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Friday, September 30, 2011

False Prophets

Something I used to hear as a young priest was the following: "Things are really pretty simple, we are the ones who make it complex and mess it up." This was generally in reference to  faith life. Then they would share with me the simple thing, "just trust" or "love one another." And, of course, "just read the Bible and do what it says."

It may be pious sounding to say "it is all pretty simple" but I do not think it is true. I think it is complex and the complexity has increased dramatically in the last few decades as technology makes the world more connected and we are confronted with a vast array of viewpoints (including many within the Body of Christ). Reading the Bible can sometimes add to the confusion.

Yesterday I shared some thoughts on Jesus' command to not judge. The command is pretty simple and there is a very concrete practice which can come from it. Hold myself to a higher standard. Criticize my own position with the same intensity I do others. Work extra hard to understand others, and have a merciful heart in doing it. But reading more makes things more complex!

Today, I want to look at what Jesus said a few verses later. "Beware of false prophets." So much for not judging, right? Obviously, false prophets don't wear a tee shirt with the words "FALSE!" on the front. How, exactly, does one know a false prophet unless one makes a judgment of some sort? Obviously, not to judge needs to be understood in a complex way.

Apparently, in Matthew's time, there were people who claimed to be Spirit-led. They advocated all manner of "freedom" (or license). We see this tension in the early church in other writings as well. Paul makes mention of those who misunderstand the true meaning of freedom and have twisted his words. In Revelation, there is mention of the Nicolatians and the followers of Balaam. In fact, as much as grace, there is a prevalence of moral demands and ethical exhortations. The NT follows the OT in saying God places behavioral expectations upon us.

Jesus says we must produce fruits (righteousness) and that we should beware of those who preach a message which negates morality (or redefines it). Matthew's church must have had people who were doing that. It should come as no surprise that in our own day such things continue to happen. Fortunately, we do have a criteria: fruits.

False prophets, claiming the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, seem much in vogue in TEC and other churches. [The "conservative" version of false prophets also exist. They generally do not populate the halls of power in my denomination. We have the left wing in super abundance.] Discipleship focuses on Jesus and what He calls us to. It defines love by His defintion, not some contemporary one. It walks on "the narrow way." Jesus is clear, the path is narrow and the way is hard and there are darn few who make it. The 'tolerance' crowd, proclaiming a wide path with diverse ways, is, based on the words of Jesus, acting like false prophets. The spirit within us which hungers for an easier way is not the Holy Spirit. The spirit guiding our bishops and our general convention has not been the Spirit of God. The fruits are not there. The righteousness of Jesus is not there. The errors being expounded as something new are not new at all. It is the same old false teaching.

Yet, in every age, God gathers those who are His faithful ones. The key is being faithful. The challenge is to not be so focused on the errors of others that we lose sight of our own errors. One can stray too far left and fall off the narrow path, but it is equally true on the right. The Sermon on the Mount is neither simple nor easy. The way of discipleship can be confusing. But Jesus promises to be with those who seek Him and submit to His word. We have hope, even if we mess up. It is a complex world and discipleship can be complex. Reading large sections of Scripture and balancing one section with another, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, in communion with the Saints (attending to their interpretations) is not easy. It is a narrow way. It is, however, the way of life in Jesus!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Wrestling with Not Judging

This week we have been reading from the Gospel of Matthew at Morning Prayer. The sections are found in the Sermon on the Mount. The words of Jesus are both comforting and frightening. One really jumped out at me in my prayer and meditation.

"Do not judge and you will not be judged," Jesus said. And it is something which He repeats. In the Lord's prayer we ask God to forgive us as we forgive others. Jesus tells parables about a man forgiven an unpayable debt who fails to show mercy to someone who owes him a far smaller amount. He warns us that unless we forgive, we place our souls at risk. God deals with us, He says, in the same manner that we deal with others.

Then Jesus asks, "why do you see the speck in your brother's eye and not see the log in your own?" That is a great question. Every day I see it lived out. We are good at pointing out what "they" are doing and better at portraying ourselves in the best light. For example, I briefly heard part of an NBA player inverview concerning the lock out. In the snippet, he was saying that the players desperately want to play but they have to stick to their principles, and the owners refuse to listen. Because I am not a big fan I really do not care. I do know that based on the amounts of money everyone is making in that game, greed, not principles, is the primary motivation. O my, I just judged, didn't I? I intended to give some illustrations of people being unable to hear the other side and I ended up making a snarky comment about rich ball players.

Well, the good news is that judgment can be the beginning of a moment of grace. I can now look inward and ask, "how am I motivated by greed?" "When am I in disagreement/discussions with another and I assume they are wrong and I am right?" "When do I 'dialogue' in a way that is closed and not listening?"

Jesus' point is not that we can never confront another. His point is look at yourself first. As He basically says, Take the log out of your own eye, then, once you can see clearly, you can worry about improving your brother.

However, the willingness to do this will be difficult. Being self critical will alienate friends. trying to understand the other side will be manipulated by foes. It makes winning an argument less likely (although can you ever win an argument?). It is, however, what Jesus wants.

I believe we must be our own harshest critics. We must hold ourselves to the highest standards. Once we do that, it becomes more difficult to condem and demonize those with whom we disagree. For example, I have a long life full of moral errors. I have, many times, made a decision to do something which I knew the Lord demanded that I not do. I have a half a century of sin and an equal amount of remorse. As I carry that remembrance of my own infidelity and weakness, I can encounter those who are engaged in sin (or the promotion of sin) with some sympathy. There are many times when I have convinced myself that something wrong was not wrong. There are many other times when I did not have the strength to fight temptation, even hating myself for doing the things I was doing (appetites and impulse control figure heavily here). All error is a sin of will, but it is still true that people can be confused and misled. Lord knows I have been.

I have more compassion for those with whom I am engaged in endless disagreement. It is probably why I am able to stay put in this church (TEC) which seems so intent to embrace the way of error. I know it is often depressing and painful, but maybe the conflict is a way to grow. Maybe I am so adept at seeing their logs and specks because of my sin. Maybe looking at their obvious errors will help me to look at myself and find equally obvious errors in me. Perhaps God is perfecting me through this process. Perhaps He is also drawing them to some soul searching. Maybe they need an authentic Christian witness and maybe God is making me authentically Christian through this unpleasant and difficult time. (I hope He hurries up!)

