How to get paid to write?

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I’ve had so many people tell me that I’m a great writer and should be getting paid to do it.  But, thus far, I’ve had no real ideas how to monetize this talent and it can be frustrating at times.  Anyhow, right now, due to some medical bills, it would be nice to be able to earn some extra income and that’s why I’m making this request to share this post.  If enough people do, maybe the right person will find this blog and give me an idea of where to put my abilities to use.  Note, most of what I do here is completely unedited and written on my phone in my spare time.  If I was doing this as a professional I would do more to get the grammar right.  My interests are history, current events, politics, theology, psychology and any practical application of such things.  Maybe I could be someone’s speech writer or do a column? 

Your suggestions are welcomed!  I would really love to hear the personal experiences of writers who get paid.

And, of course, likes and reshares are certainly appreciated!

Real Compassion Vs. Fake Virtue

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It is very common for the the very wealthy and politicians to start foundations for a charity or cause.  This is both a publicity coup and also an opportunity to raise cash under the auspices of a greater good.  But very often it is more cynical than sincere and probably for the tax breaks or as a money laundering scheme more than anything else, in some cases these organizations spend all of their donations on administrative salaries and not the stated mission.

Virtue signaling is a social phenomenon where a person, with a very small actual personal investment or self-sacrifice, can gain a great benefit or standing amongst their peers.  This can include social media activism, yard signs declaring virtue, and any other low effort high reward way that people try to distinguish themselves as better than their neighbors.  It is more often token giving or symbolic compassion, lacking substance, and is something that Jesus encountered and condemned.

Good Samaritan and Poor Widow Versus the Rich Boastful Givers

Most of us are a mixed bag of motivation, we can intend good and yet too often our self-interests corrupt the effort.  The greater problem being that we’re not even ourselves fully aware of our hidden ambitions.  We can easily and do often delude ourselves about our own righteousness compared to others, especially our ideological enemies and truly be more exploitative than those who we would condemn.  The teachings of Jesus are an opportunity for self-reflection, a chance to grow in self-awareness and learn about how true compassion compares to the phony variety and counterfeit virtue.

First, consider the example of a boastful virtue signaler:

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

(Matthew 6:1‭-‬4 NIV)

It is fairly obvious, in this extreme to make the point, that this hypocritical giver is in it for themselves.  They want the attention and good publicity, they desire the honor of their peers, and it isn’t truly about the needy who are receiving the help.

Here’s the genuine article:

Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

(Mark 12:41‭-‬44 NIV)

It is nothing for a billionaire to write a million dollar check.  It is nothing for a politician to promise billions from the public treasury as a ‘sacrifice’ for a supposedly just cause.  But, in both cases there is often a big political or social reward for this ‘charitable’ act, it can mean reelection or personal access to even more resources.  But, in this example above, this poor widow put in 100% and got nothing in return—at least not in the short-term.  Her sacrifice is more condemnable and true than those dumping a fraction of their excess.

And then there is the classic case of the good Samaritan:

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” He answered, “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

(Luke 10:25‭-‬37 NIV)

Not only was this a great answer to a trap question, but the Samaritans were the low class and looked down ‘deplorables’ of their day who lacked the right pedigree to be the social elites.  The priest and Levite, on the other hand, were the important and looked up to.  They would be the religious bloggers of their day, preaching about the equivalent to social justice or other popular ‘righteous’ things, but made excuses for themselves and looked the other way when their love was tested.

The good Samaritan’s love was genuine.  It was not announced to the world.  It was not only a gesture or incomplete aid.  And, more importantly, he gave completely of his own resources.  There was no GoFundMe or calls for others to see the need and help him to distribute the cost.  Nope.  He saw the need, he dug into his own meager resources, and finished the job without any need of the help, attention or affirmation of others.  Only this poor beaten man knew of his goodness.

The teachings of Jesus are always always about changing us, as individuals, and not the systems of the world.  The priest and Levite, like the unnamed rich man of Luke 16 (who stepped over a poor very sick man on his doorstep, named Lazarus), all had their important things to do.  They were the social elites and responsible people.  In their own minds they had justified their response to the need directly in their paths.

Giving Self-sacrificially Is Christian Love, Forcing Others Give Is Not

Modern Western ‘democracy’ is full of virtue signaling and a favorite thing to do is decry the ‘racism’ of denying entry to the unvetted masses driven to our borders.  It is the one issue where those who call out the “Christian nationalism” of their neighbors suddenly will find Jesus—albeit only to distort and use His words to bludgeon others, like Judas.

Now, before I get too far in, I do believe there are many who do have genuine compassion and care for refugees.  Indeed, it is Christian duty to welcome the stranger and even invite them into our homes.  My grandma was one of these open-handed people.  No, they did not have that much themselves and yet her table was always open to those who needed a warm meal.  This is the charity Jesus was talking about, not a social program.

Politicians will routinely make a display of the vulnerable as a cynical ploy to promote agenda.  It is not out of love, it is simply a way to exploit our pity and silence objections to what is often a cover for a power grab.  It is always “think of the children” when they are the true beneficiaries.  They call for the “rich” to “pay their fair share” while having an abundance themselves.  They may want to change the world and yet should start by changing themselves.

Again, I’m not saying that social activists are not well-intentioned.  And yet I will say that they might not comprehend the costs that they incur on others (some who have less than them) nor fully consider the complexity and consequences.  It is one thing to want to fix climate change or have a world free of borders, but quite another to pay the price for these ambitions.  Many want to ride the compassion bandwagon, few want to be in the mud pushing this load of crocodile tear crying virtue signaling fools.

We have an inversion of Christian morality in the West where now the ‘first’ are demanding the ‘last’ pay for their virtuous acts.  It is our most powerful, wealthy and privileged, who hold the money bag like Judas, demanding that common folk sell all to give to the poor while they keep their private jets, mansions and lavish lifestyle.  The poor now subsidize the ‘compassion’ of the rich and many seem not to see how perverse this really is.

