Passive Sins: John 18 – 19

Jesus Arrested. Denial, Denial, Denial. Pilate Questions Jesus. The “Trial.” Tortured, Crucified. Jesus Dies.

Pontius Pilate is the grade-A schmuck of the Bible. As a prefect of Judea, he held responsible all of the citizens of Jerusalem, so when the Jewish leaders handed over Jesus for judgment and punishment, the duty fell to him. So how does he rule?

Pilate said, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.”
John 18:31 (NIV)

Ok then. Pilate makes it clear to the High Priest that he finds no basis for any charges. So does he just free Jesus and end the matter there? No, it turns out that Pilate is a bit of a prisoner himself – to the whims of the zealots inhabiting his city. He continues to balk, presenting Jesus to the crowds for their judgment – sure that they will not want to murder their own “king.” But they turn against him, shouting “crucify him!”

He hands Jesus over, who is then beaten and given a cross to carry. Pilate yells out one final time: “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him.” (19:4) We get it, Pilate. You don’t think he committed any sin. The other gospels testify to Pilate “washing his hands” of this – a not-so-subtle gesture that absolves himself from any sort of sin.

But do we really believe that?

This is anecdotal, but I think we secretly judge passive sinners more than blatant ones. Every selfish person tends to act selfishly, creating a swath of destruction in his or her path. They stumble along like ogres, and before long, everyone ducks out of their way and leaves them be. Passive sinners know better though, for they decipher right from wrong and choose to do nothing about it. It’s almost more devious, and while we cannot say they are solely responsible, we can label them negligent and cowardly.

I’d rather be labeled selfish than a coward. That might just be me though.

I think Pilate is an asshole on top of being a schmuck. The Jewish leaders acted out of religious belief, but Pilate knew better than to let this crucifixion go through. That makes him an asshole.

Not my most articulate analysis, but it feels just as valid. I have little sympathy for cowards and assholes. And that is coming from someone who has experience as both.

Saying Goodbye: John 14 – 17

Promises, Promises.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
John 16:33 (NIV)

Goodbyes have never bothered me. Closure has never bothered me either. Over the years, a juvenile fear of change slowly morphed into an odd appreciation of it. Saying goodbye usually means good things are in the future. Broadly – usually.

Jesus spends these four chapters laying out the future for nervous disciples. They will be hated, but it will be worth it. Jesus will disappear, and then reappear and ascend. It will all be okay in the end. Isn’t this how we typically deal with goodbyes? Promises about the continuity of development and continued sanity. Everything will be okay, even if it doesn’t feel that way right now. Maybe that is why goodbyes have never bothered me – it’s a challenge to make something new. Every good thing in my life has typically begun in goodbye. Broadly – usually.

The disciples have good reason to fret. We have proof that they are not the most faithful bunch. One will betray in due time. One will deny Jesus. One fell into the ocean for not believing he could walk on water. No one though Jesus could feed the five thousand. And now their source of identity is headed for the cross – why would anything be okay after he died? He was their everything, and now he is floating towards Heaven, up and away. How could this possibly be okay?

No guarantees. It might not be okay. Why does it always seem to end up okay?

They told us in Sunday school that the disciples all ended up being martyred. They were savagely and brutally killed for their belief and service. I don’t remember who or the details. I recall a few details – one was crucified upside down. Another was sawed in half – long ways. Brutal, savage deaths.

But it all ended up okay, right? They are in Heaven now? I suppose it is in line with the goodbye speech from Jesus. The world will reject them, but it will all end up okay.

I found a cross necklace on the beach during a middle school retreat. I wore it for years – felt like it was meant for me or something – maybe it was. It was a coping strategy, not a statement piece. Something about having it on my neck made me feel okay, even at my worst. I ended up removing it every time I felt like I was about to do something bad – like kiss a boy or have a drink. I only took it off a handful of times. And then, one day, the strap broke – or something, I don’t know. One day, it just wasn’t around my neck. Felt like it was meant to be – maybe it was – not longer meant to be on my neck, like it had lost its efficacy – or something.

It felt like a broken promise. My Sunday School teachers used Jesus’ last words to the disciples to encourage us. It’ll get hard, but it will all be okay. It got hard. Then it got suffocating. Then it grew impossible. And then it felt broken, like the promise never meant anything – just a coping strategy, a failed one.