I am not optimistic, but I am hopeful. There is danger being active in a church which has gone so wrong in so many ways. I understand the impulse which has pushed so many to disengage and move on. Staying is certainly not the way for everyone, but it does seem to be the path the Lord has set me on. How about you?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

All Tied Up

My son is a Cardinal fan. Last night, the Cardinals' back was against the wall. They had lost the previous night to the worst team in the league, and early in the game they were losing 5-0. A game behind with two to play meant there was no room for error. A couple of big innings and some solid relief pitching helped them to a 13-6 win. They are now tied for the last playoff spot with one game to go. Ironically, in the AL two other teams are also knotted up. On the last day of the season there are four teams fighting it out, each with a chance to play into the Fall.

What is most interesting about this exciting finish is how unexpected it is. In the beginning of September there was a wide division between these teams. It appeared that the season was over for the Cardinals (and Rays) as they were so far behind. Then two inexplicable things happened. The Cardinals and Rays began to win at a very high rate while Atlanta and Boston fell apart. I do not know how it will end, but I do know there is a chance we will see two one game play-offs. Amazing.

So what does this have to do with the Journey of Faith? Well, the last couple of days I have blogged on issues in the Epsicopal Church. I have shared my thoughts about the ongoing errors which I think this church has embraced. The question that I have been asked repeatedly (by friend and foe) for many years is, "Why are you still in the Episcopal Church?" Many people have made it clear that things are not going to get better, they will only get worse. Now church life is not a baseball game, but the unexpected is part of both. [Lest I be labeled a blithering optimist (which would be very funny to anyone who knows me) I am keenly aware that my favorite team, which was closer to being in the race than the Cardinals a month ago is buried a dozen games out of it. I know that the 'unusual' does not usually occur! I experience the pain of losing on a regular basis.]

As I look on the ecclessial landscape, I am aware that things look bleak. As I survey my church and my place in it, it looks bleaker. The people in power in our church do not embrace me or what I teach. Though things are quieter now, I have little doubt that the next steps are being taken to reshape the church and its teaching. Yet I also know that one cannot project the future and predict how things will turn out. Sometimes the unexpected happens. Just when the star strikes out and all hope seems lost, a bench player smashes a two run homer and the game is back in reach. It happens.

So in the face of many challenges and a dozen reasons to give up hope, I cling to faith in God. Will it all turn out well for me and mine? Based on the current 'standings' it does not look that way. There are many indicators that losses will pile up and we will go down in defeat. But there is always the possibility of the amazing, the unexpected, the wonderful surprise. I am not sure how God works in all this. I am sure that God does work in all this. Stranger things have happened. Hearts and Minds have been converted. The Holy Spirit has snatched up a remnant and done a mighty work. People get healed and saved. Attendance booms and missionary zeal explodes. The hungry get fed and the poor hear Good News. Maybe today the turn around will start. The thing is, one only knows it as the turnaround much later. So I commit to one more day: praying, studying, teaching, counseling. One more day. With eyes on the Lord to await His deliverance and salvation!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

TEC's New Religion

On Friday I got an e-mail, forwarding me the Episcopal Bishop's Pastoral letter on the Environment. My initial reaction was negative. So I wanted to give it some time and reread it later. I gave it time, I reread it, and my second reaction was negative.

Let me be clear, I am in agreement that pollution is bad and consumerism and over-consumption are wrong. I also confess that I have been shaped by my culture in such a way that I engage in practices which are consumeristic and consumptive. My house is too big and we have too much stuff. I have never been at peace at how I ended up. But my models for spirituality, classical Christian faith, were what motivated me. As a seminarian and young priest I preached on this alot. St. Francis was my hero. Over and over again, I was told I was too idealistic and at some point I simply stopped fighting and enculturated. Now I am 'middle class man,' living the American "dream." So I am still, at some level, hungry for an answer to the question, "how does a Christian live in this land today?"

But the bishops have simply dressed up Al Gore's environmental message with numerous Biblical quotes and references to Christ. The message they sent was not profoundly Christian nor was it inspirational. The danger is, of course, that environmentalism, which is one of the leading secular religions, is replacing Christianity. The greater danger is these bishops have no clue that that is what is going on. I have seen the last year or two that "green" has replaced "gay marriage" as the primary concern of this church.

The first cheap shot I can take at the bishops is pulling the hypocrisy card. How can a group of people who regularly fly jets to gather in meetings (of questionable value) several times a year (and usually at some prime hotel) have the temerity to talk to anyone about consumption? How can bishops who oversee dioceses' with large builidngs and expansive facilities (generally inhabited by small numbers of parishioners) fail to address their own business first before they pontificate on what "we" should do? Like Al Gore, who consumes incredible amounts of energy and whose carbon footprint is the size of several third world villages, these "prophetic" words ring hollow.

The bigger issue for me is that the bishops, who seem to delight in rejecting classical Christianity as they "struggle" to "reshape" "Gospel preaching" for a new age, have simply embraced one of the party planks of the Left Wing of our nation's political debates. That is fine, Lord knows Christians must engage the world and politics is the venue in which we humans hammer out the policies and procedures of life together. The problem is the church leaders, who have long criticized (sometimes fairly) the right wing equating Jesus with their politics, cannot paint up the "leftist" politics with Christ without the same criticism being levelled at them. But then, in political power, hubris is a predominant factor...

I am not a scientist. I do not know by if driving to work each day I have put the world in peril. It makes sense that I am having an impact. But I also know that there was a period of extreme cold, called the mini ice age, as recently as the middle ages. I know the impact of weather on crops was horrible and in the colder climates people starved and were weakened. I have read that some think this added to the killing power of the bubonic plague which wiped out a large percentage of the population. I also know that climate change is the normal state of things. When I was a child I remember my terror while reading that the earth was on its way to freezing again. I prepared for a future of winter coats years round and eating seal blubber.