It is bad enough to give only for the attention of others.  But, to guilt, shame or force those with less to subsidize your own altruism and compassion?  That is a whole new level of self-serving, psychopathic and evil.  It was always those confronting Jesus, and His followers, tithing even their spices, going to these extremes impress and try to establish a themselves as better than.  Today it is the same, it is those who proudly preen their love and tolerance who are oftentimes most selfish and cruel under their costumes of righteous.

The Cruelty and Compassion of Martha’s Vineyard 

Border states are being overwhelmed by the flow of unvetted migrants.  But, for the most part, this growing humanitarian crisis has been ignored.  Out of sight is out of mind for most people and this has been the case on our Southern border.  I’m not a big fan of political stunts and yet sometimes to make others aware of an issue does require a little creativity or some coloring outside of the lines to illustrate the point to those in denial or oblivious.

And there was outrage, wild accusations of cruelty, even human trafficking, when Florida governor, Ron DeSantis, provided free airfare for fifty migrants from a nasty red state to a very blue  Martha’s Vineyard.  

For those who do not know, Martha’s Vineyard is a popular hangout for the very wealthy and most privileged—an exclusive enclave where these social elites have their summer homes.  And, yes, ironically, while most of us could only ever get on there real estate as the help, they do have those virtue screaming “all are welcomed” signs.  How this free ride to this liberal “sanctuary city” is cruelty, I’ll never know, but how quickly the new arrivals were deported tells a bit of the true depth of the compassion under their righteous bluster.

Interestingly, the Biden administration has also sent new arrivals to interior cities, less resource rich, and never had been accused of human trafficking or cruelty for this.  But apparently, when you send these people to one of the wealthiest and most privileged enclaves in America, that claims to be a sanctuary city and welcoming of all, it is a terrible crime.  Or, in the eloquent parlance of a “founding member” of an organization to help refugees, this is throwing your “trash” in someone else’s neighborhood:

Cognitive dissonance anyone?

I mean this blurb takes the cake.  The lack of self-awareness to say, let alone publish, such a statement is astounding.  The media has glowed at how these resource rich people fed these asylum seekers for a day, but has yet to speak of the cruelty of these new arrivals being deported from the exclusive island within 24-hours.  Apparently nobody had room in their mansion or second home to provide long-term shelter?

But the whole ordeal is a classic example of what virtue signaling is and how it is vastly different from true compassion.  A virtue signal is all about a person trying to glean the social benefits of holding the correct beliefs or the good deed and requires very little actual sacrifice.  While the cameras rolled, the hot food trays came out and the picture looked very virtuous.  And yet, rather than keep on caring, they literally called up the National Guard and almost immediately offloaded the expense to the taxpayers.  

The people who could afford to build brand new houses for all fifty sent, who could have easily created a place for them in their own community and made real on the “all are welcomed” sign, only had a minor day long inconvenience.  They’ll probably spend more on litigation, against the state of Florida, than they did on this fortunate handful of the thousands pouring into this country every day and overwhelming the resources of border states.  So the compassion is fake, they claim the moral high ground while others shoulder the costs.

Compassion Claimed, Costs Diffused 

Costs don’t matter to the privileged and social elites.  They have never had to pay for anything themselves.  As trust-fund babies or politically connected, they could always snap their fingers and someone else would clean up the mess behind them.  So, yes, of course they will support open borders for us, proclaiming the virtue, and the Levites (story of the good Samaritan) will simply follow their example.  Others bear the cost.

What are the costs?  

Wage suppression.  Old Socialists, in contrast to the wealthy factory owners and industrialists, always wanted strict border controls.  Why?  Well, because a never ending flow of low skill labor takes the feet out from under those trying to bargain for better compensation.  And this is a real problem in the South.  Why hire from the local population, with the legitimate process paperwork, when you could pay half the money to an illegal immigrant, under the table, and they dare not complain?

Another cost is to the local government resources.  A flow of unvetted immigrants, even if most are very good people, is a huge burden and much more than some catered trays brought out for the eyes of the media in New England.  There’s the need for ESL teachers and more classrooms, additional policing, the welfare benefits, and the tab for this is not distributed evenly despite some Federal aid.  And that’s not to even mention the quality of life issues.  No, immigrants aren’t trash and yet they do bring problems with them.  The states in the South are overwhelmed.

But the real cruelty and inhumanity of all this is how much work it is for some to enter this country while others can just jump line and be treated as victims.  While political elites talked about family separations, a necessary precaution to establish the identities of the adults and prevent human trafficking, I could not even travel to be with the child who calls me “daddy” and my love.  As one of those going through this expensive and completely frustrating process, with the trash websites, poor communication and the many tons of requirements, I know.

If you do not have equal love for the MAGA hat wearing ‘deplorable’ that American, living in the rust belt, having to bear the cost of your ideal, then maybe your love isn’t all that real.  True love shoulders the entire cost, it never tells others to make a sacrifice for sake of our own compassion.  We should welcome the stranger, yes, but we must also love our actual neighbors and give our all before asking anything of others.  It is not love to virtue signal, it is just another form of ignorance.

Jesus, Socialist or Capitalist?

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We hear it all of the time, from the political far-left, that Jesus was a Socialist.  While I believe it is mostly a schoolyard taunt, from those who are basically irreligious, the claim itself is worthy to be examined.  Was Jesus, through his focus on the poor, downtrodden and marginalized, basically in agreement with the politics of Karl Marx and the Socialist far-left?  

Was Jesus a Socialist?

There is a valid critique of American love of money and consumerism.  This obsession with material gain is repackaged as the false “health and wealth” Gospel, that is preached by some who could be classified as being Evangelicals, and should be rebuked.  It is also very disturbing when those who profess Christ seem to care more about the bottom line than the welfare of those whom they employ.  All of this goes against the true Gospel of Jesus Christ.

