The Power of the Son

Some folks point to the cross as Jesus’ crowning achievement, as though the cross legitimized him or validated his claim to be the only Son of God and the Messiah of humanity.  In reality, it was the fact that Jesus’ was the indisputable Son of God that gave the cross its significance.  Thousands of oppressed people throughout the Roman Empire had been crucified during Jesus’ lifetime.  What made Jesus’ sacrifice so special was not that he died in a violent or humiliating way, as thousands of other human beings had done.  Rather it was the fact that the oldest Divine Being in existence save The Father in heaven and The Holy Spirit was humble enough to not only live as an infantile human being, but he was willing to be humiliated by one of the most cruel agents of torture and control in history.  And he did this so that he could transform it into an agent of healing for the planet.  When a person ponders the cross of Jesus with true humility and gratitude, they are accessing possibly the most powerful source of wholeness and empowerment in the Universe.  The blood of Jesus, the cross on which he was crucified, the stripes that he bore in his body as Isaiah prophesied he would, and the power of his resurrection are the four most powerful living symbols in existence for the healing of the spirit, soul, and body.  Right now in this century there are Christians and non-Christians, most of whom are unknown to the western imperial consciousness who are teleporting, speaking telepathically, miraculously healing at will, levitating, manipulating matter, regenerating, and living indefinitely.  But when the true power of the cross, the blood, the stripes, the resurrection, and the Son of God himself are revealed to all humanity in their truth rather than under the guise of fear or domination, then the miracle working power and the blissful ecstasy of every human being on the planet earth will operate on a level that the creation has never experienced.  There is no such thing as eternal punishment.  There is no such thing as God’s wrath.  There is no such thing as Karma.  There is no such thing as creating your own reality.  There is no such thing as any other demonic delusion that would cause human beings to be afraid or believe that there fates are in the hands of anything besides a loving God who will ensure that they all come to know true healing and salvation through the risen Lord.  There is only Jesus and his infinite love for us all.

Holy Spirit,

Thank you for your love.  Thank you for communing with our holy Father to give birth to the greatest entity that any human being could ever imagine, the Lord of the Prophets, the Sage of all Sages, the King of Kings, the Ancient of Days, and the only true hope for the planet earth.  Holy Spirit, please destroy the demonic delusions and forces that keep those of us who believe in him on a cross of futility, fear, dysfunction, and hatred.  Holy Spirit please heal the body of Christ such that for the first time in modern history the true Sons and Daughters of God are revealed to the creation and all manner of injustice, cruelty, and misery are forced to evaporate beneath the light of our revelation.  And Holy Spirit thank you for all of the people from non-Christian religions who have reflected the light of God as the world has writhed in confusion and fear.  Thank you for their incredible faith, power, hope, and love.  Now please reveal to all of them the mysterious epiphany of Jesus of Nazareth, not the prophet, not the sage, not the master-soul, but rather the living God who was, who is, and is to come.  Amen.

 

Divine Diversity

When I was 19 years old, I saw Jesus heal two lepers in a movie and was so emotionally moved that I threw my hands up and said, “My whole life is yours.”  A few years later, while attending a Baptist Church I confessed Jesus as Lord and Savior.  Shortly after that I embraced the ideas that Jesus was the only way to salvation and that all who did not receive his sacrifice and Lordship would burn in hell forever.  My life since giving my life to Jesus has been full of miraculous blessings and some pretty difficult trials and tribulations.  And I have always prided myself on the notion that I have never relinquished my sense of Jesus’ Lordship.  But recently, it has occurred to me that my fear of betraying Jesus was more similar to a slave in the ante-bellum south being afraid to offend master than it was a sense of awe inspired devotion.

It has come to my awareness that any notion of a “political” Lord in the higher dimensions stems in my opinion more from human imaginations of empire than true understanding of the dimensions which transcend our own.  I am now thoroughly convinced that much of the Hebrew Bible and New Testament were written by people feeling the Holy Spirit yes, but who were also superimposing their own limited political forms of government and their own capricious emotions on the divine.  One of my favorite pericopes of scripture is from Philippians where Paul describes every knee bowing and tongue confessing Jesus as Lord, to the Glory of God the Father.  This scripture used to comfort me and I would often use it in arguments against other Christians who believed in the doctrine of eternal damnation.  But now, I am beginning to see an insidious correlation between the idea of their being only one savior, one way, one true religion and the suppression of the accomplishments of people of color and women throughout modern history.  The idea of “one” rather than “many” contradicts the beautiful diversity of the creation all around us and undermines the glorious complexity of God.

Now I still consider myself to be a disciple of Jesus.  Similarly, I totally embrace the truth that Jesus was born of a Virgin, that he performed various and sundry miracles among the Israelites, and that he rose from the dead and proceeded to ascend to higher dimensions of light.  But I now also embrace the possibility that many African Shaman, Indian Yogis, and Native American Medicine Men and Women did all the miracles that Jesus did and perhaps others as well.  I also believe that it is quite probable that many women and men from all of the cultures of the world have risen from the dead, healed the sick, teleported, and ascended to higher dimensions among other things.   Most miracle workers do not publicize their accomplishments for money and status, as they realize that those kinds of worldly accoutrements are dangerous to embrace and have the potential of souring their connection to the Divine.  Jesus himself, would often tell his disciples to tell no one about what they had seen after he performed a miracle.  Toward the end of his ministry and in certain accounts like the gospel of John, Jesus was very vocal about his miracles and his status as the Son of God.  This is still a mystery to me.  Perhaps Jesus was the Son of God and other ways to salvation are still valid.  Perhaps Jesus never claimed to be the way, the truth, and the life and that these quotations were the result of a redactor imposing his belief system on the accounts of Jesus.  Either way, for me, it is Jesus who has been guiding me and teaching me on my journey and so I suppose I choose to trust the witness of the Holy Spirit in my life and my experiences with God more so than I trust the biblical text.

