Friday, December 30, 2005
The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown, achieved status on the New York Times best seller list for several months after its release in March of 2004. It is the story of the history-changing secret that Jesus was not divine, was married to Mary Magdalene, had children, that the Christian church altered the Bible, that it invented Jesus' divinity as it demonized the sacred-feminine in order to gain power and influence, and that the secret is held by a sect of the Catholic Church that goes to extreme lengths to preserve the secret lest it lose its power and influence.
The Da Vinci Code takes its title from the artist/inventor Leonardo Da Vinci, the former head of a secret society known as the Priory of Sion who, through the centuries, has been keeping the truth alive. The book mentions The Holy Grail, which is supposed to be Mary Magdalene herself, and attempts to draw the comparison between the traditional view of the Grail as a cup (container) from which Jesus drank at the Last Supper and the Mary Magdelene's body as a "container" for life; namely, Jesus' offspring. Therefore, the quest for the Holy Grail is really the quest to kneel at the bones of Mary which have been preserved by the secret society through the centuries.
The Da Vinci Code is well written and entertaining. But, we must take it more seriously than a standard fiction book because the author claims it is accurately researched and based on factual information. If Brown had stated in the introduction of his book that his material is conjecture, fiction, and not meant to be factual, then we'd have no problem with it at all. But, no such disclaimer exists. In his acknowledgment page at the beginning of the book, Brown says,
For their generous assistance in the research of this book, I would like to acknowledge the Louvre Museum, the French Ministry of Culture, Project Gutenberg, Bibliothèque Nationale, the Gnostic Society Library, the Department of Paintings Study and Documentation Service at the Lourvre, Catholic World News, Royal Observatory Greenwich, London Record Society, the Muniment Collection at Westminster Abbey, John Pike and the Federation of American Scientists, and the five members of Opus Dei (three active, two former) who recounted their stories, both positive and negative, regarding their experiences inside Opus Dei.
From such a listing a person could get the idea that the story presents factual information regarding the Christian Church, Jesus, the Bible. The truth is that it is poorly researched at best. Far too many people who do not know real history and the real facts to which the book alludes are liable to believe the numerous erroneous theories cited by Brown.
On Dan Brown's website (www.danbrown.com) he provides a list of books used in research for the Da Vinci Code. They are gnostic, new age, and speculative in nature: Here are some of them.
Rosslyn: Guardians of the Secret of the Holy Grail --Tim Wallace-Murphy & Marilyn Hopkins
The Woman With The Alabaster Jar: Mary Magdalene and the Holy Grail --Margaret Starbird
The Templar Revelation: Secret Guardians of the True Identity of Christ --Lynn Picknett & Clive Prince
The Goddess in the Gospels: Reclaiming the Sacred Feminine --Margaret Starbird
The Dead Sea Deception --Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh
Jesus and the Lost Goddess: The Secret Teachings of the Original Christians --Timothy Freke, Peter Gandy
When God was a Woman --Merlin Stone
Beyond the Threshold: A Life in Opus Dei --Maria Del Carmen Tapia
The Pope's Armada: Unlocking the Secrets of Mysterious and Powerful New Sects in the Church --Gordon Urguhart
The list reveals Brown's lack of scholarly research since it does not contain competent research material from counter sources. Unfortunately, there is little fact in the book and far too much conjecture. To the untrained, the presentation of Brown's theory can be compelling and misguiding.
There have been many articles exposing the errors of the Da Vinci Code book so we will not going to too many details but we will provide several quotes from characters in the book followed by commentary demonstrating its inaccuracy.
Quote: "The Bible is a product of man, my dear. Not of God. The Bible did not fall magically from the clouds. Man created it as a historical record of tumultuous times, and it has evolved through countless translations, additions, and revisions. History has never had a definitive version of the book...more than 80 gospels were considered for the New Testament, and yet only a relative few are chosen for inclusion-- Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John among them... the Bible, as we know it today, was collected by the pagan Roman emperor Constantine the Great." p. 231
Response: This is a very gross error. The Bible is not the product of "countless translation, additions, and revisions." The Bible is translated from copies of original documents, and has been static since before the council of Nicea.
Response: The Bible was not produced at the Council of Nicea by Constantine. The Old Testament documents were collected and known as an inspired work long before the Christian church was ever on the scene. The New Testament documents were written by the eyewitnesses of Jesus' Ministry or under the direction of those who were. The Christian Church knew which documents were authentic and which were not. At the initial formation of the Christian Church, the Christians were under Roman rule and did not have the freedom (due to initial persecution) to produce an "official" Bible. But that did not prevent them from knowing which documents were penned by the apostles themselves and which were spurious forgeries, of which many were in existence and are undoubtedly included in the "80 gospels" that Brown mentions.
Quote: "With the help of Jesus' trusted uncle, Joseph of Arimathea, Mary Magdalene secretly traveled to France, then known as Gaul. There she found safe refuge in the Jewish community. It was here in France that she gave birth to a daughter. Her name was Sarah." p. 255
Response: There is no evidence for this whatsoever.
Quote: "...the Piscean ideal believe that man must be told what to do by higher powers because man is incapable of thinking for himself. Hence it has been a time of fervent religion. Now, however, we are entering the age of Aquarius-- the water bearer-- whose ideals claim that man will learn the truth and be able to think for himself." p. 268
Response: It is interesting that Brown inserts pagan ideas and pagan concepts into the dialogue among his characters in an attempt to support the storyline. His comment is interesting in that it leaves a person with the impression that religion, in particular Christianity, does not want people to learn the truth or think for themselves. This cannot be further from fact. The Scriptures teach us to learn the facts and to be very responsible in our decisions and to think critically. Brown misrepresents, at the very least, the Christian faith.
Response: Following are scriptures telling us to think, to use our minds.
"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself," (Romans 14:5).
Quote: "Admittedly, the concept of sex as a pathway to God was mind-boggling at first. Langdon's Jewish students always looked flabbergasted when he first told them that the early Jewish tradition involved ritualistic sex. In the temple, no less. Early Jews believed that the Holy of Holies in Solomon's Temple housed not only God but also his powerful female equal, Shekinah. Men seeking spiritual wholeness came to the temple to visit priestesses--or hierodules-- with whom they made love and experienced the divine through physical union. The Jewish tetragrammaton YHWH -- the sacred name of God -- in fact derived from Jehovah, an androgynous physical union between the masculine Jah and the pre-Habraic name for Eve, Havah." p. 309
Response: We know of absolutely no documentation whatsoever supporting the idea that the early Jews considered the holy of holies a place where a female deity would dwell. Such an idea is ridiculous and in direct contradiction to the historic/biblical account for the purpose of the Holy of Holies. This is such a preposterous idea that we are surprised Mr. Brown inserted it into the story at all -- even knowing it is a fictional book.
Response: Brown makes a very fundamental error in his research regarding the tetragrammaton YHWH. It is not derived from a masculine and feminine set of words. Instead, YHWH is the English four letters that most closely represent the four Hebrew characters that designate the name of God which is derived from the verb "to be." Essentially, when God gives his own name he says, "I AM that I AM". The "I AM" is from the verb "to be" which is where we get YHWH. Brown is completely off on this.
Quote: "the next time you find yourself with a woman, look in your heart and see if you cannot approach sex as a mystical, spiritual act. Challenge yourself to find that spark of divinity that man can only achieve through union with the sacred feminine." p. 310
Response: This is a very subjective statement. Of course, it is just a fictional character giving a fictional opinion. But, the problem is that with the overall context of undermining biblical truth and historical fact, this comment takes on a more distracting meaning as it moves a person to think emotionally instead of using the mind...the very thing Brown, via his characters, accuses the church of not wanting. See point 3 above.
Quote: "... every faith in the world is based on fabrication. As the definition of faith -- acceptance of that which we imagined to be true, that which we can prove." p. 341
Response: No, this is not true. Christianity is based on fact: the reality of the nation of Israel, archaeological verification, eyewitness accounts recorded in written form regarding the birth of Christ, his ministry, his miracles, his teaching, his death, his burial, and his resurrection. Brown could not be further from the truth.
Quote: "those who truly understand their faiths understand the stories [i.e., Virgin birth of Jesus] are metaphorical." p. 342
Response: This is not true. Christianity is not based on metaphorical stories with hidden meanings. It is based on historical facts, i.e., the actual life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The witnesses recorded what they actually saw and wrote down actual events. Brown's character's assertion is (admittedly fictional) and completely erroneous.
Following is a brief and partial list of some of the many errors found in the Da Vinci Code.
A partial list of errors in the Da Vinci Code
The Bible is the product of "countless translations, additions, and revisions."
The biblical documents are static, unchanging, and we have multitudinous copies of them from the first, second, and third centuries.
The Bible was assembled by Emperor Constantine.
The Bible was assembled before Constantine.
There were 80 additional gospels
Though there were a few gospels circulating which claimed to be authentic but the early Christians knew were not, there is no where close to 80.
Opus Dei members have monks.
They do not.
The deity of Christ was invented by the Council of Nicea
The deity of Christ is found in the scriptures Matt. 2:2,11; 14:33; 28:9; John 9:35-38; and Heb. 1:6
Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene who is to be worshipped as a goddess.
There is absolutely no historical evidence for this.
Early "Christians" practiced goddess worship.
There is absolutely no historical evidence for this.
YHWH is derived from two Hebrew words, one masculine and the other feminine.
