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.

5 Deceptions of the Thief

John 10:10 – The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy; I am come that they might have life and have it more abundantly.

John 10:10 is one of the most well known verses of scripture.  Jesus, in this famous quote is setting up a dichotomy between his leadership and bad leadership by creating a metaphor involving the common Hebrew practice of raising livestock.   Jesus calls himself the true Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep in stark contrast to the thief who manipulates and coerces ‘the sheep’ for his own dark pleasure.

Despite the overwhelming clarity of Jesus’ contrast, the truth is that in the messiness of life, we often have difficulty separating the shepherd from the thief and fall prey to our ‘enemy’ disguising himself as an angel of light.  So in an effort to clarify the distinction between darkness and light, I posit 5 deceptions that the devil uses to confuse us in our walk with God.  This list is obviously not exhaustive but nonetheless relevant.   The deceptions are:

1)      He convinces us that he does not exist.

2)      He convinces us that he is in control

3)      He convinces us that there is no hope.

4)      He convinces us that his thievery is God’s wrath.

5)      He convinces us that death is our only chance for victory.

 

Technique number 1, he convinces us that he does not exist:

The great theologian Origen spoke about their being 3 lenses through which we can interpret scripture, we can look at the body which is the obvious story and truths being shared, we can look at the soul which contains more subtle interpretations of the text, and we can look at the spirit of scripture which reveals a coherent and yet deep truth of God and our Savior.  On the surface of John chapter 10, Jesus is talking about the Pharisees and Sadducees, but on a deeper level he is talking about the devil.

Paul states in his letter to the Ephesians, Chapter 6:12 “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, and against spiritual wickedness in high places.  As much as we would like to believe that there is not a mortal enemy to us as we journey through this human experience, the devil exists.  And if we learn from Ephesians 6:12 not only does the devil exist, but there is an entire governmental system of evil that is set up to ruin our lives and derail us from our highest destiny in Christ Jesus.  The truth is that this system is not at all as powerful as God, as Paul notices in Romans 5:20 which states, “moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.”  God cannot lose to Satan in the long run, but the “system of evil” in our world and beneath the tapestry of our visible existence can surely frustrate the Grace of God in a painful and disconcerting way.  And what better way to torture someone than to act like you don’t exist while you distract them from this life’s good.  The deception that “dark spiritual forces” do not work against our good, often bears the fruit of unforgiveness and self-condemnation, wherein we blame the human beings who the devil used to hurt us, rather than the manipulator himself and we blame ourselves for every mistake, instead of realizing that we have a tempter who is continuously working toward our ill.

Realizing that the devil exists and that just as God has a plan for our life, satan has a plan for our death, frees us to fight him on his own ground, with the assurance that GOD ALWAYS BEATS SATAN in the end.  Being free to see that the devil exists empowers us to bind and loose rather than stay victimized by wickedness.  Being free to see that the devil exists prompts us to exercise our natural authority as human beings to have dominion on this earth and prompts us to exercise the authority that Jesus imputes to us.  Now, true, we want to guard against attributing everything to satan in a spirit of irresponsibility or hopelessness, and we always want to focus on God and goodness much more than the devil and evil.  But to know that much of the sorrow of our world is a direct result of a condemned criminal who we can crush as Jesus crushed him 2000 years ago, is incredibly helpful.

Technique number 2, he convinces us that he is in control:

Sometimes, the trials and tribulations of life can become so tumultuous that it can begin to seem like we are the devil’s whipping boy, and that we have no locus of control in ourselves as people and Sons of God to change our situation.  In my opinion, God does not control our reality with puppet strings, but I do believe that in the general sense God is in charge and is always willing to intervene on our behalf.  But the darkness of our culture can really make it seem like the devil and not the Creator is the God of this world.  This kind of thinking, in my opinion, is the source of the doctrine of eternal damnation.  Many excellent and loving Christians believe that the devil is so powerful  that he actually has the ability to deceive and torment a soul for all eternity.  But the truth is that the devil may have seasons where he is free to wreak havoc on human kind, but GOD IS IN CHARGE AND IN THE END NOT ONE PERSON WILL HAVE TO SUFFER THE DEVIL’S NONSENSE FOR ETERNITY.

Technique number 3, he convinces us that there is no hope:

Many times, situations in which we find ourselves embroiled can seem totally hopeless and beyond God’s redemptive touch.  Brain cancer, unlawful incarceration, rape victimization, and many other scenarios can make it seem like there is absolutely no chance of redemption.  The devil often intensifies this deception by causing us to dwell on the hopelessness of our trials and tribulations and then accusing us of being faithless and unbelieving.  God convicts yes, but never accuses.  So when you hear the sound of accusation whether it be from a preacher’s mouth or from a friend’s impatience, you can rest assured they it is not God who is speaking through them.  God will always find a way to get redemption out of suffering  and THERE IS ALWAYS HOPE, even when we don’t think that it is there, hope and brightness will find a way to grace us in even the most bleak of dilemmas.

Technique number 4, he convinces that his thievery is God’s wrath:

Right before Jesus heals the blind man in the Gospel of John, his disciples ask him, “Master who did sin, this man or his parents, that he was born blind.” To which Jesus responded, “neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents, but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.”  It is true that sometimes God allows us to go through things to learn lessons so that we can come out of a prior sinful behavior, but bottom line, GOD NEVER GETS PLEASURE OUT OF OUR CALAMITY.   Many of the trials that we experience in this life stem directly from the enemy trying to steal our joy and faith.  When we can see that a situation perhaps like a boss not liking us is not God’s wrath but a scheme of the enemy, then we feel empowered to deal with that situation through the unconditional love, power, and soundness of mind of God rather than seething in bitterness.

Technique number 5, he convinces us that death is our only chance for victory:

The negro slaves used to often sing, “Swing low, sweet chariot, comin’ for to carry me home, swing low sweet chariot, comin’ for to carry me home.” This song, highlights the hope that many of the slaves had in the after-life, free from the oppression of slavery.  I believe that this song is a testament to the perseverance of a people to find hope even in the most dehumanizing of experiences.  But the truth is that sometimes things like alcohol addiction or drug addiction or mental illness can bring us to such a point of despair, that we conclude that we are just going to wait for death or worse take our own lives, because the only way out is to go to the other side.  Let me tell you, every situation that we find ourselves in has the potential to glorify God.  Even terminal cancer which for whatever reason the Lord does not miraculously heal has the capacity to glorify him by the compassion of the nurses and doctors for the patient or the patient’s hope and laughter in the face of adversity.  There is no situation for which there is not victory!! Victory is the essence of the Christian walk, and all people everywhere will eventually get the victory!!!!

One method of defeating the devil at his own game and to defeating him against all 5 of these techniques to derail our progress with God is to surrender, stand, succeed, and celebrate.  No matter what is going on in our lives, we need to surrender it and ourselves to the Lord and ask Jesus for incite and strength to deal with the trials that come.  Once we have surrendered, then we can stand in our authority as human beings and Sons and Daughters of God to vanquish the devil at his own schemes, often just by pointing them out.  Then once we have stood, we trust the Lord to succeed in whatever scenario we are facing.  And most times succeeding doesn’t have to be winning the big game or having a lot of money, but it could be as sublime and simple as praising the Lord on a Sunday morning or Saturday night in spite of a tough week. And then of course, whatever is going on, and whatever the outcome, celebrate.  Celebrate the love of Jesus in our lives and the love of our Creator.  Celebrate the reality that one day there will be no depression, no cancer, no death, and no disease, no racism, no classism, no devouring of innocents and that all people will bask in the sunshine of the Lord’s unconditional love and favor forever more.