Widows and Orphans

Repeal and replace Obamacare is a politicism that affects me personally. I’ve talked before about how Obamacare saved my ass – literally. Now the replacement proposal is here. As I said before, this is not political for me. It’s very personal. I’ve heard a few times the health care bill will hurt Donald Trump supporters the most. That is certainly true of South Carolina, which went for Trump. USA Today says that Medicaid cuts are going to hit us harder than most states for a number of reasons.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated 14 million people will lose Medicaid by 2026, and 22 million will lose insurance. Republicans who created this bill expect the states to make up the shortfalls, but because of high poverty rates, our state’s budget will not be able to make it up. We’ve been trying for years to come up with money for our roads that are falling apart. We are already second to last in spending per Medicaid and CHIP beneficiary. We are already 42nd in health status overall. If the bill passes with the Medicaid and CHIP cuts, South Carolina will have to come up with an extra $200 million per year over the next ten years. If we can’t do that, we are going to have to make some hard choices. Lynn Bailey, Columbia health care consultant, put it this way.

[C]uts could set the stage for a “Medicaid Hunger Games” where leaders play needy groups against one another — children against the elderly, the chronically ill against the catastrophically ill, the traumatically injured needing rehab against the substance-addicted.

Does that sound overly dramatic? Just look at the numbers.

  • Nearly 1 million South Carolinians are covered by Medicaid or CHIP. Of these, 75% are working families. So don’t give me that “they just don’t want to work” crap.
  • Out of a total of 20,000 nursing home beds, half are funded through Medicaid. Without Medicaid, where will they go?
  • 60% of Medicaid or CHIP patients are pregnant women and children. Don’t call yourself Pro-Life and take away health benefits from pregnant women and born children.
  • 70% of Medicaid budget is spent on the elderly, people with disabilities, and people with mental illness.
  • 12 hospitals across the state will either close or go bankrupt. What’s that? It’s an emergency, and you have to get to the hospital immediately? Sorry, the hospital closed due to lack of funding.
  • Rates of opioid deaths are above national average. Losing Medicaid will mean many trying to free themselves from addiction will lose their chance to get treatment.

I have always heard a society is judged by how they treat the weakest and most vulnerable. The Bible over and over commanded the Israelites and Christians to care for the orphans and widows because they were the most at risk in that culture.

Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause (Isa 1:17)

Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation (Psa 68:5).

“‘Cursed be anyone who perverts the justice due to the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen’ (Deut 27:19).

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world (Jas 1:27).

You say you believe the Bible. Do you? Who are the most vulnerable in our society? The elderly? People in nursing homes? Recovering addicts? Unemployed veterans? Children? People with disabilities or mental illness? Anyone who is sick and can’t afford healthcare? These are our widows and orphans.

The worst thing about this proposal is they say we have to do this to save money and reduce the deficit, but really, all the savings are going to be spent in tax cuts for people already rich. That’s been their answer to everything. Cut vital benefits and services for the poor and middle class and give tax cuts to the wealthy. That has never worked, it has never produced a balanced budget, and it has never trickled down enough to make up for the losses. The rich get richer, and the sick suffer and die. Is that what a Christian nation does? Is that what Jesus would do? “And he healed all who were sick, except those who were too poor to pay for it.”

Historically, this nation has not done well in providing healthcare for the widow and orphan, metaphorically speaking. The Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, attempted to move us toward better care for people who need it most. I know it has problems, but we could solve them if we had a mind to. So the question is do we want to provide quality health care for anyone who needs it, or do we want to follow a political agenda? What would Jesus do?

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Obamacare saved my ass. Literally.

I know I may be losing readers if I get political. But this isn’t political for me. It’s very VERY personal. Trump campaigned on repealing and replacing “the disaster known as Obamacare.” At least he said he wanted to replace it. All Congress ever did before him was waste their time voting 60+ times to repeal it, without even mentioning anything to replace it, and knowing Obama would veto it. So since the election, I’ve been nervous because I am one of 25 million Americans who now receives health insurance through this so-called disaster. We’ve lost the firewall protecting us from GOP demolition.

I heard, though, it wouldn’t be immediate. They are not going to just leave 25 million Americans stranded when it comes to health care. The Republicans in Congress said they were (finally) working on a replacement plan. Any repeal will not take effect until after they have something to replace it with. However, the Senate did not wait. Thursday morning, I was watching the cabinet confirmation hearings on CNN when I saw the newsfeed scrawl beneath say late at night, the Senate passed the repeal of Obamacare along party lines. What happened to waiting until you replace it with “something terrific,” as the President-elect said?

Now it goes to the House. Paul Ryan says the repeal won’t take effect until they have something to replace it with, but that does not make me feel much better. What are you going to replace it with? I know some people have some legitimate complaints about Obamacare, but wouldn’t it be easier to fix something already in place rather than throw it away and start over from scratch? If your roof leaks, does it make more sense to fix the roof or burn down the house?

I am amazed I even have to write a post like this. Health care affects everyone, Democrat and Republican. It does not discriminate by politics. There is no such thing as a Democrat heart attack or a Republican cancer. There is no such thing as a liberal childbirth or a conservative stroke. We are all going to need help from medical professionals a few times in our lives. Not only you and me but the people we love as well. If we can’t agree on affordable health care for everyone, how are we ever going to agree on anything?

So before you jump on the Repeal bandwagon (or if you are already on it), I ask you to at least hear my story and others who support and/or rely on Obamacare for our health care. And in spite of whatever else I say in this post, if the end result is that the Republican Congress and president-elect comes up with something that solves the problems some people are having AND allows me to keep my coverage, I will be the first to thank and congratulate them. I’m not optimistic that will happen, but for now we can still hope.

My life before Obamacare

Despite all the preachers who say the Bible promises health and wealth for believers, I have been poor, too poor to afford health insurance. And even if I could, I have some pre-existing conditions that disqualified me from signing up for new insurance. I once had employer-provided insurance, but when I lost that job, I lost my insurance as well. Without an employer, I was not able to get around restrictions of pre-existing conditions. If you are a regular reader of this blog, you already know one of those pre-existing conditions is depression. Here are the others:

  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) – Causes intense abdominal pain and diarrhea at unpredictable times. Requires prescription Levsin (or generic Hyoscyamine), cost $80-121/mo.
  • Sleep Apnea – Causes snoring and intermittent stoppages of breathing during sleep, resulting in blood with not enough oxygen. This has been shown to result in damage to all organs: heart, brain, lungs, liver, kidneys, etc, which long term can cause devastating health conditions. Requires C-PAP machine, cost approximately $5000 plus maintenance and regular replacement of various parts.
  • Flat feet – Sounds like a little thing, but it throws off the alignment of your legs so that standing, walking, or running for long periods of time can hurt not only your feet but also your knees and back. You can correct it somewhat with arch supports. I remember my first chiropractor telling me if I didn’t get supports, I would keep undoing all the work he was doing to fix my back. Even with them, my feet would hurt if I was on them for too long.
  • ADD (without hyperactivity) – haven’t been treated in a while.

