The Quest for the Truth in Love

In a recent column, I suggested that we shouldn’t be too hung up on the “context” of certain Scriptures, if the passage expresses a universal truth. I used Leviticus 19:33-34 as a topical example, illustrating that we are to treat those who are not among our native-born as equals. Another example would be this:

Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.(1 Corinthians 8:1)

While the immediate context has to do with food sacrificed to idols, the next two sentences in the Scripture express absolutes. All have knowledge. And while knowledge “puffs up,” love “builds up.”

The accumulation of much knowledge will ultimately lead to arrogance; that is, if it’s not balanced out by good will toward those who may not be “in the know.” Many knowledgeable people become impatient with those who lack their depth of understanding. At the extreme, certain forms of theoretical information will become misconstrued for absolute truths. This happens when the learned person becomes so steeped in a particular doctrine or ideology, that they cease to see the validity of differing points of view.

We frequently see this dynamic in religious and political discussions. One can sense that someone is frustrated with their opponent in a debate. They may be thinking: “But if only they knew what I know, they wouldn’t come across so simplistic — so out of touch!” But let’s take a step back from that.

Are all the details of our knowledge really more important than their simplicity? That would indeed be the case, if someone were stubbornly hanging on to a comfortable little fantasy. Sometimes people prefer to believe something pleasantly simple, without being willing to consider the details of a more intricate, truthful picture. But more often than not, I have seen knowledgeable people get lost in the details of their own ideology, to the point where they can no longer see the forest for the trees.

I’ve always been stricken by the use of the word “simplicity” in this verse:

“But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.” — (2 Corinthians 11:3)

Outside of context, the Scripture clearly states that devotion to Christ involves simplicity. But how often do we complicate our devotion by adding to it our defense of knowledge we may have gained? Whether it’s biblical knowledge per se, or knowledge of a certain doctrinal slant — Calvinism, Arminianism, etc. — at what point is the pursuit of knowledge a deterrent to that of a godly simplicity?

A Bible study is always most inspired when all the participants continue to seek the truth — when all remain open to the ultimate truth that there is in Christ. The picture of the classic theological argument among die-hards is quite a different picture than the quest for the truth in love.

I’ve been to all kinds of Bible studies. Ecumenical, evangelical, Reformed, charismatic — you name it. Frankly, I’ve enjoyed just about all of them, because I am a person who appreciates the Bible. It’s possible, however, that I have enjoyed the ones that contained a boisterous debate just a wee bit too much.

Recently I argued with another believer over the issue of wearing masks. I confess to have enjoyed the argument immensely, even as we both screamed at each other — hurling Scriptures back and forth, rebutting with other Scriptures, and having a grand old time. But is that really what we’re meant to do with Holy Scripture?

In that case, my anti-masker opponent and I parted on excellent terms. He respected my integrity and I respected his — even though we disagreed. And yet, how much more powerful is the experience of watching believers of opposing positions become silenced by the power of the Holy Spirit, when an atmosphere of humble reverence consumes every person in the room?

The Holy Spirit is, after all, the spirit of truth, as identified in the Gospel of John, chapters 14-16. And we are to “speak the truth in love.” (Ephesians 4:15). How many times have we spoken the truth without love? Probably, for most of us, many times. And how many times has that been effective? Very few times, I’m sure.

To whatever extent knowledge has “puffed us up,” I will pray that love, to that same extent, will build us up. Then maybe we will see with clear eyes the abominable nature of the contentious controversies and doubtful disputations we have engaged. Then maybe we will begin to rebuild the bridges that the divided heart of this nation has burnt.

