Saturday, October 22, 2011

The parable of the talents

When I spoke at Tribe L.A. I mentioned that I believed this parable was very misunderstood by most of modern traditional christian teaching. Ched Myers introduced me to a different way to read this passage, and I will develop the reasons why I believe it is correct as we go. It is found in the 25th chapter of Matthew, and also in Luke but we will look at the Matthew passage today.

Matthew 25
The Parable of the Talents
14 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them. 15 And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability; and immediately he went on a journey. 16 Then he who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and made another five talents. 17 And likewise he who had received two gained two more also. 18 But he who had received one went and dug in the ground, and hid his lord’s money. 19 After a long time the lord of those servants came and settled accounts with them.
20 “So he who had received five talents came and brought five other talents, saying, ‘Lord, you delivered to me five talents; look, I have gained five more talents besides them.’ 21 His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’ 22 He also who had received two talents came and said, ‘Lord, you delivered to me two talents; look, I have gained two more talents besides them.’ 23 His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’
24 “Then he who had received the one talent came and said, ‘Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 And I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground. Look, there you have what is yours.’
26 “But his lord answered and said to him, ‘You wicked and lazy servant, you knew that I reap where I have not sown, and gather where I have not scattered seed. 27 So you ought to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I would have received back my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him, and give it to him who has ten talents.
29 ‘For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away. 30 And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Now the standard reading of this passage goes like this:  God gives you gifts whether they be speaking, or music, or sowing, or making money.  You are to use these gifts to the best of your ability... for God, and if you don't, God will throw you out into outer darkness.  Of course these points must be nuanced, and danced around, especially the idea of you will be judged by what you do, as modern Christianity has tended to adopt an almost gnostic love of what you believe or know, rather than what you do here on earth.  In these dances we say... well what that means is each person is given a certain amount of faith, but if you don't use that faith blah blah blah.

Now, I am already getting negative. Please bear with me.  Though I agree with the idea that we should make the most of what we are given... I do not believe that is the point of the teaching.  And if it was, it would not be a parable.  You see a parable is not a children's story to teach us morals using quaint images.  A parable is a device used to violently yank us out of our cultural stupor, or powerfully confront our positions of power, by slipping through our defenses.  Like Nathan saying to David, "Thou art the man" parables are supposed to confront either power, or culture.  A traditional reading of this does neither. It reinforces the culture we live in.  In fact, it does so in a very diabolical way if we look beyond the surface.

In this parable we see that people are judged on their ability to make a profit... for an absentee landlord.  We see that those that make a profit get an ever larger share, to make a profit for the landlord but never actually share in the profit, thought they do get to "share in the joy of their master". They stay slaves, they are never freed, and are always judged by their ability to make more and more for their master.  This holds up the status quo, it continues a system and structure that is there.  How is this a parable of good news? of liberation? of the kingdom of God?

But if we look a bit further, we will see that this is indeed a parable.  Our problem is we get the roles turned around.  Specifically the role of the master.  We have been conditioned to believe that the master is always God, but there are many masters in this world, including Satan, the domination spirit that rules the entire world.  Lets look at the parable closer:

The slave who is cast out says some things that are confirmed by the master, the master is...

mean, or hard

he reaps where he does not sow (which we call theft)

he gathers where he did not sow seed (which we also call theft, or occupation)

in addition we see a couple of other things

these other slaves were praised for using money to make a hundred percent profit?  even in this day that would be considered unsavory, but how did they do it back in the day this was written?  the only way was by lending and foreclosing on properties and then selling them at profit,  A practice that basically made all of judea either abjectly poor, or extremely wealthy

the master says that the slave could have put the money in a bank for interest.  But the Jewish people were commanded not to take interest from each other.  So how does this Jewish God say to take interest?

And finally, how does this story fit the life of Jesus? 

So what does this story really say?  It says this in my opinion.  That the lords and masters of this world, the corporations, the governments, the banks ect. expect those under them to work hard, to maximize profits for them.  Though they steal, and defraud, and do whatever it takes to make themselves fat and happy, the best they can offer you is that you will be a slave that can "party with" the boss once and a while if you make some good profit for them.  But if you decide not to play that game, to take this money of empire and plant it in the ground and see what organically comes from it, if you only give back what is given to you.  You will be called wicked, and lazy, and cast out into darkness.  Which is what happens to Jesus.  He faces all of that darkness on Golgotha.  Which is what we are called to, when He says pick up your cross and follow me.  We are called to stand against fraudulent, thieving, mean masters, seeking only their own profit.  We are called to concern ourselves with a different agenda than propping up their empire, (as we read in the very next parable, we are to care for those others that are not "profitable to empire").  And we are called to stand against the fear that grips us, as we await our ostracizing.  We are called to pick up our cross, and follow Jesus


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Christendom has abandoned Christ!

