Ballad for America Today

O beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain 

For purple mountain majesties, above the fruited plain 

America, America, God shed His grace on thee 

And crown thy good with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea 

So much potential and look what we’ve become.

O beautiful for Pilgrim feet, whose stern impassioned stress 

Pilgrims who came as asylum seekers. Pilgrims who as refugees sought freedom from oppression. Pilgrims whose stern impassioned stress brought them across the ocean and into a New World where they had hopes and dreams and plans.  Some of them my ancestors. Maybe that’s why I feel this particular burden to call out the hypocrisy today – why I can’t stay silent when I see how we now treat people.  When I look at America today, when I stand here with the feet I inherited from these Pilgrims, I also stand here with their stern impassioned stress for freedom and I cannot see it here anymore.  Along the way we have allowed others to write our stories and tell us who we are. Along the way, we have allowed those who sought freedom to take it from others. Along the way, we have allowed ourselves to be distracted and we have believed promises of intentions without any demand for actions to back them up. We have politicians who are working for lobbyists and big corporations and no longer for We The People.  What do We The People want? It can’t be this.

A thoroughfare for freedom beat, across the wilderness 

And everyone who stood in the way or was needed for slave labor was beat. Violence. That is the legacy. Manifest Destiny for the white man, loss of land and home and pride for the Indigenous People murdered and stolen from and shoved onto reservations – a separate nation within our midst . . . Until they do something with their land that makes it desirable to us and then we figure out a way to mine it, or lay pipeline through it.  Always new ways to beat that thoroughfare.  Black bodies torn away from their homes and families and shipped here as chattel, property, to be beaten and farm that wilderness with sweat and tears in bondage.  Loss of wilderness for everyone. When will we learn that freedom is not freedom if it’s only for some, or at the expense of others, or with greater loss than the gain?  Freedom has not ever been the goal – we can see this looking back.  This is what abusers tell their victims. I did it for your own good. You needed me. I made you who you are today.  Partnered with the declaration that you deserved it.  You were nothing but wild people in the wilderness – you needed me to tame you.  Look at what you’ve become, America! Nothing is free, but you sure have to be brave to survive here.

America, America, God mend thine every flaw 

When, God, will we acknowledge and do something about every flaw of America? When will we stop deflecting – yes, other places have it worse.  That doesn’t mend our flaws! When will we stop gaslighting – yes, police do shoot black bodies dead for no damn reason but they’re black. Men do rape women and subject us to a whole lot more than that as well . . . Just because we’re women.  When will we stop triangulating – The rich pay slave wages in order to keep the wealth for themselves and then try to pit everyone who has-not against each other so that we won’t realize if we all banded together we are so many more than they are and we have so much power. Our flaws are not scars that we can reflect on – we have not been mended. We have allowed those flaws to become infected and to fester and stink.

Confirm thy soul in self control, Thy liberty in law 

Unless you really wanted to control her. Then it’s okay.  Or if you were afraid so you had to shoot the unarmed man … while you were in uniform and on duty.  Then it’s okay. Or if you needed to open more superstores and the quickest way to do that without risking your own wealth was to use government welfare as your health insurance and pay slave wages.  Then it’s okay. The law will be twisted and manipulated to make sure you keep your liberty.

O beautiful for heroes proved, in liberating strife 

We have to rely on the heroes – we certainly won’t create any common sense gun laws to protect our children from being shot in their schools by boys who were broken up with by a girl who found them creepy and controlling because she’s either a bitch or someone who knew the guy and knew it was smart to get away from him.  We certainly won’t limit the amount of guns a man can purchase on the internet and in local gun shows before he takes the elevator high enough in a hotel in Vegas to shoot up a concert of people who were just out for the evening with friends and loved ones. We will praise the heroes – the teachers and students who put themselves between more victims and a shooter. And we will praise the next heroes who do the same – and the next – and the next – and the . . . I can’t be the only one who sees the pattern here!  We certainly won’t do anything to prevent the next shooting.

Who more than self their country loved, and mercy more than life 

Where are these politicians and people in power? How did we get so out of balance? Because now those who love country more than self have abandoned mercy and despise life for anyone but them. They are Nationalists – they are white nationalists – and they want to preserve a white country. They want to Make America White Again because they demand some mercy – they think they are losing it to all those immigrants . . . Who came after them.  Mercy more than life. Mercy more than life. Mercy more than life. If only they were chanting that in Charlottesville when they carried tiki torches. Where is the mercy in “Jews will not replace us?”  Where was the mercy for Heather?

America, America, May God thy gold refine 

And make sure when we redistribute wealth it flows from the bottom to the top because that gold is really valuable and of course that means God wants it in only the hands of the people who can figure out how to steal it from everyone. We’ll call it capitalism, and the church will defend it with it’s last dying breath because we all know that’s the real religion – and gold is the real god.  Let’s not talk about universal healthcare, or education for the masses. Let’s not talk about homes for the homeless, jobs for the jobless, food for the hungry.  If they live in America, America with all that gold refined by God and don’t have any of it, they must be the blame, right? They must not be worthy, because certainly being alive and working hard isn’t enough to be worthy. They must not be willing to work, if they were they would take that 4th job.  Besides, with wealth comes power and there are some we fear having power. Let’s make sure to keep that refined gold away from them.