Whatever else may be true, it is simply not true that the bishops offer anyone a comprehensive solution to the issue. Have any of these "teachers" given any thought to what the western world should look like if we adopted a program of "green" living? Would everyone walk? What kind of construction would we embrace for work and living? What of farming? What of transportation? What about advances in science? Would it be nuclear, solar, wind? (which apparently are not able to do the job) And if so, why has the church not invested in these technologies? or explained how they will be implemented. And what about everything which currently exists? What can we reasonably expect to do? (besides those new light bulbs, which unfortunately can kill people if not properly disposed?)

The environment matters. Our actions matter. However, the Gospel is that GOD is the ONE Who we turn to in our brokeness and need. The empty platitudes of left wing politics do not ring true to me. Replacing Christian faith with Environmental activism leaves me angry. In their letter, the bishops display little in the way of serious answers. It seems to me that this new religion will not save, it cannot save because it depends on me and you. It is a call to "do something" but the sum total of what that something is, is precious little. Sorry, bishops, I am sure you are remarkably sincere and heartfelt in your exhortation, but I do not think you have given me much to work with here. No, we will not focus on climate change in this parish beyond what we already do. The focus will remain the spiritual climate of our relationship with the Triune God. Sins against the earth matter, but they are secondary. No sense confusing people about Who the Messiah is and What our main concern should be. The people hear enough of that already outside the church....

Friday, September 23, 2011

GLBT's sticky argument (2)

(Following up on yesterday, so read it first). On September 14th our local paper ran an article by David Brooks, "The erosion of shared moral frameworks." Brooks reflected on the findings from a group of sociologists who studied America's youth. His point is that today's youth, while not decadent, are inept in discussing moral issues. Two-thirds were unable to describe a moral dilemma. Brooks reflects upon their inablility to think in moral terms. It is very disconcerting. He concludes that things were different in the past: "A shared religion defined rules and practices. Cultures structured people's imaginations and imposed moral disciplines. But now more people are led to assume that the free-floating individual is the essential moral unit."

This does not mean that people were better in the past. Sinful humans sin. The problem of sin is always there. The problem is the younger among us are incapable of deciphering what sin is, beyond obvious things like murder. The bigger problem is the total ascendency of the individual/personal over the corporate/communal.The ethical system in which I was educated in seminary had a helpful balance between individual conscience and institutional expectations. The concept of an informed conscience was a key element. A person was expected to engage the revelation of God's will as found in Scripture and discerned by and articulated through the Church. I know the Protestant approach negates the latter as unhelpful, and many Protestant friends speak of Church Tradition as a negative. Yet, clearly, the current conflict over interpretation of Scripture is grounded in "free-floating individuals" and the result has been rather chaotic.

The adovcates for Man-Boy love (called NAMBLA, a group which no longer "officially" exists) was originally an active agent in gay rights advocacy. Lesbians were resistant to this and as the gay rights advocates became 'less radical' and more mainstream NAMBLA was expelled from their organizations. One can only wonder to what degree the decisions were made for practical purposes (in pursuing acceptance of homosexuality). I have no doubt that many homosexuals whom I know would be offended by NAMBLA. I also am not surprised that Lesbians would find it offensive. The only point I make is that there is an overlap, and a significant overlap, of the movement to 'normalize' GLBT relationships and the aims of NAMBLA.

Because the existing moral code is under attack, not only by secularists, but also by those within the church, we live in a time where much change is taking place. What is most worrisome is that the conservative evangelicals, long criticized for their "intolerance" are manifesting the same erosion of values that their Liberal/Progressive opponents are advocating. It is based, at least in part, on the general decline of churches into collections of "free-floating individuals." The ecclessiology of many committed Christians minimizes the value of church and negates catholicity. An emphasis on personal salvation is interpretted through the predominant cultural lense (what is in it for me?) and the rejection of the church's authority to teach reduces each person to an isolated decision maker. Shaped by assumptions which are non-Christian and limited by mediocre skills in moral analysis and decision making, the church youth are little better equipped to answer life's challenges than their non-believing neighbors. In the end, the Bible is not always terribly helpful to such an individual. There is much in the Bible which confuses. There is a need to intrepret the texts and such interpretations can be very divergent, very, very divergent. And when we listen to no voive but our own (and those who say what we want to hear) the likelihood of hearing the text say what we want to  hear increases tenfold.

The success of the GLBT coalition has been astounding. For the better part of a decade it has been front and center of news stories and popular entertainment. (e.g., a popular show among teens, Glee, revels constantly in gay themes). Progressives would applaud such openness. I am not so enthusiastic. Instead, I continue to see (helpful) boundaries disappear. The efforts to normalize the GLBT has moved the limits of toleration ever closer to acceptance of the 'next thing'. The current movement to change age of consent and rethink the issue of sex between adult and child is the beginning, not the end, of a process. To the extent that they have undermined traditional moral teaching, the adovocates of GLBT stand responsible for this latest tragedy. The failure of honesty and the refusal to analyze their own arguments (and the consequences of their claims) has produced an environment of new danger. Calling traditional morality "hate speech" has made it less possible to speak the truth in love to the advocates of child sex. Molesters revel in all this. They have hope that the weakened standing of the traditional moral code will provide them with the opportunity to normalize their perversions. I do not see how the Progressives can answer this advance. After all, when you claim that no one  has a right to judge another, you open the door to everything. Well, the door is open and everything is on its way in.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

GLBT's sticky argument

Those familiar with the tiny hands of toddlers know that frequent washing is mandatory. Toddlers tend to involve all their digits when eating, and they enjoy foods which are loaded with ingredients which produce 'hand magnets.' You know, the jelly coated paws which are then covered with fuzz and assorted other debris. Yes, sticky fingers can unintentionally pick up all manner of excess. Arguments work the same way.

I am a counselor and was drawn to this vocation because of a natural inclination to feel empathy. The pain of others induces a response in me. I have counseled several young men and women who struggled with their sexual identity and inclinations. In almost every case, the person I dealt with was a sympathetic figure. Their pain was real and heartbreaking. Among other things, we discussed the morality of the situation and I explained the 'internal forum' to those whose understanding of their situation was different than mine. I was involved in one gay bashing incident, where I was asked to intervene with someone who was bullying some homosexuals, which I did. I am against picking on people.