So, in seeing the sins of those who enjoy the prosperity of Capitalism and how there is a lack of care for the poor, as is clearly a part of what Jesus taught, some see Socialism as the solution.  Socialism, using the most basic definition, is redistribution of wealth and could sound a lot like Christian charity to those who only have a few Biblical proof-texts or nominal understanding of the Gospel.

But there are key differences that make it impossible to reconcile true Christianity and Socialism.  Yes, some of the practical ends may be similar, but the means and driving philosophy are entirely opposed.  Here’s an outline of some of the differences:

1) Jesus Yields Power, Socialists Demand It

Jesus, during his temptation, was offered the kingdoms of the world.  He could have taken over all world governments and then installed a redistributive regime, so all the poor had their needs provided and there would finally be justice.  And yet He rejected the offer, and instead Jesus picked the way of the cross and lived the example of self-sacrificial love.  This is a very stark contrast to Socialism, where promoters of this leftist ideology feel entitled to power and will take to the streets to protest and demand what they think they should have.  

Jesus was meek, and this is what He told his followers about those seeking to control others:

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles Lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

(Matthew 20:25‭-‬28 NIV)

Socialists seek political power, and the ability to bend others to their will, but Jesus taught that empowerment comes by giving up our rights and serving others.  

2) Jesus Taught Personal Responsibility, Not Collective Action

Every verse quoted in support of Socialism is directed at the individual.  In other words, when Jesus said “sell all and give to the poor” he was speaking to specific individuals and not endorsing a collective movement to take from others to provide for the poor.  His words are not about creating a system or using state power to compel others.  Socialism, by contrast, is all about coercion and using the power of the collective to force others into compliance.  

Everything Jesus taught is for his followers to do personally, for our own salvation, not so we can go around Lording over and guilt-tripping others:

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

(Matthew 25:34‭-‬40 NIV)

In the passage above there is no mention of what is done on our behalf, instead, it is all about who we invited in, and who we personally provided for and visited.   In Socialism, these tasks are delegated, turned into systems or state programs, and established by force of law.  But in Christianity giving to others is always for us to do voluntarily, as willing individuals, and coordinated by the Church never the secular state.

3) Christianity Is About Community, Not Mandates

Christianity is Communal, a community of faith.  Socialism is about forcing people to give of themselves through taxation and threats.  A community is voluntary, never forced, and the Christian community is centered on the Church rather than the government.  Yes, early Christians gave to help each other, some even had “all things in common,” as we read in Acts.  But this was never a requirement.  The real point is not about money either.  No, according to Jesus, are supposed to leave everything behind in pursuit of Him:

And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.

(Matthew 19:29‭-‬30 NIV)

Christianity means giving up everything, not just our wealth, to follow after Christ and build His kingdom.  Christianity is about a family of faith, a community centered on Christ.  The welfare state, by contrast, has destroyed families and made many dependent rather than free.  As with the passage above, Christianity is about being ready for eternity, whereas Socialism is all about what we can gain for ourselves in the here and now.

4) Kingdom Focus, Not Utopian Idealism 

The first to distort the point of the Gospel message were the disciples themselves, they had pictured a Messiah that would overthrow their Roman rulers and give them power over their abusers.  They wanted a worldly kingdom and thought they would soon rule over their enemies.  But Jesus subverted all of these national socialist ambitions.  He wasn’t there to eliminate poverty, or to challenge the political and economic regime, but rather there to point people toward true worship:

While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table. When the disciples [led by Judas according to the Gospel of John] saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.” Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

(Matthew 26:6‭-‬13 NIV)

Socialism is humanist.  It is motivated by this desire to create a perfect world through the use of political power.  But Jesus said that poverty can’t be eliminated and he rejected the utilitarian impulses of the disciples (led by the thief named Judas) who had twisted the teachings of Jesus about giving to the poor.  Jesus answered their indignation over waste by recentering on worship.  Our giving is to point people to God.  Socialists, on the other hand, worship the state.

5) Socialism Is Motivated by Envy, Christianity by Love

The most valid claim against Capitalism is that it is all about money and greed.  People present Socialism as being an alternative and yet it really is only a different form of the same thing.  Socialism is about power and envy, as much as Capitalism is about self-interest.  But, unlike Capitalism, where the means of production are attained by work or negotiation, Socialism is always maintained through the use of coercion and force.  So, although the rich Capitalist may be guilty of many sins, it is a corruption of the free market to take from others by deception or fraud, whereas you can’t have Socialism without manipulations and violence.

A person can own Capital and be Christian, but they can’t be full of jealousy, envy, or judgment towards others:

The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

(Galatians 5:19‭-‬21 NIV)

Sure, like Judas who hid his true motivation under concern for the poor, Socialists are very skilled at selling their own desire for the things others have as a virtue.  But the reality is that it is not our job to decide who else is greedy or has too much, as St Paul asks his readers, “who are we to judge another man’s servant?”  Judgment is for God.  Which is what was so terribly wrong with how Judas had used the words of Jesus as a way to condemn and he used them to condemn a woman more righteous than he was.

Capitalism isn’t Christian. However, property rights are, as is workers keeping the wages they’ve earned and this protection of private wealth is what the commandment against theft is about. Sure, it is the job of a Christian to give to the poor and needy, but profit for labor is not greed nor is it a sin for one person to have more than others do. Socialism, on the other hand, is incompatible. Yes, a Christian can live as a slave to the secular state, but it is not Christian to use government power to compel people to give their property to you to redistribute.

The Difference Is Direction

The left confuses Christian compassion for the poor with a political system.  This could be cynical, simply to persuade the nominal Christians to their side or it could be entirely genuine.  Either way, despite this similar starting point as Christianity, Socialism is headed in a completely opposite direction and is all about worldly power rather than the love of Jesus that transcends.

Jesus was not Capitalist or Socialist, he was none of the above, apolitical, and all about building a kingdom that is not of this world.  Trying to pigeonhole Jesus as a Socialist entirely misses the point of the Gospel.  Jesus, while tempted to overthrow the oppressor, did not choose to do this.  He picked love instead, to love even the Romans, and this was to reject the Zealots, like Judas, who were motivated by the dream of having political power in their own hands.