One need only perceive the problems of pollution, widespread poverty, international and domestic exploitation, and atrocities like slavery, the Native American Holocaust, the Jewish Holocaust, and the totalitarian tyrannies of Maoist China and Stalinist Russia to know that empire is a form of organization and philosophy of empowerment that always does more harm than good.  Empire is a function of the egoistic need to control and conquer others.  It is antithetical to what Jesus and the great spiritual leaders of all traditions stood for.

I is my belief that Jesus does not want to be Lord in some political sense of empire, but that rather he wants to save the human race from its own pain and delusion just as he did 2000 years ago.  And I do not believe that he is too prideful to work with great Hindu Yogis and African Shaman who too have touched hold of Divinity in accomplishing that goal.  Furthermore, I do not believe that the risen Jesus has a problem with acknowledging such Yogis and Shaman as equals.  Pride and egoism do not exist for those people who truly achieve oneness with the Creator and it is high time that we stop imposing our own pride and egoism onto them.  Jesus is not insecure.  Jesus is not jealous or easily offended.  Jesus is not going to punish people who decide to connect with another being of transcendence and love instead of him.  Jesus is my teacher and I love him and I am so thankful to him for freeing me of the tendency to project immature human tendencies onto him or God. I am still working through issues of fear, but my teacher Jesus has led me this far and I know that love will bring me to wholeness eventually.

In Closing I am moved to Pray and I ask that all who read this expression pray this pray along with me:

Creator,

Thank you for your love and healing.

We ask that just as Jesus rose from the dead that you open our minds to the possibility that others have experienced similar resurrections.  Similarly, we ask that you miraculously resurrect the glorious diversity that you always willed for the earth to operate in and that you birth new dimensions of diversity and difference on the planet earth, connected by the wondrous sinews of appreciation, admiration, and unconditional love.

In the name of Love Everlasting.  Amen.

The Post Election Blues

By: Woodrow Odom Lucas

As a progressive democrat with bordering on Socialist allegiances I saw this year’s election as one of utmost importance.  Affordable access to healthcare, a likely Supreme Court seat, and the war in Afghanistan were just a few of the major policy issues that were at stake.  For the past 3 months I have been praying every day for Barack Obama to win the presidency and for democrats to take control in the Senate and the House of Representatives.  This was unusual for me, for normally I would have prayed a general prayer like, “Lord God, please bless the candidate who is best for our country to win this election,” but this election was so important to me that I deviated from proper prayer protocol and asked for a specific result.

As a person who has been diagnosed with Schizoaffective Disorder politics is a very dangerous road.  Given the capricious nature of politics in general, having definite allegiances to candidates just increases the stress on one’s psyche.  So needless to say, I have been very stressed out in recent weeks over the developments of the election.  In addition to praying about the outcome, I would say mantras to myself over and over again.  I would chant, “No matter who wins this election, I and my family are going to be alright.  No matter who wins this election, the sun will still rise and the night will still come.  No matter who wins this election, Jesus is still on the throne.”  But deep down, I believe that I may have invested just a little too much of my soul in this year’s contest.  I believe that I may have invested a bit too much, because with the exception of the elation that I felt on Tuesday night when the election was called, I have been experiencing acute depression in the days which followed.

Depression is a very mysterious experience.  For those of us that suffer from severe and persistent mental illness, depression can come upon us without warning and can seem to have no apparent cause.  But in this instance, I believe that my depression may have stemmed from a fundamental confusion concerning my relationship with God.  As an African-American politics is very important to my welfare.  Most of the strides toward African-Americans having equal rights in our society have come about as a result of political activism.  From the voting rights acts of 1964-1965 to the desegregation of public schools and public places, to the end of slavery, to equal access to employment, African-Americans have utilized the tools of civic protest and political engagement to fight for our rights.  This legacy is in stark contrast to for instance the legacy of Native-Americans in this country for whom political activism has been less fruitful in securing national rights for Indians and Indian Nations.  But perhaps the lack of success of Native-Americans in the political spectrum might produce a better attitude among Natives when historic elections such as this past election arise.

It seems that during this election, despite my mantras to the contrary, I explicitly connected my welfare as a person directly to the outcome of this past political contest.  The truth is that for me, God is the center of my existence and my strength flows from my ability to rely upon God as a source of sustenance.  Unlike some other people, I cannot count on my moods to be stable or my mind to accurately assess reality at all times.  Rather, I rely on medications and fervent prayer and seeking god as a way to fulfill my duties as a father, husband, citizen, and servant of Christ.  And unfortunately, medication while useful in helping me avoid catastrophic happenings such as a psychotic break, rarely works to stabilize my mood or keep me from social paranoia and agoraphobia.  No instead of my meds, it is the 45 minute prayer regimens that I pray on a daily basis that keep me focused and productive.  For me, as a person that lives with severe and persistent mental illness, God is often literally and explicitly the difference between death and life, darkness and light, and depression and stability. I realize that philosophically, this is true for all people, but for me, my dependence on God manifests in my life as a much more visceral reality given my challenges.

