On ProCreation

I could get theological regarding the tyranny of the “pro-life” movement. Read Genesis: “God breathed His Spirit into Adam, and made him a living creature.” Thus “Thou shalt not murder” does not translate to “every sperm is sacred,” it means “do not destroy any creature that has been inhabited by My Spirit.”

How do we know whether a little blob of cells has been inhabited by God’s spirit? Well, if you’re taking a strictly legalistic perspective, I’m certain that you don’t. You are actually part of a self-defeating, law-of-natural-consequences demonstration set up by God after the Flood. In effect, “As you won’t listen to me, try making your own laws, hmmm?”

John tells us God is Love. We are the instrument by which God redeems the world. The Savior was explicit: “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of Heaven: what you bind on earth will be bound in heaven.” If we do not cast our blessing upon something, it is not inhabited by love.

What I do know is using the penalty of law to force a woman to carry an unwanted child is not loving her. If conceived of rape, such a law is in fact an act of hate speech. And any child born outside of a stable union will be denied love, and live in a world of reduced opportunities. The spirit that God sent into the world might actually prefer to wait until those opportunities are accessible.

God gave us a mind so that we could express creativity – and we should recognize that the only thing that separates creativity from destruction is a loving intention. Children should be brought into the world as an act of loving intention. The law has no influence over that process, and should simply keep its nose out of it. That would be the quickest way to render Roe v. Wade irrelevant.

Christmas Teaching, 2017

In the years from 2006, I made every effort to be down at the LA Cathedral for Christmas Midnight Mass and Easter morning services. Having given my heart to Jesus “for healing” back in 2002, on first encounter I was pretty direct upon approaching the crucifix set behind the altar. Looking into the serene visage, I gestured to the twisted limbs and observed, “It’s time to clean all of this up.”

My interaction with the brotherhood has been complex, and sometimes contentious. So when I moved another twenty miles up the freeway into Ventura, it was with some relief that I decided to spend Christmas down at the local parish, rather than making the trip to Los Angeles.

Though my mother asked pointedly whether I intended to go.

I also passed on Easter.

For some reason, I feel a greater receptivity now. I’ve had a number of dreams about Christmas Eve down at the Cathedral, including sharing words with the community. I began this writing before Thanksgiving, but became mired in theological resistance.

I sent out the message that love won’t manifest against resistance. It must be welcomed. A breakthrough of sorts happened last weekend, and I felt the resistance melt away. The words come forth easily.

I was down at the Ventura Government Center for jury duty, and worried through the last of the wording this morning. I do tend to become a little abstract. I hope that it conveys the meaning.

We are so very close. I do my best to mark the way.

The Age Upon Us

Hello, dear friends.

May all the blessings of this day be upon you.

Summoned by the cry of broken hearts, I first came here fifteen years ago. Thus it was to the sweet virgin, witness to the suffering of her people, praying that the Father might bring forth a savior from among her sisters. After Gabri-el revealed her role, the jewel of feminine compassion said simply, “Here am I.”

So I say now: “Here am I.”

That is all the introduction I have for you. The rest is not important, for the gifts of this day descend from a greater source.

In Genesis, when God arrives, the earth is declaimed as “formless and void.” That is to say: nothing found there had any purpose, nor any soul. The molten lava flowed and cooled. Rock ground against itself, creating nothing. Water washed against the rock, forming beds of clay, but no life sprang forth.

The Love that is God seeks to make relationships marvelous, and the Bible records His gifts. The first were simple: light, ground and rain.

Of these gifts God sought to raise creatures that loved as He did. Three billion years later, He crouched on the ground, remembering, and bestowed upon Adam the ability to love. Having compassion on Adam’s loneliness, God found a companion, and Eve was given Adam’s heart to tend, and bore witness to Adam’s virtue.

I remind you of these things to clarify the gifts of this day. Jesus lived forty years on this Earth. He walked among us, and we remember this day because he died to give proof to the undying power of love. But we should set that forty years against the three billion that preceded it. If we are amazed at what Jesus accomplished in forty years, how can we describe the tenderness, strength, and determination of the Father? Can we even begin to grasp it?

Three billion years. As it is said: “I am less than a worm.”

