Thursday, January 30, 2014

Random Thought

So often, I assume that you (Yes, "you", my dear reader -- I'm not vaguebooking about any particular someone here; I'm talking to YOU, whoever you may be)... But that's a lot of explanation, and I digress.

Start again.

So often, I assume that you have an agenda. And worse, I assume I know what that agenda is.

What makes this so horrible is that sometimes (only sometimes!) I'm actually right.So then I think I'm right the rest of the time, too, when I am more often than not horribly, horribly wrong.

As part of "growing up", we have to both learn to set boundaries where they are needed, and also to tear them down where they don't belong. Both tasks have the potential to make quite a mess of things.

Too often, I set my boundaries by filtering my horribly flawed, judgmental, and blind assumptions about your character, person, and agenda through the matrix of my broken, limited, and chaotic passions and desires, coupled with my illogical thought patterns (or -- possibly worse -- my extremely logical thought patterns), and thus love withers, hate is born of fear, and out of the evil of my heart flows loneliness, isolation, destruction, and pain for myself and those around me.

And then, searching for a salve, I attempt to justify this reviled river of refuse with utterly revolting, self-righteous rants. Platitudinous monstrosities!

As a result, you rightly avoid me, at best, either in body or in spirit.

I say "at best". Worse still, perhaps my malady -- being extremely contagious -- makes its way into your own heart!?

And so the cycle continues, feeding on itself, nourished by my -- and now your -- loneliness and fear and sickness, multiplying until the entire world is one giant seething mass of hate and bitterness and loathing and envy and jealousy -- of both self and others. Until murders and gossip and lies flow like water, and the earth itself groans to be delivered from our presence.

I need, rather, to humble myself, to refrain from the delusion that I know anything at all; I don't! Forgive me for imagining I do.

And so I strive to live life with no assumptions about anybody's motives, no judgments about their character, not even (especially not!) in my secret heart of hearts, where these kinds of demons often lurk.

I don't always succeed at this goal. More often than not, I find myself assuming things I have no right to assume, judging things I have no right to judge, pronouncing proclamations I have no right to proclaim.

Forgive me. Or don't. I still love you.

Or at least I'm learning to. 

Friday, January 10, 2014

On the consumption of alcohol: followup

Recently, I got into a discussion of this topic on a Facebook thread, and I brought up Deut. 14:26.

One of the participants replied that it was almost a dare by God, to keep them from drinking at home during the rest of the year, so they could be consistent in public with who they were at home.  This is an interpretation of the command as one fundamentally based on fear of embarrassment and judgment by their fellows.

