Tag Archives: Conservative

Puritans, Relationships and Moral By-Products

See, the stone I have set in front of Joshua! There are seven eyes on that one stone, and I will engrave an inscription on it,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘and I will remove the sin of this land in a single day.

“‘In that day each of you will invite your neighbor to sit under your vine and fig tree,’ declares the Lord Almighty.”
Zechariah 3:9-10 (NIV)

The further I get in my life journey the more I’ve come to understand and appreciate just how much of American culture has been framed by our Puritan roots. For the most part, I don’t think this is a bad thing. From our Puritan forerunners we inherited a great number of basic virtues such as honesty, integrity, charity and a strong work ethic. These virtues have served us remarkably well as a society.

From our Puritan forerunners we also inherited a very strong sense of morality that comes packaged in black and white. The “Puritans” were so-called because they believed the Church of England was not reformed enough from Catholic doctrine and practices. They were willing to start a bloody civil war and behead a king to “purify” England of her perceived sins. When the purification didn’t go as planned, a good many fled to America to carve out life in the “new world.”

Growing up in an evangelical protestant tradition, I was taught that purity and a conservative set of moral behaviors were the pinnacle goals for me as a follower of Jesus. As I have progressed in my spiritual journey and in my study of God’s Message, I find God to be more concerned with relationship than anything else. If you get relationships right as a priority, with God and with others, then doing the right things becomes a natural consequence. Intent on maintaining a strong, healthy relationship I naturally choose to do things that will enhance relationships and cease to do things that will disturb shalom.

I see this in today’s chapter. Zechariah has a vision of the high priest standing before the Angel of the Lord, with Satan standing beside as prosecutor and accuser. God prophetically declares that He will send his “Branch” who will “remove the sin of this land in a single day.” He then describes what the outcome of this carte blanche grace and forgiveness will be: “you will invite your neighbor to sit under your vine and fig tree.”

Isn’t that fascinating?! God says nothing about morality, purity, righteousness, or remaining untainted by the world. The outcome of sin being washed away is right relationship with others: reaching out, being hospitable, sharing the shade, and loving one another.

This morning I’m thinking about my relationships with God and with others. As a follower of Jesus I want to truly follow His example. I’m reminded in the quiet this morning that when encountering those whom the orthodox establishment had branded and rejected as immoral, Jesus chose to join them for a meal and share some stories. Funny thing: When these “immoral” people (e.g. Matthew, Zaccheus, Mary Magdalene, and etc.) entered into relationship with Jesus, their lives were subsequently marked by radical life changes. These changes weren’t about adhering to some legalistic moral code Jesus maintained to judge who “made the cut.” The live changes were motivated by being in relationship with Jesus, and a desire for that relationship to grow; They chose, quite naturally, to eliminate behaviors that might hinder their relationship with Jesus.

With God, the goal was never morality. The goal has always been relationship. When you get relationship right, then making good life choices to maintain and grow those relationships is a by-product.

Resuscitating a Worn Out Phrase

Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.”
John 3:5 (NRSV)

I find it fascinating how some words or phrases take on unintended meanings. As I follow the media coverage of the presidential elections, I will on occasion hear those in the media labeling people, or groups of people, as “Born Again” Christians. The phrase became popular back in the 1970s when Chuck Colson, a convicted Watergate conspirator, wrote a book entitled Born Again to tell the story of his own spiritual rebirth. Now when the label is used by members of the media, I get the feeling that the intended image is that of a narrow-minded, widely ignorant, politically conservative, socially repressed minion blindly leading some televangelist. While there are definitely people who fit that description, I find it sad that they seem to have become synonymous with the term “born again” because it empties the phrase of its intensely powerful meaning.

The phrase “born again” did not originate with Chuck Colson or evangelical Christians. It comes directly from Jesus, and it’s found in today’s chapter. Jesus was having a conversation with a religious man name Nicodemus and he simply makes the statement that if you want to enter God’s kingdom you must experience a rebirth.