Say goodbye to it? I can’t. I hold on to the idea that it will all end up okay. And the delicate balance is working for now.

Do Your Hurt: John 13

Jesus Honored. Jesus Betrayed. Jesus Disowned.

“What you are about to do, do quickly.”
John 13:27b (NIV)

I have always admired the last day of Jesus’ life. As a dutiful martyr, he does nothing to resist his arrest and accepts everything with extreme grace. I also love the moment in Gethsemane, when he asks God if there is another way. It’s a human and vulnerable moment – doubt. I am glad that doubt is not a sin, or at least, I don’t think it is. I haven’t finished the Bible yet, after all.

It is poetic that one of Jesus’ disciples is the betrayer. It makes you wonder why, if John knew Judas was stealing money, and if Jesus knew his plot, he was kept around at all. The most biblical answer is… he was part of a master plan. Jesus needed him. If he didn’t need him, Judas would have been out of there. Simple.

I wonder if it hurt Jesus at all. Was Judas even a friend? The name “Judas” has become synonymous with “betrayer” – someone who switches sides suddenly and stabs you in the back. A friend first – then an enemy. Sure, the betrayal of Jesus was poetic – but was it personal? I realize it would have called into question Jesus’ omniscience, but did it really hurt all that much if he knew it all along?

When I came out to a Christian friend, he told me that Jesus understood.

I didn’t really believe that.
He came back and said Jesus suffered all temptations.
I said he didn’t face same-sex attraction, if we’re calling that a –
He disagreed. Jesus felt everything.
So Jesus was gay? Or at least bisexual?
Of course not.
I don’t know many straight people that “feel tempted.” Maybe it is an undiagnosed pandemic.

I have never been rejected – I’m very lucky in that right, because I know many who have been. However, when someone close to me “disapproves” of what I am “doing,” it feels personal, and it feels like a betrayal. It feels like Judas handing Jesus over, Brutus pushing the dagger into Caesar’s back.

But it isn’t betrayal. Because it’s expected.

I grew up in a Christian household. What did I expect?

No one is hurting me. I am not a martyr. My grandmother might tell me that I can’t be gay “with that face,” and even though I have no idea what that comment means, I do know that it isn’t a betrayal.

I feel like a martyr, like people are being cruel. They aren’t. I have never been called a faggot, except by a gay person using the word affectionately. I’ve never been hit or beaten, because at 6’ 5”, no one would try. I get to have a little blog – my supporters come to the front, any detractors – if they exist – have not made themselves known. If they are out there, they detract out of sight.

I do not hurt. No one has hurt me.

Read Between the Lines: John 12

The Plot Against Lazarus. The Perfume of Jesus. The Importance of Jesus’ Death. Continuing Reasons for Disbelief.

Don’t you just love it when someone calls you out on something – in a particularly rude way – and you have the perfect justification.

Like someone calls you out in front of everyone – “Oh look at that, Jesse is late again.” And then you get to turn and say, “Yeah, Mark that’s because my grandpa died. So there.”

So vindicating.

Well the Bible got me, or at least, I think it did. I have spent some part of my time in the past few entries making points that stuff seemed “against message” or antithetical to the purpose of Jesus’ ministry. I truly was not attempting to split hairs or cause a ruckus over beloved stories. Don’t forget – this blog is all about immediate responses. Rarely do I get the chance to reflect for a long time on a certain passage.

Well, remember when I said that I sort of understood Judas’ viewpoint in the whole perfume-hair-feet debacle? When Judas said Jesus should have sold the perfume for money for the poor? John clarifies:

He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it. (John 12:6)

Ah… So he’s a thief? Well… If that’s the case…

Oh, and then remember how I told you that Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead went against message? That for a man spouting eternal life through him as a savior shouldn’t be pushing the importance of Earthly life. Why resurrect someone when you’re trying to tell everyone this life when this life means nothing?

Well:

So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and believing in him. (12:10-11)

Oh… So it was like – he became a martyr of God’s – of Jesus’ – oh well yeah, I get that now.

That’s the problem with “immediate responses.” I often don’t have the context to understand everything in its entirety, and so when I make a statement, it doesn’t always come with all the information. That’s what it means to struggle I guess.

Oh, and speaking of “getting the whole picture,” I found this little passage interesting:

There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; the very words I have spoken will condemn them at the last day. (12:48)

So just before you say all that yada about “Jesus being love” and never judging anyone. Don’t forget to read between the lines. He is not the judger. And there is one far more powerful than him.