When the episcopal church made it's decision(s) around all things GLBT, the process was political. We met in conventions and passed legislation. As such, the decisions were made in the realm of power and politics. Arguments were obviously provided, sometimes with great passion, but I am not sure how much actual discussion took place. Dialogue frequently means, "let's talk and then do what I want." That was certainly what I saw in this process.

As an inside observer of the process I attempted to listen to the arguments. In the end, the pro-GLBT arguments drove me to the other side. They were generally problematic. They tended to ignore the implications of their conclusions. It did not feel 'nice' to take such a position. It was difficult in light of the pain so many GLBT had suffered. But having spent many years in seminary where moral argumentation was taught I knew that reason has a place in argumentation and reason was not on their side.

Among the things which worried me most was the disdain for tradition and philosophy (especially teleology). The Biblical arguments were typical. Each side grabbed up some texts and either "proofed" their position or "explained away" the other. The best argument I heard (though ironically unappealing at first hearing) was that the natural order is man-woman marriage as set forth in Genesis. I found this to be unmoving for a long time. The genius of the insight dawned on me later. However, perhaps because of the more Protestant nature of the group, rarely was the church's historical interpretation of the texts brought forth. In the end, the fatal flaw of personal interpretation is it is personal. As such, conservatives tend to read conseratively and liberals tend to read liberal-ly. It is the nature of our subjectivity. Therefore, the pros and cons argued past each other. Much of the Biblical interpretation was shaped by feelings and limited insights into the position held.

However, as the 'progressives' rejected large blocks of scripture as 'outdated' they failed to recognize the repurcussions. Like a toddler with sticky fingers, their arguments were picking up exrtra debris. For example, the claim that one's sexual orientation is God given and therefore God blessed. We heard the constant refrain "God made me this way." I and others pointed out that this was an erroneous assumption and a problematic one as well. We were ignored (and demonized). Fastforward eight years, to September 2011. Now we hear a growing movement to normalize pedophilia... The argument used? You guessed it. We cannot judge the natural occuring desires of another. Let me be clear, I and others made this logical connection almost a decade ago and we were lambasted. Now, before our eyes, we see and hear exactly the things we said would happen. The horror.

The pro-pedophilia crowd has embraced the GLBT arguments and inserted their own group. The outcome is less certain, but in the end, once one begins arguing about the acceptability of such things, there is a sense in which the battle is lost. A society which argues about such things is open to the possibility. A society which embraces unfettered freedom and individual rights is ripe to embrace it.

I am not saying gay people are child molesters. I am, however, also not shying away from the fact that the arguments made for acceptance of LGBT is also being used by the pro-pedophilia. That is what I saw coming long ago. Arguments have consequences. Changing institutions impacts other institutions. Dismantling marriage will produce other unintended consequences.

The connections between some in the GLBT community and those sexually attracted to youths are documented. Sex between adult males and male teens has been well documented in the clergy sex abuse scandals. Ignoring this inconvenient truth has not been helpful. The politically correct limitations have helped create an environment where the idea of child molesting may become past tense. It is all so awful.

Years ago when I said such things I was told it would never, could never happen. Today, we are in the midst of the discussions. Many people have no idea what is going on. They did not pay attention to the consequences of 'sticky' arguments. Trying to be nice they opened the door to 'everyone' without thinking what everyone includes. An unattended, open door provides an open avenue to the monsters. And the monsters are real. And the monsters are trying to come in the house.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

tough words from Jesus and Paul

I was reading the daily lectionary this morning and doing my prayer time and the scriptures were like a punch in the belly. Paul was upbraiding the church about taking each other to court in lawsuits. It made me ponder the sorry state of the church as the culture wars disintegrate many of the mainline churches. One of the horrors is the lawsuits.

Church splits are like divorces. By the time that the division takes place there is so much hurt and anger that the parties are often blinded. I once read where the Epsicopal church refused an offer of a departing parish to buy their facility. Not long afterward, the Diocese sold the abandoned church property to Muslims (at half the offered price). It was a vicious act and financially poor stewardship and showed the Epsicopal church to be very petty and shortsided.  But how often to divorces cost over $100,000 as lawyers battle it out? How often do men and women hurt themselves financially (and mentally, spiritually and physically) in an effort to hurt their former spouses?

I think Paul's words on courts are hard words. They are the kind of words which we ignore as we jump up to defend our own actions. They are the kind of words we ignore as we blame 'the other' for our problems. I am clear that Paul would not be impressed with the direction the Episcopal church has taken. Yet I do wonder if he would not see some parallels to the conflicts in Corinth about which he was writing.

And Jesus is much tougher. "But I say to you, love your enemy..." As I sat in prayer and reflection, I thought about how hard this really is. It is especially difficult in the culture wars, where the groups genuinely think that the other is evil (or doing evil). As I pondered Jesus' words, I kept in mind His actions. He did not shy away from conflict and He certainly had harsh words (e.g., 'brood of vipers' and 'hypocrites') for His adversaries. What did the love of enemy look like for Jesus, a man who had many enemies? How does one genuinely love those with whom one is in a heated conflict?

I have heard the criticism that religion was created by humans as a way to give consolation and make life easier. This morning I laughed at that idea. As I prayed for the strength to love those who would do me harm, I was aware that the demands of the Christian life generate as much anxiety as consolation many times. In large part, it is because Christian faith is shaped in the sign of a cross. And we are the ones on it, with Jesus. Love in action. Self gift, like Jesus.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Praying in Odd Places

I had a root canal last week. The young dental assistant had a baby the month before we did. When I arrived at 8am she shared that her three year old had been up until 4:00 and once he fell asleep, the baby woke up. She had been awake twenty eight hours straight at that point and was not feeling well. Between my baby and my tooth ache, I had recently endured a similar stretch of sleeplessness, so empathy was easy at that point.

The dental process took about two hours and about half way through the dentist left to see another patient. I asked the assistant how she was feeling. She was feeling worse, so I said, "Let me pray for you." reaching out my hand I expected her to take it, instead she bent her head over, so I put my hands on her head and prayed the Father's presence and  healing power through Jesus. It was one of those moments...

I tried not to think about the fact that I was hooked up to laughing gas, sitting in a dentist chair, as I did this. It was a bit 'unusual,' even for me. It was also a blessing. I have often said that the easiest way to introduce God into any situation is to ask someone "how can I pray for you?" There is a gift to prayer that impacts people more positively than being preached at.

