Thursday, March 25, 2010

From the Coffee House performances to your door!

I performed three poems the other night. I kept meaning to post them for posteriorz. Here they are, two links to older poems and the one new, but still incomplete one.

One Day We Shall All Be Free
(This was written a few years ago. Not autobiographical - fortunately - but based on the lives of some kids I was working with. I really try to perform this as a nervous ferocious pent-up, pent-in man. But I forgot most of the text and had trouble not being blinded by the light. It was a bad reading... But people were very generous to me, regardless.)

Mom, I NEED My Two Dollars
(Title partially inspired by classic teen rom-com. Poem inspired by summers and youth and, well, mine. And maybe, just maybe, a little William Carlos William. I like this poem and thought it'd be interesting to read this one. It's short, very short. But a lot of round and open sounds. Quite the opposite from the ferocity of the previous read work. Not intentionally, but now that I think of it, pretty cool...)

And finally... I introduced this poem by noting that I was born right in the middle of the 70's. It's kind of cheap, but so are pop culture and collective memories...

I Got More Than a Feeling

I got more than a feeling
less than excited
I jump right in
upside down dancin' on the ceiling
tonight i'm reeling
reverting back to my childhood
as if i'm sleepin' at grandma's with the old grandpa clock
always feelin' that somebody's watching me

I was passing by these glory days in the
heat of the moment and they asked,
Isn't she lovely? I smiled, stalled, looked past, head-jerk

Born on the bayou, loved by few, she broke on through
it was love wrapped her in its arms
and told me to carry on, carry on, wayward son

Don't bring me down now,
down all the way down to the funk side of town
I heard she wanted to be in, wanted to see them
little pink houses
but never expected to run the interstate down nobody's front lawn
being born on the bayou
she knew she knew better

it's saturday night, not too late for fightin''cause
we don't stop believing
don't stop believing

and i applaud, we love loud
talkin' bout our generation
city, world, state, nation
raise your glass, Lo-lo-la-Lola
drinking this all my coca-ca-ca cola

sometimes when we touch, the honesty's too much...

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Baloney!! No one has a RIGHT to health care.

That's the argument I was given just now on a Facebook thread. I guess the argument flows from the logic that because modern medicine (and the ability to mass administer it) is so novel and expensive that there is no precedent for it. It doesn't fit into the rubric of older, now-established human rights. Or at least that's the thought.

The same argument was made before. But allow me the liberty to transpose. Because the underlying, unstated argument is that you can only get adequate health care if you can afford it and/or you're fortunate enough to work in one of the remaining companies that's still covering its employees. It's a bit like saying that you can only vote if you're white enough. Or male enough. Or landed enough. You can only enter into an establishment if you're considered human (read: not like those blackish brutes) enough. Your lips can only touch this water fountain, your children can only enter this school if you are white enough - coming from the God-blessed European roots. Oh, and preferably Protestant...

Yeah, history...

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

The Rap-Sures (pt. 3): Matthew 24

Tonight we'll be studying the famous Matthew passage on the "end of these things". I don't have everything together on this passage, but here's a few thoughts:

  • There's nothing in this passage to support the theology of the rapture. Verse 31 speaks about "gathering the elect from the four corners." But there's nothing in there to express a disappearance from the earth, or a raising, even. (My initial thought is that it has to do with a type of reverse exodus based on my reading of the corresponding Zechariah passage). Verses 41 and 42 are where the phrase "Left Behind" (of those horrific 'thrillers') are taken from. But a closer look at the immediate context reveals that it's not those who are left behind who are unfortunate, but the other way around.
As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left. (NIV)
  • The chapter begins with Jesus' disciples proclaiming wonderment at the Temple area. Jesus foresees its destruction. Much argument arises out of what the disciples meant and how Jesus interprets their question, "Tell us, when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?" (NIV) I have a hard time believing that the rest of the passage is all about the period ending in 70 AD with the siege and fall of Jerusalem. But this period of Great Tribulation is of that period. Here's a few clues: 1) In the phrase, "This generation will not pass until these things happen," the word "generation" means what it has always meant: generation. Not all of humanity. Not race. Age. Contemporaries; 2) "Let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains." Not "those who are in the cities," nor, "those who are in the valley." Specifically, those in Judea; 3) "Abomination of desolation" means that, once again, a gentile ruler will enter the holy Temple and do unspeakable things (in this case, utterly destroy it); 4) The language used in this chapter is fairly similar to the language that the Jewish historian (who was in the campaign to lay siege against the rebels) Josephus uses to describe that period and; 4) In the corresponding passages (in Mark 12 and Luke 21), the disciples are asking specifically and only about the fall of the temple.
  • However, much is made about whether everything in the Matthew passage refers to AD 70. It seems to me that Jesus is mixing in his vindication (the coming and judging on the clouds is from Daniel 7) with his parousia.
  • But probably the most important thing is to watch and pray, watch and pray, as evidenced by this passage and the next chapter (and, for contrast, the chapter preceding it).