So, in this election, I sacrificed my usual center of God, for the external reality of the election. I dovetailed all of my hopes and dreams into the election outcome.  Unfortunately, politics, while important for a variety of reasons rarely directly informs or dictates my spiritual, physical, mental, emotional, and circumstantial welfare.  I readily admit and assert that my life would be different if I did not have Barack Obama’s healthcare stipulations on my side as I deal with chronic illnesses like Schizoaffective, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol, but in terms of my level of hope, my level of functionality, and my level of mental stability, politics is for the most part not a pertinent variable.

So in this election cycle, I made the mistake of relinquishing my karma yoga attitude about life and putting all of my existential eggs into the election basket.  The problem with this approach is that it creates somewhat of a psychic catch 22, in which if one does not obtain one’s desired outcome one might be devastated and if one does receive one’s desired outcome one must then contend with the reality that such an outcome pales in comparison to the Universal Source of God as a cause for our well being.  Today, I really tried to regain my center by reminding myself that I am in the same species as I am sure discouraged Republicans and that I need to pray for their adjustment to the political reality that emerged.  Today, I attempted to regain my center by recommitting my allegiance to God more so than a political ideology.  I am not trying to suggest that voting is not part of our civic duty, that advocating for justice is not part of righteousness, or that we should all put our heads in the sand and wait for God to solve all of our problems without our active struggle and participation.  But I am suggesting that as we advocate and that as we fulfill our duty as citizens in a democracy to pursue the end that we have decided to be best for the country, that we need to realize that God is ultimately our source of strength and happiness more so than any circumstance that we experience or political reality that we desire.

So, as I pull myself out of the post-election blues, I am sober in my understanding that God is and must be my center and that I need to revisit my duty as a Christian to love other Christians and other citizens of this country who do not agree with my vision for a better America.  As I pull myself out of the post-election blues I am sober in my remembrance that this world is not my ultimate home and that I advocate for justice out of my devotion to God more so than a desperate and fearful allegiance to any political outcome.  So thank you God for in your infinite mercy allowing the election to unfold as it did, but more importantly thank you God for being the center of my life and the source of my ultimate joy.

Destination Love

By: Woodrow Odom Lucas

Recently, I reconnected with a dear friend of mine to whom I had not spoken in 2 years. In the process of sharing our experiences since we had last talked, she intimated to me that recently, she had a near death experience.  During this near death experience, she said that she met Jesus and experienced what she described as “eternity” in which there was “no time” but rather past, present, and future were all simultaneously occurring.  She intimated that being in the presence of the Lord was beyond any experience of love that she had ever had.  She said that Jesus’ love completed her in a way such that she could not think of anyone else in his presence.  She said that in the “eternity” in which she operated, that Jesus was huge and was the center of all activity.  Her authority in communicating this was mesmerizing as she spoke with a confidence that I have scarcely encountered.  I told her that she seemed “transfigured” and that I believed that she had actually met the Lord.  Ironically, another friend of mine was recently telling me about a book that she was reading called, The Prince of Heaven by Eben Alexander, in which an unbeliever had a near death experience and recounted going to a place of infinite love.  Similarly, Wayne Dyer the spiritual teacher and PBS personality had a woman on one of his telecasts who had a near death experience and spoke of a state of being where worry, anxiety, and fear had absolutely no place and were completely muted by the unconditional love that surrounded and infused her.

As a Universalist, these accounts are very affirming of my conviction that all human beings, from the worst of us to the best of us, are eventually destined to bliss, wholeness, and the unconditional love of God.  Even given the idea of hell that some people who have had near death experiences recount visiting, this hell is surely not eternal and is a place of remediation where much needed lessons are learned.  Revisiting the first near death account of encountering an existential condition wherein Jesus is the center of reality and his love is all consuming makes me think of Phillipians 2:5-11 wherein Paul describes our savior as “being in very nature God” and yet humbling himself to be born as a human being and live a life of sadness and loneliness for the greater redemption of all things.  When one considers how big Jesus is in the afterlife, his humility in deciding to live among a people who in many ways did not value his gifts of love and compassion is dumbfounding.  While Jesus had a considerable following in Israel at times in his ministry, he was a relative unknown compared to historical characters like Julius Cesar or even Herod Antipas.  In fact, Jesus was such an unknown to most people that finding historical confirmation of his life is difficult.

There is something about this earthly and natural realm of existence that creates a profound temptation to devalue things that are important to eternity and value things that in the scheme of the cosmos have very little true significance.  It seems that there is something about this experience of human life that inappropriately puts great weight on relatively meaningless criteria such as worldly accomplishment, worldly notoriety, and material gain and that underestimates the truly eternal significance of love, justice, mercy, compassion, empathy, and gratitude.  This world’s problematic value system can sometimes be frustrating if we forget that one day, one fine day, we will be in the presence of unconditional love and the learning experiences, trials, and difficulties of this life will be over.

Some claim that a worldview that seriously integrates the notion of a beautiful and wondrous afterlife will cause the believer in such a hope to neglect practical matters and to become so spiritually minded that they are “no earthly good.” But in my experience, it is my understanding of a wondrous destiny for us all that motivates me to make this earth better and to make people’s lives better.  The confidence that Jesus truly got the victory over hatred, greed, malice, and contempt on the cross and that in some profound mystery secured the destinies of all human beings in that moment of sacrifice helps me work through discouragement and hold fast to hope.  I truly believe that understanding love as our ultimate destination helps one to advocate for justice with more rather than less fervor because one operates in the unflinching belief that righteousness, equality, and love are not just destined to win, but have in many senses already won.  This kind of awareness helps us to persevere when it seems like circumstances in our earthly journey are untenable.  To know beyond a shadow of a doubt that this earth will one day resemble that wondrous afterlife where fear and hatred have absolutely no place, is so empowering that it will one day make real what is already real to the angels.  Because love has already won, it will surely win.