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Tuesday Tuneup 91

Q. What’s happening now?

A. Winding down.

Q. How?

A. Strawberry milk, tylenol, water, and benadryl.

Q. Why?

A. Long day.

Q. Sleep all right last night?

A. No.

Q. Why not?

A. Too much on my mind.

Q. Why?

A. Too much to do.

Q. And now?

A. Tired.

Q. And?

A. Brain-dead.

Q. And?

A. Hoping to sleep soon.

Q. What’s keeping you?

A. Not sure.

Q. Any ideas?

A. Too many. They make my head spin.

Q. What about images?

A. A few. Good and bad.

Q. Can you focus on a good one?

A. Why?

Q. Might it bring you peace?

A. It might.

Q. And once you are at peace, might you get to sleep?

A. I might.

Q. Can you try?

A. All right.

Pause.

A. I think I found one.

Q. What is it?

A. An image. A picture of smiling faces looking at me, and me being at the piano, and our just having finished rehearsal, and me realizing that — it’s actually happening. I didn’t die a meaningless death in a gutter. I didn’t die abandoned. I lived, and I was given a chance to realize my dream.

The Questioner is silent.

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Gratitude List 1626

(1) Thankful for the phenomenon known as “sleep” and for a safe place in which to obtain it. On three hours sleep, staring at all those black musical notes on a Finale template, they might as well have been a bunch of flies I was supposed to be swatting. What happened after six more hours of fine, unadulterated sleep? The picture is considerably prettier.

(2) After a good third session of pastoral counseling this afternoon, I find myself thankful for the current overload. At least it’s not an “underload” — an idle brain being the devil’s playground, and all that.

(3) Thankful for a very positive friendship with my one and only daughter. How many dads can claim that they get to talk to their daughters every single day? Maybe more than I know, but I still feel very fortunate, and blessed.

(4) Thankful for the good friends I’ve made and kept throughout my life. About to catch up with my friend Holly down in California by telephone. Good to have friends.

(5) Thankful for the cooler temperatures lately, it being only 58F degrees right now, though it’s three in the afternoon. I no longer have to restrict my daily exercise to the early morning or late evening hours. Looking forward to a nice run, round about four. Life is good. :)

” Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think on these things.” — Philippians 4:8

Isolation and Superstition

This is going to sound incredibly superstitious, because — well, it is. A long time ago somebody at some church somewhere told me I was supposed to read a chapter of Proverbs every morning, according to whatever day in the month it is. After all, there are 31 chapters in the Proverbs of Solomon. So on a long month I get up to Proverbs 31, and start the whole thing over the next month.

Don’t get me wrong. I love that book. But there’s something in that practice that doesn’t seem quite healthy for me. For example, on the 18th of every single month, an old resentment returns to me. I read the first two verses, and I see myself in Verse One, and the person I resent in Verse Two.

Observe:

“He who isolates himself pursues selfish desires; he rebels against all sound judgment.” (Proverbs 18:1)

That’s me all right. Especially since Quarantine. I isolate myself; I prefer to isolate myself; I like being alone, and guess what? I wind up rebelling against all sound judgment. Seriously! In fact, I’ll prove it. Look at Verse Two:

“A fool does not delight in understanding, but only in airing his opinions.” (Proverbs 18:2)

I see that, and I think: “Yeah, that’s that guy who used to lecture me all the time as though I were an idiot. Never cared what my perspective was. Totally disrespectful! If I tried to get my two cents in, he would just go “Whatever!” As though my opinion didn’t even matter. And then, he would go right on with his undying lecture, telling me what I was supposed to do all the time.

A man happily showing his friend and telling him about the world they lived in. - Download Free ...

“Now that I see this Proverb, I ought to give that guy a piece of my mind! I ought to show him I haven’t forgotten what he did to me! I gotta show him that I still have his number.”

Then (every time the 18th rolls around, by the way), I start to text the guy with the biblical quote; that is to say, my estimate of him.

But then I see the first verse, and I think: “Oh that’s right. These thoughts only arise because I’m isolating myself, and therefore rebelling against all sound judgment. It’s not sound judgment to buzz this guy — I’ve already told him off a million times, and he never answers me. It’s better for me to take the first verse to my own heart, and stop isolating.”

And now you know what happens on the 18th of every month. Quite unlike the 16th, when I think that God is about to honor all my professional plans, and I get to verse 7, and I realize that if I only I please the Lord, even that guy who lectured me all day long will be at peace with me.

