Archive for August, 2011

Jesus was a day laborer

August 31, 2011

That’s right. Jesus wasn’t a carpenter. He was a day laborer.

I searched Google Images for "Hispanic Jesus," but this was the best I could find.

Don’t believe me?  I remember hearing once that the Greek word τέκτων (pronounced tek-ton), which was translated in the King James Bible (and ever since) as ‘carpenter,’ could also mean, among other things, ‘someone who works with their hands.’ Not to leave things to hearsay, I’ve just done an exhaustive Google web search that took me all of about two minutes, and two different bible lexicon websites I found (which you can check here and here) confirm that τέκτων has multiple meanings other than ‘carpenter.’ Though the exact definition I’d heard, ‘someone who works with their hands,’ is not among these, I’d say that it’s reasonable to assume that a ‘craftsman’ or ‘workman’ is someone who works with their hands.

Not only was Jesus a day laborer, he was also homeless (Matthew 8:20 & Luke 9:58)

It’s interesting to learn that the alleged occupation of both Jesus and his adopted daddy Joseph (see Matthew 13:55 & Mark 6:3) could be translated from Greek as something other than carpenter. It’s also interesting to re-cast Jesus as a ‘workman,’ instead of a carpenter, especially given the many and varied references in his parables to ‘workmen,’ people who might be more readily identified in our time as field hands, or day laborers. I say this because it occurs to me that if you were to travel around, spending basically all of your time teaching and preaching to people about things they may well have never considered before, you’d inevitably draw on your own experience, explaining things in terms that you are familiar with, as well as things that your audience is familiar with. Given Jesus’ many parables–using not only day laborers and workmen, but also various images of farming and field work–to explain the Kingdom of God, I can’t help but think that Jesus had some experience with a few of these things. Taken in tandem with a Greek word whose definition has a certain malleability in its definition that King James never intended us to know about, and we have a strengthening case for a Day Laborer Messiah.

Perhaps that’s the other reason this idea appeals to me so much. It seems so perfectly in line with everything else the Gospels teach, that the Messiah should come from such a lowly occupation. It’s almost offensive, isn’t it? Pairing our Lord n’ Savior with the  second-class status of a day laborer. But perhaps what’s most offensive about that connection is the unspoken implication that comes with it: if Jesus was a day laborer, then somehow this occupation (rather than carpentry) should be elevated and respected. Never mind the fact that most day laborers are often underpaid to do work that no one else is willing to do; if Jesus was a day laborer, then day laborers are somehow special, even important, just by virtue of the fact that they share an occupation with the Big Boss man. Next you’ll try to tell me that immigrants shouldn’t be called illegal, or that they’re full-fledged people; you might even try to convince me that the Jewish Messiah opened up God’s blessings to a bunch of dirty Gentiles. Please.

I’m thinking about all this to begin with because early this morning I drove into town and picked up a couple guys to help me crawl around under a house in some of the tightest, dirtiest spots you’ll ever try to squeeze through outside of a caving expedition, and put down a layer of plastic lining which will act as a moisture barrier. For those who don’t know, I’m currently living in Cumming, GA and I’m working with my dad to renovate and remodel a house that’s been in our family for over a hundred years, back to when my great grandfather built it in 1898.

I spent the better part of the morning getting down and dirty–literally–with these two hermanos, Gabriel and Victor, who came to Georgia from Mexico City as early as nine years ago to seek better economic opportunities. My dad paid them $75 for the three-and-a-half-hour job, which we thought would take the better part of 6 hours, and we bought them lunch before I dropped them off again. It’s not the first time we’ve worked with them either; I first met Gabriel a couple weeks ago when we picked him and two other guys up and paid them to remove the vinyl siding from the house.

It seems natural (or typical, anyway) that this should segue into a political discussion about immigration policy, economics and human rights. However, I feel that if you want that discussion, you could find it, more comprehensive and better-informed, by turning elsewhere. I think the news of Georgia farm worker shortages earlier this summer says enough about the economic impact of HB 87, and I don’t intend to rehash all of that again right here.

But I know what you’re thinking–not all of you, of course, but surely one or two–are Gabriel and Victor here illegally? Honestly, I don’t know; nor do I care. But ask yourself this: was Jesus?

Until next time, may the Peace of Christ (and a little discomfort) be with you!

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Some thoughts about the end times

August 25, 2011

I wanna talk a bit about the end times, since we’re in them.