I have shared before that sometimes when I drive or am in the grocery, I just look around and pray for the people I see. I pray for all manner of things, usually for healing, strength and faith. I think if we are living in a world at war (spiritually) then that sort of thing is vital to the effort. Too often Christians are settled in and accepting of the status quo. What if prayer is one of our weapons and the means through which God has chosen to enter the world most effectively? Well, then we need to pray more. If not, why did Jesus tell us to pray so much?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


So Peter asks Jesus, "Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? Seven times?"

"No," Jesus replies, "not seven but seventy seven" (or perhaps seventy times seven). In other words, there is no limit.

The first thing that jumps out at you when you read the text is that Peter does not mention the church member being sorry. That changes everything. It is one thing to forgive someone who is sorry. It is another thing to forgive someone who is not. Why would Jesus not tell us to wait for an apology from the perpetrator? Why would he not require that we hold such a person to some standard?

It is tempting to do a psychological assessment here. We all know that the emotions we feel seething within us when we have been "done wrong" are not helpful. We know that they produce all manner of illness. We know that they eat away at our souls, bodies, emotions. We have seen the diminished humanity of someone who harbors ongoing anger. Maybe Jesus is being therapeutic, telling us to forgive others for our own good. But I do not think that Jesus is primarilly concerned with mental (and physical) health here. Instead, I would offer two other concerns which I do think motivate Him here.

One is the covenant. The other is the reality of human dominion. Let's look at covenant first. The basis of our relationship with God is His grace. He freely chose to gift us with life, to forgive us and to free us from death. None of this is earned or warranted. It is His choice and it is a gift. There is debate about who is offered this grace (all people or only a select number). How that mercy is realized is another much debated question. I will only say that on numerous occassions Jesus states that our willingness to forgive is a condition of God's forgiveness. ["So my heavenly Father will also do to every on of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart."] An argument can be made that we renew this covenant with God each time we pray the Lord's prayer ["forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors"]. The salvific impact of mercy cannot be overstated. If I understand Jesus correctly, our eternity is tied up with forgiving others.

The other issue is human dominion. As our reflections on Genesis pointed out, the Lord God made a decision to hand over power to the human. In the world, we are given dominion (as the image of God). The same is true (only intensified) in the church. Jesus breathes His Spirit into us. We are teh Body of Christ! We are given the power to bind/unbind sins. This is not an empty image. It is a metaphor for a genuine reality. Sin is real. Very real. So is forgiveness. God's war against sin and death was won by Jesus, but we are partners with Jesus in the ongoing battles today. We forgive others so that we can then invite them to repent. Repentance is not causal, it is responsive. People change their lives when they are free. Forgiveness provides that freedom. The sins done against us are the ones which we have the power to forgive because it costs us.

I do not know why God would make the decision to hand over so much power to humans. I do not understand why God would put Himself in a situation where the Church is so vital to His saving work. I think the cross is key. The Lord, emptied of His divine status, hung on that cross. The powerlessness of His power is the absolute paradox. But the cross is not an isolated, singular event. It is at the heart of God's saving work. As He allowed Himself to be beaten, tortured and killed, so today He allows His mission to be impacted by our choices and decisions. Throughout history, the sins of the church have diminished the success of the mission. Likewise, our fidelity has produced great fruit.

Forgiveness, whatever other benefits is provides, is about the mission of Jesus. Those who harm us need His grace and mercy. Our acts of forgiving are His work of salvation, in and through us. We become sacraments of His presence. So mercy is a gift we receive, and also a task with which we are burdened. Our mercy is God's reformation of the world. Our forgiveness is a means of His salvation impacting the world. To forgive is to share, as the Image of God, in the saving work of God. And, for everyone, there are some people who have hurt us so badly, that to forgive them is to be crucified. That may be, in the end, why we must forgive. Perhaps, when Jesus says we must take up our own cross, what He means is that when we show others mercy (especially the unrepentant) we die to ourselves and enter into a deeper union with Him. It is all more complex then that, no doubt, but certainly the cross and mercy are tied together not only at Calvary, but within our own hearts and our own relationships.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

End of World

Sunday we had our first High School Sunday School class of the new year. We are studying the Book of Revelation. For many people the "Left Behind" series is the only approach to this book.

One interesting fact is that the Book of Revelation was not universally accepted as Scripture in the early church. In fact, many in the church rejected its authroity. Obviously, it is in the Bible, but that process was not smooth. I also know that in the church's lectionary, there are few appearances from this book. SO although it is in the Bible, it is only rarely read in the church's worship. What is also interesting to me is that there is no definitive way to read the Book of Revelation. In fact, over the history of the church, there have been four approaches which were utilized in reading this book. In simplest form, two of the approaches see it as predicting the 'end of the world.' One says that process will begin in the future, while the other thinks the process has already begun and is moving to completion at some point in the future. A third approach thinks the book was actually predicting the Fall of Jerusalem in 70AD and spoke in cosmic terms about that past event (it was the "end of the world as we know it"). The fourth approach sees the Book as symbolic of the struggle between God's rule and the principalities and powers in every age. Hence, it is a 'spiritual' reading applicable to any time.

I lean toward the latter two modes, in large part because I have seen how much of the imagery used in Revelation can be found throughout the Old Testament, especially in the prophets. The expression, "coming on the clouds" (which is frequently associated with the rapture) can be found in the OT to describe God's judgment. Obviously, interpretation is impacted by how one approaches the text.

The bigger question is, does God have a certain date set for the end of the world, or is it something that will be determined in response to human activity? I believe God has a plan, but that doesn't really answer the question. His plan may be to end the world on March 21, 2039. Or His plan may be to end the world when the diabolical powers establish their counter kingdom. Perhaps the battle has waged on and on for centuries. Maybe Hitler or Stalin were close to it. Maybe if WWII or the Cold War had ended differently then God would have acted in the final, definitive way.

In some ways, the answer to that question impacts my life today. Does God already know when, or am I (and you) playing a part in the process? In other words, does prayer, politics, personal and public morality have an impact on God's world. Does what we pray and do matter?

