Monday, August 17, 2015

God, beauty, the pygmies and me

God is so unlike what we have imagined him to be..and sometimes when we get a gimpse of how God thinks, we are flummoxed for a while and confused. Because God's ways are not our ways.

This post will be about beauty. And about the broadening of my mind.

I like to think I'm clear-thinking and not encumbered by culture. But recently something made me think. It involved the pygmies.

It turns out that there are many evolutionary DNA mitochondrial genome alleles in the world. Certain pygymy populations have an abundance of alleles..more so than other genetic groups. The implication is that the riches of all this genetic material in one group of people may indicate that the pygmies were the first people from whom we all are descended. My crappy description of this evolutionary discipline aside, let's just take a moment to let that settle in.  The pygmies are probably the nearest to the image of Lucy/Eve. Again, let that settle in. But even if I'm not quite understanding what all this is about, and if we ignore the pygmy research....let's pause a moment.

What did Lucy (the evolutionary first mother of us all) look like? What did Eve look like?

Now, I didn't think of myself as racist or even affected by the thinking of European evolutionary types. But as i looked at the pics of pygmies, I actually found myself thinking that God's idea of beauty was seriously wrong. It became clear to me that I believed Adam looked like Will Smith or young Denzel or even Amir Khan.  (I was at least advanced enough to know that Adam would be dark-skinned. After all, his name means "Red" like the earth he was taken from. ) But apparently, I still had the European model. In my mind, Adam had to be 6 feet tall, with mega Abs, etc.  In short, I had this western idea of beauty and the historical Adam did not seem perfect to my narrow cultural mindset.

I found this hard to wrap my mind around. For a while, it seemed to me that God didn't know what he was doing. Why would a perfect God's ideal perfect first human being look like a pygymy and not "a body like Arnold's with a Denzel base"? Why wasn't God's idea of beauty like mine (which was obviousy the truest best idea)? Yes, I was judging God by my limited mind and by my cultural norms and brainwashing. But the entire concept seemed so weird to me it took a while to get over it. But I at last learned how mired I was in my own mired that God's ways just seemed wrong.

I got to thinking about this when someone on Facebook posted yet another meme about Michelle Obama's butt and Michelle being fat. I understand that the default of many white Americans is that their culture is the best, the superior, the perfect. I've seen racist white guys with big noses, guys covered with hair all over their arms, necks, chest, and back, who thought they were superior to black folks because black folks have big lips and dark skins. It's as if their minds are so stuck in their paradigm that someone big lips imply racial inferiority while big noses do not. Or dark skin imply stupidity while a body covered with hair does not.

I have had to remind some racist folks that the way we look is merely a genetic thing and that God does go around rating external beauty. He doesn't have the Hollywood or Aryan standard. It is often very difficult for white Christians to imagine Adam and Eve being dark-skinned with big butts. As part of the Euro-mindset, even if everyone says "man first came out of Africa" ..the average white Christian has an idea of what Adam and Eve's butt would look like...and any bigger or higher the butt would be deemed wrong or somehow made by an incompetent God who did not understand beauty. I'm just saying that the American idea of what is beautiful or fat is not something God even gets into. And his idea of beautiful has to deal with the heart. God made a variety of genetics and all are perfect. Man looks at appearances but God, the angels, the whole host of heaven only see the heart.

God hates racism. There are two times in which God lost his patience where racism was concerned. One was when Jesus turned over the money changers table. The Jewish moneylenders were cheating the proselytes. God's house was to be called a house of prayer for all people, but the money changers were taking advantage of non-Jewish beievers from all nations. The other time was when Miriam was prejudiced against Moses Ethiopian wife. And God symbolically spat in her face.

Sadly, there are many Christians -- good people who believe in their Bible-- who are prejudiced. They don't realize their prejudices are preventing their prayers from being answered. God has said we must love everyone, and he who hates his brother without a cause is a murderer. When I'm on facebook and some cultural issue comes up and good Christians show their hateful racial sides, I often wonder what we wil do with so many good but hateful Christians. It's hard for them to see past their cultural assumptions.

Lord, thank you for challenging my infantility. Save me from cultural prejudice. Save me from stupid assumptions.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

A soft answer turns away wrath

A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare.  Proverbs 15:1

This is a verse that has saved the lives, reputation, and livelihood of many people throughout the ages. It is found in the Book of Proverbs,  book of great wisdom that is designed to protect its reader from sin, shame, poverty, and death. There is much in Proverbs about anger, and it behoves the reader to take these admonition to heart.

