Praise the Lord

This is a reply to this post on a blog I follow. I (disclaimer: a) am a Christian by choice rather than upbringing; b) have taught myself NT Greek to read the original; c) hold an Ivy League degree) personally would understand the word 'carnality' as describing a person whose main priority in life is their little desires: the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the ego - at the expense of 'the Big Picture', the 'Greater Good'. Obviously, being a Christian, I view the 'Greater Good' as being God, and the 'Big Picture' as being something along the lines of 'The Kingdom of Heaven'.

The thing about faith and reason is that many times things that seem mutually exclusive appear in the Bible to be considered... not mutually exclusive. The most classic example being free will and predestination, but there are many others. And at a certain point 'mere reason' is not enough to be able to wrap one's head around a thought system where these two concepts peacefully coexist.

People usually discuss these two issues as if they are the two endpoints of some sort of continuum, and assume that their job is to find out at which point along this continuum the truth lies. The underlying assumption, of course, is that the continuum is all there is. Just like the residents of Flatland think the plane (i.e. two-dimensional space) is all there is and can't fathom how a sphere or other 3D object 'works' unless they are somehow able to transport themselves outside the plane.

And that 'transportation' can happen in all sorts of ways. It can be the insight you get when you look into a friend's eyes and realize that there are no longer 'two lookings' (I look at you, you look at me), but rather 'one looking' (we look at each other). And you make a quantum leap and realized that predestination and free will are two sides of one and the same coin. Or it can be a cognizance of the fact that no one is going to divide a child down the middle and say the left side was dad's doing and the right side was mom's doing (or vice versa :P ). That the child was the point of contact between two wills that became two sides of the same coin. Or any number of other routes.

This procedure, this kind of thinking, has application in all sorts of areas of life though. The point is to jump off the continuum and be able to view the matter 'from above' or 'outside' or 'another dimension'. And one could say that 'carnality' could be boiled down to an unwillingness to do that - an insistence on staying here in one's own dimension and believing it to be the be-all and end-all.

Mind you, I am not at all sure these Christians you have been talking to would view it that way. But after decades of purposely divesting my faith of cultural trappings (even to the point of posing myself the question of what I would do if I suddenly found out God doesn't exist), gaining various experiences and knowledge about the Bible and about life in general, I will say that that concept does exist in Christianity (and, I would claim, not only there - it would have application even in an atheist thought system) and something like what I have described above is apparently some approximation of what it means, as well as of how to avoid falling into this trap.

Inviting Muslims to Your Home: Things for Non-Muslims to consider

Praise the Lord. Ramadan is coming up soon, and the question has arisen here of what happens if a non-Muslim wants to host an Iftar (evening fast-breaking meal) for Muslim friends. Here are my recommendations...

First of all, the food:

1) make sure any meat you serve is hand-slaughtered (i.e. zabiha halal, or at very least kosher if specifically zabiha halal meat is not available in your area);

2) don’t even think of using any ingredient of porcine (i.e. pig) origin. No pork, lard, bacon – nothing of the kind. Gelatine is a very common ingredient in many foods, and it is usually made of pigs’ feet. There are others as well. All ingredients must be checked. If the item is halal or kosher certified, it will be free of such items;

3) make sure that no item or ingredient on the menu contains alcohol and that no alcohol was used in preparing any item (it’s not acceptable even if all the alcohol has boiled away during cooking). You’d be surprised where it can show up: in cakes at the bakery (it’s often used in small amounts for the consistency of the dough or as a rising agent instead of yeast, and even more often as a flavoring agent in the icing), ice cream, mustard, certain types of vinegar… if there isn’t a label, or it’s not clear from the label,, ask to make sure no alcohol was used in making the item.

Now about prayer:

Somewhere on the Internet – don’t remember offhand at the moment where – there is a utility using Google Maps which allows you to determine the direction of Makkah (qibla) very precisely, even down to your exact apartment building and your exact entrance to a large building.

A non-Muslim should offer to invite Muslims to their home only if they are sure that their house (or at very least all areas thereof that will be occupied by Muslims at any time during the evening’s festivities) contain no items that could be considered idols.

Aside from religious symbols pertaining to non-Islamic religions, the category of idols can include even photographs of any human or animal, especially if the entire figure of the human or animal is portrayed. And certainly photographs of persons not dressed according to the rules of hijab should not be displayed in non-private areas of the home.

Another thing: it will be difficult or impossible to meet Islamic standards if you have furry pets wandering freely through your home. This especially concerns dogs, as nearly all observant Muslims consider them to be unclean. The biggest problems here are that

1) A Muslim must pray in clothes that have not touched animals or their fur. The same concerns the surface that the person prays on. So if you have pets, the Muslim guests will need to bring a complete change of clothes and have facilities to change their clothes and make wudhoo (ritual washing before prayer). And you will need to provide a pet hair-free prayer surface for them as well. If they bring their own prayer rugs, that would suffice, but it would be a nice touch to have a suitable number of prayer rugs available.

