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Marijuana, Again

Chris and I (Derek) recorded and published a podcast called “God and Weed” but for some reason I thought I should recap our discussion in a blog post as well. We are actually fairly coherent in the podcast. You should listen to it. Funny even it is.

Being in Colorado, marijuana is becoming normalized for us. There are very few people that think it is destroying the youth, ruining productivity, or an enormous health hazard. No portal to hell opened up after it was legalized. In fact, it seems that a few positive things happened. There is less drunk driving, tax revenue appears to be funding the important things, and there is a fairly healthy new industry in the state.

In spite of this apparent net positive, it remains interesting that we keep trying to find a medical or psychological benefit of marijuana. Admittedly it is very difficult to study a drug that is still schedule 1 at the federal level, but though miraculous claims from the supporters have waned a bit, there is still much optimism that it will cure something eventually. Thankfully, I don’t think anyone is claiming that it is a serious cure for cancer any more.

What I think we’ve collectively found is that it is a nice alternate to opiates for pain management, good for knocking down insomnia, and still seems to be effective for epilepsy and Parkinson’s symptoms. I think there is still talk about effective uses for anxiety and even mild autism. Lots of good, is my point, but no miracle cure has emerged.

One point we made in the podcast is that no one does weed socially; there is always an intention of changing one’s mental perception. A coworker and friend of mine, David, brought this point to light a year or two ago (and I forgot to cite him in the podcast). Weed changes something in our heads. Alcohol does too but only subtly in small quantities. This means that one can sip a glass of wine for the sheer pleasure of the taste of wine. The same does not go for weed where one will definitely feel differently.

There is a fundamental difference between social alcohol consumption and social marijuana consumption. Sure, many people drink to get drunk or just for the social lubricant that it provides. Though I don’t know anyone that craves the taste of lawn clippings in their brownies or hacking up a lung, I suppose that may be of interest to some. Still, though it is becoming fashionable to pass around a vape pen at dinner parties, there is an intention to adjust one’s mental state through the ingestion of this drug. Admittedly it is a relatively harmless drug, it is still tweaking the brain chemicals in a fairly heavy handed sort of way.

The challenge then for Christians or people of any faith is to determine if this chemical adjustment is in line with God’s will. Does God want us to adjust brain chemistry? Well, yes, absolutely. Everything–food, love, sex, sleep, exercise, coffee, et cetera–tweaks brain chemistry and there are a number of psychopharmaceuticals that are medically healing. So, tweaking chemistry isn’t wrong. If you are paying attention, this means that God digs science.

More to the point, however, modifying brain chemistry to escape something that we should instead be addressing head on, is not God’s will. We’ve got lots of work to do in the world. Running from that work didn’t work out for Jonah and it won’t work out for you either.

The corollary to this is that there must be time for recreation and even palliative care; a time for not fighting but for resting, recovering, unplugging, and restoring. It feels like the right thing to do when we deny ourselves, live stoic lives, and burn the candle at both ends, but it isn’t. Athletes know that there must be a balance between work and recovery but not every one else has gotten that memo.

The writers of South Park sort of nailed it when the pointed out through Randy Marsh that weed makes you feel fine when you are bored and usually when we are bored, we should be learning or doing something important. Balance, is what I’m saying.

Back to the topic: Can we use marijuana in our relationship with God? What about praying while high? Can we get baked before going to church?

No one in ancient Israel was smoking pot or anything like it so the Bible doesn’t mention it directly. OK, maybe someone was getting high but if they were, they forgot to write it down (go figure) so we would know about it. The most similar recorded substance known to those folks was wine or strong drink. Leviticus 10:9 directly forbids priests from getting liquored up before going into the tent of meeting. Of course, priests are held to a higher standard. Still, there are a number of passages where a person who is drunk is clearly not looked upon favorably. Isaiah 5:11 is a real buzz kill for day drinkers. That said, wine is prominent in the temple but the abuse of it–being drunk–is condemned.

This makes sense for at least three reasons. First, the temple is a sacred place. People go there to worship, pray, meditate, commune with God. A bunch of drunk people gets in the way of the serious and the sacred.

Second, all of the worship activities and spiritual practices imply communication and truth. Communication is two way meaning that we aren’t just speaking to or at God; we want to hear from God as well. Having our subconscious unlocked and running amok could be fun but it is getting in the way of what we are there to do. More on this later.