After Obamacare

When Obamacare was finally implemented, it was a Godsend. Through the Federal Marketplace I was able to find a plan that worked for me and that my Primary Care Provider (PCP) would take. The premium was well beyond my means. Since my state rejected the expansion of Medicaid to help people like me, I had to rely on federal subsidies to afford this or any plan. And under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), a.k.a., Obamacare, you cannot be turned down for pre-existing conditions. So what did that mean for me?

  • IBS – Hyoscyamine now $10/mo. co-pay.
  • Sleep Apnea – C-PAP machine covered (might have been a small co-pay, I don’t remember). Scheduled replacement parts overall about $10-20/mo. co-pay.
  • Flat feet – still using arch supports and staying off my feet when I need to.
  • Depression – recently changed medication to Trintillex, which is not covered on my plan. That’s true for most new meds, especially if there’s a cheaper one available, but for me this has fewer side effects. Right now relying on samples from my PCP.

Post-existing conditions

In addition to these pre-existing conditions, I’ve had other things come up that were totally unexpected. This is where I get into the reason for the title. I developed a cyst right between the butt cheeks. I’m not sure how. I saw it happen to my grandfather in his last few years. After he broke his hip, he had a very hard time walking, so he had to sit practically all day. Maybe all the time I spent sitting to research and write got to me as well. It was easier for me, certainly, to stand and walk than for my grandfather, but when you have flat feet, you can’t stand all day. You have to get off your feet for a significant part of the day, and there are some times when you just have to sit.

Men, let me ask you. Do you like to sit with your wife/girlfriend/significant other next to you, resting her head on your shoulder? Women, do you like to sit like that with your significant other? In order to do that, I had to slide down until my butt was off the couch. It was worth the trouble, but still, I could tell she felt a little awkward.

My doctor said I needed surgery to remove it. I’ll warn you, if you’re squeamish about medical issues related to surgery in the gluteus maximus region, you may want to skip ahead to the next heading.

Turns out these things are not just on the surface, so you can’t just lance it. I scheduled the surgery for a time when my parents were visiting, so they could be on hand to drive me home and help with my recovery. I also had a smaller benign cyst on my neck. It wasn’t painful or urgent, but the surgeon said it would be cheaper overall to have both cysts removed in the same operation. Two for one deal, in other words.

The surgery was successful. But when you have a hole in your butt – besides the natural one, of course – you have to take measures to be sure it heals properly. They said it was a small hole, but that’s relatively speaking. A hole cut into your body is a hole cut into your body. I had to insert gauze into the hole and disinfect, inside and out, every time it needed changing, and then cover it. I say “I,” but actually it was hard for me to reach around to get where I needed, so my mom ended up doing that for the first two or three weeks. There are not many people you can ask to do that for you, so God bless her.

[If you skipped ahead, start here]

Without the insurance I got through the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a., Obamacare, I would have had to pay over $3000 out of pocket and probably would have had to leave the cyst in my neck. With my insurance, my co-pay was about $338, still expensive for me, but I was able to work out a payment plan that terminated in about a year rather than ten years. So after the surgery, I was able to focus on getting back to my life rather than, “Dear God, how am I ever going to pay for this.”

And that is what the Affordable Care Act was about, making health insurance affordable, so that health care could be affordable when you need it. I know some people say it has not worked that way for them. For some, their premiums shot up. Some were not able to keep their doctor under their plan. Some saw their plans leave the Federal Marketplace. I sympathize. I want it to work for you as well as it has worked for me. Thing is, all these problems could be solved if Congress – and all of us – got serious about covering everyone, like every other industrialized nation in the world does. Other nations know 1) it’s the right thing to do, and 2) people are more productive when they are healthy than when they are sick or injured. Why is that so hard for America to understand?

Even those of us who supported ACA knew it was going to need some course corrections after it got started. But the opponents of ACA never talked about how to fix it, just repeal, repeal, repeal. It’s a disaster. Get rid of it. Rolling out Medicare wasn’t entirely smooth in the beginning. If the same people had been in Congress in the 60’s, we wouldn’t have Medicare today. It was not a disaster. It was not Armageddon. It was not a slap in the face to business owners. It was not the death of America. Medicare may not be perfect, but people would fight like hell if Congress threatened to repeal it. So it should have been with Obamacare.

Finally, I have to say something about the hypocrisy of our legislators in all this. Congresspersons and Senators railed about how ACA is socialized medicine while taking the health insurance plan for government employees. So to my two Senators who just voted to repeal Obamacare, a.k.a., my healthcare, and to my Congressman who has pledged to do the same, if you hate socialized medicine, can I have yours?

Peace on Earth, Goodwill to Men?

#ChristmasinAleppo

image of Nativity Story movie poster
https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8241723

I wanted to write this post last Sunday, December 11, third Sunday of Advent. During this season, “Peace on earth, goodwill to men,” is practically my mantra. Last Sunday, I came out of church and checked the time on my cell phone. There were three headlines from my newsfeed about bombs around the world: One was certainly in Aleppo, another in Egypt, and another I think was in Turkey but I don’t remember for sure. I felt like shouting to all of them, “Don’t you know this is Advent? Don’t we all want peace and goodwill?”

There is so much going on in the world now that makes you wonder about Advent, which is supposed to be a time of hope and preparation for Christmas. Christmas is supposed to be when we remember the birth of the Christ child, whose birth was announced with angels declaring “Peace on earth, goodwill to men.” And I don’t care what religion you are, you cannot tell me that is not the desire of every human heart.

Syria has been on my mind for a while. The situation there has been called the worst humanitarian crisis in history. And now what is happening in Aleppo is appalling. You see one report on 60 Minutes, and the enormity of suffering is overwhelming. They have been living like this for months, even years. A city thousands of years old, part of the Assyrian, Babylonian, Seleucid, and Roman empires, so very much a part of Biblical history, that in 2011 had a population of two million, now seeing destruction of Biblical proportions. Constant bombardment and temporary cease fires just so they can draw people out of hiding and shoot them down.

What got to me most was seeing mothers desperate to find a safe place for their children, and there is none to be found. In the choir, we were practicing “Breath of Heaven.” Most people call it a Christmas song, but it’s really an Advent song. The music and words together really capture what I can only imagine Mary must have felt in the first days of her pregnancy as she is running away from her hometown to stay with her kinswoman, Elizabeth (Luke 1:36-45). And as I read, heard, and sang the words, I kept thinking of these mothers in Aleppo. Where is peace on earth and goodwill for them? Do I even have a right to enjoy Christmas when there is so much suffering over there?

Religion In a Time of Despair

I know it’s not the only place of suffering in the world. They aren’t the only mothers as desperate as a girl of about twelve or thirteen, pregnant before marriage, who knows no one is going to believe her when she says God is the father of the baby, and wondering how she will care for him in a world that welcomes neither her nor her baby and might stone her to death for impurity and/or blasphemy. But this situation was fresh in my mind. I saw the connection. I felt it. I’m not going to say I understand what they are going through, because there is no way you can know something that horrific if you haven’t actually lived through it.