No, it is derived from the single Hebrew word "to be"
The Dead Sea Scrolls contained the earliest Christian writings
This cannot be true since the DSS's were written before Christianity existed.
Christianity borrowed its ideas from pagan sources
Similarities between Christianity and other religions does not mean Christianity borrowed from them or they borrowed from Christianity. Similarities exist in all religions. The assertion is a common one that has no basis.
The Da Vinci Code is an enjoyable read as far as fiction goes but it is not very accurate in his conclusions. Again, if Brown had stated that his book was simply fiction and he did not imply that everything in it was factual, then we would have no problem. But this is not what he has done. In fact, he's done the opposite and in so doing has provided a lot of misinformation and false conclusions that, unfortunately, too many people will believe.
Thursday, December 29, 2005
Just a plug for the book Room of Marvels by James Bryan Smith. My friend Steve Robbins of Robbins Nest Ministries (http://www.robbinsnestministries.org/) gave the members of the Pastors' Covenant Groups he's worked with in 2005 a copy of of Room of Marvels as an end-of-year present.
C.S. Lewis fans will find some distant echoes of The Great Divorce here (C.S. Lewis actually shows up as a character). Room of Marvels is a great book to put into the hands of anyone who's grieving (which I plan to do very shortly).
Smith tells the story of Tim Hudson, a man who has finally arrived at God’s address—at the end of his rope.
The writer of Christian books, Tim has a beautiful family and good friends. But the last two years have brought him to a crisis of faith. Tim’s best friend and kindred spirit Wayne, a famous Christian musician, was killed suddenly and tragically in an auto accident. Tim’s mother, that faithful saint who had been his touchstone and a gentle guiding presence his whole life, is also taken from him suddenly. And the hardest of all, Tim and his wife Rachel’s two-year-old daughter, Madison, who had been born with severe physical challenges, is killed in a senseless medical accident.
Now Tim, the one who turns answers into best-sellers, is looking for answers himself. During a desperate retreat to a spiritual center to seek God, God sends Tim on a guided journey to a glimpse of the wonders that await him, and that his departed loved ones now share.
What makes all this the more poignant is that Tim--in case you haven't figured it out--is a thinly veiled fictionized incarnation of James Bryan Smith. Like A Grief Observed, this is a book written first of all for the author himself. And we are grateful that he has shared his struggle with us all.
This is the most recent post from http://abcviewsfrommiddle.blogspot.com/, the blog of Susan Gillies and Dwight Stinnet, ABC execs for regions in the center of the country.
In this blog, she show that she is well, quite clueless about why lines are drawn. She blurs the distinction between theological and cultural differences. It's really a rather astonishing, and naive, bit of work. She seems to assume that theological differences are mere offshoots of cultural differences. Could it be that people actually beleive (and act on those beliefs) based on conviction?
It reminds me of when I heard a political conservative say, "Ted Kennedy's only saying that to make the moveon.org crowd happy." Then a liberal says, "John Kyl's just saying that to make his religious right supporters happy." Well, maybe Kennedy and Kyl are really saying what they believe. I know I do. And I even believe that that's the same, by in large, on the theo-left.
Tuesday, December 27, 2005
People in southern Calif. are weird
East coast people are snobs
Northwest folks live in caffeine la-la land
Middle of the country people are so unimportant
Folks in rural areas are unsophisticated
The country is filled with hicks, effete elites, and folks of “limited capacity.”
So, even before we have differences in Biblical interpretation
Even before we have theological differences
Even before we discover basic life view differences . . .
We already had attitudes about each other
Or, perhaps more importantly, we thought we knew what others thought of us and we resented it. Many, many chips on many, many shoulders.
But what is common among us is a deep desire to take the good news to the world. And so, a denomination forms, taking this rag-tag group of folks from north, south, east and west and letting them focus on mission together. Perhaps it was inevitable that we would eventually take our eyes off the mission and look around at the people with whom we are joined and say “Oh, no! I didn’t realize I was working with snobs and weirdos and space cadets and country bumpkins!
Where are the other normal people, like me?”
Then, add to this, the fact that we do have differences in our beliefs. Where do we draw the line at working with people who believe differently than we do? The drawing of lines is one of the things Christians have done prolifically. I do understand that there are always lines somewhere. The question is, do the lines we draw help our mission or hurt it. The damage caused by much of our line drawing has been profound. It may be that the disinterest in organized religion on the part of many in our society is because of our habitual line drawing. It has made observers distrustful of us, critical of us, cynical about us, utterly disappointed in us, dismissive of us – but more importantly it has interfered with their ability to hear the good news.
Why do we draw so many lines? Because we are insecure. And that’s pitiful in Christians.
Posted by Susan Gillies
Dear Susan--could it be that we are impelled by Biblical convictions to draw necessary lines? As one of my old profs--an American Baptist, by the way--used to say, "I'm not in mangagement; I'm in sales!"
Wednesday, December 28, 2005
Posted on Wed, Dec. 28, 2005
Incarnation theory makes real-world appearance after disaster
BY BILL TAMMEUS
Knight Ridder Newspapers
On Thanksgiving morning in Kenner, La., Southern Baptists prepared 12,000 meals of fresh turkey, gravy and sweet potatoes. Then Red Cross volunteers distributed them to Hurricane Katrina victims still living in temporary shelters.
One of those meals - in fact, the 1 millionth produced by that kitchen since August - went to a homeless woman named Dorothy, who was celebrating her 80th birthday.
What was happening in the planning, cooking and serving of those meals to the homeless was what theologians call incarnational theology in action.
The Christmas story, they say, is about incarnation - God becoming human as the baby Jesus to rescue people in need. So incarnational theology today means, in part, being present with needy people.
In fact, said the Rev. Thomas D. Ford, "incarnational theology that is truly that is being done in the trenches, not in scholarly books."
Ford, now pastor of a Lutheran church in Ashtabula, Ohio, says people who live out such theology today show up where people are in trouble "because Jesus would have done so."
"All of Christian theology, to the extent that it's orthodox, would be incarnational," says Stephen T. Davis, who teaches the philosophy of religion at Claremont McKenna College and has co-edited a book on incarnation. "The vast majority of Christians are just not going to move away from that."
In fact, says Fenton Johnson, author of "Keeping Faith: A Skeptic's Journey," the incarnation "is the central metaphor of Christianity, though with gratefulness I recall Flannery O'Connor's passionate argument for whole-hog faith: `If the incarnation is a metaphor, then to hell with it.'"
Whether the incarnation is metaphor or something O'Connor could affirm, people who study and write about incarnational theology nowadays are not limiting it just to the Christmas story.
Christianity has had 2,000 years to think, write and talk about the incarnation. And because it is so vital to the faith, it's not surprising that there have been many arguments about what it means and even about the very nature of Jesus. Scholars, theologians, preachers and others continue today to try to unpack the meaning of the incarnation for new generations.
One question they are trying to answer is "Why Jesus?" Why, in Christian terms, did the Creator of the universe allow himself to be born as a helpless infant who was at the mercy of humanity?
But while that question still occupies Christians, incarnational theology has moved in recent decades beyond a tight focus on Jesus. It has expanded to "bring the whole universe into the incarnational mystery," says John F. Haught, who teaches theology at Georgetown University.
One reason, says Charlene P.E. Burns, a religious studies teacher at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, is that people engaged in interfaith dialogue today are looking for common ground that different religions share, and "incarnational themes appear almost across the board in the world's religions."
Other religions, she says, obviously don't adopt the Christian belief that Jesus was God's only incarnate son. In Hinduism, for example, one of the manifestations of Krishna, worshipped as the eighth incarnation (or avatar) of the Hindu god Vishnu, was human, says Burns, author of "Rethinking Jesus and Incarnation."
Haught says that "one obvious area (of the expansion of incarnational theology) is in the region of ecological spirituality. One of the scandals that environmentalists see in traditional Christianity is that it was so other-worldly in its hopes and preoccupations that it lost its sense of nature as its home. The way incarnational theology refers to that is that God loves matter and takes it into the divine self. That should be a model for our own approach to the natural world."
When the Rev. Tex Sample, former professor at St. Paul School of Theology in Kansas City, thinks about how to use incarnational theology, he has visions of tents: "I take seriously the word in John that the word became flesh and lived with us. Literally it means, `pitched tent.' So the word became flesh and pitched tent with us."
Sample, who now lives in Arizona and is coordinator of the Network for the Study of U.S. Lifestyles, says that such a "claim is central to the incarnation, and I read this to mean that Jesus as the Word of God joined the indigenous practices of his time.
"I contend that there has never been an authentic expression of Christian faith that was not also indigenous. In fact, serious tragedy attends the missionary work of the church when it refuses to be indigenous."
That means, Sample says, that Christians are called "to respond to God's Word and to pitch tent with the practices that are indigenous to a people."
But, he says, "I don't mean that as any accommodation (to everything in the culture), because the church must oppose some practices as well."
Sample's kind of incarnational theology can "push us to engage folk where they are," says James M. Brandt, professor of historical theology at St. Paul School of Theology. And, he says, it can make use of what is "earthly" to "express what is divine."
Sample worries, however, that "there are a whole bunch of Christians out there who focus an awful lot on the business of getting saved. What that can do is individualize the faith, so the church becomes a means for assisting one in salvation. What gets missed is that Christian existence is `we' existence and not `me' existence, and the church is called to be the body of Christ in the world. In that way the church is incarnational."
