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Saint Patrick’s Day Muse: When Red Messes Up the Green, White, and Orange March 17, 2015

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Today is Saint Patrick’s Day.  It’s the day when people wear green, drink awful green food-coloring beer, and eat green eggs and ham and other green things.  In America, it is, anyway.  And it used to be a day when if you didn’t wear green, the other schoolkids would pinch you.

I’m not wearing green today.  Not a stitch.  I will probably have no green beverages, unless it’s lemon-lime Kool-Aid.  My wife will no doubt see to that one.  I hope there are green beans, and not green eggs and ham, on the table.  Well, at least I hope the ham isn’t green.  I like food coloring in Kool-Aid and cake frosting.  That’s about it. I didn’t even bring Key Lime yogurt today, although that’s a nice thought.  OK, some food coloring is ok with me in my yogurt too, just don’t overdo it.  There are food manufacturers who use thousands of tiny bugs shells and eggs to make food red.  I don’t mind, but tell me I’m eating a bug, don’t hide it.  Generally, if I want a bug I’ll buy it, dry-roasted and covered in chocolate or garlic salt or something, and I’ll eat it.  Trust me.  I’ve had crickets, and even worms.  They were weird.  I did not eat the mealworms.  Ugh.  I wonder what they use to make stuff green, when there’s an abundance of plant material that could be used for both reds AND greens.  Like for instance, strawberries, those are actually red.  I bet there’s a natural way to make beer green, using plants and not animals or “mystery carcinogenic green dye substance # 1138” or “soylent green.”

I wonder if they did the traditional, annual “Pollute the Chicago River” in Chicago, this year, and “Pollute the White River,” in Indianapolis, and “Pollute the City Waterway” in whatever other city they used to do that in that I wasn’t aware of.    It’s OK, add a little bleach and the water looks crystal clear again.  You worry that bleach is poisonous?  That’s actually just a vicious rumor.  It’s only toxic from overexposure, concentration, or in incorrect combination with other compounds, and we would think that a normal American would read the label and follow instructions about things like that..  But we meant to say, add a little “Water Clarifier Compound 2999.”  It’s natural.  We chlorinate our water in almost every city, and some bleach is made of chlorine.  Unless your water filter gets that, you’re probably drinking it now.

I didn’t set out to write about food coloring although that’s a very interesting thing to read up on.  I recommend it after you decide I’m never going to get to the point, and you quit reading my blog.  But I do have a point.

Saint Patrick’s day is a celebration steeped in Irish history.  The legends aside, Saint Patrick is credited with bringing the Bible, and the Christian faith, to Ireland.  So is Sir William of Orange.  Little did they know, while doing the Lord’s work of evangelizing, that Saint Patrick would become a Catholic Icon and Sir William would become a Protestant one.  But they did, and then the factions of Christianity began a history of conflicts that were more about power and money than any religious pursuit.  If you in America were ever pinched as a child for not wearing your green, that’s a Catholic persecuting you for looking like a Protestant.  Or an idiot bullying you for not conforming.  How far we’ve come from Jesus.  Or even Paul and Peter and Apollos.

I don’t know whether William or Patrick would have gotten along.  In Ireland the factions became so …factious, that they fought each other, shot at each other, or blew each other up with explosives.  If I have learned my history and if my vexillology research has paid off, The flag represents history and is a prayer for the country, really.  Vexillology?  Don’t vex me; look it up for yourself.  Green, for Catholicism, which came first, on the left. White in the middle.  Orange for Protestantism which came later.  What’s the white for?  It’s a prayer for peace between the factions of Christianity, who have to coexist or die trying, on their little island paradise.