But the Father finds joy in us. Look around you. See the rock, polished and cast. We give form and purpose to it. Our gratitude secures a sanctuary for the burdened. Our souls expand, filling the world with the love we receive.

That is to say – as he is love – that we fill the world with God.

That is the specific gift of this day. Love descended to us. Secure in Mary’s incorruptible womb, love joined flesh, and walked among us.

This sounds simple, but is not easy to understand. What did it mean for Christ to descend from heaven? Why did he need to come in the flesh? Why did he need to suffer and die on the cross?

We come together tonight not only to honor Mary and Jesus, but because on this night the Most High comes closer to us. We see beauty, we hear it in voices and instruments, we see it in the faces of those we love. This beauty washes against our troubles and strife, and if we raise our faces and hearts in gratitude, we feel the Most High fill our cup to the brim.

There are those among you that know this to be true. You are near to the saints.

But is it for you that Jesus came?

Why would that glorious spirit, replete in the presence of his Father’s love, descend for the saintly? Would they not be served better if he stayed to prepare a place for them?

Let me remind you: there are those among us that dare not raise their hearts. They are like Peter on the boat after the fish rush to fill the nets, fallen to his knees, pleading “Go away from me, master, for I am a sinner!”

How many of us have felt that shame? Feared that God would turn away from us?

“Oh, you of little faith!” was the rebuke from Jesus. That was to say “Believe in yourself! Believe that you are beloved by the Most High! Believe that you should share the joy of my service to Him!”

St. Theresa of Avila wrote:

O Lord of my soul and my Good! There are souls so determined to love you that they gladly abandon everything to focus on nothing but loving you. Why don’t you want them to immediately ascend to a place where they may receive the joyful gift of perfect love?

The answer being: because God needs us here to fill the world with love.

Not only on Calvary. Not only on Christmas Day. Not only in this church. But everywhere, every day.

In this Age, Jesus commanded that we “pick up our cross.” But that is not the goal of love. Let us talk of the New Age: A day will come without suffering, without fear, without grief. It is the day from which the power of the love that surrounds us will chase those experiences from our lives.

In that future we will find, like the five thousand, that when we gather what little we have, it is multiplied until it is more than enough. Illness will fade when our sister gazes upon us with compassion. Conflict will flee when our brother prays that our ambition be tempered by good will.

Can we glimpse that day? Here? Now?

Let us try!

Oh, you saints, remember the grace of those two: the woman and the child that were touched by heaven, yet chose to serve us. Take the hands of those you love, and lift your hearts to the Most High. Feel his gaze upon you. Feel the tenderness, the patience, the strength. Behind it the unending ocean of his love. Allow that love to fill your heart.

Thus was the Sacred Mother. Thus was the Lamb.

Rest there, you saints, for now I must address others.

Oh, you weary and burdened. You that bear witness to the sorrows of the world. You are not forgotten.

They descended to serve you. Mary and Jesus: they became flesh so that they might feel your anguish, and bear witness to the sin that oppresses you. It is you that matter, you weary and burdened, for you test the submission of the saints to the love of the Most High.

Lean your sorrows upon me, oh you weary and burdened.

Here am I.

Oh, you saints, do you feel them among you? This is the purpose for your hearts: that as did Jesus, you might share your love. Open your hearts and minds now, and robe the weary and burdened in your grace. See in your hearts that they will find, in the coming year, all that they need, because those that have means to comfort them will receive something in exchange: the certitude of the New Age prophesied by Jesus. Not as a distant promise glimpsed from 2000 years ago, but as a palpable nearness in the heart.

That will be an age when the rich will not hoard their wealth, because they will have the security of fast friendship. It will be an age in which no one asks “What’s in it for me?” because they know that in sharing what they have, their hearts expand to receive ever more of the limitless power of the Most High.

Do you not feel it, oh you saints? Is there not still more? Let it pour out from you into the world! Through the streets, into the dark corners. Across rivers, plains and oceans. Into every heart that craves the hope birthed on this day.

Jesus was not born into comfort. Mary did not labor in a feather bed. This is the gift of this day: they brought love to the world so that we might know that all the world is sacred, that we were meant to be sacred, and that the Most High is determined that all should be redeemed.

Mold with the redwoods. Worms with the eagles. Shepherds with kings. And those oppressed by sin with the saints.

