The Honest Faith: Sympathy for the Devil

Released in 1968 the band Rolling Stones recorded a song reminiscent of Charles Baudelaire’s work “The Flowers of Evil”. In the Baudelaire collection of poetry, he begins with a poem about the devil in which to set the tone for the poems to follow which was about the decadence and fall of modern France, according to him.  This song was also inspired by the Russian writer Bulgakov’s book “The Master and Margarita”. The book is also about a visit from the devil to satirize and show the issues with the Soviet Union. This song was rather controversial in its time as it made many believe that Mick Jagger and Kieth Richards were devil worshipers. The wonderfully ironic twist is that this song is about demonizing the other or blaming these horrific events on an unseen force we call the devil. The point of the song was to portray how “Every cop a criminal, and all the sinner’s saints…”

I have found that we are very quick to call upon the image of the devil when things go wrong or we want to blame someone else. We conjure the images that seem most evil in our minds from recent history. We call people things like fascist, Nazi, or Hitler. We call out the evil in someone so readily. It is very easy for us to spot these bad things and categorize them as of the devil. But as the Jagger and Richards said, “I shouted out ‘who killed the Kenedy’s?’ When after all it was you and me.”

I was once told as a child, it is rude to point. I was also told, when you point a finger there are three more pointing back at you. My mother did her best to try to teach me that before I blame someone or I accuse someone I should try to imagine what they are going through. I also heard numerous quotes from the Bible that said, “Do not answer fools according to their folly, or you will be a fool yourself.” Proverbs 26:4. In fact, I was told a lot of Bible verses about judging, for your own reference here are 100 of them.  There is a story in the Quran about Musa and striking someone before knowing the situation. There are even quotes from Gautama Buddha about judging others. I’m sure if I looked hard enough, I could show you from most major religions around the world this common theme of: don’t be concerned about the wrongdoing of others, but instead concern yourself with your own wrongdoing.

I see more and more these days lines being drawn. I see people choosing sides and pointing out the flaws in the other one. I am disturbed by the amount of division and divisiveness I see from our role models, and peers. I am not condemning things like peaceful protests, or sharing of feelings. Those are to make one’s voice heard. So many have been silenced for so long, they are looking for ways to show that they are not alone and that they matter, too. There is a fine line, though, in that. When you ensure your voice is louder than someone else’s, aren’t you guilty of silencing them? Isn’t that one of the things we are working to stop? That is a fine line to walk, and a difficult question to answer.

Is there a true Black and White? Can there be a be an objective morality? Or is everything meant to be in shades of gray? I posit that there are shades of gray, but those shades are limited. How many times have Christians been told that the path to Heaven is Narrow? Does anyone know the context of the verse that is used in so many sermons? This verse has been taken so out of context that it has taken on a new meaning. To read the chapter it seems that this verse veers way off course from the rest of what Jesus is talking about if you give it that meaning. Here, read it for yourself. This, much like the parable of the talents, is about treating others with kindness and love. The whole passage begins with one of those judgment verses I just mentioned. He goes on to talk about God giving us good gifts, the golden rule, and good fruit. The passage ends with building a house on a sure foundation. If you read the passage you understand that the good foundation is precisely what is in the middle of the passage, the golden rule.

I have searched long and through many difficulties to find a place that follows the golden rule with integrity. Surprisingly, after all my interactions with the church, I can say that I have maybe only found two that I would say live that. If you ask me, that is a very narrow gate. But there are so so so so many businesses, people, churches, religious organizations, and so on that do not follow this. That is a very wide path, and if I were to take Jesus at his word in this passage it means it’s the road to destruction. I’m also reminded of another thing Jesus said. When he was asked what the most important commandment was, He said, “To love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and spirit. The second is like it, Love your neighbor as yourself.” When did this get taken away from the Gospel? When did the Gospel suddenly become “the gate is narrow, but the path to destruction is wide”?

I was once called the devil. The reason being was that I was fighting for the right to allow homosexual students to come to youth group. I taught that we are all created in God’s image. That I wanted students to make up their own minds about faith and the Bible after they listened to the whole story. This was false teaching to some. So they labeled me “From the devil”. I tried not to take it personally, but it’s kinda tough to not do. I took a good hard look at the man in the mirror because after all, that is how the great philosopher and man who made mistakes, Michael Jackson, said to change the world. I didn’t see the devil. I saw a man who was trying to do the right thing to include all people, and not treat them as if they didn’t know anything. I’m confident that those who called me the devil didn’t see that. I’m sure there are those who still to this day, consider me to be the devil. I think the devil, however, is in the details.