Third, worship is supposed to be different. It is supposed to be sacred and set apart from the profane nonsense that is our lives. Even more than that, worship is supposed to be pure. That line from Leviticus about the priests avoiding strong drink while serving in the temple is immediately after the one narrative section in Leviticus where Aaron’s sons get deep fat fried after bringing “strange fire” into the ritual. Their timing–the very inauguration of the tabernacle–may have had something to do with the severity of God’s wrath. Still, the undefined “strange fire” is likely a borrowed ritual from a competing religion in the land. It may have been something fun, interesting, and even awesomely spiritual. The problem was that it removed that ‘set aside’ character of true worship of the true God.

In other words, the act of borrowing from another faith dilutes how separate worship is from our day to day life. This isn’t to say that we can’t pray while driving, meditate while exercising, or read our bible in bed. Rather, it is good and right to also set aside time and our daily lives to intentionally enter the sacred: a place very little like anywhere else in our lives.

At this point, Derek is coming off as a real buzz kill. If you are reading this in a green fog, sorry for harshing your high. Derek will stop doing that now.

All religions have some things in common and one of those things is that when we practice religion, religious acts, spiritual disciplines, … we are changed at least for a moment. It is called different things but the experience is an opening, a connection, and a loss of self. In buddhism, it is enlightenment. In Christianity, it is a charismatic gift like speaking in tongues.

There is meaning behind the experience but the very fact that we seem designed with a circuit that allows us to have this connection is amazing. The effect is that we can listen and when our God speaks softly, listening is fairly difficult. The communication channel must be open and it is by practicing our religion that we are able/enabled to communicate.

I think of it as a knob. Some people have a knob that “goes to eleven” and some of us just don’t. Some of us know how to turn the knob while others of us struggle to even find it. People of the charismatic or pentecostal flavors seem to be able to just go to max power with no problem. Buddhism seems content with just spinning the knob as does a fair amount of Hinduism. Even Islam and Judaism have a worship pattern that seems designed to turn the knob.

Chanting, singing, repetition, multi-sensory experience, body positions, etc., these are the tools of creating this space. Curiously, this openness is what we feel at concerts. A good concert isn’t just good music but a transcending group experience. In fact, music turns lots of knobs in our head but it definitely turns The Knob as well.

I would suggest that perhaps the crazy conservative people that tried to get music banned back in the 80s sort of knew us. They knew that music made us feel, well, right and that the words we heard when we felt that way would seem truthful. Indeed, this is what happens in almost all religions of the world. We turn the knob, and then we listen to a sermon from the preacher, iman, rabbi, or priest. In other words, religions take benevolent advantage of partitioners being in this space to push messages of truth, love, redemption, repentance, and all other good things.

Or, if you are in a cult, lies. This is why ministry professionals are educated, tested, accredited and, yes, professionals (not amateurs). We should not let people speak to a congregation if they are not trusted because lives can be changed when people are spoken to when their knobs are turned. Maybe this is why we listen to people that play guitar for a living. By the way, stop that. Bass players, doubly so.

I would contend that it is very difficult for some of us to turn the knob anymore. We are constantly entertained, distracted, and bombarded. Marketing and advertising have made us question the sincerity of everything and everyone. Even the “fake news” has us concerned that what we know isn’t true. We’ve gone from subjective truth (your truth is your truth and my truth is my truth) to being completely without an objective anchor. Even the near constant music in our lives makes us immune to the power that it can hold. Imagine a world without music on demand at the flick of a switch; imagine how amazing music would be in that world and what it would do to you.

In this world of cynicism and constant vigilance, how can we hear and feel a God that whispers rather than shouts? We are numb to the stimuli that used to turn our knobs. We are addicted to all the stimuli and we’ve taken them from the sacred places and like monkeys flinging poop, smeared it all over everything. We’ve profaned the sacred places by taking the sacred into the profane and letting it stand there shivering as we scream for it to provide us constant comfort.

That was a little huge. Sorry.

I believe that the circuit is broken and we broke it. We shut ourselves off from God by finding tasty distractions that feed us for the moment but leave us always unsatisfied. Maybe what we need to do is shut off the noise and listen again. But that would be exceedingly difficult for us to do unless we live in retreat centers and throw out our phones, computers, televisions, and radios. Yeah, that isn’t going to happen so what can we do?

Well, maybe a little weed is right for some people.