It is the direction or orientation of Socialism that is wrong.  Christianity teaches us to care for the poor, yes, but Jesus also said we must love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. That is revolutionary, but in a completely different way from the divisive power and social order-obsessed philosophy of Marx and Engles. Christianity is about bridging gaps through voluntary self-sacrifice and forgiveness, Socialism widens gaps and always stirs conflict for the gain of some over others.

Christianity is about pointing people to a heavenly kingdom, where money and power don’t matter anymore, therefore we give voluntarily to show people this alternative. Socialism is completely focused on this world only and fighting over who should rule who. But Christianity is about laying down our lives and investing in something greater than politics, power, or privilege. One is heading towards the lowest common denominator, taking what we can, while the other is giving all and aiming to transcend all.

“Whether by word of mouth or by letter…”

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The US Constitution is a prime example of how the same words can be interpreted in many different ways. Sometimes this is just a way to get around the clear meaning and other times it is simply a problem with language. There are many cases, with this founding document of a nation, that it would be nice if we could have some further explanation. Sure, you can read some of what the writers and signers said elsewhere in order to try to fill in the blanks. But, in the end, without them here, we don’t truly know how they would respond to the demands of our modern economy, technology, and needs.

This only gets murkier when dealing with Scriptures written two millennia ago. Yes, every Bible-thumper and their brother thinks they have a clear understanding while everyone else is just making things more difficult than they really should be. I mean, “The Bible Says It, I Believe It, That Settles It,” right? And yet, if I were to answer that with, “do you bury your poo outside of your property, in a hole you dug with a trowel, as instructed in Deuteronomy?” I’m guessing that suddenly what the Bible says would become a bit less settled as those using this phrase made some sort of theological exemption and that’s okay, there are things in Scripture that aren’t perfectly clear without some further explanation.

But what is more intriguing to me is what is completely left out that would be so obvious to early Christians that it wouldn’t even be worth mentioning in the letters. As the saying goes, more is caught than taught, and sometimes the most important things never do get written out. In other words, if we were writing instructions on how to drive a car, we would probably assume that the person knows how to get into the vehicle or sit facing forward. However, from the Bible, do we know how the early church structured their services or generally lived? Would they even recognize us as Christians? The reality is that there are gaps that many today just fill in with assumptions and it is usually these different extra-Biblical assumptions that lead to many divisions.

In the Protestant world “extra-Biblical” is practically a curse word. How dare you ever have a rule, custom, or tradition that goes beyond the written text! That’s false religion or something! This is why Orthodoxy is often dismissed by those seeking to strip down Christianity to the Biblical bare bones. It is a special kind of ignorance.

A good illustration? In World War II there was a study of returning aircraft and the damage that they had to determine how to better prevent future losses. The Center for Naval Analyses concluded from this that the aircraft needed more protection in these most heavily damaged areas. However, Abraham Wald, a Hungarian mathematician, begged to differ. He reasoned that the aircraft returning had survived and those that had been hit in more critical areas did not. In other words, what needed to be done was the very opposite of what the others had concluded. They needed to better armor those areas that weren’t damaged in the returning aircraft. This tendency to misinterpret evidence, based on what we have rather than what is missing, is called “survivorship bias” and can lead to woefully incorrect ideas.

This is what the Bible says about what is written versus what is not:

So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.

(2 Thessalonians 2 NIV)

The “letter” is what we have received in Scripture. These are the books of the Bible, canonized by the Church and believed to be truly inspired writing for this reason. But the “word of mouth” is where things are more interesting. What of the Apostle’s teaching (or tradition according to the KJV) is not written in their letters and how do we know what is missing?

The Orthodox, of course, say that this is the tradition of the Church and tie their legitimacy to the fact that there is a line of secession going all the way back to the Apostles, by the laying of hands and ordinations, and this only makes sense. The Church (note, not an individual or even the institutions) is what keeps the spoken teachings of the Apostles preserved like it did the Bible, and also serves to provide the correct understanding of Scripture. Because we should know, as Peter warned, that the Bible does not provide its own interpretation: “[Paul’s] letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.” (2 Peter 3:16 NIV)

However, it isn’t just the non-Orthodox that fall victim to their own bias. There are parts of the Church tradition, whether spoken or written, that slip through the cracks. We all have blind spots. We all have our distortions of concepts and errant assumptions. The difference is, that the Orthodox, if they are truly seeking to be Orthodox, are at least making some effort to incorporate the sayings of the Fathers and have a grasp of those “word of mouth” traditions not necessarily ever expressed in Scripture. In doing this, in understanding how Christianity was practiced by the faithful throughout the centuries, it becomes that much harder to distort the words of the Bible.

In the end, Christianity is about Communion, not easy textbook answers, not following an instruction manual, not standing alone, but real relationships. The more important being that between ourselves and God. However, a relationship with God implies love for our brothers and sisters. It means we are rubbing elbows with other Christians and the Saints. As Fr. Anthony put it, in his fatherly council to me, “there are no Lone Rangers” in Christianity, we can’t put the words of Jesus to practice in solitude or isolation. It’s not in removing ourselves that we are purified, it is in our getting messy and involved in the life of the Church of imperfect people (like us) that we are changed. That is taking up our cross. That is the hard part of Christianity we would rather run from.

Learning never stops in relationships. Christ Jesus did not come so we could house church with the few other perfect people who have the proper understanding of a book according to us. Instead, the very act of Incarnation was God choosing to be around those undeserving and impure, to identify with them and their suffering, which should be the impulse of those filled with the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit, St Paul tells us, that will bring “unity” and a “bond of peace” which should span centuries or the current divisions because: “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:4-6 NIV)

Do you *really* want a life without conflict?

