This morning while I was working out I had a bit of a revelation about the looming Presidential election. I can’t claim to have ever heard the “voice of God” but sometimes I get a prompting in my brain that seems to come out of nowhere. When I test that prompting against what I understand about God and what I believe to be true, I try and pay attention.
I’m a conservative guy, but I have grown to greatly mistrust (and frankly, despise) the Republican party. Many of my friends will be stunned to know that I voted Democratic – much to my own disappointment – in the past two Presidential elections. I admit to being enchanted in 2008 by the “social justice” promises of then-Senator Obama, and was disgusted by the running mate of the Republican nominee. Sarah Palin is an insult to intelligence, and she represents the worst elements of conservatism.
Fast-forward to 2012. In hindsight I really don’t know what I was thinking to vote for another term for President Obama. I think that as much as anything, it was an attempt to keep tension between Congress and the White House; I think it’s generally a bad idea to have one party in control of the whole mess. I believe that the more tension there is between the President and the legislative branch, the less likely there will be sweeping legislation that will interfere with freedom.
Of course as I learned over the past four years, that doesn’t stop an activist President from using the Executive Order pen, or an activist Supreme Court from legislating from the bench.
And so I now sit in the tension of another Presidential election wishing with all that is within me that I had better choices. On the Democratic side we have a former First Lady and former Secretary of State who appears to flaunt her position, violate federal law, lie about it, and get away with it because the extremely liberal nature of popular culture that both deifies the Clintons and vilifies conservative thought.
On the Republican side, we have the emergence of the worst option from a field of terrible choices. I can’t help but think that of all the election years the non-incumbent party had an easy shot at the White House it would have been this year. But instead of finding 2-3 solid options for a true intellect- and conservative value-oriented debate cycle, we found ourselves with more than a dozen pathetic losers who fought their way to the bottom, only to be swallowed up by the most hideous of all the bottom feeders.
(To be clear, when I talk of “conservative values” I don’t mean values around morality. I refer only to values concerning personal liberty, limited government, fiscal responsibility, and government within Constitutional bounds.)
During the Republican debate cycle when I’d had more than a belly full of comparisons about the size of each other’s “hands” and the dehumanizing statements about illegal immigrants (yes, they’re still immigrating illegally so just call it what it is!), I had to burn my Republican voter ID card – this time for good. I re-registered as “unaffiliated” because my home state doesn’t recognize “Independent.”
I have many friends in different areas of my life who have told me that I can’t NOT vote; I HAVE to participate in the election. While I still may do that, I will not be voting for either the Democratic candidate or the Republican. If I choose to vote, I will vote for a fringe candidate that I believe in, or I might just write someone in. If I choose not to vote, I will do so with a clear conscience in protest for what I believe is a terribly corrupt and broken system.
If you’re one of those friends who insists that I vote, please know that I love and deeply respect your opinion, but that I will not be swayed against the weight of my conscience.
All this background gets me to the revelation I had this morning in the gym: I cannot vote for either of the main party candidates and keep a clear conscience. I despise the privilege and contempt with which I believe the Clintons operate. I think Hillary Clinton is dirty, and I don’t trust her. I think she is too deeply entrenched and indebted to Washington power brokers and that a vote for her is a vote to further curtail the freedoms I most deeply believe in.
On the other hand, I find Donald Trump personally and morally reprehensible. I think he is small-minded, bigoted, a hate monger, and the worst kind of entertainer-turned-politician. I don’t believe he has a single serious policy position and there’s enough of a conspiracy theorist in me to think that the Donald Trump thing is just some self-aggrandizing publicity stunt.
I believe that under either candidate as President the U.S. will be a worse place to be. We will be more divided than ever, we will face increasing domestic terror threats, our economy will continue to falter, and we will inevitably face new impediments to the freedoms of law abiding Americans as lawmakers overreach in their futile attempts to rein in “bad guys.”
To vote for a candidate is to attach my own integrity with theirs. To endorse them for the most powerful elected office in the free world is to say that I believe wholeheartedly that they are who they say they are, will act how they say they will act, and that I believe they are the fittest choice to govern us.