I want to start off by discussing a bit about what I understand of dispensational theology, since this is by and large the school of thought that Americans, christian and non, associate with the phrase. You may be surprised that I am not even going to mention the term ‘rapture’ at all in this post (save that one). I’ll save that idea for another time, since this discussion will be long enough without it. What I want to address, however, are a couple fundamental problems that I believe this theological school of thought holds in relation to the mission that christians have in the world. To these ends, dispensational theology errs in its (mis)understandings that (a) God initiated two separate covenants with humanity, and (b) that the modern secular state of Israel is to be conflated with the ancient biblical nation (people group) of Israel.

Addressing my first point, the idea that God initiated two separate covenants for humanity–one through Abraham, for the Jewish people, and one through Jesus for all who believe in him–is predicated upon a compartmentalized interpretation of scripture, and it waters down the power of the Gospel of Christ. The Gospel truth is that there is only one covenant, the covenant that was begun with Abraham and renewed through Jesus. True, Jesus said, “this is the cup of the new covenant, sealed in my blood,” but I believe that this “new covenant” is simply a RE-newing, and a broadening and opening up, of the original covenant with Abraham.

If we follow the line of dispensational theology, then there are two separate covenants: one which promises a physical kingdom to the Jewish people, and one which promises a spiritual kingdom to followers of Jesus Christ. Both are interpreted to be eternal, since God’s Word endures forever. That first, physical kingdom was demolished and has not been (fully) restored to its grandest borders, according to dispensationalist thinkers. That second, spiritual Kingdom is, of course, The Kingdom of God, which dispensationalists interpret in the modern context to mean Christendom, or the nominally christian powers of the world.

According to this end-times theology, the modern secular state of Israel, which is the modern iteration of that first kingdom, must first be restored to the boundaries of the ancient kingdom at its height, and then the fullness of the Second Covenant can be enacted, when Jews by and large will convert to Christianity–when, presumably, they’ll finally have a collective “a-ha!” moment and realize that Jesus was and is the long-awaited Savior. Following this, I believe the line of thinking goes that there must be some monumental global upheaval, so that a literal reading of “the tribulation” in the Revelation of John can be satisfied, and then Jesus can come back to lead the climactic battle of Armageddon–finally!–which no doubt will involve this new united covenantal army of christian believers on one side, and some large, demonically-controlled force, (maybe Islam?) on the other. These two will battle it out, the good guys will win, the bad guys who don’t believe in Jesus will be defeated and thrown into hell, and then, as the inspiring music comes in and the credits begin to roll, God’s vision of communion with humanity (or those left of it who believe the right stuff) can, at long last, ensue. Forever.

It’s worth noting that, though I haven’t actually read the best-selling Left Behind religious fiction series, I’m pretty sure that a lot of the general outline for this end times timeline, which is widely accepted among American evangelicals, comes from the pages of the very same.

It’s also worth quoting Jesus right now, to hear his take on the end-times:

“But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.” (Matthew 24:36-39, TNIV)

Let’s also remember that even Paul, that pre-eminent evangelizing apostle and theologian who had a close personal encounter with the Lord, had the end-times forecast wrong. He thought Jesus would return within his lifetime; it seems that christians ever since have been making the same mistaken conclusion.

Now, in the logical conclusion of the preceding dispensationalist scenario, Jewish people who do not come to believe in Jesus Christ serve no other cosmic or historical purpose than to rebuild an ancient kingdom (so God can’t be called a liar) and then die and burn in hell. This is anti-semitism at its worst, because it even purports to support the Jewish people (through support of the modern secular state of Israel) while still relegating them to hell unless they change who they are.

This gets into my second point. Support for Israel as a proxy for support for Jewish people the world over is a woeful misdirection of intention and energy. Support for Israel doesn’t seek, necessarily, the well-being of Jewish people individually in their particular contexts, but rather, the well-being the secular state that claims to have in mind the best interests of all Jews everywhere. Dispensationalist support for Israel, especially, disregards the hopes and aspirations of many Jews who have legitimate criticisms with what the secular state of Israel does in their names. Dispensationalist support for Israel tries to conform Jews to a particular role within a specific end times scenario, and has no regard for those who don’t eventually fit that mold. It substitutes a governmental institution for millions of actual people, and serves only to pursue the interests of the political group in power in Israel, which happens to be continuing an agenda of illegal land and resource annexation at the expense of many Palestinians, Christian and Muslim alike. This may come as a shock to many American evangelicals and supporters of Israel, but the agenda of this modern state–founded by secularist Jewish nationalists (and socialists at that!)–is not God’s agenda. Dispensationalist theology would have you disagree with that statement. However, if we are open to the idea that God, through Jesus Christ, renews that original covenant with Abraham, rather than setting up a separate covenant, then a very different world is possible.