This is what I think religion can do for us if our hearts are open for it: To see and feel the connection each of us has with all of humanity, even those who are ten thousand miles or whatever away. If I say I want to honor Christ in all I do, what does that mean for them? It means seeing that the story of every mother crying out for the health and safety of her children is Mary’s story. It means seeing the baby Jesus in every baby whose home, family, and life are threatened by powers that view them as a means to an end.

The True Meaning of Christmas

There are two songs specific to the season that drive this home for me. One I’ve already talked about is Amy Grant’s Breath of Heaven. The other is an older, traditional song but with a new twist: I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day by Casting Crowns. The words by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow already told well the struggle between wanting to believe in “Peace on earth, goodwill to men” that Christmas promises and living in a world that seems so bent on violence and hate. The music, however, was boring. Casting Crowns redid the music and adjusted the words just a little so that the mood of both match perfectly. The combination is arguably the most beautifully heartbreaking and hopeful song of the season.

Spiritual Exercise: If you really want to experience the meaning of Christmas,

  1. Stop getting bent out of shape when someone says “Happy Holidays.” With all that’s going on in the world, do you really think Jesus wants you wasting your outrage on that?
  2. Read the scripture in Luke 1:26-40; 2:8-14
  3. Let the words “peace on earth, goodwill to men” sink in
  4. Watch a news story on the plight of the civilians in Aleppo
  5. Then either watch the videos or listen to these two songs.

Amy Grant, “Breath of Heaven,”

Casting Crowns, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”, with lyrics

Below: the original artist, no lyrics

WARNING: BE SURE YOU HAVE TISSUES NEARBY.

But What Can I Do?

Hopefully now you feel some of the compassion Jesus felt when he saw the people were like sheep without a shepherd. What can you do? You can pray, of course. I would recommend making that a part of whatever you do. But if you want to back up your prayer with more substantive action, click here for a link to an excellent article. Here’s a summary.

  1. Educate yourself and stay informed. Add Syria and Aleppo reports to your news feed.
  2. Donate to charities doing the work we can’t. Charity Navigator offers a list of vetted charities actually doing what they say, so you can avoid the scammers.
  3. Show your support and outrage. Write letters to the editor. Attend or organize protests at the embassies of Syria and Russia. Write directly to the governments of Syria, Russia, and Iran through Amnesty International.
  4. Tell your Senators you want them to support the Caesar Bill. It has already passed the House.
  5. Talk and/or post about it
  6. If you have special skills, for example, translator, doctor, lawyer, volunteer with agencies that need those skills
  7. If you’re feeling really bold, welcome a refugee into your home

Grace and Peace to you this Christmas season.

DAA

P.S. If you like this, you might also like…

Previous posts about Syria

Previous posts about Christmas

 

 

Democrats, you blew it! So next time…

I was going to write this to the Democratic Party leadership no matter who won. Their campaigning was atrocious, and I have to say something about it.

Please, will somebody in the party leadership listen to some common sense?

Whether they won or lost, the Democrats made some horrible blunders. I have realized for years the Democrats have a much better agenda, but they are terrible at selling their brand. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama helped break that rule in recent years, but overall they still haven’t learned their lesson. Two terrible mistakes from the campaigns for Hillary Clinton and The DCCC made the unthinkable possible.

Hillary Clinton: Your slogan was, “I’m with her,” but you ran as if it was “I’m against him.”

You might want to say I’m wrong or I’m exaggerating. I will give you that it was not true of the whole campaign. The Democratic Convention of July 24-28 was conducted brilliantly. You had Michelle Obama saying, “When they go low, we go high.” (Again, you should have followed that advice). You had Barack Obama reminding us why we were so inspired to vote for him (and not just against the other guy) in 2008 and 2012, even if less so the second time. And your candidate, Hillary Clinton, actually gave us reasons to vote for her, not just against him. And it was the perfect antidote to the toxicity of the GOP convention. What a disaster that was. It was like the Republican Party had gone from Reagan’s “Morning in America,” to Alice Cooper’s “Welcome To My Nightmare.” That was why she got such a big post-convention bounce. And then in all three debates, she did great and kept the lead she had in the polls.

But you have to realize after the debates, there are only three ways people hear your message: (1) News media coverage, (2) personal appearances, and (3) campaign ads.

(1) The news media is only going to play sound bites that may or may not accurately represent you and your agenda. You have little to no control over that.

(2) In the homestretch from the last debate to the election, the candidate is going to focus all their personal appearances in the battleground states, and only people who support you are going to those.

(3) For the vast majority of people, especially those who are undecided and still could be convinced, the only chance you have to reach them personally is in your campaign ads. All I heard from her campaign in the homestretch was replays of all the disgusting things Donald Trump said. Well, not all of them. That would have taken way too long. And of course, in those final weeks, whatever ads you run are playing over and over again.

As Election Day drew near, I noticed the ads were having a psychological effect on me. They not only reminded me of my disgust toward him, but they also killed my enthusiasm for her. They were creating a negative association with the act of voting in this election. I felt strongly enough that I could put up with this and still vote for her. However, people who are undecided or who are not excited about voting do not want to participate in an activity they associate with disgust and/or killing their enthusiasm. I know it was tempting to use all the material he gave you against him, but you fell into the trap of sinking to his level.

So next time, remember: A campaign is like a battery. It runs on BOTH negative and positive. I’m not saying forget the negative. I’m saying DON’T forget the positive.

image of two AA batteries

DCCC: Do you really think hopelessness, panic, and giving up is an effective fundraising strategy?

I received regular emails from various Democratic fundraising arms: the National Committee (DNC), the one focusing on the campaigning for Congress (DCCC), the Senate (DSCC), and the Leadership Council (DLC). The DCCC was the worst, not only of that group but of any campaign fundraising I’ve ever seen. Here are a few Subject lines, and these were the rule, not the exception:

  • We’re panicked.
  • All hope is lost.
  • Kiss all hope good bye.
  • We’re going to lose.
  • We give up.
  • Throwing in the towel.

Seriously folks? If the other party is raising more money than you, maybe it’s because no one wants to donate to a panicky party that says it’s giving up weeks or even months before the election. Leaders at any level cannot panic. When we are anxious, you need to calm us down. When we’re panicked, you need to be the voice of reason. That’s why we elect leaders. You need to create a strategy. You need to steady the ship. You need to give us hope. You need to remind us the game is not over, and we need to keep fighting until the final bell. You need to tell us you’re NOT giving up. This is too important to give up before the end. But when we look to you, you’re declaring defeat and running for the locker room.

I don’t know if this would have changed the outcome. You had hoped that Trump would be a drag on down-ticket candidates, and he proved to be the exact opposite. I know the GOP raised more money than you. And I know how important it is to get back a majority in Congress. But the next time you say you’re giving up before the election is over, you are not getting a penny from me.

So next time: Fire the person who wrote your fundraising emails. Find someone who knows how to communicate your vision, connect with voters, and show confidence. Don’t try to guilt us into donating. Inspire us to donate by talking about what a Democratic Congress will mean for us and for America.

What I fear from a Trump Presidency

Game over for the climate. We have just elected a president who says climate change a hoax, just like Pharaoh called the Ten Plagues a hoax. He started out in denial and ended up in de-Nile. The glaciers keep melting, and our coastal cities will be under water. We won’t see it in four years, but we will see more and more extreme weather events like Superstorm Sandy, hurricanes, tornadoes, droughts, floods, days and weeks of record high temperatures. What do you think that will do to the world’s food when more and more farm land is in drought or flood?