My friend, if you can in good conscience vote for one of these candidates, then certainly do so. But before you do, I encourage you to dig deep into your own personal integrity and make sure that you truly, genuinely believe that your candidate will move the country forward. We cannot simply be willing to settle for the “lesser of two evils.” More than ever I feel that my own personal integrity is at risk by supporting either Clinton or Trump. I have wrestled with whether I could support either one and I have lost. I can support neither.
I will not sacrifice my conscience at the altar of pragmatism. I won’t vote for any candidate whom I believe to be morally and ideologically bankrupt. I don’t know where that puts me in November, but it will not put me with either one of them.
I recognize that there is some inherent danger in writing about stuff like this on the internet. I have no formal theological training; I only know what I think I know. I’m just a lawyer with a curious mind who happens to have a checkered history with Christianity.
As I have mentioned before in previous posts, I think better with my fingers on keys. (Mostly because I can’t read my own handwriting.) To that end this entire site is a peek into my cobwebbed confusion as I try and make sense of what I read in the Bible, what I believe God is revealing to me in my mind, and what I perceive as I look at my religion’s history. I realize that I’m deeply conflicted with my faith, and that my relationship with God is frankly, complicated.
I will also confess that some of my hope is to reveal a side of Christianity that the world doesn’t always see. I hope that some of these thoughts will sow seeds that may someday germinate in a mind that has otherwise not found much use with Jesus.
Balancing “grace” with “truth”
I am fortunate enough to be connected with a great church and some amazing guys I get to explore life with. We meet each week off the highway in Conifer, Colorado and we explore what God seeks to tell his followers though the book we call the Bible. Hopefully we are iron sharpening iron, and not just a bunch of rocks bashing against each other.
On the menu this week is the tension between “demonstrating grace” and “revealing truth.” One of the guys posed the question of balance – How do we balance the demonstration of grace, mercy, and love against the instruction to correct others?
As a starting point, I believe that neither grace nor truth is ours to give. We can only demonstrate and extend the grace and truth that God has first extended to us. As a reinforcing point, all the scripture references I’ve come across deal with Christians correcting each other, not correcting or admonishing others. (See Titus 3:10, Romans 16:17, 1 Corinthians 5:11, 1 Timothy 1:20, Romans 16:17, several others.)
Like everything in the Bible, these verses must always be read in the broader context in which they’re presented. To do otherwise is intellectually dishonest. But read in their proper context these passages and many others speak to the Christian’s duty to correct and admonish other Christians – and only in love and mercy. They do not give Christians license to “lead with truth” and attempt to correct other people who do not first know Christ.
The model of Jesus: different standards for different audiences
If we look to Jesus as our model – and if we dare to call ourselves Christians, we have no other model – Jesus applied different standards to different audiences, depending on what they needed most.
To the Pharisees, the religious insiders, and the politically connected – those who thought they had religion all figured out and had solved God like a theological equation – Jesus led with truth. In fact, Jesus was “all truth, all the time.” We see this in the accounts of Jesus’s interactions with the Sanhedrin and with other Jewish leaders of the day. (See Matthew 12:24-37, calling them a “brood of vipers.” See also, Matthew 23, calling them – among other things – white-washed tombs, blind guides, blind fools, etc.) Jesus always saved his harshest words for the self-righteous who thought they already had it dialed.
But to those who knew they were broken, to those who knew they didn’t have it all figured out, Jesus led with grace. Consider the account of the woman caught in the act of adultery (John 8). Jesus did not condemn her, but interceded with grace for her and “truth” for those who would cast the first stone. Only after saving her life did he say “…go and sin no more.” This is a consistent pattern through Jesus’s ministry. Look up most accounts of miraculous healing or his intervention. You will find that in almost every circumstance he first gives the tangible thing the person needs before he says anything to admonish them toward truth. (And sometimes he just lets grace do the work anyway.)