If I can say anything is definitively evil and from the devil. I would have to say it is division and purposefully dividing people from each other. I do believe there is a lot more evil than that, but I would say that division is certainly “bad fruit”. St. Paul taught us how to spot the “Good fruit” one of those was kindness. He also said that “selfishness and vain ambition” were bad. Going back to all of those verses, I can almost hear the masters of faith saying that kindness and love are the firm foundation for any religion. When a religion is based on us, not them, it is built on shifting sands. Maybe we should stop pointing the finger, and instead take a look at the three pointing back at us.

“Please allow me to introduce myself.” I am a man of faith who has been guilty of making mistakes. I am a man who tries to find the good and connections in others despite our differences. All I ask is that you “Have some sympathy, and some taste (Woo woo) Use all your well-learned politesse”, or division will “lay your soul to waste”. Uh… Yeah. We need to stop seeing the other as a devil. We need to have some taste in what we do. We need to be polite, and civil with each other. Or this division we are creating will rot and waste away at our souls. If I take anything away from this classic samba rock anthem it’s this, we all are flawed. We all are responsible for these horrible atrocities. We need to stop trying to pick specks out of our neighbors’ eyes and remove the plank from our own. We need to have sympathy for our made up devils and begin to see them for what they are, human. But also, don’t forget, you are not alone, you matter!

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Through the Looking Glass

A few years ago I wrote a blog post about leaving from a summer of working at a camp. I really felt God’s love at that camp. It was a deep connection with those around me, the area we were at, and the God I love so dear. I wrote that it felt kind of like stepping through the looking glass, returning from wonderland. I had another such experience just this last weekend.
I attended a youth retreat weekend as an adult participant, which in itself was a great experience (not running anything and not having to worry about all the stuff that youth leaders worry about). This program is mainly put on by teenagers for teenagers, and supported by adults. Over the course of the weekend it was as if God slowly snuck into the campground and started connecting all of us to each other and to God’s self as well. We reached that ethereal and ineffable substantive experience of which I believe heaven is made of.
This was not my first time getting to taste what heaven is like. It is in fact something I strive for every day of my life. It is this feeling of oneness. To borrow a word from Hinduism, Nirvana. As i sit here writing I am wanting to describe what it is like, but I feel it is so much bigger than words. It is like being loved, accepted, welcomed, cared for, and at peace all at the same time. I felt this back when I worked at that camp, at an amazing concert, at various moments during my wedding week (including my wedding), and this weekend.
For those of us who were involved and connected during those moments it’s very hard to return to the places that we are from. It’s like you have changed into another person, but everything you returned to belongs to the person who left. It is very much like stepping through the looking glass out of wonderland into a dark reality. You try to explain to people about what it was like on the other side, but all they can see is a reflection of their own reality staring back at them. You feel disconnected. It was so easy to listen to and hear God in that place, but now God feels distant and unclear.
I do believe this is what the first Christians intended church to be. The first Christians were called such because they were just like that revolutionary Rabbi named Christ by his followers. They lived together in love. They connected on that deeper level. They showed the world how they were different by inviting them into this community. This community that loved each other, cared for one another, accepted everyone (most of the time), and loved peace. I don’t know maybe I am just an Idealist and create this beautiful picture that never truly existed. I do believe the concept is sound though. I do think that is a community we are capable as a church of creating. This is a big lesson, but I don’t want to spend all day writing this post. If you would like to learn more about the early church I recommend checking out Nooma video #15 “You”. Rob Bell does a great job of condensing a lot of ideas into about 11 minutes. You can purchase (it’s only a buck to watch online and 2 bucks to download) and download itHere.
My challenge to my readers today is this, strive to bring about the Kingdom. The Kingdom of God is here and all we have to do is welcome it in. We can create the Kingdom of God all around us. We are citizens of that Kingdom after all. We need to fight against hate, injustice, greed, corruption, nonacceptance, and all those things that keep us on this side of the looking glass. Let’s allow God’s love to invade our world and revolutionize who and what we are as a people. God’s love is too good not to share.

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