No matter how bleak things seem in reference to the mass incarceration of the poor or lingering racism or homophobia or worldwide violence or ethnic cleansing we have an existential guarantee that evil and suffering must and will fade to be replaced by the perfect love that is all around us but often times not acknowledged.  The truth is that misery, suffering, and pain are ephemeral and it is joy, love, and peace that are eternal.  The truth is that this earth’s destiny has already been decided and in spite of global warming, over-population, and the unconscionable hoarding of wealth that seem to be defining our reality that this planet’s destiny is ultimately good.  We who stand for love truly cannot fail and those who stand against love will soon be converted.  For our journey is blessed and our destination is love and no worry, pain, anguish, sorrow, bad choice, or adversity can ever change that.

Sex is Violent

By: Woodrow Odom Lucas

Last night, while surfing cable television for some entertainment, I happened upon the show “Spartacus – Vengeance” on Starz, one of the premium cable channels.  The episode that I saw was a visual smorgasbord of gratuitous nudity, close to pornographic sex, and indulgent violence with a bit of plot mixed in to provide the illusion of coherence.  The episode made me think of a Jane’s addiction song coined, “Ted Just Admit It,” which the group released as part of their 1987 album Nothing’s Shocking.   Here is a brief excerpt from the song’s lyrics:

“Camera got them images, Camera got them all, Nothing’s shocking Showed me everybody Naked and disfigured Nothing’s shocking And then he came Now sister’s Not a virgin anymore Her sex is violent
The T.V.’s got them images T.V.’s got them all It’s not shocking Every half an hour Someone’s captured and The cop moves them along It’s just like the show before The news is Just another show With sex and violence
Sex is violent Sex is violent Sex is violent Sex is violent Sex is violent Sex is violent Sex is violent
I am the killer of people You look like a meatball I’ll throw away your toothpick And ask for your giveness
Because of this thing Because of this thing Because of this thing
That’s in me Is it not in you? Is it not your problem? A baby to a mother
You talk too much To your scapegoat That’s what I say He tells you everyone is stupid That’s what he thinks
Snapshots Make a girl look cheap Like a tongue extended A baby’s to a mother
Sex is violent Sex is violent Sex is violent Sex is violent.”

In my opinion this alternative rock song captures the cultural obsession with sex and violence better than any fundamentalist preacher who rails against pornography in media.  The song by stating, “I am the killer of people…Because of this thing, Because of this thing, Because of this thing, that’s in me, Is it not in you?  Is it not your problem?” cuts to the heart of this issue by attributing violence and profligate sex to a “thing” within us that stems from a darker nature.

I make the claim that “profligate” sex stems from a darker nature to distinguish it from the kind of beauty that occurs when two devoted adults engage in the process of “making love.”  Many evangelical fundamentalists advocate for morality by publicly condemning homosexuality and attempting to encroach upon a women’s choice of how to use her body.  In my opinion, a homosexual has just as much chance of being holy as a heterosexual to the extent that they stay within certain prescribed guidelines such as devoting themselves to a life partner.  To be honest, distinguishing “holiness” from “debauchery” makes me feel uncomfortable as though I am some kind of judgmental Moses proclaiming parameters for living from a morally superior mountain top, but the bottom line is that some kind of “parameters” in reference to sexuality are necessary to separate us from the “state of nature” to which Perry Farrell and the rest of Jane’s Addiction so eloquently refer.

But what are the parameters that separate us from other more violent mammals as it concerns violence and sex?  In the state of nature, the strongest and most apt in reference to violence become the “alpha males” of that society and consequently end up “studding” all of the available females.  To some, this might be natural selection’s way of keeping each species strong and healthy, but to me this represents perhaps the heart of the matter concerning sex and violence.  In the state of nature “power” is the essence of authority.  The “strongest” lions rule the pride.  The first epistle of John describes the state of nature as “the world.” 1 John 2:15-17 states, “15Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. 16 For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. 17 The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.”

Some may make the claim that the “world” according to God is society writ large and that believing in God demands a kind of separation from society writ large, but I assert that ‘the world’ is a darkness that exists in all of us, the darkness that “wills to power” out of fear of annihilation.  The state of nature is characterized by a constant struggle for supremacy which stems from the fear of death.  So in the state of nature, sex is part of violence.  In a sense, in the state of nature, sex is a reward for violence.  All one needs to explore to see that sex is a reward for violence in our “baser” instincts is the mass rape of women that has often occurred throughout history after warring factions fought a battle.  In fact the tendency to rape women as a “reward” for victory in war has only subsided in relatively recent history.

When one considers the “chauvinism” which characterizes our “baser instincts” the impotence of fundamentalist attempts to curb sinful dispositions like fornication and adultery is not surprising.  Fundamentalists attempt to curb a “will to power” with a “will to power.”  Fundamentalists seek to judge and shame the offender into stopping the offense.  Fundamentalists may make the claim that it is the modern “rebellion” of women that is to blame for our society’s erosion of morality.  But this perspective erroneously privileges some distant past wherein we as human beings were moral.  Just when was this past?  Has it ever really existed?  The truth is that any rhetoric which attempts to privilege males over females, white over brown, or straight over gay is intricately connected to “the survival of the fittest” way in which the “state of nature” functions.  Fundamentalists in a sense, attempt to impose their concept of order on others as a way to curb disorder.  But forcefully imposing “order” on people is an act of violence in and of itself.  Violence cannot curb violence in the long run and sexual chauvinism cannot curb sexual malfeasance in the long run either.  For the will to subjugate is inherently connected to the way in which the “alpha male” sexually subjugates in the darker recesses of our imagination.