Till all success be nobleness, and every gain divine 

Unless you are a woman or a person of color and then your success is seen as a threat to the white man in power.  Your every gain is perceived as taking away from them.  You have to be kept in your place so that they can keep their place. If you are a woman or a person or color your success must have been stolen, or given to you through sexual favors, or maybe, if you really have success, it might be because you figured out how to act like a man or act like you’re white because we all know that’s who gets to be successful.  That’s who divine gain is preserved for. We certainly don’t want to consider that the Divine might want success to flow to everyone. We certainly can’t imagine that power is intended for personal use and not to be directed at others and used as a weapon to keep them in their place.  We really don’t want to admit that the Divine isn’t a white man …

O beautiful for patriot dream, that sees beyond the years 

What was your dream, O patriot? Did you see all of this when you looked ahead down the years?  Did you see the pain? The power that would be reclaimed through Jim Crow laws and gerrymandered borders for elections? Did you see the Russian and Chinese interference in our elections? Was that your dream? Did you know you were setting course for the pussy grabber lying money laundering racist in chief to declare there were “good people on both sides” when one of the sides was White Supremacists and Nazi’s? I have to believe you could not. I have to believe that you couldn’t see this far through the years. If you could, that dream was not beautiful. It’s become a nightmare for too many.

Thine alabaster cities gleam, undimmed by human tears 

Yes – thine alabaster cities gleam, undimmed by human tears. It is the non-alabaster cities that shed tears under the dark cloud of grief and mourning of the black bodies shot down by police who, even when they are caught on video and it’s clear everything they did was wrong . . . Hateful . . . Racist! Even when we can all see it with our own eyes and hear it with our own ears, a jury of their peers is spoon fed laws that say if they were scared it was fine.  Non-alabaster cities live daily with the disproportionate number of men of color spending disproportionate lengths of time in prison for the same damn crime as a white man who gets probation. If only some of the alabaster would shed some tears for the non-alabaster we might start to see some change. Until that day, there’s a tarnish on our gleam that only salt water can cleanse.

America, America, God shed His grace on thee 

And what have you done with it? Have you been worthy? Some days it seems that you’ve preserved God’s grace entrusted to you for the rich, or the white, or the people who can afford the best attorney. Those in power demand grace. Those who abuse demand grace. White young men with potential or who are good at sports see all sorts of grace. Brown men, women and children at the border – people who fled their country for the safety and asylum of America and all her grace – are separated, isolated, locked in cages. The President calls them rapists, while their children are raped by the guards. The President calls them murderers, while they die in custody. The President calls them ‘the worst of the worst’ when the truth is that is all he thinks they are worthy of from us. No grace. Even though God shed so much on us. No grace for you. None to spare. Greed wins the day again.

And crown thy good with brotherhood, 

Certainly not sisterhood.  If you are a woman, you will be cat-called and groped. You will be raped on a bus when you’re 14 and you will be locked in a dog cage when you’re 16.  You will cry out with #metoo and you will be told, once again, you are being too loud and drawing too much attention to yourself.  You will be perceived as a threat to the brotherhood.  You will be pursued by the brotherhood – hunted by the brotherhood – dominated, silenced, shamed, raped, and controlled through legislation by the brotherhood. You will not often see the good.

From sea to not so shining and filled with the run off waste of our consumerism and disposable plastic sea…

Announcing Thomas Talks!

I am so excited to announce that ThomasTalks.net is live! This is the culmination of my life’s journey and working for 3 years with a ministry coach and a team of amazing women who God has brought into my life to help me on several projects — I’m so grateful they have continued alongside on this one!

Please, check it out! If there is anything you would like to see addressed there, or you would like to talk to me about contributing there, please let me know. There will be memes and voices and I hope it will be an encouragement to many of you as you navigate the journey of life and ask questions about how faith impacts who we are and what we do.

Ephesians 5 . . . husbands/wives and Christ/Church

A human has a head with a brain and a body with a heart. If either is dead the person is dead. In Ephesians, Paul explains that, for the purposes of the analogy he is making — AFTER saying that all believers are to submit to one another — the man is the head of the person and the woman is the body. This fits with the idea held at his time that the man was closer to the mind of God and the woman closer to the heart of God . . . it also fits with the belief also held at his time that the heart was the ruling organ of the body and the Jewish belief that women intuitively understand things about God that men need to study to learn.

The human — who was one person until divided into two and then called to be Echad — a word that translates “one” but which is not “singular one” but is more like “one bunch of grapes” or a plural, multi-faceted one. I express it as plural unity because it is the word for the two shall become one AND the word used when Moses says, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.” Just as Jesus said “I and the father are one” and he explains that he hasn’t do anything the hasn’t seen the Father doing. They function in plural unity.

One bunch of grapes

One bunch of grapes

And that’s important because Paul ends the section of Ephesians 5 with this statement “29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. 30 For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. 31 “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.” (yes, there is one additional verse here but it’s a practical summary moving back from the analogy and it’s been twisted so much that it warrants it’s own discussion)

Jesus loves the church how? By sacrificing, laying down his life, redeeming, and loving us thoroughly! Men — imagine your wives are like your own body — imagine you have literally become one flesh with them. That’s the mystery and that’s the picture — as well as you do this, that’s the picture you are giving to the world about what the relationship between Christ and the Church looks like. Your picture will be imperfect, but that’s what you’re aiming for.