Oh my friends! Let us be worthy of our brother! Let us worship with every breath, with every touch. Let us worship in the temple of the Most High. Let us worship in the temple of our hearts.

Merry Christmas! And blessings be upon you all!

To Have Meaning

In Islam, Ali, the son-in-law of the prophet, testified that there are three kinds of faith: that rooted in fear, that motivated by the promise of reward, and the faith of service.

When I first re-engaged the Catholic Church, the priest challenged me “Do you want to die, or live forever?” While that didn’t reach me deeply, it ties together the first two inducements: fear of death and the promise of eternity.

According to Jesus’s teaching, both outcomes will be implemented by God. For this reason, the Protestants sought for signs of God’s favor in this life.

But for most now living, fear is rooted in this life – in the pain of deprivation, or the reality of physical abuse. For those that suffer, it is not powers and principalities in the afterlife that stand as rewards, but simple justice: that those that prey upon them will be cast down, and comfort will be offered.

In the faith of service, we surrender personal fear – fear for our fate in the afterlife – and devote ourselves to bringing relief to others. The question is how we can best fulfill that role, for it has many aspects. The prisoner of fear may not be capable even of living outside the walls of their cell. The experience of freedom confronts them with choices that they are unprepared to navigate. So to simply provide for their needs is not enough to liberate their souls.

The wisdom of the Buddhist path is to encourage the sufferer to realize that if they can lift their heads up to study the world around them, they can make one small change after another until freedom is realized. A friend can help them make that journey, a journey from dependence to independence.

The danger is that in the context of tyranny this effort will flare into violence – either violence against the oppressor (whose children then become victims), or violence against those seeking freedom. Once violence is engaged, the dynamics of material power rule, and the oppressed are most likely to be destroyed. We see this everywhere in the world today.

How than are the oppressed to rise above fear and into service? As Jesus says that to serve is necessary to eternal life, how are we to achieve that reward if we are denied the means to serve? Life appears to be completely meaningless, and faith misplaced for all except the privileged.

The answer to this dilemma is that in suffering we serve.

It takes both great courage and great faith to so suffer. But when Jesus proclaimed “Pick up your cross and follow me!”, this is exactly what he meant. So to any offering service, the question must be “How do we support the determination of those that suffer?”

To serve in faith is to allow love in our hearts to control our decisions in life. It is to demonstrate that to offer ourselves to the redemption of the world is a source of greater joy than any material reward. To one that suffers, heart-broken, this appears impossible. Their heart lacks the strength even to redeem themselves.

My testimony of service is this: Only God can heal that wound.

So this is the ultimate act of service: to take into our whole heart the broken heart of a brother, and allow them to meet the healing power of God within us. It is to provide an irrefutable experience that there is no wound that God will not suffer with us, and finally no wound that God cannot heal.

The difficulty to those that serve in faith is that it hurts. They may have forgotten what it was like to be broken. They live in community that protects them from harm. Their defenses are weak.

But it is not upon us to survive this experience of receiving a broken heart within us. It is upon God. Ours is only to be available in that moment when grace can be received, and allow it to flow through us. Indeed, to try redeem another of our own strength is folly: it is to surrender ourselves to their experience of life, and so to be consumed by their weakness. No, ours is only to be the material manifestation of God’s love that wakens hope that change is possible. Once God moves into the sufferer’s life, the person of faith needs to get out of the way, lest the limits of human endurance infect the redeemed with doubt.

Only God can offer certain guarantee of meaning to those that suffer. Only He can say with assurance “You have meaning to me: there is no suffering that I will not share with you, and indeed reward eternally for your service in redeeming the world!”

Oh Woman! Oh Beauty! Oh Life!

One of the burdens of healing sin is to take it into yourself from those not yet strong enough to resist it. The selfish would hope simply to dispel it, but as sin is nothing but selfishness – the imposition of our image upon a spirit no less sacred than our own – to  cast out sin is an error. That would be to allow it the booty of its conquest. Rather, we must separate the essential from the vile, and return what was taken to the victim.

So for a long time I thought of my antagonists as my “supply chain.” But in every endeavor of grace, there is a time to heal, and a moment to inspire. I have suffered under the weakness of those that assail me for long enough. It is time to claim that which is good and strong.