So if “judgment” and “shame” do not work as ways to curb our baser instincts toward violence and debauchery, what does work?  In my limited experience, it has not been fear that has ultimately helped me in times of “temptation.”  Rather, devotion is the only force which I have found to be effective in my attempts to forgo “the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life.” Webster’s dictionary defines devotion as love, loyalty, or enthusiasm for a person, activity, or cause and Hinduism describes devotion to a deity as a legitimate path toward bliss.   Devotion is not a force centered construct, but is rather a love centered construct.  Only love can conquer lust.  In times of fierce temptation it has been my sense of devotion or loving loyalty toward God or my wife or my kids that has given me the ability to reject the world as a corrosive delusion rather than an apt reality.

Some may say that only reflective thought separates us from living like wolves or dogs.  But I claim that reflective love also separates us from our baser instincts.  The ability to reflect on the questions of “what is love?” and “what does love look like?” are in my opinion the foundational building blocks of every advancement that human kind has made to date.  So if sex in the most chauvinistic view of the word is violent then love is non-violent and love and debauchery cannot occupy the same space.  So I suppose that my response to last night’s exploration of “Spartacus-Vengeance” is to continue to pray for my own love and the love of others to grow and expand and ultimately rule over every part of us, not through subjugation but rather the inspired revelation of what it is to be loving.

The Elusive Power of Peace

By: Woodrow Odom Lucas

Growing up as an Episcopalian, instead of greeting each other during fellowship time with a hello or God bless you, we would rather say, “The peace of the Lord be always with you…and also with you.” In truth, as a youngster I had very little comprehension of the act of wishing peace or even literally “sharing peace” with other believers.  As a youngster I looked upon this tradition as just another way of being polite.  But after entering into adult life with all of its stressors and obstacles, I think that the notion of “passing peace” has revolutionary possibilities.

As a citizen of the United States of America, I find it hard to focus on peace.  America is a society that glorifies violence, contest, and victory.  We live in a culture that deifies struggles for supremacy among people.  We watch sports which truly hinge on “battle” even if it is friendly and entertaining, and we watch reality TV shows which create a warlike atmosphere of survival of the fittest where the unfit are voted off the show.  Our democracy has become a spectacle of “saying and doing anything to win,” and our economic system of distribution hinges on people acting as though they are in a competitive war of all against all.

According to several reputable sources such as “The CIA’s World Factbook,” “The Bureau of Labor Statistics,” “The 2010 Democracy Index,” “Unicef,” and “The King’s College London’s World Prison Brief” the United States ranked in the lowest strata among “economically advanced” countries in income inequality, unemployment, food security, life expectancy, rates of incarceration, and student math performance. In a country with the highest GDP, we experience a “quality of life” which is much less vital and dynamic as the quality of life in most other so-called advanced polities.

So although we live in arguably the most prosperous country in the world, there is a conspicuous lack of ‘peace’ in our midst.  As a Christian, in my search for peace, I am compelled to ask whether or not the bible affirms a notion of peace. Jesus in Matthew 10:34-37 states, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—36 a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.37 Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”

After reading Matthew 10:34-37 one might conclude that even our Lord Jesus embraces the notion of war and that he too asks us to choose him over others.  It is my belief that Jesus in stating that he comes not to bring peace but a sword, is simply describing the effect that his ministry had on his people.  A savior who started out saying, “blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called children of God,” has witnessed the uproar and confusion of his impactful and controversial ministry and is stating perhaps in regretful angst and frustration that while he wished to bring peace, that war is what ended up ensuing.  I also ponder whether or not the “war” that Jesus brought was a necessary uprooting of dead traditions and stagnant lifestyles such that “true peace” could come in that confusion’s wake.  But even if Matthew 10:34-37 not only justifies war, but advocates for it, I wonder?  Did Jesus mean for us to take this text from Matthew and use it as an excuse to operate in emulation, jealousy, competitiveness, and selfishness toward one another.

Equally prominent in scripture are excerpts from The Sermon on the Mount in which Jesus tells us to love our enemies, do good to them that hate us, and pray for those that despitefully use us.  Is Jesus telling us to do these things as a way to maintain a kind of “peace” in the social order? Is Jesus telling us to do these things so as to somehow keep ourselves pure and holy and “unspotted” from the world? Or is Jesus recommending something to us in advising us to love our enemies that accomplishes both a social end on the macro level and personal growth on the individual level?

Unfortunately, as with most tensions in Christian scripture, we do not have Jesus in physical form to clarify seemingly stark contradictions in the Christian text.  Yes, we can pray to Jesus and the Holy Spirit for guidance and hope to get revelation, but until we are “face to face” with God in the hereafter or after the Second Coming, we “see as through a glass darkly” and “we only perceive in part.”  So left with the reality that Jesus at least indirectly seems to condone war in one of the Gospels, but also praises peacemakers and stresses love for enemies in that very same Gospel, we are left to make a choice.  One of the problems with attempting to use the bible as a text of “absolute” authority to the very letter of every verse, is that it frustrates the free will that God has given us.  God wants us to learn and grow, and the only way to do that is to make decisions, make mistakes, and learn from every experience.