It is generally a part of human nature to defend itself, whether the "self" is right or wrong. It is also generally a part of human nature not to allow one's self to be intimidated. Humans are also insightful. They can perceive egotistical and subtle human pride in the rebukes, corrections, and scoldings they receive from when certain teachers, officers of the law, pastors or others use or abuse their "authority" to lecture them and triumph over them.  Rebukes can be given at the correct or incorrect time, with the wrong or right attitude, with a desire to help or a desire to assert the rebuker's pride. Those with power, however, often become so identified with their power that they do not wish to be challenged.

In American culture, there have been many instances of cruelty done by police, slaveholders, financiers, and others in some kind of authority. Sadly, those in power have often won, especially when there was no videotape or fair-minded judge to challenge them. The guilty have often triumphed over the weak even when the laws were fair.  

The Preacher writes in Ecclesiastes 4:1, "Again, I observed all the oppression that takes place under the sun. I saw the tears of the oppressed, with no one to comfort them. The oppressors have great power, and their victims are helpless."

The Preacher also writes in Ecclesiastes 7:17, "Do not be excessively righteous and do not be overly wise. Why should you ruin yourself? Do not be excessively wicked and do not be a fool. Why should you die before your time? It is good that you grasp one thing and also not let go of the other; for the one who fears God comes forth with both of them."

Those who believe in God trust God to defend them and to show them when to speak and when to be silent.

The Psalmist writes: "How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul, with sorrow in my heart every day? How long will my enemy have the upper hand?" Psalm 13:2

He also writes: "O my God, I trust in thee: let me not be ashamed, let not mine enemies triumph over me."  Psalm 25:2

The Preacher also states, "I said to myself, 'In due season God will judge everyone, both good and bad, for all their deeds.'"

A victim might or might not get justice inside a court of law, but learning to answer one's oppressor carefully by "biting one's lip" can protect one's life, livelihood and health. As the Preacher says in Ecclesiates 9:4, "There is hope only for the living. As they say, 'It's better to be a live dog than a dead lion!'" The victims of oppression in many countries have learned to survive the unjust authorities over them by knowing when to use gentle --if cowardly-- answers. This is how the ancestors of Black people survived during the early days of lynching and perhaps this will be necessary in the modern day when the counterpart of lynching is also prevalent.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Hebrews 11:31 -- Rahab

By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.  -- King James Bible
by faith Rahab the harlot did not perish with those who disbelieved, having received the spies with peace. -- Young's Literal Translation

In the book of Judges, it is written that Joshua sent spies to Jericho to search out the land. The spies happened upon a tavern where the prostitute Rahab worked. She protected them and told the spies the way to escape. At that moment, she aligned herself with God's people. She was a harlot, yet God chose to have the spies meet her. She did not welcome angels unawares. The spies were not angels but her gift of hospitality caused her to be rescued. The citizens of Jericho, however, are described as "disobedient" or "unbelieving." How then did they not "obey?" Were they given a chance to "obey"? What did they not "believe"? Is Paul writing about all the dwellers of Jericho or only about those who had received the message of possible salvation from Rahab?

Rahab is shown as a messenger of salvation. If she believed what had been told her, she and her household would be saved. How many received her message? The Bible is full of messengers of salvation: There was the Samaritan woman at the well who told her village about the man who told her everything about her life? There was the Gadarene Demoniac who spread the news about his salvation and caused all the inhabitants of the ten cities to meet Jesus when Jesus came the second time to their coasts. There was Cornelius who gathered all his friends into his house because of the angel's message. All these people preached the gospel and had oportunity to share the good news of rescue -- from death, destruction-- with others. The others who heard their message could choose to obey the message or to disbelieve it.  

And what of those who did not hear of possible salvation but who only heard of destruction? The Gibeonites believed and came from afar and used deception to save themselves. The people of Jericho didn't seem to battle the Israelites at all. So, then what does Paul mean by the disobedient. Rahab believed and showed her belief by using the scarlet thread at her window. It is also written that she and her household were saved. Therefore, it can be assumed that her family believed they could be rescued from such a large invading army.
It is a difficult thing to believe that one can be saved when a thousand are falling at one's side and ten thousands at one's right hand. The scarlet thread was a thin string to hang one's hope upon. The scarlet blood of Jesus Christ is a thin string to hold onto, if one does not believe. But to those who believe, the cross of Christ is the delivering power of God.

The Exception on earth is heaven's rule and often one must be courageous or conceited eough to trust that one would be an exception. The spies had promised salvation. If Rahab had not believed in the power of that little scarlet thread and had been disobedient to the promise made by the spies, she would not have lived.  

