Archive for October, 2009

God in a Box?

Recently I have been wondering about the personhood and magnitude of God and a question came to my mind. In our attempts to “not put God in a box” we are actually still trying to put our own attributes or desire of God on God? Is it that we really believe in a transcendent God who is beyond our imagination and human conception or do we want God to be out of the box so that we can feel as if we have the liberty to do whatever we want to do? Or is an “out of the box God” one that we use to comfort us when things go wrong – thus trying to escape acknowledging that this world has fallen from what it was created to be and that we – in Christ – have a role in pursing the redemption and reconciliation of the world?

What if God really is “in a box”? Even if one of His own creation and desire? If God is omnipotent – all powerful – , yet He limits himself and chooses to do things in certain ways (i.e. redeeming the world through a Messiah, Jesus), can we then assume that God is boxing himself in? At least in his interaction with us – his creation? This does not have to be negative; God is interacting with us in the way we need to be interacted with. Just because he is limiting himself doesn’t mean that He is a limited being.

Thoughts?

The Hope of a Hebraic-Jewish Jesus

What does it mean to have images of a White Jesus, Asian Jesus etc.?

Most of the time we don’t really think about how we depict Jesus, but perhaps it is important that we think of it with more intent.

Historically a depiction of a white, western European looking Jesus has been the most prominent. Arthur Maxwell’s “The Bible Story” and the Hanna-Barbera video series “The Greatest Adventure Stories from the Bible” are two examples of how mainstream Evangelical Christianity has made Jesus white. But incorrect ethnic depictions of a “black” Jesus can be seen in the Ethiopian Orthodox church, and South American Christians have utilized a Latino Jesus.

We unfortunately create Jesus in our own image. So who was Jesus?

Jewish as a Hebraic Jew, Jesus was born in Bethlehem, but his earthly mother, Mary, and his earthly father, Joseph, were from the northern parts of Galilee. Jesus would not have been white; he would have been olive-skinned. The closest thing in our day and age would be Middle Eastern Arabs or Middle Eastern ethnic Jews.

Jesus would have looked like a multi-ethnic Jew. He would have most likely had Jewish traits, a prominent nose and jaw, and dark hair, but he would have most likely also had traits and blood from various ethnic and cultural lines (look at the inclusion of Ruth (a Moabite), Rahab (a Canaanite), and others in Jesus’ genealogy). Additionally, as the son of a carpenter and a young man who trained in carpentry, we can deduce that Jesus was probably tanned by the sun and at least in decent shape. Archeologist put pieces of history together and actually deduced that Jesus maybe looked similar to this . . .


Why do we create in our own image?

Generally, I believe we depict Jesus in our own image because we are ethnocentric and prideful. We want to normalize and validate our own race, ethnicity, and/or history. Some times that comes with elements of power. Although it isn’t a comfortable reality, a white Jesus normalizes Christianity as a “white man’s religion.” Historically, within the American context this has been painstakingly true. Native-Americans/First Nationers, Black Americans, and Asian-Americans have struggled with the possibility of Christianity, partly because it meant that they would have to follow a “white man.” Obviously, folks within these groups became and are Christians nonetheless, but Christianity’s presentation of Jesus was incorrect and a hindrance for many.

But this is not a “white issue.” It is a Christian issue. A lot happens when we create Jesus in our own image. We have Aryan depictions which fueled Nazi Germany & the KKK, We have Black depictions that form an Afro-centric/Black Power Christianity. We have European depictions that encouraged the Crusades. We have Latino depictions that lead South Americans to violence. Having a Jesus that looks like us makes us – even if not consciously – feel entitled to view our expression of faith as true, sometimes despite the unbiblical reality of our expression.

* I must establish that rich art is something different than normal depiction. For example, the artistic depiction of Jesus as an African-American slave says something much more than Jesus is Black. In fact, it doesn’t say that at all. It says that Jesus can identify with the suffering of Black slaves in the United States and suffering as a whole. To depict Jesus as an Italian immigrant can speak of Jesus’ extraterrestrial alienation in this world. It is not art that is of our concern. In fact, Jesus art should be celebrated. We run into trouble when we normalize the race and ethnicity of Jesus to our own presuppositions rather than truth.