Incarnational theology that focuses primarily on the birth of Jesus can continue to be found in such works as British theology professor Alister McGrath's new book, "Incarnation."
He writes: "... the birth of Christ is shown to continue and extend the story of God's dealings with Israel. The God of Israel has indeed visited and redeemed his people."
Another way of putting that traditional understanding is found in Michael Casey's 1995 book, "Sacred Reading: The Ancient Art of Lectio Divina:" "The divine word trimmed itself to our capacities. It did not appear in overwhelming power and splendor but in accessible human form." Some Christians say that belief also calls Christians to see Christ in one another.
But Haught says the "new cosmology that we've acquired in the last century and a half is being used to widen the incarnational theology of Christianity to include more than just the historical Christ," he says. "It includes the history of the universe. The story of nature is inseparable from the story of each one of us.
"Theology is incarnational today in a much more cosmic sense than God entering into matter in one man and then returning to another world and waiting for us there."
Haught points to the work of Karl Rahner, one of the best-known Catholic theologians of the 20th century: "He (Rahner) says Christianity really has two major truths to it. First, there's a great mystery we call God. We share that with other faiths.
"But the second great truth is that the infinite God seeks to give itself away unreservedly to the finite world. That's really the theological horizon of incarnational theology. So Christ, or the Christ event, would be the point in this process of God's self-giving in which the infinite self-gift is given in a decisive and irreversible way."
Burns says scholars are trying to explain how God is present in the world in many ways: "Incarnation isn't just in that one human being. There are ways the divine is present throughout existence. There are ways of speaking about that that don't make you a pantheist."
Pantheism holds that the material world and God are one, so God is everything. Against that, scholars such as Haught and Burns use the term "panentheism," which suggests that God is the force behind the material universe but nonetheless maintains a transcendent character.
Burns says many conservative Christian scholars are resistant to some of these ideas, wanting to make sure the Christian idea of Jesus' uniqueness isn't diluted. But, she says, scholars of various Christian traditions are finding some common ground as they discuss the nature of grace and find grace throughout the material world as well as in the birth of the baby of Bethlehem.
That grace was evident to Dorothy, the woman in Kenner, La., who was served the 1 millionth meal from the Southern Baptists' kitchen.
Here's how Christine Benero, chief executive officer of the Denver chapter of the Red Cross, described the scene: "As she was leaving, Dorothy turned to us and told us she had been afraid of this day because she thought she would be alone on Thanksgiving and on her birthday. Instead, she said, it was the happiest she had felt since Hurricane Katrina took away the life she knew."
Is Terrorism "religion" news?
By Terry Mattingly
The suicide bomber struck at a sandwich stand in the busy outdoor market of the Israeli coastal city called Hadera, killing five people and wounding dozens more.
Islamic Jihad claimed credit for the blast, which came a month after Israel's September exit from Gaza. Israeli leaders quickly released a statement noting that this attack followed remarks by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that the Jewish state should be "wiped off the map."
The bomber was a Palestinian. News reports did not attempt to pin ethnic or religious labels on the victims.Are events such as this one "religion" news?
This question matters because, week after week, journalists struggle to describe conflicts of this kind between the extremists many now call Islamists and other believers -- Jews, Christians, moderate Muslims, skeptics and others. These events are haunted by religion, yet it is faith mixed with politics, history, ethnicity, economics, blood feuds and many other factors.
I am not sure it would help readers if the press called these events "religion" news. If might stir even hotter emotions. Do we need to know the religious identity of every victim or have we reached the point where journalists can assume that we know? When are rioting thugs merely rioting thugs? When are police just police?
Nevertheless, it's hard not to ask these kinds of questions when reading the list of the Religion Newswriters Association's top 10 news events of 2005.
The overwhelming choices for the top two stories were the final decline and death of Pope John Paul II -- who mourners hailed as "John Paul the Great" -- and the election of Pope Benedict XVI. The 100 religion-beat professionals who took part also selected John Paul II as religion newsmaker of the year, with 68 percent of the vote. The new pope placed second, with 21 percent.
News at the Vatican will always make headlines. The rest of the 2005 list included other familiar topics, from debates about evolution to euthanasia, from battles over homosexuality to unresolved church-state tensions among the justices -- current and future -- at the U.S. Supreme Court. But the top 10 included no events linked to terrorism, Iraq, Israel and the clash of cultures that has dominated the news in recent years.
This is news about religion, but is it "religion" news?
According to historian Martin Marty, America's best-known commentator on religion, it's time for journalists to ask a more disturbing question: "In the wake of Sept. 11, is there any news today that IS NOT religion news?"
Here's the rest of the RNA list of the top 10 religion stories:
(1) The world mourns the death of Pope John Paul II after his historic reign of 26-plus years. His courage in the face of death inspires many. Admirers call for his canonization and major networks broadcast mini-series about this life.
(2) The veteran Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, a top aide to John Paul II, is elected by the cardinals to succeed him as Benedict XVI. Catholic progressives are appalled, while other Vatican insiders watch for signs of what his papacy will bring.
(3) While demonstrators mourn, Terri Schiavo dies in a Florida nursing home after her feeding tube is removed. Politicians, clergy and family members debate her right to live or die.
(4) Churches and faith-based agencies respond to Hurricane Katrina, the tsunami in Southeast Asia and a devastating earthquake in Pakistan. Many clergy ask: What role did God play in these disasters?
(5) Disputes about homosexuality continue to split the global Anglican Communion, as well as cause tensions among Evangelical Lutherans, United Methodists and, in a dispute that finally went public, the American Baptists.
(6) Advocates of "intelligent design" continue to push for the right to question Darwinism in public schools, but suffer stinging defeats in Pennsylvania.
(7) U.S. Supreme Court approves posting of Ten Commandments outside the Texas state capitol and disapproves their posting inside Kentucky courthouses -- both by 5-4 votes. A federal judge reinstates a ban on "under God" in Pledge of Allegiance in three California school districts.
(8) Voices on the religious right and left question President Bush's three nominees to the Supreme Court, with some evangelicals supporting and some opposing born-again candidate Harriet Miers.
(9) Vatican releases long-awaited document on gay seminarians, barring from ordination those who are actively homosexual, have "deeply rooted" gay tendencies or oppose the church's teachings on the subject.
(10) Billy Graham holds a final evangelistic campaign in New York City.
--Terry Mattingly (http://www.tmatt.net/) is senior fellow for journalism at the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities. He writes this weekly column for the Scripps Howard News Service.
Tuesday, December 27, 2005
Spong is the retired wacked out extreme left Episcopal Bishop of New Jersey. Well, NBC has the show for you, Johnny! "The Book of Daniel" premires January 6. Here's how nbc.com describes it:
Emmy nominee Aidan Quinn (“An Early Frost,” “Plainsong,” “Legends of the Fall”) stars as Reverend Daniel Webster, an unconventional Episcopalian minister who not only believes in Jesus - he actually sees him and discusses life with him. Webster is challenged on many levels as he struggles to be a good husband, father and minister, while trying to control a nagging addiction to prescription painkillers, and an often rocky relationship with the church hierarchy, led by Bishop Beatrice Congreve (Oscar winner Ellen Burstyn, “Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore,” “Requiem of a Dream”), Roger Paxton, a senior warden of the parish and stalwart churchgoer (Dylan Baker, “Kinsey,” “Happiness”).
The reverend also has loving, but challenging relationships with his three children: Peter (Christian Campbell, “Trick”), his 23-year-old gay son, who struggles with the loss of his twin brother; Grace (Alison Pill, “Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen”), his 16-year-old daughter who doesn't try to push her father's buttons but succeeds at it nonetheless; and Adam (Ivan Shaw, “All My Children”), his 16-year-old adopted Chinese son, a handsome and cocky high school jock with a wicked sense of humor. Keeping Webster grounded is his strong and loving wife Judith (Susanna Thompson, “Now and Again”), who is fighting her own fondness for mid-day martinis, as well as Jesus (Garret Dillahunt, “Deadwood”), whose frequent chats with Daniel serve to remind him of his strengths and weaknesses.
Hmm, sounds charming. Here's some more info from the American Family Association:
NBC considers new show featuring a completely dysfunctional family a positive portrayal of Christ and Christians
On January 6, NBC will begin a new series entitled The Book of Daniel. While the public has not seen the program, NBC is promoting "The Book of Daniel" as a serious drama about Christian people and the Christian faith.
The main character is Daniel Webster, a drug-addicted Episcopal priest whose wife depends heavily on her mid-day martinis. Webster regularly sees and talks with a very unconventional white-robed, bearded Jesus. The Webster family is rounded out by a 23-year-old homosexual Republican son, a 16-year-old daughter who is a drug dealer, and a 16-year-old adopted son who is having sex with the bishop's daughter. At the office, his lesbian secretary is sleeping with his sister-in-law.
NBC and the mainstream media call it "edgy," "challenging" and "courageous." The series is written by Jack Kenny, a practicing homosexual who describes himself as being "in Catholic recovery," and is interested in Buddhist teachings about reincarnation and isn't sure exactly how he defines God and/or Jesus. "I don't necessarily know that all the myth surrounding him (Jesus) is true," he said. NBC considers "The Book of Daniel" a positive portrayal of Christ and Christians.
Oops, that doesn't sound as, eh, promising. Unless you're Spong or a Jesus Seminar member. Let's all remember: if you gut Biblical theology, don't be surprised if you gut godly behavior.