Interestingly, this was the first google images result for "end times."

Let me take a very brief (read: long) tangent, in order to come around to the point. I believe that in all Jesus accomplishes throughout scriptural accounts of his life, death, and resurrection, he is reinterpreting mistaken views of the original covenant between God and Abraham. In this way, he is very much like the prophets who came before him. Throughout the centuries before Jesus, Israel strayed again and again from God’s vision for his Covenant people: they worshipped golden images, which was a sin of materialism/idolatry; they built a temple like the other nations, so as to keep the untamable God attached to a particular place, (see 1 Samuel 8 ) and this was a sin of not following one’s own unique vocation, as well as a sin of idolatry, if you think about it; they abused their neighbors and those in society whom they could exert power over instead of acting in charity, which was a sin of fear/greed/inhospitality; as well as many other things. For these reasons, the initial prophets came in the first place, to remind Israel of its original calling to be a peculiar, loving, nomadic people through which God could bless the whole world by their example. I believe Jesus came to do likewise, but he wanted to start from the ground up. He came usher in the full vision of that covenant with Abraham, a vision that he called the Kingdom of God. He came to establish God’s Kingdom on earth NOW (in his time, 2000 years ago) and for evermore. that is to say that God’s ultimate end times plan starts with Jesus 2000 years ago, not with the supposed re-establishment of the historical Kingdom of Israel sometime in the future.

Jesus, I believe, took upon himself the role of Israel as it should have been, and began to bless the whole world, Jews and unclean Gentiles alike. It’s almost as if Jesus, in establishing his “New” covenant, now says, “Since we’re obviously having a hard time keeping this covenant in tact, I’m going to assume the place of Israel, and I’ll make a new covenant with you, all of you: follow me, take my teachings to heart and do like I do, and it will be like you’re keeping to the old covenant (because if you do like I do then you will be).” And of course, Jesus opens this offer up to any and all who might take it (and take it seriously, at that.) Paul, in his letter to the Romans (Chapter 4), rightly interprets the covenant relationship with Abraham and his descendants to be contingent upon their faith relationship with God, not their exact keeping of the letter of the Law, nor by their blood relation with Abraham, and John the Baptizer says as much in pre-Jesus ministry (Matthew 3:9; Luke 3:8). Jesus also made these words manifest throughout his ministry (with Gentiles!) in the region. Furthermore, he did the work, through establishing his (re)new(ed) covenant, of making sure the whole world is blessed and able to participate. We, as his disciples, ought to go and do likewise, “for students are not above their teacher, nor servants above their master” (Matthew 10:24, TNIV). Our goal shouldn’t be to “convert non-believers to christianity” (note that formalized christian religion didn’t exist until some 300 years after Jesus!) but to spread the love, teachings, and example of Jesus with all whom we meet, and in THIS way, to make true followers (disciples) of all people groups (nations), regardless of their given religious labels (christian, muslim, hindu, buddhist, jew). I believe that this is what Jesus really meant in his Great Commission. In this way, we aren’t merely converting their religion (exchanging it like you might exchange currency in a foreign country), but rather TRANSFORMING PEOPLE’S LIVES, as Jesus and his earliest disciples did.

The vision given in John’s revelation is often misunderstood, and still mysterious, even though there is a scholarly consensus that it was a coded message to contemporary christians regarding an end to Roman persecution.

It is not, however, the script for some Left Behind style Armageddon. If it were, then there is still room for both good guys and bad guys; in short, people are allowed to remain enemies. But this is the one thing in the whole world that the Kingdom  of God doesn’t have room for!

God sent Jesus to proclaim that the Kingdom started 2000 years ago, and it’s still here, even today. The Kingdom of God is present wherever you encounter genuine love that crosses socio-economic and cultural divisions. For this reason, the Kingdom is first established in the hearts of those who accept it, and then it becomes manifest in the world through deliberate action on the part of the one who believes in it. “It’s like a tiny bit of leaven that works its way through the entire loaf.” I think a really wise man said that once. But someone has to knead the dough; someone has to get to work to make it happen. 

The Kingdom is here; it’s right inside of you, like a seed waiting for the perfect conditions so it can germinate and grow. Sadly, most folks in the world, including many christians, are either too proud or too afraid to let God establish the Kingdom in their hearts. For this reason, we say that it is here, and yet it is not here. But with enough nutrients, moisture and sunlight, any and every seed is capable of growing into the plant God made it to be. So may we let that Kingdom grow inside, until it bursts forth and we truly do become salt and light for those around us. May we encourage each other, in word and in deed, to build the kingdom, with all due haste and joy (and patience). May the Kingdom be built here, on earth as it is in heaven, brick by loving brick, into its fullness, and may we each be ready to build it with our own hands, because those are the hands with which God has seen fit to have it built.