Does it matter what Jesus looks like?

Some say that Jesus’ physical appearance doesn’t matter, that it is superficial, but that isn’t reality. Jesus’ social environment was impacted by his culture and his appearance. Jesus was a Jew. That means people treated him like a Jew.

We have a temptation to want to be nice and color-blind or ethnic-blind (probably a better fit, but not as catchy). We wish we didn’t see difference, but that again isn’t reality. I am black, specifically African-American. To assume that my ethnicity hasn’t shaped my perception of the world and the world’s response to me is preposterous. My African-American”ness” doesn’t ultimately define me, but it is a part of who I am and who God made me. Maybe you are European-American, maybe you are Kenyan, maybe you are Black Jamaican, maybe you are Chinese-American, etc. Whatever ethnicity/race you are does not define you, but it is a part of your definition.

Jesus’ jewish”ness” connected him with humanity, with a people who had suffered, who had ruled, who had been in favor with God, and who had felt the hand of God.

Jesus dealt with – in neither an explicitly positive or negative way – being a Jew in a Roman land, being officially a bastard (lest we forget although Mary and Joseph were pregnant before they were married, even though we understand the work of the Holy Spirit impregnating Mary – try selling that to a whole society), a lower/middle class individual, a carpenter’s son, a brother, a Nazarene (thus, not from a “good” part of the middle-east), being most-likely tri-lingual (Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic), and being connected to a Hebrew ethnicity and history. His ultimate identity was the son of God, but he had many identities, one of which was his race/ethnicity.

So what?

So what do we do with depictions of Jesus? That is the hard question. I don’t know if there is a 5-step plan or that I can give a 5 point sermon about it. But here are some simple thoughts.

1- Internally and Externally acknowledge that Jesus was an Arab, Hebraic Jew

2- Confront incorrect -non Artistic – depictions of Jesus

3- Realize that artistic depictions of Jesus are not suppose to create an image of Jesus as a human, but as the Messiah (e.g. Black Jesus relating with liberation from American slavery equates with Jesus liberating us from the slavery of sin)

4- Understand how incorrect images tied with power (KKK, Nazi Germany) distorts the Gospel and is a hindrance to others.

The hope of a Hebraic-Jewish Jesus.

Seeing Jesus as Jewish liberates us from power plays. We all, despite our current ethnicity/race, most identify with the lineage, history, and stories of the ancient Hebrews. If “salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22), we must realize the depth of understanding. God worked within the Hebraic context in the Old Testament, but Jesus widened the perspective, it was no longer necessary to specifically join this people group. What Jesus brought was a multi-cultural expansion to where and to whom God would work. The Kingdom of God became open to all who wished to enter and was historically tied, but not bound to the Hebrew people.

In many ways this is obvious. If we as Christians weren’t supposed to connect to the Hebrew people, what is the point of the Old Testament? Yes, there are prophetic allusions to the Christ and we have a broad understanding of who God is by reading the Old Testament. But God could have simply placed the remnant of all those things within various cultures without having us follow a unified grand-narrative (I argue that he did give us pieces to look at in various cultures). But God pinpointed a certain people group to work through. Through their ethnicity and history we read the Old Testament and connect, in part because we are, too, God’s people. Like Ruth said to Naomi, we say to Jesus, the Christ, “your people shall be my people and your God my God.”

This was originally posted on the MOSAIC website of Huntington University

Soda and the Health of a Nation

– watch the video before you read the comments –

The video is referring to the obesity tax suggested by NY Governor David Paterson .NPR also recently posted a segment about a Soda Tax.

The BIG issue that I can see is that sometimes we get dependent on taxes – like we have with tobacco. Why can’t we just make cigarettes illegal? Well, we are making a bundle in tax revenue. NJ makes $2.57.5 and RI makes $2.56 per pack.

