“The Good Ship Jesus”

Slave Ship Jesus

 

One of the most popular church songs during my teen years had these lyrics:

“Jesus, Jesus, Jesus; there’s just something about that name.”

Master, Savior, Jesus; like the fragrance after the rain…”

The song was one of the hundreds of holy hits put out by the Gaithers – sung in churches all through the South.

The song reminded us of many attributes of Jesus.

Jesus:  Love, kindness, justice, gentleness, humility.  These are the words that come to my mind when I think of Jesus.

But how about these words?

Jesus:  Horror, suffering, injustice, slavery, torture.

The name of the first slave ship to kidnap Black Folks and take them to America was…are you ready?

“The Good Ship Jesus”

Yep, there was a slave ship named “Jesus.”  A place of suffering, injustice, slavery and torture, named after Jesus.

“The Good Ship Jesus” was captained by Sir John Hawkins.  Hawkins was considered to be a “religious gentleman” who insisted that his crew “serve God daily” and “love another.”  Worship services were held on board twice a day.

I’m pulling out my hair, right now.

A “religious gentleman”?

“Serve God” by enslaving people?

“Love another” except people of another race, I guess.

That was 1562.

Let’s move forward 300 years and look at and listen to Frederick Douglass – America’s most famous abolitionist.  According to an article in the January/February 2018 issue of Christianity Today, Douglass escaped slavery when he was 20.  Standing on the banks of the Chesapeake Bay one Sunday morning he cried out, “I am left in the hottest hell of unending slavery. O God save me!”

“I will run away…God helping me, I will.”  He did.

Douglass settled in Bedford, Massachusetts.  In 1841 he became a lecturer for the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society.  His assignment was to convince the American public of the immorality of slavery and the necessity of the anti-slavery cause. Douglass had a catchphrase.  You know, a catch-phrase is a well-known statement or phrase from a famous person or character, like these:

Harry Carry – “Holy Cow!”

Jack Buck – “That’s a Winner!”

The Terminator – “I’ll be Back.”

Han Solo – “May the Force Be With You”

Sheriff Brody in Jaws – “You’re Gonna Need a Bigger Boat”

Here is Douglass’ catch-phrase – a line he repeated in almost every address:

“Between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible differences.”

In the Appendix of his autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Douglass condemned “corrupt, slaveholding women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity.”

Quoting from the Christianity Today article, “As Douglass knew from direct experience, the cruelest slaveholders were also often the most ardent church goers. ‘The man who wields the blood-clotted cowskin during the week fills the pulpit on Sunday, and claims to be a minister of the meek and lowly Jesus.’”

Douglass continues with words that break my heart, “The slave auctioneer’s bell and the church-going bell chime in with each other, and the bitter cries of the heart-broken slave are drowned in the religious shouts of his pious master…The slaveholder…covers his infernal business with the garb of Christianity.”

Douglass lays it out there pretty plainly doesn’t he?

Here’s our “come to Jesus” moment:

What “infernal business” are we covering with the “garb of Christianity”?

Is there a difference between our Christianity and the Christianity of Christ?

What are we doing that Jesus wouldn’t do?

What are we doing to which Jesus would never attach his name?

I’m pretty sure Jesus would not want a slave ship to be named after him.

How did people in the past, who called themselves “Christians,” do things that, today, we so easily and readily recognize are nothing like Jesus?  Is anyone else besides me asking, “How could they have done that?!”

What things are we doing today, that people in the future will so easily and readily recognize are nothing like Jesus? Will someone in the future ask about us, “How could they have done that?!”

Jesus gave us some pretty good guidelines, which if followed, will keep us from today’s version of naming a slave ship after Him.

“Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

“As you have done it unto the least of these, you have done it unto me.”

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. And love your neighbor as yourself. Do this and you will live.”

“Do not neglect the weightier matters of justice, mercy and faith.”

“Love one another as I have loved you.”

“…he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor…to set the oppressed free…”

So, by our lives, by our values, by our words and actions, what characteristics do people who know us attach to the name of Jesus?

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Karma and the DMV

patricia_belcher_geico-1

I had a great time at the DMV this week.  Yes, you read that correctly.  I had a great time at the DMV this week.

“Great time” and the DMV don’t usually go together.

Frustration and the DMV

Irritation and the DMV

Annoyance and the DMV

Time Vacuum and the DMV

But not “Great Time” and the DMV.

I was late, by 8 months, in renewing the tags on my 1973 VW Super Beetle.  I know.  I feel ashamed.  I was prepared for a big fine and a big lecture – or at least a condescending look.

On top of being late, when I handed my insurance document to the DMV clerk, she informed me that It was missing the VW’s VIN.  Rats!!! Maxwell the Geico pig in the above pic, had all the pertinents.  I didn’t.  I knew what that meant.    No renewal tags for me.  Time wasted.  Frustration. Irritation.