This can be reinforced by a macro view of Jesus’s most popular public address, the “Sermon on the Mount.” (Matthew 5) Jesus leads off with
- God blesses…
- God blesses…
- God blesses…
A total of nine times! He talks about letting our good deeds shine. He says that his followers are to be salt to give flavor and preservation to a bland world, and to be light shining in the darkness for all to see. Only after talking a lot of “grace” did he ever start talking much “truth.”
When Jesus spoke with people who would listen, grace was always the hook.
Truth cuts both ways
We must likewise lead with love and grace in all our interactions. We must let others know that we love them and that God has mercy and grace for them before we ever presume to give any dose of “truth.” If we ever allow our relationships to get so far as to genuinely and consistently demonstrate love, only then can we presume to have permission to correct or admonish. And if we dare go that far, any admonition must be bathed in mercy and love, not in fire and brimstone.
Underpinning all this is the sense that any opportunity to admonish must first be rooted in a genuine loving relationship. It can’t be lip service, and it can’t be contrived. And it is only genuine if it is consistently demonstrated time, time, and time again.
We also have to be willing to receive admonition in return. As the Sermon on the Mount continues in Matthew 7, we must first carefully examine our own lives and correct ourselves before we ever presume to point out a flaw in someone else. If we dare to correct another person, not only must we do it in love (see Matthew 15:11 (we are defiled by the words that come out of our mouths); Romans 14), we must also expect that we will be judged by the same standard we use to judge others. (Matthew 7:2)
The trouble is, “truth” is alluring; grace feels too easy. Dosing out truth gives us the ability to take our critical attention away from ourselves and focus it on someone else. By saying, “Well, at least I don’t do THAT!” we turn away from the work God would have us do in our own lives. Not only do we alienate ourselves from the other person, we turn our backs on the improvement God wants to do to us and we drive the wedge even deeper between the other and God.
At this point in my life I have so many flaws to work on that I can’t afford to give anything but grace. That’s what I want for myself, so that’s what I try and give. Perhaps someone who has it more put together can get away with dishing out “truth” and admonition, but I am not there yet.
I found this today while reading The Signature of Jesus, by the late Brennan Manning. A chastening read throughout, this quote from another author cited by Manning really hit me today:
We need reminders, symbols, stories, exhortations, living models, time-outs for reflection and celebration. These things are indispensable supports. The error is to think these things ARE the Christian life.
Just as Jesus’s practice of prayer was in the service of a whole WAY OF LIFE – a MEANS RATHER THAN AN END – so must ours be. Insofar as prayer, reading, sacraments, and spiritual direction support genuine Christian living, that is, Christian attitudes, relationships, choices, and actions, they are useful. When they become an escape from the more difficult demands of Christian living, they are the corruption of discipleship. The question at the Last Judgment is not, “How religious was your talk?” nor “Was your faith orthodox in every respect?” but “How did you respond to needy brothers and sisters?”
This is the one reliable measure of discipleship.
Quoted from Thomas R. Kelly, A Testament of Devotion (New York: Harper and Row, 1941)
(photo credit: Ashten McClintock)
The more I dig in on Romans the more it digs in on me. For anyone who can stumble through my first few lines as I try and get this post on track, I think it will tie together at the end. But I couldn’t think of any way to get this idea up to cruising altitude but to go full throttle and pull the stick back.
When we only love people who are nice to us and who love us back, we’re only demonstrating half of the love of God. Only when we demonstrate genuine love for those who don’t love us are we able to reflect the kind of love God demonstrated to humanity. THAT kind of love is what is supposed to make Jesus followers different.
The love of God that Paul discusses in Romans 5 is the love that restored humanity to peace with God through one single act – the sacrifice of Jesus. By contrasting the essential sinful nature of us all through the story of Adam (see Genesis 3), Paul shows us the power of a single act, whether that act is bad or good. Not to diminish the salvation story Paul is specifically emphasizing, the contrast also shows the profound, unforeseeable ripple effects our actions can have.