What is possible is to utilize the taxation to limit usage but not factor the tax money in normal state budgets. Tax money can be utilized to run special programs or to supplement under-funded projects. But they would not be a primary source of revenue. That keeps us from being dependent on people drinking soda and sugary “fruit juices” so that we can have their tax money. While this is occurring and people are weaning off of sugar we can work to further regulate the contents of soda and fruit drinks.

I also wonder if the tax will actually cause people to change their behavior? I would think that the tax would have to be somewhat significant in order to change people’s thoughts and beliefs.

I know an opposition to this tax would be that it doesn’t have the same effect as smoking does, especially second hand smoking. But I would argue that it does. Although smoking causes the most deaths and health problems, obesity is second on the list (15.2% of Preventable deaths are because of obesity/overweight). Childhood obesity has also dramatically increase in the past years.  Additionally, health care costs go up for all when doctors and hospitals have to worry about obesity. This will become even more an issue if we head towards a universal(ish) health care system

This is by no means a silver bullet. Americans have to choose not to pay the extra money for the new taxed soda. Additionally, Americans have to make familial and personal health choices not to drink Soda to the degree that we do.

I personally, believe that we need further regulations on what food is approved by the FDA, but also realize that change comes slow and often within a process. But if we can work out a plan to tax Soda as a bridge to greater regulation of soda and sugary beverages then go for it.

Interracial Injustice

What is this 1967?

A white Louisiana justice of the peace said he refused to issue a marriage license to an interracial couple out of concern for any children the couple might have.

. . . Bardwell said he has discussed the topic with blacks and whites, along with witnessing some interracial marriages. He came to the conclusion that most of black society does not readily accept offspring of such relationships, and neither does white society, he said.

. . .  Bardwell estimates that he has refused to marry about four couples during his career, all in the past 2 1/2 years.

Read more

This article simple astounded me, not solely because of the interracial marriage issue but because of the nuances and details of the issue.

One the one hand, we have a loving man and woman who want to get married. This is the story of millions of individuals and additionally many interracial couples – I was included in this when I was married.  This couple must have simply been blindsided.  When I was in high school I dated a girl who was euro-American (white) and her step-father had some issues with our relationship,  a couple years ago when I was married to my wife Alyssa there were some minor issues with my wife’s – who is Taiwnese-American – family. But those were unfortunately expected.

What occurred in Louisiana couldn’t have been expected. A governmental agent said “no”. Although he qualified and says that “I didn’t tell this couple they couldn’t get married. I just told them I wouldn’t do it” he is basically thwarting the law. Somehow he has been able to let his personal preference to usurp law.  This situation is simply ridiculous, but what do we take from this, what insight does it give us?

1. Mis-conception of interracial difficulty –

It is interesting that the justice of the peace mentioned the difficulty of the children. This is an age old argument against interracial marriage. It is predicated on assuming that difficulty – if present – is a bad thing and that difficulty will occur in the first place. And although this was a white man saying this – which includes issues of power/history etc. – this sentiment is held by those of all races who oppose interracial marriage.  But this is somewhat of a straw man argument.  Few, is any, proponents of interracial marriage hinge and argument on the difficulty or lack of difficulty in an interracial relationship. Most individuals who enter into interracial marriages are quite aware of the societal push backs (i.e. my wife and I know that groups of black women and groups of Asian men are prone to stare, un-lovingly, at us ). The assumption that someone is protecting the children by opposing interracial marriage is pretty naive , especially given the emergence of multi-racial figure such as Obama, Tiger Woods, Heinz Ward, Jessica Alba, Keanu Reeves etc. Futhurmore it is patronizing and suggest that those getting married don’t care about their children. Again, this is not a white issue it is an issue for folks in various cultures and racial backgrounds.

2. White American individualism –

“I’m not a racist. I just don’t believe in mixing the races that way,” Bardwell told the Associated Press on Thursday. “I have piles and piles of black friends. They come to my home, I marry them, they use my bathroom. I treat them just like everyone else.”