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Hebrews 11:30 -- Jericho

By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the army had marched around them for seven days.  Hebrews 11:30

Joshua had inherited the leadership of the Children of Israel after the death of Moses. One of his first challenges was to conquer the city of Jericho which had a large protective wall around it. Joshua was told how to break the wall down: The Israelite army, along with its priests, were to walk around the wall for seven days.  On the seventh day they were to walk around the walk seven times. Only the trumpets of the priests would be sounded during the seven days and only on the seventh day were the Israelies allowed to give a war cry or to make any human sound.

The inhabitants of Jericho were already full of terror. What must it have been like for them to stand within their barred city gates awaiting certain doom? But what would it have been like for the warriors in Joshua's army? Perhaps they wished to speed up the taking of Jericho? How difficult was it for them to remain silent during the seven days?

Six days of dutiful treading around the city turned into a seventh day in which the momentum increased. Faith often requires momentum, more action as the days of prayerful waiting advances. Faith added to faith, fasting added to faith, silence added to faith. Then at last, the release comes with a war cry.  

This is another undertaking which requires communal faith.The science behind the fall of Jericho's walls is unclear -- the steady tramping of human feet and the sound of trumpets might have had some effect on the ground and the walls. But it was the faith of Israel's army and the perfect adherence to God's commands that caused the walls to fall.  Later in the book of Joshua, the story is related of Achan's sin: Achan is the only one in the whole Israelite camp who sinned, yet the entire nation suffered. It is also written in the Bible that a little yeast permeates the entire lump of dough. The Church of God is affected by the sins and blessings of every individual believer. How glorious and triumphant would the church be if unity reigned in the church. However, at this time in history, one part of the American Church values the rainbow flag and another part of the American Church values the Confederate flag.

12Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, "I am of Paul," and "I of Apollos," and "I of Cephas," and "I of Christ." 13Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I Corinthians 1:13

(We) have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him-- 11a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all. 12So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Colossians 3:11

 is divided between  

Monday, July 06, 2015

Hebrews 11:29 - Faith and Division

By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned.  Hebrews 11:29

In this verse, Paul reminds his readers of the day when the Israelites miraculously crossed the Red Sea. The Children of Israel were fleeing the pursuing Egyptians. However, their route to freedom was barred by a natural obstacle. Some natural obstacles are easily overcome, or can be overcome by natural means. In this way, a natural way of fording the river would have been by ship. But the Israelites were many and time was of the essence.

Moses asked God to help him flee, but God rebuked Moses for asking. God reminded Moses that Moses held a staff in his hand and could command the sea if he so wished. Moses commanded the waves to retreat and the waves stood up high. The former slaves walked through on dry land while the Egyptians were swallowed up by the waves.

Paul writes here that by faith the people passed through the Red Sea. Moses had faith to command the miracle; the people had faith to believe Moses was being used by God; the Egyptians had no such faith and no such leader. Throughout the ten plagues, the Egyptians slowly learned about the futility of their gods. The two magicians and all the other workers of supernatural magic who had stood before Pharoah had seen how powerless their magic and gods were. In addition, Pharoah's status as a god on earth had been shown to be false. By the time the Egyptians were crossing the Red Sea, they had little faith in the supernatural powers of either their gods or their Pharoah. Their gods of war, water and rivers had also not given them any promise of victory. The Egyptians had battled Moses and "I AM" without hearing a word from their own gods. The only God doing any kind of speaking to his people was Yahweh, "I AM."    

Christians believe that there is a difference between those who are Yahweh's people and those who are not. Christians, like Jews, are also taught that Yahweh is a God of miracles.  These miracles often come about to people of faith. In this case, the dividing line between those who are not God's people and those who are god's people comes down to faith. In this particular instance, it is not personal or individual faith that brought deliverance but communal faith and the faith of a community's leader. 