What I love about America is we’re supposed to be free to practice whatever religion we want, as long as what we do in its’ practice is legal.  Or we can decide religion is irrelevant.  It’s fine.  We can speak our mind as long as we’re not bullying or threatening another person.  I would like there to be a lot less red dye in my food.  I would also like there to be no more red, for bloodshed, in the name of religion, or whatever you want to call the belief system that motivates you.  No more beheadings from the Islamic State.  No more beheadings at all, for any reason.  No more kidnapping and torture and rape, Boko Haram.  No more buying and selling of human beings, anyone.  Other people are not livestock, they’re people, just like you, equal to you.  No more persecution of Jewish people, Neo-Nazis (or anyone else).  I live in America and Israel is supposed to be our ally, for heaven’s sake.  And we’re supposed to get along with the rest of America’s citizens.  No more bashing people for being normal humans, Christ-followers.  You may have discovered something that helps you avoid, and find absolution for, what you now consider to be a “sin,” but normal people don’t have that until you teach them.

If you’re supposed to love, your hatred of people only shows that you have failed.  If you’re supposed to follow a peaceful religion and you’re murdering people because you have some misguided belief, it doesn’t make you a hero, it makes you a murderer.  If your beliefs are based on hatred of a person just because they exist, I’m sorry to inform you that you’re a failure as a human.  Please, let’s have no more bloodshed or criminal activity or oppression in the name of any religion. You can call it your religious practice, but I know it’s just cruelty and power-mongering at the least, and criminal at worst, and there’s nothing religious about it. I know tolerance is supposed to be the new “in” virtue, but I have zero tolerance for any of that.

If you want one, today’s the day:  have a green beer.  Or a plain one.  Or mix it up.  While you’re at it, buy one for the guy who symbolically represents the other color on the flag.  You may think you’re on the right side.  You may think the person on the other side is on the “wrong side.”  But please, respect the white stripe, don’t stain it or spoil it for the rest of us.  If you want a red one, just have a Jamaican beer instead.  And again, buy one for your neighbor.  Make friends.  If you can’t get along and you must stir trouble, please just go home and stay there until you learn how to cooperate with the rest of civilized society.

I would rather have a celebration than fight someone.  It’s Saint Patrick’s Day!  Yet another excuse to have a party.
You don’t have to be Irish, or Catholic, or Protestant, to learn or celebrate the meaning of the white stripe.  I think we should all strive to live out the hope of the symbolism of that flag.  See the white stripe in the middle?  The other two colors are supposed to represent you and whoever else you meet.  Live the white stripe:

Practice peace.

~ MoeJoe

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Memorial Day 2014 May 27, 2014

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My son went to a local cemetery this weekend, where, as a service project, he and his fellow Boy Scouts planted hundreds of flags to commemorate American veterans buried there.  This was not a military cemetery, and for a non-military cemetery, to me it seemed like there was a high proportion of military to non-military.  I followed along behind the scouts, finding a few here and there that had been missed by the over-excited scouts as they scattered to carry out their assigned tasks.  The few markers that were missed were small and harder to notice than the bold lettering on the grave markers.  I went to church, too.  It was Memorial Day weekend, so naturally I also watched Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.  And after it cooled down on Monday, I worked in the yard.

At church, our pastor spoke well about wealth and how Christ-Followers ought to handle it.  As I am currently outside of that circle, I confess to have really tried to tune it out.  But what he said, to those with money, was a good message.  He wasn’t deliberately trying to avoid the subject of Memorial Day, but was following the track of preaching through his texts systematically, verse by verse, currently in Matthew 6.  A couple of weeks ago he had spoken about prayer and fasting.  I often wonder what visitors think if they come on holidays, and if they came Sunday, they probably made our church out to be another one of those that always talk about money and how we ought to give more out of our abundance.  But on the contrary, messages about money are pretty rare at this one. He tied it in a little by saying that how we use our money shows our character, and our character tells others how we will be remembered.  Do we leave a godly legacy behind, or a monument to self that is destroyed and stolen?