Christ and the Church is NOT the analogy of husband and wife. Husband and wife is the analogy for Christ and the Church

So Christ and the Church is NOT the analogy of husband and wife. Husband and wife is the analogy for Christ and the Church. And just as the church is supposed to strive for plural unity with Christ, that is intended to be expressed to the world when they see husband and wife functioning plural unity — the picture we give is what they will understand. And where we fail we destroy the picture . . . kind of like how Moses struck the rock and destroyed a picture of Messiah and the Jews know they needed and credit with their errors from that point on.

Thoughts on hell

I often get asked about the Hebraic understanding of Hell and what Scripture says (or doesn’t say) about it. In response to one of the more recent exchanges I was in I presented this and since I worked so hard putting it together I thought I’d share it instead of trying to do it again. These are my current thoughts and I can’t say they won’t change, mature, finesse, etc., over time, but I offer them for what dialogue they may provoke.

I believe that hell is a Greco-Roman construct that is based on the mythology of the god Hades. I believe it was imposed into theology when the catholic church (little c from the time that “catholic” meaning universal was the only church) separated itself from the Jewish Sect known as the Way that was the faithful expression of the early believers who were first called Christians (this is history found in the New Testament that I’m referring to — if you want to read about the separation that took place for primarily socio-political reasons and resulted in different theologies you can check out Stern’s “Restoring the Jewishness of the Gospels”) Some Christian believe this -- but I don't

I believe that Jesus’ parable about the rich man and Lazarus was consistent with the Jewish understanding of Abraham’s Bosom which contained Paradise (where the faithful went to await Messiah) and Torments (where souls unhindered from the body were given the opportunity to learn lessons that they did not learn while in the body that they needed to learn to recognize Messiah — the rich man sought to fulfill himself with food and drink which is why he was thirsty — he needed eternal waters that only Jesus could provide). It has nothing to do with a Greco-Roman idea of Hell.

The idea of Gehenna also has nothing to do with a Greco-Roman idea of hell because it is referring to where the body of one tried and found guilty of violating Torah would have been thrown if they were put to death for their sins. That is why Jesus refers to it in the ways that he does — it would be better to be . . . . than to have your body thrown to the place where someone tried for violating Torah and found guilty would have their body thrown, etc.

Some people try to say that the Lake of Fire is hell but, again, there is no Hebraic concept of a hell where people who don’t believe in God are sent to be tormented forever in burning fire. The Lake of Fire is understood to be God’s bosom because God is eternal holy fire — imagery that is used throughout Scripture to refer to God and the reality in stories is that those who enter God’s presence in an unworthy manner or with their sin still upon them burst into flames and burn up. Death, Hell, the Grave, the Accuser — all created for a purpose in this life to bring about God’s purposes — will burn forever in the Lake of Fire. Those who follow them will be cast in after them but it is reading too much into the text to add to it that they will also be tormented forever. It is more consistent with Scripture to take Jesus at his word that no one survives the 2nd death without faith in him — and that the Lake of Fire is the 2nd death. (Rev 2:11 “He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.”; Rev 20:6 “Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.” and Rev 21:8 “But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.”)

Now, it might seem unrelated but I believe it’s vital so I want to address the idea that God cannot be in the presence of sin. It is foolishness — it is sin that cannot be in the presence of God without burning up. If we die and we are still carrying our sins then we cannot survive the 2nd death which is the Lake of Fire. We will burn up in the presence of God — like Aaron’s sons in the Temple. I believe that Jesus carried all of mankind’s sins into the presence of God and they were burned up and he remained because he was without sin. This is GOOD NEWS! We do not have to fear the 2nd death. We are freed from the power of sin and death so that we can live righteous lives!

The Good News is you have been freed from the power of sin and death by Jesus

I do not believe we have to understand this, or what it means, or how it happened, or anything because our finite brains will never truly understand the things of God. I do believe you can reject God’s gift — but I do not believe any of us can know when someone has truly done that and our words and actions are not the final say. God judges the heart and we cannot see one another’s hearts. We can disagree with doctrine. We can have different understanding of theology. We *cannot* judge someone’s salvation and to try and do so is to sit ourselves on the throne of God and that is blasphemy! Therefore I focus on sharing the Gospel by doing just that — sharing the Good News. You have been freed from the power of sin and death by Jesus and if you accept that is true you will be able to live an abundant life full of blessings! You will have experienced forgiveness and be able to forgive others and you will have been first loved by God and that will provoke you to love! And we will know you are a believer by your love because anyone who loves God will love their neighbor and loving your neighbor is loving God. You cannot love without God because God IS Love.

Therefore, if anyone says they are in the light but hates their brother they are a liar and are still in darkness (1 John 2:9) and 1 John 4:20 “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?” Yet 1 John 4:12 says this “No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.” 1 John 4:18 “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” is one of the main reasons that I don’t believe in sharing the Good News that Jesus saved us from the power of sin and death with the threat of punishment — eternal or otherwise. We love God because he first loved us — not because we are afraid of what will happen if we don’t.