"The Book of Daniel" is being panned as anti-Christian TV show. My instincts say it will last half a season. More important, TBOD is what you get at the caboose end of bad theology.
Back to Spong and why he's so wrong--the man makes his living and reputation by being a "Christian" who bashes Christianity. He is simply a neo-pantheistic relativist who thrives on quasi-Gnostic mutterings ("Can we really worship the God found in the Bible who sent the angel of death across the land of Egypt to murder the firstborn males in every Egyptian household?") and decidely PC slanders (Paul was "a frightened gay man condemning other gay people so that he can keep his own homosexuality inside the rigid discipline of his faith"). Huh?
As G.K. Chesterton noted, "In real life the people who are most bigoted are the people who have no convictions at all."
For more on Spong, a good place to start is http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Shelby_Spong. His latest book is entitled--this is a hoot--The Sins of Scripture. Whatta cut-up!
Monday, December 26, 2005
Always rely on Charles Spurgeon to have something timeless to say. This is from his publication, The Sword and the Trowel from February, 1870.
MINISTERS SAILING UNDER FALSE COLOURS
OUR FOREFATHERS were far less tolerant than we are, and it is to be feared that they were also more honest. It will be a sad discount upon our gain in the matter of charity if it turn out that we have been losers in the department of truthfulness. There is no necessary connection between the two facts of growth in tolerance and decline in sincerity, but we are suspicious that they have occurred and are occurring at the same moment. We freely accord to theological teachers a freedom of thought and utterance which in other ages could only be obtained by the more daring at serious risks, but we also allow an amount of untruthfulness in ministers, which former ages would have utterly abhorred.
It is upon the grounds for this last assertion that we mean to utter our mind in a brief paragraph or two; our love to the most unlimited religious liberty inciting us to all the sterner abhorrence of the license which like a parasite feeds thereon.
Upon the plea of spiritual liberty, of late years certain teachers who have abjured the faith of the churches which employ them, have nevertheless endeavored, with more or less success, to retain their offices and their emoluments. A band of men who maliciously blaspheme the atonement and deny the deity of our Lord, continue at this hour to officiate as pastors of more than one Reformed Church upon the Continent. A powerful body of sceptics, whose doubts upon the inspiration of Holy Scripture are not concealed, yet remain in churches whose professed basis is the inspiration of the Bible...
...Our complaint is in each case, not that the men changed their views, and threw up their former creeds, but that having done so they did not at once quit the office of minister to the community whose faith they could no longer uphold; their fault is not that they differed, but that, differing, they sought an office of which the prime necessity is agreement. All the elements of the lowest kind of knavery meet in the evil which we now denounce. Treachery is never more treacherous than when it leads a man to stab at a doctrine which he has solemnly engaged to uphold, and for the maintenance of which he receives a livelihood. The office of minister would never unwittingly be entrusted by any community to a person who would use it for the overthrow of the principles upon which the community was founded. Such conduct would be suicidal. A sincere belief of the church's creed was avowedly or by implication a part of the qualification which helped the preacher to his stipend, and when that qualification ceases the most vital point of the compact between him and his church is infringed, and he is bound in honor to relinquish an office which he can no longer honestly fulfill.
Scrupulous conscientiousness would not wait for any enquiries of church courts, but with noble delicacy, jealous of her own honor, would come forward and boldly say, "Gentlemen, the doctrines which you believe me to hold are no longer dear to me: I know that your church is not likely to alter her belief, and as I cannot square mine with hers, I leave her. I could not profess to be what I am not, or eat the bread of a church whose articles of faith I cannot accept." Having said this, the preacher has restored things to their natural position, and has a right, as far as his fellow men are concerned, to prophesy whatsoever seemeth good unto him. Whether he becomes orthodox or heterodox, more enlightened or less sound, is mainly his own business, and that of those who may accord with him; certainly, it is no concern of ours at this present, nor indeed is it so the concern of any soul breathing, that the man should be in any degree denied unbounded liberty of utterance; he has a right to speak what he believes, and in God's name let him speak. To put him to the loss of civil rights, or social status (so far as this last is a matter of voluntary act), is a suggestion to be scorned. To touch a hair of his head, or label him with an opprobrious epithet, would be disgraceful. He has cast off the bond which he found irksome; he scorned to be in fetters; he in common with all his fellows may now tell out his message in the world's great audience chamber, and our prayer for him is, the Lord send him divine light and love, and may his labor never be frustrated.
But if the man make no such declaration to the religious body from whom in heart he differs, and offers no such resignation, but remains with it in name and in pay while secretly or openly opposing its covenanted faith, we have no words which can sufficiently describe the meanness of his conduct. If a priest engaged in sacrifice in the temple of Juggernaut should be converted to Mohammedanism, he would be a great rogue should he continue his ministrations in honor of the Hindoo deity; and every rupee that he received from the worshippers of the idol would be the fruit of fraud. Or to change the instance, should the pastor of a Christian church become a conscientious believer in the divinity of the goddess Kalee, he would be nothing short of a villain if he held his position and pocketed the contributions of believers in Jesus.
The cases may be said to be extreme, but they are scarcely more so than some existing among us, and the principle is the same as in less glaring instances. By what tortuous processes of reasoning could it be made to appear consistent with uprightness for an Arminian to accept emoluments upon the condition of teaching Calvinistic doctrines, or how could a Calvinist be justified should he enter into covenant to teach the opposite tenets? Would it be any decrease of the inconsistency of either official if he should, after gaining his position and securing its salary, become a stickler for ministerial liberty and insist upon delivering himself of his own real opinions which he dared not have avowed at his installment, and which, ex officio, he ought to denounce? A church, having a written creed, virtually asks the candidate for her pulpit, "Do you hold fast our form of sound words, and, will you endeavor to maintain it?" On the response to that enquiry, other things being settled, the appointment depends. The candidate's "yea," is accepted in confidence as being sincere, and he is inducted; but if it be a lie, or if at any time it cease to be altogether true, it is only by a sophistry unworthy of an ingenuous mind, that a man can justify himself in retaining his place; he is bound in honor to relinquish it forthwith.
It may be said that churches should leave their ministers free to preach whatever they please. Our answer is, that it may or may not be the proper course, to us it seems to be a plan worthy only of a race of triflers, but that is not the point in hand. When churches agree to leave their preachers perfectly unbound as to doctrine, our remarks will have no relevancy, for where there is no compact there can be no breach of it; but the fact is that the churches as a rule do not give such boundless license, but lay down more or less distinct creeds* and rules of practice, to which assent is given by all their ministers; and while these are still in use, no man can promise to maintain them, and yet war against them, profess to esteem them, and yet despise them, without his conduct being a great moral mystery to those who fain would think him an honest man.
It is frequently bewailed as a mournful circumstance that creeds were ever written; it is said, "Let the Bible alone be the creed of every church, and let preachers explain the Scriptures as they conscientiously think best." Here again we enter into no debate, but simply beg the objector to remember that there are creeds, that the churches have not given them up, that persons are not forced to be ministers of these churches, and therefore if they object to creeds they should not offer to become teachers of them; above all, they should not agree to teach what they do not believe. If a man thinks the banner of a political party to be a wrong one, he should not enlist under it, and if he does so, with his heart in another camp, he may expect ejectment with remarks unflattering. Protest by all means against creeds and catechisms, but if you sign them, or gain or preserve a position by appearing to uphold them, wonder not if your morality be regarded as questionable.
It has been insinuated, if not openly averred, that to deprive a man of his office in any church because he denies its doctrines is persecution. But if the members of a religious community are forced to support a man who undermines their faith, are they not most clearly persecuted? If they are compelled to endure as their spiritual leader a person who impugns the doctrines which he was chosen to defend, is not this persecution of the heaviest sort? The liberty of preachers is important, but the liberty of hearers is important too. It would be wrong to oppress the individual, but it is not less so to oppress the many. Let the preacher use his tongue as he wills, but by what show of right should a congregation support him while he is opposing their views of truth? There is the whole world for every earnest speaker to talk in, but for what reason is he to have possession of a pulpit dedicated to the propagation of dogmas which he glories in refuting? We have scarcely patience to expose so self-evident an absurdity. The whine concerning persecution is effeminate cant. Not thus did the heroes of the Disruption set up a caterwaulling when, because they could not agree with regulations forced on the Scottish Establishment, they surrendered all that they possessed of church house room and provender. Did Luther and Calvin claim to remain priests of the church of Rome, and hang on to benefices under the Pope's control? Did the Nonconformists of two hundred years ago claim to eat bread episcopally buttered after they had refused compliance with the Act of Uniformity?
Every free association has at least a civil right to make its own laws; no man is bound to join it, but, having joined it, if he disobey the rules it is no persecution, but the purest justice, to east out the offending member. To put such a perfectly justifiable and even necessary expulsion on a level with thumb-screwing, burning, or imprisonment, is sheer idiotic maundering; and one wonders at the littleness of the souls who allow such pleadings to be offered on their behalf. Half a grain of heroism would make a man say, "No, I have no right to a stipend which I am disqualified from earning. I shall be a loser, but the world is wide, truth is precious, and while I am true to my sacred calling, and the spirit of truth, I doubt not that God will bear me through, and that there are true hearts beating in unison with mine who will rally round me: at any rate, I dare not act dishonestly." However great a man's error, one feels a sympathy with his person when he is moved by honorable sentiments to make personal sacrifices; but, even if we were certain that truth was on his side, if he violated the rights of others by forcing his opinions upon them, indignation should be excited in every just man's bosom.