I thought while I was working in the yard about how people try to fake it through life.  They say one thing, but their lives, and their checkbooks, say something different.  I pulled thistles from my yard, tucked in and hidden in the corners, and I looked at them thinking about how they try to stay inconspicuous until they are huge.  While they are small, they might be mistaken for ordinary dandelions, but when they grow bigger, the thorns become more obvious.  And if allowed to mature, the blue flowers don’t match the sunny yellow dandelion.  This then, was the explanation of another text, where Jesus defends his ministry by teaching “by their fruits you will know them.”  The same Jesus told sinners to turn away from sin, told hypocrites off after He called them out, and once made a whip to redirect the livestock, and flipped over tables in the temple when they were selling grace to people who could afford it at their prices.  He didn’t fake it.  When He loved he loved, and when He didn’t like a behavior He told people to leave it and follow Him.  He called out the hypocrites because they had a counterfeit religion based on fear and power and money, not on love and helping others. 

I keep pulling the weeds of sins- temptations, bitterness, complaining, etc., out of my life, and they keep seeding my lawn like maple samaras, or “helicopter” seeds.  We have two of those trees.  I raked and my wife swept in the cool of the day Monday, and we got a lot.  But there are too many to pull every one of them up from the grass, so if any try to take root, I’ll have to mow them down.

And while the viewing of Revenge of the Sith is not my normal habit on Memorial Day weekend, it did give me something interesting to think about.  We have counterfeit weeds masquerading as dandelions, we have counterfeit lives masquerading as “good people,” and we have counterfeit religions masquerading as the real thing.  In the movie, Emperor Palpatine revealed his evil, powerful nature when pretending to be good and weak were no longer needed.  He was a counterfeit, like so many of us are in real life, pretending to be good and humble, but when given the opportunity our dark, pride-filled hearts are revealed.  Hear Lord Sidious, Emperor Palpatine, tell his “legendary” story of his own Sith master, Darth Plagueis:  “He became so powerful… the only thing he was afraid of was losing his power, which eventually, of course, he did. Unfortunately, he taught his apprentice everything he knew, and then one night, his apprentice killed him in his sleep. It’s ironic that he could save others from death, but not himself.”  

How curiously close to another familiar quote:  “He saved others; but he can’t save himself,” found in Matthew 27, Mark 15, and Luke 23.  The people thought Jesus was starting another counterfeit religion and mocked him in his “powerlessness,” not realizing what was happening around them.  When your religion, or your idol, is power, you pursue that and your life becomes memorialized by your pursuit of power, with all of its’ truth and consequences.  In the end, our pursuit of money and power becomes empty and we are gone, spent on that.  Jesus’ religion on the contrary was about giving up power- Matthew 17:25, Luke 9:24 and Luke 17:33- in order to see how powerful He is.  Because He saved others, and because He returned from death, he was evidently able to not only save others, but also himself.  “Father, Into your hands I commit my spirit,” said Jesus, quoted in Luke 23.  And then He laid it down.  It wasn’t taken from Him; (John 10:17-18) he was in control the whole time.  Strength, real power, isn’t always seen in showy displays, rumbling thunder, lightning, earthquakes like on Sinai in the Exodus wilderness.  Sometimes it’s shown by restraint, and keeping it under control.