Rejecting Bad News is not rejecting God

Anyone who says they are saved because they are afraid of the alternative is someone still walking in darkness because they do not understand the Good News and are not walking and living in the abundant life that is expressed through love. I would rather spend my time with people who are loving others and revealing that God is at work in their lives (even if they don’t have my same doctrinal expression of faith) than with people who can string verses together to prove they are saved but do not have love and reveal themselves to be liars. And when the supposed “Good News” is delivered with a threat it has ceased to be the Good News and rejecting it is not the same as rejecting God or His Love and free gift of salvation from the power of sin and death.

Matthew 25 Pledge — something you can do

One of the things that will be done at Thomas Talks is linking to worthwhile things around the internet and the world that people can do to effect change in their life. This is one of those things.

Take the Matthew 25 Pledge

Thomas Talks about Contentment

There comes a time where you have to acknowledge your limitations and rely on the people who God has put around you to shore you up. When you cast the vision that God put in you and trust that the people it relies on are going to catch the vision and do what they need to do to see that vision realized.

In this case the vision is for something I’m so very excited about — Thomas Talks.

The people I need to rely on are the amazing team of women that God has brought into my life over the years who understand, much more than I do, what it’s going to take to get this going the right way. I’m so grateful they believe in the vision and see what God is doing — but of course they do, God brought us together to do this!

Thomas Talks is a Reconciliation ministry.

What does this mean?

1) Thomas Talks is purposed to make amends where people have been wounded and wronged by those who claimed to be representing God — whether institutions or individuals. If someone was wounded and wronged then the one(s) who came to them were not representing God — whether correctly or at all. We want to remove unnecessary obstacles to God that have been put in people’s lives. What comes of that we trust the Lord and the individual to work out and while we’d be honored to be a part of that, we believe it’s inappropriate to create goals for other people’s lives.

and

2) Thomas Talks is about open and inclusive dialogue about anything related to Biblical faith. In too many faith communities there isn’t a respect for questions and those who have them are deemed trouble makers, doubters, and, if they are women, Jezebels. This is wrong and God is bigger than our questions! We believe questions are valid and are often an expression of faith, rather than doubt. We say ask the questions — and then get good information as you seek out the answers. We also say that too many people have been arguing about the right answers to the wrong questions and we want to help you ask better questions!

We want to provide comprehensive answers to questions that include what is really found in Scripture (in context) as well as the history of how issues have been dealt with over time and encouragement for how to shine God’s love and truth into those situations today. Towards these ends we are committed to collaborating with amazing people and ministries who are addressing relevant and important issues — and doing it well.

We have a website that I’m so excited about! ThomasTalks.net As it turns out, to get us started correctly it’s going to take a lot more talent and skill set than I bring to the table. We opened up a membership chat room right after the election because we wanted to make our space available, and several people joined. In the end, it was easier to move that to a Facebook group, but right in the aftermath I was so grateful for that space! We’ll use it again. In the meantime we have put out information about a Pre-Inaugural Time of Meditation and Prayer that we co-hosted with Imagine Yoga in our local area. Eventually we want to provide resources and encouragement for similar types of meetings that people might want to hold to address various issues. Goodness knows there is no shortage of issues right now!

While I give my team the time they need to build the site in it’s entirety and correctly I’m focusing my energies on growing the community. As I mentioned, we’re on Facebook. We’re a closed group, but you can find us and we’d love to have you if you need this kind of space. I’m also going to be blogging here more while I wait. The goal will be to move the articles from here out onto the Thomas Talks site so many of them will be written with the goals of Thomas Talks in mind. Feel free to comment and engage with me. I keep the comments moderated but I really do approve them! Just want to keep out the very clever spammers and the people who troll around without good intentions. We don’t need that kind of negativity in our lives so I try to keep it out of yours.

In addition, if you have a ministry (blogging, books, speaking, music, whatever) and you think that your heart meshes with what we’re trying to do here, reach out to me. Post a comment or contact me through the group on Facebook. I want to know about you so I can let others know about you. When people want to find good resources I want them to be able to!

So there it is. We’re in the stage of moving towards and I’m accepting the things I cannot change and working on what is mine to do. In the end I am convinced that God’s timing is going to be perfect and what God has called us to do will be amazing. I don’t want to do it in my own strength anyway. I just want to put my strength towards what I can do today.

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I love watching my daughter dance

and I’m so grateful for Amani Jae and his awesome hip hop instruction

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Patriarch does not equal Patriarchy

I’ve been wanting to write about this for some time now and some recent discussions I’ve been in this last week have made it clear that I need to start now. So here we are.

Let me start by sharing what I grew up being taught.

When I encountered ideas, actions, and teachings, in churches I attended or in books that I read, that left me uncomfortable as a young girl and as a young woman I would ask about them. Probably their first hint I wasn’t going to make it in their communities, and maybe that influenced their responses, but I suspect it worked the other way around. The answers I would get some apology (meant here not as the apology we offer when we’ve done something wrong, even though that is what it should have been in my not so humble opinion, but apology as in “defense of”) that explained how God created men to be in charge and women to be subordinate. God created hierarchy — because God exists in hierarchy.