As Paul transitions through the story of God’s love for Israel, the demolition (or more correctly stated, the fulfillment) of the law and newfound salvation through grace, and the extension of his grace to nonJews (see Romans 6-11), Paul now encourages those who want to follow Jesus to reflect God’s love in our relationships with others.
From the New Living Translation:
[9-10] Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other.
… When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality.
With a quick read, this seems easy enough. After all, it’s fairly easy to show love to those who are like us. If people are nice to us, generally share our same beliefs, etc. then being hospitable isn’t too tall an order.
But before we read further, we have to consider whether hospitality equals “love.” We can be hospitable to people without really loving them; we can be polite, kind, friendly… But love clearly requires something more. We’re told that the love we should demonstrate is rooted in “genuine affection”, which requires truly caring deeply for the other person. There is also a measure of self-sacrifice required as we honor each other and put the needs of others above our own needs.
A quick side note:
I think that in too many circumstances, we get self-righteous and perhaps misread this section. Note that Paul says to hate WHAT is wrong. He does not say “Hate people who do wrong things.” Perhaps this is the origin of the classic evangelical meme: “Hate the sin but love the sinner.” But that becomes a copout we often use to dehumanize people and see them not for their humanity as a reflection of God’s image. We use that as an excuse to make people’s actions define them, when that is clearly not what Jesus taught nor what Paul writes about.
Paul’s instruction comes on the heels of his teaching that God offered salvation to the Gentiles in order to make the Jews jealous. (Don’t believe me? Go read Romans 11. See previous discussion, linked here.) It’s no accident that Paul first laid the groundwork to demonstrate God’s love before teaching us how we should love. Our love should be a reflection of the kind of love God showed to humanity. God demonstrated love to those who loved him – the Jews – by sending Jesus through the line of Hebrew King David to be raised and trained as a Jew, to become a Jewish rabbi, to challenge the Jewish leadership, and to be crucified as a sacrifice in complete fulfillment of God’s original covenant with Abraham. (It doesn’t get more Jewish than that!)
But God also demonstrated his love to those who did not love him – the Gentiles, who were completely shut off from relationship with God. The Gentiles (used in the Bible to mean everyone who is not a Jew) had never before been entitled to God’s mercy and love. But in demonstrating the fullness of love and mercy, God provided a path of reconciliation for those who previously had been hopeless.
And so as Paul continues in verses 14-21: (Note, I’m cherry-picking a little, but the skipped verses are also relevant.)
 Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them…
[16a] Live in harmony with each other…
[17-18] Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.
On the heels of Paul’s good news that reconciliation with God is a gift for everyone, he teaches us that to demonstrate God’s love fully is to love people who don’t love us at least as much as those who do love us. When we only love people who are nice to us and who love us back, we’re only demonstrating half of the love of God. As Jesus (remember the rabbi?) taught on the Sermon on the Mount,
You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good…
If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that?…
If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else?… (From Matthew 5:44)
So only when we demonstrate genuine love for those who don’t love us are we able to reflect the kind of love God demonstrated to humanity. THAT kind of love is what is supposed to make Jesus followers different.
I’ll be the first to confess that I am TERRIBLE at this. Far too often I find myself pretending to sit in judgment over others whom I perceive are different from me and who don’t live up to MY standards. (Oh, the sweet, acrid smell of hypocrisy!) I justify being a jerk to them because I perceived they were a jerk to me. Or I justify hating people from other religions as a means of self-defense. That is not the way of Paul’s teaching. That is not the way of Jesus.
That does not mean that all perspectives are created equally, or that all belief systems are equally valid. What that does mean is that every human that has ever walked the planet is an image-bearer of God, and that as a person who claims to follow Jesus, I should love them all and show mercy to all.
I’m not usually big on New Years resolutions, but I entered 2015 with a specific desire for personal improvement. After a few years in Colorado enjoying a great local beer industry, I found myself in a bit of a rut. I generally defaulted to one of a few beer varieties and seldom wandered out of the mainstream. I despised IPAs, and rarely went with anything more adventurous than an amber or red ale or a Belgian blonde.
