Let My People Think

The beginning chapters of the book of Revelation contain 7 letters to the 7 churches. The churches are represented by seven golden lampstands. More specifically, the letters are addressed to the “7 stars”, representing the “7 angels of the churches”. What do all those expressions mean?

First of all, the word “church” (Greek “ekklesia”) simply means “called out / convoked gathering or assembly”. As a matter of fact, this exact same word “ekklesia” is used several dozen times in the Greek translation of the Old Testament (the Septuagint, or LXX) to translate the Hebrew words denoting “convoked assembly”. All of these words simply referred to the people of Israel. In the New Covenant, this same word is used to refer to the body of Christ. So we have one word, and two different meanings which depend on the context.

Another interesting word is “synagogue”. In Greek literally means “to lead / bring together” and has a very similar meaning to the word “ekklesia”. In LXX, sometimes the cognates of these two words are used nearly interchangeably. For instance:

Leviticus 8:1,3
The Lord said to Moses … gather (ekklesiazo) the entire assembly (synagoge) at the entrance to the tent of meeting.

So, the point of it is that the word “church” is not meant to be understood in a purely Christian sense. In a similar vein, the word “synagogue” is not meant to be understood only in a Jewish sense. In fact, the word “synagogue” is used several times in LXX to denote Gentile gatherings.

Therefore, I will use the word “assembly” instead of “church” in this write-up from hereon out, as that would avoid anachronistically reading our modern meanings into the text that doesn’t necessarily support it.
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ChurchianityWhen you undergo deep inner transformation, you begin to awake to the reality of the Good News of Jesus Christ. You begin to sense and see unconditional love of the Father toward humankind, and you begin to flow in his divine power to bring about genuine transformative changes in people, places, and situations. You begin to feel like you’ve finally found the pearl of great price, and you can’t wait to share your findings with those around you.

And here comes the reality check. There might be an array of unexpected reactions coming from those who are supposed to have all the right answers. If that wasn’t your situation, and you had seasoned, mature, secure mentors around who saw you through the process – that is truly wonderful! That’s how its supposed to work. But not all of us were as fortunate.

It’s not at all uncommon to get the kind of advice from spiritual leaders which would actually arrest your transformation, or even roll it back. The worst of it may come when your new insights actually begin to really work for you. Many people are afraid to admit that these types of problems are endemic for a fairly sizable sliver of institutional Christianity for fear of appearing “divisive”. But in my opinion, this is the same as CDC not admitting known facts about serious epidemics for fear of appearing alarmist. This is nothing but “cover my own butt and let everyone else repeat my errors” kind of fearful mentality.

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Image of God (a poem)

Image of God A couple of weeks ago, as we were driving somewhere, my son asked me to turn on the song “Zombie” by Cranberries. As we listened to the song, I suddenly was overwhelmed with a sense of profound connection with the entire humanity. I felt connected to all the 7+ billion of people on this planet. I felt completely one with that huge, multifarious organism called “humankind”. That took me by complete surprise.

I don’t think that I have never experienced that sense of unity with humanity before. It was very meaningful to me. A day or two later, I wrote this poem.

The poem’s uneven and somewhat jagged construction and varying rhyming schemes are meant to be expressive of the sense of beauty and diversity which exists in this world. Some stanzas and even some lines overlap and dovetail with one another, and this is done on purpose. This is illustrative of how different persons and people groups dovetail with one another to form one symbiotic organism. The poem’s cadence builds its pace to a crescendo to highlight a sense of urgency before the final stanza.

Enjoy!

IMAGE OF GOD

Religion with its plastic smile
Numbs our mind, and rapes our soul,
And leaves a gaping, bleeding hole
Where our heart once used to be.

It builds big buildings. It produces
A stream of talks and printed pages.
It worships books with guilded edges
Which can’t legitimize its crimes.

It lets us keep our greed, our judgments,
To Western sins it dulls our mind
Shuts off compassion, leaves us blind
To human suffering next door,
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BibliolatryIt’s fascinating how often the Bible gets deified, based on the way we use certain phrasings: “The Bible says …”, “The Scriptures teach us “, “The Bible tells us”.