God existing eternally in hierarchy is called Subordinationism and it’s heresy, plain and simple. You can read more on my thoughts about it.

It was explained to me that Patriarchy (the doctrine of male rule) was merely a continuation of the Patriarchy of Judaism. God gave us stories of the Patriarchs to help us learn that men are supposed to rule and that women are supposed to embrace this, etc., etc. And there were stories of Patriarchs. That was true. They just didn’t seem to behave the way the men around me did.

This bothered me, and all of this garbage was a big part of my Crisis of Bad Theology, but it was all I seemed to get. Of course it was paired with strong women in the church trying to share subtle ways to work around it, and talking about how they are challenged all the time to be more submissive and God wants to challenge us to help us grow, right? All I could think was, “apparently God just wants women to grow because men seem to be predetermined by God to do whatever they want — how does that fit with iron sharpening iron!?!”

I did eventually learn very different things — after my Crisis of Bad Theology and my return to Christian community I married an amazing husband who believed in empowering instead of dominating and, with his encouragement and full support, studied at Fuller. I now identify, despite the fact that I hate labels, as a Christian Egalitarian. What this simply means is that I believe God created male and female to live in unity with one another, with mutual submission and empowering one another to be all that God created them to be in the home and in the community and in ministry. I believe hierarchy came in as a consequence of the Fall and that Jesus fixed this problem, and this is a main thrust of Paul’s teachings.

There is a lot involved in both ideas that others have written about extensively so I won’t try to reproduce the great work already done. What I bring that is unique is the deep desire God put in me to understand the Jewish foundation into which Jesus and Paul and the others we meet in the New Testament were born and steeped. The place I landed after I committed to let God sort out my Crisis of Bad Theology involved trusting God and allowing him to help me understand and study the Scripture. I had thrown out everything except, “Jesus loves me, this I know.” I couldn’t even add, “for the Bible tells me so,” because I had been taught all of these horrible things using the Bible as a weapon against me. At least God knew what he was getting when he chose me for all of this — I was laid bare before him.

It was as I really got into the Jewish doctrinal foundations for the New Testament that I began to have real healing from the bad doctrines. Imagine the joy I was flooded with when I was preparing my daughter for her Bat Mitzvah and in the book I got to help prepare her I read this,

We bless our daughters that they follow the example of the Matriarchs. As the foundational pillars of our nation, they create the spiritual base for all future generations. (Bat Mitzvah Treasury, Rabbi Yonah Weinrib, pg 14)

Plural Unity

Plural Unity

This is confirmed on the page about the role of women in Judaism at jewfaq101.

The equality of men and women begins at the highest possible level: G-d. In Judaism, unlike traditional Christianity, G-d has never been viewed as exclusively male or masculine. Judaism has always maintained that G-d has both masculine and feminine qualities. As one Chasidic rabbi explained it to me, G-d has no body, no genitalia, therefore the very idea that G-d is male or female is patently absurd. We refer to G-d using masculine terms simply for convenience’s sake, because Hebrew has no neutral gender; G-d is no more male than a table is.

Both man and woman were created in the image of G-d. According to most Jewish scholars, “man” was created in Gen. 1:27 with dual gender, and was later separated into male and female.

According to traditional Judaism, women are endowed with a greater degree of “binah” (intuition, understanding, intelligence) than men.

It’s not that Patriarchy wasn’t part of the Jewish culture — there were Patriarchs, and men did have specific roles in society that women did not have (though some were kept from women, others were actually things women were excused from — a fact that isn’t often understood when modern Christians teach about these things). It’s that Matriarchy was also a vital part of Jewish culture and women, while they did serve in different roles, were in roles that were often considered even more vital to the continuation of the Jewish culture and people than the roles that men held.

Modern Christian Patriarchy is not a continuation of Jewish Patriarchy found in the Old Testament. It is a distortion of it — just as it teaches a distortion of Scripture’s view of men, women, and God. Modern Christian Patriarchy is toxic and is nothing more than Modern Christian men wanting to believe that God created them to have special jobs and hold special power. Because of that it is infested with power/control dynamics and not the unity and servanthood that Scripture clearly teaches and that Jesus specifically stated his people would exhibit.

I am so glad I didn’t take the word of the Patriarchy-apologists in my life. They rely on women feeling shamed and put in their place so that we won’t keep searching and studying for ourselves. Jewish women weren’t forbidden to study, merely excused from the obligation to study that men were under. Jewish religious leaders believed women would learn things intuitively that men would have to study to understand. And every good Rabbi on record taught this wife and daughters Torah in their home — they even heeded their counsel.

Jewish marriage and divorce counsel books are also incredibly supportive of women escaping abusive power/control dynamics as well as calling men out on those things as early as they become known. More and more Christian Marriage and Family Therapy books and counselors are moving in that direction, but Patriarchy has a strong hold in many quadrants of Christianity. Too many that the people in bondage to them don’t even realize are from Patriarchy.

My point is, the presence of Patriarchs in Scripture is not the same and does not support Modern Christian Patriarchy. The first is Biblical, and balanced by the presence of Matriarchs in Scripture and the Jewish teachings on both. The second is unbiblical and produces unbiblical fruit.