So with great enthusiasm I set about the task of drinking 52 different Colorado beers in 2015 that I had never had before. I tracked every one to keep myself going and to keep from accidentally repeating myself. I tracked my beers using Evernote to jot down a few observations, and so with great pride, here’s the roster of Colorado brews that helped me expand my palate in 2015:
- 1/1/15: Odell Loose Leaf session ale (Odell Brewing, Fort Collins)
- 1/4/15: Kannah Creek Red (Kannah Creek Brewing, Grand Junction) Really good red ale.
- 1/10/15: Red Rye Pale Ale (Black Shirt Brewing, Denver)
- 1/13/15: Colorado Kolsch (Steamworks, Durango)
- 1/17/15: Accumulation White IPA (New Belgium, Fort Collins)
- 1/20/15: Deceit Belgian golden ale (Funkwerks, Fort Collins) tastes very Belgian. Like Chimay, just a little more bite, not as sweet or as buttery
- 1/29/15: Runoff Red IPA (Odell, Fort Collins) Really nice. Not too hoppy; not at all bitter.
- 1/30/15: Polestar Pilsner (Left Hand Brewing Co., Longmont). Really nice. Light but flavorful. Low IBU.
- 2/1/15: Lands End amber ale (Left Hand, Longmont)
- 2/4/15: Red Banshee (Fort Collins Brewery) A little hoppy. Nice color. Similar to isolation ale.
- 2/5/15: Prost Pils (Pale German Style Lager; Prost Brewing Co., Denver). Very mild taste; goes well with spicy food. Would also make good summer lighter beer.
- Farmhouse Noire (Colorado Farmhouse Ale, Paradox Beer Company, Woodland Park) very dark. Looks like 1554 from New Belgium. Very fruity. Don’t like it by itself; very powerful flavor.
- Sawtooth Amber Ale (Left Hand Brewing, Longmont) Perfectly serviceable Amber. A little sweet; not as good as 90 Shilling or other Odell ambers.
- 2/12/15: Monsieur Fleur (Mountain Toad, Golden). Very Belgian. Pretty sweet.
- 2/17/15: Sledge Hammer (Rock Wood Fired, Denver). Very hoppy, but not too bitter.
- 2/20/15: Charlie’s Golden Strong (Copper Kettle Brewing, Denver) Tastes very Trappist/Belgian. Not as sweet as Chimay but very rich.
- Vertical Drop Robust Red Ale (Kannah Creek Brewing Co., Grand Junction). DELICIOUS!
- Nomad Pilsner (Great Divide Brewing Co. Denver)
- Crossed Irons Irish Ale (Kannah Creek, Grand Junction) really nice. Good color, flavor. Hoppy but not bitter.
- 3/13/15: Psycho Penguin vanilla porter (Odyssey Beerwerks, Arvada) Reminds me why I hate porters.
- 3/21/15: Snow Drop Kottbusser Ale (Grimm Brothers, Loveland) Good Belgian beer. Not too sweet; pretty nice.
- 4/3/15: Ska Pinstripe red ale (Durango). I think it was a flat tap at Wild Game. I’ve had this elsewhere and it was pretty good.
- Left Hand Good Juju (Longmont). Very smooth with beautiful color and clarity.
- 4/29/15: Legendary Red Ale (Golden City Brewing, Golden) Kind of bitter but not bad. Not terribly memorable. Just a beer.
- 5/19/15: Legendary Red Ale (Golden City Brewery, Golden) I think this tap was flat.
- 5/29/15: Introvert Session IPA (Lefthand Brewery, Longmont)
- 6/3/15: Blue Paddle Pilsner (New Belgium)
- 6/8/15: Crank Yanker IPA (EddyLine Brewing, Buena Vista) Super hoppy, high IBU.
- 6/13/15: Laughing Lab Scottish Ale Bristol Brewery (Colorado Springs) Totally forgettable. Really kind of sucked.
- 7/31/15: Great Divide Hoss Rye (Great Divide, Denver). Kind of sweet, lots of flavor. Low bitterness.
