Prophets and priests – not the same

The Jewish priests in the time of the Tabernacle had to use the Urim and Thummim because they could not hear from God themselves. Moses could – all prophets could. Note that Moses was not the high priest – his brother Aaron was. They had separate roles.

They were the “Navi” (the Hebrew word for prophet) – an entirely separate group of people that often lived apart from people, sometimes alone in the wilderness. God could speak at any time, and they had to be ready. It was hard to integrate that task with “real life”. They were not provided for as the priests were. They did not receive the tithe as payment for their services as the priests did.

It is important to note the tithe in the early church was only used to help those in the community who were less fortunate – those who were sick or out of a job, or didn’t have family to help them. It was never intended to pay the salary of a priestly class, as there was not supposed to be such a thing. It was actually forbidden to have priests, as it created a separation in a Body that was meant to be One. We are all meant to be equal like siblings rather than have those who are higher or lower.

Even today, when a prophet hears from God and tells the priest (self-styled, for their authority comes from man and not God) they are ignored along with the message like many prophets in the past were. Of course they are – because the “priests” are incorrectly exercising control over the church. To admit that they are wrong would mean that they must get past their ego and let God be in charge – not them.

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Crazy in the church

“Being considered ‘crazy’ by those who are still victims of cultural conditioning is a compliment” – Jason Hairston

I left a church when the minister thought I was crazy for praying to God and hearing a reply. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that in the three years I’d been a member there, not a single person had talked about hearing from God – including her. God and Jesus were past tense and future tense – not present tense. They weren’t right now. You’d think getting people to feel comfortable talking with God would be the goal of church, but often it isn’t. Often the goal is mute submission to authority.

I remember that even Jesus’ family thought he was crazy, and the religious authorities decided that he was possessed.

(This is from The Condensed Gospel)
When the Pharisees heard about this they said “This man drives out demons with Beelzebub.” Some, to test him, were demanding to see him perform a miracle. Even his own family thought he was crazy.
Jesus knew their thoughts and said “A divided kingdom cannot stand. No one can enter a strong man’s house and steal his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man. Thus, if the king of demons drives out demons he is fighting against himself. How can his kingdom stand then? If I drive out demons by the king of demons who is it that your own people drive them out by? Accuse them of the same thing you accuse me of! Now, if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then this is proof that the kingdom of God has arrived among you. People will be forgiven for whatever they do and whatever they say unless they speak against the Holy Spirit. That is unforgivable. Anyone who is not with me is against me, and scatters rather than gathers.” He said this because they were saying he had an evil spirit in him.
MT 9:32-34, MT 12:22-32, MK 3:20-30, LK 11:14-23, LK 12:10

In John 7:5 we learn that even Jesus’ own brothers didn’t believe in him. They lived with him and knew him well, and they thought he was a crackpot.

If this is how Jesus was treated by his own family, it stands to reason that his followers would be treated likewise, but it is sad that it happens in the church. He even warned his disciples that they would be accused of everything he was, and suffer his fate – but he meant that it was going to come from the religious authorities that they were trying to usurp, not from within the faithful.

“Crazy” is the modern way to silence someone, especially a woman. It is said to discredit or diminish her impact on others. It is used these days in the same way that the accusation of witchcraft was in years past.

If you have been told you are crazy by a church member or minister, leave right away and find people who hear the same voice you hear. You aren’t crazy. The ones you left are, because they can’t hear the One who they say they follow. How can you follow God if you don’t even know God’s voice?

Purification

Remember when Jesus said that the words of the Pharisees were like walking over dead bodies? This is in Luke 11:44 –

“Woe to you! You are like unmarked graves. People walk over you not even knowing that they have become defiled.” (from “Religious Hypocrites Discredited” in the Condensed Gospel rendition.)

(The original reads “Woe to you! You are like unmarked graves; the people who walk over them don’t know it.”)

What does this mean? How bad is it to have contact with a dead body? Pretty bad, it turns out.

The entire 19th chapter of Numbers covers the very difficult process of becoming ritually clean after contact with a dead body. I’ve included it at the end of this post so you can read it for yourself.

This is no simple process – you can’t do it overnight.

Here is the summary –
First, a pure and unblemished red heifer that has never been yoked has to be taken outside of the camp and slaughtered. Then all of it is burned to ash, along with cedar wood, hyssop, and crimson yarn. The ash is mixed with water, and that water is then used to purify the person who was rendered unclean from a dead body.

