one of the harshest times in history of Israel, when the Greek Empire ruled most of the known world. The Greeks were oppressive. They outlawed Hebrew language, culture, and religion. They outlawed circumcision and other rituals. They imposed their own system of religion, forcing Greek beliefs and deities on Hebrew monotheism. They stripped Hebrews of basic human rights, what we might call First Ammendment Rights. Thus, Hebrews were not allowed to speak out against the Empire. So, when you can't speak about the people in power explicitly- a clever writer would do so implicitly, in this case, using the genre of historical fiction.The author(s) of the book of Daniel sat down to write a pointed critique of the Greek establishment- but had to subvert the message. And Daniel's stories were created. He's a Hebrew who is unwilling to eat the food of his foreign rulers. He is unwilling to stop praying to his God. Lions cannot hurt him (by the way, there are no lions native to the middle east. Lions were, however, imported to Greece and Rome for their gladiatorial spectacles). Daniel refuses to worship the "golden calf." This false idol is a tried and true stand-in for any incorrect religion. What Daniel does do is he interprets dreams of kings, a high position. Basically, Daniel is an unkillable superhero who tells people about the one true God.  
     I have come to support the dating of the Book of Daniel in the Greek period based on the following three discoveries: 
1) The chronology of Daniel is poorly constructed, and anyone who knew about the history of kings would see that, and assume that this was purposeful. Imagine opening a book where the hero works one minute for Winston Churchill and the next chapter he works for Jimmy Carter. Not only is he not in the same time period, but the author also switches nations. In chapter 1, Daniel works for Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, and by the end of Chapter five, Nebuchadnezzar has been killed and replaced by 'Darius the Mede'. Who? This is not a historical person. It might as well have been Micky Mouse. It is true that Darius is king of Persia 50 years later ( although he is not a Mede), but he does not succeed Nebuchadnezzar.  Cyrus the Great does, who, is sometimes known as Cyrus the Mede, having conquered Media and taking a Median wife. So, the question is this, is the use Darius' name a typo or is it intentional? We may never know. But the story as it is recorded misses entire decades, suggesting that historicity is not the main goal of the story. The point of the story is Daniel the superhero, the man with the Vegetarian diet who cannot be killed, refuses to cease worshiping God, and points out King's inadequacies. The narrative of Daniel is one of defiance in the face of foreign power. It's about worshiping God in the face of adversity.      
2) Daniel chapter two switches languages in the middle of verse four: from Hebrew to Aramaic. This suggests that the King spoke Aramaic, which is true. But after the King stops speaking, the text should go back to Hebrew, right? But it doesn't.The book of Daniel continues in Aramaic until chapter 8, where it switches to Hebrew. So, 7 chapters later, the author switches languages at random. Again, we do not know why this is. Maybe part of the scroll was torn and had to be replaced, but by someone who did not know Hebrew. That's one possibility. I imagine that this was another intentionality. The switching of languages to not return to the Hebrew for several chapters seems to be another jab at the Greek oppressors who banned writing in Hebrew. It shows the story of the Hebrews as one that has been interrupted by rulers of another language. Again, one could not speak out against the Greek government. But you can tell stories.
3) It's really funny. Daniel denies doing just about everything that the Greeks have demanded Hebrews do. He outmaneuvers them at every turn. They try to send him through 3 years of training, but two years later the king is begging him to interpret dreams. His friends are all given non-Hebrew names and demanded to worship a foreign god, they refuse, and no harm comes to them. Daniel is told to stop praying or else he'll get thrown in with the lions, he won't: and the lions can't touch him. No matter what comes in the book of Daniel, Hebrews survive while Kings, foreigners, and entire empires all perish. And why? Because Daniel is more faithful, he eats healthier (coincidentally, he's vegetarian), he prays more, and he seems to able to understand dreams and other mysteries. 
I am named after a different Daniel, my father, Danny. Alas, I am not Hebrew. But there is a reason that I chose Daniel for my son's middle name- and he isn't named after me or his grandfather. He's named after Daniel the Hebrew- be he a real person or a larger than life superman. I cannot guarantee that my son will inherit a better world than I have had, but I can promise that he'll have the same God. He will face his own lions in his day. And when he does, I hope he'll remember where his name comes from.