I would suggest that if you need help getting away, getting quiet, opening up, well, maybe getting a little baked isn’t a bad idea. I wouldn’t tell someone with chronic pain to abstain from their pain pills when they go to church. I wouldn’t want someone with depression to go off their meds before they pray, read scripture, or worship. Diabetics don’t need to abstain from insulin to get into a worshipful space.

If I preach for the rest of my life a message of balance, I think I would be doing God’s will. See, my point is don’t over do it. We all make mistakes getting our consumption correct. Most of us can’t figure out how much to eat at most meals. People that come up with the perfect dosages of drugs have gone to school for a long time to do. So, if you think getting a little fuzzy sounds interesting, do me a solid and start small, OK? As the kids say, “a little dab will do ya.”

Apology: First, I have no idea if anyone says that besides me and where I heard/read it. Second, that was a pun: the lowest form of comedy. Ironically, puns imply a real command of the language and are, therefore, possible proof that you can’t be both smart and funny. I digress…

Now, if you are going to try this, don’t get couch-locked, don’t be a total stoner, don’t giggle, and for the love of all that is good, pure, holy and right, do not bring Cheetos into a house of worship. I’m actually more offended by snack foods in worship services than by someone smelling of little green.

I would suggest starting in the privacy of your own home during your devotional time. Get centered, safe, calm, and then fill your time with trusted voices. Good worship music, the Bible, known good writers and speakers. Experiment in private when you can afford to screw up.

Now, if you do decide to try this in an actual worship service, here are some guidelines I’d like to see clearly in place:

First, keep your mouth shut. I am totally serious about this. Shut up. This goes for other situations as well but especially if you are in a worship setting of any sort and you’ve taken a substance that is going to make you even slightly loopy, shut the fuck up. Oh, you will think you are brilliant and that you have something share. You don’t. Really, you don’t. Keep it to yourself or write it down so you have it for later. Do not say anything more than ‘hello’.

Second, you might be tempted to do some singing. OK, that is fine but let me remind you of rule #1. Keep it chill. Sing the song everyone else is singing in the key they are singing it in and try to keep the tempo the same as well.

Third, try to not smell like a skunk died in the air intake of a diesel truck. In general, it is exceedingly uncool to get in the way of someone trying to connect with God. Smell, sight, sound, whatever, are all ways that you can get in someone’s way. Don’t be that guy/girl.

Fourth, handle your fucking high. Maintain. You might think, “no one can tell.” No, the second you think that, trust me, everyone can tell.

Fifth, no one wants to know how high you are so don’t tell us. See rule #1. Shut up. Let that be your mantra.

As an aside, when you go into surgery, they give you some yummy medication that will relax you. It will also make you talk nonstop until they put the mask on your face and knock you out. Also, you won’t remember what you said or did afterwards. I’ve had many surgeries and my trick is to repeat “shut up, shut the fuck up” in my head until the lights go out. One time I didn’t and when I woke up after surgery, I start preaching to anyone in earshot about Supralapsarian Calvinism. Don’t be that guy. Let the last thought your completely intact brain has be “shut up. Keep you mouth shut. Just shut the fuck up.”

Lastly, if you are the person in front leading the service or at the sound board or even the lowly bass player, no, you have to be clean and sober. Absolutely, totally, and completely clean and sober. No exceptions. Sorry.

All of these guidelines are roughly paraphrased from various letters by Paul. References available upon request. Hey, I’m writing a blog post, not an article for Wikipedia.

So, let’s summarize: I think that if you cannot let yourself connect with God any other way, yes, you can try being a little impaired as a corrective. Recognize that it is medicine, something that you have to use to fight back against this world. Don’t get used to it and don’t advertise it. Test everything against God’s word (including this blog post, duh).

Now, I would like to point out that I wrote this whole thing– 2,900 words–without ever mentioning Rastafarianism. I didn’t and don’t really need to but since I brought it up, our friends in Jamaica used weed roughly the same way I am suggesting: they used it to blot out the trouble of their lives so that they could meet with God. What sort of went sideways for the Rastafari was that everyone got baked and that created an unsustainable theology. This is why clergy can’t play. The truth has to be protected and even if the receivers of the truth are a tweaked, the people preaching the truth can’t be. The truth must remain protected by the clean and sober.

Paul said that someplace. Probably in Romans. 🙂


Sex Before Marriage

The question is “is sex before marriage OK?” In other words, “is it a sin for a couple to have sex before they are married?”