Synthesizing Election and Free Will in Ephesians 1-2

Olive Tree at Sunset

Olive Tree at Sunset

Christians spend generations mired in debate over what the right answer is to the wrong question. This may be the most poignant example.

Ask a good Calvinist and they will tell you that Election, or Predestination, means that God does all the work of salvation. Yes, that means if you aren’t saved then he didn’t do the work and that leads to distinctions between 5-point TULIP Calvinists who believe that God also chose who he would reject and send to burn in hell and 4-point Calvinists who will say that he didn’t actually choose who he would reject, he just didn’t choose to save them so it’s nothing personal that they’re going to hell.

The issue of hell is a whole other topic, but go with me here, please.

Ask a good Wesleyan Arminian and they will tell you that because God gave us free will and has said he desires all to be saved, it is the response we have to God’s Prevenient Grace (the grace that goes before that empowers us to have a response to him) that allows us to choose salvation. Anyone can be saved, they must simply choose to respond in love and acceptance to the offer extended to them.

Then the Calvinist starts yelling “Works Righteousness!” and the Wesleyan Arminian starts declaring the Calvinist God a rapist when everyone knows God would never force himself on people. Then someone throws their coffee or cake at the other (it’s my birthday today so I’ve set this imaginary dialogue at a birthday party. I probably should have said that up front).

I skipped over some of the middle dialogue there and it doesn’t always end with throwing cake and coffee but I’ve seen it come close almost every time people get going on it. That’s because salvation is such a foundational issue. You know all the issues that most reasonable people will eventually admit aren’t really salvific (having to do with salvation and how it happens)? Well salvation and how it happens is definitely salvific. So the war rages on through the generations!

When I’ve sat down and had reasonable dialogues with people they will usually acknowledge that at the end of the day these are probably two sides of the same coin. Calvinists will admit that at some point the person being saved does have to acknowledge that salvation and maybe that’s what the Wesleyan Arminianists are calling Free Will. Wesleyan Arminianists will acknowledge that the person being saved is only able to be saved because of what Jesus did so in a sense it is God who does the saving. In those dialogues no one throws cake or coffee.

This is what I walked into when I chose to respond to God’s irresistible call to ministry (see what I did there? I had to think for awhile to find that transition so I don’t want you to miss it 😉 ).

I’ve mentioned before that I grew up going to Air Force Base chapels and all manner of denominational churches around the world so I was taught all of these ideas long before I knew the names of them. I also have a personality type that sees all the options and, wherever possible, seeks to synthesize seemingly opposite ideas and find the common ground. I admit I had to wrestle with this one for some time, asking God to help me see what was going on that people who all love Him were reading the same words and walking away with such fundamentally different understandings.

Then one day I was reading Ephesians and I had a major aha moment.

So I read it again.

And again.

And WOW — there it was!

I should mention that this moment came after years of studying Scripture from a Hebraic perspective and trying to understand the Jewish doctrines surrounding different ideas in my goal of understanding Paul as a Pharisee of Pharisees based on what he would have learned before his experience on the road to Damascus.

So let’s break down Ephesians 1 and 2 and see what he had to say.

vv 1-3 Paul starts with a beautiful greeting

vv 4-12 use of word predestination with regards to ‘us’ and all of the blessings and privilege that come with it (bold added by me)

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.

In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence, having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth—in Him. In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory.

vv 13-14 statement that ‘you’ trusted after hearing the gospel (bold added by me again)

In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.

I am convinced no other verses so dramatically highlight both the conflict and the evidence that this issue is honestly one of not understanding the context and the people involved in writing and receiving this letter.

What we need more of today, in order to resolve this generational conflict, is really some what Paul does next.

vv 15-21

Therefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers: that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come.

Paul doesn’t start telling them that their understanding of how they got saved is wrong wrong wrong and start using analogies to convince them. He doesn’t say they aren’t saved. He says he heard that they are saved and he rejoices daily! He prays for them! And before anyone suggests that praying for them to have wisdom and revelation is just another way of saying he prays they sort out their wrong understanding of how they got saved, he clarifies that it’s because now that they are saved he wants them to understand the calling on their lives and what this means!

Here is where I’m going to skip ahead a bit. Paul starts chapter 2 talking about the fact that God saved everyone involved and how they will sit together in heavenly places and other awesome things.

In verse 8 he says this,

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.

By grace through faith would seem to be free will but then he ends with not of yourselves, it is a gift from God and not of works which would seem to be predestination. No wonder no one can sort this out!

Then he says this

Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh—who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands— that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances*, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.

Keeping our focus here on the tension between Election and Free Will I want to challenge with the idea that in these two chapters Paul is explaining what both ideas really mean and those who have studied from a Hebraic perspective will hopefully be seeing this already.

Paul is using very specific “we” and “us” to speak of one group and “you” to speak of another. In these last verses cited he clarifies who the “we” and the “you” are.

“You” are the once and no longer Gentles who are now brought near by what Jesus did. You are the ones who were far off from God who he came to reconcile to himself. You are the ones who heard preached the message of peace and the invitation to be closer to the Father. You are the once but no longer outsiders — the uncircumcised who were not born as Jews and who were kept out by virtue of the Hedge developed by the Rabbi’s to keep anything clean from becoming common in the presence of what is unclean.