So I found myself, at Good Friday services yesterday, focusing on the connection between the Cross and the future of love that arises upon his return. In that process, I found my hand guiding Christ around this era into that future. In considering that manifestation, I found myself excluded from it.

I am not disconsolate. In conserving its hold over us, sin has claimed much that is sacred. I have written about that elsewhere, how the loss of Eden was not limited to the breaking of trust with Unconditional Love, but the loss of trust between Man and Woman. Through that corruption, the Darwinian procreative urge reasserted itself. Rather than an act of loving spiritual connection that unleashes our shadowed glory upon the world, sex has been claimed for shame.

I recoiled from this fundamental misconception, so common in Christian teaching, in the sermon of the Lutheran minister during the interregnum in the reading of the Passion. We are creatures of sin, he claimed, and only Christ’s sacrifice redeems us. No, sir, we are not creatures of sin. We are creatures of choice, and even death on the Cross could not dispel the loving forgiveness that Christ brought to the world. In choosing to live wholly within it, every part of us will manifest the grace of God’s imagining of us. There is no aspect of our humanity that cannot be made sacred by love.

Yet I recall, now, the words I spoke from the pedestal in Oakland: “My name is Brian. I am from the future, reaching into the past. And I am an open heart.” It was a presaging of yesterday’s bypass.

My father was a prolifically sexual man. During our teen years, the boys had ready access to Playboy magazine. That instilled a perception of women as objects of pleasure, and a fascination with idealized feminine forms that covered the shallowness of their spiritual investment in the world.

My mother could not compete with this conditioning, and perhaps that is in part why she now decries the “patriarchal dominance” of our culture.

While I have not been a sexual libertine in this life, in my youth I explored vicariously many of its manifestations.  Over the years, that fed potent dreams that I realize now were participatory with women that were enamored of me. I understood this only late in my life: while some have dropped references to “porn star” in my hearing, I have never had my dreaming interrupted by other couples – except once when a pair in Africa peeked over the edge of their mattress to offer sympathy for my loneliness. I seem to be completely in control of my sexual imagination.

I see now, however, that my descent into the cesspool of corruption that men created for woman has left me vulnerable to the claim that my relationships with women are dominated by prurient interest. I see it differently, of course: over the last fifteen years, all of my dreaming has ended “Yes, but what about this part of you that you are ignoring?” Bliss was merely the method of achieving intimacy, with the goal of penetrating the lie that our carnality is a perversion that cannot be redeemed by love. Rather, like any other aspect of human nature, it is a tool, suitable to specific places and times, that allows us to reach Life in its most elemental level, and thereby to accomplish acts of healing and creation that are inaccessible through any other means. It has been my goal to propagate this understanding, to attempt to redeem woman’s self-esteem without insisting that they engage the world in the modality of men. It was to look deeply into them and offer them the paean that heads this post.

How long will it be before you assimilate it, before Mystery surrenders her resistance to the grace of feminine sexuality, and so allows loving couples to suffuse every particle of the world with Love in all its power?

For this is what I ask, and what they resist. Not simply bliss, but a reaching through into the world, and to command pleasure and consummation as an act of healing. It is this that Mystery seems to fear most, and whenever I come close to manifesting it with a woman, the most vile images and paranoid thoughts invade the relationship.

In this Easter’s meditations then, I gather that the hoped-for manifestation will not come in my lifetime. I have spent my manhood on my hopes for you, ladies. It is time for you to make them your own. For until one of you matches strength with Christ, his strength cannot be received by the world.

Revelation Abuse

I spend a lot of time managing fear and anger – not my own, but the fear and anger that people project into me. One of the principal reasons for writing The Soul Comes First was to deal with the Book of Revelation, which contains murky and frightening imagery that allows psychopaths to manipulate victims by linking fear to the promise of redemption that emanates from the Cross.

An example of the consequences of such manipulation is organized criminality in the  guise of religion, where “leaders” of inspirational movements demand that their “flock” emulate the early church, surrendering their worldly assets for management by the “community.” You can be assured that those at the top live in luxury, while the “flock” scrapes by in poverty.