There are many approaches to this question as well. But as I look at the Middle East, the economic meltdown, the threats of war it gets me to wondering. And as I look at the advances and improvements in daily life, the remarkable blessings which we take for granted, I feel some wonder. What is God up to? What part do you and I play? How we live our lifes is the actual answer we give to that question.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Dirty Little Secret of 9/11

As I watched various news programs about that horrific day, I found myself, yet again, choking back tears. Ten years ago I went on a crying jag that lasted the better part of a week. The images and stories of heroism and senseless massacre burdened my soul. I still remember weeping and weeping. I also remember the point where I disengaged from the television coverage and started trying to live in the world outside the tragedy. Yet the raw emotion and sadness at the evil of that day are never far away.

Today I spoke with the parents of a young woman, married to a navy Seal in the war. She shared the constant worry and the difficulty this precious woman has as she waits for the next phone call from her beloved husband. The endless death and destruction continues. Young and old, all precious to God, are touched by the evil of that day.

In the Romans reading and Gospel I was given to preach on this weekend, the theme of forgiveness is central. (The actual sermon is on line at our church What I want to share is one shocking thing which I realized in prayer and study preparing the homily. It is like the dirty little secret which no one ever mentions. The horror and evil which we witnessed that day, which we remember ten years later, is but a small, even miniscule amount of the evil and sin perpetrated on that day. As I shared in my sermon, on 9/11 ten years ago, around the world, hundreds, even thousands of other people were mudered, or raped. Thousands of children were destroyed in the womb. Thousands of children were in sex slavery or other forms of bondage. Around the world, thousands on that day were poisoned by waste, starved by evil governments, ripped off by businesses. Thousands of spouses were cheated on. Millions were physically or emotionally abused. The list goes on and on. Each sin, each act of evil, was a personal affront to God. Each sin, each evil, was a cause of the Cross.

We are blessed by a God who in His mercy has forgiven such a huge debt of sin. I pause to think, I cannot bear the pain of the 9/11 horrors, much less entertain the millions and billions of sins committed that day and every day. The sheer number is unfathomable. Yet God, in Christ, absorbs all the sin. He takes it on Himself and forgives. He wipes clean the debt. A debt so huge no one could ever pay.

Our task is to forgiven the unforgivable. Jesus is clear on that. In practice that is very difficult. Perhaps, at times, even impossible. Yet we stand before God (or better kneel) and beg "forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors." Wow. More that I can handle and I have spent two weeks thinking, praying, studying,  writing and preparing to give that message. How I wish Jesus would take control of me, to make me like Him. I guess He is, but He is doing it slowly.

Forgive us as we forgive. That is a covenant we make with God.
Help us forgive others as we have been forgiven by YOU, Merciful Lord!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Egypt and the Jews

I heard that an angry mob attacked the Jewish embassy the other day. My understanding is the ambassador was able to escape. I heard Egyptian police were not helpful in the process. It appears to be another sign of Israel's precarious situation.

With that in mind, I was struck by the first reading from the Revised Common Lectionary at our Saturday evening eucharist today. It is the famous story of the Exodus. I do not know, but would not be surprised to find out, that some Egyptians do not believe the Exodus really happened or do not think it mattered at all. Certainly, the crowds chasing the ambassador out of his embassy would not see themselves as in conflict with God's people.

The Exodus text (14:19-31) is simple in its presentation. "the Lord saved Israel," "Israel saw the great work that the Lord did," "so the people feard the Lord and believed the Lord." There are some who see the current events in the Middle East with anticipation. Is this, they ask, the beginning of the end of the world? I do not know. Rumors of war are in the air. If it isn't the end of the world it is certainly possible that it is going to be a bad moment for the world.

Yet God is the God who saves. We know that and can trust it. I love the Psalm verse, "pray for the peace of Israel." So I do. I hope tonight you will as well.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Difference between a Good Day and a Bad Day

Tuesday was not a great day. Dental and doctor appointments were less than positive. The day was long and exhausting. I got a call that my aunt in Chicago was in ICU. I was tired and it seemed that everything that day was not good. Of course, armed with the knowledge that others have it much harder, I was able to say (and mean it), "things could  be worse, much worse." 'Not good' is relative. I gave thanks I did not experience worse!

Wednesday morning came too early (but I went off to work anyhow). The Bible study was awesome. We read 2 Kings 17 and it was loaded with power and a revelation of the heart of God. I cannot say that the study of the "historical books" of the Old Testament have always been so exciting. Yesterday was one of the best.

In the late afternoon I was going through the mail. Most of my mail is not interesting. Usually someone is asking me for something, generally money and time. I was surprised to open a letter from someone I did not know. As I read it, I remembered. The letter began "In March I was diagnosed with stage IV cancer." She shared that a mutual friend had tried to bring her to St. Andrews for the Saturday night healing eucharist, but scheduling had not worked out. So she wrote to thank me for meeting with her during the week, "though I was not a member of your congregation." She mentioned that she was unsure what was going to happen in the healing service, but that it had been a powerful experience. Her cancer was 4x5cm and had spread to her lymph nodes all the way up her neck. The prognosis was bleak. I invited her to envision angels of God attacking the cancer during her treatment, which is something she told me she did.

As I have shared before, our healing ministry does not bat 1.000. We have had some remarkable miracles, but have also suffered many disappointments. As I read this letter, it was a reminder of why we do this. As people face suffering and death there is great value in experiencing the love and care of the Lord through His church. Sometimes, many times, the greatest healing miracles are spiritual and emotional. People find power to face the death which gains hold on them. They find peace, even joy, and have a profound sense of encounter with the Unseen God. Reconciliation with God and others is, without doubt, the central healing.

For this woman, it was just that. She admitted to "some dark days" but "I now know God never left my side." THAT is healing. THAT is salvation. So the rest of the story is icing on the cake. She is cancer free. She is in remission. She said even the doctor is surprised...

The heart of her message was that she had to "start thanking God for having healed me by faith" and then wait to see it. She thanked, she waited and she saw. It is a marvelous joy.

