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Posts Tagged ‘Germany’

Bleeding on the Altar of Self-sacrifice

Humanity’s relationship with the divine has always been a miserable one.  In the Judeo-Christian system of belief, the fault is laid at the feet of the first couple, Adam and Eve, in the Garden of Eden.  The shattering of an idyllic relationship with humankind’s Creator and surrounding creation was the result of their disobedience and rebellion.  Their offspring, right down to us who are alive today, still refers to that episode as “The Fall.”  A clear indication that something was lost.

Efforts by humanity to regain that privileged position with their Creator and with creation has resulted in a myriad of convoluted religious beliefs systems.  Of course, in the modern era, the idea that one can completely opt out of any and all religious belief systems is now an option.  Thus, atheism has become a religion and religious expression all its own.  However, for the majority of the world, some type of belief in a deity(ies) still exists.  It affects how life is conducted on every level of human existence.

One thing they seem to bear in common is some sort of system for sacrifice to appease their god(s) or spiritual beings (if they are animists).  There appears to be a human universal need to “pay for one’s sins” to gain approval from these divines.  A predominant idea throughout all religious systems is that reality involves more than just what can be seen.  There is a larger reality in the unseen world that affects what is going on in the seen world.

Where the Christian faith diverges from these other world religions is the view that a sacrifice is no longer needed (at least in the Protestant stream).  It begins with God’s revelation to the children of Israel, the Jews.  God, by his revelation through the ancient patriarchs – Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – then later Moses and then reaffirmed through the Prophets, set up a better sacrificial system.  More important, meaning and explanation accompanied the revelation for the sacrificial system that pointed to a time when sacrifices would no longer be needed.

The sacrifices of grains and animals really do not change the heart of humanity.  They only bear witness to the cost of our continued rebellion and disobedience to our Maker.  Thus, in God’s timing, He sent His son, Yeshua = Joshua/Jesus.  According to His divine plan, this God-man who lived a perfect life became a sacrifice for all of humanity and all of human sin.  Ironically, we killed him.

Our Jewish and Gentile fore-bearers unrighteously judged him, unjustly condemned him and then put him to death in a cruel fashion by crucifixion.  Nevertheless, because of the Son’s willing obedience to take all of humanity’s punishment, God raised him from the dead and restored him to his heavenly place of rule and authority.  A few hundred people testified to seeing him after dying and being buried.  We have their testimonies written down for us to digest, accept and believe or disbelieve.

One would think that this would be the end of the story – at least in the Christian realm.  But, no.  The story continues to unfold in human history.  There are many who reject the idea that one person, no matter how perfect, could die for another and that it would be enough to satisfy God’s demand for justice and judgment against human sin.  Still, there are many others who believe the story and accept the sacrifice of God’s son for their own sin.  They continually remind themselves of this by partaking in the Eucharist or Holy Communion.

Nevertheless, even among those who accept the story witnessed to by so many, believe upon it and choose to live their lives by it, there is a creeping attitude or idea that something more must be required.  So, Christians create their own altars for their own sacrifices hoping to add to what Christ already did upon the cross, in the grave and through the resurrection.  Even those who are children of the Protestant Reformation and think of themselves as holding to “evangelical” beliefs struggle with this issue.

This struggle is more particularly acute when Christians go through troubling times and hardships.  A whole “Christian” nation can take on this attitude in turbulent times.  We want to find a reason for our suffering – or bad turn of luck.  We too quickly turn back to a pagan view of God that determines we must have done something – sinned – to anger the deity and now he is poised against us.  So, we search for ways to satisfy the deity’s anger, appease it and regain its approval and blessing – or at least neutrality so as not to oppose us in our plans and desires for a peaceful and happy existence.

Pink Rhododendrun Flowers, Spring 2010

Pink Rhododendrun Flowers, Spring 2010 Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

I was reminded of this troubling trend in our Christian history when I came across how many responded to the Black Death Plague – also called the Bubonic Plague – in Europe during the middle ages.  I have just finished reading John Man‘s book, “Gutenberg: How One Man Remade the World with Words.  He highlights in one chapter the actions of “the flagellants.”

The popular idea then, much as it is now, is that the God of the Bible promised not only salvation in the next life but also constant support in this one.  However, in the face of the troubling Black Death (Bubonic Plague) epidemic He seemed impotent, if not hostile towards humanity through the disease.  The explanation?  God must be angry and was clearly out to punish all of Europe and the Church – either actively or by neglect and indifference.  So, God must be somehow mollified.  This took many forms, of course, but one of the radical forms were the crazed devotees who marched from city to city through Europe lashing themselves with iron-tipped whips while crying out for God’s mercy.  Fellow devotees would then follow them moaning and dabbing themselves with the blood of the flagellants.

Another radical form was to find blame in someone else and make them pay the price.  While today the Church likes to look outside itself and blame homosexuals, pornography, gambling, liquor, liberal politicians and other spiritual “enemies”, the Church then chose to blame the Jews.  Already labeled as Christ-torturers and child-murders, all across Germany the rumor spread that they were also “well-poisoners.”  Thus, one series of many Jewish persecutions took place all across Europe.