“When a man’s ways please the LORD, He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.” — Proverbs 16:7.

That’s what I really ought to be doing! If only it were still the 16th, and not the 18th, when obviously I have other things on my mind.

Sigh. I suppose it could be worse. I could read a horoscope every morning. I even tried that — but all they did was talk about my “love life.”

Love schmove. Never touch the stuff.

Hm – maybe that’s my problem . . .

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Tuesday Tuneup 90

Q. What’s happening now?

A. Interpretation.

Q. Of what?

A. Of an event.

Q. What sort of event?

A. An event that contains too much synchronicity to be coincidental, but that at the same time has the feel of somebody messing with my head.

Q. Messing with your head? Are you sure that’s the best way to describe the experience?

A. Without using the f-word, yes.

Q. But are you sure it’s only your head that’s being messed with? What about you? All of you? Your total being?

A. What are you driving at?

Q. On the streets, what did somebody mean when they said that they f—-d with you?

A. It didn’t mean anything negative, not in street slang. It only meant that they were willing to deal with me. Others they may have ignored, but me they interacted with. They probably even transacted with me. It meant that I mattered. That I was important to them.

Q. So when you feel that somebody is messing with you, what do you really feel?

A. Important.

Q. Come again?

A. Important.

Q. Say what?

A. Important! I’m important enough for them to bother messing with me.

Q. There you go! Now — who do you think has been messing with you?

A. Good question. There’s a sense of omnipotence and omnipresence. So it could be God. But it doesn’t seem to have the love that one associates with God. Maybe it’s an Agent or Angel of some kind. There’s a bit of an evil vibe to it. I don’t want to think it’s the Devil. Maybe it’s merely a gnome, or a poltergeist.

Q. Poltergeist? What kind of event are you talking about?

A. You really wanna know?

Q. Why else would I have asked?

A. All right. As you know, I don’t have my MediCare card. I was in the position where I would be billed for a service if I could not provide my MediCare number. The potential creditor only had my MediCaid number.

New Medicare Cards Coming Soon

So, to obtain the MediCare number, I took the little yellow slip of paper on which I had my MediCaid number written down, and I headed for the low income clinic. I figured there somebody might know me, and they might give me my MediCare number, especially if I could prove I was me, by showing them the MediCaid number.

But when I got there, I reached for my pocket, and the little slip of paper was gone! Oh well, not a big deal, as it turned out. The nice lady there got my name and birthdate, and soon handed me my MediCare number on a very similar little slip of yellow paper.

But then, when I got home, I reached for my pocket, and the little slip of paper she gave me was gone! What was there instead was the slip I’d thought I’d forgotten at home, the one containing my MediCaid number!

How could it be? It couldn’t be! It couldn’t possibly be that the slip of paper first vanished, then was replaced by a similar but not identical slip of paper, which was then mysteriously transformed into the first slip of paper. Poltergeist! Somebody was messing with me!

So I rode back on my bicycle and requested the MediCare number all over again. Then, when I returned home, I found I had both numbers on two little yellow slips of paper, which I then crammed down deep into my wallet. Moreover, I saw on the floor a third slip of yellow paper, this one containing my MediCare number! So I wrote my MediCaid number on the new slip of paper and stuck it on my refrigerator. Now I won’t lose my numbers – but I’m sure Somebody Up There was messing with me. They were just trying to let me know that They had my number (so to speak).

Q. Did you feel like you were being tested?

A. Yeah – that’s it. I was being tested. They were testing me, to see if I would blow.

Q. Did you blow?

A. No — not this time. I usually do, you know, whenever I think that they’re messing with me. But this time I kept my cool — and I kept my mouth shut.

Q. How did that make you feel?

A. At the time, pretty frustrated. I wanted to scream! But afterwards, upon reflection, it made me feel encouraged. I felt that I had passed the test.