Chris and I recorded a podcast on this but upon reflection on that podcast, I realized that I (Derek) didn’t make my argument very clearly. So, let’s try again.

The problem is the question which implies that marriage is the created order and God’s intent. We got to this point because in Catholicism, marriage is elevated to the position of a sacrament implying that, yes, marriage is ordained by God, sanctified, the created order, and almost even necessary for all Christians to experience. Protestants tossed all the sacraments that Jesus didn’t personally ordain or experience leaving us with baptism and communion. Actually, protestant types reject as sacraments those that the gospels do not record Jesus experiencing. They aren’t long books so, you know, we don’t know some things but it was the safe move regardless.

My argument is that marriage is a post-fall compromise to our sinful nature. This was not our pre-fall state and though I don’t presume to know what a sinless world looks like, it doesn’t appear to contain what we would call marriage. If no marriage, then the question of “sex before marriage” becomes a nonsensical statement.

Marriage does exist for us today and it seems mostly good. Mostly. It could be argued that we seem built for something else (which is the point (and perhaps the only point) I make in the podcast) and that this alternate societal construct reflects that marriage isn’t itself the natural desired state of humanity. Bad marriages aren’t a reflection of marriage being broken as much as the solution to a problem itself being a compromise solution with all manner of problems.

One of the mostly good things that marriage brings to us is a sense of security. No matter what else happens, at least one person won’t pack up and leave us. Of course, this is why it is so massively devastating when this does happen; it doesn’t just remove a person we love(d) from our lives but throws our entire worldview into question. That sense of security, however, is something we crave because we feel insecure. In a pre-fall world, God was the source of all we needed. The garden was ours and it provided for all our physical needs, God’s presence for our spiritual needs, and we had companionship all nicely wrapped up as well.

The fall upset this and though no one knows what “original sin” was, it has been largely speculated by theologians for forever that it was pride: “this is good but I think I can do better.” Modern anthropologists are starting to speculate that the worst thing to happen to humanity was agriculture meaning that the idea that we can make a better and more productive garden was a revolutionary thought with awful consequences. Notice the pride, yes?

Agriculture creates a need for ownership and ownership unleashes a hierarchical societal structure, competition, jealousy, envy, famine, war, and pretty much everything else we spend all night worrying about. In a world of plenty and cooperation, most of the nasty bits don’t exist. The hippies living in communes actually have it right.

The problem is that we do have sin which means we can’t get past ownership and competition (which is why communes fail and hippies start looking silly at some point). Ownership is sinful and among other things, marriage is a form of ownership. The husband has an exclusive on his wife and the wife has exclusive ownership of her husband. It isn’t a bad relationship but it is one that we feel we need because we are broken and sinful. This ownership gives us comfort and security. Paul even makes this point when he compares the relationship of Jesus to the church as like a marriage structure. Similes, metaphors and analogies are, of course, illustrative and not prescriptive, by the way. Paul’s point is that Jesus won’t drop us even when we get old, fat, ugly, or even unfaithful because at least one side of that marriage is perfect in terms of love and faithfulness. The other side, our side, not so much.

That said, if we agree that marriage is a compromise to our sinful nature that is all wrapped up in this competition, ownership, and jealousy problem, then marriage is a cure for a problem but like all cures, it is a compromise. The unintended consequence is that marriage goes against our nature as much as competition goes against God’s intended plan for us. It has side-effects one of which is that we all have to play by the same rules or things get confusing. This is likely the small-minded argument for “traditional” marriage: if marriage is ever redefined for some people, then they aren’t playing by the rules we all presumably agreed on.

This means that sex before marriage breaks the rules of marriage because sex is supposed to be an exclusive activity between a married couple. That is one of the rules we agreed on not so much because it is God ordained but because we need it to be in order to satisfy our exclusive ownership societal structure. The problem here is that the societal structure is mostly good because total anarchy is mostly not so good. Thus, when we start messing with these primitives of society, everyone gets nervous. Tweaking the definition of marriage isn’t sin nor is rejecting marriage sin nor is marriage sin nor is sex before marriage sin nor is sex outside of marriage sin nor is sex itself sin. What is sin is making a promise to someone to have an exclusive relationship with them and then breaking that promise.

