30 December 2014

A Modern Christian Looks at Blasphemy

This post is because of Uncle Buck. (https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=xEt5dEOcW0I)
In an effort to find the "have a rat gnaw that thing off your face" line I was reminded of the teacher raising his ruler at Mazzie and yelling "Blasphemer!"

Watching that I thought, "I have no real idea what that word even means."

I mean I know what it means...kinda. But it's so old, so archaic, I can't say that I have any clue about why it might be a sin except in the broadest, most legalistic, sense. And yet, if I'm looking at scripture honestly, blasphemy is a big, big deal. In Leviticus, it's a capital crime. Mark says blaspheming the Holy Spirit is the only eternal sin. Aquinas says that if we compare blasphemy to murder, blasphemy is the worse sin because it is a sin directly against God. So it doesn't get much more serious than this and I, quite literally, think it's a joke.

For the sake of this post let's say that I can understand the personal aspect of this sin and why it's at least a kinda big deal. After all, most of the time what comes out of my mouth is a reflection of what is in my heart. If I'm talking trash about God it's likely my heart is somewhere west of devoted. But if my heart is true - it's likely that my words will reflect that too. So in that space I can understand blasphemy in a kind of diagnostic fashion and not unlike the way Jesus talks about murder or adultery. Yes, the outward action is sinful, but more importantly it's indicative of an inward condition and that's the real problem.

But I'm not at all clear on the corporate aspects. And they trouble me...a lot. I think the first time I ever gave a second thought to blasphemy was just after I left high school. Salman Rushdie was accused of blasphemy by the leader of Iran and there was some significant fear that a zealot from overseas would assassinate the author. In fact, the only places I've seen the charge of blasphemy taken seriously in my life time is by Muslims and if I'm honest those riots and executions and trips to jail all strike me as desperately backward. 

But what if I'm wrong.

Wikipedia tells me that the last western execution for blasphemy was a Scot in the 1600's, so it would seem that roughly coincident with the Enlightenment, the west dropped blasphemy from a felony to a misdemeanor and these days, it's just good ol’ fashioned fun like in Uncle Buck. Even the concept of blasphemy is something to be mocked and jeered at, or perhaps scorned when some other (more pious?) culture takes it seriously.

This isn't the first time I've been struck by the relative punishments for crimes in the Bible compared to today. The OT law often reverses the severity of crimes from what we see today. For example theft is a fairly minor crime compared to adultery, dishonoring your folks, or - again - blasphemy. My best understanding for this inversion is in the relative value for, and protection of, the community over the individual. If community is everything then a thief is a rouge individual who can be dealt with. But adultery strikes at the very fabric of the society, it undermines and threatens the family unit not just of that one couple, but of all who come in contact with the couple. Theft may change what I have, but blasphemy may change the way I think, the way I understand the world. It's been said that the most powerful thing in the world is an idea - and that's exactly what blasphemy is: a conception of God and of the eternal that is seditious.

Now of course the bible is equally vivid in its depiction of how we can become heresy hunting morons and Jesus is the central proof. If blasphemy is to speak disrespectfully or dishonesty of God, we watch the Pharisees hopelessly bungle the job and repeatedly accuse God of blaspheming Himself - because they lack the ability to tell the difference.

As an American, and I assume most westerners are the same, to see things like blasphemy and heresy treated as actual crimes only makes me think of the worst chapters of church history where conformity was required and you could literally be hanged or burned at the stake for daring to disagree with dogma. I certainly don't want to open the door to that kind of abuse again.

But - then there's the scripture.
I still can't shake the feeling that I'm missing something...that we've lost sight of something important.

To be clear, I'm 100% comfortable with the notion that some Levitical laws were culturally and generationally conditional. The Law says my house needs to have a flat roof with a parapet so  when we entertain guests I won't be guilty if someone falls off and dies. A flat roof in CO equals a collapsed house where everybody dies...so I'm pretty sure that law doesn't apply. But I'm not comfortable saying blasphemy is like that. I'm not willing to say the concept is outdated or doesn't apply to post-enlightenment westerners because we're so good at free-thinking now.

Let me be equally clear about something else - none of us live in a theocracy. That's a good thing and I'm not advocating we change that. So a federal crime against blasphemy is a very bad idea. So don't accuse me of going all sharia on anybody.

But...here I am again with this contraction...
But what am I missing?

If we only consider what blasphemy does and how it might be treated solely in the consensual context of those who claim to follow Christ, what then? Because if I'm honest I'd have to say that it's not something I even think about, it's nothing that I'd even notice much less be upset by. A short time ago a video was going around the Internet where Joel Osteen's wife said some things on stage that several people say just might rise to the level of actual blasphemy or heresy. (https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=00-6OyXVA0M) but my response isn't to be offended or angry, it's to laugh or dismiss, partly at her but also partly at those tens of thousands in the audience who listen to that silliness. Full-disclosure: I suspect Mrs. Osteen is guilty of a poor choice of words rather than genuine heresy but given their reach, idle words can have a big and genuinely damaging impact.