Gap between the rich and the poor getting even worse. His policy for growing the economy is cutting taxes on the wealthy and cutting back on public services. You’ve seen this movie before. Did you forget how it ends? It works spectacularly for the wealthiest 1%, but it’s a disaster for the other 99%. Which side are you on?

Losing my health insurance. I am one of over 20 million people who got insurance for the first time in years through the Affordable Care Act. I couldn’t get it any other way because of a long list of preconditions. I understand there are problems with it, but they could all be fixed. They could already have been fixed, but Republicans in Congress had over 40 votes to repeal it. Not one of them involved any plan to replace it. So he wants to repeal and replace Obamacare? I only believe the repeal part. Instead of repealing it and starting over from the ground up, wouldn’t it be easier to just fix what’s already in place?

The end of freedom of the press. During his rallies, he whined that the news media was unfair to him for basically reporting what he said and did. Especially toward the end of the campaign he started saying, “There’s those horrible people in the media,” and the hostility of the crowds focused on them. People who sold subscriptions to The Arizona Republic were threatened and attacked. Reporters received death threats.

Thomas Jefferson considered Freedom of the Press to be even more important to the flourishing of democracy than government itself. If the press is bullied and intimidated for reporting unflattering news about our leaders, that is the quickest path to dictatorship.

The crushing of dissent. “Knock the hell out of him,” he said about a protester at his rally. He’s talked about revamping libel laws to allow him to sue news channels who report things about him he doesn’t like. And his lashing out encourages his supporters to lash out in kind. That is how dictatorships work, not democracies.

Net neutrality. This means equal access to information. Internet Service Providers should not interfere or regulate information you want to slow lanes. That’s what network neutrality means, but he has threatened to undo protections that are in place now.

Women’s healthcare. Defund Planned Parenthood, the GOP says. Why? Because they perform abortions. Yes, but that is actually 3% of what they do. The other 97% is gynecological exams, prescription assistance, cancer screenings, mammograms, pre-natal care, basically comprehensive health care for women who couldn’t afford it anywhere else. And for that, the GOP has declared war on them. They even pressured John Boehner to step down as Speaker of the House because he refused to shut down the government (again) in order to stop funding for Planned Parenthood.

Trump is a Johnny-Come-Lately to the pro life movement. He used to be, in his own words, “Very pro-choice.” Somehow he has done a 180 and is now pro life, though he never told us his story of how and why he changed his mind. That’s true of just about every conservative issue where he used to be liberal. He certainly has the right to change his mind. But you’d think someone would have asked him to give his testimony. How did you see the light? Why did you change your mind?

At any rate, the new pro-life Trump has given every indication it’s open season on Planned Parenthood, and consequently women’s health. For people who are pro life, I understand why you want to stop public funding for the 3%. But do you really have to do away with the other 97% because of that? If you get rid of Planned Parenthood, what are you going to replace it with?

Wall Street reform gone. Wall Street, big banks, and insurance companies caused the economic crash of 2008. You’d think regulating these folks so they couldn’t do it again would be a priority for the American people, if not the government. Nope. They have the money. They control Washington.
That’s the real reason the system is rigged, by the way. Now, no chance of any meaningful reform. In fact, what reform we have managed, like Dodd-Frank, is now on the chopping block.

Russian tampering. Trump supporters, I know you were happy to get Hillary’s emails. But does it bother anyone that they came from Russian hackers? That Putin supported Julian Assange in putting them on Wikileaks? Not all at once but drip, drip, drip, to keep it front and center on the American campaign scene? That Russia is celebrating Trump’s election? Any other election, Russia’s endorsement would guarantee NOT getting elected. Yet Trump cozies up to Putin and it doesn’t seem to hurt him one bit. And he wants to pull out of NATO, which is exactly what Putin wants from us. It will remove a major obstacle to restoring the Soviet Union, which ultimately is his goal.

ISIS growing. ISIS has said they are going to use Trump’s election as a recruiting point. He said he was going to ban Muslims from coming into the country, and the American people elected him, not in spite of that but because of it. If you are a Muslim outside America and you want to know what America thinks of you, what does this tell you?

Right-wing extremists emboldened. The GOP has been ruled by and catering to its most extreme elements at least since Obama was elected the first time. They can’t get anything done because compromise is a dirty word to them. They shut down the government when they didn’t get everything they wanted. Recently, though, I’ve seen signs that they might be looking for ways to work with Democrats. Now, forget that. The extremists got exactly the candidate they wanted as president, and they are going to push their agenda down our throats.

Finger on the button. A man who can’t let any insult from anyone just go, a man who attacks a former employee on Twitter at 3:00 AM, a man who doesn’t know what it means to rise above petty insults, a man who said “Bomb the s%*! out of them,” even though that’s a war crime, now has his finger on the nuclear button. Sleep soundly, world.

The Supreme Court. We know he will appoint at least one Supreme Court justice, maybe one or two others, so all of this will become codified into legal precedent in the next four years. The disastrous Citizens United decision will not be overturned. Corporations are people. Money is speech. SuperPacs will become even further entrenched in the campaign process. No chance now of fixing the real reason why Washington doesn’t work, big money contributors and lobbyists. You wanted to change Washington? Congratulations, you just made it worse.

So what now?

Okay, I’m starting to sound like a DCCC email now. I’ve given a lot of negative, but to follow my own advice, I will close with some positive. A group of Liberty University students had the courage to say that Trump “does not represent our values as Christians and does not deserve our support as president.”

To the counter-argument if Hillary is elected, she will almost certainly make the Supreme Court more liberal with her appointments, they said,

“Since the birth of Christ, Christians have withstood far more serious trials and tribulations than we face today. First-century Christians faced coliseums filled with lions; today, American Christians face the possibility of a liberal Supreme Court. The Christian message of salvation through faith in Christ has prevailed despite actual threats, from actual tyrants, and it will continue to thrive no matter who is elected president in 2016,” they wrote in the editorial.

If conservative Christians could say this when faced with the possibility of a Clinton presidency, then liberal Christians like me can say the same thing now.

I know there is so much wrong with this, and I’ve only scratched the surface. But look over our 2000 year history as the Body of Christ. We have lived through bad, narcissistic, self-serving, bullying leaders, and much much worse. We will continue to thrive if we remember God is still sovereign. Christ is our savior, not Caesar. We should advocate for good government and just, competent rulers. But if our faith is truly in Christ, we may still grieve, but we will never despair over an election that did not go our way.

The Kingdom of God is not in our elected leaders. It is in and among us. A congressional election is for two years. A presidential election is for four years, maybe eight if they get re-elected. A Supreme Court appointment is for the rest of the justice’s life, so on average, say, forty years. God’s Kingdom is forever. So if you have a call from God on your life, that doesn’t change because of an election. My calling is to write, and I will keep on writing. And there are some things we are all called to do, for example, Do justice, Love mercy, and Walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8).