So what about the end-times, Mitch?

Jesus of the Rohirrim!

Well, we’re in them, and though we may yet be waiting for Christ to return–bodily (I’ll confess that I don’t know if or when!)–the truth is also that Christ is here on earth now, and the church is his body. So if the ministry of Christ is failing, it’s because we are not living into our true collective identity as the Body of Christ. Truth is, I don’t have much of a thought for when the end is coming, nor do I think it is healthy for christians to obsess/worry/ponder this possibility. Rather, I think it is our job to get busy doing the work of Christ: loving everyone, giving direction to the lost, mending what’s broken, freeing captives of all kind, proclaiming and showing hope to the hopeless, making homes for the homeless, and generally building that Kingdom we keep hearing about. Is that a decent answer? I hope so, because I don’t know much else.

Until next time, may the Peace of Christ (and a little discomfort) be with you!

“In Christ’s Name”

August 9, 2011

Let me start by apologizing for the fact that I haven’t updated this blog in well over a year. Truth is, I was really bad at updating it in the first place, and after a prolonged hiatus, I forgot the URL (wow, really?) and resigned that it would be lost in cyber-obscurity forever. As providence would have it, however, I the link was conveniently on my Facebook info page (go figure) and I just found out! So, in the tradition of those Lost/Found Parables that Jesus told: “Rejoice with me! For I have found my lost blog!”

I got to looking in the first place because I had my heart set on starting over–starting a new blog, and keeping it up with it this time. I suppose I’ll start over by picking up where I left off, and keeping up with it this time! I promise, I’ll be good!

I started this blog to begin with as an outlet for the overflow of musings, spiritual and otherwise, that usher from my mind. See, more often than not, in my solitary time I find myself engaged in hypothetical conversations over a variety of issues ranging touching on matters cultural, political, ecological and theological. Frequently, as may come to see, these themes overlap. I’m not sure if I am unique in this solitary habit of conversation and debate; consider it a way to process the daily flow of new information and insight that passes in and out of my consciousness. So this is one reason to get back on the horse, so to speak. But you and I both know that’s not the only reason to start (or continue) blogging. Any blogger knows the innate potential that the medium affords to captivate and influence untold masses.  The mere existence of this open-sourced, virtual soapbox could enable a nobody, a Joe Six-pack, if you will, to rise to cyber-stardom, even if only for the typical fifteen minutes. This is the very reason why many bloggers blog at all:  in order to make a name for themselves. I confess that this too, is part of my motivation.

For precisely this reason, I’ve chosen to establish this blog “In Christ’s name.” It’s a two-fold purpose, really:  first, it seems fitting to (re)initiate any endeavor through which matters of spiritual importance will be discussed in the name of Jesus, to whom I publicly confess my spiritual and political allegiance. It is “in Christ’s name,” after all, that we christians should strive to do all of our lives’ work. Secondly, in deciding to get back on the blog, I found the irony too much:  I do this thing, hoping to build a bit of a name for myself, while publicly confessing to live and labor for the name of Christ.  So that is the ironic, honest tension that I hope to at least recognize and introduce in this first post.

We 21st-century Americans find ourselves in a culture so inundated by self-promotion and celebrity idolization that it can sometimes almost disappear to our conscious minds.  We can become desensitized to this ethos, so dominant in our daily realities, in much the same way a person can slowly grow desensitized to the unsavory odor of pet urine after spending enough time in a house that reeks with it. This is what the cult of celebrity worship and shameless self-promotion does to us; we eventually grow so accustomed to it that it becomes the norm. We may even mistake the customized, virtual versions of the people we know for our actual friends, or worse; I may become blind to the ways that I intentionally customize the virtual version of myself to mask the real me, with all of my unique blemishes and brokenness.

I simply want to say here, at the outset, that I recognize and acknowledge my own capacity to distort the image of God within myself, and to mistake the images on Facebook, in the movies, and on TV, for the image of God in my friends and neighbors. I am guilty of this, and so I will own it. It is in the light of this observation, having been given sight in an area where I have been blind, that I give praise where praise is due, and elevate the name of Jesus above any name that I might hope to make for myself.

Honestly, I sound so pious I almost make myself sick; nevertheless, the sentiment is true.

Christ’s Peace (and some discomfort) be with you until next time!