So in the face of scriptural ambiguity on “peace” and “peace making” I make the conscious decision to stand with peace and to believe that Jesus wants me to stand with peace much more so than to engage in war.  In my experience, people who have truly felt the peace of God flowing through them are usually bending over backward to feel such peace again.  And what would the world look like, if we all had inner peace?  What would life be like if we all had so much peace that we were content with what we have and we felt no need to “strive for more?”  What would families be like if husbands and wives had the inner peace to accept each other as they are and to be tolerant in the face of fault and disagreement?  What would workplaces be like if employees had the peace such that they need not distract themselves with the internet or gossip, but the serenity and calm which peace begets help them to attend to the tasks at had?  And what would our world look like if our political leaders had the peace to walk with pure motivations rather than attempting to heap power and prestige unto themselves.

In this brief reflection on peace, I must admit that I don’t possess anywhere near the peace that I want to enjoy.  But I am truly waking up to the idea that “peace” whether it is biblically supported or not, is one of God’s greatest gifts to us and am moved to pray, “Lord God, we thank you for your love and we thank you for your joy.  But Lord God, there is something that is missing from our souls and from our culture as a whole, and that is your peace.  Lord God please shower every soul in the United States of America and every soul in the world with your peace.  Lord God, please bless the holy spirit within each of us to turn peace on at the center of our souls like a faucet.  Lord God please create suns of peace which radiate peace’s soothing presence to us all. Lord God please inundate every aspect of our beings with peace.  And Lord God, please bring peace to all of our relationships and enable us to seek peace out with our friends, acquaintances, and enemies.  Lord God, I know that love is the answer but peace is most definitely a close second and our lives have become so fraught with unhealthy levels of technological and social stimulus and over booked schedules full of frenzy and stress.  So Mother-Father God, please bless every single one of us with the sublime fragrance of peace so that we can appreciate the changing of the seasons and we can approach every life circumstance with the serenity of gratitude. In Jesus Name I pray, Amen.”

Eternal Damnation – A Doctrine Whose Time Has Come

By: Woodrow Odom Lucas

There are few doctrines that are as integral to the “world view” of most modern evangelical Christians than the doctrine of eternal damnation.  According to many modern evangelicals eternal damnation is the fate that all people who do not confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior before they die will experience for an eternity.  As an African-American who lives in the south, I can also state with a fair amount of certainty that although they may not have the same political leanings as most modern evangelical Christians, most African-American preachers and teachers also hold to the notion of eternal damnation as an integral dimension of a robust faith in Jesus Christ and the coming ‘Kingdom of God.’  Some Christian Universalists that I know make the claim that Eternal Damnation is not a biblically supported principal and that the bible unequivocally supports Universal Reconciliation of all to God as the scripturally sound belief system.

As an African-American I believe that I can state with some authority that the Bible is very important to African-American Christians.  The reason for our emphasis on the bible is that during slavery our masters would often use the bible as a way to justify their actions toward us, but would also forbid us from reading the bible for ourselves for fear that we might become unruly if we had access to the biblical stories of liberation and the biblical themes of justice, mercy, faith, and equality.  So for African-Americans the bible has been a profound source of freedom and has become a book which many of us turn to for solace and as a philosophical basis for our lives.  It is out of reverence for the tradition of “the word” among African-Americans that I must disagree with my Christian Universalist brothers and sisters and assert that eternal damnation is most definitely a biblical concept which is supported throughout the New Testament.  Jude 1:7, James 3:6, and 2 Peter 2:4 all either directly or indirectly support the notion of Eternal Punishment.  Similarly, in the gospels that speak of Jesus, Jesus supports the notion of eternal damnation throughout those gospels.  More specifically Matthew 5:22, Matthew 5:29, Matthew 5:30, Matthew 10:28, Matthew 18:9, Matthew 23:15, Matthew 23:33, Matthew 25:41, Matthew 25:46, Mark 1:47, Mark 7:45, Mark 9:3, Luke 12:5, and Luke 16:19-31 all either suggest or explicitly mention the notion of hell and eternal damnation as the penalties for the rejection Jesus’ love.

And yet, I as an African-American, assert to you that this biblically supported idea of eternal damnation is perhaps the most demonic facet of modern day Christianity and is truly an idea whose rightful rejection by all has come.  From a biblical perspective, although the bible does support eternal damnation, the hope and love that the bible helps to engender in us as believers cry loudly against it.  Hebrews 11:1 speaks of faith being the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things unseen.  So yes, the Bible as a book may support eternal damnation, but the bible also calls us to a hope that goes beyond what is readily understandable or visible to our natural eyes and consciousness.  Similarly, Jesus speaks of hell and eternal damnation more than any other biblical figure.  But Jesus also claims in John 14:12 that the works that he did we shall also do and greater than those, and Jesus states in Matthew 13:52 that every teacher of the law will bring in old and new treasures from scripture.  So while the readily visible and ascertainable dimensions of scripture fully support eternal damnation, the ethics of love, hope, and belief to which scripture calls us to aspire rail against the idea as the demonic deception that it is.