So, while I would love for people to read the book, let me summarize the main points regarding Revelation. The most important is that John’s experience of the angelic realm should be interpreted as the experience of someone following links on Wikipedia. The flow of events is not strictly linear, and John tends to emphasize events on Earth that are sometimes tangential.

  • The seals were opened billions of years ago. The six symbols seen by John are not manifestations of God’s glory, but manifestations of selfishness: domination, infestation, opportunism, death, vengeance and fury. They are released onto the Earth so that their captives can work themselves free through the process of living.
  • The 144,000 were spirits gathered (billions of years ago) not from the tribes of Israel themselves but from the angels that became the patrons of the tribes of Israel. The are sent down to Earth to facilitate the liberation of the captives.
  • The trumpets correspond powerfully with the facts that paleontology has revealed regarding the great extinction episodes over the last billion years.
  • The Age of Man does not begin until the angel stands with one foot on the shore and one in the sea.
  • The beast with the number ‘666’ represents the spiritual collective that arose on the sixth day of creation, which is not Man, but the mammals.
  • The bowls represent the consequences of our exploitation of the resources that we were told to harvest. Those consequences are coming to full force right now in the modern age.

One of the great and marvelous consequences of the love that emanates from God is that it empowers us to grasp the truth, and moreover to move with confidence and determination to respond to the demands it makes upon our compassion.

Please share this with anyone that you know to have been trapped in fear through manipulation of the teachings of the Book of Revelation.

Darkened Lives Matter

I experienced it first through the grace of a young Caribbean prostitute that I know only as “Princess.” She opened her heart to me during a dance celebration, and I saw spread before me the cane fields, the hearts of the slaves calling out for justice. The only offering I had for them was a caress of inadequate consolation.

“You are not forgotten.”

What else would have been expected, two thousand years into the arduous working out through the flesh of our dependency on sin? What would it be like, to return to that? The familiar molten tears of shame and grief – “they suffer in silence in honor of MY promises!” To see the long years of suffering under the lash set against those few hours of torture. “Who am I?” The tearing at the heart as they shed their burdens, passing through that narrow gate into the kingdom of peace. The great cry, as I lay on the floor consumed by the desolation of the cross, screaming “Whyyyyyyyy!?!? WHYYYYYYYYYYYYY!?!?!”

These thoughts tormented me this morning as I listened to Amy Grant sing “I’m With You.” Recalling the woman that surrenders her child for a few coins in Master’s pocket, weeding the fields where the shoots sprout:

Love is a hunger, a famine in your soul
I thought I planted beauty but it would never grow
Now I’m on my hands and knees
Trying to gather up my dreams
Trying to hold on to anything

Of the genteel middle class, confronting the barbarity of the public lynching:

You do your best to build a higher wall
To keep love safe from any wrecking ball
When the dust has cleared we will
See the house that love rebuilds
Guarding beauty that lives here still

That beauty, in contradiction of the claims of those that ridicule faith, being found in the great convocation in the heart of Christ, the conviction of the faithful overwhelming the scientific fact that for the vast majority their thoughts were not found worthy of recording:

Who can say I’m left with nothing
When I have all of you, all of you
In the way you always love me
I remember

Yes, you were forlorn in a world dominated by those that pillage the fruits of love. But you tendered your devotion to Christ’s promise:

You and me, me and you
Where you go, I’ll go too
I’m with you
I’m with you
Until your heart finds a home
I won’t let you feel alone
I’m with you
I’m with you

Oh, take courage in the remembrance of that future! As Martin Luther King Jr. testified:

And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!

Victory over Sin

In my previous post, I promised to examine how a limited human perspective causes confusion when trying to interpret the teachings of Christ through the Holy Spirit. I’m going to take one of the most fearsome passages in the Bible, that of Revelation 21:8, in which John interprets part of his vision as a “second death” reserved for those that sin.

When confronted with the reality of sin and the pain it causes, it is natural to use threats to keep it at bay. Our legal system does this, and that is echoed in the Law of Moses that was used in the Bible between Noah and the ministry of the savior. For those that sympathize with this approach, it is natural to interpret the Crucifixion as atonement for our sins, and the terrible destruction John describes in Revelation is interpreted as justice being meted out on the sinful.