The idea of rebirth is not new and it wasn’t new when Jesus said it to Nicodemus. It’s a theme woven into the tapestry of time and creation, and even Jesus seemed a bit frustrated that Nic was perplexed by something so spiritually elementary. Every year lifeless seeds buried in the ground bear life from the ground in the spring, grow to maturity in the heat of the summer, bear fruit during autumn’s harvest, then die and decompose in the harshness of winter. Spring is an annual, seasonal rebirth. Each week we start on Monday and work towards Friday night when we can take a break, end the week and start a new one. Every night we go to bed in darkness, enter the oblivion of sleep then with the break of light and the dawn we start a new day.

“Wait ’til next year.”
“Tomorrow’s a new day.”
“This is only for a season.”
“I just have to get through this week.”

God layers the Great Story with this theme of rebirth. The final chapters speak of a new heaven and new earth, and God says, “Behold, I make all things new” (btw, the reference to that verse was embedded in the the crux of my first tat). So, it should not be a surprise that Jesus tells Nicodemus that one of the basic realities and necessities of God’s Kingdom is a rebirth of Spirit, a new start, a new season, a spiritual new beginning. It has nothing to do with political affiliation, demographics, denomination, or attending church. What Jesus was saying was simple and organic: those facing a dead end need a new start, anyone whose spirit is languishing in darkness needs a new day to dawn, those whose hearts are frozen need the thaw of Spring, everyone who is dead in their sin and shame need to experience the power of a spiritual resurrection.

Today, I’m feeling the desire to breath new life into the worn out phrase “born again.”

Confession of an Ex-News Junkie

from Mickeleh via Flickr
from Mickeleh via Flickr

Anyone who rebukes a mocker will get an insult in return.
    Anyone who corrects the wicked will get hurt.
Proverbs 9:7 (NLT)

I used to be a news junkie. I grew up in a time when the television had four channels (ABC, CBS, NBC, & PBS) and my hometown of Des Moines had two daily newspapers. One newspaper came in the morning (The Des Moines Register) and the other newspaper was delivered in the afternoon (The Des Moines Tribune).  News was delivered on a specific schedule each day and you had to wait to find out what was happening in the world. Even as a kid I was anxious for the newspaper to come and the nightly news to begin.

With the advent of cable and satellite television, my natural cravings and curiosity could feed its appetite 24/7/365. The news was always on. When there wasn’t any actual news worth talking about then talking heads emerged on both the radio and television to perpetuate and regurgitate old conversations and keep viewers or listeners sucked in. At first, I gorged myself. Talk radio was always on in my car while news channels were always on my television at home.

At some point I began actually listening to the discourse of the conversation, or lack of conversation, that I was hearing. Intelligent opinion gave way to ideological rants. Objective analysis morphed into slanted perspective. Brash personalities with big mouths and bigger egos began a relentless mocking of anyone who didn’t agree with them. Depending on your interest or persuasion you can find the mockers on the left, on the right, and in the sports arena. They act just like the mockers in Solomon’s proverb who insult and injure anyone who dare stand up to have a civil conversation about an opposing view. One cannot surf through the news and sports channels without hearing a steady stream of people yelling, interrupting, and insulting one another.

When I first began imbibing a steady stream of non-stop news I reacted with equal brashness to what I was hearing. I raised my voice. I shot back. I quipped and cajoled. I traded barbs and insults. I screamed at the television to those who disagreed with me and cheered on the mockers from my team. Eventually I found myself strung out and numb. The mockers in the media entrenched themselves firmly in their own positions and raked in the fortune and fame. I began to realize that I was the one getting hurt by all of this. My own mocking alienated others and isolated me from people I was called to actively love. I didn’t like what I had become from my non-stop binge of news channels and talk shows.

That was when I remembered that both my television and my radio had buttons which changed the channel. There was even a button to turn them completely off! I quietly put myself through private rehab for my news junkie addiction. I walked away from mockers of all persuasions cold turkey. Now I’m on a healthy news diet that is mocker free. I choose my news intake wisely and digest healthy portions from a select menu. My spirit, my heart, my mind, my relationships and my life are in better places because of it.

Let the mockers mock. They will always be on. I simply choose not to subject myself to them, nor follow their example.