The Rap-Sures (pt. 2.5): Clarifications? Maybe?

A few thoughts that can hopefully clear up some misconceptions on my previous two posts on the rapture:
  • The best way to read the Bible is through context. The more immediate, the better. in other words, passages and words in the Bible are checked against not just other passages and words within the same book of the Bible, but also other ones of the Bible. But, it doesn't end there. There is much to learn about the social/political/economical/religious/etc. happenings of the day that are not given within the books of the Bible itself. For these, historians and biblical scholars look into history, into other writings of the time (again, the closer to home, the better) to gain insight into the text.
  • It is after thorough exegesis that one can begin to ask other questions, such as: what did the Church Fathers and the early theologians view on this? What is the historical reading of this? How does this relate here and now? What is the Holy Spirit saying to me? To and through my community? Is there something else that this word may mean?
  • To be perfectly honest, getting a clear, objective reading of the text is near impossible. Every reader brings in a certain perspective each time he or she reads a piece. Not that there is necessarily anything wrong with that (the Holy Spirit has longed used our quirks for God's glory. And the Truth of God is evident throughout not just the scriptures, but through our natural world. All truth, as one of the Church Fathers said, is God's truth). But nevertheless, we strive, and we should, to try to understand the word as clearly as we can in order to not be overtaken by our own personal rationale.
  • It's not enough, in light of new information for historical research, to limit your readings to your favorite theologians of the last four hundred years. The Reformers, brilliant and essential as they are, read the Bible within their context (a legalistic and corrupt state church). We have the tools to go further back into the biblical period (through Josephus, The rabbinic Mishnah, the Dead Sea Scrolls/Qumran, The (Jewish) Apocrypha and the Pseudepigrapha. These do not replace the canon, but they do help to enlighten the text.
  • I cannot understand how we've come to read the Bible in some kind of rarefied air where it needs to be understood in some sort of literal and lineal phase. As if the writers of the ancient texts were writing out of space and time. No one ever writes or speaks in a vacuum. The trick is to figure how the Bible wants to be read. For example, when Jesus told a story, he did not mean for it to be taken literally, as if the things he said actually happened; they illustrate a (or a few) point(s) that he makes about, say, the Kingdom of Heaven (his favorite topic, btw). When we read the beginning of Revelations, the author says that he witnesses one as the "Son of Man" with "white hair like wool." The images are from Daniel 7. If the question is, "Did John the Revelator literally see a wooly-white haired man that looks like an improved version of humanity in front of him?" we're asking the wrong questions. We focus too much on the literal, but not enough in what it all means, and what the signs are pointing to (in this case, the established and eternal Kingdom of God through Jesus).
  • Fire is pretty prevalent within the Old and New Testaments. But often in the New Testament it is not used literally, but as a way of describing a refining process (not always, of course, but Luke 3:16, 12:49, Acts 2:3, I Thess 5:19, Hebrews 1:7 to address a few). Most prominently we understand that God will test the believers with fire from I Corinthians 3. It's clear that Paul's not talking about a literal fire, nor the 'unquenchable' fire of hell, nor a devouring fire, but a cleansing, refining fire. According to my read of 2 Peter 3, the same will happen to the universe's elements.
  • Yes, I get much of my insights on the New Testament from NT "Tom" Wright. He is a preeminent scholar, a pastor, a theologian and a historian who specializes on second temple Judaism. He is a Christian, affirms the creeds, and is an apologist for the orthodox Christian faith. And he's a self-described Calvinist!
  • Rapture theology is relatively new. As in, just the last two hundred years (Ben Witherington, among others, mentions this here in his The Problem of Evangelical Theology). Does that mean that it stands outside orthodox Christianity? Not necessarily, although I argue that it's closer to Platonism than to historic, creedal Christianity or any views on the resurrection that 1st Century Jews had (the ones that did, that is. Of course there were Jewish leaders who did not believe in the resurrection. And none, until Jesus, would have believed in a one-man resurrection...).
Oops, one more important note:
  • In Ezekiel we begin to see the concept of resurrection (as, again, those Jews that understood it would understand it) through the Valley of the Dry Bones. In Isaiah (among other works), though, we see a picture of a revived, living and redeemed world in which the resurrected people return, farm, trees dance, etc. For example, this Edenic passage from chapter 65:
Behold, I will create
new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
nor will they come to mind.