With religion, one has to be careful to search it out and compare diligently, to make sure it’s not a counterfeit.  The real one won’t change with the times, and the bending ideologies of humans, if it’s the same God behind it.  The real one won’t have contradictions in teaching.  The real one, if followed, should be applicable to everyone, available to everyone, and make us better for following it. The real one will tell us God loves us, and we should love one another, yes, but will also honestly address and deal with the problem of sin without trying to make us work for salvation.  Because, how would we ever know if we’ve done enough good works or prayed enough prayers?  If the leader says you haven’t done enough, won’t you do more to earn your salvation?  How far will you go with that?  Will you do a bad thing, or sanction a bad thing, because your leader or your peer group said it’s good?  (Isaiah 5:20)  Will you hate other people because they don’t agree with what you believe, instead of loving them and merely hating the sinful behaviors they choose and habituate or endorse?  What about your own (what about my own?) habits that you know are bad?  Aren’t they just as bad if your God is perfect and sinless?  Better for us to adjust to the side of grace, if we’d like to receive grace ourselves.  God changes people, not by external commandment, but from inside, from the heart.  Counterfeit religion is made up by men as they go along, and will reveal impure motives of acquiring money, power or popularity, eventually.  It’ll be exposed.  Some even teach that killing another person, as long as it’s done for God, is all right, when we know from universally accepted standards of right and wrong that, basically, killing other people is bad.  Some have even written their own Bibles or extra “holy books,” or rewritten the one we have, to support their specific claims.  As good as any religion may sound, the origin of true religion that reaches God has to come from God.  If they make, or have made, a prophecy, it must have come true to be of the truth.  If it didn’t, it’s a lie.  Count the religions which predicted Jesus’ return that hasn’t happened yet.  Counterfeit religion also frequently concerns itself with outside appearances, more than on the heart.  Count the religions that say you have to dress and act this way and submit to their authority without question, to get to heaven.  There have been a number of cults that ended very badly by submitting to whatever the leader said to do.  By contrast, the Bereans in Acts searched the scriptures diligently to find out if what Paul was teaching was the truth.

In some ways, money would make it easier to make ourselves look good.  We can give larger sums of money to charity.  We can buy suits or pretty dresses, fancy cars, big houses, have facial surgery to delay the appearance of aging.  We can pay people to say nice things about us that cover over the negative things we’ve done.  In my line of work there is something called a “media search” where companies pay us to search the internet, periodicals, and other media, for comments about people.  Where there is defamatory information, one can pay to have positive things posted to make the negative harder to find.  

In my own life, I could search for myself and find a certain famous Australian singer from American Idol, season 7.  Under cover of his fame, my infamy- my blogs and my online games- are pretty much obscured unless you know what you’re looking for and have a good idea where to find it- but I do like Bejeweled Blitz on Facebook, and Pacxon.  And my blatant faithlessness and other sins against God and family are as secret as my family will keep them, since I couldn’t pay to avoid any blackmail.  If they come out I may as well confess in advance:  it’ll probably all be true.  When I fail, which happens all the time, I ask God for grace and mercy and forgiveness.  I would hope others would know that when we follow in faith, and ask, according to First John 1:9, God is faithful to forgive and clean us up, and start us on the right path again.  Thank God.

I followed behind the young scouts, looking for the less obvious markers on the graves.  I did it with the motive that if a veteran’s family came by, they wouldn’t think poorly of the scouts for having missed the one.  But God’s not really doing anything to make a church look good.  I think God will pay attention to the markers in our lives that are smaller and easier to miss than the grand, showy displays of power, like people who give out of their abundance.  He won’t pay attention to the things we do to draw attention to ourselves.  He will look for people who do what is right when no one is watching, who give in spite of their own needs.  He will look for genuine faith from people who trust and hope and give their all in spite of all the odds.  And He will make sure they are remembered.  And thanks to His efforts and restraint on the cross, my sins are covered and my debt to God is paid in full.  If He remembers nothing of what I have done because it’s been covered, I think it’s fine as long as my feet get on the right side of those pearly gates.

In the sermon, the joke about money was at the expense of the rich miser who didn’t give much at church.  (I had to laugh thinking, did the rich guys at our church listen as I did?)  His mansion was said to be smaller than the maid’s and the butler’s who gave out of their need.  St. Peter quipped of the small heavenly hovel, “we did the best we could with what you sent us.”  And maybe it’s true, the mansion is smaller when the sacrifices made aren’t sacrifices.  I don’t care about the size of any mansion or hovel; I just don’t want to be homeless in eternity, or to have too much heat, all year, if you know what I mean.

While remembering the fallen, laid to rest in their graves, I can’t help but remember that Jesus promised that we would follow where He went.  Then, He showed us death isn’t the end, and following Him means from the grave to the heavens (John 14:3).  

 

I want to follow Jesus, and His way of Love.  So I pray, Lord Jesus, lead the way, and help me follow.