But suppose a church to be founded upon compromise, and intended to embrace parties of many shades of opinion? Then, of course the latitude specified may be enjoyed without infraction of the code of honor, although it is possible that difficulties of another sort may arise; but even in such a case there must of necessity be some points settled, something not to be considered as moot, and our remarks are applicable to deviations from those settled standards to the fullest degree. Concerning these there must be no shuffling, or honor is gone. Ecclesiastics may not think so, but the common sense of observers outside never hesitates in its verdict when the clergy play with words. The proverb concerning the falseness of priests owes its origin to the aptness of ecclesiastics to twist, language. No conceivable mode of expression could fix a doctrine if certain divines had the exposition of them. Black is white, and red no color, and green a peculiar shade of scarlet with theological word-splitters. Alas! that it should be so, for the crime is great, and thousands have died at Tyburn for faults not a tithe so injurious to the commonwealth.What is to be done with persons who will not leave a church when their views are opposed to its standards? The reply is easy. They should have a patient hearing that they may have opportunity to explain, and if it be possible to their consciences, may sincerely conform; but if the divergence be proven, they must with all the courtesy consistent with decision be made to know that their resignation is expected, or their expulsion must follow. The church which does not do this has only one course before it consistent with righteousness; if it be convinced that the standards are in error and the preacher right, it ought at all hazards to amend its standards, and if necessary to erase every letter of its creed, so as to form itself on a model consistent with the public teaching which it elects, or with the latitude which it prefers.
However much of evil might come of it, such a course would be unimpeachably consistent, so consistent indeed that we fear few ordinary mortals will be able to pursue it; but the alternative of maintaining a hollow compact, based on a lie, is as degrading to manliness as to Christianity. Much and often have we marvelled at the inertia of Christian manhood. An Imaum who traduced the prophet from the pulpit of the Mosque, would have small tolerance from the disciples of Mahomet beyond the leave to go his way, and never pollute the place a second time. Not even the most debased of idolatries would so stultify itself, or become so heartlessly hypocritical, as to enrich with the gold and silver of its votaries priests who avowedly an laboriously opposed the gods, and the teachings of the Shastras. It, is reserved for certain Christian churches to degrade themselves by tolerating as their teachers the acknowledged and professed propounders of another gospel, an d allowing the inspiration of the Bible, the deity of Christ, and the verifies of the faith, to be scoffed at to their faces on the Sabbath-day by their own paid ministers. How long ere this reproach shall be rolled away!
*Creed? Did the most famous Baptist of the 19th century actually use the word creed? You bet he did.
Saturday, December 24, 2005
One of my members sent me this email. Thought I'd pass it on. Merry Christmas. By the way, this photo above is the one she mentions.
Hi Pastor Glenn:
Something I saw last Sunday as you were preaching made me think. And yes, I was paying attention to you. It just sort of hit me in a milli-second. I thought about it more later, and wrote the following.
The choir sang our Christmas program this morning at both services. Up on the screen behind us at the second service was projected a picture of Mary holding her baby, Jesus. It was a nice, soft focused, comfortable picture, but I wonder what Mary really felt as she held that baby in her arms. She had heard the prophecies of how He would save His people from thier sins. She had been told that He was the Son of God. Did she have any idea about some of the suffering He was destined for?
It was night when He was born. Maybe it was cold. They were in a cave-stable with smelly animals. Did Mary suffer a long, hard labor there? Who helper her? Only Joseph? Or did she have a midwife from the town, Bethlehem? Was there water available to wash the baby and herself afterward? She must have been frightened. I was very scared when my son was born. I'd never felt that much pain for that long. But I sort of knew what to expect. I was in a clean hospital with four or five nurses and a doctor nearby. She was a very young girl, almost alone, in a stable.
When she held her son for the first time and wrapped him in blankets, she must have felt that rush of overwhelming tenderness new mom's feel for the tiny thing in their arms. She probably offered Him her breast. He must have, like all newborns, sought it out with his tiny eyes blinking and his mouth opening, head turning towards his mother and rutting around with little whimpering cries.In that tiny, new body lay the eternal King of Kings. God in flesh. Did He know, even from inside His mother's womb, who He was? As He first saw his mother's smile and drank from her, did He think about the heaven He had left? Or, like all babies, did His little brain start from scratch, learning how to coordinate chubby fingers, smiling with a baby's total focus at His mother, and later reaching for anything in sight to shove in His mouth to soothe the pain of new little teeth?
Most of us have heard His birth story so many times that we don't think about the details that can mean so much. He lived. In a body just like ours. He probably skinned His toe or His knee as a boy while running with his friends. Around age two or three, maybe He asked His mother 'why' at least 50 times each day. And yet, He must have known, at least in an unconsious heart way, that He was created for something much more important than your average capenters' son.
We have a big advantage over Mary today. Hindsight. We get to see the big picture of His life. We know about His birth, His teachings, His death and resurrection, His disciples and their faithfulness to the end. In another way, Mary has a big advantage over us. She actually got to hold Him in her arms. There's no way Mary can come forward in time to share with us the gift of the Bible. But is there a way we can go back and share with her the gift of that little boy?If God sends His spirit, anyone who asks can hold that little baby in their arms today. We can hear Him speak words of amazing wisdom, even as a boy, and treasure them in our hearts, just like Mary did. We may not understand everything He says and does. Mary didn't. But we can love Him deeply all the same because He's been give to us, just like he was to Mary, to love and cherish. We can see Him scourged and hanging on a cross, and our heart can break with unbearable grief for Him. We can see Him standing in the upper room, holes in His hands and feet, declaring His victory over death and sin, and our hearts can swell with unbearable joy and glory for this son who really is not only our son or brother, but also our Lord and our God. What mother wouldn't sacrifice her life for her child if it could protect Him from harm? We can hold that tiny Christ child in our hearts, and know without a doubt that as he sacrificed His life for us, we will sacrifice anything for Him.Today, this Christmas day, hold that little baby in your arms. Feel His body be broken for you, and like Mary did, give your life to protect that precious treasure you hold inside.
EDITORIAL: Defending Christmas
Tomorrow, of course, is Christmas Day. But were it not for a decision of the early Christian church, tomorrow might be just another Sunday in December. And Christmas might not be until January 2.
Or even April 18 or 19.
How about celebrating Christmas on May 20? Well, if nothing else, the weather
would probably be a bit warmer.
We ran across that little tidbit of information in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology’s entry about Christmas.
But how December 25 got picked as Christmas Day is still the subject of some controversy. The Bible is utterly silent as to the exact date of the birth of Jesus Christ, but within a few centuries of his ministry on Earth, churches were holding celebrations of his birthday – although they couldn’t agree on a common date.
According to the aforementioned tome, Dec. 25 became recognized as the official date as the “church ... offered the people a Christian alternative to the pagan festivities” celebrating Saturnalia and the winter solstice at that time of year.
But the Dictionary of Christianity in America also suggests the Dec. 25 date may reflect the early church believing Christ was crucified on March 25, with his birthdate then being marked nine months after that. (That said, this resource book also admits that the “coincidence with the traditional winter solstice surely influenced the popularity of Christmas.”)
And, according to Brian Moynahan’s book The Faith: A History of Christianity, the first recorded observance of Christmas Day is found in a Roman calendar dated 336.
The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology notes that as Christianity spread to Europe, many of the symbols used in the pagan winter festivals, such as holly, mistletoe and even the Christmas tree itself, were appropriated by the Christian church and incorporated into its Christmas celebrations.
Not surprisingly, perhaps, the usage of non-Christian symbols into Christianity’s second-most holy day (right after Easter) has not sat well with some parts of the Christian church over the years. The Dictionary of Christianity in America even notes that the celebration of Christmas was outlawed in 1659 in Massachusetts because of the usage of pagan imagery. (The law was repealed in 1681.)
This book also says that the gift-giving custom is “possibly related to pre-Christian celebrations” that took place at this time of year. And it adds that “at least since the mid-19th century, the celebration (of Christmas) has gained in popularity so that today it extends well beyond Christianity itself.”
Why do we mention all of this?
Because, every year without fail, the fight over Christmas begins anew.
It usually starts in early December after some politician somewhere in North America gets it in his or her head that the big pine tree decorated with lights, tinsel and bows outside the local government office should be declared a “holiday tree” or a “multicultural tree” instead of what 99% of the world would call it if asked – a “Christmas tree.”
The decision is inevitably met with a storm of outrage from citizens. Outraged and angry letters get fired off to newspapers, including this one, from indignant individuals who can’t believe how Christmas is being stolen from our collective heritage by politically correct leaders who want to deny the Christian roots of our society.
But given the annual outrage over everything from “holiday trees” to stores that wish their customers “Happy Holidays” it strikes us that Christmas is in no danger of disappearing because holiday has so many passionate defenders.
The history of Christmas shows that it hasn’t been one, long happy celebration of Christ’s birth – even within the Christian church! It’s been an ever-evolving holiday – and we’re only familiar with the very modern-day version of it.
Which is not to say that we should all surrender to the bland and homogeneous “holiday season” and jettison Christmas.
Hardly. We love Christmas. But it’s worth remembering that what we call Christmas began because followers of Jesus Christ wanted to mark his birth.