But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I will create,
for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight
and its people a joy.

I will rejoice over Jerusalem
and take delight in my people;
the sound of weeping and of crying
will be heard in it no more.

"Never again will there be in it
an infant who lives but a few days,
or an old man who does not live out his years;
he who dies at a hundred
will be thought a mere youth;
he who fails to reach a hundred
will be considered accursed.

They will build houses and dwell in them;
they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit.

No longer will they build houses and others live in them,
or plant and others eat.
For as the days of a tree,
so will be the days of my people;
my chosen ones will long enjoy
the works of their hands.

They will not toil in vain
or bear children doomed to misfortune;
for they will be a people blessed by the LORD,
they and their descendants with them.

Before they call I will answer;
while they are still speaking I will hear.

The wolf and the lamb will feed together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox,
but dust will be the serpent's food.
They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,"
says the LORD.

Friday, March 05, 2010

The Rap-Sures (pt. 2): Heaven

I'll try to make this one quick. But this is the point about the whole No Rapture thing: Christians are not going to go somewhere else. Heaven is coming down to earth. From Revelations 21:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God."
Revelations 3:20 forewords this idea.

This idea that heaven is far away and above us is really a Greek concept. This idea that we all leave this cursed planet and live as body-less beings on some celestial clouds is not only immensely boring, but woefully dangerous and erroneous (suggesting that our bodies and the material world is irrefutably broken beyond even God's hand is Platonism - not Jewish and not Christian). There's a reason why so much of the language of Revelations echoes the language of the Garden of Eden.

We are not leaving this corrupted planet to destruction. We are called to redeem it; the same work that Christ began at his resurrection, the same work that is being done on us, is the same work that God is calling us to do throughout his creation. And has already begun doing. And will see to completion with the new heaven.

Jesus hinted at this in talking so much about the Kingdom of Heaven (see specifically, the mustard seed analogy) and in the Lord's Prayer, we have this idea of "May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven." God is going to fuse heaven and earth together some time in the future. He has started to do that through the resurrection of Jesus, though. And the Body of Christ is active in helping to piece this all together.

Our job, then, is not to leave this world the same we found out, let alone worse, but better. We have work to do, and it is this type of work that I think that St. Paul is referring to when he says that a man shall not eat if he don't do no work.

A little snippet from Bishop Wright again:

And also check out this from ABC News a couple years back: Is There Life after the Afterlife?

"If you really believe that what happens at death is that you leave behind the world of space, time and matter, you are never going to be bothered with it again, you're never going to have a physical body again and that ultimately God is going to throw this whole world on the rubbish heap somewhere, then what's the fuss to work for justice in the present?" he said. "What's the fuss about AIDS, what's the problem about global debt, you know these are trivial and irrelevant. What matters is whether you're going to heaven tomorrow or next week."

Wright said the notion of new heavens and a new earth motivates him "enormously."

Thursday, March 04, 2010

The Rap-Sures (pt. 1)

I'm writing this in anticipation, to be quite honest, of a Bible study on Matthew 24. But in order to get to that, I thought I would need to hit this heavy (at least in the States) topic: the rapture.

Lemme just be honest and upfront. I don't believe in the rapture. I don't believe that living Christians should expect Jesus to come down from the sky (wherever in the sky that may be) and then get whisked away with him when we literally fly up to meet him half way (is he coming or going? are we? where at in space?). Furthermore and more importantly, I don't believe that we're all going off to some luxury resort in the sky when Jesus comes back.

However (just in case my secular reader/colleagues thought I might finally be approaching some sense of sanity), I DO believe in a literal resurrection. I do believe in this literal place called heaven. I do believe that this guy sometime around the time of CE/AD 30 this Jewish teacher/rebel/Son of God named Jesus violently died for humanity and then was raised back from the dead three days later. I affirm the ancient Creeds, including the virgin birth and the judgment of both the quick and the terribly slow (yes, zombie joke).