2) A Muslim cannot pray – even accidentally – in the direction of any animal. It is considered idolatry. So that means that either there needs to be an enclosed, animal-free prayer area, or the animals need to be enclosed at least during the prayer time so they will not accidentally walk in front of those who are praying.

3) And in the case of dogs, many Muslims believe that physical contact with dogs is to be avoided even outside of prayer times, as it makes one unclean. So dogs should probably be confined for the duration of the evening.

Since we have mentioned hijab: the non-Muslim should make sure that all non-Muslims present are aware of the standards of hijab, so that all are dressed properly in a manner that will be acceptable to the Muslims being invited, and know how to behave properly. Hijab is much more than just how one dresses.

So, in particular, the following behavioral principles should be kept in mind:

no touching members of the opposite sex (except one’s immediate family – people in the 'mahram' category of close blood relatives whom it would be incest for you to marry), except for medical necessity,

no being alone in an enclosed space (khulwa – seclusion) with non-mahrams, except for medical necessity,

no eye contact with non-mahrams,

a cordial but formal tone of voice, avoiding unnecessary speech to non-mahrams.

Indeed, some Muslims will be pleased if the non-Muslim makes the effort to entertain males and females in different rooms. if you know any of your guests maintain a separated household, this would be a good signal to do likewise while they are in your home. It is also necessary to be aware of the Muslim guests’ convictions concerning such things as music. Some find all forms of music objectionable, some find some forms acceptable and some not.

The non-Muslim should take great care in finding out the rules, discuss all of these issues discreetly and well in advance with the intended guests to find out what their convictions are, so it is clear that all details have already been taken care of when the invitation is issued. You could couch it in terms of questions:

‘Let’s say we were to attempt to make over my home so that it fits Islamic standards. What would you recommend? Are there any items I would need to get rid of or treat differently?’

'How about the kitchen – what would I have to do to make it halal?'

'How about the way I dress and behave? What would I have to do to make it hijab compliant?'

And it would be a good idea to do a trial run in advance to work out any kinks.

A tale of two kingdoms

Praise the Lord.

This is a reply to this post.

For me the concept of the Trinity boils down to one principle: God is infinite. If God chooses to enter time and space in a physical form for a specific purpose of providing redemption so that people have an objective basis to come to God for the right reasons, or in a non-physical form for the various day-to-day purposes involved in keeping the universe up and running, God does not thereby cease to exist outside of time and space, nor does God thereby cease to be One God.

When I speak of 'coming to God for the right reasons', I mean that the effect of redemption is to objectively remove the punishment/reward issue from the equation so that people are coming to God simply because they believe in what God has to say to them, they love God, they desire to do God's will, they desire to live for God.

The other thing about redemption, though, is that benefiting from it is voluntary. If someone is in a prison cell, merely opening the door is not enough for the person to become free - because they may decide to stay in their prison cell.

And people do it all the time because they want to live for their own ideas, they love themselves, they want to do their own thing and are living for themselves and their own desires. Either that, or they are living for the ideas of another (non-divine) person, entity or organization, they are making (non-divine) beings or things their most important love, they are sold out to do the will of whomever or whatever it is they worship and are living for it/them.

Either way, they are enslaved. And that is the state from which they need to be redeemed. And can be - if they are willing to accept it. Repentance then involves putting God in that position of prime motivation in life, prime love, prime measure of all things, and removing from that place in their lives any non-divine entities or objects that might currently be occupying it.

And where this all comes into the issue of witchcraft etc. is that there are in fact two kingdoms. One is the kingdom of God - the one where people are living for God - and the other is the kingdom of the evil one, where people are living in rebellion to God.

Witchcraft and other occult practices such as casting the evil eye are acts of rebellion against God, typical of that other kingdom. Just like other types of behavior such as sleeping with anything that moves, cheating in one's business dealings, engaging in gossip, abusing alcohol or drugs, etc.

Each kingdom has its ruler, its figure who as it were died and rose again, its 'prime mover' spirit. In the case of the kingdom that is in rebellion, however, these are all counterfeits aiming to deceive people into joining that kingdom. And another thing about that kingdom: its ruler can create nothing - only warp, deceive, tempt, accuse, destroy.

And yet another thing: what one sows, this also one will reap. So the denizens of that counterfeit kingdom will in the end bring upon their own heads the very things that they sowed: perversion, deception, temptation, accusation and destruction.