In all of those examples, the Bible is antropomorphized – i.e., it’s getting endowed with characteristics which belong to sentient beings. That is without warrant. The teacher is the Holy Spirit. The One who is to be obeyed is God. The human being to emulate is Jesus. And the Bible is simply a very, very useful tool on the journey. It is the official historically accurate record of God’s dealings with humankind, containing a lot of “inside information”.

Typically, by the time we get to studying our Bibles, we are already given the looking glass through which we perceive everything that’s written in the Bible. In doing so, we calibrate our reading experience to our apriori theology, and we draw out and magnify things that are in line with what we already believe, and minimize and discard the things that could challenge our existing beliefs.

So, often times it’s not “the Bible teaching me”, but actually quite the opposite of that. It’s “me” telling the Bible what I think it should be saying.
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Image of GodWe are all created in the image of God. Inside of every single one of us, there’s a better human struggling to get out. If that’s focused upon, recognized, and encouraged, that will happen.

From a social standpoint, I really don’t so much care what religion people formally confess as I care that by their actions and attitudes they see the other human being as being infinitely worthy of love and care. In daily life, it’s more productive to deal with good Samaritans (atheists / Muslims / Buddhists / whoever else) that care for the person on the side of the road, rather than be in the company of those who use the name of God as an excuse to ignore or even provoke needless sufferings of a fellow human being. For the latter group, it’s immaterial whether they refer to themselves as Christian or Muslim or Nazi or Communist. Those designations are a mere veneer over the real mechanism of destroying the image of God in a fellow human being.

The problem that happened as the result of the Fall was not that humans became wretches / irreparably depraved / etc. The problem was that death entered the world, and corrupted the image of God in people and in the world. What was needed was an infusion of life, of divine nature, and the presence of Someone who would believe in people’s infinite worth. That was the mission and the role of Jesus. He didn’t die for us because we were wretches. He died for us because we were mortal and frail, and also because we believed in the lies that told us that we were not worthy of God. We believed the voices of others, and had lost our way. He showed us exactly what we were worth, and he showed us that the way to God is simply by allowing our human nature to be infused with the nature divine (theosis), and letting that combination take over our lives.

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Image of GodHumans are the God-breathed image bearers of God. God created us in the same general class of beings as himself, which is why we can relate to him on many levels.

You may have heard religious ideas about how every person born after the fall of humanity was devoid of the image of God in them, was born “utterly depraved”, “born of the devil”, personally repulsive and deeply abominable to God, etc. That’s not only Scripturally inaccurate (if you go beyond superficial prooftexting), but it’s also very conducive to awakening the worst of our instincts relative to other human beings. Such teachings simply attempt to dehumanize fellow humans, to strip the image of God off of them, since that’s the only rhetorical way of gaining imaginary authority to destroy them through slander and violence.

What happened after “the fall” is that humanity acquired a progressively thicker layer of self-reliance followed by blindness followed by sin followed by death – in that order. They departed from the divinely established order by relying on various systems of right and wrong (self-reliance), their worldviews and perspectives got retrained to perceive the world in the terms of “right vs. wrong” and “with us vs. against us” dichotomies (blindness), their skewed perspectives (think spiritual eyesight) caused them to constantly miss the mark in their interactions with other people and with God (sin in “hamartia” in Greek – literally, “missing the mark”), and in continually operating in sin they progressed in death (or entropy – increasing degrees of disorder, culminating in state of disorder – literal and irreversible death).
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Here’s one verse that is often taken out of context and misconstrued.

1 John 1:9
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

We are tempted to read “cause-effect” relationship in this verse in a way that’s not supported by the verse’s grammar in any way at all. The problem is not with the verse; the problem is that our Protestants minds are still so conditioned by the Roman Catholic confessional booth that we tend to read into the verse the stuff that’s not even there.

Here’s what the verse DOESN’T say ” if I confess sins – God WILL BE faithful and just to do xyz”. Future tense in NOT used in the second part of this verse. It’s fascinating how often this crucial detail gets missed. Rather, the verse says “If I confess sins – God IS [ALREADY] faithful and just to do xyz”.

Let me put it a different way. The relationship between the two clauses of this sentence is not “cause and effect.” The relationship is not between between me confessing sin and God forgiving and cleansing. The relationship is between me confessing sin and God being faithful and just! Both of these are stated in the present tense. Your confession cannot cause God to be faithful and just – otherwise your lack of confession would cause God to be unfaithful and unjust. This is nonsensical, and it should be quite obvious.
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