There are many voices calling out in the market place of Christian ideas.  There are many different narratives.  But by and large the megalithic power that can be called Christendom has abandoned its supposed creator.  We have opted out of the radical, revolutionary lifestyle that this crazed prophet and messiah called us to.  And have adopted a cultural niceness.  We have embraced an economy of me first, and maybe some left overs for the deserving poor.  We have clung to a doctrine of grace that gives us pithy phrases to recite in order to go to heaven when we die, or better yet get raptured out of this mess. We have created a politic of defense against everything that may be unpleasant.

But this Christ we say is at the center of who we are, who we are meant to be and who is the resurrection of us here and now... well this Christ was not known for his stance against illegal immigration, his stance against public health care, against gay marriage.  This Christ was not known for his pro death penalty stance, his pro war stance, his pro capitalism stance.  This Christ we say is our Lord, Savior, Redeemer and ultimately the one we follow, practiced radical inclusive love towards those deserving and undeserving.  This Christ cared for the poor, and chastised the rich.  This Christ loved and spent time with the heretical Samaritans, but condemned the religious leaders and theologians of the orthodoxy.  This Christ saved the sinner from condemnation, and did not condemn.  This Christ taught us how to resist oppression by not cowering, but not fighting either.  This Christ included women in his entourage, and was born of questionable circumstances, and condemned those that were holiest.  This Christ included in his friends the despised, the working class, the traitor. 

We have abandoned Christ, but no bother, we have built another Christ, in our own nationalist, materialistic, and gnostic image.  And we bow down to this new Christ amidst wonderfully hip music, and great preaching, and rituals, just like the Israelites bowed to a calf of gold...

But God was not pleased with that


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

the hold of empire

As we sat on the lawn with the shining beacon of capitalism shining a glowing red Wells Fargo, and the general assembly meeting of Occupy Long Beach to the other side, we opened the bible with our house church, and a homeless Christian man who had joined us.

I shared a parable that has been for years a staple of the subverted churches diet.  A parable that we have turned into a nice story that says, work hard and make the most of what you have and God will love you but if you don't God will cast you our into outer darkness you lazy slave.

But this couldn't be further from the lesson of the parable.  The parable teaches us what happens when we refuse to play by the rules of the empire.  When we refuse to continue to be slaves to profiteering bosses and banks, and multinational corporations.  What happens when we say, no, I wont play that game anymore.  I mean God can't be the master that admits himself that he is mean, steals, collects interest and does not show grace but judges on what you have done for me lately could he?

And the man, crushed by the system, having lost his home, seeing the truth in all of this...

goes back to, "well God gives us each a talent, and each of us need to use that talent for one another"

Which is true, but it isn't a parable

the hold of empire


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Started a new diet, and I am a bit worn out

Isn't it interesting that when you do something good for your body... your body rebels at first.  I started a very healthy diet, aimed at lowering my body fat, blood pressure and cholesterol.  I know from past experience that this diet is very helpful for me, and last time I was on it I felt great... eventually.  I lost weight, and my blood pressure and cholesterol levels plummeted.

But man the first week is horrible.  I feel like shit. 

So who cares?  Probably not many people, but I was just thinking that often when we do good things, it is hard, and hurts, and makes us miserable

until it becomes a healthy lifestyle.  Then its great. 


Friday, October 07, 2011

As long as you don't love money you can have all you want (and other bullshit)

Stupid things we try and believe:

Its the love of money that is the problem, so if you don't love money you can have as much as you want

Sure we are supposed to love our enemies, but that doesn't mean we don't need to kill them sometimes

Jesus was really hard on the church leaders and religious folk, but we aren't like them, we are like the disciples

Despite Jesus giving the scribes a hard time, he really wants all of our doctrine to be perfect, which is way more important than actually doing what he said and did

When Jesus said to follow him, he didn't mean literally, he meant to believe in him so we could go to heaven

Got any more?


Thursday, October 06, 2011

What is the "sin" of our age?

Well I have a few thoughts on this.  The first is what is the sin of the church?  The second is what is the sin of our world?