There is no better example than this. First, the comment that he is not racist. There is a difference between being a racist and doing something racist. And this was the latter. I don’t know this man, he may not be a person who is wholly racist, but this act was racist. He and we as a society must address that. Second, claiming that “I have black friends”. This is often a way that white individuals push back. White Americans often  individualize (Divided By Faith). This issue of race, including interracial marriage, is not solely a person to person issue it is a societal issue as well. Individualizing it devalues the societal impacts. It is a both/and nor either/or issue.

3. The importance of slowing assumptions –

I can read this ans assume that this justice of the peace doesn’t like Black people. I can even read into his defense and understand the context of where he is living and assume he has issues with Black folk.

But that would be wrong of me.

This man probably spoke reality when he said folks in BOTH Black and white communities wouldn’t be accepting; in Louisiana – in many states – many from both groups may have issues.  His folly was not having some concern – though he should have kept it to himself – but it was in refusing to marry the couple and various others in the past.  We have to take this issue at that level. No more and no less.

My Thoughts on Health Care

As Christians, as we pursue understanding the issues concerning health care, we must consider our call towards justice and engaging with the alien, poor, and widow. I ask we consider the call of biblical justice and call to serve the poor. My friend recently passed on a verse that seems to be pertinent;

The righteous is concerned for the rights of the poor; the wicked does not understand such concern. (Pro 29:7)

As I viewed the news on town hall meetings I wondered if the un/under- insured were actual represented? Or were they serving the food, at the nearby McDonald’s or checking someone out of Wal-Mart?  Implicit in this though is the need to differentiate between under/un-insured.  I grew up in a family that was the former. My mom worked several jobs for the county to make sure we had insurance – my dad was/is on disability –, but the coverage was minimal. My mom shifted coverage between myself in my siblings. Sometimes she perhaps did this illegally,  but this is how we had medical/dental care. The craftiness of my mother was practical, but her working various jobs and piecemeal “ing” health care for us took a toll on her soul.

Politically, we also need to refrain from overstating the idea of public health care – and both sides need to less hastily compare to Canada; we are different countries with different cultures, needs, etc. The option that Obama and others are trying to put on the table is a public option, not a complete “government overhaul”.  When we overstate what is occurring we get into irrelevant ideological battles which, lead us towards divisions rather than decisions. That being said, a public option may not be as dangerous as many may believe.  I think of the parcel industry and the relationship between USPS, FedEx, UPS, and other companies, the public USPS option works with the other options and individuals can choose.

As a young American who has only experienced health care in contemporary age,  here are some imperfect ideas I believe can be utilized with or without a public option;

–          Tort reform. Simply a good idea.Too much money is going to litigation and protection from lawsuits.

–          Adjusting payment of doctors, many doctors are paid hourly, so the more the work the more money they receive. Perhaps setting salaries will help doctors slow down, give good care and cut overall costs. Additionally, despite the worry of litigation driving up doctor’s bills, most doctors are still being paid inordinate amounts – at some hospitals/offices at the expense of RNs, PRNs, CNAs, etc.  Although it would be a massive cultural shift, perhaps we can reevaluate a doctor’s pay scale. Yes, they need to be making enough money to be in line with their schooling and expertise, but what that exactly looks like may still need to be reduced.

–          National health care providers should exist. The model of not being able to go out of one’s state to find health care seems a little silly. Also, the elimination of networks seems like it would provide greater access.

–          Assure essential elements of any health care program. This is sticky; it is complex. There are some things like in-vitro fertilization and abortion that have been on the table concerning this, but need to be taken off.  However, there should be simple basic elements – which I am not qualified to compile – that should be covered in any plan. The issue is not having basics, but what we define as basics – again I acknowledge this is complex.

–          Conversely, we need to put some reigns on Medicare. There are perhaps too many of our seniors using Medicare flippantly because they are in fear of medical problems rather than actually having medical problems and because they can do so. My sister is a CNA and I have a good friend who is an RN, I can’t believe some of the things converged by Medicare – Viagra, to name one. A larger societal (and very much Christian) value would be taking more personal responsibility for our elderly and then allowing Medicare to supplement.