Jews were burned on a wooden scaffold in the churchyard in Strasbourg.  This was replicated in almost all of the cities along the Rhine river.  In Antwerp and Brussels, entire Jewish communities were slain.  In Erfurt, 3,000 perished as sacrifices for the cause of the Black Plague.  In Worms and Frankfurt, instead of facing the same fate, the Jews chose to go out in Masada-like fashion and committed mass suicide.  In Mainz, Germany, 100 were burned outside of St. Quentin’s Church on St. Bartholomew’s day.  All were ultimately sacrifices to attempt to appease “God’s” anger and restore deserved blessing and peace to Europe.

While reading about these sad episodes in human history, I could not help but think that we really have not come that far in the Christian faith.  There is still a propensity to want to “pay back” God for our sin.  When bad things happen, Christian too often look for a cause-and-effect.  We want an explanation; preferably an understandable one.  The fact remains that there often is not one.  God remains God and does not need to explain his actions or non-actions to us.  His goodness comes to those who deserve it and those who do not.  Likewise, bad things visit humanity indiscriminately – to good people and bad people.

Christians often think that their faith in God somehow gives them a “Club Membership” to a trouble-free life.  So, when disease, tragedy, disaster or unexpected death visit us, we think that our “Membership Dues” must not be paid up.  We think we must “sacrifice” something to get back in to the “Club” of God’s favor.  How wrong!

As a spiritual leader in churches, I have witnessed good Christian people go through all kinds of agony trying to find an explanation for why bad things happen to them.  Early on in my spiritual journey, I always thought that I owed them and explanation.  After all, I am the one who went to Bible School and Seminary.  I should have the answers, right?  What a relief to finally come to the conclusion that I do not.  And I do not have to have “the answer(s).”  The fact is that most of the time, there is no answer.

And perhaps that is just the point.  When God remains distant and in the shadows of human tragedy and suffering, it may be that He is there to witness our faith in action when it is needed most.  After all, no one really knows what they truly believe until they are put under the stress of a trial or spiritual test.  It is then that what we truly believe in our hearts – our souls – really comes out and is evident to us and all those around us.  It is then that we discover the real bankruptcy of our “faith” or when we realize how very vibrant and real our faith truly is for us.

At any rate, faith in what God accomplished through the Messiah should be sufficient for us.  There is nothing more that we can add to his sacrificial death or resurrection.  We cannot create another altar and offer our own sacrifices upon it.  There is no other altar, no other sacrifice and no other payment necessary to appease God’s wrath.  He only accepts his son, Jesus the Messiah.  No other.  Only those who come to him through what his son did are received by him.  There is no other way.

So, the next time you feel the tug to “offer a sacrifice” to please God, remember that He has already made one for you.  There is nothing more that you can offer.  There is no trophy, no price, no sacrifice anyone can offer to God where they will be able to say to Him, “Look what I have offered to you!  Are you not pleased with me?  Don’t you owe it to me to bless me and always keep me happy now?”  Such an approach is a bankrupt one.  It fails to recognize the cost of His son’s sacrifice and is an affront to Him.

If you are finding yourself bleeding on the altar of self-sacrifice because you thought you could earn God’s favor, it is time to get off of it and be set free.  No amount of guilt, hand-wringing, praying, fasting, giving, worrying, church attendance or any other spiritual flagellation will earn you any credits in His account book until you learn to accept and live in the forgiveness and grace freely given to you through Christ.  Like so many before me, I too have often “beat myself up” mentally and spiritually thinking that everything that went wrong was my fault and that I must have done something to displease God.  I have learned to recognize that as a subtle spiritual lie of the enemy of my soul, the devil.  He would have me do anything but accept and live freely in what Christ accomplished.

After all, self-sacrifice is just another form of self-worship.  Self-worship is what caused Satan’s downfall in the first place.  By attempting to make our own sacrifices and meet God on our terms, we are only attempting to do what Satan did before His fall from heaven.  Only God dictates the terms for the satisfaction of divine judgment and justice.  Otherwise, He would not be God.  So, He has provided the answer or solution.  He has already established the altar and received the sacrifice.  It is time for us to stop bleeding on the altar of our self-sacrifices and worship at the throne of grace and mercy.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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One of the things missing in the debate about immigration today is the view from the other side of the border – or fence in some places.  Americans seem to be myopically fixed upon their own ethno-centristic view of “the immigrant;” especially the illegal.  There is little regard or interest in how the rest of the world sees us, which explains a large part of the mess we have made in Iraq, Afghanistan and other parts of the world where we have attempted to interfere or intervene.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of Americans live in a mono-cultural setting while the rest of the world lives in a multi-cultural setting.  People in the rest of the world are made, as a part of everyday living, to interact with two or three different cultures and speak in two or three different dialects or languages.  On the other hand, Americans are impatient with an immigrant working behind the counter at Burger King.