Against Message: John 10:22 – 11

Lazarus Raised from the Dead. The Plot Thickens.

When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
John 11:32 (NIV)

There is a moment where the detractors of Jesus tell him to just state plainly that he is the Messiah, but he refuses. He says that his work speaks for itself, and there is no way to come out with it so plainly.

Then there is Lazarus – a famous character in the New Testament. He is the brother of Mary Magdalene and dies suddenly. Jesus weeps at the sight of this – it is clearly an emotional death that no one wants to see happen.

And so Jesus goes and raises him from the dead. Miracle received – Jesus is the Messiah.

This is one of those iconic Bible passages I speak to often – one that is often meant to present the sovereignty of Jesus as the Son of God. Here is a man several days dead – we know that based on the smell that apparently consumes everyone nearby. It has all the imagery – Lazarus coming from the tomb after his family spends days mourning his death, wrapped in grave clothes from head to toe. It’s a perfect symbol.

It seems against message to me.

If Jesus wants us all to believe in the importance of eternal life and the resurrection, why do this at all? Why not use his death as an example – and tell everyone that he is alive in another way.

I’m less concerned with arguing about why I think that is against message. Honestly, it just struck me as odd. But I do wonder why it strikes me so obviously. What the hell is my deal? What is so difficult about this? Isn’t the whole point of indoctrination that this stuff seems like second nature to me – so I feel compelled to believe it even if it doesn’t seem complete logical? Why do I nitpick to such a degree? This is relatively small – but it felt so huge to me. Like – UGH, why is this happening in the Bible, it makes no sense!

It makes some sense – my qualm is actually relatively small. This story will not make or break someone’s faith.

A life of faith feels hopeful. A life of sacrilege feels lonely. Maybe that’s the indoctrination.

Maybe.

False Signs: John 9–10:21

The Blind Man Sees. Others Question His Testimony. Jesus Is the Shepherd of Man.

“How can a sinner perform such signs?” So they were divided.
John 9:16b (NIV)

Jesus heals many, and the Pharisees take notice. A man born blind approaches Jesus for help, and with the help of some spit and dirt, his sight instantly returns to him. He staggers away towards a crowd, who immediately question him. They drag him to the Pharisees. They inform the man that this deed was down out of the presence of God. They believe this is a false sign – witchcraft maybe – and certainly not proof of anything.

One thing rarely proves another. The older I get, the less I understand how things work together and the less I feel that the little twists and turns in my life occur from a cosmic or metaphysical hand. Five years ago, I was fired from a job for being incompatible with my immediate superior. I was her assistant in a classroom full of autistic children, and it just did not work, no matter how much we tried. The gave me three weeks to “improve.” When I bluntly asked if this was a formality or an actual probation, they admitted to the former. I was gone before the end of the week. Losing that job freed me from a year-long contract and provided me a severance. I took that and interned for my first movie, which became the source for every job I have had since.

Many of my friends have said that this is serendipity in full swing. Others attribute it to God. Whether faith-based or just hippie-based, everyone tells me that this was cosmically “meant to be.”

Am I faithless if I think it is just… luck? Or maybe just the way it happened?

Have you ever heard of that quote, “Dream and the universe will conspire to make it come true”? (I may be butchering that, but as I am writing this from the middle of Tennessee without Google, I will have to go with my approximation here) I hate that quote. Before writing me off as a pessimistic asshole, know that my disdain for the quote has nothing to do with pessimism. It just rings false to me, because plenty of people dream big and come short. Are we to believe that 100% of the people who make it just to happened to be the biggest self-believers? No way. Many unmotivated people rise to the top, and almost all winners end up failing.

We held a car wash to raise money for my church growing up. We were 14-years-old. Our pastor had us rotate – two people would be inside praying while everyone else worked. He said that one year – “it worked” – every time they prayed, cars flooded in. When there was even a moment of lull, well look at that, no one was in the prayer room.

Christians have faith-healers and prophets – seculars have psychics and Tarot-card readers. For everyone Christian carwash, there is a Mormon who sees a prophet, a yuppie who pays a psychic, and so on. Many people claim that one pseudo-spiritual event proves the efficacy of their individual religion. I no longer can look at one thing – or a group of things – and allow it to prove anything. I am just too skeptical.