–          An indirect, difficult, but impactful way to deal with health care is to make the FDA do its job and eliminate/reduce the unhealthy food and the ubiquitous fast food market. Everyone knows it is not good for them, but choices are not always made with the head, they are made with the stomach, with what is readily available, and with the norms of our society.

–          Reevaluate our ER policy, it sounds horrible to turn people away from service, but if someone goes to the ER with something that is diagnosed as a non-emergency they need to be sent home.  Otherwise the costs of ER services drive-up cost of health care for everyone. The fear is that people will then not go to doctors, but if we normalize going to family doctors, and other non-emergency services many would begin to attend those first.

We should promote just social systems, but if public systems are unjust we must, as Christians, STILL must provide care for those who need it.  Be it free clinics, alternative insurance agencies, etc. Not having s just political or governmental system does not we are exonerated from creating our own justice systems – not solely being just individuals, because the two are intertwined.

Obama? Pissed?

A facebook conversation sparked by someone being “pissed” at Obama winning the Nobel Prize  – I am Blackwasp19. If anyone wants to join in the conversation go ahead.

——

Blackwasp19 “pissed” ? why should it make you that mad? I disagree with the decision, but I don’t understand why it would “piss” anyone off.

2 Because other people deserved it way more…he hasn’t done anything to deserve such an honor.

3. obviously those who voted think he has done something to receive the award

4.  they don’t. They are just liberal punks who want to further a political waste of space.

5. he is the first US president since the millennium to not start a war?!

6. for real. i was PISSED.

Blackwasp19. I believe it was a presumptuous and premature; though he really has had a big impact on international politics, just look at approval rating of him in various countries. We can disagree with some of his policies and ideology, but we can’t argue that his presence hasn’t had and impact. But Danielle (or others) can you name who these others who … Read Moreshould have won? Again I argue he shouldn’t have won, but if we mention someone else should have won we need to have people and a good argument for them.

I also think to be “pissed” is a bit strong. Who are you “pissed” at? Obama? He didn’t give himself the award. The “liberals” in Oslo? If they are a waste of space then discredit the award and move on. Why does it make you pissed? Just because you disagree?

It is important that we aren’t killing conversation and cooperation by being rash. And that Love permeates our comments and conversations.

4. Is this kid kidding? Obama has done nothing for the US in his international politics except apologize for America, give us a week stand against Iran, and get our economy to the point where China said it was going to stop buying our debt cause we aren’t good for it. His impact = Negative.

As for someone who SHOULD’VE won, Greg Mortenson, has really made an effort in this field and should be commended over someone who has done nothing.

Pissed isn’t strong enough a word people should be outraged by the preferential treatment Obama has got without causing any significant results. Pissed that by giving Obama this award they are trying to secure his not sending troops to Afghanistan where they are needed.

People need to start looking at facts instead of how politically correct someone is when stating something they believe in. He didn’t deserve it, period.

As for him not starting a war….HES ONLY BEEN IN OFFICE ONE YEAR, and even though he promised to pull from Iraq and Afghanistan there are troops still there. … Read More

No one can blame Bush for this any longer…He is a year removed. The unemployment rate is up, taxes are up, and the stimulus bill hasn’t worked, AND Obama’s party controls both houses.

3. kids, no kidding.. just different opinions.. i appreciate debate and the passion for our nation

Blackwasp19

1. I said, twice, Obama shouldn’t have won – and that it was presumptuous and premature

2. “Kid” great way to end a conversation; neither you or are are a “kid”.

3. I actually agree that Greg Mortenson would have deserved it more, and also Hu Jia (but that would have strained international talk with China) or the Zimbabwean President.

4. The … Read Morefacts say Obama IS impacting international politics and diplomacy – again don’t forget that I don’t believe he should have won this year. Countries are reacting differently to the U.S. than they have in a long time. It is not so much that he is unilaterally different, but he provides and is trying to encourage much more multi-lateralism And he didn’t win the Nobel Prize for domestic policies it was for his impact on international politics. Just look at the international response after the election. People were celebrating for an American President’s election, that doesn’t happen all the time. That is something special. Obama’s impact is difficult to quantify, but we can qualify and see that it has been important – again in my mind not enough to win a Nobel Prize this year.