Q. So how do you interpret the event?

A. As an honor. Just like it was an honor on the streets for someone to care about me enough to want to mess with me.

Q. But didn’t they only mess with you because you were an easy mark?

A. That’s right. And these Supernatural Guys — they think I’m an easy mark as well.

Q. Isn’t that a bad thing?

A. Not necessarily. I survived the streets, didn’t I?

Q. Why do you think you survived the streets?

A. Because there was always something they could get from me. I was useful.

Q. What about to the Supernatural Guys? What about to God?

A. To God, you ask? It just might be — just maybe — that to God, I am useful too.

The Questioner is silent.

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Gratitude List 1625

(1) As I heard the rain outside my slightly cracked window last night, I felt a sense of peace, knowing that I have a roof over my head.

(2) Although I’ve not had phone service for a few weeks now, I am finding more and more that I don’t miss the modern day mobile phone device. There are lots of other ways to communicate, and there is great joy in the simplification of life.

(3) Come to think of it, it’s now been almost fifteen years since I’ve driven, and I don’t miss driving a car either. Thankful not to have to deal with car payments, cost of gas and maintenance, road rage, gridlock, and (above all) falling asleep on the road and rear-ending an SUV.

(4) Yesterday afternoon was nice in terms productive meetings with Z. and Kelsey. I’m glad I take the Sabbath on Saturday and glad my church lets me use the building.

(5) Grateful for my two computers and hi-speed Internet. My daughter and I have been chatting every day on Facebook video chat, which is also how I met with Kelsey, who’s important. I’ve also been using Finale 26 to score vocal parts. Many things can be done at home, while sheltering, while raining. Life is full of possibilities, even still.

“The superior man is distressed by the limits of his ability. He is not distressed by the fact that people do not recognize the abilities that he has.” — Confucius

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Strange Synchronicities

1. I awoke the other morning after only two hours sleep before a very busy and seemingly important day. Going to the computer to check the time, I watched the clock turn from 5:59:59 to 6:00:00 before my eyes.

2. Knowing it was time to issue a newsletter, that morning, I did so. As I submitted it, the clock turned from 8:59 to 9:00.

3. This week, I wrote a Tuesday Tuneup, knowing I had scheduled the previous day’s gratitude list to post at 7:30am on Monday. As I submitted the Tuneup, I watched the clock turn from 7:29 to 7:30, just as I clicked on “Publish.”

4. In the year 2018, I decided to calculate the first day that I ever slept outdoors, after years of sleeping inside.  The calculations are preserved in this blog post.  It was 11:50 when I finished the post, so I set it at midnight.  The next morning, I looked at the computer clock and realized I had made the discovery exactly fourteen years after I had first slept outdoors.  So I discovered on May 17, 2018 that I first slept outdoors on May 17, 2004.

5. Incidentally, that same year, I was talking with Lauren Sapala about the use of meter in prose.  She mentioned that Neal Cassidy had done this, and I said I also had used it in a piece called The Temple of the Human Race.  Lauren wrote back asking me if I knew that it was the same day as the date on the piece, or if I had changed the date.   I had not changed the date – for why would I have?  It turned out I had written the piece on March 23, 2007, and sent it to her on March 23, 2018.

6. Finally, feeling full of synchronicity, I decided to count how many days it was that I was homeless.  I first became homeless on May 17, 2004, as I have told you.   I got down on my knees outside Sequoia Station and screamed at God to put an end to twelve years of homelessness on July 17, 2016 – as I have told you — and knew somehow that my homelessness was over – that the prayer was valid, and the needed action would be revealed.  Interesting that it was the 17th of each month.   Counting the days between the two dates (it can be done!) it turned out to be 4,444 days.

7. And to make a nice number seven, I must ask the question: “What does it all mean?”

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The Context Trap

In 1983, when I first became a Christian, I was very zealous about sharing my faith. As I did so, I often heard unbelievers telling me: “Judge not and ye shall not be judged.” Because they didn’t seem to be know the context of that passage, I was quick to bring it to their attention. In so doing, I came across as even more judgmental, thus only validating what they thought of me in the first place.