Does logic equate faithlessness? Is that my “one thing” that “proves another?” I suspect it can’t possibly, since I know many intelligent and faithful people. So what gives?

Road Blocks: John 7 – 8

Arguments.

“You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one.”
John 8:15 (NIV)

“I honestly don’t know.”

When I ask a question about the Bible, particularly about a confusing or perhaps contradictory passage, that is usually the answer I receive. I don’t relish in this – believe it or not, my goal here is not to disprove the teachings in the Bible. I just observe and report my findings – and then ask a few questions which rarely get answered. I wondered recently if the illusive nature of the Good Book is what makes it so damn staying. No one can quite figure it out, and now thousands of years and dozens of sects later, people still comb over it with poison and tweezers, picking the good from the bad.

I’m starting to think that no one believes in the entire Bible in reality. It seems much more likely to me that every person takes in as much as makes sense and just leaves the rest for people “smarter” to figure out. There might be an irony there – that the Bible claims it is 100% accurate but appears to purposefully leave certain details ambiguous. Without taking a utilitarian approach, it is difficult to decipher what God values the most in us. We know that He wants us to love Him – and He wants us to love our neighbors. But then there is the rest, and it’s an impenetrable surface most of the times. I still have no clue if God wants us following the laws of the Old Testament. My gut says yes – my brain says no. So what do we do then?

I want to believe that God has a logical brain capable of deciphering the human heart on a nuanced level. But it flies in the face of His harsh and uncompromising nature – the one I was taught.

Some churches hand out “Tracts” – that is, small booklets that illustrate the Christian message in the form of a comic. I remember one. A man goes to church every Sunday for his entire life. He does good works and tithes appropriately. He never lies or cheats and does good by his neighbor. And then he dies and stands before God. Apparently, in his heart, he never truly loved God – and so he is thrown into Hell, despite all of his “efforts.”

This terrified me. I spent a wide swath of my childhood believing that it was never enough. I prayed the salvation prayer a hundred times, hoping to ensure my safety – even though all along, I feared eternity.

I’m trying to believe. Is that enough?

I honestly don’t know.

Create Something that Lasts: John 6

Jesus Calms the Storm and Feeds the Five Thousand. Controversial Remarks. Many Walk Away.

Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life.
John 6:27b (NIV)

The gift of believing in the Old Testament was legacy. A man who followed God and acted in a way altogether holy would be rewarded with a vital family line – a piece of the lineage of kings that would stretch eventually to the Messiah. There was nothing after death – you died and slept for eternity, unless you were lucky enough to be Elijah, taken into Heaven to join the ranks of the angels. That was the best possible outcome in a limited lifetime – we would never be able to overcome our punishment of death. All we could do was make it as fruitful as possible.

But Jesus offers his followers something much, much more.

After performing a couple of miracles in front of large crowds, he begins to lay the first pieces of the Christian ideology out on the table. He introduces himself as the “Bread of Life,” the Son of God sent in order to crack open the doors to Heaven. If those eat his bread, they will never go hungry. Of course, this goes over everyone’s head, and they think about it in a literal way. “Oh, I want food that’ll never make me hungry!” He, of course, meant spiritual food.

That’s when he starts to lose the crowd. He refers to his body as the proper food to eat, leading some to assume he’s some sort of cannibal. Disciples quickly run for the hills, leaving his original Twelve, and he announces that one of them is a traitor. It seems like no one is really interested in the paradigm shift in life outlook. Before, it was all in legacy.

Now, it’s permanence.

I get it. Before, people could act wayward and it would only affect their current lives. Now, there is the possibility for something so much more, so there is no excuse for sin.

You have no excuse anymore. Momentary sin? Or eternal life?

The Gray: John 5

Healing Whirlpool. The Sovereignty of Jesus Explained.

“See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.”
John 5:14b (NIV) 

I took a course my Freshman year of high school which combines History with English – Humaities they called it. My teacher posited an important distinction between most modern philosophies. There were those that believed that people were essentially good, while those juxtaposed understood man to be generally evil. This put nihilism in sharp contrast with relativism. What was our nature by default?

If the Old Testament has anything to say about it, it must bet hat we are born evil and must fight all our lives to maintain any semblance of good. Jesus qualifies this a bit by saying that our potential for good may outweigh that evil with a healthy dose of repentance. But if our needs are seeped in forgiveness, then it really isn’t much of a change, is it? We are evil – we must love Jesus to be considered otherwise.