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Thinking, as I’m sipping my coffee at Dunkin, a Saturday habit, we build civilization as part of the urge to reduce variables and the effort of living.  The thought started during my pre-waking slumber: We work, build shelters and store resources, create complex networks, to try to decrease unpredictability and the end result is that I don’t need to worry about my source of caffeine.

This orderly environment we create is ideal for raising children.  It is a nest.  Or at least at some levels.  Where we, like birds, weave a structure out of chaos in order to keep our offspring safe from predators and ourselves protected a world that can be unkind to the unprepared.  Squirrels scurry around, in the fall, gathering up things to keep for food over the hard winter months.  Our own species, likewise, is as instinctively forward thinking and creates systems to ease the strain.

The human endeavor, towards these ends of producing stability and abundance, has been so successful that many can go their entire lives not appreciating it. 

We’re so well-off, in the developed world, that our impoverished are obese rather than hungry and many now think that healthcare (a service provided by others) is a right.  we live in such unprecedented luxury and ease, even the poor can afford a lifestyle that many ancient kings would envy and yet feel so entitled to everything that we will shoot up the McDonald’s drive thru if we can’t get our bacon:

Evidently, being in civilization doesn’t make someone civilized.

Anyhow, other than entitlement and lack of appreciation, another product of civilization is boredom and fat.  In the absence of wars we created sport and without hard work, to keep from physical deterioration, we go to the gym.  It is truly bizarre, when you think about it, that we go out and seek the very anxieties that our ancestors built civilization to escape.  We are adrenaline junkies, doing intentionally dangerous things for the fix, we want to have unpredictable outcomes.

All of this really does make everything about our existence a weird paradox.  As soon we achieve a little bit of stability and peace we become restless.  That’s what convinces me that we are as much nature, made for the world we are in, as we are not.  That feeling that we somehow do not belong in this place with death and sorrow is what has motivated our progress.  It is less about our own being otherworldly and more what has enabled us to survive this universe that would kill us the moment we grew complacent.

This, incidentally, is the one thing that many people do not grasp about entropy, we tend to see decay and deterioration as being only a bad thing.  I mean, we fight it.  If someone walks into the house with muddy boots it is upsetting and spurs action.  But, without this tendency to disorder, without this repeated need to clean up on aisle five, would we even have a reason to live?  As much as we hate disorder, it is this continual struggle against it that gives us meaning and purpose.

Laws of Love and Attraction

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There is only one kind of love.  Hate to break it to you.  But, once the special categories, warm fuzzy feelings experienced and those pesky mystical overlays are removed, love is attraction.  When we love something we will want more of it, to keep it for our selves, and to protect it.  If we love ice cream, we will work for the opportunity to spend more time with it, there will be cravings and desire.  If we love a fine piece of art we will take great care to preserve it, so we can continue to enjoy it long into the future.

We love other people in the same way—we are drawn to the people we love.

We perform complex rituals to make ourselves more attractive to the target of our affection and in hopes of gaining their attention, thier mutual affection, and possibly a longer commitment.  It is like the pangs of hunger when this is denied.  If only they could see past my shortcomings and see my heart.  Of course, they never do.  Had it been possible he/she would have already been digging into a conversation like a bowl of their favorite ice cream.  I mean, no, that’s not to say that you couldn’t be an acquired taste, as in the asparagus and lard a la mode that just happens to be delicious. But generally if something looks disgusting most will avoid it.

We do not control what we love anymore than we do what we find revolting.  Do you hate snakes?  Did you choose that intense feeling of disgust and that initial recoiling reaction at the first sight of this beady eyed slithering creature?  No, it’s just an instinct.  A primal fear.  And this reaction was probably to the advantage of many generations prior that had avoided the encounter with the deadly venom by their appropriate response to the stimulus.  It is good, as in very beneficial, to be triggered by dangerous critters—having a little anxiety and fight or flight response to something that can and will kill you is a healthy response.

So, love is what triggers the feelings of love and what does this is those things we find to be delectable.  Sure, we can love at different levels.  We often start by loving the object of the person.  Is he tall?  Is she beautiful?  Do they inspire our confidence, motivate us and give a reason to be a better version of ourselves?  Most people, honest about it or not, start romantic pursuit by loving what is visible outwardly, on the surface, and only after that progress onwards to those things of spiritual substance.  We love what gives us the most and despise what only takes from us. 

We will donate our time and devote our energy—be completely okay with delayed gratification—if that final prize at the end of our commitment seems big enough.

Why does absence makes the heart grow fonder?  It is because love is all about things we want to have more of and limited access to. This is why we crave sugar and salt (to our own peril) they were once hard to acquire in the quantities we needed. We don’t love oxygen until we are without it, gasping for breath, and a person who has whatever they want without any effort and sacrifice can’t truly cherish or love anything.  I mean, the saying, “familiarly breeds contempt” points to the reality that availability deceases love and scarcity builds it.  If you happen to be one of the last two humans on the planet there is more reason to spend time with the other one.

If people love you they want to spend more time with you.  Love means willingness to sacrifice one thing for another.  If someone claims to love another, yet avoids them completely or rejects a deeper relationship, then they are a liar.  Sure, we might love people for their appearance, we might love them for their soul, but love is always about attraction and who we want to spend more time with.  This is why I never care about the profession of love some make. I only ever care about the actuality of love. If a person loves us they will call us to make sure we made it home safe.  And it is because they are attracted and want to see you again.

This is why “love your enemy” is really an oxymoron.  If we truly love someone then they aren’t an enemy anymore.  We can’t actually force love, it comes off as fake, all we get is that uncanny valley of niceness and people will see right through it.  Having seen how vicious that the Christian ‘faithful’ can be, I would settle for loving our brothers and sisters.  But I’m not sure we can, we love our own ideologies and sectarian divisions more than we do unity or seeing our own sin or faults as equal to their’s.  If I could see the impossible love that bridges the divides that are within the Church, I might see loving our actual enemies as being possible.