- 8/5/15: Rock Steady Red (The Rock Woodfired, Belmar)
- 8/5/15: Suicide Blonde (The Rock Woodfired, Belmar) Meh.
- 8/5/15: Wild Thing clear wheat (The Rock Woodfired, Belmar) Meh.
- 8/5/15: Jump ‘n Jack Black English ale (The Rock Woodfired, Belmar) Not terrible, but not for me.
- 8/5/15: Lite my Fire (The Rock Woodfired, Belmar)
- 8/14/15: Mountain Toad Red IPA (Golden)
- 8/15/15: Odell IPA (Odell Brewing, Fort Collins) Odell does just about everything really well; hard to wrong with this brewery whatever style you like.
- 8/28/15: Naja Imperial Red Ale (Copper Kettle Brewing, Denver). Pretty good. Not terribly complex for me but decent hops.
- 9/3/15: Homefront IPA (Left Hand brewing, Longmont, CO)
- 9/5/15: Colorojo Imperial Red (Wynkoop, Denver) A little sweet, but still hoppy. Not bad.
- 9/10/15: Farm House Ale (River North, Denver) Really citrusy, borderline “lemonbeer”
- 9/12/15: Rumble Oak Aged IPA (Great Divide, Denver). This was the first IPA I fell in love with.
- 9/12/15: Roaring Fork Pale Ale (Roaring Fork Beer Co., Carbondale)
- 9/13/15: Titan IPA (Great Divide) Really liked this IPA. They’re starting to grow on me.
- 9/15/15: Whitewater Hoppy Wheat Ale (Great Divide)
- 10/13/15: Green Bullet IPA; (Asher Brewing, Boulder) Pretty hoppy & bitter.
- 10/20/15: Slope Style IPA (Boulder Brewing Co.) Really tasty IPA. Great hops in here.
- 10/21/15: Zeppelin IPA (Suds Bros, Fruita) Not bad, but not awesome. Not too complex hop profile.
- 10/22/15: Rocky Mountain IPA (Fort Collins Brewery)
- 10/28/15: Superdamp (Comrade brewing, Denver)
- 11/6/15: Oktoberfest Marzen Lager (Left Hand, Longmont)
- 11/7/15: IPA and a Half (Tommyknocker, Idaho Springs) Really hoppy, as the name suggests. Pretty good stuff.
- 11/10/15: Moirai IPA (Fate Brewing, Boulder)
- 11/12/15: Consilium Pale Ale (Renegade, Denver)
- 11/15/15: Incredible Pedal IPA (Denver Beer Co.) Very hoppy with high IBU. Gotta be ready for the punch to the taste buds.
- 12/2/15: Mirror Image IPA (Echo Brewing Co. Frederick)
- 12/4/14: Tempter IPA (Telluride Brewing Co., Telluride)
- 12/7/15: El Rancho I(70)PA (El Rancho, Evergreen) Okay IPA. I’d like to see El Rancho work on their beers a little.
- 12/7/15: Chief Hosa IPA (El Rancho, Evergreen) This IPA really kind of sucked. Very low flavor for an IPA. Poor hops but bitter = lousy beer.
- 12/10/15: Kindler IPA (Bonfire Brewing, Eagle)
- 12/13/15: Evolution IPA (Golden City Brewery, Golden)
- 12/16/15: Angry Elk Amber (Lariat Lodge, Evergreen) Meh. Once I developed the taste for IPAs a lot of the tamer ambers aren’t interesting enough for me.
- 12/27/15: Sun Drenched Exploratory Ale (Denver Beer Co.) A little cistrusy but not too much.
And so if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing more of it. I started with the intention of drinking 52 different beers and had at least 63. I only counted full pints, not just every taste and sample here or there.
I begin 2016 with a great fondness of IPAs and complex hops profiles. I still like a good pint of 90 Shilling on draught, and I still generally avoid porters and stouts. But my palate is indeed broader now than it was 12 months ago.