Interestingly, Trump and I belong to the same church. He says he loves God and loves his church, so that is one thing we have in common. I will offer then a letter from a Presbyterian minister that is great advice for Presbyterians, but I think it is also great for the president-elect and the country in general. Here are the main points.

  • Presbyterians treat all God’s children with dignity and respect.
  • Presbyterians work for justice and peace.
  • Presbyterians work for racial justice and economic justice.
  • Presbyterians advocate for the vulnerable.
  • Presbyterians are a reconciling people.
  • Presbyterians are called to act with courage, grace, and love.

My fellow Americans, whether you’re Presbyterian or not, let’s commit to doing that. And maybe next election, we won’t have to choose between two candidates who have more people with negative than positive opinions. May God bless you and God bless America, and crown thy good with justice and brotherhood from sea to shining sea.

The Voice…that no one wants to hear

To my Tools for Depression, I want to add Nature (Ecotherapy) and TMS. I posted about TMS, a new therapy that involves strategic use of magnets.

Ecotherapy – exposure to nature is good for mental health. An article on Vice.com gives some easy to understand info on the research in this area. A recent study at Harvard University, published in April, is only among the latest of many to confirm this. Peter James, a member of the research team, summed up the findings up this way. “[T]here’s a direct cognitive benefit and restorative quality of being in nature, that we’ve evolved in nature to enjoy being in nature.”

This doesn’t mean you have to move out to the backwoods and reject civilization, a la Thoreau. Simply incorporate time with nature into your routine.

  • Go to a park
  • Notice what’s in your backyard
  • Plant a tree
  • Enjoy a local greenspace
  • Take a break at your favorite lake, river, arbor, or any natural attraction

If you none of this is available in or near your city, maybe you need to petition the authorities to add some. Any locality should at least be able to plant trees along a street or open a park.

image of double rainbow by road

Medication

Taking medication for depression is still controversial for some people of faith. When a psychiatrist first recommended it for me, I had some reservations. However, he had just told me I tested high for depression in every possible way, so I took his advice. There is no doubt it has helped me. Sometimes I have wondered if it’s really working, especially at times when I have been sad, moody, anxious, just fill in the blank with any negative emotion.

I can still say, though, that medication does make a difference for me. I don’t care what Tom Cruise said. I know because a couple of times, I have changed medications. When you change from one anti-depressant (AD) med to another, you first have to wean yourself off of your current med. That usually takes 2 – 4 weeks. Then you can start taking the new. It can take up to two weeks for the new medication to start taking effect. During that transition, those depressed thoughts you had forgotten about can come back.

The first time, I had suicidal thoughts. I can’t say it was the first time, but it was more frequent and intense than ever. Is the new med not working? My doctor said it was a low dose and suggested trying a “medium”dose. Within a few days, the suicidal thoughts stopped. That medium dose worked for me. But without that doctor helping me, I might have thought it was the wrong medication.

The second time was more recent. Bad thoughts came but in a different way. Instead of feeling depressed in the way we usually think of (deep and persistent sadness, suicidal thoughts, etc.), it came in a way I had forgotten: Anger. I was angry much of the day. Angry at family and friends over past slights that my balanced brain had forgiven long ago. Angry at the world for the state it’s in and the downward spiral we seem to be in. Unreasonably angry. But when the new medicine kicked in, I was back to being happy. And I am proud to say I did not take my anger out on anyone, even the ones I felt angry towards.

Now some of that anger might not have been unreasonable, especially about the sorry state of the world. I mean, have you seen the election campaign since June, 2015? I think anger toward a certain candidate in particular is very reasonable. Not to name names, but he’s the unhinged one who seems hell-bent on finding just how low you can go and still be elected president. Though he may have finally crossed that line by talking about what he likes to grab. Admittedly, there were a few times the other one made me say, “What the hell were you thinking!” But at this point, I think it should be clear that one may have a gaffe here or there, the other is a nonstop gaffe machine. And that’s putting it as nicely as I can.

But through it all, I did not unleash that anger on my blog. Maybe that’s why I had to let out a little here. Why did I not act out my anger or my suicidal thoughts during those times? Before I started transitioning medications, I made a crucial decision. Until I know if the new med is good for me and until I get my brain normalized again with either the new or return to the old, I WILL NOT BELIEVE THAT VOICE IN MY HEAD.

I got the idea from the movie A Beautiful Mind.

Russell Crowe plays Nobel Prize winning Mathematician John Forbes Nash, Jr., who was found to be paranoid schizophrenic. He had more than just a voice in his head. He had full on hallucinations of three people telling him all these conspiracies around him. When he was diagnosed and got medication, the hallucinations disappeared. However, he was having difficulty with the side effects. He decided to go off the medication. But those imaginary people will come back. Yes, but this time he will know they are not real, and he will absolutely refuse to believe them. It was not easy. Those hallucinations had a life of their own. They tried really hard to convince him to listen to them. But he remained resolute. You are not real. I won’t listen to you. I won’t believe anything you say.

Because of past experience with Depression, I knew I needed to reject, ignore, and otherwise neutralize those thoughts TEMPORARILY. Let’s review what happened in these two instances.

  1. I stopped taking AD medication.
  2. The Voice in my head that fuels my Depression went from being a surly kitten to a roaring tiger.
  3. When the new AD medication kicked in, the Voice calmed down and the bad thoughts sunk back to a normal level.

What is going on? In earlier posts, I’ve talked about the chemical imbalances that exist in a Clinically Depressed brain. It is a medical condition where your brain can’t produce normal levels of “happy chemicals,” and so the “stress chemicals” overwhelm it. Medication helps your brain produce more happy chemicals so it gets balanced. When your brain chemistry is balanced, your emotional state can get back to normal – in a good way.

That last experience changing meds really drove that home for me. The Voice in my head didn’t bother me when I was on meds. But when I was in that transition phase, the Voice came back with a vengeance. Now that I’m on meds again, the Voice is gone. And that’s when it hit me like a revelation of Biblical proportions. THAT VOICE IN MY HEAD IS THE PRODUCT OF A CHEMICALLY IMBALANCED BRAIN.

If you have that Voice too, let that last sentence sink in. That Voice in your head that tells you “I’m no good. I’ll never get anything right. I’m a burden to everyone who loves me,” or even worse, “No one loves me.” Or if you pray or try to live by faith, the Voice will tell you, “There is no God. God hates me. God has given up on me, and I don’t blame Him. I’m like the tree that bore no fruit, so God has cut me off. I’m cursed.” Or maybe you have that angry voice, like I just experienced. And you believe it, don’t you? IT’S THE PRODUCT OF A CHEMICALLY IMBALANCED BRAIN.

And the problem isn’t so much the voice itself, but that we believe it so readily. At some point, in thinking about this, I was amazed at how anything we hear inside our head, we just believe it. We don’t question it, we don’t evaluate it, we just accept whatever it says, even when it has no basis in reality.