Traveling abroad opens up a whole new world for those needing to break out of their mono-cultural worldview and experience life like the majority of the rest of the world.  Probably no experience for me has shaped my view of different cultures as much as my experience in India.  At the same time, no experience has taught me more about culture and immigration than my interactions with people from different countries attempting to start life over in the USA.  They are the brave ones.  It gives me an appreciation for what my ancestors did when they first came to America from Sweden a century ago or from Germany more than two centuries ago.

Lizard On Burnt Stump, Deschutes River Trail, April 2010

Lizard On Burnt Stump, Deschutes River Trail, April 2010 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

India is a study in contrasts.  In the major cities, there are people everywhere.  The bright colors of dress and Hindu temples, music blaring from loud speakers and non-stop sounds of automobile horns surround a person.  There is no escape.  At the same time, the smells of diesel, perfumes, foods, open sewers and dead animals constantly waft around you.

As one moves through the city and countryside, a person cannot escape the rotting garbage, open trenches of raw sewage, plastic bags everywhere, wandering cows dropping there excrement everywhere, dogs running lose and people walking in and amongst traffic.  For all the beauty, the filth and chaos is unavoidable!  Forget any American sense of the rules of the road.  Trucks, buses, tractors, cars, motor rickshaws, bicycles, tricycles, ox carts, cows, water buffalo and people all vie for the road with honking, waving and shouting.

This is how most Americans see India and its people.  How about their view of us?  I recently read an article taken from the Evangelical Missions Quarterly (44:1 January 2008) by Paul G. Hiebert entitled “Clean and Dirty: Cross-Cultural Misunderstandings in India.”  It was eye-opening and revealing.  I wish I had read it before I my trip to India.

I presently live in an apartment complex that has a number of Indian families living in it.  The smell of curry drifts from their apartments.  I love it.  I have a new appreciation for their attempt to live in an American culture that is so foreign to them.  They have a lot of work cut out for them just to navigate everyday life.  I – all of us – have a lot to learn from them.

One thing that Indians notice in stark contrast from where they came from is the public cleanliness.  Manicured lawns, prettily painted houses, clean streets, no open sewers all make the world seem neat and orderly.  And the traffic!  No one uses their horns!  People drive clean, dent-free cars.  They stay in the well-marked lanes and actually stop at stop-lights and stop-signs.  On top of that, they will actually wait their turn to go through an intersection!  It is all simply amazing to them.

In contrast, however, when Indians first come to America, they are shocked at our personal filthiness.  Paul Hiebert in his article points out that they see Americans going to school, buses and stores in torn jeans, very short shorts, unkempt T-shirts and gaudy footwear.  Women dress in the same drab attired as men or in sweat pants or, worse yet, pajamas.  From their cultural perspective, all these look like beggars’ clothes.  Obviously we can afford more respectful clothes.

It is puzzling to these new comers to America that we keep our shoes on when we enter a house.  This is really confusing to them when we enter a house of worship into the presence of God.  It seems that we care more for our cars, yards and streets than we do ourselves or our god.

When visiting India, if one looks past the surface of dirt and filth, one would see a culture that is very concerned with purity and pollution.  Hiebert points out that Indians are, in fact, obsessed with personal cleanliness.  When leaving their small huts, men will always come out with their best shirts, ties and trousers, washed and pressed, along with polished shoes.  Women will only appear in public in brightly colored feminine clothes.  Houses even with dirt floors and court yards are swept daily.  People brush their teeth and comb their hair almost obsessively.  Plus, they will do it outside, in public, so that people will see their concern for cleanliness and public dignity.

When Indians watch Americans eat, they do so with incredulity.  After all, Americans like to eat with utensils that have been in other people’s mouths.  They frequently do not wash their hands before eat – even if they touch food with their fingers!  They also use their right hands in toilets and use paper to clean themselves.  Hiebert also points out that Americans eat meat, particularly beef, which gives them a strong body odor that vegetarians can smell.

Since Indians are concerned with personal pollution, they are careful about the things they touch.  Only the left hand is used for dirty activities, such as toilet duties.  They only eat with the fingers of their right hand, after washing, which has not been in other people’s mouths.  They are careful about who and what they touch to prevent themselves from being defiled.

Perhaps Americans could use a lesson from about “cleanliness” and “purity” from our Indian friends.  Instead of being so concerned about outward cleanliness, we should focus on what defiles us.  It seems Jesus addressed the Pharisees of his day with the same concern.  They were more concerned about outward purity than inward defilement.  His advice to them was not to be so concerned with the outward cleanliness of the cup, but pay attention to what is inside it.  It is what comes out of us that defiles us.

I suspect there are other lessons world-citizens could teach us if we were willing to learn.  As more and more people come to America from around the world, we have a prime opportunity to allow them to teach us.  It might behoove us to not demand that they become “like us.”  In some instances, it may be better for everyone if we become more like them.  This will take getting a vision from the other side of the world.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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