But I also believe that we misread a lot of the Bible because it wasn't written specifically for us. The case of the rapture is a major misunderstanding that affects how we treat the world around us as well as our neighbors and, thus, needs major correcting. I don't think that I could possibly reverse the ball even in my court, but I think that I could do my part to raise consciousness of the erroneous thinking in concerning this theology.

I'm going to borrow steal very generously from both the New Living Translation and Bishop NT Wright's Surprised by Hope (buy it, borrow it, loan it).

Paul's letters are full of the future coming or appearing of Jesus (parousia) [128]... Parousia is... one of those terms in which Paul is able to say that Jesus is the reality of which Caesar is the parody. Paul's theology of the second coming is part of his political theology of Jesus as Lord [Jesus is Lord. Caesar isn't. He's a pretender to the true throne]. In other words, we have the language of parousia, of royal presence, sitting in a typically Pauline juxtaposition with the language of Jewish apocalyptic. This would not... have presented many problems for Paul's first hearers. It certainly has for subsequent readers, not least in the last century or so.

This is so especially when we read I Thessalonians 4:16-17:

For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the Christians who have died will rise from their graves. Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever.

The point to notice above all about these tricky verses is that they are not to be taken as a literal description of what Paul thinks will happen. They are simply a different way of saying what he is saying in I Corinthians 15:23-27 and in Philippians 3:20-21:

I Corinthians 15
But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died. So you see, just as death came into the world through a man, now the resurrection from the dead has begun through another man... But there is an order to this resurrection: Christ was raised as the first of the harvest; then all who belong to Christ will be raised when he comes back. After that the end will come, when he will turn the Kingdom over to God the Father, having destroyed every ruler and authority and power.For Christ must reign until he humbles all his enemies beneath his feet. And the last enemy to be destroyed is death...
But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies.

Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?

Philippians 3
We are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior. He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control.

... In I Cor 15:23-27 Paul speaks of the parousia of the Messiah as the time of the resurrection of the dead, the time when the present but secret rule will become manifest in the conquest of the last enemies, especially death. Then in verses 51-54 he speaks of what will happen to those who, at Jesus's coming, are not yet dead. They will be changed, transformed. This is clearly the same event he is speaking of in I Thess 4; we have the trumpet in both, and the resurrection of the dead in both; but whereas in I Thess he speaks of those presently alive being "snatched up in the air," in I Cor he speaks of them being "transformed." So too in Phil 3:21, where the context is quite explicitly ranging Jesus over against Caesar, Paul speaks of the transformation of the present lowly body to be like Jesus' glorious body, as a result of his all-conquering power.

So why does Paul speak in this particular way in the I Thess about the Lord descending and the living saints being snatched up in the air? I suggest that he is finding richly metaphorical ways of alluding to three other stories that his is deliberately bringing together...

We must remind ourselves... that all Christian language about the future is a set of signposts pointing into a mist. Signposts don't normally provide you with advance photographs of what you'll find at the end of the road, but that doesn't mean they aren't pointing in the right direction...

The three stories Paul is here bringing together start with the story of Moses coming down the mountain. The trumpet sounds, a loud voice is heard, and after a long wait Moses appears and descends from the mountain to see what's been going on in his absence.

Then there is the story of Daniel 7, in which the persecuted people of God are vindicated over their pagan enemy by being raised up on the clouds to sit with God in glory. This "raising up on the clouds," which Jesus applies to himself in the gospels, is now applied by Paul to the Christians who are presently suffering persecution.

(Catch that? Being raised up on the clouds isn't literal. But it is important.)

Putting these two stories together... enables Paul to bring in the third story... When the emperor visited a colony or province, the citizens of the country would go to meet him at some distance from the city. It would be disrespectful to have him actually arrive at the gates as though his subjects couldn't be bothered to greet him properly. When they met him, they wouldn't then stay out in the open country; they would escort him royally into the city itself. When Paul speaks of "meeting" the Lord "in the air," the point is precisely not... that the saved believers would then stay up in the air somewhere, away from earth. The point is that, having gone out to meet their returning Lord, they will escort him royally into his domain, that is, back to the place they have come from. Even when we realize that this is a highly charged metaphor, not literal description, the meaning is the same as in the parallel in Phil 3:20. Being citizens of heaven, as the Philippians would know, doesn't mean that one is expecting to go back to the mother city but rather that one is expecting the emperor to come from the mother city to give the colony its full dignity, to rescue it if need be, to subdue local enemies and put everything to rights. [Pages 131-133]

And for those that were really hoping to hear from Terry Taylor's children's "rap" music project from the early 80's, here you go.