“Everyone hates you.” Oh really? 7.5 billion people in the world, and every single one of them hates you? Oh you just meant everyone in your school or in your town. But still, how many people is that, a few hundred? A few thousand? A few hundred thousand if it’s a major city? How could every one of them hate you? Simple logic should tell you that’s not even possible. But you believe it. Because it comes from your head, so it must be true, right? Are you telling me my head is lying to me? That’s exactly what I’m telling you. THAT VOICE IN YOUR HEAD IS THE PRODUCT OF A CHEMICALLY IMBALANCED BRAIN.

Or if it’s that angry voice, it might be saying, “They’re disrespecting me. They think I’m an idiot. They never listen to me. They’re idiots. They don’t care about me, so screw ’em all.” (Again, that’s as politely as I can say it). And again, IT’S THE PRODUCT OF A CHEMICALLY IMBALANCED BRAIN.

And bottom line, don’t believe a chemically imbalanced brain, even if it’s your own. You’re just as likely to get the truth from a Magic 8-Ball. Yes, it might tell the truth occasionally, but you’d better ask some questions before you accept that it’s right this time.

I suppose this begs the question, If you can’t believe your own mind, what can you believe? How do you know what the truth is? There is no simple answer to that, and anyone who tells you there is is setting you up for failure. But I will reiterate something I said in a previous post.

  1. God is for your recovery and healing, not against it (Isa 53:3-5).
  2. God will not kick you when you’re down (Isa 42:2-3).
  3. Some churches and spiritual leaders are good for recovery, and some are bad. Make sure you know the difference.
  4. With the right help – spiritually, psychologically, emotionally, and perhaps medically – you can live a happy and fulfilling life. You just need to learn how to stop Depression from sabotaging it.

image of Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly in A Beautiful Mind (2001)

 

Why would anyone curse a tree to death? – Mark 11:12-14, 20-26

I have two fig trees in my back yard, so I’ve been learning all I can about them. Last year, the trees produced enough fruit to share with bugs, butterflies, and birds and still have way more than I could eat,

image of blue butterfly on fig leaf
Caption: Butterfly on fig tree

 

so I did what my grandmother did – made preserves.

Here is part of one peck I picked. No picture of preserves available yet.

image of figs on table

Early in the summer, I could see the figs forming, but they were green. I started looking around the middle of June for ripe figs, maybe even earlier. I couldn’t remember when the season started. Day after day, the figs were still green.

image of green figs
Caption: Should I kill the tree?

And each time, I couldn’t help remembering the story of Jesus cursing a fig tree.

It would never occur to me – or anyone I could imagine – to curse a tree for not bearing fruit out of season. Yet the Gospels preserve a story of Jesus doing just that (Cf. Matthew 21:18-22).

The season is about over now. The leaves are starting to fall. That’s what fig trees do. They go through the same seasons each year. Jesus knows this.

“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near” (Mark 13:28, ESV).

The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear (Mark 4:28).

To everything there is a season

He knows the cycles grain and trees go through. He knows about seed time and harvest. You can’t pick fresh figs any time of year. It happens in its own time and in its own season. So how can he get mad at a fig tree when it’s not the season for figs (Mark 11:13)? It’s idiotic to get mad at a tree for any reason, and especially for following the same seasons it does every year. If I got mad at my trees because it’s September and the leaves are starting to fall, you’d think I was insane. And you’d be right.

Maybe a little disappointment is understandable. Maybe he just had a hankering for figs at the moment, saw the leaves on the tree, and thought he’d check just in case a few ripened a little early. No figs. Oh well. He should keep moving before anyone sees he doesn’t know the season of figs in this territory like every other Jew who has ever been to Jerusalem for the three major festivals, right?

No, he curses the fig tree so that it withers and dies, dried up at the root (Mark 11:14, 20). It looks not only stupid but mean-spirited in narcissistic fashion. I don’t care what season it is. You’re a fig tree, and I want figs now.

This is another example of why you can’t read everything in the Bible literally. It is a story that is obviously meant to be read symbolically.

It’s a very common theme in the Old Testament. A gardener plants a tree (or vine) in a garden, cares for it, removes weeds, protects it from wild animals, basically does everything you can to keep the tree healthy so that it will bear fruit. When it’s time for the harvest, there is either no fruit or the fruit is rotten. This is a metaphor the Bible uses repeatedly to say the religious and national institutions have become corrupt, and God is about to pass judgment on them .

The Markan Sandwich

Mark connects this story with another in one of his “sandwiches.” This is when he starts one story, interrupts it with another narrative, and then finishes the first story. The story that interrupts this one is The Cleansing of the Temple (11:15-19), when Jesus overturns the tables of the moneychangers and calls out the corruption of the priests. Matthew presents these stories as separate events (21:12-13, 18-22), but Mark deliberately links them together to show the meaning of both these actions is one and the same.

Jesus sees a tree with no fruit and causes it to wither and die from the inside out, indicating God’s judgment on the Temple as an institution. Even though this is not the explanation Jesus gives (11:21-26), no Jew in Jerusalem could have missed the symbolism. Here are a few more examples.

The axe is already laid at the root of the trees; therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire (Matthew 3:10).

Beware of the false prophets…Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire (Matthew 7:15a, 18-19).

In these two passages, both Jesus and John the Baptist draw upon on Old Testament symbol of good figs representing the good people and bad figs representing the bad people (Jeremiah 24:1-8; Hosea 9:10).

Each of them will sit under his vine and under his fig tree

Figs were often named with other crops, especially grapes, as a symbol of security and abundance, of the entire promised land being blessed and no one lacking anything. When the fig tree and the grapevine bore good fruit, all the people lived in shalom.

And He will judge between many peoples and render decisions for mighty, distant nations. Then they will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; Nation will not lift up sword against nation, and never again will they train for war. Each of them will sit under his vine and under his fig tree, with no one to make them afraid, for the mouth of the LORD of hosts has spoken (Micah 4:3-4).

So Judah and Israel lived in safety, every man under his vine and his fig tree, from Dan even to Beersheba, all the days of Solomon (1 Kings 4:25).

For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing forth in valleys and hills; a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey (Deuteronomy 8:7-8)

Shaken and Rotten figs

So when fig tree and the vine bore no fruit, or the figs fell because the tree was shaken, troubled times were ahead.

…thus says the LORD of hosts, “Behold, I am sending upon them the sword, famine and pestilence, and I will make them like split-open figs that cannot be eaten due to rottenness” (Jeremiah 29:17).

The vine dries up and the fig tree fails; The pomegranate, the palm also, and the apple tree, all the trees of the field dry up indeed, rejoicing dries up from the sons of men (Joel 1:12).

“I will surely snatch them away,” declares the LORD; “There will be no grapes on the vine and no figs on the fig tree, and the leaf will wither; And what I have given them will pass away” (Jeremiah 8:13)

They will devour your harvest and your food; They will devour your sons and your daughters; They will devour your flocks and your herds; They will devour your vines and your fig trees; They will demolish with the sword your fortified cities in which you trust (Jeremiah 5:17).

All your fortifications are fig trees ripe with ripe fruit – When [the trees are] shaken, the [figs] fall into the eater’s mouth (Nahum 3:12).

The author of Revelation draws upon this as well.

And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind (Revelation 6:13, KJV).