“We”, however, are the Jews. The people who have been called the Chosen Ones because we were chosen for a purpose. That purpose was to be responsible for his Word that contains all wisdom and understanding and to be the ones through whom Messiah would come and redeem the whole world. Moses spoke of this. Their Prophets foretold it. The message is clear and consistent throughout. Abraham’s children would include more than Jews by birth.

It is those who were Jews by birth who were marked through circumcision of the flesh according to the covenant with Abraham.

It is those who were Gentiles by birth who were not marked through circumcision of the flesh according to the covenant with Abraham.

And now, because of what Jesus did that broke down the barriers and called us all to live in unity together with him, we are no longer “us” and “you” but “we all.” There is no longer enmity between us. You have joined us and now share our purpose and calling.

This is where the Hebraic understanding of “election” and “free will” is important to understand.

The Jews were predestined to be the people of God. They were elected for that purpose. God was doing something with them, and if you are born into the Jewish nation you are part of that elected people called for that purpose. The illustration usually involved the Olive Tree illustration that Paul uses specifically in Romans.

They did believe, however, that you could choose (Free Will) to cut your branch off of the tree of Israel and go and attach yourself to a wild tree from one of the 70 (Gentile) Nations.

It was also possible, they taught, for a branch from one of those 70 (Gentile) Nations to choose (Free Will) to be cut off from their wild tree and, through their own hard work and effort, the could convert to Judaism and be grafted into the tree of the Nation of Israel.

Circumcision was the final act of this process and marked you as a Son of Abraham, included in the elected/chosen people. This is what Paul is referring to when he says that works are not what save you.

Paul is adamant that the thing that grafts you into the tree of the Nation of Israel is accomplished by faith (believing & receiving it) through grace (the free and unmerited gift of God) when you hear about who Jesus is and what he accomplished for you. Or, as John said much more silly,

We love him because he first loved us (1 John 4:19)

There is no debate in the text between Predestination and Free Will. There is only a need to understand what is meant by each of those ideas in Paul’s day.

There is a group that was predestined to be the people who were entrusted with God’s Word and through whom the Messiah would come. They were elected for this purpose. If you were born into it, you were in it, through nothing you did and nothing you earned. We do not choose where we are born.

Now, because of what Jesus did for all mankind, anyone could respond with faith to the message of salvation and they would, through no work or effort on their own to prove their understanding or worthiness, be immediately grafted into the Tree of the Nation of Israel.

This is Paul’s message in his letter to the Church in Rome.

This is Paul’s message to the Church in Ephesus.

This is Paul’s consistent message in all of his letters.

The group, not the individual, is predestined. The group, not the individual, is elected. Some individuals are born into the group. Some individuals come from outside the group and because of faith they are part of the family.

This is what God meant when He promised Abraham more descendants than the sands on the beach.

I would suggest it is time to stop arguing about how we get here and start talking together about why we’re here and what we are supposed to be accomplishing as part of this chosen and elected group. Whether we got here through birth, or through making a choice to be here, if we’re here there is a reason. I guarantee you the reason isn’t to fight at birthday parties about whose doctrine is right.

*I will address this more in future writings and will add a link when it is ready. In the meantime I will say that the translations of this verse do not give justice to what it seems to be saying based on the Hebrew ideas being expressed. Jesus himself said he did not come to abolish the Law (Matthew 5:17) so it seems contradictory to Jesus’ stated purpose to try and argue that he did in fact abolish it. Rather, based on the context, it seems more likely Paul was making a point similar to the point he makes in Galatians 3:13 where he speaks of Christ redeeming us from the “curse of the Law” — in this verse expressed as “enmity of the Law”. If this is the case then he is speaking to the little ‘l’ law that was the Hedge created by the Jewish leaders through court rulings and orders (commandments contains in ordinances) that served to keep Jews in and non-Jews out as opposed to the instructions given by God for righteous living that were handed down by Moses. Not understanding the distinction between these things has created a lot of confusion about what Judaism is and isn’t and many of the things that Paul teaches. I will address this in a future article as well.

“a bruised reed he will not break”

This is from Isaiah 42.

What a beautiful tweet to wake up to from a dear friend in ministry who inspires and encourages me and is absolutely brilliant.

So here I am, pre-coffee (I’ll have to come back later to check for spelling), still in bed, compelled to post what I started responding to her and then realized I wanted to share it here and not try to cram it into the character limits of Twitter or an epic reply on her Facebook wall.

Not too long ago in our study at Chloe’s House we worked our way through Zechariah’s contribution to Biblical prophecy. Prior to this time through it I had been tossing the idea around in an ever growing momentum that we have been missing something huge about God and the Gospel and I’m so grateful for the friends who endured my endless efforts to verbally process this . . . something! . . .that was just edging in but not yet clearly visible.

It sparked to life the day that I firmly solidified my rejection of the idea presented in Penal Substitution Atonement that God had to punish someone so he sent Jesus to be tortured and put to death on our behalf. God’s justice required blood and Jesus did that for us. I do believe he died to bridge the gap between God and us, but I reject the idea that there is an angry, wrathful God in the Old Testament who required blood and we need to love New Testament Jesus God who suffered for us so that we can be protected from God’s wrath.