To repeat: sex before marriage is not a sin. It does come with some risks and consequences. Ignoring all the physical problems of pregnancy, STDs, and stuff, there are emotional risks and the risks may outweigh the rewards. Sex is not free even in “primitive” cultures. There seems to be plenty of promiscuous sex in those cultures but it still provides a cultural need or social currency. By and large, even in what appear to be very promiscuous societies, sex bonds people together like a really meaningful handshake.

Sex is not free for us in the modern western culture either. It is not zero-sum, but there is an emotional cost among others. Count the cost and act accordingly. Of course, safe, sane and consensual are good rules to adhere to but also consider guilt, shame, and regret. Put yourself into your shoes (pants?) the next morning and think about how you will feel. Consider that this intimate act should only be performed with people you trust, like, respect, and even love. Consider that one day you will find The One; how will that change what you do now and with whom?

We need to and we can redefine marriage. We can do this even though Paul has that awesome illustration. There are illustrations in Paul’s letters that refer to slavery but we eventually moved beyond that, yes? We can do the same thing with marriage and we even do. Anyone who has listened to a pastor struggle to explain away any old testament marriage knows that the new testament flavor of marriage is decidedly different.

Outside of a few brave folks and some really creepy people, we’ve been afraid to have marriage evolve since the 1st century. I hate being afraid. Let’s take a risk.

Date Rape Playbook

In our second Risking Damnation podcast on basically all drug use amongst Christians, I made a throwaway comment that the story of Lot and his daughters is the date rape playbook. If you see anything for long enough, it no longer shocks you. I realized after listening to the podcast–which you should do too, by the way–that I am not shocked by this story. Familiarity has dulled my revulsion.

For those unfamiliar, the tale is laid out starting at Genesis 19:30. Lot has just booked it out of Sodom, his wife has been turned to salt, and the earth is still smoldering where the two cities used to be. Only Lot and his two daughters have survived. The girls are blue because there are no dudes none no more and having children was really important back then. The “last man on earth” as far as they are concerned is their father so they figure if it is going to happen, it is going to happen with him. Figuring he won’t be too keen, they get him drunk and have their way with him not once, but twice.

Cutting to the chase, I hope to show how important it is for all of us to understand context and allow everyone to have their own personal stories. When we tack labels even on those who are affected by extremely personal evil, we further victimize them. Those people lose their identity and become even further dehumanized and objectified. Rather, we need to hear their story and share their pain and confusion.

The author of Genesis doesn’t editorialize about how we should feel about this. God is also silent. There are a couple interpretive clues, however. First, the euphemism used to describe coitus in this case is not “to know” but to “to lie with” followed by a direct object. “To know” is usually reserved for sex in general but “to lie with” + d.o. is commonly used for rape. The author, therefore, makes it clear that Lot’s daughters rape him.

Lot remains blameless in the passage because he is black-out drunk. Incest is strongly frowned upon but sort of tolerated in some cases when the more common power dynamic is reversed. Thus, the passage carefully describes Lot as out of his mind drunk and totally helpless to resist or even remember. Presumably if he were in control, he wouldn’t get down and nasty for reasons that are not described. Perhaps he would be morally disgusted or afraid of the God that just deep-fat-fried his hometown. Whatever the reason, Lot is off the hook though I think it is interesting that he allowed himself to get drunk. Even that isn’t considered a problem. In a sinless world, folks can get hammered and no one takes advantage of them.

Though incest is tolerated sometimes, rape is never OK though this passage doesn’t seem to make that clear. That bothers me. In the broader context of Genesis and the Pentateuch, this is an origin store that explains where the Moabites and Ammonites got their start. Their incestuous origin may even be considered a positive attribute: these are not half-blood people of mixed and questionable lineage but a strong people of a pure line. In addition, Lot and his daughters are the only people spared from Sodom meaning that their progeny are the result of a righteous and religiously pure coupling.

Thus, we are faced with a dilemma of sorts. The rape goes unpunished–even rewarded since the girls get some sons out of the deal. The incest aspect may be a positively judged as well. Still, the overarching selfish nature of the rape is disconcerting. Rather than fulfilling carnal lust, anger, or violent desires on the victim, the daughters fulfill a need for acceptance by society (childless women were unprotected and pariahs).

Saying that we are faced with a lesser of two evils situation understates the gravity of the moral dilemma. Is being childless for a woman more evil than doing whatever it takes to make a baby? Are the daughters given a pass because they got away with a technicality? Answers in the affirmative are unsatisfying to me but they are unsatisfying because I am lazy. I want a rule, a law, a “biblical principle” that I can hang my hat on. In every situation of rape, date rape, pregnancy outside of marriage, or incest, I want to point at a simple story that says in a clear and pure way that it is wrong, bad, and to be avoided.