All along the way, each person involved in the process of creating this substance becomes unclean themselves for various lengths of time. There are four different people who become unclean – the priest, the person who burns the heifer, the person who gathers the ashes, and the person who sprinkles the water on the unclean person. This is a huge inconvenience for each person involved. Being unclean means that you are separated from other people to various degrees.
The person is unclean for seven days, and must be purified with the water on the third and seventh day. If not, he is cut off from Israel forever, and remains perpetually unclean.

It is bad enough when you intentionally become unclean – but terrible when it is unintentional. You are defiled, and you don’t even know. You won’t know that you have to undergo the process to become clean because you don’t even know you are unclean.

What Jesus is saying is that the teachings of the Pharisees are leading people so astray that they are in danger of becoming unclean to the point that they will never be able to be part of the community again. The fact that they don’t even know that they have become defiled means that they don’t have an opportunity to become clean again. He is warning us about false teachers today as well. Always match up whatever any minister tells you with the Word of God to make sure that you don’t get misled.

Numbers 19 (Holman Christian Standard Bible translation)
The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, 2 “This is the legal statute that the Lord has commanded: Instruct the Israelites to bring you an unblemished red cow that has no defect and has never been yoked. 3 Give it to Eleazar the priest, and he will have it brought outside the camp and slaughtered in his presence. 4 Eleazar the priest is to take some of its blood with his finger and sprinkle it seven times toward the front of the tent of meeting. 5 The cow must be burned in his sight. Its hide, flesh, and blood, are to be burned along with its dung. 6 The priest is to take cedar wood, hyssop, and crimson yarn, and throw them onto the fire where the cow is burning. 7 Then the priest must wash his clothes and bathe his body in water; after that he may enter the camp, but he will remain ceremonially unclean until evening. 8 The one who burned the cow must also wash his clothes and bathe his body in water, and he will remain unclean until evening. 9 “A man who is clean is to gather up the cow’s ashes and deposit them outside the camp in a ceremonially clean place. The ashes must be kept by the Israelite community for preparing the water to remove impurity; it is a sin offering. 10 Then the one who gathers up the cow’s ashes must wash his clothes, and he will remain unclean until evening. This is a permanent statute for the Israelites and for the foreigner who resides among them. 11 “The person who touches any human corpse will be unclean for seven days. 12 He is to purify himself with the water on the third day and the seventh day; then he will be clean. But if he does not purify himself on the third and seventh days, he will not be clean. 13 Anyone who touches a body of a person who has died, and does not purify himself, defiles the tabernacle of the Lord. That person will be cut off from Israel. He remains unclean because the water for impurity has not been sprinkled on him, and his uncleanness is still on him. 14 “This is the law when a person dies in a tent: everyone who enters the tent and everyone who is already in the tent will be unclean for seven days, 15 and any open container without a lid tied on it is unclean. 16 Anyone in the open field who touches a person who has been killed by the sword or has died, or who even touches a human bone, or a grave, will be unclean for seven days. 17 For the purification of the unclean person, they are to take some of the ashes of the burnt sin offering, put them in a jar, and add fresh water to them. 18 A person who is clean is to take hyssop, dip it in the water, and sprinkle the tent, all the furnishings, and the people who were there. He is also to sprinkle the one who touched a bone, a grave, a corpse, or a person who had been killed. 19 “The one who is clean is to sprinkle the unclean person on the third day and the seventh day. After he purifies the unclean person on the seventh day, the one being purified must wash his clothes and bathe in water, and he will be clean by evening. 20 But a person who is unclean and does not purify himself, that person will be cut off from the assembly because he has defiled the sanctuary of the Lord. The water for impurity has not been sprinkled on him; he is unclean. 21 This is a permanent statute for them. The person who sprinkles the water for impurity is to wash his clothes, and whoever touches the water for impurity will be unclean until evening. 22 Anything the unclean person touches will become unclean, and anyone who touches it will be unclean until evening.”

How NOT to do Pastoral Care.

There is a lady I know who took the same Pastoral Care class that I did. She is a nurse and goes to church regularly. She is certified as a minister in her church. She isn’t ordained, per se. I thought that she would know how to handle it when I told her some heavy news.