So I've written now for a while and I don't think I've really concluded anything, except to articulate the fact that I'm aware of this sense of an incomplete thought. I don't have a place to fit the ideas of blasphemy, particularly the way scripture treats it with what seems to be disproportionate severity. So I'll sign off now with just that - an open question. And I pray that God gives me wisdom and revelation on the mater, and for anybody else who might want to understand this once grievous, now ignored, bit of scripture. 

07 December 2014

Chosen Mortality

If we choose to join Christ, and accept his offer of Life Everlasting, then we are, as they say, free indeed.
After that point we can, and sadly do, choose mortality again and again.

Said another way, it is within our power to let any specific "death" be permanent or not.

We might look at any significant loss as being too big for us to handle and thereby accept that it has killed us so to speak. A child dies to cancer, a marriage withers and dies, a dream long fought for is ripped away...how do we deal with such things?

I've taught several classes on spiritual warfare and one core premise is that all spirits, ours and the woolyboogers, are eternal. Fleshly warfare always comes down to one irreducible: whoever is dead has lost. But not so with spirits. There is no "death" in that kind of (seemingly) permanent sense. Instead, spirits suffer and they have the capacity to suffer endlessly. The spiritual response to suffering is, generally, suppression. When a spirit suffers it may go to sleep, check out. It may fold in on itself, seek solitude...and find it.

I don't mean to imply by the start of this post that the Christian has a different kind of choice than the non-Christian (or the demon for that matter). We all have the choice to check out when faced with trauma, Christian or otherwise. We all have the choice not to. In that way we all choose life or death all the time, every day. We all know people who are walking around this world but are "dead inside." Behold a spirit dead, asleep, and absent.
As we counsel those ghost-men we look for some glimmer of their heart, some ember that can be blown upon and woken up, some trace of a living human who can be encouraged to choose life once again. Spirits are eternal, and that possibility of spiritual resurrection is always available. But we do well to also recognize that the opposite is also true. It is always within our grasp to choose death and it is remarkable to look back on life, both distant and recent, and see just how often I've done exactly that.

Pain, Expression, and Age Appropriate Behavior

I've been involved with Boot Camp Northwest now for close to a decade and I've seen a lot of men come through and experience some really profound emotional and spiritual healing.
One of the core tenets of what we do is that healthy and open "hearts" are central to living a life of freedom and strength. While that concept does not simply mean "emotions" our feelings are certainly part of the definition.
A key aspect to this is that we do ourselves harm when we stuff our emotions, especially surrounding a traumatic event, as westerners are so prone to do. Stuffed emotions only come out later, somewhere different and typically much nastier and toxic for their time spent in the bilge of our souls.
Morgan Snyder, a key member of the Ransomed Heart team and in many ways a mentor to me on this ministry, tells a story when he (usually) talks about God and living as His son. In it he remembers being a young boy, less than 10 I think, and somebody in the family has passed away. If memory serves it was his paternal grandfather. Young Morgan watches at the funeral as his father breaks down crying at the loss of (I think) his own father. As Morgan tells the story as an adult what he remembers from that day was this, "the strongest thing in my world, my dad, wasn't strong enough" and he continues to tell how that experience shaped his own sense of abandonment and fatherlessness.
It's a powerful story, really powerful, and I totally get it.
But it has deeply troubled me since the first time I heard it many years ago.
Here's why: our ministry, one that Morgan shares in, would teach that Morgan's dad was most likely "doing it right" in the sense that he was being honest, true to his heart, letting himself feel what was totally normal and natural and not stuffing it. But that moment of honesty turned out to be a moment of wounding for young Morgan. This has me troubled.
I realize that this is a snapshot - one moment among tens of thousands - of the experiences between young Morgan and his dad. If this emotional response was totally uncharacteristic of their normal then that alone would be at least confusing.
Still, it's been odd for me to hear this story come to me as ambiguous all this time. There's probably little point in expecting young Morgan to understand something that emotionally charged and complex at such a young age. But I doubt we would ever want to advise Morgan Sr. to stuff his pain.
So where does this leave us?
One thought is that we do well to be aware of who's watching. Kids in particular may not be equipped to understand our "honesty" even though it is generally good.
But I think the better answer lies in interpretation, specifically a parents role of actively interpreting events for our kiss so they can get a grip on the confusing world around them. I wonder if Morgan's father might have had the chance to come alongside his confused son shortly thereafter and explain what he saw, let him ask questions, let him process. A child is unlikely to seek that kind of interaction - they don't know what they don't know - meaning parents must pay attention to see those moments of confusion and what we can to bring context and interpretation, especially for the weird, scary, and threatening stuff.
I wonder if Morgan's dad had done that, would that wound have been healed, or at least reduced in depth.

...that's all I got...