IRS Workers, Lawyers, Protestants, Catholics and (Other) Sinners March 27, 2014

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Conformity is treasured in the modern day. I can’t imagine it is much different now than any other time in history. Those geniuses that made the leaps of progress were frequently called heretics and dangers to society.

Socrates is now some kind of heroic figure, but he was judged by his city to be guilty of corrupting the minds of the youth (here read “contributing to the delinquency of a minor”, in modern law-speak). His crime was asking questions, which inspired his followers to ask questions, from which we now learn the Socratic teaching method. It’s a way of getting students, and wise men, to think by questioning the questions they are being encouraged to ask and the theses they are being asked to accept. Then, either ask the questions in a new perspective, or ask entirely different questions posing brand new theses. It was fine until they started asking about the political regimes and the social structure (here read “distribution of wealth and power”). Asked what he felt his punishment should be, he suggested they feed him and provide him with a per diem, for the rest of his life. The way I read the story, they agreed, and provided him one free drink before dinner.

I read with great interest the stories of several excommunicated by the church, and in hindsight, too many times, it sounds a little too much like the result of a power struggle, and a little too little like any actual heresy was being promoted. Certainly someone nicknamed Pedro the Cruel, who, the story goes, persecuted clergy and church members alike might be deserving of this. But several people who were judged by the papal authority to be “excommunicated,” and thereby forfeiting any hope of eternal salvation, according to those authorities, after being in hell for years, were recommunicated by the church.

This doesn’t sound right. Did these Popes and Bishops have God’s ear, or was God telling them in spite of their own wrath, that the people they were excommunicating would officially be kept out of heaven? It’s like a kind of eternal prison system- now you’re locked in hell; now you’re released and free to roam about heaven. Add a belief in purgatory not supported very well in the Old or New Testaments, and you have a whole new dimension The problem is, we don’t have the voice of God pronouncing these judgements. We have finite human beings making, they claim, infinite judgement calls. The ref made a bad call, coach, what can we do? Accept the score and suck up the penalty. Oh wait, here comes an instant replay. Or, the head ref discusses with the ref and they decide to remove the penalty.

My son played flag football last year, and made it all the way to the playoffs. In the last round of the championship game, in the last quarter, one of his team mates got a foul that cost them 15 yards, and ultimately, the game. But the call was fair. Everyone saw what happened, and the official, a human, explained to the other humans why that was a penalty, and the cost of what had been done according to the rule book.

But with these excommunications, it’s a human declaring an eternal divine judgement call, based on their interpretation of the Bible, or based on their feelings of affrontery, or based on their own lust for power and money. A call which may be reversed at the whim of the next human. What makes this fishy is one of my favorite verses about God, that He doesn’t change. If God declared to the pope that someone was excommunicated and eternally hellbound, why would God change his mind and declare to another pope, or to the same pope, “we’re cool now and he can come to heaven?” Highly dubious.

So it was, that Joan of Arc was excommunicated and burned at the stake for her crimes, and then, oh, nevermind, she can come to heaven now. That whole burning torturous murder? Um. er… ah… We’re sorry! Now she can be venerated as “Saint Joan of Arc.” King Philip the fair was excommunicated for not respecting the authority of the pope. “Ah, yes, quite, I’m personally declaring myself as co-equal with God, and kicking you out of eternity in heaven because you don’t like me.” How humble that pope must have been! How many know that Robert the Bruce, future King of Scotland and legendary hero, was excommunicated later for a killing he may or may not have personally committed, on his way to the throne? The English see Robert as a villain, the Scots revere him as heroic. Which means this quite likely had to do with power, as much, or more, than with sin.

Copernicus and Galileo were not officially kicked out of heaven, but they were strongly suspected of heresy and ordered not to teach. Their books were banned until 1758. At least they weren’t burned at the stake. 116 years of continual denial of scientifically verifiable facts about the earth’s position, an insignificant planet in a huge universe, did no favors to the relationship of scientists and science to the church and doctrines.