I have struggled with whether or not it would be appropriate – or more accurately stated, appropriately received – for me to write about an issue that has been on my mind a lot in recent years. It’s a potentially inflaming issue, though I don’t believe it should be. Rather, I think it’s a unifying idea that might begin to bridge an unfortunate multi-generational gap between Jews and Christians.
So here goes…
I meet almost weekly with a group of guys I go to church with. While part of it is unapologetically frivolous, most of our time is spent in deep conversation trying to reach a better understanding of God, his mission to humanity, and the Bible, which we believe is the divinely-inspired story of God and humanity’s reconciliation to him.
As an aside: I ask that any who stumble across this page who may not share that conviction please put aside any postmodern skepticism you may have as to that particular point. There are other issues at work here that will be overlooked if you hang up on that. I do not claim to be an expert apologist to extol the historicity of the Bible, though I believe it is far more historically supported than any other sacred text. At some point faith in anything – even in atheism – requires that one transcend that which can be irrefutably proven according to modern scientific or rhetorical methods.
That is not to say that Christians (or Bahai, or Muslims, Jews, or other religious adherents) should suspend rational thought and blindly accept what their clergy say. Furthermore, intellectual integrity requires that we test what we believe against common sense – however flawed that sense may be – the weight of history and science, and yes, sacred texts that have been handed down through millennia. But with all religions, philosophies, and scientific theories, a measure of “faith” is required when we cannot perfectly prove that which we believe to be true.
But I have digressed…
During the past many months our discussion group has focused on Paul’s letter to the church in Rome (canonized in the New Testament as the book of Romans). I’ll spend time in future writings focusing on other issues in Romans because it’s a very meaty letter. In fact, much of the Christian perspective of salvation through grace is articulated there, and frankly, I think that most of us Christians get it wrong most of the time.
The issue I want to explore here deals with God’s offer to extend grace and reconciliation to us “Gentiles” as Paul discusses in Romans 11. I believe that for many generations less enlightened Christians have believed that God turned his back on his chosen nation of Israel when the Jewish leaders in the ancient Roman empire rejected Jesus as the messiah of Israel and persuaded Rome to have Jesus executed. Many Christians have taken that whole transaction to mean that God no longer “chooses” Israel and that the Jews are no longer his chosen people.
A plain reading of Romans 11 should put this argument to rest. The most prolific author of the New Testament goes to great lengths to establish that instead of turning away from the Jews, God used Israel’s rejection of Jesus as an opportunity to expand his grace and reconciliation beyond the Hebrews to the non-Semitic world. As Paul writes in verses 11 and 15,
 “Did God’s people stumble and fall beyond recovery? Of course not! They were disobedient, so God made salvation available to the Gentiles. But he wanted his own people to become jealous and claim it for themselves.”
[continuing to v. 15] “…since their rejection (of Jesus as messiah) meant that God offered salvation to the rest of the world, their acceptance (someday, for those who choose to believe) will be even more wonderful.” (New Living Translation)
(Note: I believe my parenthetical additions in v. 15 are consistent with the context of Romans.)
Paul goes on to discuss the roots of God’s original covenant with Abraham, referring to the Jews as the original branches of Abraham’s “tree.” He extends the metaphor to explain that, although they were original children of God’s covenant with Abraham, God broke off branches from that tree and grafted in a different type of tree to be part of Abraham’s blessing. (See vv. 17-18) It is this act of grafting in those of us who are not Jews that provides God’s favor through our faith in Jesus. Paul reminds us not to become haughty or take this for granted, because we remain foreign additions to the chosen people of God. (vv. 19-21) It is only by his sovereign mercy that any of us ever came to faith in Jesus, covered by his grace and free from the law. (Go read Romans 6-8)
And so here is how I have come to reconcile the story of the Jews, Jesus, and the Gentiles:
Just as God was willing to sacrifice his own son Jesus to deliver the Jews from the overwhelming and impossible burden of keeping the law, so too did God willingly sacrifice his chosen people of Israel to make a way for salvation to the rest of humanity. And just as God restored Jesus to glory as the risen Christ, so too will God restore his favor to people of his original covenant as they are humbled to accept the free gift of grace that was originally intended for them.