Christian Hermeneutics

Praise the Lord. This is a reply to this post. At the Presbyterian church I used to go to once upon a time, they put a great deal of effort into proper Biblical and theological training for the congregation, starting even from infancy with Scripture memory. Evidently the aim was for people to have a more thorough grounding in these matters than they would get even at seminary. Principles for hermeneutics were referenced on a regular basis in the sermons. And I have noticed two things about them:

1. Most of them are basically common-sense principles, such as:

reading all of Scripture before one comes to a conclusion about what Scripture teaches, not just doing a word-study on the matter at hand, because some portion of Scripture that does not directly mention that matter at hand could nonetheless impact very vitally on the proper interpretation, because Scripture itself tells us which principles contained in its pages are more important, which of them provide the framework for interpreting the rest;

going from the general to the specific, i.e. not taking theology from mere examples;

starting from what is clear and only then moving on to what is isn't;

2. Almost every deviant interpretation is in an obvious manner rooted in a faulty hermeneutic (i.e. one that fails to obey sound hermeneutical principles) and often, ultimately, in people's cloaking their own fears and ambitions in Scripture (and then of course calling this 'the clear teaching of Scripture' and telling anyone who does not want to obey this 'clear teaching' that they are not 'Spirit-filled' or perhaps even just plain unsaved or otherwise devoid of relationship with God).

In recent years, my personal theology has become sufficiently out of the box that it is a very uncomfortable fit in any church. So I maintain no church membership at all, except in the so-called Invisible Church (whose membership rolls are kept in heaven and known with 100% certainty only by God).

A certain Catholic priest whose name escapes me at the moment once pointed out that Protestantism, if taken to its logical conclusion, lays a HUGE responsibility on its adherents. And this is very true. And I do take that responsibility seriously. I've been working on Biblical languages so I can read the original language Scriptures myself. I am very careful to apply the hermeneutical principles I've learned.

But I remain completely outside of any Church tradition. I take the responsibility to measure all things myself and take only what is good very seriously. God really does lay that responsibility on us (in a particularly obvious manner in I John - won't give verses so as not to proof-text). The Apostle Paul wrote at one point that if even he himself were to come to his readers with some other gospel than what they heard from the beginning, they were to reject that teaching. How much more, then, are we to weigh the teachings of our pastors!

I have become disturbed that while Orthodox Jewish people begin teaching their kids Biblical Hebrew at age 3, and Muslims begin teaching their children Qur'anic Arabic at about the same age, Christians are not teaching their kids Greek and Hebrew from early childhood. Indeed, they are not doing it at all, and furthermore in some cases are looking askance at lay people who take that trouble, because the lay person's job is to sit there in church and believe and obey what the pastor says, so that such a lay person is not showing the proper measure of faith in God's appointed authorities.

It is very legitimate to pose the question: at what point does a pastor's role in someone's life become idolatrous? Because very frankly there are very few if any churches on the planet where the pastors don't cross that line at some point, attempting to set themselves up as idols in their congregation members' lives. Preaching in a manner which basically aims to keep their congregation at a quite low level of spirituality, dependent on other human beings for their spiritual 'daily bread'. And the person who is not willing to occupy that kind of position - who is intent on worshiping God and only God - is quickly going to find themselves in a very uncomfortable position.

To put the matter another way: nearly every public Christian testimony I have heard talks about 'what God did for me'. One could get the impression that Christians worship God's benefits, God's salvation, instead of God Himself. Or when people start preaching the gospel, they speak of heaven and hell, of the necessity to 'get saved'. The problem is that if we are receiving the gospel because we want to avoid hell or go to heaven, then we are worshiping not God, but rather our own desires.

Someone might say, 'OK, but we have to start with people where they are!' And that is very true. But instead of leading people away from that being motivated by their own desires to being motivated only by God, teaching them the importance of truly having only one God in their lives, where Jesus fits into that and how He upholds that by His work on the cross, removing the punishment/reward issue so that we can truly love God with ALL our heart and ALL our soul and ALL our strength, many evangelists turn this into an opportunity to get people under their 'authority' - i.e. in bondage to them or their organization. Which is wickedness and idolatry.

My point here: many people forget that underlying that Most Important Commandment about loving God is the assumption that there is only one God. That that is the important thing: to worship God and only God. That it is He Whom we are to love with all our heart, soul and strength - He and no other. He has to be the sole ultimate motivation of all we do. When we ask which reiigious view or group we should be associated with, the question has to be: which one gives the most honor to God? And we have to look at Scripture to see what God tells us concerning what gives Him the most honor. And all that has to be the very explicit underpinning of our hermeneutics.

Allah: A Christian Response

Praise the Lord. This is a reply to this post. My associations with Muslims have led me to agree with Volf that the line is not to be drawn according to labels, but according to content. For me, the question of whether we truly believe in justification by grace through faith, whether we are or are not trying to earn our salvation by our works, is much more important than I had supposed before I engaged with Muslims and the Qur'an.

See, the Bible claims that salvation comes from God alone. God alone is God, and apart from God there is no other Savior. God has revealed, God has saved, God has proclaimed - God and not another. I have come to understand that any person therefore who is in any way trying to earn their salvation via good works is, in that measure, worshiping not God, but their own deeds. Themselves, in other words.

Lest anyone misunderstand, good deeds are necessary. They are God's will for our lives. The question is whether they are a cause or an effect of salvation. So really, in a sense, the question is one's motivation for doing good deeds. And I would say that in the measure a person is motivated by anything except God - for example, a desire to avoid punishment (hell) or to earn a reward (heaven) - the person is worshiping not God, but his/her own desires.