Thank God it isn’t like that. Seriously. The Bible isn’t a children’s book and trying to turn it into one robs us of the opportunity to plug in our brains and do the serious hard work of life. Easy answers are always wrong. Lot’s daughters did a bad thing for all the right reasons. Even in their actions, they protected their father as best they could.

Is rape OK? No. How about incest? NO! Date rape even if your partner won’t remember and you are really nice about it? No, and what is wrong with you? Wait, I wrote that. Ew. I just grossed myself out.

That said, I will say that it is sometimes more complicated. Sometimes, it isn’t just a malicious person pouring alcohol into an unsuspecting and naive person waiting for them to let down their guard. Sometimes it isn’t the matter of stumbling onto the path of a trouble soul. In fact, it rarely is. Victims know their assailants and sometimes even trust them. Sometimes it all just goes horribly wrong and terrible things happen but it is almost never simple. Unraveling it all takes time. It doesn’t fit on a bumper sticker, tweet, Facebook post, or even newspaper article.

I am not defending rape or incest. To the contrary, what I am saying is that when we boil it down to tight little words, phrases, rules, and even laws, we are unwittingly taking the experience of the victim and distilling it as well. We are dehumanizing them again. We impose our shared morality and trite interpretation on the individual creating a victim twice over. We give no one a chance at telling their story. We rob them of their interpretation of the violence against them.

I suspect–actually, I know–that there are stories out there where we can easily apply labels of “rapist” and “victim” but when the whole story is known, though the labels may legally stand, footnotes must be applied.


No Straight Lines

In the movie Prometheus, one of the main characters directs the captain to land the ship near geographic features on the surface of the planet that appear to be lines because he reasons that the straight lines were created by some form of life because “God doesn’t work in straight lines.” Of course, neither do the aliens they discover on the planet’s surface. Sorry for the spoilers but the only straight lines in the entire movie are those in that scene. The Prometheus itself could fly through the plot holes in this movie.

The truth of that one line is interesting. God doesn’t seem to work in straight lines. This history of salvation isn’t a straight line at all yet it isn’t a game of tennis where God acts, humans react, God reacts, humans react again ad infinitum ad nauseam. There is a plan afoot and it takes millennia sometimes to see it.

In Galatians 2 15:21, Paul aludes to the big plan that has been in the works since the beginning. Paul is negotiating between some folks that hold that Christians have to be Jews that also believe in Jesus and another group that not only rejects the jewish law but any law, code of conduct or morality it seems. These libertines seem to be living a Bourbon Street existence all the time. Galatians is Paul’s attempt to get everyone to work together more or less by telling all sides that they are wrong.

In this last quarter of chapter 2, Paul reaches out to judaizers in a speech that starts familiar to passages from Ephesians and Romans (and others): faith in Chris alone is what gets the job done (15,16). He kisses up to the judaizers by reminding them of their Jewish roots even while pointing out that the most important marker of their roots–the law–is infinitely inferior to the work of Jesus Christ.

Theologians debate how the 1st century Jews viewed the law. Some have said that there was no concept of justification by the law making the work of Jesus an answer to a question that was never asked. Rather, it is speculated that there is a sense of covenantal nomism where the law served as a sign that one was part of the nation of God’s chosen people. Thus, keeping the law did little in God’s eyes according to this concept.

However, if a jew decided not to keep the law, that person would be excluded from the community–the community of God’s chosen–which would be effectively the same at least temporally to being shunned by God. In other words, one keeps the law to stay in the community identified as being God’s people and being excluded from that community was equivalent to shunning by God.

As an aside, the covenantal nomism perspective may be an overstatement of the 1st century jewish theology based on rabbinical Judaism especially as it has matured over the past two millennia.

Back to the passage, Paul takes a break from his typical justification theology to toss out an interesting hypothetical statement in verse 17 but he gets back to the theology in verses 18-21. The 15-21 passage is actually an off-flavor Oreo cookie cookie like, say, banana. The good cookie theology is separated by a question that asks if Christians find themselves sinners or among sinners, does that mean that Christ approves of sin? The answer is a strong ‘no’ worded in what is apparently the colloquial “definitely not” of the time. Literally it means “let it not be so” but seems to have the weight of “hell no” or stronger.

