Life, the Universe, and Everything, from the Outside In

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Church Tribalism

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We were surely all shocked at the news of the brutality that swept Rwanda, and, more recently, Kenya. No doubt this bolstered the prejudices of people who had been brought up under Darwinism to see the African people as in some way less-evolved and more volatile. Groups ranging from the Mau-mau of the Kenyan revolt to the Black Muslim/Nation of Islam have profited from Mr. Darwin’s opinions on this. To look closer, though, we have to notice that the skin color does not make a person more or less human, whether that means reflecting God’s image or whether it means marring that image to near obscurity. After all- the first “race riots” in the US were whites in New York City protesting the threat of blacks being freed en masse, and a black slave on temporary contract in Boston wrote his Southern master complaining of being treated like an Irishman! In the West, many of the Native tribes called themselves by names which translated simply as “people,” “human beings,” or, “family.” Simple and noble in one way, but what would that imply about an outsider?

We have seen, in the US, violence and discrimination against people for all kinds of “other”-ness, which can all fit under the greater heading of, “tribalism.” A recent visit to Canada, where they pride themselves for their lack of prejudice, revealed that they do “reserve the right” to hate “idiots.” If a cause can be found to classify someone as an idiot, then that is not discrimination, I was told. So there is not a code against black people, but Haitians, Jamaicans, etc., are marginalised as “idiots” because of some excuse gleaned from their opinionated Press. Americans, I was told, are all idiots because “they” all voted for George Bush, “and Bush is an idiot” according to their, unquestioned, Accepted Wisdom. There is something in the human animal that demands a “lower class” to despise, or we somehow feel incomplete!

Is the Church exempt? What does “all things are new” really mean here, or is there a problem with the “in Christ” part of that promise? Does being baptised, received, confirmed, having “prayed the prayer,” “received the Spirit,” or being “wholly sanctified” make us immune to such nonsense? Is there anyone we exclude from our “tribe” of Accepted Human Beings?

Of course, there are Spiritual Formation issues- We want to make sure that a pastor has a godly lifestyle like we want our surgeon or air pilot to be reasonably sober, and it would be nice to know who is watching our children, but do we use circumstances which may be beyond a person’s control to keep them away from our fellowship, and from sharing in the grace of God? In the last count, do we only love the ones we choose? Has the Church become like the proverbial Dog in the Manger who has no real use for the straw he sleeps on, but chases off the hungry ox to protect his own comfort? If we fail to welcome someone, or somehow keep them away from the eternal life Christ died to give to us all, then are we better, or worse, than the frenzied Rwandans who denied their neighbors earthly life?

We can leave this where it is, and most readers will close the page thinking of all the ways that other people need to read this. Is that so? Today in America, millions of black churchgoers are in need of a studied theological message in their sermons, and millions of white churchgoers will leave church this Sunday with their hearts no more touched in the service than if they had been watching Mr. Rogers re-runs. Cross that line, and do not expect a call from the pastor the next week. (At least there’s not the likelihood of a midnight visit from the deacons!) How about the man who tells the pastor, “I so adored the service?” What about a single dad? How many members are actively working to care for those in need during the week? Do we think that the “Sheep and the Goats” is just a parable Jesus forgot to explain? Wouldn’t the little dog rather go rest in his Master’s lap than wear himself out snarling at other of Master’s creatures?


Written by Robert Easter

Saturday, 31 October, 2009 at 11:53

Jesus Plus?

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Reading this week about a Chicago church that has been in the news recently, the sign out front reportedly advertises it as “Unashamedly Black and Uncompromisingly Christian.” From this “uncompromised” position it last year gave a vocal enemy of Israel, of the Christian Faith, and of his own native US a special award just for “embodying greatness!”

The rub was there from the start: To be Christian is to belong to Christ, Who said, “No man can serve two masters.” Surely every Christian is at some point of growing in that direction, but what if he or she isn’t? We can be grateful to God for our circumstances, whether it be our ethnic background, level of wealth or lack of it, our skills, any number of things. But to add anything to our faith in Christ as essential to who we are (which this pastor was plainly doing, to the great expense of the Gospel): Isn’t that to say that our kind of Christian is better than your “kind?”

It used to be a common phrase in preaching, “Jesus plus nothing.” The point then was that our salvation is based on Jesus, and only on Jesus, rather than setting our confidence in our own devotions and initiatives. Paul, in Galatians, warned that church that if they set their confidence in Jesus plus anything for their salvation they put themselves in a position of making that other thing their savior, and if we could gain Heaven any other way than by the Cross, then Jesus died for nothing. In other words, as Paul put it, “you have fallen from grace.”

Am I writing this to condemn that preacher? Before the Lord, and before the Lord only, he stands or falls. What, then? That loving God is a lifestyle decision, outside and in. There are two races on this planet: Them that are born once, and them that are born twice, the second by the Spirit of God. There are two nations, or kingdoms, in this world. The kingdom of God, which is a kingdom of righteousness, and the kingdom of sin, which is of the devil. There is no room for compromise: in military terms what is considered lost, and a compromised person a traitor. But why would anyone consider compromise, or even gaze off in that direction? The kingdom of God is “righteousness, peace, and joy,” everything our human heart could ever hope for, and, “in the Holy Ghost,” means that it is the very love of God Himself that is there to perfect us in His love. “For the Lord is that Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.”

Written by Robert Easter

Saturday, 26 April, 2008 at 15:38

A Bargain at Any Price!