Many times since then, I have heard people employ the use of Scripture, only to be told by someone that the Scripture was “taken out of context.” But there is a trap here. Many biblical Scriptures reflect universal truths. As such, they are applicable both in and out of context — because they are simply true.

Not too long ago, a Lutheran friend whom I’ll call “George” posted the following Scripture on his social media:

“When a foreigner resides with you in your land, you must not oppress him. You must treat the foreigner living among you as native-born and love him as yourself, for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt. I am the LORD your God.” — Leviticus 19:33-34

Instantly, George received a retort from “Gary,” a member of a large evangelical church. “Of course, George, you are taking those verses totally out of context!”

Naturally, my friend George asked his friend Gary: “What is the context?”

“I don’t know,” said Gary. “I’ll have to look it up.”

While this may be amusing, it points to a phenomenon that I find a bit disturbing. The idea that someone is taking a biblical passage “out of context” is often used as a bluff. It’s very possible that Gary figured he knew the Bible better than George did. But when George called his bluff, he came up empty-handed.

We have to be very careful before playing the “context card.” In this case, the Scripture is a good example of something that is true outside of its specific context, because it conveys an absolute standard. If a foreigner comes into our land — whoever we are, and whoever they are — we are to treat them as an equal — as one of us.

If a person is particularly obsessed with context, they might object. “Well no – it applies only to the ancient Israelites, who were literally foreigners in the land of Egypt.” But that objection doesn’t hold water in light of a deeper study.

Many times “Egypt” is typed in Scripture as a former place of bondage. Similarly, Sodom is typed as a place of gross departure from the ways of God. This is why Revelation 11:8 refers to a place “figuratively called Egypt and Sodom, where also our Lord was crucified.” Yet we know that our Lord was crucified at Golgotha. He wasn’t literally crucified in either Egypt or Sodom. These references are figurative.

So we have a couple broad considerations here that may serve to lift us out of the Context Trap. Many biblical passages can be taken both literally and figuratively, and many verses can be taken both in and out of context.

I have to confess that I sometimes become frustrated when I see someone “wielding” a Scripture in order to win an argument. It seems to happen all too often. Also, the instances of this abuse of Holy Scripture are not restricted to Christians of any specific leaning. Ecumenicals and Evangelicals alike may be prone to this tendency. To my way of thinking, this is an abuse of something that we are to hold sacred. The Bible is largely intended to teach us how to live — not to teach us how to emerge victorious in a theological debate.

When I become sufficiently frustrated — as I was after hearing the dispute between George and Gary — I have a tendency to scour the Bible immediately to confirm what one might perceive to be my own bias or agenda. In other words, I want to “win.” I want to “prove” that I am “right.” In doing so, am I any different from the other believers whose approach I have found objectionable? Not at all.

A better approach would be for me to ask myself, for example: “How do I treat someone from another country when they move their family into my neighborhood? For that matter, how do I treat a Californian when they move up to Idaho? Am I welcoming of people of all races, genders, orientations, ages, and abilities? Or am I threatened by them? If I am threatened, what is it that threatens me? Do I regard all people as equals, as “one of us?” Or do I see them as somehow unequal — as the “other?”

These are the kinds of questions I feel we should all ask ourselves, whenever we encounter powerful passages from our holy books. How do these words apply to our own behavior, in a world full of conflict, suspicion, and distrust?

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Tuesday Tuneup 89

Q. What’s happening now?

A. Transformation.

Q. Of what?

A. Of character.

Q. What brought this transformation about?

A. Realization.

Q. Of what?

A. Of behavior.

Q. How had you been behaving?

A. Angrily.

Q. Recently?

A. Recently, somewhat. In the past, a great deal.

Q. But you are no longer angry?

A. Not at the moment, no. Far from it, in fact. But that’s not the point.

Q. What’s the point?

A. That my anger naturally caused people to distance themselves from me.

Q. And now they are no longer distant?

A. The people whom I got mad at two days ago are no longer distant. There have been apologies, forgiveness, and healing. As for those whom I got mad at in the past, they remain distant.