What is more evident is that we’re in love with ourselves   Opposites attract is more or less reserved for the world of sex, at least for those of urge to do what is needed to further the species, otherwise the rule is that birds of a feather flock together.  And it is because we’re mostly in love with ourselves and thus love those who reflect our own base values and/or have things we see as being valuable to us.  The reason why most Christian missions ultimately fail is because the people ‘evangelized’ are a mere tool to get to heaven and not truly loved.

When we love we are attracted.  We want to spend time together, not as an obligation or a religious duty, but as a real impulse.  The divisions of romantic versus familial, or that of crush as opposed to committed, are really not all that important.  What matters is if our love is genuine or a counterfeit that we use in hope of scoring points.  We can mimick loving actions, like a psychopath, but not actual love.  

While there are certainly different ways to love each other, there are no different levels of love.  Without exception we will always want more of what we love, more in quantity, closeness or intimacy, and less of what we do not.  We’ll never say no to a visit with family, our beloved, or those things that we truly love.  We have cravings and a need for the things that we love.  If you don’t love someone like the food you eat, then you’re probably not really all thatloving of them.  If we love someone we’ll fight for them, long to be with them and let nothing come between.

The Beautiful Thing

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An old couple found this thing.  It was sleek and shiny, some parts transparent, but had many mysteries packed under the opaque surface at the bottom.  One of the intriguing features were the little boxes that could be pushed in or out again, giving a satisfying *click* that delighted them both.  The upper portion, with a strange metallic knife inside, could be separated from the lower and there was also a third higher portion that was very easily removed.  None of it made that much sense, but it was very beautiful and thus they decided to put this trophy on prominent display in their home.

The old couple were an avid readers, they loved the stories of ancient people, and that was one of the reasons why this old object stood out to them.  They knew it had to have been something special, a sacred object for past generations, and they treasured it.  But their desire for this food called “smoothie” would have to wait.  It required a blender and they had none.  So they continued their most faithful prayers, finding many pleasant (but mostly decorative and practically useless) things over the years, which they put to work to use as tables or art. 

At the end of it all they decided that if God had wanted them to have that perfect blend of many fruits and other ingredients they would have been given the tools—so they decided to be content with these beautiful things He provided instead..

All Show, No Go

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Pursuing the used car section, I happened upon an ad for an AMG Mercedes for a very good price.  “This would be worth checking into,” I send a message and end up arranging the meet up.

So I travel two hours and, sure enough, there it is black and beautiful, the three pointed star on the hood.  I’m excited.  The interior is immaculate, leather, that perfect German fit and finish.  It was loaded, with all of those features one would expect from a modern luxury vehicle.

“Okay, let’s take it for a spin,” I exclaim, anxious to see how this beast performs on the road.  “Oh, you want to actually drive it?” My host asks.  I wasn’t sure if he was going to throw me the keys or perplexed.  So I answer, “Yeah, I want to see how it runs, could we go around the block?”

“This is a Mercedes Benz C-class sedan,” the response comes, “you either accept what it is or stop wasting my time.”  At this point I’m a little stunned, taking a test drive isn’t that unreasonable.  “I’m serious about this,” I respond, “could we at least start it up, hear how it runs?”

At this point the seller seems to be a little confused.  “The battery is strong,” he says, as reaches for the radio knob, “surround sound,” turning up the volume.  “Oh, that’s great!”  Still trying to maintain my positive demeanor despite my increasing uncertainty, “could I look under the hood?”

“I don’t understand why you’re asking that,” the owner of the car retorts, “are you saying that you’re not satisfied with the heated seats and navigation system?”

“Well, I’m looking for reliable transportation,” I pause, “you know, to get from point A to point B.”  And then add, “the door locks and other doodads certainly matter to me, but I really want to make sure that the drivetrain is solid before I commit to anything.  That’s why I want to see how it drives or at least hear how it runs and look under the hood, can we do that?”

“The body on this car is immaculate, no dents or scratches.  There is not an AMG this pristine, for this price, anywhere.  So are you interested or not?”

“Okay, so here’s what I’m looking for,” I say, becoming more forceful, “I want a fully functional vehicle, something with a solid drivetrain.”  I stop, then add, “I can pay cash, I I just need to be sure that the engine runs well enough and the car can move.”

Now getting red in the face, my counterpart responds angrily, “Oh, I see what this is really about, you’re jealous, you are on the attack against my Mercedes-Benz out of your own feelings of inadequacy, because you couldn’t handle the payments for a car like this!  You make it about the engine and the driveability of the car as an excuse for being unwilling to pay the price for a luxury sedan!”

I laugh, a bit nervously, assuming this man must be joking as bizarre as the rant is and yet not entirely sure that given his serious expression.  “I guess I just thought it was normal,” pausing to think, “to take a test drive and see under the hood.”  And adding, “No offense, but most people are going to want to know this before making a commitment, is there a reason why you’re being so cagey about this?”

“How dare you judge me!”  Comes the retort, and he continues, “Fine, it has no engine, but you’re being so negative!  It’s obvious that you are unable to appreciate the bells and whistles, too completely obsessed with only one small component of what makes a great vehicle, so entirely unsophisticated!”  

At this point, being unable to take the man seriously anymore, I hurry to make my exit without further drama, “Thanks for letting me look, so I’ll let you know if I’m interested.”  As I turn to get in my vehicle and leave he mutters “go to hell.”  

When It Is Better To Do Nothing

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Have I mentioned that I’m tired of religious people and the prescriptions they give?

The real Jesus was defiant.  He upended the systems and standards of his time.  He was intentionally offensive to the self-righteous religious elites and then completely gentle with those who were broken.  There was no one-size-fits-all, no attempt to simplify the process.  Salvation is a walk of faith, not our ability to keep a set of fixed rules or pray a certain way, it is about our heart.

No, I’m not saying this as favoring the more libertine amongst us.  Being “free in Christ” is not a license to do whatever we want.  It is not about being ‘spiritual’ rather the religious either.  Rather it as about love:

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. […] You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.”