Heal and save are the same Greek verb (sozo). They are overlapping realities, all related to the concept of being rescued. Rescued from darkness, illness, death of body, mind and spirit. Sometimes salvation/healing is in subtle forms. It is a reminder that when faced with a 'bad' day we can still decide to be thankful it wasn't worse. That insight is a gift from God. Sometimes, salvation/healing is more amazing. Like stage four cancer being flushed out of a body by a merciful God and a woman learning His name once again, Emmanuel (God is with us). That too is a gift from God. I pray each reader, today, has an experience of salvation/healing!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Thinking Through our Points

We live in a contentious time. Arguments and debates are all around us. Unfortunately, we do not seem to be very good at it. The failure to think through our positions and to look into our own arguments creates many problems. I want to illustrate with two recent, non-theological, "arguments" I have recently encountered and then draw a theological point.

There has been a recent flurry of debate about paying college football players. Actually, there is not much debate, mainly I have heard the radio guys/guests pontificating on why they should be paid. Now it is the nature of talk radio to create 'buzz' and controversy. But it is still instructive to hear the argument.
  • College football makes lots (millions/billions) of money.
  • The institutions and coaches makes lots of money. The players are the reason people watch.
  • Therefore the players should be paid.
The key point, repeated over and over, was that the players should get some of the money their sport generates. However, a corollary would seem to be that college sports which lose money should be held to the same standard. So those athletes should have to pay to play, right? No one mentioned that. I do not have a strong opinion about this, but I do know that college tuitions are impacted by decisions in the sports department, so I have a vested interest in this issue.

Last week the local Progressive Weekly contained an editorial. The author was demonstrating (in his mind) how stupid the people who do not believe in global warming are. He began with a list of summer events which, to him, obviously proved that global warming is real. There have been tornadoes, huricanes, droughts and an earth quake the last few months. What else could it be????? My first impulse is to recall the numerous tornadoes, floods, droughts and hurricanes which have impacted the planet every year for countless centuries, but I was not able to enter that argument at all. I was too stunned by the inclusion of the "earthquake." Earthquakes are not a strong arguing point for his position, and by including it it made me think that this guy is just an idealogue spouting his stuff because it is what his team (Team Progressive) is advocating. In general, it is a bad idea to say stupid things when you are trying to demonstrate how stupid the other side is.

Thinking through college football and global warming are important. The decisions made will cost, literally, billions of dollars and impact all of  us. The same is true for numerous other decisions we make. Theology is equally impacted by this phenomenon.

Recently I hear a discussion about thrill seeking. One man said it is dumb to put your life at risk to thrill seek. Another man said that he thought it was okay. I leave out much of a longer conversation, but wanted to identify his main pro-danger argument. "When God decides your time is up, your time is up."

That claim, that God decides when you die, is certainly one which most of us believe. But when you hear it used to justify life threatening thrill seeking it causes one to ask, what do we really believe? The world of "theological bumper sticker arguments" has not produced much fruit in the last couple of decades. The decline in faith has been accelerated by the way faith has been expressed. I am not sure I am a good example of thinking through my arguments, but I do recognize the need to ask, "If I think 'X' what follows from it?" That is where investigating our own thoughts and beliefs is vital.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

"Churchy" baby

Last Thursday I took our baby to the healing service. He has some issues with his eyes. Prior to the time of healing prayer there is a communal celebration of Evening Prayer. Although we were late, we managed to be there for most of it. Afterward I handed him over to the prayer group and they prayed over him. I did not join them instead I knelt in prayer. When it was over I sort of reflected on it all. As I sat there pondering the mysteries of life, it occurred to me that my son, at three months old, had already attended Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer and Holy Eucharist. It made me wonder, how many people in this parish have done that in the ten years I have been here. The answer is very few.

Our normal Morning Prayer attendance is between four and seven. There are sometimes a few more and rarely less. Evening Prayer is about the same. The total group who actually attend would be about twenty folks. The normal parishioner has never attended either. What does that mean? Clearly, we are busy folks and the "village church" is many miles away from most of our homes. I travel 3.1 miles to get here. I live closer than most. But I do not think that "time" is the sole issue. I also think that most people do not really think going to morning and evening prayer is important.

It does raise a question in my mind. Does God care if we go to church? Am I doing my son a service or disservice by raising him in an environment where faith is connected to church? I am very sure that it is a good thing. I have no doubt that the Bible assumes communal faith. But that has not translated into regular daily worship around here. And it is not reflected in our Sunday gathering either.

Baby son is definitely being born and raised in a different time. This time of year, it is common to see e-mails telling us that "today's college freshmen grew up in a world..." They then inform us of all the things that we older folks remember that happened more than 18 years ago. I recall when I read one years ago and it was about telephones not having a dial. Well, I wonder what 18 years from now we will say about the church. I do not doubt God will continue to be at work among us. Nor do I fear that believers will not be able to pray together. But I hear that no prayers will be allowed at the 9-11 memorial. I hear how the Christian faith is being marginalized and pushed out in subtle ways every day. I just think it is going to be more counter cultural to be a person of faith. Whether that is better or worse I dare not say. I do know it will be more similar to the situation in the New Testament.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Adam, Eve, History, Truth (6)

In the Genesis 2 account, after God has formed the man out of dust, we read that He breathes into the man and the man becomes a nephesh. This word has multiple meanings (soul, self, life, creature, person, appetite, mind, living being, desire, emotion, passion) and I want to focus on one in particular: appetite.

In a series of stimulating lectures by an OT professor over a decade ago, we were taught that the Hebrew root of the word meant open. The illustration he used was the open mouth of a baby bird. That image stunned me because it reversed my view of the pre-Fall creation. The idea that we came into the world "hungry" from the beginning is a different kind of idea. It is certainly different from the idea that we were complete and whole and static. Instead, even before the Fall, it seems that we had needs and desires, an appetite.

A few verses later we read that it was not good for the man to be alone. This, too, because it is so familiar, can be overlooked. If there were perfect bliss in the pre-Fall state, then why is it not good? The reality is, the 'adam  had desires and needs. At least one, companionship, was not fufilled. We know he got hungry, there was a garden full of food. It does not say much about sleep, he slept when the material for the woman was scooped from his side/rib. Perhaps he did get tired and slept at other times as well?