I reject the idea that God could not be around Jesus because of all of the sin on him. Sin is not God’s Kryptonite. God can absolutely be in the presence of sin — it is sin that cannot be in the presence of God without burning up! I believe Jesus, without sin himself, was able to carry our sin into the presence of the Holy Fire that consumed it completely and yet could do him no harm.

While I had never embraced the idea of a vengeful wrathful angry God, I did struggle with how to understand all of the talk about justice in Scripture. I knew the answer was in the Prophets but I also knew I needed to study and understand some other things before I was ready to go there. When God told me this last year it was time to begin studying the prophets I knew something big was about to happen.

Then we read Zechariah.

God tells Zechariah:

“Say to all the people of the land, and to the priests: ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months during those seventy years, did you really fast for Me—for Me?

‘When you eat and when you drink, do you not eat and drink for yourselves? (Zechariah 7:5-6)

The fasting and mourning of the fifth month is Tisha B’Av while the fasting of the seventh month is Yom Kippur.

Then the word of the LORD came to Zechariah, saying, “Thus says the LORD of hosts:

​‘​Execute true justice,
​​Show mercy and compassion
​​Everyone to his brother.
​Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless,
​​The alien or the poor.
​​Let none of you plan evil in his heart
​​Against his brother.’ vv8-10)

We began reflecting on the seeming contrast in the first two lines of God’s Word to the people. Why had we always been told this was a list? Especially considering punctuation is provided by translators. Then we wondered why justice was qualified as “true” justice. That must be significant!

He’s just told them their approach to the fasting of the Holy days of the fifth and seventh months is not being done for God. And when they eat and drink they don’t do it for him. They do it for themselves. Then he tells them to execute true judgment.

Turns out ’emeth speaks to faithfulness, sureness, uprightness. It speaks to integrity of mind. Zechariah is telling the people to execute righteous, upright, true and faithful justice. And in order to do that you have to show mercy and compassion.

Realizing that caused the kaleidoscope to shift just enough to reveal the paradigm I’d been trying so hard to wrap my mind around. The pattern in the text shifted into such clear and clarifying perspective that we almost wept.

God tells the people, through Zechariah, to show true justice by showing mercy and compassion.

We know this is how God executed judgment on humanity.

God IS the defining standard of holiness.

When Isaiah encountered the awesome holiness of God and realized how unholy he was in comparison he said this:

“Woe is me, for I am undone!
Because I am a man of unclean lips,
And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips;
For my eyes have seen the King,
The LORD of hosts. (Isaiah 6:5)

In response, God causes a Seraphim to take a burning coal from the fire in the throne room of God and touch it to Isaiah’s mouth and in verse 7 he says this to Isaiah:

“Behold, this has touched your lips;
Your iniquity is taken away,
And your sin purged.”

A sanctified Isaiah is ready to deliver God’s Word and when the voice goes out asking, “Who can I send?” Isaiah responds, “Here I am! Send me!”

I can relate so much to this experience. When I responded to God’s call on my life it was because I had experienced standing before him and realizing how holy he is and how unholy I was. I told him that he didn’t want me. I wasn’t worthy to be called because I simply did not measure up against his standard of holiness and I could see no way that I would be useful to him. The gap between my filthy righteousness and his righteousness was the measure of my judgment.

God’s response to me was the same as his response to Isaiah. He took away my iniquity and purged my sin.

His true justice was to show mercy and compassion.

I want to circle back to the bruised reed he will not break and put that in context for you and hope you will even more clearly see this idea expressed.

“Behold! My Servant whom I uphold,
​​My Elect One in whom My soul delights!
​​I have put My Spirit upon Him;
​​He will bring forth justice to the Gentiles.
He will not cry out, nor raise His voice,
​​Nor cause His voice to be heard in the street.
A bruised reed He will not break,
​​And smoking flax He will not quench;
​​He will bring forth justice for truth.
He will not fail nor be discouraged,
​​Till He has established justice in the earth;
​​And the coastlands shall wait for His law.”

Thus says God the LORD,
​​Who created the heavens and stretched them out,
​​Who spread forth the earth and that which comes from it,
​​Who gives breath to the people on it,
​​And spirit to those who walk on it:
“I, the LORD, have called You in righteousness,
​​And will hold Your hand;
​​I will keep You and give You as a covenant to the people,
​​As a light to the Gentiles,
To open blind eyes,
​​To bring out prisoners from the prison,
​​Those who sit in darkness from the prison house.
I am the LORD, that is My name;
​​And My glory I will not give to another,
​​Nor My praise to carved images.
Behold, the former things have come to pass,
​​And new things I declare;
​​Before they spring forth I tell you of them.” (Isaiah 42:1-9)

The Gospel — The Good News — isn’t that God did away with the Law. The former things that have come to pass are our sins that separated us from God. The new thing that is declared isn’t that there is no standard of holiness. It’s that God has shown us mercy and compassion and all of the ways in which we don’t measure up can’t separate us from Him.

He saw us as the bruised reeds we were and did not break us. Instead, he established justice in the earth by extending mercy and compassion to all mankind.