There are many who identify as Christians, and many who identify as Muslims, who are unfortunately trying to earn their salvation by good deeds, who are doing their good deeds with an eye to the concepts of reward and punishment. There is no place for that in love. So that if we want to claim that we love God with all our heart, soul and strength, if we want to be obedient to God's will, we will banish this idea of reward and punishment from our motivations.

If you look very carefully, you can find the notion of salvation by grace through faith in the Qur'an. You can find the notion of good deeds being acceptable only if they are done for God alone, not with any eye to reward or punishment. If you look REALLY carefully and read the Qur'an without reference to so-called 'Islamic tradition' - as a so-called 'Qur'anist' or 'Qur'an-aloner' - you might even find that there is a concept of an authorized intercessor, that Jesus really did die before going to heaven, and that when He comes back, no Jew will die before coming to believe in Him.

You might even figure out that the Qur'an's problem is with the idea of God the Father being the Messiah, not even with the Messiah being God. The point being that while Jesus inhabited a human body, walked this earth and even died a physical death, the Divine Being did not cease to exist outside space and time where God has always existed. But it's all so carefully hidden that it would be nearly impossible to find it if you weren't reading the Qur'an through a Biblical lens. I admit to being curious why that might be. Though there is much talk in the Qur'an about signs to be found in Creation for thinking people, I do not see the Qur'an speaking of itself in this manner. But for the Qur'an to be a book of truth, this state of affairs would have to exist for the same reasons that Jesus spoke in parables - so that only those who were meant to understand would do so.

Although then again, it is not a whole lot easier to get beyond the notions of punishment and reward in the Bible. And even if we do, the notion of substitutionary redemption opens Christians up to a problem that is largely absent from the Islamic sphere, as far as I have seen. Nearly every public Christian testimony answers the question 'What has God done for me?' rather than 'Which religion have I found to give the most honor to God?' We could argue that the Christian concept of redemption outlined in the Bible does indeed for many people obscure the true worship of God and only God. That people who identify as Christians are often worshiping not God, but rather God's benefits, blessings. Their own desires. Themselves, in short. It is indeed very difficult to be a Christian without doing this, especially if is part of a faith community where this redemption story is a fixed, central part of the worship services.

I am pessimistic about the ability of most Christians and most Muslims to be able to find sufficient common ground, because very few in either 'camp' are on the same page about what it really means to truly worship only one God. As a Christian, I understand the Muslim view as a challenge to think about that very deeply. It is a very lonely path to travel, because the person who undertakes it will soon find themselves at odds with nearly everyone, including those from their own faith tradition. And particularly for Christians, for whom the concept of fellowship and community is in principle very important, it's very hard. We have to draw the line between treasuring community and fellowship and worshiping it. We have to draw our lines in very different places from what we are accustomed to - above all, within ourselves.

Turks, Baptists, Presbyterians, Roman Catholics...

Praise the Lord

This is a reply to a comment on this blog post.

Yeah, it is pretty weird that Turkish culture is quite that conservative. Oddly, it is probably more tolerable for a Turkish woman to comment on a Turkish man’s Facebook page. It’s the foreign woman who will have to keep quite that low a profile. It seems there’s an element of xenophobia there. But I have a long-standing e-friendship with a Turkish man and so everything I wrote to you about Turkey here stems in some way from personal experience.

The thing about ahadith is that most if not all of the talking between genders seems to concern discussions of some religious concept, or what the proper religious view of some particular situation is, etc. That is permissible even among the most traditional types I have encountered. It’s ‘chit chat’ – in other words, conversation that does not have a particular aim – which the traditionalists seem to find problematic.

The Southern Baptist Church… is not as good an example as I thought. I had forgotten about the congregational nature of Baptist church government. Items 3 and 4 here ( address in some measure the variety of views on the church discipline aspect of divorce, as well as this resolution ( Basically, there is a good deal more leeway for individual congregations to interpret the matter of divorce than there would be in, say, a Presbyterian church. So, yeah, I can see why you are confused.

So let me see… Yes. The PCA is indeed a lot stricter. See here ( – in particular ch. XXIV pts. 3, 5-6. The rule is that only adultery or irremediable desertion are considered grounds for divorce with right to remarriage. Also that one may only marry a person identifying as Christian whose beliefs are materially consistent with those of that church’s confession of faith.

The Roman Catholic Church is an interesting case. I think it is possible to come to a view that is largely materially consistent with the Roman Catholic view just from reading the Bible. Basically, what happens there is you take that passage I cited from Genesis 2:24 as the definition of marriage, and view any sexual relationship that deviates from that – even if it is called by the name of marriage – as essentially non-marital. And then you will indeed come up with a huge list of possible reasons that a given relationship could be invalid as a marriage. So it is not necessary to adhere to any tradition at all in order to come to this kind of a view.