I always felt out of place with Christianity for this reason. Let me be clear, I do not think that it is innately a violent or reprehensible religion – this comes solely from my personal testimony with it. Growing up – outside of the hateful, borderline Christian sects – I found most people within the religion to just be normal people struggling to better themselves. But the Fall of Man back in Eden made me feel icky. Something about one action somehow condemning all of mankind never felt right. It comes down to empathy. I can understand most behaviors as an attempt to do what feels best. Self-preservation, if you will.

I encounter casual hatred on a daily basis. Let me define that: casual hatred is belief in an overarching ideal that can taint a person’s perception of an entire group of people. These aren’t KKK members or “God Hates Fags” banner-holders. These are real, everyday people who lock their doors when black people walk by their cars and wince at a gay person’s tight and short clothing. Don’t misunderstand me: It is prejudice. It is harmful, but it is also subtle.

How do I love people who don’t agree with me on basic political/social issues? How can I love someone who thinks homosexuality is the evil above all evils, yet openly and viscerally loves me all the same?

It is difficult.

Seeing good in people hurts at these times, because all I want to do is scream. But I hold on, maybe for the belief that the prejudice is ingrained by way of a deep-seeded fear.

Love ‘em. I have to, because it is all I can do. I must forget about changing them in an outright manner, and instead move to the subtle. Little moments of conversation dipped in an enormous amount of empathy. I believe holding banners and protesting is important to our national civil rights issues. So is remaining connected and leading by an example of love on a day-to-day basis.

It still feels like weakness and undue allowance. I grit my teeth and want to cry. But I can’t turn my back on those who hate a piece of me or hate a piece of others. Because some people will only overcome their subtle prejudice with subtle examples. And that is a fight in and of itself.

Is It So Simple? : John 2 – 4

Premature Signs. Water to Wine. Nicodemus Asks Questions. Kindness and Belief from the Samaritans. A Child Raises from the Dead.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
John 3:16 (NIV)

Have you ever read John 3:16? Do you know it from heart? Did you learn the song that goes along with it? Was it drilled into your head as a child?

If so, you grew up going to either Christian School or Sunday School or (in my case) both. That verse hung above the hallway as you entered my little private school, blazoned in curved bubble letters cut out of cardboard and laminated. I wonder if it is still there?

There is a reason many Christians point to this verse as the quintessential passage in the Bible. It clearly defines the intent, plan, and reward of Christianity – in that order. God loves us. God sends Jesus. We believe and go to Heaven. It’s Christianity 101 people. It’s simple. What could possibly be misunderstood about it?

There are a few stipulations to add. Just before that, Jesus tells Nicodemus, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.” (3:5) That seems to imply that believing is not enough and a person must be baptized with water in order to enter the kingdom Heaven. Unless it’s a metaphor – but let’s just call that a gray area.

Later, after the eponymous 3:16 verse, Jesus continues: “Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.” (3:20) So this says that wrong-doers (who we’ve been told many times… is all of us) hate the light, which we established yesterday is an alternate title for Jesus. And these wrong-doers (all of us) have a constant fear that their evil deeds will be exposed.

I recently mentioned an all-queer camping trip I went on a few weeks ago. Some people who read the Bible believe in condemns homosexuality – I am positive it is the majorly, in fact. However, I must say… I am not sure a single person on that camping trip (all wrong-doers remember, like all of us) feels an ounce of fear about having their sin exposed. Honestly, the majority of the folks wore tights, drag, and glitter the whole time, so I think they were exposing themselves in that respect.

It’s not so simple as John 3:16. I wish it was – I’d be considered a believer today. My father goes to church every week, prays out loud to our entire extended family every Sunday. He’s a good, God-fearing man. But he is not baptized. And according to Jesus according to John, he is not saved. I don’t get that. I am a queer man, and even if I claim to believe in Jesus, the majority of Christians will say that my actions are evil, and God does not know me.

What is it?

Is this a simple religion or a complex one? Followers of Jesus merely shouted their belief and were instantly granted eternal life. Now, our religion is based on this lifelong struggle to maintain belief through constant action, and missteps create doubt in those around them.

I can hear my mother saying out loud to her computer right now, “It’s not about what everyone else thinks.”

And she’s right. It’s not. So I’m going to bank on God knowing the hearts. And so maybe the queer believers are covered then.

I sure hope so.