Q. How long do you think they will remain distant?

A. I don’t know. Perhaps forever.

Q. Why would that be?

A. Because people are not comfortable with anger. Or, because they’re offended by it. One way or the other, they either feel they can’t deal with it, or they believe they shouldn’t have to.

Q. Are you comfortable with anger?

A. Listen man — I lived on the streets for years. We all got mad at each other, back and forth, day by day, almost as a routine. We all screamed and yelled and cussed. We got used to it. We couldn’t get away from each other anyway — not even if we tried. Somebody can scream and yell and cuss at me all they want. It doesn’t make me uncomfortable nor does it offend me. If anything, it’s refreshing.

Q. Refreshing?

A. Yes. It makes me realize I’m not the only one. In fact, it even awakens my compassion. I feel for the person who’s getting mad, because I know what it feels like.

Q. How does it feel?

A. It feels lousy. You feel guilty. You feel like you might be hurting somebody. And you feel like you’re losing control. But you see, on the streets, it became par for the course. Half the time, we didn’t feel anything at all.

Q. What about off the streets?

A. There’s a lot less to be angry about. That is, in my own world. Plenty to be angry about in the world on the whole, especially as pertains to my own country. But my life is a breeze compared to what it once was. So of course I don’t get as angry as I used to.

Q. Are you saying that your temper was a product of the streets?

A. No – and I didn’t mean to imply that. I was angry before I landed on the streets. People didn’t know it. In fact, they often characterized me as “serene.” But I was not inwardly tranquil. I had inner anger that I’d learned through various means — medication being a factor — to manage. But the streets brought my anger to the surface. The streets gave me an outlet for my anger. They exacerbated it. They magnified it. They illuminated it — and I was angry for a long time even after I got indoors.

Q. What were you angry at?

A. Injustice and inequity. But even that is not the point. It’s more like — who I was angry at.

Q. Who were you angry at?

A. All these people who distanced themselves from me. Especially if they distanced themselves to the point of total disappearance. Those who dropped out of my life without notifying me. We wouldn’t have been able to do that on the streets. So, people who lived indoors were exercising a luxury we street people did not have.

A. Did this make you jealous?

Q. Not so much jealous. I was jealous of them because they lived indoors and I did not. But I was not jealous of their ability to remove me from their lives. I was only angered by that.

A. Why anger?

Q. Because I didn’t think it was right. The right thing would have been to inform me. To let me know that they were done with me.

A. But is it ever right to be done with somebody?

A. Not in my book. But that’s a pretty strange book — and I could elaborate. God’s Book is the Book in question.

Q. Is God ever done with anybody?

A. That, sir, is the Question of the Ages.

The Questioner is silent.

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Gratitude List 1624

(1) I just turned in my October column for Spokane Faith and Values concerning the use and abuse of Holy Scripture. Grateful to have gotten it done, and grateful for this ongoing opportunity.

(2) I recently channeled an insane crush by writing three stream-of-consciousness sonnets in iambic pentameter. Seems a good thing to do when strange feelings occasionally distract. Got them posted on the Sonnets Page in case anyone’s down to take a peek. (Go ahead and laugh, by the way, I won’t be offended.) Grateful for WordPress, since it gives me a nice place to post my various pieces.

(3) Began pastoral counseling again today. My pastor and I are meeting on Zoom every Monday at 1:30 now. We got off to a really good start, and I’m grateful.

(4) A lady from my church gave me a ride to Winko’s and back so I could stock up on a month’s worth of groceries. Grateful for the help, and for my own kitchen, and for the pleasure of being able to eat my own kind of food — the kind of food I enjoy.

(5) Last but not least, I am moved to tears with gratitude for the talent and devotion of the current musical team. These wonderful young people remain a joy and inspiration to me at this trying time in all of our lives.

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