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We all know what it is to play warfare in mock battle, that it means to imitate everything just as it is in war. ..everything exactly as in war, lacking only one thing . . . the danger.

So also it is with playing Christianity, that is, imitating Christian preaching in such a way that everything, absolutely everything is included in as deceptive a form as possible–only one thing is lacking . . . the danger.

[Søren Kierkegaard, Attack Upon Christendom, trans. Walter Lowrie (1944; reprint, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1968), 180. Borrowed from

Where is the danger in Christianity? Is there any challenge? What is the hope? Some church people won’t even talk to others if those others talk like this. “They actually believe that there can be a danger!” they say. Did God send prophets to promise Israel a free ride to a candy-coated oblivion? Did Jesus bring such a message?

Jesus said if we want to win, we’ve got to learn to lose, to be the chief means to wash feet, and to find life means yielding our lives to Him. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” So why do millions risk their lives in hostile countries to claim his name? Stay tuned!

[Painting, Crucifixion, Emile Nolde, 220.5 x 193.5 cm, Oil on Canvas, 1912]

Written by Robert Easter

Thursday, 20 March, 2008 at 19:53

Only Visiting this Planet

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A great hero to a lot of people, and a mentor to many, passed on to Glory this morning. Larry Norman, the first musician to use his musical “first language” (at least in the modern Western culture) pioneered was was disparaged as “Christian Rock and Roll” by a generation who still esteemed Fanny Crosby as the last word in hymnody. While not quite as prolific as Miss Crosby, Larry was responsible for songs like “Why Don’t You Look into Jesus,” “I am a Servant,” “The Outlaw,” and “Why Should the Devil (have all the good music).” Curiously, the last title was a tribute to Martin Luther, though many reacted as if he had attacked both the Church and her Lord in singing it.

For over ten years he was the only musician in the States singing for the Lord with contemporary styling, and one of very few to use a guitar. Besides his own talent, he graced us with such musicians as Mark Heard, Randy Stonehill, and Steve Taylor, and seemed to have borne much influence on Bob Dylan as Dylan did on his own work. Norman’s “Reader’s Digest,” “Six-O’Clock News,” and “Why Don’t You Look into Jesus” and such Dylan hits as “Serve Somebody,” reflect as much.

Having grown up in the only white family in an African-American neighborhood in Los Angeles, Larry learned early to love the Lord with his all, and to put his heart and soul into what was put before him, and in his case that “what” was proclaiming the praises of His Savior, which he did with everything he had: A guitar, a heart of love, and a voice that never impressed but always reached straight to the heart. Having assisted with his sound at one concert, that was what came across without ever trying. A real man of God who will be sorely missed. Sing loud, Larry! You’ve finally got the ultimate Audience!

Written by Robert Easter

Sunday, 24 February, 2008 at 20:28

Who Am I?

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Good movie- sure, Jackie Chan is great!

But, getting down to it, before we ask if something is true, we need to know if we’re able to find out. Is it knowable? Can we know? What is knowledge? What are we, to even ask that question?

If we follow that line of thinking from the popular assumption that we are all random collections of cells, which we assume are random collections, ultimately, of atomic particles, then lose three key pieces to finding out any answers. Life, order, and personality. In a random universe there is no way for any of them to develop, and for them to exist is a direct violation of the laws of science.

First, Life may be continued from one organism to its offspring, but it is not reproducible. Even the most orderly and controlled experiments fail, and the model for life’s origins is neither. The one experiment, decades old now, that was claimed to have produced “life in a test tube” was shown, in attempts to repeat it, that the first container had not been sufficiently sealed, and the “findings” turned out to be contamination! If you are alive, that life came from somewhere.

Order, whether living or inert, always tends toward disorder. A pile of mud has yet to collapse upward into a brick office building. In fact, it takes a lot of energy in baking the brick, producing the steel straps, making the mortar, and developing and using the skills to lay the bricks to keep those bricks from too soon collapsing back into a pile of mud! Or, can an old person naturally grow young? Some might point out that young people, especially Japanese, are growing taller than previous generations, but a closer look shows nutrition, and not some genetic mystery, as the cause. More energy going into a system, more energy inherent in the system; but the “energy” will dissipate, and those young
will also soon be old.

Physics tells us that everything comes from something. Energy cannot be created or destroyed within the limits of our material Universe, and all matter (anything that can have any weight or take up any space) is, in simple terms, compressed energy. Everything has a source, and the source is always greater. The ball might be rolling down hill, but how did it get up there? It made for a silly song a few years ago, but we really don’t look for three-pound birds laying five-pound eggs, do we? If our lives have a source, and that source is greater then it can’t have been a chimp, a frog, or a pond scum, can it? If we apply this to the Universe itself, the entire Universe had to have come from something, as
it cannot have created itself, and it has to have been designed and fashioned to possess such amazing order and complexity. It doesn’t quite look like we’re alone, does it?

The mind, and personality, raise the stakes considerably. At last look, “Modern Science” still does not know what the mind is, and assumes it to be located in the skull just for the sake of discussion. When we go from the mind to the intricately complex personality, all bets are off. The one explanation left on the table is, “In the beginning, God..!”

So, if we want to know who we are, the question is askable. The answer is knowable, because there is an orderly, created, reality which can be known. That we can know, and the Universe can be known, suggests that there is a Creator, an Artist, if you will, who wishes to be known in it.

All this is based on those first three words in the Bible. Wonder what else is there!

Written by Robert Easter

Thursday, 7 February, 2008 at 21:30