It is my sincere belief that the Jesus who went to the cross for me and who rose from the dead would encourage me to question any notion that perverted the character of God, even if it was a notion that he himself suggested.  For did not Jesus attempt to send the Syrophoenician woman away when she asked him to heal is daughter under the precept that she wasn’t Jewish and was therefore a dog.  But, then, did not Jesus say that she had great faith when she said that “even the dogs eat the children’s crumbs.”  Herein this scenario the Syrophoenician woman is challenging Jesus’ worldview with a world view that requires more faith, faith being in this sense, imagination for what is possible.  Jesus in this instance does not punish the woman, but rather rewards her by healing her daughter. I query, is it courageous and faithful to hold to what somebody believed in the past in a way that causes one to judge one’s human brothers and sisters as worthy of eternal torment or is it courageous and faithful to grab onto the reigns of hope that Paul in 1 Timothy 2:3-4 gives us when he says, “This is good and pleases God our Savior who wants all men to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth?”  I query, does it glorify Jesus to think the worst about God and our human brothers and sisters by holding to an idea that Jesus and the early disciples held to in the midst of abject oppression and degradation or to scrutinize and examine the letter of truth that we have received with the spirit of unconditional love and hope who God has given us to help us interpret that scripture.  Jesus never said, “And I will give you a bible which will comfort you and lead you into all truth.” Instead Jesus said, “I send you a living, breathing spirit who will lead you into all truth and comfort you through any adversity.”  So when we read in 1 Peter 4:6 Peter avowing, “for this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to human standards in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit,” we are duty bound out of our allegiance to the Holy Spirit of love to say to ourselves, “Oh my goodness, this suggests that people have longer than their earthly lifetimes to believe in and receive Jesus.”

Just as Jesus was the chief cornerstone on which the mindsets of the Pharisees and the Sadducees were destined to be destroyed, so too is the Holy Spirit the chief cornerstone of this age who calls us to a higher hope and a more profound vision than the explicit exposition of scripture suggests.  I query, when Paul states in 1 Timothy 4:9-10, “This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance (and for this we labor and strive), that we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially those who believe,” are we called as God’s emissaries of hope to pessimistically interpret this scripture to mean that some of the men of whom Jesus is Lord and Savior will suffer in eternal torment or that Jesus as the Savior of all will find a way for all to successfully devote themselves to God?  I query, would Jesus, the man who reviled pride and vanity in all of its manifestations smile more upon us believing that we are somehow so much more special than other human beings that God would predestine us for salvation and predestine others for torment or on us realizing that every soul is of equal value to God and so God will find a way for every soul to make it?  Kalen Fristad, whose pivotal sermon is on this website, aptly states that eternal damnation either makes God into a “tyrant” who would predestine some for happiness and some for torment or a “stupid weakling” who cannot find a way to realize the essence of his will for all people to intimately know him.

It is my contention that many of the horrors and cruelties in which the Christian and Catholic Churches of our history have been complicit owe their origins to the notion of eternal damnation.  Consider, was it really cruel for Catholic inquisitors to torture unbelievers until they “confessed” appropriately if those same unbelievers would end up in “eternal torment” if they did not confess?  Was it really wrong for John Calvin to burn a dissenter at the stake if the truth that she or he was spreading would result in the eternal punishment of many?  Was it really wrong for Catholic missionaries to impose belief in Jesus and Capitalism on native inhabitants of the lands that their European kings and queens were colonizing if such imposition saved those natives from eternal suffering?  Consider, any amount of limited suffering in this earthly life is virtually nothing compared to eternal torment.  So is causing people to suffer in their earthly lifetimes so that they will prosper in eternity really so wrong?

Eternal damnation is a doctrine of fear which reinforces fear.  So do you believe that the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete that Jesus gave us to comfort and convict us really wants us to hold onto a fearful notion when John states that “he that fears is not made perfect in love” and Paul attests that “God did not give us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and soundness of mind.”  The idea of eternal damnation versus Universal Salvation is truly a choice that we have before us, to hold to an “old letter” which creates a “schizophrenic” understanding of God, where God is simultaneously love and the author of other people’s torment or to aspire to a “new Spirit” the Holy Spirit of love and life who calls us to heal the broken hearted and set at liberty them that are bruised.  The Holy Spirit lead the original apostles to truths that they could comprehend given the apparent darkness and evil of the times in which they existed.  Our times are different.  People are no longer being punished by being nailed to a wooden cross and women are no longer being raped at random.  As a result, the truth that the Holy Spirit would lead us into is far brighter and more beautiful than what the original disciples received.  I truly believe that it is impossible to follow the Holy Spirit through and toward all of the truth and states of being that he wants us to experience and still hold to eternal damnation throughout our lives.  Eternal damnation stagnates and stunts the growth of the Christian and is something which many Christian leaders hold to out of a fear of losing their places of honor and respect among other leaders and believers.  Did not Jesus say that if we are to truly please him that honor and respect need to be things that we are willing to sacrifice in our journeys toward wholeness in him?

Eternal damnation as a doctrine calls us to judge oppressive leaders as going to hell forever rather than speaking the truth in love to them about their injustice.  Eternal damnation as a doctrine leads us to believe that God loves us more than others and so too leads us down the deceptive corridor of pride and vanity.  Eternal damnation as a doctrine inspires us to constantly strive against others to succeed and prosper so that we have evidence of our election by God in perverse comparison to their horrific destiny.  Eternal damnation as a doctrine causes us to show others love often as a part of a manipulative scheme for them to believe as we do rather than in the transparency and purity of motive to which God calls us.  Eternal damnation as a doctrine reinforces the kind of absolute distrust in other religions which were the foundation for the violence of the crusades and other forms of religious violence throughout history.  Eternal damnation as a doctrine by its very nature must diminish our sense of showing compassion to the stranger by creating the possibility that we will never have to see them or deal with them in the after-life.

