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Posts Tagged ‘Human Nature’

Human Saints

I am continually amazed at how human characters in the Bible are portrayed. One would think that if you were going to write a “holy book” espousing the virtues of a god that all your main characters in that book would be stellar examples of faith and righteousness.  What we have in the Bible, instead, is a parade of characters who are fallible, unstable, unreliable and often very poor examples for others to follow.

From Sunday School to the preacher’s pulpit, however, we usually ‘cherry pick’ the positive stories of Scripture. We like to highlight all the successes in the “good” characters of the Bible.  We then juxtapose them against the failures of the evil characters.  I have come to think that this not only does a disservice to the Bible and its message but also to its followers.  The stories of all the individuals are a mixed bag of failures and successes.  All of them are complex human beings placed in complicated life situations.  In some situations, they handle themselves well; in others, not so much.

Growing up on Sunday School lessons, David in the Old Testament was always portrayed as a hero and someone to emulate. However, a careful examination of his life as an adult reveals that even though he is called “a man after God’s heart,” he is a deeply flawed individual who on more than one occasion failed God, his family and his Kingdom.  The legacy left by him through his children and grandchildren is dismal.  By today’s standards he would be an absentee father and a failure as a parent.

In the New Testament, many of the disciples of Christ failed to get his message or understand his mission. Peter’s leadership in the early church was marked by duplicity and was called out by Paul.  Paul was known for his anger and early on alienated a young protégé and close friend in ministry.  Most of the first churches were marked with strife and doctrinal errors; so much so that all the New Testament letters contain some kind of correction if not out right rebuke.

Few Biblical characters get away with a spotless image aside from Jesus, the son of God. And perhaps that is just the point.  No one is perfect:  not any one.  Only one came to live on earth who could do so perfectly before God and man.  That person was Jesus the Messiah.

So, rather than holding up paragons of perfection, the wise author of the Bible through divinely inspiring human writers went ahead and told stories that reveal the best of human qualities along side the worst. This should encourage us all, I think.  It reveals that God knows human nature and is not afraid of dealing with its messiness.  It gives us hope that if God can work in and through the lives of such imperfect humans then perhaps he can do so in our lives too.

Cool Desert Nights, Richland, Washington, June 2009

Cool Desert Nights, Richland, Washington, June 2009 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

Instead of examining the Bible for perfect characters to model, perhaps we should be looking for imperfect human models who inspire us to believe that God is able to work in the world and in us despite our worst qualities. I think this approach is more healthy.  It gives a much greater image of God grace, mercy and goodness.  It also magnifies the work and power of God in us.  Instead of our message being about us and how we can make God look good and help him, our message simply becomes about how great God is despite us.  God gets all the glory because we cannot add anything to him or his story.

God must be pretty secure in himself to allow the written testament of his acts throughout history to include some of the biggest failures named as his followers. Most any other book of heroes would edit out those kinds of stories.  Yet, here record for us all to read and study is a raw history of human successes and failure despite God’s best efforts.  It shows us that he did design the crown of his creation to be mere puppets or robots but agents with a free will to make their own choices.  The fact that God continues to work amidst all this mess reveals the depth of love and care for his creation.  It means that, in the end, we are all saints in his eyes – very human saints.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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  • Better save that.  We’ll need it for the autopsy.
  • Someone call the janitor—we’re going to need a mop.
  • Bo!  Bo!  Come back with that!  Bad dog!!
  • Wait a minute…If this is his spleen, then what’s that?
  • Hand me that…uh…that uh….thingie.
  • Oh, no.  I just lost my Rolex.
  • Oops…Hey…has anyone ever survived 500ml of this stuff before?
  • Ya’ know, there’s big money in kidneys.  Shoot-fire, the guy’s got two of ’em.
  • Everybody stand back—I lost my contact lens.
  • Could you stop that thing from thumping?  It’s throwing my concentration off.
  • I hate it when they’re missing stuff in here.
  • That’s cool!  Now, can you make his leg twitch?!
  • I wish I hadn’t forgotten my glasses…
  • Well, folks, this will be an experiment for all of us.
  • Sterile, schmerile….The floor’s clean, right?
  • And now, we remove the subject’s brain and place it in the body of the ape.

[author unknown]

Medicine for Condition

Medicine for Condition

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Something that atheists cannot explain adequately is the presence of evil.  Their paradigm lacks an explanation for why good people suffer.  The materialistic determinism that guides most atheists’ belief system is an inadequate philosophical system when it comes to instructing us about the unexplainable, the mysterious or metaphysical. Our supposed evolutionary progress has not produced a more enlightened species; just the same bent toward evil only now loaded down with better technology.