Whenever the Bible seems to be repeating itself, one needs to take note because that means it is probably important enough to repeat. However, it is also important to notice the parts that are different. In this case, verse 17 stands out (though there are parallels to it as well). The interesting part is the “we find ourselves” verb and either the preposition phrase “among sinners” or “sinners” indirect object. The Greek doesn’t support “among sinners” to me and the stronger “we find ourselves sinners” though a more difficult reading is not impossible to interpret by any means.

The verb eureka–to find–is in the first person plural passive form giving a sense of unplanned surprise. It may be like finding oneself in the bad part of town; one didn’t go out looking to end up there but somehow it happened. The verse has the implication that Paul et al are not out looking to be ‘sinners’ but that in the process of doing what they do, they got a little dirt on them. Was it God’s intent that this should happen? No, but notice Paul complete failure to freak out by the prospect that it could happen.

What is confusing here is that Paul’s use of “sinners” could mean those that don’t keep the jewish law or those that are missing the mark of a perfectly righteous life. It is possible that Paul is intending this ambiguity but since he is directly this discourse at the judaizers, the full 613 laws of the Torah and their interpretation according to the religious leaders of the time is likely his intended antecedent.

The reason is outlined in verses 18-21 where Paul declares in no uncertain terms that the law must die. He seems to attack it even from the perspective of the definition of the law. He won’t build it back up again because all the law did for him was show him what a poor keeper of the law he was. He says that he had to crucify that part of him that found the law attractive.

Humans like laws. We make lots of them and seem to really relish the idea of living in a society of laws. As a software developer, I have made a good living writing software because of laws. In fact, laws become an infrastructure and economy unto themselves. Tax law requires the IRS, piles of accountants, and insane amounts of computer hardware and software to maintain. Traffic laws require signs and cops and traffic court and lawyers and radar detectors et cetera. In fact, erasing a law off the books is always more difficult than putting it on the books because eliminating laws means eliminating all the enforcement jobs that it created.

The Mosaic law of the Torah had the same effect. Ten little commandments exploded to 613 laws which under rabbinical Judaism became huge books where rabbis attempted to interpret the laws. As the historical background and motivation for the law was lost, rather than eliminate it, huge efforts were made to find an interpretation for each new age and generation. Keeping the laws became more important than why the laws were kept. It became a sign that one was a practicing jew and part of the covenant community. Keeping the laws–no matter how nonsensical in the 1st century not to mention modern age–was important because it showed one’s submission to God even when it was a pain in the neck, counter productive, nonsensical, or even dangerous.

Unfortunately, the law had to exist. Humans love laws too much and without watching the law completely fail as it did, we would always try to create it. In the end, religion is just a set of laws about working with the Divine but it is always inferior to being in relationship with God.

Law gives us the minimum requirements to stay out of trouble and relieves us of the necessity of thinking. We only need look at the side of the road to see the speed limit sign and know that if the number on the speedometer is within single digits of the number on that sign, then most likely an encounter with law enforcement will be avoided. It is simple and avoids having to think about what a safe speed should be.

In relationships, laws are fatal. Doing the minimum in a marriage is a good start but won’t create a good and lasting relationship. Parenting according to the rules without thinking is ridiculous. There are rules that we have to acknowledge but the minimum will just prolong the pain of a dead relationship.

The writer of Ecclesiastes tapped into this when he (it was probably a ‘he’, sorry) dives into following the jewish religion of the day completely. In doing so, he failed to find meaning. The writer found no meaning in anything he chased and leaves us in despair. The poor scribe that writes the epilogue tries to put a positive spin on the book but utterly fails. The scribe advocates keeping the laws as the best anyone can do but it rings not just hallow but sad and pathetic.

The end of the matter is that life is meaningless if we live loving the law and not people and life is ultimately meaningless if we miss out on the loving God’s law and not God. We wouldn’t have figured this out without the total failure of the law and the overwhelmingly superior message and work of Jesus. In fact, the truly awesome nature of Christ needed humanity to take a winding path. Had we never sinned, we would never have known Jesus. If it wasn’t for the law, we would not have appreciated how necessary it is to reject it entirely in favor of the love, grace, and justification of Jesus Christ. The path couldn’t be a straight line; it had to meander like all of God’s creation only appears to meander but when inspected actually shows a deeper beauty and genius.