But what is sin? I have suggested here and elsewhere (see The Soul Comes First) that sin is found in any act that leaves a wound in the soul. Is the propensity to sin inextricably part of humanity? I see at is something that was carried forward from our Darwinian past. Animals tear and rend unthinkingly, doing enormous damage to the souls of the things that they consume.

In the Garden of Eden, a man and a woman are found in a privileged relationship with God. They were innocent and free from sin. We know from Revelation that ultimately sin will be destroyed. God set Adam – the creature made in his image – to that work, with his true love Eve as his helpmate. As might be expected, sin fights for survival. In both the story of the Fall and Cain and Abel, sin is represented as something outside of just relationships. The serpent comes between Adam and Eve, and God speaks to Cain directly of “sin crouching at your door.” In both cases, the effect of sin is not just to separate humanity from God – it also breaks the trust we have in each other. Adam and Eve don clothing not only to hide from God, but to hide from each other. Cain’s jealousy leads to the murder of Abel, extending the loss of trust to brothers and sisters.

Sin has its way with humanity. It entered into us as an infection. This is indeed how Jesus speaks of it, saying [Matt. 2:17]

It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.

Of course, Jesus’s healing skills are not rooted in knowledge of physiology, but in spiritual authority. He simply commands people to be well, and when they respond, honors their faith. The physical healings are paired to the casting out of sin in the form of demons. These were skills Jesus shared with the Apostles.

This work was interrupted by the ultimate sin, the Crucifixion of the savior. Jesus allows sin to have its way with him, suffering a brutal and painful death. In that process, he reciprocates with love. This is done in fulfillment of the promise that he would die for the forgiveness of sin, but that is only a waypoint on the journey. Humanity had a work to do in Eden, and we failed in that role because sin entered into our relationships. However, that work still remains to be done. Jesus came to restore us to the condition that prevailed in Eden so that we might complete the work that had been put before us.

Why didn’t Jesus just remove sin from us entirely, then? It is because we have free will. We have been convinced by sin, through the serpent and others, that we are at fault, that we deserve punishment. This is internalized to such a great degree that we punish each other for sin, compounding the damage wrought upon human nature. We cling to sin. In dying for the forgiveness of sins, Jesus was trying to break that embrace. He was saying “Humanity, let go of your burdens. Forgive each other, as God has forgiven you.” He resurrection was intended to convince us to rely upon the healing power of love.

We have trouble with that. Sin is wound deep into our spirits, and struggles still to survive. But Jesus promises to come again, and we can rely upon that promise though a day to him be like a thousand years to us [2 Peter 3]. When he does come to help us overcome sin, what will the result be like?

This is described by John in Revelation. He says {Rev. 21:8]:

But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.

I remind you that this is a human interpretation. Should we take the passage to mean that all those that sin will die the second death of fire and brimstone?

Well, look at it from God’s perspective: What would be the point in that, for have not we all sinned? No, Jesus’s goal is to preserve that which is good, and no one is purely evil. What John described was the destruction of sin along with the memories of the pain that it has caused. Sinful acts are written in our souls, but Jesus will return to separate us from those behaviors and their consequences so that the pure heart of humanity may be returned to heaven. When John reports people burning in hell, he is confusing the destruction of the evidence and effects of their acts. He sees the events themselves being destroyed. The fire is the fire that purges us of the infection of sin, bringing us liberty.

How Christ Tranforms Evil

In “Christ is Risen”, Matt Maher encapsulates the message offered by so many celebrants at Easter:

Christ is risen from the dead,
Trampling over death by death!
Come awake! Come awake!
Come and rise up from the grave!

Oh, death, where is your sting?
Oh, Hell, where is your victory?

It is a message of conquest.

But those that have survived a near-death experience tell us that as they drifted into the light, they saw all their loved ones reaching out to call them forward, and behind them shone the loving embrace of Christ.

Jesus did not conquer death: he entered into our greatest fear and transformed it into a conduit through which love is brought to us.

Understanding that conflict justifies evil, I have been negotiating with sin for the last fifteen years, offering the exhortation that love will not destroy it, but bring it into greatness. In that process, I have been assaulted psychologically, night and day, by people that exercise sin to gain power over others. The struggle has been exhausting.

This morning, I find myself in a different place. I turned the problem around: rather than resisting them, I envisioned the light of Christ shining through me, then through them and onto those that they oppress. The closer they press against me, the closer they come to the light, and the more brightly it shines from them.