The place where tradition comes in is that the Roman Catholic Church has its official list, which could in some ways differ from the one that would be derived only from Scripture (e.g. the extent to which children are part of the material of the marriage, or what effect the fact of a man’s having been ordained to the priesthood has on his ability to contract a valid marriage) and if you are a member of that church then you have to have the church authorities look at your situation in light of that list and evaluate whether your marriage is really a marriage – and if not, then give you an annulment. And here, indeed, a Biblical view countenancing annulment as a concept would stop. There is no Biblical mandate for the Roman Catholic *mechanism* for annulment.

The other difference between a Biblical view countenancing annulment and the Roman Catholic practice of it is that the Biblical view is likely to be much more restrictive *before the fact* about whether it is permissible to enter the marriage in the first place. It will carefully evaluate the parties’ relationship with God, with their parents, as well as their willingness and ability to reckon with their partner in the manner that will be required of them when they marry, and their understanding of the binding nature of the commitment required.

It will carefully screen the relationship for signs that it is being contracted on the basis of feelings – or indeed, anything else besides God. It will cover every possible pitfall. And only after that get married. It can lead to a situation where the parties have known each other for several years and have waited for the intense feelings to die down and be replaced by something more enduring before they even embark on a marriage. And all this without any non-platonic behavior.

I think we can divide up the Islamic world in a similar manner to the way I have divided up the Christian world:

1. Qur’an only. Qur’anists take this view and it is they whom I would term ‘Scriptural Muslims’

2. Qur’an, Sunnah and ahadith. When I say ‘traditional Muslims’, I am referring to adherents of this view.

3. Qur’an, Sunnah, ahadith and other sources. There are a lot of possibilities here. Many but not all of them are culturally dictated. And the results can range from extremely conservative (a la Saudi Arabia) to just plain humanist.

Behold I tell you a mystery Part I

Praise the Lord

Now I can finally tell you the story of the wakeup call. A while ago now, I happened to meet a highly interesting person who for the moment shall remain enshrouded in mystery. He posed a lot of tough questions for me - unwittingly  no doubt, but nonetheless. In other circumstances I would have considered him more or less immediately actionable, but the fact of the matter is that I was seeing M. I was so far off the market that I did not even bother to check whether my new acquaintance was married. Indeed, quite the contrary, I did the right thing and indicated I was taken.

Having arrived home after this encounter, I did allow myself to speculate 'what if' - what would I have to do to get the attention of someone who has taken quite that much trouble with his education? Now, even if I did feel he was a bit out of my league, that question was still relatively easy to answer. I mean, sure, by way of establishing credibility I can talk about certain professional accomplishments if the subject comes up... But the primary point is that I have the most important thing anyone can possibly have, namely: I know God. And that is more important even than 10 advanced degrees.

Frankly, I was a bit annoyed with myself for even posing this question. It bespoke a certain worldliness. Now, given the rather achievement-mad circles in which I traveled as I was growing up, my slip of the mind is perhaps not surprising, but the fact of the matter is that I have earnestly (and even by and large successfully) avoided this type of thinking since at least the latter part of my college years. So first of all, I took this incident as a cautionary tale and resolved to ensure there was never a repeat performance. The result was that on the one hand, I felt more at peace regarding my personal situation; and on the other, I began taking more concrete steps to cultivate my mind.

But then I proceeded to lay the cards on the table, privately between me and God: OK, let's say you were a free woman. You are so far out of the box that you can never assume that you will ever be sufficiently on the same page with anyone to be able to contract a valid marriage. So you'd have to start over again - from scratch. And there is a lot you do not know about this guy. There are a lot of potential deal-breakers that remain undiscussed. And keep in mind: you are presently taken, and you will also probably never see him again. And so I made an agreement with myself: that I would give him what I could - which in the circumstances at hand meant finding some small favor to do for him - and then get on with my life.

Getting on with my life meant, among other things, posing these same questions I had posed about being on the same page, concerning the validity of the marriage that would result if M and myself were to tie the knot. And I was hit in the face with answers to all of the questions involved that were... quite frankly shocking:

All the doubts I had about our religious differences over the years (some of which I had known about pretty much from the beginning and even found disturbing, but I had decided for the moment to - however uneasily - give him the benefit of the doubt)

All the doubts I had concerning just how close he is to his parents (and for that matter the nature of my financial relationship with my own parents)

All the doubts about the extent to which a man with such traditional views on sex roles would be willing to reckon with his wife as an authority figure (as the Scriptures demand - the point being that authority in marriage is a two-way street, not the one-way hierarchy the traditionalists envision)

- all of this came back to haunt me in force. And in the end, it proved to be not immaterial to the tragic discussion I had with M right after Christmas in 2009. The straw that had broken the camel's back was the horrifying realization of just how serious the implications of our religious differences were - as it were, taking each view to its logical conclusion and then critiquing the opposite view from that standpoint.