My mother-in-law is now in the hospital. She passed out and hit her head. Just days earlier she found out that her cancer had spread to her lungs. I know that means she has just a few months left.

I don’t want this lady to pray for her to live longer. That isn’t why I started to tell her what was going on. I thought we were friends, and in a way we are. She tells me heavy stuff and good stuff. She tells me about the important things going on in her life. We celebrate together and mourn together. But it really is that I celebrate and mourn with her, about her issues, and she doesn’t return the favor. It isn’t reciprocal.

One thing that you have to remember about Pastoral Care, about mindfully listening to someone while they are in a bad situation, is that it isn’t about you. You aren’t supposed to talk about your situation, or compare, or outclass. You can’t tell the other person a story of how it is worse for you or someone you know. That kind of “perspective” isn’t helpful and it isn’t kind. It is the exact opposite of what is necessary.

What is necessary is just listening, and I mean really listening fully. Not being distracted, not trying to leave, not looking around at your phone or watch. You can ask the other person how they feel about it, and you can say “Gosh that has to be hard” but that is about all you are allowed to say.

They just need a safe person to talk to – one who can handle this information in a way that is healthy for both people. A good listener is like Houdini once he had prepared. He could warm up his stomach muscles in just such a way and then anybody could punch him in the stomach as hard as they wanted and he’d be fine. He had trained himself how to do this. A good listener does the same. If they aren’t ready for it, a hard story can destroy them, so they have to train to be able to receive it. Taking a pastoral care class is part of this training.

I should have known better when I first started talking to her yesterday. Just after I reminded her that my mother in law has pancreatic cancer (not a pushover kind of cancer), she turned away and made some (unrelated) joke to the instructor of the class we were in. I felt slighted, but I decided to give her another chance.

When she turned back to me, I kept on with the story. I’m a bit torn about what to do because of the history of physical and mental abuse she allowed in her house. It is my father in law’s fault that the abuse happened, but it is her fault that it continued. They were both very immature when they got married. They are both still immature now, and they are in their 70s.

So some of the issue that I’m dealing with is how much are we supposed to get involved in this situation. You reap what you sow, right? But as a Christian, I’m supposed to forgive, right?

I just feel like if I pretend nothing happened, then I’m doing the same thing she did. I’m saying that it was OK. And it isn’t OK. Abuse is never OK, whether you are the one doing it or you are the one allowing it. By allowing it, you are sanctioning it.

So this lady, this minister, this person who has taken the same class I have and should know better, she starts telling me a story. Now, it isn’t a story about her, but it isn’t a helpful story. It isn’t enlightening, and it isn’t useful. It doesn’t tell me a way to deal with this situation. It actually makes me feel worse.

(Trigger warning)
(I didn’t get this warning when I got this story)
(Such is life)
It was a story about a couple that she knew in a nursing home. Both husband and wife were in separate rooms, and it was for a terrible reason. The husband was abusing his wife, sexually, and their children were OK with it. “She’s his wife” they’d say, as if that excuses rape.

(Warning over)

She went on and on with her story and I felt trapped. Finally it stopped and there was some silence. I digested this, still not knowing what to do about the situation I brought up, and feeling worse because of the story she told. Helpless. Raw. Frustrated. Dirty.

I digested this story and knew that my boundaries had been violated. I told her that I can’t handle those kinds of stories, and she apologized. She said she was a nurse and terrible things happen around and to nurses all the time.

She proceeded to tell me some of the horrible things that have happened. It got graphic.

Somehow her apology ended up being even worse than the reason for the apology.

She didn’t see the error of her way – she didn’t get that telling that kind of story to anybody isn’t a great idea. It is especially a bad idea if the person is experiencing a problem.

I can handle it. I’m pretty strong, emotionally. I’ve learned a lot about boundaries. I wonder about anybody else she might “help”, and how they will react.

I now know that I can’t trust her with anything heavy.
She’ll drop it on me.

The purpose of taking a pastoral care class, in fact, the purpose of being a minister, is to learn how to help people. It isn’t to carry someone else’s burdens for them. It is to carry them with them for a little while. When you do that, you make it a bit easier for them to see what they are supposed to do. When you do that, you give them a little breathing room.

You are never supposed to add to their burden.