Paul – who after all, was a Jewish rabbi and a member of the council who actively executed first century Christians – wants the Jews to see that faith in Christ is deliverance from the law, not a call to reject their Jewishness. In fact, Paul explains that faith in Jesus is the ultimate completion of Jewishness. At its core, it seems that being Jewish is about being set apart and in covenant with God. Because this was impossible through keeping “the law”, God made it possible through grace.
Following Jesus does not require a Jew to become un-Jewish. To the contrary, it is the very fulfillment of Jewishness. It simply requires that the Jew – and by God’s grace, us “Gentiles” – acknowledge through faith that Jesus fulfilled the law on our behalf.
I’m sure this is imperfect and full of logical, rhetorical, and theological holes that I’m not seeing. After all, I’m not clergy and am not trained in this stuff. I’m curious, I read a lot, and I like to ponder stuff like this over a few fingers of good bourbon.
If faith were easy, there would be no reason for thousands of years of argument, wars, scholarship, rhetoric, and countless faiths and sects all trying to figure this stuff out.
Well over a year has gone by since my last post. Since my mom’s death almost two years ago I generally lost my passion for writing on nonacademic matters. I do a lot of writing on legal topics to complement the legal education I provide as my day job, but my recreational writing has all but withered since my #1 fan died in spring 2014.
It isn’t my intent to write about anything, and it really isn’t my intent to write about nothing. Above all, writing is a form of thinking for me. My wife and kids believe my handwriting represents a novel form of hieroglyphics, so I have chosen to type my thinking. Every once in a while I think I have an idea good enough to share, and so I chose to open my writings to the universe for all to see, critique, or ignore.
I also have amazing friends and family scattered many miles from me, and so my writing is a means by which I can share current events, stuff I or we are doing that they may find interesting, and to try and bridge the miles and years that go by without face to face time.
I also think that writing helps to sort a scattered mind. I suppose that in the many months that have passed since my last post, my mind has become scattered indeed. Perhaps thinking on (virtual) paper will do me a bit of therapy as well as entertain a handful of folks.
I could also blame my writing intermission on the fact that I studied and sat for the bar exam not once, but twice in the past few years. It had been 15 years since my first bar exam (Oklahoma, which I passed on my first attempt). But nearly 15 years specializing in a highly technical legal field and wholly ignoring ALL of the topics that get tested on the bar exam, I got quite rusty.
Good stewardship – in my way of thinking – required that I be licensed to practice where I live. In my particular line of work I educate attorneys every day, helping them stay current on trends in the law. While my job doesn’t specifically require that I be licensed at all, I considered it a matter of integrity to be a licensed member of the profession I serve.
To my surprise, I also realized that I missed the practice of law. And like medicine, it’s both unethical and illegal to practice law without a license. So I rolled up my sleeves and dedicated many hours to renewed knowledge on contracts, property, torts, constitutional law, criminal law and procedure, and the other matters that get tested.
When a JD is freshly minted, knowledge of those topics is sharp. After all, the bar tests examinees on core subjects to which semesters are dedicated in law school. But the tested material is entirely academic and as I said previously, my entire professional life since 2000 has focused on a narrow niche within the law.
As the JD gets tarnished with the patina of practice – particularly in a subspecialty like mine – it takes much scrubbing of the books and refreshing of the knowledge to succeed once again on the bar exam.
In February 2014 I took the Colorado bar and did… um… not so well. And so I redoubled my efforts and sat again in February 2015. This time I passed with an excellent score, solid enough to be admitted into any of 15 states that accept the form of the bar exam used in Colorado.
I had underestimated the sense of accomplishment I would feel. I’m proud indeed to again be a member of the bar and have begun picking up occasional clients on my own terms. I still do not practice full time, but being licensed in my home state has opened new opportunities for entrepreneurial growth for me.
For those who have followed this blog in years past, I hope that I’m entering a new phase of vigor in thought and in writing. I hope to post back again here soon.