Materialistic determinism in its most basic form says that reality is only what can be explained by our senses and measured according to mathematical and scientific theories.  On top of this, since we are bound by physical laws, our existence is predetermined and there is no use attempting to explain it, reason it or make meaning of it; especially with any sort of spiritual language.  There is no real hope for any kind of salvation per se.  Existence is a meaningless mix of biological material thrown in to a heartless universe established and maintained by a matrix of physical laws.

Unfortunately, the popular theology of many contemporary Christians is also inadequate in explain the presence of evil in the world.  It is often oversimplified or too personalized to be of any meaning to those who are really suffering.  Either everything evil is blamed on Satan and personal demons or it is denied all together and ignored.  Neither approach is healthy, helpful nor biblical.

Burnt Cathedral, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, 2008

Burnt Cathedral, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, 2008 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

The biblical story of human disobedience and rebellion in Genesis gives us the best framework for understanding the presence of evil and its effect upon humanity, creation and all the relationships between the two.  The Bible acknowledges the presence of evil as a product of humanity’s own fallen nature; that is fallen from what God originally intended.  It also acknowledges the genesis of evil in a particular being who has spread his deception, lies and rebellion throughout all of humanity.

However, unlike most world religions, the biblical view of good versus evil does not put God and Satan on equal terms.  God and Satan are not the universal ‘ying’ and ‘yang’ of existence.  In other words, no absolute dualism between God and Satan exists within Scripture.  This is made particularly clear in the story of the Messiah.  When God’s son comes to earth he confronts evil and its effects, each time winning the battle.  The ultimate battle is won when he defeats death and the grave itself by returning to life to rule and reign over his creation once again.  He is now crowned as the victor!

But wait.  Then why does sin and evil still exist in the world?  A helpful illustration of this may be found in one offered by Ken Blue, a contributor The Perspectives Reader:  Perspectives on the World Christian Movement.  I came across his article while taking the Perspectives course a short while ago.  I found it a helpful illustration.

There is a great example in our recent human history that illustrates for us how a war already won could continue to be fought.  During World War II, the allied invasion called “D-Day” saw hundreds of thousands of allied troops landing at Normandy beach.  Their purpose and the goal of that effort was to establish and secure a beachhead on the European mainland.  When this was successfully accomplished, military experts understood that ultimate victory was established for the allies.  Nevertheless, many more bloody battles, some of them very costly, would be fought before the celebration of final victory could be realized: “V-E Day” (Victory in Europe Day).

For the purposes of Ken Blue’s illustration, “D-Day” in God’s war with evil and against the Evil One occurred with the death and resurrection of Christ.  This assured his final victory.  However, there are still battles being waged until “V-E Day” when the celebration of ultimate victory will begin with the return of the conquering Messiah.

Until that time, it is up to his true followers to be engaged in undoing the work of evil and the Evil One.  Many of these battles will be costly.  In some places, blood will be shed.  However, it is the mission of the Church to take the war to the enemy’s soil, establish beachheads and continue the fight until there is ultimate victory – liberation for all the captives.  Our enemy knows that the war is lost.  However, the Evil One with all his devices and deceptions will fight to take as much of God’s creation with him as possible.

So, while there are two Kingdom’s at war, one is already declared the ultimate victor.  The other already knows its time will come to an end.  The mission of every follower of the Conquering King is to be engaged in the battle through pray and sacrifice until the day of celebration.  More than anyone, they should understand why evil is present in the world.  More than anyone, they should be engaged in the mission of doing something about it.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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So, I have another birthday coming up. This yearly event stopped meaning anything special to me years ago – somewhere after 40.  This birthday will mark my last year in the decade of the 40’s.  Next year I hit the big 5-0; that will be a much bigger deal to me.  There’s just something inauspicious about hitting and moving beyond 50.  Of course, those who have moved way beyond that mile-marker will tell me otherwise.

Believe it or not, the biggest decade markers that were downers for me were the younger ones. Turning twenty was traumatic.  Somehow, in my mind, it meant leaving “youth” and entering into “age.”  Not old-age per se, just an age where the responsibility stakes went up ten-fold in my mind.  It was, in my thinking, leaving the care-free stage of life and entering the care-burdened age.