Words

I kept using the word “crazy” to define myself when I was with my spiritual director. She knows my history with bipolar disorder. She knows I hear from God. She, unlike my former minister, doesn’t freak out when I say that. She doesn’t like it however when I say I’m crazy. She thinks my difference is a gift. She thinks that God made me this way on purpose, that it isn’t an accident and it isn’t a handicap.

She asked me recently to ask Jesus what words he would use to describe me. When I did, instantly I got back these two words:

Anointed. Chosen.

My reaction to this? That again? You have to be talking to someone else. Nobody is going to believe me.

Then I think of Moses, arguing with God. He didn’t want it either. He kept trying to get out of it. Moses was one guy, untrained, with a speech impediment. God told him to go in front of the most powerful person in the world at the time and ask him to free thousands of people. God was asking him to liberate people from a tyrant.

With no army.
With no diplomatic skills.
With nothing, except the word of God.

God called to Moses from a burning bush. He didn’t send an angel. This was a bush on fire, yet it wasn’t being consumed by the fire. Sounds like a hallucination.

It all sounds crazy, right? Yet it happened. Why can’t something like that happen now? Why wouldn’t it? If we believe in an active and living God, then we have to believe that God still talks to people.

Why does God call amateurs? Why not call the experts? If God keeps working through the amateurs, why become an expert? What is the point of becoming ordained? If “God doesn’t call the equipped, he equips the called” as is frequently said, then it means the call is more important than the preparation.

God made the waves part for the Israelites to escape from the Egyptians. God made water come from a rock when they were thirsty. God made bread for them too.

Blessed are you God, who makes bread come from the earth. This Jewish prayer said at every meal where bread is served. It is a reminder of the manna from heaven. It is a reminder that God provides for us all the time. We didn’t buy or bake that bread. God gave us the ability to buy it or bake it. God made the grain grow from the earth. Sure, somebody planted it. But God made it happen.

If by my faith I am healed as Jesus says throughout the Gospels to people, then I want to believe that God has called me. I want to believe that I’m not making this up. I want to believe that the voice I hear is God’s voice. I want to believe that it is real.

Jesus tells us in Matthew 4:4 that man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from God.

Now, Jesus is the bread of life, and the Word.

When my spiritual director tells me I am amazing and special, I think that she tells that to everyone she directs.

Sure I’m special. And different and unique. I stress that to everybody how special they are and that they should celebrate their uniqueness. And then I have a very hard time fully believing it myself.

Perhaps my hesitancy is part of it all. Perhaps God needs me to be certain of my call. It has taken me a lot to tell ministers of the call I first heard when I was 12. It took me a lot of self convincing before I even told a minister. I had to convince myself first. There were a lot of walls that had to be overcome in my own heart first.

Why not believe that Jesus has made a home in my heart? Why not believe that I am called to build a new church?

What is the danger of believing this?

Embarrassing the church. Leading people away from the truth. Having them be mislead. Like David Koresh. Like Jim Jones.

Going so far that I am discredited, that the message is not heard.

But, then I think, if the message is from God, it will get out. If it really is of God, it will happen.

I ask to not get in the way, and to be the way. It is both at the same time. God made me the way he made me because he needs me this way.

My diagnosis means I am mindful and careful. It means I ask for guidance and for oversight. It means also that I self limit. This is good and bad.

I’m still upset that the place I asked for training and oversight didn’t know how to handle me. But then again if I am to do something new, I can’t follow an old pattern.

New wine, old wineskin, and all that.

Can I get an Amen?

I just read a news report about a pastor in Arizona who says that women shouldn’t even say “Amen” in church. He’s using the words of Paul in the first book of Corinthians to justify this.

In 1 Cor. 14:34-35, Paul says “…34 the women should be silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak, but should be submissive, as the law also says. 35 And if they want to learn something, they should ask their own husbands at home, for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church meeting.”

Once again, we see an example of someone who is a Paulian and not a Christian. Once again we see a pastor who isn’t spreading the Gospel. Once again we read a news report about someone who is making it hard to identify as Christian.

We have to distinguish between the words of Paul and the words of Jesus if we say we are Christians. Paul’s words are diluted. Jesus’ words are distilled. Jesus’ words are the very essence of love. Paul’s, not so much. Paul’s words are filtered through a very human person, a product of his time. Jesus’ words are filtered through someone whose words transcend time itself.