To this, I simply replied:
I think the "and thou shalt rejoice, thou, and thine household" is sufficient to show that there is no fear intended in the command, no judgment, but a rejoicing, a celebration.
This is consistent with what Kyle is pointing out above, and with the Psalm that says, "You will show me the path of life: in your presence is fullness of joy; at your right hand there are pleasures forevermore."
One of the people replied that it was an exception to the rule.  To which I replied:
I'm not sure how you get that Deut. 14:26 is an "exception to the rule". We are trying to figure out what "the rule" (if there is one) even is. You can't assert a rule, then go looking for proof texts, "excepting" those verses that disagree with your a priori assertion. 
You attempt to contrast those who consume wine as being over and against those who act like royalty, by pulling in a highly poetic verse from a passage whose point isn't even about wine per se, and connecting it to Christians via I Pet. 2:9 (Rev. 1:6 being a doxology based on the same truth expressed in I Pet. 2:9). 
However, this particular weaving of these verses is shown to be an error by the following consideration, namely: 
I Pet. 2:9 is a quote of (or at least a very heavy allusion to) Ex. 19:5 & 6, which was addressed to -- you guessed it, the exact same people God is commanding in Deut. 14:26 to express the highest expression of their love and gratitude by having a party that explicitly includes wine and strong drink. 
So if God commands His "kingdom of priests" (Ex. 19:5, 6) to drink wine and strong drink if they want to, and this at one of the most important of the festivals He commanded, and we are heirs to that same kingdom (I Pet. 2:9, Rev. 1:6), then it hardly stands to reason that God gives a directly contradictory command in Prov. 31:4 to that same kingdom, for God is not the author of confusion. 
At _best_ all we can take away from all of this is that whether the consumption of wine is appropriate or not for any Christian is a case-by-case decision, to be made by said Christian in the context of whatever situation the question arises. 
But you cannot assert a "rule" where there is none. 
The only "rule" is, "walk in the Spirit, and you will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh", and "love the LORD your God....and love your neighbor as yourself", and "judge not, lest ye be judged".
Let me give you an example of what I'm talking about, by two stories. 
When I was the pianist at Hopewell Baptist Church in Napa, CA (wine capitol of the world), I also occasionally volunteered to take a group of other volunteers to minister to the shut-ins at various senior care facilities in the area. 
One time, we were visiting a smaller facility with more of a "family feel" to it, and our gracious hosts decided to give us a gift of a couple of bottles of excellent wine. They presented this gift to me as the leader of the group, in front of God and everybody. 
To accept the gift without comment or question was the only loving thing to do, with regard to our hosts. However, given the attitude of the members of Hopewell, commensurate with the official teaching of that church on the subject (that wine is completely verboten to Christians), I knew I could not accept the gift, lest I scandalize those with me, which would also not be very loving. 
Quite the dilemma. 
So, I said a little prayer asking for help and direction, and immediately, the answer came to me.... 
Naturally, I accepted the gift with a large smile and a loving heart, being truly grateful to our hosts for their generosity. 
(Of course, those with me were giving me the strangest looks, but at least had the wherewithal to keep their mouths shut about it until we got outside.) 
Once we got outside, I took our group to a point on the other side of our cars, where our hosts could not see us, opened the bottles, and poured them out there on the ground, intending it as and proclaiming it to be an offering to the Lord, like David poured out the water from the well of Bethlehem. 
Do I now think that it would be OK to take those bottles home, or even to drink them there, rejoicing in God's good gifts? Well yes, if those with me would not have been scandalized, or if I had been by myself. 
However, walking in the Spirit, I did not fulfill my own desires, but the needs of those with me, both of our hosts and my fellow workers. 
Fast forward a few years. At this next point, I was beginning my journey into the Orthodox Church, and I had (separately from that journey) come to the understanding of this topic that I hold now: that the consumption of alcohol is not in itself a sin, but can be, depending on several factors. 
I had not, however, actually drank anything up to this point in my life, as I was still in bondage in my heart (although not my head, as I said above) to the fear-mongering on the topic that I had been raised with. 
Now, I had been invited to a graduation party for one of our church members' kids (one from high school, the other from college), and I decided to attend. 
I showed up at the party, and immediately the celebrants' younger brother (about 10 at the time) asks me, "Steve! Do you want a beer?" Feeling some trepidation for the above-mentioned reasons, and not wanting to disappoint him (he seemed so excited to be playing host...), I said, "Well, let's see what you've got." 
He showed me, and I selected one. However, I was not sure whether I was going to drink it or not, not being entirely sure of whether everyone but our hosts might be scandalized or not. I was planning on setting it down discreetly and getting some water or soda, if I thought they might be. 
Imagine, of course, my relief when I walk out on the patio and see nearly all of the adults with either a beer or some wine -- and the pastor himself holding (and, upon observation, drinking from) a beer as well! 
So I said, "Thank you, Lord, for all your blessings and good things, including wine, which makes glad the heart of man." 
And I rejoiced there with them, praising God for His goodness in allowing them to accomplish their studies to completion. 
So you can see, hopefully, that the key, the "rule", if there is one, is this: Love the LORD your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. 
Outside of this, there is no law.