In the 20th Century, in 1962, for voicing an opinion not popular today, but popular then, that schools shouldn’t be racially integrated, two people in Louisiana were kicked out of the Catholic fellowship. After they recanted publicly they were let back into the church. Whether they repented or not is only God’s knowledge. But that one I have to agree with. In an absence of Love, can God be present? “…for God is Love.” (I John 4)

For speaking against any one of the popes, many were excommunicated. There’s a rumor all it requires to get kicked out is claiming that he’s a fallible human being just like all of the other humans on the planet. The “doctrine of Papal Infallibility,” was a popular ditty back in 1860 and 1870 and again in 1950 when they declared emphatically that Mary the Mother of Jesus ascended into heaven without facing physical death. Funny, none of the books that made it into the Protestant canon assert that one. Wikipedia.org/wiki/Papal_infallibility asserts “This authority is considered by Catholics to be apostolic and of divine origin.” But if the pope, and all who hold the office, are infallible, why did any of them ever recant on an excommunication from another “infallible” pope, or from themselves? Oh, there they answer, it’s only on certain matters and has to be something a council agrees to. Then it’s not real infallibility, as argumentum ad populum is a logical fallacy. (Just because a bunch of people agree on something doesn’t make it a fact. But followers are going to follow.)

Notwithstanding, the founders of the Church of England, and the leaders of the Protestant reformation, were declared not worthy of heavenly inheritance by the Catholic church despite years of thoughtful, prayerful study that ultimately resulted in the Bible falling into the hands of commoners in our own language. Don’t let the commoners read and think for themselves. Make them submit in fear of the church. But “There is no fear in love, for perfect love casts out fear.” (I John 4:18) So if I’m frightened the church is going to kick me out, how unloving is that judgement? Why would I join an organization that teaches this but lets me fear their judgements? Wycliffe’s work was banned by the Church authorities. John Hus begged the church authorities to prove him wrong with the scriptures before he was burned at the stake.

Jesus too was considered a rebel in his day. He was a friend of sinners, like Matthew, a tax collector. Like Mary Magdalene, notorious by prior reputation, but forgiven by Jesus. If he forgave sin because he knew a heart was repentant, I have to say hallelujah, me next, please. Not only was he a friend of sinners, he did unauthorized work on the Sabbath day. Like healing the guy born blind. How just plain wicked is that?!

Those Protestant Christ followers are similar rebels, making up their minds after they read the Bible for themselves. They decide that “one mediator between God and Man” cuts out the confessional box, and penance. They decide that wine and bread is still wine and bread and the symbolic nature of the act doesn’t mean the elements are transformed into blood and flesh. It used to be called a doctrine around me, I affirm solemnly that I heard it called that, but now they’re saying transubstantiation isn’t a “doctrine, but a theory proposed to explain how Christ can be present in the Eucharist. It doesn’t have to be more complicated than just agreeing that “where two or three are gathered in [His] name, there he is in their midst.(Matthew 18:20)” Or does it?

I’m sorry if I’m stepping on your favorite dogma’s tail.

Does it boil down to the individual’s heart and their own personal relationship with God? I certainly hope so. Maybe God requires that if we’re following Jesus, we befriend “sinners” that the more pious among us wouldn’t associate with. I’ll let you decide for yourselves who the modern-day equivalent of “tax collectors, prostitutes and sinners” are, those were Jesus’ less-favored friends back in his day.

Perhaps we should befriend workers at the IRS, people who’ve had affairs or divorces or both, lawyers, Protestants, and even Catholics, among other more modern-day “sinners.” I know a lawyer and he’d love another friend. Anything to not be the butt of another lawyer joke. I don’t want to be a blind follower necessarily, but please don’t burn me at the stake when I think out loud and ask questions and make statements about what it says and what makes sense to me. Maybe the youth need someone to help them ask the right questions in the right way, so they can learn how to think differently.

Maybe I’m wrong, after all, I’m not infallible. I’ll take a lesson if you’ve got one. Oh, and yes, I would love a drink, but hold the hemlock if you please.