Our first voice should always be to ourselves.  Though I would agree that the sin of the world is completely alive and well in the church, I believe that it is a deeper sin that helps that to happen.

In my opinion, the sin of the church is the sin of coveting.  What the church has done, is it has coveted the power, the riches, the status, the relevance and the style of the world.  We have, like ancient Israel said, "give us ______ so that we might be like other nations (companies, corporations, movements ect).  We covet the success and efficiency of the world, and we desire to emulate it.  We establish brands, sell discontentment, and are the slaves of advertising.  When we stand on the scriptures we do so in a way that helps us to control those under us, and create a competitive drive that will compel the troops to victory in our (sorry Jesus') name.

The church must look at our sin, and repent.  We are meant to be a different, separate, alternative, not a christianized version of the same thing.

What is the sin of the World?  Well in my mind, it is the sin of the ages.  Lust for domination.  In our world however this lust is more tied to economic greed, and consumerism, than at any time in history.  Lust for money and power are the cause of war.  They are the cause of screwed up self image.  They are the cause of wage slavery, dept slavery and sexual slavery.  The love of money and profit has caused the destruction of our environment, and even own bodies.  The love of money is indeed at the root of all evil.

So what should we do?  As the church, or even as concerned citizens of the world, what should we do?

Well, in my opinion, we should not stop saying, "this is wrong and needs to change"  But we should also begin experimenting with ways of life, and economy that are different, life giving and just.  We should live an alternative to the me first ethic, we should be concerned, informed and compassionate as communities.

I do not have the answers, but I do have the questions, and am committed to trying to figure it out in action rather than theory.


Wednesday, October 05, 2011

A practical way to move forward economically

The march and occupation of Wall Street has created a talking point for many of us.  I have friends from many different walks of life, and different economic belief systems, and everyone has an opinion on how things should be fixed, whether the protest is ill informed or a ground swell of grass roots call for change. 

I have my own opinions, but what I would rather have is a plan.  You see, it makes much more sense to me, to actually live a different reality, than to put too much effort into changing someone else.  That doesn't mean we aren't to turn over the tables, and make a statement.  Not at all.  But if we aren't demonstrating an alternative, we are just malcontents, not prophets.

Over the next few weeks my family and I, and those in our community are going to be exploring how we can go further in our pursuit of living out the economy of God.  We will be using Ched Myer's book Sabbath Economics as a guide.  If anyone wants to go on this journey with us, lets talk.


Tuesday, October 04, 2011

But did the disciples have evangelical theology?

The truth is even after the Holy Spirit fell on them I don't think the disciples had good evangelical theology.  They certainly weren't dispensational.  They would not have understood the trinity, hell I don't know that any of us really do.  They would probably not have understood atonement theory, had a proper view of eschatology, or ecclessiology. I don't think they would have understood soteriology in either a Calvinist or a Aminian way.   We see Peter, the recognized leader of the church even practicing racism.  We see the church practicing communism.  We see them still attending the temple!  They did not have their theology together.

What did they have?  They had an understanding of what it meant to live the way Jesus lived, and an understanding of Jesus as the Messiah.  And that was enough to not only found the church, but to turn the world upside down.

Perhaps in our pursuit of truth, we should be pursuing the truth in action as much if not more than the truth in our head.


Monday, October 03, 2011

Last night I spoke at Tribe L A (about perception)

Last night I spoke at Tribe L A.  They asked me to just share whatever was on my heart.  Well, what was on my heart, was to share this story about meeting Jesus on the train.  And to talk about perception.

In Mattew 25 Jesus says that in the great judgement at the end of days, people will be judged not on their theology, but on how they treat those that are poor, oppressed and marginalized.  But Jesus does an interesting thing, he confronts our perceptions. 

There are so many people that don't really care about helping others.  That only look out for themselves.  But the vast majority actually do believe in helping those that deserve it.  The deserving poor, should be helped.  Those that fell through the cracks, or are experiencing problems not of their own making.  If our perception is that they deserve help we will help.

But what if they don't "deserve" help.  What if they are poor because of their own issues, their own bad decisions?  Why should we help those people?

Well Jesus changes our perception.  Jesus doesn't allow us to view from deserving, or undeserving, but makes us view things based on our view of Him.  We are called to recognize in each and every person, the presence of Christ.  Each and every person, is where God and heaven touches earth.  And how we respond to these people, is the truth of our faith.  How you treat these least of these, is how you actually are treating God in flesh.

Perception is the key, and Christ changes our perception