This is one reason why I always warn my children not to worry about growing up so fast and “getting out on their own.” So far, none of them have listened to me.  I suppose it is the optimism of youth that helps us to launch into our independence.  Of course, complete and total ignorance of what really lays ahead helps too.

The other decade marker that was a downer was thirty. I was depressed for a week.  This seemed to mark me as the entrance into “old.”  All youth is gone and spent, now all that was left was aging and more burdened responsibilities.  In retrospect, however, I do have to say that my thirties were quite fun and fulfilling.  I had some real rough years closing out the decade, but for the most part they were enjoyable times.

Turning forty did not faze me all that much, for some odd-ball reason. I had some friends who made the event a lot of fun (at my expense, of course).  At the same time, there was a positive stride into the decade of the 40’s with a certain sense of maturity, wisdom and life-experience.  These have been good years with lots of good experiences.  It has held enough life adventures to keep it interesting.  So far, I think I am well on my way to fulfilling my life’s mission of “finishing strong and finishing laughing.”

This life goal or mission helps me to focus on what is important: finishing strong in my relationships with God and my family and friends and to do it all with great joy and no regrets. It is that last point that is the sticky one.  It is truly hard to finish life without any regrets so that one can end life with great joy – laughing.  Perhaps approaching the age of fifty has made me more retrospect than ever (as if I could be any more retrospect…I’m wired to be an internalizer, meditator and processor).  I had a friend tell me one time, “Boy, Ron.  The stream of thought sure runs slow through you.  But I have to say, it does run deep!”  We still laugh over that observation as there have been many funny applications to it over the years.

Tubing On Quilcene Bay, Washington, Summer 2007

Tubing On Quilcene Bay, Washington, Summer 2007

I have been witness to many people who, at the end of their life because of disease or death, spend a few moments replaying their regrets.  There seems to be a need to attempt to correct any mistakes before one leaves this life.  Sometimes, this is not always possible.  According to Bronnie Ware, an Ezinearticles.com contributor and palliative care worker, when questioned about any regrets, the dying had five common themes that surfaced again and again:

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.
  3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

These all strike me as having to do with my life goal to “finish strong and finish laughing.” A life well-lived and full of joy up to the end of it strikes me as something the Creator would take great pleasure in as He witnessed our leaving this world and entering the new creation He has awaiting for us.  Each of these five things recalled by Bronnie Ware reminds me that life is full of risks that present opportunities and pitfalls.  One cannot live life sheltered in hopes of coming through with no scrapes or bruises.

A couple of weeks ago, I heard a message on risk-taking. It was inspiring as well as challenging.  What would we be doing differently right now or attempting to do if we knew that we could not fail?  There lies the stuff of dreams and visions.  In the message a quote was shared:

Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing!”

What a daring statement! Like me when I heard it, you are probably wondering what brave soul, perhaps famous, made such a declaration.  Our speaker pointed out some of the risk action ideas in this quote: danger, exposure, adventure or nothing!  The quote is from Helen Keller.  What a statement from a deaf, mute and blind hero for whom getting out of bed everyday was an adventure and a risk!  The speaker pointed out that, willing to do so, she changed her world as an author, activist and even lecturer!  Suddenly, I find myself in short comparison to someone born with so many “handicaps.”  Certainly, I in accompaniment with my full faculties have a long ways to go to catch up with her.

I suppose that there is no way to completely avoid end-of-life regrets. Clarity of vision seems to be the privilege of only those at the terminus of their life’s journey.  We could all stand to learn more from them.  The words of Jesus could also help to prod us: “Playing it safe and guarding your self will not help you in the end.  Only risk-taking and self-sacrifice will help you discover who you were made to be and the reward that will await you at life’s end” (my own paraphrase of Luke 9:14).

So, to “finish strong and finish laughing” is going to require more work on my part it seems. Every day as well as every decade will be an adventure.  It reminds me of Frodo‘s recollection to Samwise of Bilbo‘s wise words in The Lord of the Rings: “Remember what Bilbo used to say: ‘It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to‘.”  Who knows what’s around the corner of 50 – or 60 or 70 for that matter.  Might as well finish them strong and laughing with no regrets.  If anything, it will leave the devil frustrated over me and my friends wondering.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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Small Beach Crab, June 2003

Small Beach Crab, June 2003 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

This is a long journey
Much longer than I planned
It is hard for me
Much harder to stand

And continue the trek
To higher peaks
But the trail beckons
And the unknown speaks

Let me rest here for a moment
Settle me down for a breath
Take in refreshment
Consult the map in depth

Let me lay back a few minutes
Rest my head upon my pack
Close my eyes to signs
That there is no way back

Lay me down upon the earth
The place I came from
The final measure of my worth
And domain where I am undone

I am tired so tired
Of ascending mountains
With winding paths choired
By saints at matins

But why complain to God?
Did he not craft the way?
Did he not define the path to trod?
Did not our sin bargain for the day?