So, as I have mentioned elsewhere, I showed up at my folks' place this year armed with a short list of candidates for my attentions among the men I currently know. And also with the knowledge that there was a faint chance I might run into my (relatively) new acquaintance soon after my arrival. But I did not really dare to hope it would happen. So he was not even on the short list. I had made no contingency plans for what I would do if I did run into him again. But then the miracle happened. The door opened, and in walked... the man himself. And my short list... Went. Up. In. Smoke. Poof.

That having been said, the circumstances were very awkward, since I was in principle still taken - how, for example, to explain my plans for the Christmas holidays? Perhaps like this: I'm going to be spending them with this family I'm friendly with, whose son I am still seeing but won't be any longer in a matter of days because we've been planning for over three months now to break up effective the end of this month? NOT. For one thing, it would have been just too d*** complicated, and for another thing, I didn't know how it was all going to pan out in practice. And I preferred not to make him privy to the situation until I could give more concrete info about what was and was not going on with M.

That having been said, after The Breakup Call, I came downstairs, had dinner and went out to visit our neighbors. See, I had run into one of them while walking by their place on my way to Meeting. Neither of us had time to talk, but I was able to give him enough info about M that he basically commanded me to visit them ASAP, saying, 'We HAVE to talk. It's like you're tickling me with a feather!' In the end, it worked out conveniently, as the night of the breakup, my folks were going out to see a film or something that I wasn't really interested in, so they did their thing and I did mine.

And so I came home to an empty house... and took some small action. For some time, nothing in particular happened. But then shortly before my scheduled return to my nice Eastern European adopted hometown, I had been dreaming of hearing a certain voice again, and not even two hours later, I heard my stepmother approaching with the cordless, asking, 'Who's calling?' And then I heard the name...

Why didn't I tell him right then about the change in my relationship status? That is probably a subject for another post.

That the life of Jesus may be revealed in my body

Praise the Lord.

This is a response to the ongoing discussion here. My comment about complete abstinence was in response to the person who observed (rightly, furthermore) that the only 100% certain means of preventing pregnancy is total abstinence, basically indicated that if the risk is that high, then why would anyone want to expose their potential unborn child to any risk whatsoever, and finished with the thought that 6 weeks of abstinence was not too long.

As far as other solutions go, I personally see no difference in moral value between NFP and barrier methods (obviously abortifacient hormonal means are a different matter). There are, however, some people for whom NFP is going to be less effective or even unusable: people who are perimenopausal and therefore have extremely irregular periods, and people in whom ovulation is triggered by the physical stimulation inherent in sexual activity.

But I cite all of this only as thought provoking devices towards the point: what about tradition? I base my claim that Jesus taught that Scripture has to come first on such texts as the Sermon on the Mount, or Mark 7. There are others. I don't want to proof text here, so I'm not going to give more exact references. I come from circles where we were carefully instructed that we must in fact read all of the Bible before we try to come to a conclusion about what it teaches.

Notice who the New Testament writers are: either apostles (Matthew, John, Paul, Peter), or first degree associates of apostles or Jesus Himself (Mark, Luke, James, Jude). These people's letters were in circulation long before the New Testament was codified and compiled in its present form. The fact of the matter is that in Jesus' day and for at least a portion of the apostolic era, 'Scripture' meant the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible). This is why Protestants only accept the books of the Tanakh as comprising the Old Testament.

The New Testament books, like the books of the Tanakh, did not exist in a vacuum. There were other books that did not make it into the canon. Protestants accept the same New Testament canon as Roman Catholics not because of tradition, but because while the New Testament books are demonstrably organically related to the Tanakh and in mutual agreement with each other, the other books in some way deviate from this standard - most commonly by introducing Gnostic elements. So that Protestants, likewise, exclude the other books from the canon.

The problem of different interpretations will continue to exist even if we allow for tradition - because there are all different traditions, and how do we know which one is correct? Well, John tells us very clearly in his first letter that we are the ones ultimately responsible for making a determination concerning the correctness of a given teaching. If we have the Holy Spirit and are true believers - both believing and living the commandments to love God with all our heart, soul and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves - then in principle we have all that is needed to make that discernment. Jesus Himself says that His sheep will know His voice.

I once read a commentary by a Roman Catholic priest which observed (rightly) that this places a huge responsibility on the individual to do their own studying of Scripture and verification of their beliefs. It is a responsibility which is taken deadly seriously in the circles I have traveled in over my life time. We are talking about people who come to church precisely in order to hear the hour-long sermon on one verse (the pastor took over 6 years to preach through the book of Romans) - which covers the material infinitely more thoroughly than it would be even in a seminary class.

We are talking about people who start their kids on Scripture memory at age 2. Who start looking for opportunities to lead their child to a personal decision to receive Jesus Christ at as young an age as possible. I've heard of it happening as young as age 3. And these kids' Sunday school teachers report that there is a clear difference in the way the children pray after as compared to before - the child now in an evident manner knows God. And when these kids grow up, few if any will ever commit immorality or get divorced. Few if any will turn away from the faith in which they were raised. At least 1 in 10 of them will be in full-time missionary service - and of those, half will serve in a foreign country.