The Temple is a house built on sand

So this is not about vindictiveness toward a tree. Just as he did when he overturned the tables of the moneychangers, Jesus is taking on the role of a prophet pronouncing God’s judgment on the religious institutions. And troubled times were coming. They are within a generation of a rebellion against Rome that would end with the complete destruction of the Temple. The rebels were not yet born, but the social and political forces were already at work, the same forces exposed in the trial of Jesus. And this fact was uncovered recently: The Emperor Vespasian used the gold, silver, and bronze from the Temple to pay for the construction of the Colosseum.

What was happening in the Temple, in the priesthood, and in the religious life of Judea that made Jesus so angry? Usually when the prophets pronounce God’s judgment in the most dire terms, they are condemning some kind of systemic injustice. Corruption has become so entrenched in the system that the only remedy left is to destroy the institution completely and hope that in the ashes the institutions can be recreated. Hopefully this time, if we start again from scratch, these institutions that are supposed to uphold justice and righteousness for everyone will get it right.

As I write this, I feel afraid. When some people read in the Bible about God’s harshest judgments, they feel justified in dehumanizing certain people. They think God hates all the same people they hate. I know because I used to be one of them. Still a recovering Fundamentalist. I don’t want to stir up those kind of misguided feelings, but in order to get at the meaning of this passage, we need to understand this kind of prophetic tradition Jesus was part of. I have a few ideas that I will discuss in a later post.

Believing in the God of eternal conscious love

The debate over hell has been renewed over the past decade in the Evangelical world due at least partially to celebrity pastor Rob Bell’s recent book Love Wins, in which he makes a compelling case …

Source: Believing in the God of eternal conscious love

Verdict of Pontius Pilate, Part 6 – The Violence Inherent in the System

This is the sixth and final part of an in-depth series I’ve been doing on the trial of Jesus, focusing on what the gospels say about Pontius Pilate’s role in Jesus’ crucifixion. If you want to review the posts leading up to this, here are the links. However, I don’t think you necessarily have to read them before this post. I’ll give you my conclusions here. The links are here if you want more information on how I reached my conclusions. To put it simply, you can look at them if you want to, or you can skip them and go to the article below. It’s up to you.

 

Verdict of Pontius Pilate, Part 1 – Witnesses of Matthew and Mark

Verdict of Pontius Pilate, Part 2 – Witness of Luke

Verdict of Pontius Pilate, Part 3 – Witness of John

Verdict of Pontius Pilate, Part 4 – The Detective Makes His Case

Verdict of Pontius Pilate, Part 5 – John Breaks the Silence

 

Now if you’re ready, we can begin to draw to a conclusion.

***

In Monty Python and the Holy Grail, there’s a scene where King Arthur is “riding” among a group of peasants going about their daily activities. He wants to know who lives in the castle. They are not very helpful. Finally, someone tells him no one lives there. They have no lord. They are an “anarchosyndicalist commune.” As one man explains how executive power is shared among them, Arthur grows impatient, tells him to be quiet, and grabs him.

Man: Aha! Now we see the violence inherent in the system!
Arthur: SHUT UP!
Man: (yelling to all the other workers) Come and see the violence inherent in the system! Help, help, I’m being repressed!
Arthur: (letting go and walking away) Bloody peasant!
Man: Oh, what a giveaway! Did’j’hear that, did’j’hear that, eh? That’s what I’m all about! Did you see ‘im repressing me? You saw it, didn’t you?!

I love how the peasant drops radical twentieth-century egalitarianism on a medieval king who is claiming rule by Divine Right. That phrase “the violence inherent in the system,” though, perfectly describes the crucifixion of Jesus.

If you are Christian, or even if you know only the most basic ideas of Christianity, you’ve heard that Jesus died for our sins. What does that mean? When we hear about “sins,” we tend to think of personal sins, and so we think Jesus died for our personal sins. But if you read about Jesus’ trial without the centuries of tradition and doctrine that have been layered on top of it, this is obviously a story of an innocent man killed by systemic, not personal, sins. To put it simply, Jesus was killed by “the violence inherent in the system.”

What system? There were actually two systems involved: The political system, represented by Pontius Pilate, and the religious system, represented by the Sanhedrin. They existed in a specific historical context,  and yet for 2,000 years, oppressed people all over the world in all kinds of historical contexts have recognized Pilate and the Sanhedrin in their own authorities. They’ve recognized Judas in those who betray them to the authorities. What were the systemic sins that killed Jesus?

Political system

The political system, of course, begins with Rome. They ruled the area around the Mediterranean, including Judea and Galilee – the primary Jewish territories. Rome at times was extremely brutal in forcing their domination over the world. Crucifixion was, after all, a Roman punishment. But they were not just brutal. They knew how to use the stick but also the carrot. They had a system of rewards for individuals and entire communities who served them well. Of course they also had a system of punishments for those who did not toe the line.

The Jews chafed under Roman rule. In some ways, this probably perplexed the Romans. The historian Josephus tells us Herod the Great had been one of the best friends of the previous emperor, Augustus. Through this friendship, Herod was able to secure a number of benefits for the Jews, not just in his kingdom but throughout the Empire. They were free to practice their religion for the most part, including keeping holidays and the Sabbath. So while the Romans were brutal to anyone who refused to pay taxes or challenged the authority of the Emperor, the Jews were spared the worst of it – except when they openly rebelled(1).

As Governor, Pilate represented the Emperor. It was his job to keep the Pax Romana in his territory. The Gospels, I think, present a convincing case that Pilate thought Jesus was innocent. If so, why would he execute him? In previous posts in this series I have examined Pilate’s motives. I believe there was more than one reason, but I think the overriding motivation was definitely to keep the peace and keep Caesar happy.
His options were:

A. Protect Jesus from the mob, even if he has to use force(2).
B. Sacrifice him as a scapegoat to pacify the mob(3).

He chose B, and any Roman governor would have understood.
The violence inherent in the system, Point 1: Kill anyone if it will keep the peace.

The Religious System

The religious system is represented in the Sanhedrin, a sort of council of elders responsible for decisions regarding Jewish religious life, particularly with regard to the Temple in Jerusalem. The council consisted mainly of Sadducees (Temple priests) and Pharisees (local rabbis). The Sadducees, for the most part, benefited from Roman rule. The appointment of the high priest had to be approved by Rome. The order and stability Rome provided, the ease of travel through Roman roads and shipping lanes, and the active trade throughout the Empire created economic opportunity and wealth for the area’s residents, of which the Jews were commanded to pay a tenth to the Temple.

Rumors of Jesus being the Messiah were stirring up hopes among revolutionaries that he would be the one to shatter the yoke of Roman rule and restore the kingdom of David, which would bring the Roman legions to crush them. You can’t have much of an economy when your cities are reduced to rubble.
The violence inherent in the system, Point 2: Kill anyone who messes with the money.

The charge that finally sealed Jesus’ fate to the Sanhedrin was when someone heard him say he would destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days. Talk of destroying the Temple was not going to sit well in this council that was led by the high priest. It was in response to this charge that the high priest ordered him to answer whether he was “the Messiah, the Son of God” (Mat 26:63). When Jesus says yes, that brings about the charge of blasphemy, which under their law can only be punished with death. There is just one problem. They don’t have the authority to order the death penalty.