(Galatians 5:1‭, ‬13 NIV)

A great deal of my social media connections are unregenerate social conservatives.  They love those fading structures that once kept people bound to their moral standards and yet lack any comprehension of grace or their own need of it.  They may see themselves as being righteous, for their exceptional ability to keep up certain cultural conventions, but they are very much like those rebuked and condemned by Jesus.

But still the alternative is not to go in the complete opposite direction.  It is not better to have no structure, to completely defy all cultural convention or use Christian freedom as an excuse to do whatever we please.  No, rather it is to serve and save others:

Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

(1 Corinthians 9:19‭-‬23 NIV)

Which is to reiterate the example of Christ:

…whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

(Mark 10:43‭-‬45 NIV)

Our love for God is always, always, a matter of how we treat each other.  If we can’t love the people we see, specifically our brothers and sisters in Christ, then our claim to love God is a lie. (1 John 4:20)  Therefore, to be free in Christ, is not to shirk responsibility to each other.  It is not worshipful, at least not of God, to go to church (or not go) for own sake:

“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.

(Matthew 5:23‭-‬24 NIV)

This is putting reconciliation with each other, true reconciliation. before or ahead of the ritual worship that religious people do.  No, it is not negotiable.  This is the command of Jesus.  And yet it is so often reversed.  It is acceptable to act or go through the motions of righteousness, but not to ask for the same authenticity that put Jesus at odds with the religious authorities.

Had Jesus just followed the rules and did what was expected he would never have been a threat to anyone.  The reality is that he saw through the empty gestures.  He was not impressed with those pious people who had their performative religion.  His call was for genuine love, to be merciful as our Father is merciful:

On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

(Matthew 9:12‭-‬13 NIV)

That’s our true worship, to truly forgive and love those undeserving and broken.

Early Christians had a saying “unus Christianus, nullus Christianus,” which is to say that one Christian is no Christian.  This is to say that our Communion together, in Christ, needs to go beyond merely sharing the same physical space for a few hours or it is fake.  True Christianity can’t be reduced to mere individualistic pursuit of the Divine.  It is not an “only God can judge me” freedom from duty to others.

I could quote two dozen other texts and it would not matter.  So many are caught up in their own corrupted ‘traditions’ that they’ll always miss the forest for the trees.  But I’m not interested in dime-store Christianity, the kind that only loves in prescribed ways.  I want the real deal, the kind that frees and truly forgives.  I want what is alive, what has the true Spirit of truth and love in it, not the lifeless self-serving counterfeit form.

It’s not that the wonderful symbolism and designated acts of ‘Christian’ service are unimportant or useless either.  But it’s just that none of it really matters if it is not a part of something genuine.  As Jesus said, in Matthew 23:15, a person can “travel over land and sea to win a single convert” and only be successful in making their new convert “twice as much a child of hell” as themselves.  In that case it would be better to do nothing at all.

Even the mystical “cup of salvation” can be our damnation if we drink unworthily (1 Corinthians 11:29) or in disregard and without care for His body. The body of Christ meaning, at times, our fellow members of the Church or the people we encounter who are in need of love:

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.

(Matthew 25:35‭-‬36 NIV)

Seeing the Truth — Who Are the Real Christians?

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There was a 1980s cult film about a man who finds a pair of sunglasses which allows him to see subliminal messages in mass media.  In this science fiction movie, “They Live,” the protagonist learns that world is run by aliens, along with human collaborators, who use billboards and television to control the population.  The protagonist, now that he is awakened to this truth, goes on a mission to free people.

I’m not sure that I’ve ever watched the entire movie.  It was before my time.  But, from the bits and pieces that I’ve seen, it is basically a commentary on our mind-numbing American consumerism and political propaganda.  It is trying to show how mass media is used by social elites to manipulate and manage people.  

Anyhow, for a moment, yesterday, I thought somehow I had landed in that movie and posted the following on social media to describe the experience:

“Was out on the road today and saw a billboard with the word “Obey” in large print.  I thought, for a moment, that I was in the 1980s movie, “They Live,” in which the protagonist finds special glasses that allow him to see what really is.  In the film the world is controlled by aliens who manipulate people to conform.  As it turns out this was not my new vision that could see through the propaganda, but was a Christian Aid Ministries (Mennonite) evangelism effort aimed at professing Christians that do not live to their standards.”

Now, given that much of my friends list is still conservative Mennonite, who live mostly in their own religious cloister, I knew the risk of some missing the meaning and intended humor of the cultural reference.  However, what I had not expected was the personal attacks against me and bizarre accusations of bashing CAM for stating the plain truth.  What led to this severe reaction?  Apparently, that last sentence, that this message was “aimed at professing Christians that do not live their standards,” which offended.

Standards are a sore subject for conservative Mennonites and most especially for the neo-Anabaptist types.  Perhaps, had I used the word “doctrines” the howls of protest may have been more muted.  Why?  Well, the word “standards” is often associated with that multitude of extra-Biblical rules that some argue aren’t a matter of salvation and yet, despite this claim, are somehow important enough to be the cause of their countless church splits.  But the bizarre part is that I didn’t say anything about their extra-Biblical standards and that’s what made the boisterous denials so interesting.

What does “Real Christians” actually mean?

The billboard proclaimed “Real Christians OBEY Jesus’ teachings,” citing Luke 6:46 as a reference.  At face value that is the goal of all Christians, to obey Jesus, right?  But it is this qualifying word “real” that indicates this is a loaded statement and more than just a reminder to be good Christians.  The writer doesn’t want you to just be any kind of Christian.  No, they want you to be a “real Christians” and quite obviously, unless this writer is at odds with themselves, it means to be like them.