Arising wearily to my feet
I set my face to what is required
And set out toward what I must meet
Up the trail, around the bend, past the next peak
But I am tired so tired

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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What’s For Easter Dinner?

Something that has plagued me since…well, I cannot remember really…has to do with the American traditional Easter meal.  Why do we serve ham?  Virtually everyone I know serves an “Easter Ham” for dinner on this special occasion.  I find it a curious practice and tradition, especially among Christians.

The Christian celebration of Easter coincides with the Jewish Passover.  It commemorates the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah.  It reflects the same salvation story that Jewish people to this day tell concerning their deliverance from Egypt into the Promised Land.  Before Jesus’ crucifixion, on the same night that he was betrayed, Jesus celebrated the Passover meal with his disciples.  It was also an eerie portent of what he was about to go through as the Paschal lamb of God for the sins of the world.

So, why ham?  Is it some kind of Gentile celebration set against the Jewish celebration?  Was it first established as a way for Gentiles to poke their thumb in the eye of Jews?  Think about it.  Of all the un-Jewish meats to serve near the Passover – ham?  Why ham?  Did it start out as a protest of sorts against a contrived Jewish conspiracy?  Was it meant as an overt insult to Jews and Muslims?  Does anyone else find this a fascinating query or is just me all alone out here?

The most often given explanation given to me when I’ve asked friends is that it is a tradition – pure and simple.  Suddenly, Gentiles sounds like Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof:  “Tradition!”  Well, how did that come about in the first place?  There is definitely no connections with the original celebration surrounding Easter and Passover.

A quick search of the history and origins of eating ham at Easter turns up some interesting suggestions that seem very plausible.  It seems that as Christianity developed and further divorced itself from its Jewish roots and heritage, it embraced the customs and traditions of the Gentile cultures it was introduced to in the middle ages.  This is true of most Christian holidays: Lent, Easter, Halloween, and Christmas.

Can you say, “syncretism”? A dictionary definition of “syncretism” is, “the combination of different forms of belief or practice” or “ the fusion of two or more originally different inflectional forms.”  Missiologist often use this word in reference to places and cultures where Christianity has adopted non-Christian beliefs, values, and practices.  Could this be applied to what we eat at Easter?  I will let the theologians and missiologists wrestle with that question.

Sea Anemone, Barnacles, and Muscles, June 2003

Sea Anemone, Barnacles, and Muscles, June 2003 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

In my search for answers, two basic ideas come out of the reason ham became the meat of choice at Easter.  One was a practical consideration.  Traditionally, animals were slaughtered in the fall and preserved for winter use by smoking or salting.  When Spring arrived, marked by the vernal equinox, a celebration ensued and the last of the winter meat was eaten.  In eastern and northern Europe, the meat of choice was pork since the pig had been domesticated early in human history.  It was also the easiest meat to preserve for long periods of time.

The other reason has pagan spiritual reasons.  In Europe, the pig was considered a “good luck” symbol.  Eating pork in the spring was a way of celebrating getting through the long winter and the anticipation of another good year of harvests and abundant new livestock, especially pigs. Maybe it was just good luck to have anything left over from winter to eat in the spring.  I do not really know, but it seems likely given the harsh living conditions of European humans in the middle ages.

Of course, the pagan roots of the Easter Bunny, Easter eggs, Egg hunts, and Easter candy have been argued for many, many years.  Its connection with the pagan goddess Oestre, Eastre, Ostara or Ishtar has already been pointed out. (Which is a reason I prefer to avoid calling the day “Easter Sunday” or “Easter” but “Resurrection Sunday” or “Resurrection Day”.)  However, I have never heard anyone mention any problem with the Easter Ham.  It is curious to me since it seems to be so forthrightly anti-Semitic.

It turns out, that most of the world celebrates Easter by eating lamb.  So, Americans and northern Europeans are in a minority.  Since America has heavy influential roots stemming back to northern Europe, this should not surprise us.  It seems we brought our pagan religious practices with us – properly syncretized to Christianity, of course.  So, how do you like your ham cooked?