We don’t worship Paul. So why do people take his words as the Gospel, or as truth?

Jesus came to bring heaven to earth, not to bring us hell.

All bad reports about bad pastors just obscure the stories about the good ones. It is bad witness. We are fed trash by the news agencies and mislead. Why can’t “news” be good news instead of all bad? I feel like I’m constantly having to do damage control.

I will not defend Christianity. But I will defend Christ. The two aren’t the same at all. They were meant to be, and for some people they are. For some people who live the Word and have Jesus in their hearts, the two are the same. But for many, they aren’t.

Jesus says – 21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. (Matthew 7:21-23)

Jesus says – 15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? 17 Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Therefore by their fruits you will know them. (Matthew 7:15-20)

Jesus says – “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. 5 “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. 7 If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. 8 By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples. (John 15:1-8)

Jesus is love. We have to be too. If what someone who says they are Christian does isn’t loving, then they aren’t connected to the source of love, which is Jesus. Just because they say they are Christian doesn’t mean they are. Look at what they do.

Church refugee. On circle, and communion.

I’ve met so many refugees from church recently. We are starting to find each other. We are all people who went to church for many years because we love Jesus. We left church because we weren’t finding him there.

So many of us feel hurt by church. We were made fun of or silenced. We were mocked for our gifts and talents. It seems that all we were wanted for was our money. We were expected to sit down and shut up and listen to the minister and pay our tithes and then go home and be equally passive. If we read the Bible for ourselves and asked questions we were discouraged. We knew in our hearts that this wasn’t right. We knew that God wanted more of us.

We tried to make it work in church. We volunteered for more activities. We were on committees. We were in several different groups. We were active. We were the first at the church and the last to leave on Sunday morning.

But it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t enough for us, and it wasn’t enough for God. We were trying to make it work.

So we left. Some of us left the churches we’d put a lot of time and money into. Some of us left the churches that we were raised in, that our families still go to.

Several of us have found each other in a circle gathering. We share time together, and we are honest and open. Each person gets to talk, and every person listens. This is so different from church as we know it.

But for me, there is one thing missing. We don’t invite Jesus into it.

This isn’t an interfaith gathering. We are refugees from church, remember? We are people who left church because we couldn’t find Jesus there. While many of us think that Buddha and Rumi are enlightened beings and we like to share their quotes, we are still afraid in these gatherings to invite Jesus into it.

Why is this? Have we thrown out the baby with the bathwater? Are we afraid to bring Jesus into our circle because we associate Jesus with the people we left? If people are hateful, they don’t have Jesus. If there is love, then Jesus is there. If there was love at our last church, we would have stayed.

We left because we felt undervalued, underappreciated. We left because we were silenced. We left because we knew that the car that is church was going off the road and to stay in it would have meant we were going to go off the cliff with it. We left because we’d rather walk towards what is right than go quickly towards what isn’t.

So while we are reevaluating what church is, what community is, we aren’t taking the Guide along with us. We aren’t inviting Jesus into our circle, into our hearts.

I’m considering hosting my own circle, and I want to have communion. From all I’ve read of the words of Jesus and from my personal prayer time I’ve realized that you don’t have to be ordained to do this. That is yet another method of controlling people. Jesus didn’t create the institution of priests. Jesus did away with all of that and gave the power to everybody, with no distinctions. Jesus made us all equal.

I’m learning more and more about Judaism, and it is amazing how diluted the Christian communion service is. It is simply a Sabbath meal at the dinner table. It has been boiled down to the bread and the wine. There are two candlesticks as well. The chalice and the paten are the Kiddush cup and the saucer. It is like Christians are playing house. The congregation doesn’t know about the Jewish roots of this ritual.

I’m thinking about making it as inclusive as possible – having kosher grape juice and gluten-free matzo. While I’d love to serve actual wine, it isn’t fair to exclude those people who are in recovery. While I’d love to serve challah, the bread that is served at the Sabbath meal, it isn’t fair to those who are gluten intolerant. And while some churches will have a separate line for those people who are gluten intolerant, and tell those in recovery to let the cup pass them by – that isn’t fair. We all need to share the same bread and wine. When you exclude someone, you are saying they aren’t the same. When someone has to exclude themselves for health reasons, they are making themselves stick out. If the elements of the meal are safe for everybody, then everybody is welcome and everybody is equal.

And that is really important.