And as long as Christians around the world continue to do so, the traditional meaning of Christmas will never disappear.
Merry Christmas from our Sun family to yours.
By Dave Tompkins
LEXINGTON - The First Baptist Church of Lexington congregation has voted to end its Baptist affiliation and will become Lexington Community Church in January.
"We believe that names divide," said Pastor Bill Brown. "Instead of being known as a Baptist or a Lutheran, the Bible teaches we should be known as Christians. Our message of presenting the Gospel of Jesus Christ hasn't changed, but we believe the name change will make us more accessible, especially to the youth who are leaving denominational churches because many are teaching (men's) doctrine instead of the Word of God. The history of a church is found in the member's commitment to God, and we have no intention of compromising the history of this great church or God's Word on which it is based. The history established by those who formerly served the Lord at First Baptist Church of Lexington will continue to be lived out by those who are committed to faithfully serving the Lord in the Lexington Community Church."
Brown noted the trend to becoming nondenominational is growing nationally as the population becomes disenchanted with traditional churches. The Lexington church began withdrawing from the Baptist label over the last few years and left the American Baptist Conference in 2003 because the organization endorsed ordaining homosexual and lesbian pastors.
Brown pointed to Grace Baptist and Vale Baptist churches as congregations that also have moved from denominational affiliations."In the past, there was an advantage for smaller churches to be part of a denomination because it was easier to assimilate resources, such as a relief effort," said Brown. "This allowed smaller churches to be involved in a greater work than they could otherwise, but this is no longer the case. Christians are coming together and not isolating themselves to their denominations to participate in helping. The response to Hurricane Katrina showed that a lot of churches and individuals can come together to help, and denomination isn't an issue."Brown has served the church for five years and seen the church swell to 200 members.
Despite adding a second service, the church has outgrown its present location, so the congregation has purchased 20 acres on the south side of town and hopes to begin construction of a 360-seat church."We're taking bids now and plan to have lots of classrooms, two nurseries, a family life center and a gymnasium for an intramural sports ministry," said Brown. "We may even build a Christian school, but that's a long way in the future."
Brown said the next step for the church is to apply for amendments of incorporation with the state and having the IRS change the tax-exempt status to reflect the new name."It seem like more churches are becoming nondenominational to be more open to the community," said church clerk Marlene Phipps. "We have to look to the future for our children and grandchildren. I've been going to this church for over 55 years, and I'm excited about the name change."
The church was organized on Aug. 23, 1856, in L.P. Scrogin's log cabin. Services were held in private homes and schools for the next 15 years until members decided to build a church building at the present site. The building was damaged by three fires and a tornado over the years, but continued to serve the community over the past 150 years.
Friday, December 23, 2005
No, not a parody...from the Bay State, we learn about another school at war with Christmas...
Medway schools crack down on Christmas
By Danielle Williamson/ Daily News Staff
Friday, December 23, 2005 MEDWAY -- Some parents are scratching their heads after school administrators insisted students call a Christmas tree a "magical tree," the color red was removed from green and red elf hats, and songs from "Jesus Christ Superstar," were pulled from a winter concert.
"I can see a religious holiday being offensive to those who don’t celebrate it," said Dale Fingar, whose sixth-grade son brought home 10 red and green elf hats Monday and requested she replace the red fabric with white. "But red and green hats? Come on."
Handfuls of parents said they were upset with the administration’s handling of "a couple" of complaints from parents who were offended by Christian religious themes in the middle school’s holiday programming.
Sixth-graders were scheduled to perform portions of several songs from the musical "Jesus Christ Superstar," in the holiday concert today. Last week, Middle School Principal Joanne Senier-LaBarre wrote parents a letter explaining those songs had been cut from the performance.
"The philosophy of the middle school is one of acceptance for cultural and religious diversity. The study of Jesus Christ, Superstar was approached from a strictly musical perspective," Senier-LaBarre wrote. "However, in retrospect, we understand that some members of our school family are uncomfortable with what they feel is a musical work that has religious ties.
"After much discussion, we have decided not to include the rock opera in our performance," the letter continued.
Parent Tracy Goldrick said she has spoken to at least 20 parents who are, at the least, mildly annoyed at "the watering down of Christmas."
She and four other parents yesterday named two parents they said complained to administrators about references to Christmas. One of the parents in question could not be reached for comment yesterday when called at home. The other woman would neither confirm nor deny complaining to the administration.
"Aren’t we supposed to embrace each other’s differences?" Goldrick said. "If someone is trying to promote something that’s violent, that’s one thing. But they’re promoting a Christmas tree. The solution isn’t to take Christmas out of the (programming). The solution is telling people to lighten up."
Goldrick’s daughter, Tess, 11, said some of her peers were upset they lost their solos in the "Jesus Christ Superstar," songs.
In addition, Tess said she was confused when her teachers said the Christmas tree that was part of the scenery for the play would be called a "magical tree."
"About a week ago, we had to call it a magical tree," Tess said. "And they changed our red and green elf hats to green and white. I think they didn’t want them to have anything to do with Christmas colors."
The flap has made Medway the new battleground for the Florida-based Liberty Counsel, a group backed by evangelical Christian minister Jerry Falwell that has waged a nationwide war to protect Christmas.
"What is going through the school administrator’s mind?" said Liberty Counsel President Matthew Staver. "It’s ridiculous and an act of stupidity to call something green and prickly a magical tree when all of the children know that it’s a Christmas tree.
"These actions by the school administrator are not mere ignorance of the law. No one in their right mind thinks the law requires this kind of censorship or hostility," said Staver, whose group forced Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino to acknowledge that the city’s holiday tree is a Christmas tree.
Superintendent Richard Grandmont said administrators learned "Jesus Christ Superstar," was part of the winter concert after "some people brought it to our attention."
Grandmont said he sent staff a memo in November, which outlined the district’s stance on holiday programming.
"In general, it is expected that staff be sensitive to the culturally diverse environment in which they work, and cognizant of their responsibility to avoid activities that could be perceived as a school endorsement of religion," he said.
In the middle school concert’s case, Grandmont said, the music teacher had not informed the principal ahead of time that the musical was part of the programming.
"Parents contacted the school," Grandmont said. "The reason we acted on it was that we didn’t have the knowledge ahead of time."
Paul Danehy was perturbed yesterday morning after leaving his third-grader’s holiday concert at Memorial School. Instead of "We Wish you a Merry Christmas," the students sang, "We Wish you a Swinging Holiday."
Danehy also has a sixth-grade son, who had been practicing his lines from "Jesus Christ Superstar," for three weeks.
"I’m not advocating for a Christian-based celebration," Danehy said. "But don’t ignore the white elephant in the corner called Christmas."
He said he was "sent into orbit" after learning students were encouraged to call a Christmas tree a magical tree.
"I know what a menorah is," Danehy said. "I’m not calling it a candleholder."
Sixth-grade parent Anne Pendleton said she comes from an interfaith family, Catholic and Jewish.
"Enough is enough," Pendleton said. "If my daughter wants to go call it a Christmas tree, she should be able to call it a Christmas tree."
O’Ryan Johnson of the Boston Herald contributed to this story.
Note: The Inland Empire region of California (basically the broad area about 50 miles east of Los Angeles, as it makes the transition from the green LA basin area to desert) is home to the largest concentration of churches in PSW.
Inland American Baptist churches differ over split
HOMOSEXUALITY ISSUE: The Pacific Southwest Region leaders call for leaving the national body.
11:44 PM PST on Thursday, December 22, 2005
By BETTYE WELLS MILLER / The Press-Enterprise
Pastors of American Baptist churches in the Inland area are counseling their congregations as the Pacific Southwest Region prepares to vote next spring on whether to split from American Baptist Churches in the USA over the issues of homosexuality and authority of Scripture.
Some pastors said they are saddened by the prospect. Others said differences over how to minister to homosexuals are so deep that separation is the only alternative remaining.
Some congregations of the American Baptist Churches in the USA have gay clergy or have appointed homosexuals to key positions. The Pacific Southwest Region objects and may separate from the national body.
In a Dec. 14 letter regional Executive Minister Dale V. Salico and President Brian Scrivens told churches that the regional board voted Dec. 8 to recommend withdrawing from the denomination and set April 29 as the date for churches to vote on the proposal.
The Pacific Southwest Region includes nearly 300 churches in Southern California, Arizona, southern Nevada and Hawaii. There are more than 30 American Baptist churches in the Inland region.
"Deep differences of theological convictions and values between the American Baptist Churches of the Pacific Southwest and the American Baptist Churches in the USA have brought increasing strain on the relationship of the churches of the region and the ABCUSA for many years," Salico and Scrivens wrote.
Officials from the region, based in Covina, and denomination headquarters in Valley Forge, Pa., did not return phone calls Thursday.
If the region votes to sever ties, individual churches may keep their affiliation, according to local pastors and the region's Web site.
In Palm Desert, the Rev. Bill Godwin, of University Baptist Church, said his church has not decided how to proceed, but said he is saddened by the recommendation.
"I believe people will look at us, American Baptists, as people who feel we have ... to separate instead of work through our problems," he said by phone.
The Rev. Deane Plew, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Corona, said he favors a split.
"We need accountability," he said by phone. "Sometimes it is stinging. It helps us to hold the line we should be walking."
In a report on the denomination's Web site General Secretary A. Roy Medley said he was disappointed.