Maher begins his song with this exhortation:

Let no one caught in sin remain
Inside the lie of inward shame.
We fix our eyes upon the cross
And run to him who showed great love.

Those that rely upon sin for power run in the other direction, of course, and build their castles to wall out the light of Christ. Death is their final tool – the means by which they weed out those that insist upon loving. Every Christian that keeps his eyes upon the cross defeats that strategy: they make death the means by which Christ enters into the darkness, bypassing all the walls of the citadel.

How does Christ protect his faithful? Because even thinking about bringing harm to a true servant of Christ calls him closer. Those that would sin against the faithful must flee their ramparts into the wilderness.

At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus offered this counsel:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.
[NIV Matt. 5:38-39]

And for those strong enough, even more:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of heaven.
[NIV Matt. 5:43-45]

What I see now is: it is the miracle of the cross that guarantees the efficacy of this conduct! Death was not vanquished, it is the very tool by which we redeem one another!

Robbing Peter to Play Paul

In an era in which the Law of Moses had been corrupted as political tyranny and religious hypocrisy, Jesus would not have been expected to write a Gospel. Scripture is offered to us as a method to open ourselves to the love of God, but words change meaning over the course of time, and eventually the weight of our cultural prejudice stands as a barrier against the Divine Presence. As Jesus experienced, even worse can occur when the meanings are manipulated intentionally.

It was in recognition of this outcome that God proclaimed through Jeremiah [NIV 33:34]:

I will put my law in their minds
and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
No longer will they teach their neighbor,
or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest,
For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more.

Jesus was the implementation of this promise. The proof was not in his words, which are always ambiguous, but in his actions.

In The Soul Comes First, I explain Jesus’s promise that his generation will see the fulfillment of his prophesy: On the cross, Jesus was unbound from time, and worked his way through the future until his will for Humanity is manifested. Then he returned in the glory of his realm to return to the Father. In that process, Jesus had no need for words – it was through his flesh itself that the work was done.

But, for those stuck in the flow of mortal time, how were those moments to be bridged? That requires propagation of the message of salvation. The original Apostles, fishermen and tax collectors, simple men of Galilee, had limited reach for this purpose – but they had direct experience of Christ, and had been humbled by their lack of faith. This is reflected in the kindly advice of Peter, in his second letter [NIV 2 Peter 1:5-9]:

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

This is a message of personal redemption through direct relation with Christ.

How was such a message to spread in the face of a culture of tyranny and hypocrisy? Long and slow it would have been. So this is where Saul of Tarsus comes in. Roman citizen and temple persecutor of the Christians, like Moses, Saul understood the mindset of the ruling classes, and the processes that would avail to bring him into direct dialog with them. As a Temple priest, he also understood institutional practices. Reborn into faith as Paul, this apostle was a traveling consultant to Christian communities in formation. As a philosopher, Paul also provided the early Christians with a framework for understanding the events that had transpired in the Holy Land, including clear statements regarding the implications with respect to past teachings.

Obviously, these are incredibly powerful works, and a source of rich guidance for pastors trying to manage diverse congregations and reconcile Old and New Testaments. In many non-denominational congregations, I find that Paul’s writings are preached more often than the parables of Jesus. Paul is clear and direct, while the parables of Jesus often leave me wondering “WTF?” (until I work out that Jesus wove in three meanings for three different audiences).

But is the voice of Paul the voice of Christ?

I would argue “only mostly.” Paul has a terribly serious defect: his religious roots rest in a framework dominated by sin, and his personal redemption occurred as a result of his sin against Christianity as a whole. Paul carries a guilty past around with him, and so his theology is dominated by a concern for forgiveness, and the miracle of redemption.

Peter, on the other hand, offers this promise [NIV 2 Peter 3:8-9]:

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

I much prefer the simplicity and directness of this promise. It is echoed in Paul’s writings, but as Peter says [NIV 2 Peter 3:16]:

His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.

Sometimes less is more. I’d lay aside the rules offered in Paul’s letters, and focus on the progression defined by Peter. Leaving much to be discovered, it is harder work, but comes from one who learned most painfully from a more immediate experience of Christ.