And none of them will think that their own works or any ecclesiastical ritual contributes materially to their salvation, for they will all have been taught from little on up that salvation is by grace, so that no one may boast. They will understand that works are an effect of salvation, not a cause. And that thinking otherwise amounts to putting those works in a position meant to be occupied only by God.

And to me, that is the litmus test: does the person *truly* have only one God in their life? In all the microdetail? I recommend Anthony DeMello's 'The Way to Love'. He speaks much of 'attachment' - if you substitute in 'idolatry' or 'idol' (depending on the context), you'll get what I mean by the 'microdetail'.

Looking at the problem from that angle, for me, the problem with adherence to tradition is that people are giving over responsibility for a certain part of their lives which properly is to be held between them and God. They are setting that tradition up as an idol, allowing it to occupy a place that is meant to be occupied only by God. It may be comfortable to give up responsibility, but godly - it is not.

And likewise: if we read the Bible, compare what it says about things like the priesthood, confession, baptism, communion... with tradition, we can see that tradition leads us to 180-degree opposite conclusions. These are all items which impact on the doctrine of salvation, so they are really important. The difference between them is that tradition places a certain set of authority figures and a certain system of... control over the faithful.

Unfortunately, I don't think this is at all accidental. I see these authorities as setting themselves up as idols in people's lives, to the eternal peril of all concerned. And I am no idolater, so as long as I remain convinced that this is the case, I will in no wise have any part in this system.

It is a very lonely path I travel. I feel like I have less and less in common with the world as time goes on, that I am slowly being squeezed out of this world entirely. 'I always carry the death of Jesus around in my body, that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in my body.'  (II Cor. 4:10).

Caraboska emerges from beneath her rock: M Part VIII

Praise the Lord

Last time you all heard from me, I had some weeks before received about 3.5 months' advance notice that M wished to break up with me effective 30 November. At first I wondered whether this was really going to 'stick'. Thus far it has. Our agreement (as I like to joke, one of the few things we've ever agreed about) is that we will talk on the phone for the next time in May. It was really hard knowing that I just can't call him for his birthday this year. But I held out, telling myself that I can go and give him his birthday wishes after church on Sunday. Frankly, it seems a bit superfluous now, the night before I would do the deed if I were to do it at all.

The flip side of having so much advance notice was that I had time to think about my future. Some people think it's weird we've done things this way, but for me (and evidently for him as well, or he wouldn't have suggested it ;) ) it was the right thing. So, the first question to ask was: Do I even want a companion now? And I had to admit I did. So the next question: Am I going to join or something to that effect? No. I don't really want to start totally from scratch if it can be avoided.

So the solution was to go through the list of all the men I know, cross off the ones whom I know to be married, taken, gay or terminally celibate - along with the ones who believe, for example, that they're allowed to have four wives - and come up with a short list of potential candidates for my attention. And that was the state of affairs when I arrived on the other side of the pond for my annual visit to the family and round of doctor's visits: there were three names. And the plan was to have that last long phone conversation with M on 30 November, see whether it's 'really over' and take it from there.

So I showed up in the States with my short list and the knowledge of what was to happen in my relationship with M in the more or less immediate future. However, I took no action until after that last phone conversation. Which went by quite uneventfully except in that it lasted considerably past midnight his time. And at the end, we simply had a brief discussion of what our arrangement would be from now on.

Basically, I would visit them for Christmas Eve as usual. And then sometime in January, I would visit them again and he would give back the sheet music from our ensemble. And I would try to finish the piece I've been writing for him for... how long? by then and hand him a copy of it, play it for him on my computer. And then maybe we would see each other from time to time if his folks invited me over, or maybe if he needed help with English or something he might call me. Maybe from time to time I might visit him in the choir  loft at church.

But it turns out that he would prefer I sit downstairs from now on at the services. And given the situation there, that means I'm not really welcome anywhere. And while I am reasonably calm about our situation, the prospect of hiding away in a little corner, welcome nowhere, hearing him playing almost the entire length of the service but no longer allowed to see him... I just can't do it. And between the various personal elements and the fact that doctrinal considerations exclude me from communion there, I doubt I will ever set foot in that place again.

We now have Christmas Eve behind us. Which actually turned out quite well, except for the moment when his dad tried to persuade us to kiss each other. That is something we never did while we were seeing each other, not even one chaste peck on the cheek, so it would be absurd to start now, when we have broken up. If anything, once M realized that there really was no elephant in the room with me, that we would indeed be able to carry on normal conversation, he seemed happier than I have seen him in a long time.

So what remains is that I still talk to his folks every Sunday night - after all, I am still friendly with them. It's a bit awkward. They think our (M's and my) arrangement of not talking on the phone until May is just plain weird and it disturbs me that he has not explained the situation more carefully to his family, even if I am heartened somehow that he did not consult them before breaking up with me. I sometimes have to actively prevent his parents from summoning him to the phone to talk to me. OK, they are both over 80, they are allowed to have senior moments.