They have to convince Pilate that Jesus is guilty of something that would compel a Roman governor to crucify him. So they try to trump up charges against him: He is challenging Caesar’s authority. He claims to be the king of the Jews. He tells people not to pay taxes. He claims to be the Messiah (and Pilate knows that claims of messiahship have always led to rebellion). He is gathering followers around him, i.e., an army. All because they thought he was threatening the Temple.
The violence inherent in the system, point 3: Kill anyone who challenges the religious institution.

However, I think the heart of the religious resistance was this. The religious establishment of the time – especially the Pharisees – represented a system based on purity, nationalism, and exclusion. Jesus preached a message of compassion and inclusion. The Pharisees thought God wanted them to keep out everything foreign – especially Gentiles, Samaritans, immigrants, and Jews who were not “pure enough,” religiously or racially. Jesus focused his ministry on reaching out to those who were excluded: Gentiles, pagans, Samaritans, foreigners, lepers, tax collectors (yes, tax collectors!), women, the sick, the blind, the lame, the poor, children. And in true prophetic fashion, he spoke out against the unjust religious leaders who “devoured widows’ homes and for pretense made long prayers” (Mar 12:40; Mat 23:14; Luk 20:47).

They were offended by the way he called out their injustice masked with piety. They were offended by who he associated with. They were offended by his willingness to welcome anyone of any background who sought God in spirit and in truth. And they were offended enough to want him dead.

I don’t say this as a blanket indictment of the Jewish people. Remember, Jesus was a Jew. His parents were Jews. All twelve original disciples were Jews. But any religious organization can become corrupted when it sees itself as privileged. The Jewish leaders of that time saw themselves as the people of God – exclusively. They taught other Jews to see themselves that way as well. In this way, they were blind leaders of the blind (Mat 15:14). Jesus came along and told them their days of privilege were over. God is the God of all people, Jew and Gentile, equally.
The violence inherent in the system, point 4: Kill anyone who challenges your privilege and superior status.

The Mob

You can’t talk about the system without mentioning the mob. It seems obvious the Sanhedrin was at work through the night, gathering others who also wanted to kill Jesus to put more pressure on Pilate. Were they motivated by religion, politics, or a mixture of both? I believe it was not just one political or religious faction. Probably several factions who normally hated each other were mixed in together, united by one common enemy(4).

Some wanted Jesus dead because they were afraid he would be another messianic pretender who would bring down the wrath of Rome. Some were nationalists, disappointed that he was refusing to lead the people against Rome. Some wanted him dead because they heard he had blasphemed by calling himself the Son of God. Some wanted him dead because he spoke against the Temple. Some wanted him dead because he loved the very people “God hated.” All of these varied reasons were enough to have them all shout together, “Crucify! Crucify! Crucify!”

And what about Barabbas, the man they asked to be spared? In some texts of Matthew, he is called Jesus Barabbas, which allows Pilate to say, “Whom do you want me to release for you, Jesus Barabbas or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” (27:17 NRS).

By the way, Barabbas means “son of the father.” And who is really the “Son of the Father”? Uh-huh! So the choice Pilate unknowingly presents is Jesus who is called the “son of the Father,” or Jesus who is really the “Son of the Father.” Perfect irony. Maybe a little too perfect, which is probably why “Jesus Barabbas” is not recorded in all the manuscripts.

Would a mob really choose a thief, murderer, and/or insurrectionist over Jesus who is called the Messiah? I can see that. One person’s insurrectionist/murderer is another person’s patriot. Look at some of the political rallies of this campaign season. We have all seen what happens when a crowd gets stirred up against one person who does not toe the line. A mob is like a Zombie horde, mindless and seeking only destruction and death. They will accept and even cheer any violence against the outsider. I have no problem believing that part of the story.
The violence inherent in the system, point 5: Kill anyone who loves the people we hate.

Walter Rauschenbusch identified six systemic sins (he calls them “social sins,” which is an equally proper term) Jesus bore on the Cross:

  1. Religious bigotry
  2. The combination of graft and political power
  3. The corruption of justice
  4. The mob spirit
  5. Militarism
  6. Class contempt(5).

And I am going to add one more to the list: 7. Nationalism.

In examining all the players of this gross miscarriage of justice, you can probably see how each of these sins played out in nailing Jesus to the cross. Where do you find yourself among them? Don’t kid yourself. We are all guilty. I could easily see myself making the same decision Pilate did under those circumstances. In the past, I have used religious dogma to justify my “superiority” to non-whites, foreigners, gays, lesbians, and women, ergo I could have been one of the Pharisees or the mob.

A Final Word

In saying Jesus died for our sins, let’s not forget the social sins that killed Jesus. We have all participated in the violence inherent in the system, even if only by our inaction. As one of my former pastors said, “We would rather crucify Jesus than be transformed by his love.” We would rather cling to our purity and bigotry than welcome the stranger with compassion.
Rauschenbusch goes on to say,

“…every student of history will recognize that these sum up constitutional forces in the Kingdom of Evil. Jesus bore these sins in no legal or artificial sense, but in their impact on his own body and soul. He had not contributed to them, as we have, and yet they were laid on him. They were not only the sins of Caiaphas, Pilate, or Judas, but the social sin of all [hu]mankind, to which all who ever lived have contributed, and under which all who ever lived have suffered”(6).

 

References

(1) A few examples are given in Acts 5:35-39.

(2) In a similar situation, a mob in Jerusalem tried to kill Paul. The Roman tribune brought in his soldiers to protect him (Acts 23:10). Pilate could have done the same thing. However, unlike Jesus, Paul was a Roman citizen, which meant the tribune had a legal obligation to protect him from the mob.

(3) One ancient source says during Pilate’s tenure, the emperor Tiberius came to see the Jews as his friends. It would require at least another blog post to explain how that came about. The point here is Pilate had more reason than usual to fear the mob, because Tiberius had warned him not to offend the Jews.

(4) Unlikely alliances between factions started forming early in Jesus’ ministry, such as when Pharisees plotted with Herodians to kill him (Mar 3:6).

(5) & (6) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walter_Rauschenbusch

 

P.S. What’s that? You found my analysis so brilliant you want to go back and read the other posts in this series? Aw, shucks! You’re making me blush!

Okay, maybe I’m delusional. But I want to be as helpful as I can. Just in case you are interested, I’ll save you from having to scroll up to find the links.

Verdict of Pontius Pilate, Part 1 – Witnesses of Matthew and Mark

Verdict of Pontius Pilate, Part 2 – Witness of Luke

Verdict of Pontius Pilate, Part 3 – Witness of John

Verdict of Pontius Pilate, Part 4 – The Detective Makes His Case

Verdict of Pontius Pilate, Part 5 – John Breaks the Silence

Grace and peace to you.

-David Anderson

5-part series: Conquering the ‘violent God’ of the Bible

Part 1 | Genocide is okay if it’s commanded by a holy God? There is a gruesome story about a Catholic priest who witnessed the atrocities of the 1994 Rwandan genocide. He recounts “a wo…

Source: 5-part series: Conquering the ‘violent God’ of the Bible