It is time for us as Christians to stop bringing our gifts to the altar before attending to our brothers and sisters who we have wronged.  It is time for us as Christians to let go of vain and prideful notions of our “preferred status” with God.  It is time for us as Christians to stop hypocritically aspiring to get rich all the while believing that large segments of the poor are destined for eternal torment.  It is time for us as Christians to stop imaging our fractured personalities on a schizophrenic God who inconsistently destines some for hell and others for heaven and to start operating in the joy inducing coherence to realize that God loves all equally and as a result will eventually call all to be reconciled to himself.  Bottom line, it is time for us as Christians to embrace the Holy Spirit as he speaks to us and urges us to let go of this demonic doctrine for its time of judgment has surely come.

Jubilee Economics

This evening, while surfing the web, I came across a phrase that truly struck me. The phrase was “Jubilee Economics.”  While I have often expressed more left leaning beliefs in reference to defining the kind of economics of which Jesus would approve, this phrase reminded me of the fact that economic equality has always been a “BIBLICAL” idea.   Twice in the book of Acts, the atmosphere of the Church of Acts is described as being a community of unprecedented equality.  In Acts 4:34-35 Luke recounts, “Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and laid them down at the apostles feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need.”  And earlier in Acts, more specifically in Acts 2:43-47 Luke recounts, “And all that believed were together, and had all things common. And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men as every man had need. And they continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart.  Praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord, added to the church daily as should be saved.”

In these two accounts of the Acts church’s equality, we can glean at least 5 characteristics that defined this equality among the church of Acts believers.  Number one, all of the believers had all things common with other believers.  So there was no sense of ownership.  Number two, the Apostles were trusted and trustworthy enough to be the initial beneficiaries of goods in a way in which THERE WAS NO LACK.  Number three, the phrase, “as every man had need” demonstrates THAT NEED MATTERED!! Number four, there was the element of joy in the gladness and singleness of heart of all believers.  Number 5, there was the presence of continual praise.

I think that it is valuable to compare the current “Charismatic Evangelical Community” which claims to be like the church of Acts with the actual Church of Acts fellowship.  To the credit of the modern Charismatic Church there is definitely Joy at Charismatic meetings and Charismatics have a tendency to praise continuously.  But in reference to the other 3 characteristics, the current Charismatic context fails to measure up.  For instance, I have heard several charismatic preachers say that God does not tend to need but that God only rewards faith.  I agree that scripture states unequivocally that “without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6).  But I assert that this is a different kind of faith than the “sowing of seeds” to big time ministry expecting a self-serving harvest that Charismatics claim moves God’s hand.

In fact, the bible is clear that the distribution of goods and services in the church of Acts community was based on “Need” not how much each person spoke in tongues or paid their tithes.  I truly believe that one of the reasons why the devil brought such fierce persecution to the church of Acts, is that he was petrified of them operating in such a powerful paradigm as “having all things in common. “ Similarly, although one might equate giving to big time ministries to laying goods at the Apostles’ feet, when one considers characteristic number one of “having all things in common,” the modern ministry is nowhere near as trustworthy as the Apostles.  The early church of Acts had an attitude in which they did not view their possessions as belonging to them, but rather they saw them belonging to the group.  The modern day Charismatic Church does not share this attitude, and the evidence of this fact is the reality that in modern times “lack abounds” in Christendom, whereas in the early church, before persecution scattered it abroad, lack was non-existent.

Now in extrapolating the book of Acts community to the modern day, one may claim that these believers “voluntarily” joined to one another economically out of a sense of common faith and so “class equality” is something that one should not strive for on the national stage because not all people can be “trusted” to experience this equality in the same spirit of love and servitude that the Church of Acts did based on their common faith in Jesus.  However, when one “dusts off” books from the Torah to gain a sense of God’s instruction to a nation and one peers into the wisdom of these books for a purpose that does not entail hating other people as a function of their sexual orientation one discovers quite a few references to God’s mandate for economic equality.  Exodus 22:25, Leviticus 25:36, Leviticus 25:37, Deuteronomy 23:19, and Deuteronomy  23:20 are extremely straight forward in forbidding the charging of interest on loans.  In a society in which the ownership of a house and car are most often based on the establishment of credit with interest, one can easily determine how far a supposedly “Judeo-Christian” society has travelled from the kind of justice that God prescribed.

Similarly Leviticus 25 speaks of “resting from one’s labors” every 7 years for “an entire year.”  Can you imagine how evolved society might be in its true understanding of God and humanity if all of us took a “year long sabbatical” from labor every seven years.  Leviticus 25 also speaks of a “Jubilee Year” every 50 years in which liberty is proclaimed throughout the land to all inhabitants.  While I did not have a chance to query the author of the phrase ,”Jubilee economics” as to what he or she meant, I believe that the notions of “liberty and equity” are paramount in the biblically informed understanding of such a phrase.

As we as a nation prepare to vote in this 2012 election and the idea of economic equality is often ignored as an imperative by politicians and pundits alike, I can honestly say that I feel less depressed, forlorn, and hopeless knowing that there are people who share the name “Christian” with me who speak of “Jubilee Economics,” and I am moved to pray, “Lord God please convict all Christians and non-Christians on the earth of the equality of every soul in your sight.  Please convict us all of the reality that all human souls hold equal importance in your eyes and that given that fact enduring inequality of any kind is problematic.  Lord God please reveal  your ways to all of the earth’s inhabitants so that we all may work together for a shared reality of wholeness, holiness, love, mercy, kindness, faith, hope, and peace.”  In Jesus name, I pray.  Amen.