"Because schism in the church is grievous to our Lord, we have done -- and will continue to do -- everything we can to maintain the unity of the body of Christ, which is so clearly taught in Scripture," he said.
American Baptist churches are independent and autonomous, responsible for articulating their own doctrine. The denomination has about 1.5 million members in 5,800 churches in the United States.
Plew and others said it is difficult for some people to understand their belief that God loves homosexuals but holds everyone accountable for their actions. The Bible is clear in stating that homosexual behavior is wrong, they said.
"We're not bigoted," Plew said. "We're not against people. We're against things that hurt people. Any practicing gay person is more than welcome to come here. ... There are principles in Scripture the creator has given, and if you violate them you're going to hurt yourself. ... Our whole task is not only preparing people to live life, but preparing for eternity. That's pretty serious."
The Rev. Tate Crenshaw of First Baptist Church in Banning said tension between the region and denomination results from differences over how some churches want to do ministry.
"Our church believes that Jesus loves the homosexual," he said. "It's not an issue of whether churches love or reach out to those in the homosexual lifestyle. The difference is more how do we reach out and help the person in the homosexual lifestyle based on what the Bible teaches."
The Rev. Bob Roberts at The Potter's House in Fontana said his congregation no longer participates in American Baptist mission programs or other ministries because of doctrinal differences.
Crenshaw, a pastor at the Banning church for 18 years, said he hopes the region and denomination can maintain an amicable relationship, particularly when it comes to supporting mission programs.
"When you have disagreement ... obviously there is hurt and struggle," he said. "But we're committed to the living principles of what Jesus taught."
Reach Bettye Wells Miller at (951) 368-9547 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Thursday, December 22, 2005
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
We're #5! Well, after a manner of speaking...strife over homosexuality was ranked the fifth-ranking religion story of 2005 by the Religion Newswriters Association. Here's the story:
John Paul II's death overshadows other religious events in 2005
Religious disagreements over the end of life, intelligent design and fights over ordaining gay clergy were among the Top 10 religion stories of the year, according to a poll of religion writers released Dec. 13, 2005.
But the overwhelming first and second choice for top stories were Pope John Paul II's death and the election of his successor, Pope Benedict XVI. Members of the Religion Newswriters Association, who are journalists writing about faith and values in the mainstream press, ranked the top 10 stories in an online survey Dec. 7-12. The 28 religious events in the poll were ranked by 100 RNA members, or just over one-third of the membership.
In addition to ranking the Top 10 stories, 68 percent of the survey respondents voted the former pope as the top religion newsmaker of the year. The new pope was named top newsmaker by 21 percent of those voting. The top stories, in order, are:
1. The world mourns the death of Pope John Paul II after his eventful reign of 26 1/2 years. His attitude toward death inspires many. The movement begins for his canonization, and major biographies reach TV screens.
2. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, top aide to John Paul II, is elected by the cardinals to succeed him as Benedict XVI as the world looks on. Vatican watchers see conflicting signs as to what his papacy will bring.
3. Terri Schiavo dies in a Florida nursing home after her feeding tube is finally removed. Many demonstrators stage high-visibility protests for weeks before her death, as Congress and the Legislature join faith-based groups in the debate over the right to die.
4. Churches and faith-based agencies respond to Hurricane Katrina disaster in Louisiana and Mississippi, as well as damage from lesser hurricanes. Earlier they had responded to the tsunami in Southeast Asia, and later to the earthquake in Pakistan. The hurricanes also spur discussions about the roles of God and of environmental shortcomings in such disasters.
5. Debate over homosexuality continues to roil mainline denominations. Episcopal Church and Canadian Anglicans officially absent themselves from Anglican Consultative Council, as exodus of some Episcopal churches continues. Evangelical Lutheran Church in America defeats recommendation for ordination of gays. United Methodist Supreme Court reaffirms the defrocking of a lesbian pastor, and reinstates a pastor removed for barring a gay from membership. Pacific Southwest churches take first steps toward leaving American Baptist Churches.
6. Debate on evolution vs. intelligent design heats up, especially in Kansas and Dover, Pa. Decision is awaited in Dover case, but the school board that favored ID inclusion is voted out. In Kansas, the board of education approves standards that cast doubt on evolution.
7. U.S. Supreme Court approves posting of Ten Commandments outside state capitol in Texas and disapproves their posting inside courthouses in Kentucky, both by 5-4. The high court also upholds the rights of prisoners to practice their religion and municipalities to take private property for public benefit. The court hears arguments on two abortion cases and Oregon euthanasia law. Meanwhile, a federal judge reinstates ban on "under God" in Pledge of Allegiance in three California school districts; case is expected to return to the Supreme Court.
8. Faith-based groups speak out on Bush's three nominees to the Supreme Court; evangelicals help to derail Harriet Miers. Earlier they weighed in on both sides of the question of filibustering judicial appointments; a compromise was eventually reached.
9. Vatican releases long-awaited statement on homosexuality, the first major instruction issued by Benedict XVI. It bars from seminaries those who are actively homosexual, have deeply rooted tendencies toward it or support gay subculture. Reaction is predictably mixed.
10. Billy Graham holds his farewell evangelistic campaign in New York City.
11. Withdrawal of Israel from the Gaza strip is hailed by varied faith-based groups as a major step toward peace in the Middle East. Meanwhile, Jews and conservative Christians criticize the Presbyterian Church USA and the United Church of Christ for seeking divestment of companies said to be contributing to Israeli acts against Palestinians.
12. Some church leaders raise their voices with those calling for immediate withdrawal from Iraq, where suicide bombers, partially motivated by their religion, are on the increase. Report of Quaran-trashing by U.S. troops, later found inaccurate, spurs riots in Afghanistan. Hate crimes rise dramatically in Britain after terrorist bombings in London.
13. Canada approves same-sex marriages. Move continues to insert bans on such marriages into state constitutions, and governor vetoes bill to approve them in California. Meanwhile, movement to ban them in Massachusetts fails; Connecticut okays civil unions.
14. California Megachurch pastor Rick Warren takes spotlight with the continued appeal of his "The Purpose Driven Life," his attempts to combat the AIDS epidemic in Africa, and the use of his book by Ashley Smith to help her escape from an accused quadruple-killer in Atlanta.
15. Catholic dioceses continue to struggle with child-abuse payments. John Jay report indicates 5,000 priests abused nearly 12,000 minors, with the estimated costs topping $1 billion. Portland (the first to declare bankruptcy) releases its reorganization plan; Spokane appeals a ruling about its assets.
16. Debate on stem-cell research continues in Congress and two-thirds of the state legislatures. Conservative Christians criticize change of policy by Bill Frist, Senate majority leader. Reports from Korea on such research amaze and alarm.
17. The Air Force develops new guidelines on religious activity after complaints about evangelization at the academy. Responses of Christian groups are varied.
18. Brother Roger, 90, founder of the Taize community in France, is knifed to death by a woman during an evening prayer service.
19. Democrats, looking to 2008, hold conferences on rethinking how to reach out to people of faith.
20. Interest in C.S. Lewis' life and thought rises with the release of the major film "The Chronicles of Narnia." Several other Hollywood films this year possessed religious overtones.
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
The da Vinci Code is a anti-Christian, anti-faith frontal assault. Others have done a far better job than I in picking clean its paltry bones. See, for example Mark D. Roberts:
Review: The Da Vinci Code is Truly Fictional
Original post date: December 22, 2003
Everywhere you turn these days somebody is talking about The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. It has made headlines and has received cover stories from major magazines. The book is a fairly typical thriller, with plenty of intrigue, action, murders, and conspiracies. None of this is particularly noteworthy. But The Da Vinci Code has received an incredible amount of attention in the secular media because it purports to reveal secrets about Jesus Christ, most of all his secret marriage to Mary Magdalene, by whom he supposedly fathered a child, whose lineage continues to this day. The novel seems to be informed by scholarly study of the New Testament and early Christian history, and in a few points it is. There actually are a few second-century writings, called gospels, in which Mary Magdalene plays a small role, though never explicitly as Jesus' wife. (For a detailed look at this non-canonical evidence, see my article, "Was Jesus Married?") Nevertheless, much of the apparent scholarship in The Da Vinci Code is as fictional as the main characters.
One of these fictions, which is often found in so-called non-fiction books on Jesus, is the idea that the divinity of Christ was a late addition to his résumé. The earliest Christians, so the story goes, knew that Jesus was a human being, and only a human being. He was an inspired teacher, maybe even a healer, but certainly not divine. The deification of Jesus came decades or, as in The Da Vinci Code , centuries after his death, and it involved rejection of the earliest historical records of Jesus which portrayed only his humanness.
Theological implications aside, whether you believe in Christ or not, what I've just related is historical bunk. It's nonsense. It doesn't stand up to the evidence of history. All you need to do is to read the New Testament, most of which was written by monotheistic Jews within fifty years of Jesus' death. There you find that Jesus was believed to be God. You might look, for example, at John 1:1-18 and Philippians 2:11-16.
The evidence that early Christians believed in Jesus' deity is overwhelming. He wasn't deified by Johnny-come-lately fourth-century Christians, but by his earliest followers, who were faithful Jewish monotheists. From a theological point of view, they could have been incorrect, of course. But my point here is a historical one. Belief in the deity of Jesus is as old as Christianity itself. All theories to the contrary, including that of The Da Vinci Code, are fiction.