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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There is a need today for just plain common sense.  Here is some sage wisdom from an old farmer who has been around the barnyard a few times:

* Your fences need to be horse-high, pig-tight, and bull-strong.
* Life is simpler when you plow around the stump.
* Words that soak into your ears are whispered…not yelled.
* Meanness don’t jes’ happen overnight.
* It don’t take a very big person to carry a grudge.
* Every path has a few puddles.
* When you wallow with pigs, expect to get dirty.
* Most of the stuff people worry about ain’t never gonna’ happen anyway.
* Don’t interfere with somethin’ that ain’t botherin’ you none.
* If you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is stop diggin’.
* Sometimes you get, and sometimes you get got.
* The biggest troublemaker you’ll probably ever have to deal with watches you from the mirror every mornin’.
* Always drink upstream from the herd.
* Good judgment comes from experience, and a ‘lotta that comes from bad judgment.
* Lettin’ the cat outta’ the bag is a whole lot easier than puttin’ it back in.
* If you get to thinkin’ you’re a person of some influence, try orderin’ somebody else’s dog around.

Such simple proverbs boil life down to simple, memorable truths.  Isn’t it amazing that much of life’s problems have simple solutions?  Unfortunately, our sinful human nature’s propensity is to complicate life.  I am sure that it is the work of the devil to make life more burdensome and complicated.  It does not have to be.  Our heavenly Father did not design life to run in the ‘fast and furious’ mode.

Pink Flower, Washington State Capitol Grounds, 2003

Pink Flower, Washington State Capitol Grounds, 2003 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

Jesus described life in his kingdom as “blessed/happy,” “fully free,” “abundant life,” and “abiding.”  Does that sound like your life?  If not, it may be time to re-focus.  Can you boil what is important down to a few simple things?  Jesus did and made it simple for us.

First, he said, “Abide in me.  Apart from me you can do nothing.” All life comes from him.  In his teaching of the vine in John 15, Jesus plainly and pointedly teaches us where our life must find its source.  How are you connected to him – the vine – through personal prayer, Bible reading, fellowship with other saints, serving others and worship?

There is no substitute for prioritizing our life around him and the way his life flows to and through us.  Your journey as a disciple of the Lord Jesus begins with your own desire and initiative to ‘connect’ your life with his life.  No one can do that for you.

The distractions of life brought about by our self-pleasing desires (think ‘lusts’) and goals (think ‘pride’) do more to rob us of living fully in the kingdom of God now than anything else.  We try to either pay off the past or store up for an uncertain future.

Does this bring us any real peace or satisfaction? No.  There is always something more.  Standing opposite these distractions, Jesus is calling us to tarry with him right now.  He is calling us into his rest, peace, joy, and abundant life.

Second, he said, “Follow me.  I will make you fishers of men.” Witnessing and bearing our testimony about Jesus is not as much a duty or a formula as it is a natural result of following Jesus.  If you ‘abide in the vine,’ you will bear fruit.

Showing and telling Jesus to the world will be a natural product of our lives as we learn to follow/abide in Jesus.  Abiding is in the promise to the disciples in Acts 1:8, because when they ‘wait in Jerusalem’ they would ‘receive power to be witnesses’ of Jesus.  See the connection?  Jesus promises to make us witnesses – “I will make you” – who bear testimony to his work and work.

As we focus upon the ultimate goal of knowing Jesus intimately through prayer, bible study, serving, sharing, and worship, the natural byproduct will be making Jesus known to the people around us in neighborhoods, schools, and workplaces.  In this way, we will ‘fish’ for people who are seeking God.  Notice that the key word is “fish” and not “catch.”

One thing I have learned over the years is that there is a reason why people call it fishing and not catching!  Some days I don’t catch anything – or don’t even have a nibble!  Those are discouraging days.

Similarly, as “fishers of men and women” our concern is not with the catching but with the fishing. The Holy Spirit is the Great Catcher of men’s and women’s hearts and souls.  Only he can draw a person to the Father, convict of sin, righteousness, and the judgment to come, and sanctify a person’s heart.

Our duty is to be the lure, the net, the hook to attract lost people.  The only way to be such is to focus on the ultimate goal of being with Jesus.  Isn’t that so much easier?  Takes the pressure off, doesn’t it?  Sounds like just plain common sense to me.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, J.r (2010)

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