I had a choice.  How will I respond?  I thought before I spoke – which doesn’t happen a lot!

I have been studying “Karma.”   I know, a lot of Christians blow a Bible gasket when karma is mentioned.  I’m not sure why.  Maybe it’s because the word comes from faith expressions they think as wrong.  But is it wrong?

Karma means action.  It’s the old, “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction” law of Newton.

“Karma” is defined by Urban Dictionary as “getting what you give” or “reaping what you sow.”  Whoa.  Urban Dictionary is using the Bible to define karma.  Hmmmm.

“Do not be deceived:  God cannot be mocked.  A man reaps what he sows.  Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the spirit, from the spirit will reap eternal life.  Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.  Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Galatians 6:7-10).

“Do not judge others, and you will not be judged.  Do not condemn others, or it will all come back against you.  Forgive others, and you will be forgiven (Luke 6:37).  

And then, the part of this passage that most preachers read right before the offering, while skipping the most convicting part above:

“Give and it will be given to you.  A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap.  For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Luke 6:38).  

Jesus applies the “karma” principle to how we treat people.  How we treat others is how we’ll be treated.  I tried it at the DMV.

“Thank you for being so thorough,” I told the clerk.  “You’re good at what you do.”

I intentionally chose against irritation in favor of appreciation.

The result?  The clerk said, “You’re a nice guy.  We can figure out a way to make this work.”

I walked out with the new stickers for my old Beetle.

Did Karma work?  Was she nice to me because I was nice to her?
I don’t know.  Maybe she was jus a nice gal.

But, I do know that being nice made me feel better inside.

Being nice may be its own reward.

Call it Karma.  Don’t call it Karma.  But be kind.

Charlottesville and a Christ-less Christianity

White Supremacist rally in Charlottesville

I’m still thinking about Charlottesville.  A lot of us are.

As a Christ-follower and pastor I am especially interested in the spiritual context in which these events of Charlottesville happened.

The symbols of the Charlottesville protests are familiar:

Confederate Flags.

Nazi Flags.

Nazi salutes.

We’re not as familiar with the spirituality of the symbols.

The symbols represent what I see as a “Christianity with Christ.”

Both Nazism and the Klan draw deep from the well of a “Christ-less Christianity. “

Nazi Germany was both a product of, and established in, Christian Europe.  Hitler’s favorite bed-time reading was Martin Luther.  Luther, though doing many good things (pretty good with a hammer and nail) was not perfect in his theology and practice – who is?
One view of Luther’s, embraced by Hitler, was his anti- Semitism.  Luther hated Jews.  I mean a deep down in his gut, burn down their houses, cut off their limbs, drown them, murder them, kind of hatred.

“Set fire to their synagogues or schools,” Luther wrote.

Jewish houses should be “razed and destroyed.”

“Force them to work, and deal harshly with them.”

“They must be driven from our country like mad dogs.”

Could the seed of Hitler’s hatred for and extermination of the Jews been planted by Luther?

Sure seems so.

On the night of November 10, 1938, Nazis killed Jews, shattered glass windows, and destroyed hundreds of synagogues.  Bishop Martin Sasse, a leading Lutheran pastor, immediately saw the connection between this event and Luther’s writings.  Shortly after the event, he published a collection of Luther’s anti-Semitic works.  In the forward, he applauded the “Kristallnacht” (The Night of Broken Glass), especially since it occurred on Luther’s birthday.  He also wrote that the German people should pay attention to the writings of Luther, who was the “greatest anti-Semite of this time, the warner of his people against the Jews.”

In his novel, “Mein Kampf,” Hitler himself named Luther as one of history’s reformers.  Hitler played the Jesus card.  In a speech on April 12, 1922, Hitler said,

“In boundless love, as a Christian and a human being, I read the passage which tells us how the Lord at last rose in his might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple broods of vipers and adders.  How terrific was his fight against the Jewish poison.  I realize more profoundly than ever before the fact that it was for this that he had to shed his blood upon the cross.”

Also, in “Mein Kampf,” Hitler wrote, “By destroying the Jews, I am fighting Christ’s battles.”

Have you heard anything like the following?  “The national government…will maintain and defend the foundations on which the power of out nation rests.  It will offer strong protection to Christianity as the very basis of our collective morality.”  That statement is from none other than Adolf Hitler.  I guess not everyone who wants to protect Christianity is a Christian.

What kind of Christianity did Hitler want to protect?  On what kind of Christianity did Hitler base their “collective morality?”

On April 26, 1933, Hitler signed the Nazi-Vatican Concordat (Treaty) and said, “Secular schools can never be tolerated because such schools have no religious instruction, and a general moral instruction without religious foundation is built on air; consequently  all character training and religion must be derived from faith.”  I think I hear some “Amens!”