5. I believe Obama should put more troops in Afghanistan, if we are going to be there we need to do what we need to go and have our men and women come home. But, I do think he is still trying to take troops out – per his campaign promise. But it is difficult. But to push back, what did Bush do for abortion laws or really anything that he campaigned for? He got a Evangelical Christian bloc to trust him and vote for him, but then the Christians were hoodwinked because he did little in regards to “family values”. Yes he had republican ideas about taxes and government, but that isn’t what he ran on. All I am saying is that if we call out Obama – which we can – we must call our Bush and others for their incongruency.

6. Even if you disagree with some of the tactics of Obama and the Congress. I think it is a little bit of an overstatement to suggest that the democrats have made the economy worse. There are so many variables and a recession is the product of many factors and builds overtime before it hits – one could “blame” the treasury for not paying more … Read Moreattention to what was going on. One doesn’t have to agree with all the current tactics – I don’t – but regardless we have to allow things to take time.

7. No one in the conversation mentioned Bush, I know some might be, but that isn’t this conversation. But, since you brought t up. I think we treated bush really poorly, I didn’t agree with many of his decisions, but as my President I respected the man. My country elected him, and the war that everyone was flipping out about, was embarked upon because the American people wanted it to happen after 9-11.

7.. I doubt shee is actually “pissed” about this, many of you know here and realize she has already forgot about it. I agree with what you are saying Blackwasp19, no reason to be “pissed” at this. I think the Nobel Peace Prize has been on an obvious decline as last year Al Gore got it for a powerpoint he did on Global Warming, when one of the other … Read Moreindividuals up for it was a lady who had an “underground railroad” type situation in Nazi Germany that literally saved over 2,000 lives.

The problem here with looking at Obama’s approval rating in other countries is that doesn’t matter. Why are we as Americans trying to appease other countries that hate our guts?

Nobody can say that Dems or Republicans are the problem, they all are. Most of the politicians are just that, politicians, and are all liars anyways.

6. i know what you are thinking hahaha. i think she was just saying how she felt…not wanting to start a huge debate via facebook wall posts. we all think what we want to think. and we are all free to think what we want to think. the end. this doesnt have to go on anymore. sorry emily.

4. it would be nice to start a blog and continue, because this is were we get stronger as people. not hiding in groups of people who agree and smile and think the world will get better on it’s own. citizenship is the missing piece in american society. elected officials represent the people. that may be hard for some to admit, but it’s the truth. … Read Morepoliticians must have the support of the people. we have to attack the issues, get educated on processes and upend the forces that make our union less perfect.

Death.

Recently,  my family, those around me and I have been surrounded by the presence of death. Either through family members, friends or other conversations. It is difficult because the typical contemporary Christian understanding of death is to try to turn a Christian’s death into a joyful occasion – perhaps this is because of the theology that deemed the “kingdom” as some other”ness” and post earthly experience.  But I deeply struggle to find this comforting or biblical.

From what I have read and experienced, death should be hard. Our lord Jesus wept at the death of his friend. Mourning is undervalued in our age and culture maybe because we belittle death. Yes, as a Christian there is something beyond rotting in the ground, but the hard reality is that person, that life, is no longer there. The joys of stupid jokes from that person are not there, the experiences of watching friends wince at that person’s awkward moments are not there, the late night conversations are not there, the feelings of skin against yours as you embrace your friend are not there. The person is not there; a portion of one’s community is gone. Death, even if merely physical and temporary for the Christian, is the opposite of what God ultimately desires; thus, it should causes us pain, draw tears from our eyes and simply feel wrong.

It perhaps is in this feeling of disarray, frustration and loss that I find I must turn to a God who shares in my mourning and has the power to bring redemption, even to death. My joy then is not so much in the fact that my Christian loved ones are instantly in heaven – a theologically complex issue- , or that I will see them again – though this is very true and an element of my joy –  but that my God is bigger than death.