There’s nothing wrong with that sentiment, St. Paul urged, “follow me as I follow Christ,” (1 Corinthians 11:1) and that would certainly mean to be a part of the same church body as him.  It shouldn’t be a big controversy, when a Mennonite puts up a sign saying to be a “real Christian” they mean to be more like them, an Anabaptist.  This would not even be a question if a billboard, with a similar message, were put up by a Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness organization.  So it is beyond disingenuous to insist that this use of “real Christian” has nothing to do with being more like Mennonites.

As someone who has spent decades of their own life amongst conservative Mennonites and other Anabaptist types, this notion that “we’re the real Christian” oozes out.  And, more precisely, when they say “obey Jesus” what this ultimately means is agreeing with their Mennonite ‘doctrines’ of “non-conformity” and “non-resistance.”  To them, this is just Biblical teaching, the clear extension of the commands of Jesus and, therefore, the most essential part of what it means to be real Christians.  

So why deny it?

Why do some get up in arms over someone speaking this truth?

Why not be Mennonite and own it?

The real issue goes deeper.  Mennonites, for various reasons, do not like to be identified as Mennonites.  The term turns them into an ethnic tribe or mere subculture rather than the purer form.  Whereas they would rather see themselves as simply being the only genuine Christians.  The Holdeman Mennonites, calling themselves the Church of God in Christ, were more forthright in this regard and believed themselves to be the only true church.  Other Mennonites aren’t as bold as to outright say that they’re the remnant church, but also do not fully embrace their common denominational label either.

The worst of the deniers try to discard the word “Mennonite” completely, despite this being their religious, cultural, and ethnic heritage.  Modify the veil a little, ditch the capedress for another style of conservative dress, change the language, and suddenly they’re now the more authentic ‘Anabaptist’ who arrived at this particular emphasis by their own study of Scripture.  This faux conversion is something born of insecurity from knowing that their own religious form is inherited. And yet, despite this, holding to a dogma of “Believer’s baptism” that causes cognitive dissonance if their being Mennonite isn’t completely a choice.

There’s also another possible reason why someone might deny their religious heritage and that is to fool their potential converts. In other words, a bait-and-switch tactic: 1) Tell inquirers that the group is all about following the example of Jesus, 2) shower them with attention and get them invested in the local fellowship, then 3) slowly shoulder them with those expectations that aren’t explicitly stated and yet required to be in Communion with them.  This way they can use the established emotional connection as a tool for manipulation to later bring the new person into full compliance.

Let’s talk about those Mennonite doctrines…

What was most striking, and absolutely disturbing, about this recent encounter on social media, was how completely willing some were to question my faith and even to bear false witness to my face.  For my infraction of saying that Mennonites are what they are, that they generally promote keeping their standards as being the definition of what it means to be a true Christian—for being an ex-Mennonite—one of their number went as far as to question if I was even a brother in Christ.

This, of course, is the grandest of ironies and starkly illustrates the disconnect between what adherents claim versus the reality of the practice. 

First, they (two or more) wrongly interpreted my post as bashing CAM. But, instead of show love or turning the other cheek (as would be truly obeying what Jesus, right?), they attacked me personally and lied.  Rather than address me directly and honestly, they would attempt to knock down strawman versions of what I said and pigeonhole me.  Which is another reason why I don’t buy into the Mennonite ‘doctrine’ of non-resistant.  It seems almost entirely about avoiding military service, giving them something to hold over other believers, and not all that practical or sincere.

In response to this empty non-resistance, it would be better to be the Roman Centurion that Jesus commended for his “great faith” than be the person who is a “conscientious objector” as a matter of cultural inheritance or convenience.  It is noteworthy that Jesus, in the “Sermon on the Mount,” says not a word about wars between nations or about police doing their work, the examples given are what amount to insults and it seems to be about how we respond to our own personal enemies.  So how this gets reversed, as part of Mennonite ‘doctrine,’ is strange.

And, so far as “non-conformity,” taken from St Paul’s “be not conformed to the world,” (Romans 12) the rest of the context does not at all support the most common ‘Anabaptist’ interpretation or application.  In that context, there is no mention of clothing or style, but rather what this means is summed up in the second half of the verse where he says “but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.”  He goes on in the chapter to define this further, describing what this looks like in practice.  It is about looking intentionally different or in-your-face billboards.

The Truth sets free!

The fictional “They Live” speaks of the reality that is hidden beneath political messaging and commercial advertising.  It is almost routine now that the name of a new piece of legislation or branch of government is nearly the opposite of what it does.  For example, the Defense Department leads the absolutely most aggressive military in the world.  The Inflation Reduction Act has nothing to do with reducing inflation and will likely only increase costs as all subsidies tend to do.  The ‘right’ words are always manipulation and cover their agenda.

But the reality is, most of us, and especially those brought up in a religious home and community, have great difficulty telling the truth.  No, it is not that we set out to lie or mislead people, rather it is we have difficulty fully comprehending how corrupted our own hearts can be.  We tend to see ourselves as being righteous and forget that even our Sunday best is filthy rags by comparison to true Holiness.  We do not realize how much we are bound to our own confirmation bias and prejudices.  This could be why Jesus said we leave behind even our families to follow Him:

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple." (Luke 14:26 NIV)

Taken literally this would be a contradiction with the many admonitions to love found in Scripture and the Gospels.  I’m pretty sure the “hate” means to not be encumbered by or unable to see beyond our own heritage and most familiar to us.  This means accepting that we may ourselves have an incorrect understanding of the Biblical texts.  When Jesus spoke of those who cry “Lord Lord,” he isn’t speaking to those other “nominal Christians,” but to those who are sure that they represent His truth and do not.

Jesus said, in John 8:32, “the truth will set you free.”  And, for this reason, it would be far better that Mennonite-borns embrace, rather than deny, the influence of their culture and tradition so far as the Christ that they are able to see.  In doing this, in our understanding that what we received in doctrine or practice is not plain unadulterated Christianity, there is a far greater possibility of discovering our own blindspots and growing in faith.  It is more comfortable to assume that we’re the real Christians.  It is much harder to deal with our pride and repent.