One last quote from Hitler.  It’s a clincher.  It’s from a speech he made in 1934 at Koblenz: “National Socialism neither opposes the Church nor is it anti-religious, but on the contrary it stands on the ground of a real Christianity.”  Wait.  One more…There are so many:  “We tolerate no one in our ranks who attacks the idea of Christianity…in fact our movement is Christian.”  

If you operate on the “A picture is worth a thousand words” philosophy, check out this “God With Us” belt buckle from Nazi German and a baptismal font showing Jesus hanging with Nazi soldiers:

god_with_ustruth-christ-church4

Is it possible that Christian teaching supplied the fuel for the crematoria?  Did Christian doctrine pave the way for the poison that filled the showers?  Did Christian teaching lead Germany’s church leaders to advocate murdering six million Jews?

I’m afraid so.  A Christ-less Christianity.  A love-less religion.

We are  more familiar with the connection between the KKK and Christianity.  This pic makes me laugh and scream at the same time.  It’s crazy.  It’s scary.KKK-Christian-Prayer-Meeting-1

The Christian connection still exists and is a prominent feature of the KKK.  Check out this note from kkknights.com, “Our goal is to help restore America to a white Christian nation, founded on God’s Word.” Or this one Frank Ancona, the imperial wizard of the Traditional American Knights of the KKK, “We are a Christian organization.”  

One of the organizers of the “Unite the Right” protest in Charlottesville was the neo-Confederate “League of the South.” Under the “Core Beliefs” section on their website are these words, “…our primary allegiance is to the Lord Jesus Christ and His Holy Church.”  

I know.  Unbelievable.  My hands were shaking as I typed those words.

What does this mean?

First, we’ve all sighed with frustration over the, “We don’t recognize the user ID or password” error message we get when trying to log on to something.   I think I hear Jesus sighing as he looks at the Christianity practiced by these groups:  “I don’t recognize your Christian ID.”

The Christianity practiced by these hate groups is not Jesus.  

Is mine?  I have to look at my life, my behavior, my attitudes and ask, “Does my Christianity look like Christ?”  “Does Jesus look at me and say, ‘Yep, I recognize you as one of mine.’” “I see the love. I see the ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’”

Second, we need to admit that our brand of Christianity has failed to teach people to love others as they love themselves.  How can people continue to sit in our sanctuaries and Bible study classes and harbor hate toward others?  “And may the Lord cause you to increase and overflow with love for one another and for everyone else, just as our love for you overflows” (1 Thessalonians 3:12).

Third, Luke writes that Saul “was breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s followers” (Acts 9:1). The word “breathing out” is literally to “inhale” – “en pneo” – “in breathe.”  What I breathe in, I breathe out.   I need to spend some time each day breathing – breathing in the character and love of Jesus.  What I breathe in, I breathe out.

Fourth, let’s speak.  Let’s act.  “Where there is hatred, let us sow love.” 

Lord, save me from a “Christ-less Christianity.”

A New Way of Life at Moody Bible Institute

Image“Booze no longer banned!”  This was the headline that shook up a lot of church folks when it appeared on September 27.  Moody Bible Institute (MBI), a long-time bastion of conservative theology has dropped its ban on alcohol and tobacco consumption by its 600-some faculty and staff.

Some “slippery slope” folks are worried.

So, what’s up?

Insiders say that this change at Moody, which was founded by the 19th century evangelist, Dwight L. Moody, is a smart business move.  According to board member and author, Jerry Jenkins (have you heard of Left Behind?)  potential faculty and staff were put off by Moody having a “bunch of lists of rules,” calling the list “kind of pharisaical.”

“Bunch of lists of rules” and “kind of pharisaical” bring up a more significant issue – an issue of the very heart of Christianity.  To me, this really isn’t about alcohol. It’s about Christianity.

Christianity is Jesus.  Nothing more.  Nothing less.

Christianity is a person.  Christianity is not a performance.

Being a Christian doesn’t revolve around or even involve a list of do’s and don’ts.
Being a good Christian means understanding that Jesus is our life and allowing Him to live through us.  It is the person of Jesus performing His life through us – His life, His love, His values.

We can’t look at a list of rules and focus on Jesus at the same time (Galatians 5:1-5; Hebrews 12:1-2).  In fact, rules are the very things that “hinder” us from being and behaving “Christianly.”

As we live out our connection with Him, our behavior will take care of itself!

Let’s go back to the Moody decision.  According to Christine Gorz, VP of Marketing and Communications at MBI, the decision reflected a desire to create a “high trust environment that emphasizes values, not rules.”

Inherent in a rules-based faith is control – control people’s behavior.
Inherent in a Christ-based faith is trust – helping each other depend on, trust in the Spirit to live out the life of Christ in us (Galatians 5:16).

Way to go Moody.