In short, there has been no departure from The Plan thus far. Actually, now that I think of it, we were going to have one more meeting - to discuss a certain table with the details of two world views, which I had prepared and which M had agreed to mark up for me, indicating which items he agrees with, annotating with additions and deletions as necessary. Frankly, however, it's beginning to look like neither of us really wants to have that meeting anymore. It's like it's getting in the way of making a clean break.

And yes, I have begun thinking rather more proactively about my future now...

A Real Christian Marriage: The Executive Summary

Praise the Lord

This is a reply to this post. I have in fact posted about this matter at great length, with full quotes in both the original Greek and English, elsewhere on this blog. No doubt by clicking the appropriate keywords in my tag cloud, you will find the material in question. But here is the executive summary:

1. We must read the whole Bible before we come to a conclusion about what it teaches.

2. The Hebrew for 'suitable helper' is not at all what people think it is. 'Ezer' is a word used for 'helper' - normally used to describe God's relationship to us, NOT the other way around. 'Kenegdo' is a word meaning something like face-to-face. In other words, it is a word toning down a word that would normally imply superiority to one of equality.

3. While it is true that Genesis 2:24 does say 'A *man* shall leave father and mother', and the word 'to cleave' is in the active voice, in the New Testament it is very different. It says 'A *person* shall leave father and mother' and the word 'to cleave' is in the passive voice. Not even the middle voice (which would be translated as a reflexive verb in English). In other words, in our dispensation, marriage is not something a man does to a woman, but something God does to both of them.

4. In I Corinthians 7, it is written that 'It is not the wife who has authority over her own body, but rather the husband, *and in the same way* it is not the husband who has authority over his own body, but rather the wife.' Notice that the word 'authority' is used. There is no other way to translate this Greek word - it is completely unambiguous. And notice also that it is exactly the same authority that each spouse has over the other.

5. Combining this with Genesis 2, we come to the conclusion that God planned a relationship of equality from the beginning, and that marriage is all about authority. When we are unmarried, our parents are our highest earthly authority. When we get married, our spouse becomes our highest earthly authority - taking the place once occupied by our parents.

6. Just in case we didn't get the point, Paul tells us in Ephesians 5:21 that we must all be subject to one another in the fear of Christ. In other words, we are not allowed to usurp the place of Christ in each other's lives. And Jesus says (John 15) that we are all to lay down our lives for each other. So God has the exact same behavioral expectations from both parties.

7. We must proceed from the general to the specific. Nothing that is said to apply to only one gender can contradict that which applies to both genders. This means basically that there is no place for any one-way 'spiritual authority' relationship between the sexes, and that any differences must be temporal in nature.

8. And indeed: Paul was writing to people who lived under a legal system which gave men literal life-and-death authority over their wives and children. The fact that he took the 'Haustafel' (as it is called in German, and for some reason religious-studies types use this word even when writing about it in English) - a list of the obligations of various members of a household, which was a common fixture in the secular culture surrounding his recipients - and then stood it on its ear, writing to husbands and fathers that they actually had obligations to their wives and children (not just vice versa), was just... revolutionary!

9. According to God's definition of marriage as set forth in Genesis 2:24 and explicated by Jesus in Matthew 19, not to mention Ephesians 5:21, in looking for a godly spouse, both parties are to look for evidence that the other will show proper submission. Unfortunately, in today's world, women have to be particularly careful about this, because most men will try to worm their way out of this obligation in any way possible (and even any way that is impossible, they will try anyway).

10. I cannot overemphasize point 9 enough, because the very validity of the marriage depends on it. Just as in the case of a woman towards her husband, if a man is not willing to treat his wife as his highest earthly authority, taking the place of his parents, then his marriage is... not a marriage at all. And I am sure there is no need to explain how God views non-marital sexual relationships.

I thank God every day that He preserved me from getting married until I understood all of this very clearly in my mind - for He knew my desire to live pure for Him and commit no deed of fornication. They say that women want love and men want respect. I cannot speak for other women, but it certainly cannot be 100% true because I have basically had to choose between love and respect all my life. And for all the 46 years I have lived on this earth, I have chosen respect.

And because I have not yet met a man who is willing to treat me with the respect that God Almighty Himself demands of him - or if I have, there's been some other reason he is not immediately actionable - and I prefer to have no marriage at all if my only other option is a marriage in name only, I have remained single - again, for all of my 46 years on this planet.

Quite frankly, it is possible to do much more than get used to this state of affairs. I now find I generally prefer the company of cats rather than people, and it would be a huge adjustment for me if an actionable man did appear. Sure. It would be great to have both love and respect. It would be great to have a (human) male companion that I could actually live with under one roof. But of the options presently available to me, pending the appearance of other viable options, I have chosen the best one and I am grateful for it and having a good life.