If you read The Da Vinci Code, just remember that it's fiction, thoroughgoing fiction. And if you'd like more information on early Christian views of Jesus, I'd point you to my own book, Jesus Revealed. I go into all of this in much greater detail there.
I have a feeling I've got a lot of da Vinci blogging to do this winter and spring. Fortunately, I worked up a 90 minute seminar on Dan Brown and his book of renown about a year and half ago, which I will be bringing out of storage. For those of you in the Los Angeles area, I will be doing the seminar again this spring, and I'll let you know about it well in advance.
Monday, December 19, 2005
Bill Herzog, that paragon of orthodoxy, strikes again. In a truly moving euology for a deceased student (whose name I have removed) Dr. Bill equates Taoist writings with Scripture and imagines Lao Tzu and Mark (as in the Gospel of) welcoming the student to the heavenly shore. His biennial outburst wasn't an aberration; he truly is heterodox in so many varied ways.
There are moments, and I suspect today is one of them, when nothing will do except the truth, the full truth and nothing but the truth. We are here to honor a brother in Christ who knew that truth, a truth we share with him. So here it is. So far as I can tell, after studying the New Testament for more than 30 years, the gospel promises one thing and one thing only: nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Nothing. Absolutely nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. [The student] knew
that truth, but more importantly, he embodied that truth in his long battle with cancer and his call to ministry.
He was, and he is, in good company. The apostle Paul put it more fully when he wrote to the Romans, “for I am persuaded that neither the vagaries of death nor the vicissitudes of life, nor angels, nor ruling classes, nor present anxieties, nor future fears, nor earthly powers, nor astral spirits nor chthonic demons, nor
anything else that we can conjure in the whole of creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (my translation). Paul knew this. [The student] knew this. So did Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He called it costly grace, the antidote to the popular gospel based on cheap grace. Bonhoeffer put it this way:
Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without discipline, communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ. Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again. . . . Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs us our lives, and it is grace because it gives us our only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his son, but it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life. . . . (The Cost of Discipleship, p. 46-48)
I emphasize this point because we are immersed in a culture that thrives on cheap grace and a gospel of cheap grace, the gospel of empire, not the reign of God. The purveyors of this so-called gospel preach it over the airways and through the mass media of our culture. It proclaims that becoming a Christian leads to success, wealth, power and health. As one born-again Christian once said to me, “I have passed beyond all illness now that I know Jesus Christ. My life will be long and successful. Jesus will shower every blessing upon me. Every day with Jesus is sweeter than the day before.” Oh yes, the gospel of cheap grace is alive and well, thriving all around us, equating winning with salvation.
But [the student] was made of sterner stuff. He lived the true gospel and experienced the meaning of costly grace which was his sustaining manna in the wilderness. Like the apostle Paul, he was given a thorn in the flesh; and, like Paul, he learned that it would not be taken away, but he would learn from living with it that “my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect
in weakness” (II Corinthians 12:7b-9).
I remember what would be the final conversation we had in my office. He was returning home to get the results of tests exploring some ominous new symptoms. We spoke about the tests and what they might reveal. Throughout the conversation, [the student] exhibited what Bonhoeffer would call hilaritas, a deep-seated sense of serenity and “steadfast certainty” in his own work and purpose in this life. This was the same steadfastness that prompted Bonhoeffer to say as he was taken from his cell to be executed, “This is the end; for me, the beginning of life” (Letters and Papers from Prison, p. 123).
As I listened to [the student], admiring his serenity in the midst of great uncertainty, I remembered another time he had come to my office to propose an assignment he wanted to do for my course in the Gospel of Mark. He wanted to compare the vision of the spiritual life in the Gospel of Mark and the Tao Teh Ching, the Taoist classic composed by Lao Tzu.
At first I was skeptical when he proposed the project. After all, Mark is a Middle Eastern work composed in the first century of the common era, while the Tao Teh Ching was an ancient Chinese work composed about the 6th century BCE. What could Lao Tzu have in common with Mark? I tried to discourage [him], but with [the student], never was heard a discouraging word, at least as a final word. He was determined, and I had seen that look of determination in his eyes before, and I knew that nothing I could say would make a whit of difference. So I relented, but asked why this assignment was so important to him.
[He] then explained how the wisdom of Tao Teh Ching had sustained him after his doctors had given him up for dead in his first struggle with cancer. It was his reading of the Tao Teh Ching that convinced [him] to begin living and to stop trying to avoid dying. His cancer went into remission, and he continued to seek the path of the Tao even while he was studying the way in the wilderness proclaimed in Mark’s Gospel. He was certain there was common ground to be found in them. His story was so powerful and his motivation so profound that I laid aside my professorial scruples and supported his proposal. The presentation that he eventually gave to the class on Mark more than justified his intuition and put to shame my reservations.
[He] gave a creative, original presentation to the class, and for a few glorious minutes East met West in a framework of mutual mystery and respect. It was one of the highest moments I have experienced in a classroom. Truly, on that day, in Christ there was both East and West, and in the Tao there was neither East nor West, but we were bound together in serenity and wisdom.
But like many forms of evil, cancer is relentless. It may beat a strategic retreat but it does not surrender; rather, it continues to stalk us. As [he] and I sat together in my office, I realized that his serenity had put down deep roots and would sustain him through the days to come. He was an embodiment of the Tao, following the path of ancient wisdom. He had discovered hilaritas (serenity). Seeing the subtle is called illumination. Keeping flexible is called strength. Use the illumination, but return to the light. This is called “practicing the eternal.” (Tao, p. 52)
The day before I was born, on March 9, 1944, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote to Eberhard Bethge, “Keep well. Enjoy the beautiful country around you, spread hilaritas around you, and keep some for yourself, too” (Letters and Papers from Prison, p. 127). This is exactly what [he] did—to his final breath. It needs to be said that his hilaritas included a wonderful sense of humor that has already achieved legendary status on the campus.
...Now we come to the difficult part, for [he] has died, but [he] is not dead. No, he has entered into that great cloud of witnesses that surrounds us at all times, a company that we call “the communion of the saints.” Like theirs, [his] faith was “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen”
(Hebrews 11:1). Like them, the writer of Hebrews can say of [him], “These all died in faith, without having received what was promised, but having seen it and greeted it from afar. They confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. . . . But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for God has prepared for them a city” (11:13-16).
As the author of the Tao put it,
Holding to the Great Form
All pass away.
They pass away unharmed, resting in Great Peace.
(Tao, p. 35)
But how to capture this solemn journey, this pilgrimage surrounded with mystery so profound we can only catch a glimpse of it out of the corner of our eyes. If we turn to stare at it directly, it simply vanishes, like an elusive presence.
As the apostle Paul once said to the Corinthians, so I say to you, “I wish you would bear with me in a little foolishness. Do bear with me” (II Corinthians 11:1). We are gathered on one shore of a great divide, an infinite divide that we acknowledge but cannot comprehend. We are gathered here in sorrow even as we celebrate [his] life, and we are gathered to say, “farewell, dear friend, fare well,” and we think as he leaves, “there he goes.”
What we fail to see, being so immersed in sorrow and a sense of loss, is that another group has gathered on the other shore of the great divide; and, while we weep, they are anxiously scanning the horizon looking for the sign of his arrival. As he appears, the group turn to one another excitedly, saying, “here he comes.”
Standing so close to the shore line that their toes almost feel the waves of the infinite ocean breaking over their feet stand two men. They know each other well. One turns to the other and asks, “why are you here?”
“One of my pupils is making the journey today, and I want to be here to salute him.” As he speaks, his philosopher’s robes seem to enfold him. He continues, “Today he learns, more fully than he could ever imagine, the meaning of this aphorism of the Tao, ‘In studying each day something is gained. In following the Tao, something is lost. Lost and again lost. . . . Though you lose the body, you do not die.’”
“Venerable wisdom, Lao Tzu,” Mark said.
“And you,” Lao Tzu asked, “why are you gathered with the company on the shore?”
Mark scanned the horizon once again and then replied distractedly,
“I, too, have a disciple arriving today. Today he will learn what Jesus meant when he said, ‘If anyone wants to be my disciple, let that one deny self, take up the cross and follow me. For those who would save their lives shall lose them, and those who lose their lives for my sake and for the sake of the good news will save them. For what will it profit to gain the whole world and forfeit one’s life?’”
Lao Tzu paused and then reflected, “Too wordy for me as usual. Why can’t you write as I did, in cryptic aphorisms.”
“Different ways to approach truth,” Mark replied. “People still accuse me of being too cryptic. My Gospel was the shortest.”
“Here they come,” someone in the welcoming crowd shouted; and, sure enough, as Lao Tzu and Mark turned toward the harbor, they could see the craft entering its safety. As it docked, Lao Tzu and Mark headed for a young man. Mark reached him first and threw his arms around his neck, “well done, good and faithful servant,” he said in greeting.
To Mark’s great surprise, Lao Tzu walked up to the same person and bowed before him as a sign of respect. He spoke softly,
The Way of Heaven is like stretching a bow.
The top is pulled down,
The bottom pulled up.
The student bowed, gazed at the master and replied, “the last shall be first and the first last.” Mark smiled; Lao Tzu joined him. Then Mark and Lao Tzu threw their arms around [the student] and welcomed him to the eternal domains. In spite of their considerable differences, honed and explored throughout the ages, they agreed on one thing. It was clear to them both that [he] bore the mark of a true champion. Amen.