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Books I've read which I highly recommend for summer reading apropos of nothing. For anyone looking for a good book to read, I highly recommend these books that I've loved.
The Man Who Lived in Inner Space by Arnold Federbush
Oliver and the Sea Wigs by Philip Reeve (kid book)
Larklight by Philip Reeve  (steampunk YA)
The Martian by Andy Weir  -- total math science geek fun
Dark Eden by Chris Beckett  
Slated by Teri Terry -- dystopia YA
All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill -- time travel YA
Yoko Ogawa’s Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales -- omnibus novel
Living with Ghosts  -- Kari Sperring
The Grass King's Concubine -- Kari Sperring
Abengoni by Charles R Saunders
Acacia -- David Durham
Kindred by Octavia Butler
Shatterworld by Lelia Foreman (Christian Fiction)
Ragnarok Unravels by Jessica Fry
Mermaid Bride by Jessica Fry
Waiting for Appa by Mirtika Schulz
So long been dreaming -- Nalo Hopkinson
Steamfunk -- Milton Davis, Balogun
Dark Matter -- Sheree Thomas
Dark Faith Maurice Broaddus
Jigsaw Nation -- Ekaterina Sedia
The hen who dreamed she could fly sun-mi hwang
Memoirs of Lady Hegyeong
Sunflower Splendor -- classic antho of Chinese poetry
Diary -- Julian Green -- LOOOOOOOVED THIS
Miracle on Voodoo Mountain
A Young Woman's Remarkable Story of Pushing Back the Darkness for the Children of Haiti By Megan Boudreaux
In Capable Arms by Susan Kovac
Where the Wind Leads: Vinh Chung with Tim Downs
The Railway Man by Eric Lomax
And there was Light b y Jacques Lusseyran -- LOVED THIS!
Astonished: A story of Evil, Blessings, Grace, and Solace. by Beverly Donofrio
From Orphan to Physician -- Chun-Wai Chan and David Biebel
Training in Christianity by Kierkegaard
Discipleship by J Heinrich Arnold
NIV God's Word for Gardener's Bible edited by Shelley Cramm, General Editor (for bible lovers who love gardens and plants)
The Book of Job by Mark Larrimore
The Book of Common Prayer: A Biography by Alan Jacobs
Moving Your invisible Boundaries: Heart Physics: The Key to Limitless Living by Dr Jim Richards
Forever Fluent by Gabriel Wyner
Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes by Maria Konnikova
Consider the Eel by Richard Schweid
Rain: A Natural and Cultural History by Cynthia Barnett

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Hebrews 11:24 By faith, Moses

Before Paul writes about Moses' faith, he wrote about the faith of Moses' parents. He will also talk about the faith of the people.
We hear about Moses life in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. We also hear about it in Acts chapter 7 when Stephen speaks about the Israelite habit of always rejecting those whom God has sent.
Here is a list of what Moses did by faith:
He refused to remain part of the kingly line.
He chose to be mistreated. (He chose ot to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. I suspect that a king's son or adopted grandson would have had a lavish lifestyle.)
He regarded disgrace for God as something more valuable than all the treasures of Egypt.
Like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, he was not afraid of the king's anger.
He left Egypt.
He persevered.
He saw Him who is invisible.
He kept the Passover.
And all that was before he even got into the wilderness.  There were many different situations which required different kinds of faith, but Moses went from faith to faith.

24By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. 25He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. 27By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible. 28By faith he kept the Passover and the application of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel. Hebrews 11:24-28
13Then Nebuchadnezzar flew into a rage and ordered that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be brought before him. When they were brought in, 14Nebuchadnezzar said to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you refuse to serve my gods or to worship the gold statue I have set up? 15I will give you one more chance to bow down and worship the statue I have made when you hear the sound of the musical instruments.f But if you refuse, you will be thrown immediately into the blazing furnace. And then what god will be able to rescue you from my power?”
16Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. 17If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. 18But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.”
19Nebuchadnezzar was so furious with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego that his face became distorted with rage. He commanded that the furnace be heated seven times hotter than usual. 20Then he ordered some of the strongest men of his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and throw them into the blazing furnace. 21So they tied them up and threw them into the furnace, fully dressed in their pants, turbans, robes, and other garments. 22And because the king, in his anger, had demanded such a hot fire in the furnace, the flames killed the soldiers as they threw the three men in. 23So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, securely tied, fell into the roaring flames.
24But suddenly, Nebuchadnezzar jumped up in amazement and exclaimed to his advisers, “Didn’t we tie up three men and throw them into the furnace?”
“Yes, Your Majesty, we certainly did,” they replied.
25“Look!” Nebuchadnezzar shouted. “I see four men, unbound, walking around in the fire unharmed! And the fourth looks like a godg!”
26Then Nebuchadnezzar came as close as he could to the door of the flaming furnace and shouted: “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!”
So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego stepped out of the fire. 27Then the high officers, officials, governors, and advisers crowded around them and saw that the fire had not touched them. Not a hair on their heads was singed, and their clothing was not scorched. They didn’t even smell of smoke!
28Then Nebuchadnezzar said, “Praise to the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego! He sent his angel to rescue his servants who trusted in him. They defied the king’s command and were willing to die rather than serve or worship any god except their own God. 29Therefore, I make this decree: If any people, whatever their race or nation or language, speak a word against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, they will be torn limb from limb, and their houses will be turned into heaps of rubble. There is no other god who can rescue like this!”
30Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to even higher positions in the province of Babylon.

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