For the past two millennia, Christians have tried to recreate the law around the teachings of Jesus. We need to stop doing this the day before yesterday. The law has a purpose for the young and immature in that it teaches them what is good and what is the ideal. After we mature, we have to let it go because it only gets in the way. We need to put to death that part of us that desires to do only the minimum or doesn’t want to think or wants to be told what to do or needs everything to be black and white or doesn’t want to risk getting a little dirty for the sake of knowing and loving our brothers and sisters.

People are dirty, hard to work with, and difficult to love sometimes. From before the creation of the universe, God planned for Jesus to do this for us. It is time for us to accept this love from God and it is time we started doing this for each other. It is what Jesus wants us to do.


South Carolina Fossil Fiasco

Senator Peeler: Just stop it. You aren’t helping. You make us all look like morons.

For those that missed it, this adorable little 8 year old girl, Olivia McConnell, wrote a nice letter in her best penmanship to her state legislature suggesting that the mammoth be named the state’s fossil. I assume she is adorable because the story hits a rough patch right away if she isn’t. Anyway, the Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler who is apparently a creationist amended the bill that would have made this adorable, lovable, sweet and innocent young woman’s dreams come true to include a sentence from the sixth day of the Genesis 1 account of creation. This caused other senators to immediately react (overreact, perhaps) and try to kill the bill. They seemed to back down on that after learning that sweet Olivia’s very faith in humanity hung in the balance.

On behalf of all Christians everywhere: Senator Peeler, please shut up. You aren’t helping. Indeed, you are the problem.

I am not a creationist but I am a Christian. Read that a couple times if you have to. I don’t need the first several–let’s say 11–chapters of Genesis to be historically accurate to believe that they are awesome, powerful, and reveal truths about God that are life changing. Historical and scientific accuracy is not necessary in order for truth to be spoke. Parables are not stories about actual historical incidences that really occurred but yet somehow they speak powerful truths. Jesus, God incarnate, used parables which–watch this; it is called “logic”–means that God uses parables to reveal Himself to us. We have to use that “logic” I just illustrated to determine when God is speaking to us in parable. It is oh so very tricky.

Senator, I feel your need to protect your faith. I understand that it is scary to live in a world where science (It Just Works!) could speak truth as well. I also understand your desire to piously worship the Creator at moment in life. I do. I live in Colorado where there are these awe-inspiring mountains freaking everywhere. I give thanks and praise to God every time I see them and, if I’m honest, not so much when I am riding my bike up them. But I also know enough geology to appreciate that these have been in the works for a long, long time. And I know enough scientists to know that my witness to them is going to go nowhere if I insist that they ignore their decades of education and careers in order to have a conversation with me about Jesus. The current incarnation of the Rocky Mountains I see every day took millions of years to create. Also, using geological processes, God created them.

Genesis doesn’t say how; it says who and why. I thank God that it isn’t a science text book. I give thanks God that we get to discover, explore, learn, grow, and evolve.

Senator, when you insist on stuffing Bible verses into everything, you make us all look stupid. You make it harder for us to start conversations about our faith with anyone. You are being a poor witness to the faith and putting a stumbling block before the blind.

On behalf of all of us out here trying hard to change the world for the better–to redeem it like Jesus wants us to–please stop it. Resign. Get out of the way. Shut up. Apologize to your constituents and the church for the damage you have done. Plead with Jesus to forgive you for tarnishing His good name. There is forgiveness and grace for those that repent of their sins.

Now is when you are supposed fall to your knees and beg for forgiveness. We’ll wait.


It would appear that the bill has passed the senate with the goofy genesis sixth day language and now sits on the governors desk waiting for signature or veto. I am stunned. Here is the problem: the bill as it stands is arguable not constitutional because of that bill-o-rights thingy. This means that the governor can sign the bill and then immediately have some atheist group lawyer up and cost the state a mint as they try defending the indefensible or veto the bill and crush the hope, dreams, and innocence of pure little Olivia.

Well played Senator Peeler, well played. You are a truly a tool of evil. Only a real monster would use a child to proselytize, well, I don’t know who you think you are reaching. My theory is that Peeler thinks no one will defeat the bill because “what about the children (Olivia)?” Surely no one will crush her dreams, right? There are words that describe people who sacrifice innocent people as pawns in their personal battles. Rather than sink to the level of name calling, I will just state again that you are a very special brand of evil and the people that voted you into office need to wake up and fix that mistake. Do it now, people.