All this to say, some of what we see as the burdens of life may in fact be part of the original plan. Hunger, desire, need.... Maybe even before the Fall there was struggle. Maybe struggle makes us grow and develop. Perhaps the difference is, post-Fall, our intimacy with God has been damaged and the fruit of our labors has been cursed by our sin. Maybe that is why it is so hard to believe. Maybe faith is the greatest loss from the Fall. Or maybe it is love. We see how quickly the man and woman damage each other, the brother murders brother. Perhaps the Fall  has diminished out capacity to trust, hope and love.

I think these stories can and should penetrate us. We need to ponder them, less as a means to attack and destroy others, but rather as a mode of encounter. Did God speak these words to us? I think so. I think herein we find an insight into the Truth of life. But it is a God who is not at our own beck and call and not as a God who is less than us. It is insight into a SOMEONE who far exceeds our capacity to know Him or understand Him. I have reflected this week on Genesis in the hopes that people would enter into the depth of the text. I also hope that the authority and truth of the Word can be respected even as we try to understand the nature of the communication and the reality that it is divinely inspired literature.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Adam, Eve, History, Truth (5)

The story (above) about "Fringe Catholics who believe in geocentric universe" was timely in light of this week's reflections. In the article, from a blog on how religion is covered in media (and covered poorly!), the author is pointing out that the Roman Catholic Church has a right to identify its membership. What was interesting to me, was this group, be it Roman or not, is advocating that the earth is the center of the universe. This view point is, of course, the Bible's version, and in days gone by that debate was the decisive one between "church" and "science." It is noteworthy, that currently we hear little about Evangelicals being fired from schools for teaching that the sun revolves around the earth. Why is that?

The teaching of evolution is a much more recent phenomenon. Most Christians do not know history. Many pride themselves on that fact. Ignorance of history, however, is widespread, so I am not picking on my co-religionists here. It just means that the arguments today are not contextualized in the wider view of things which history affords. Also, the science of evolution has produced a philosophy of evolution. The two interpenetrate, but they are not the same thing. Evolution as philosophy expands far beyond the reach of science.While I am sure the processes of life do look like evolution, it is clear to me that evolution as a theory does not explain everything. There are holes in the theory. That is the nature of human explanations. I have read numerous books & blogs by any number of highly educated scientists which has illustrated the places where evolutionary theory falls short. I am also a (catholic) Christian. We have a creed which declares "I believe in God the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth." When dismissive people mock my hesitance to embrace evolution I remind them that my faith makes clear that we are NOT the result of accidental processes. There is a SOMEONE behind this whole process.

Do I think the Bible explains it all? NOPE! And I would argue that it does not try. Adam and Eve have two sons. One kills the other. The murderer, Cain, is exiled. But he makes a plea, "My punishment is too great... You have banished me from the soil and I must avoid your presence and become a restless wander on earth, anyone who meets me may kill me." So God puts a mark upon him and promises him protection. Then Cain leaves the presence of the Lord and settles east of Eden in the land of Nod.

So the obvious question, "who are these other people?" I know the popular answer is Adam and Eve had other kids. But does the text sound like that is the issue? Why would Cain not say, "I  must flee from my brothers and sisters, for they will know of my deed and avenge my brother"? IF the point of the story is to explain that every living person was from Adam and Eve, would it not make sense to spell it out? I know, earlier Eve is call the mother of all the living. I get that. What I do not get is why the story sidesteps that issue. Why is it "Cain knew his wife" but there is no explanation of who his wife is and where she came from? Why does it not say, so Cain took his sister and she became his wife?

Perhaps, the story is about sin. It is about how human nature, soiled by evil, grew worse. Maybe it illustrates that those who disobey God soon kill their brother? That right relationship with God is needed to have right relationship with humans? Maybe it is an allegory about the danger of farming (Cain) versus shepherding (Abel)? Whatever the case, as one reads these chapters it is obvious that the main point is not to explain how Adam and Eve populated the earth. I daresay it is not even a secondary or tertiary point. It is just assumed that people are there. Cain founds a city, the first city, named after his son Enoch. Where did all the folks come from? No mention is made. Perhaps we are to take a signal from that. Within a few generations we hear about copper and iron (Tubal-cain). Once again, history indicates that the iron age is not so close to the dawn of humanity. What to do with that?

If we want to  hear the word of God, then we must listen to God. It is not more faithful to claim that a mystical text is not mystical. It is not more faithful to read a mythical explanation text (so common across all cultures) and read it as something different than what it is.  It is not more faithful to make a text into a modern geology, history or science text when it is an ancient explanatory text. There is a message here in Genesis it just isn't biological. A couple of centuries ago Christians accepted that it was not a message about a flat earth, covered with a dome, sitting on columns, with all the stars, moon and sun rotating around it. We accepted it and moved on. Now we are in the painful period of dealing with another "assault" on what we "thought was the case." Christians do well to balance their defense of the faith against evolutionary philosophy with a willingness to let science be science and the texts of the Bible be what they are. I do not know if the reflections this week have been helpful for people struggling with these issues. I do know that God reigns and all will be well, someday, for those who trust Him. 

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Adam, Eve, History, Truth (4)

I knew the story of Adam and Eve quite well long before I read it in the Bible. It first appeared in children's books. It was a staple of my early Catholic education. It received catechism treatment, that is, it was filtered through teaching truths about God and humankind. This is not a bad thing, but it means that the actual text is not encountered. There is, however, one problem: was it perfectly blissful in the Garden?

Trying to read the text without all the preconceived ideas about 'how it was' is difficult. After all, I already knew it before I read it. But already in Genesis 1 we run across some words which make it possible that all was not bliss in the days before sin. Here is God's word to the (hu)man (the Hebrew word is 'adam) ("male and female He created them")

"Be fruitful and multiply" This is the first command from God. It is repeated to Noah, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
"fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion"
  • subdue (kabash) comes from the root to trample under feet, to make subject (the next four times the word appears it refers to the military conquests of Israel). Jeremiah uses the word a couple of times to refer to making men and women slaves. Lastly, in Esther, it refers to a man forcing himself on a woman. [I recall an expression of threat as a child "I'll put the kabash on you" which is no doubt related to this usage.]  
  • dominion (radah) is equally strong: to rule, to subjugate, to tread down, to dominate. In several instances the leaders of Israel are warned to respect God and not dominate their fellow Israelites.
I think that from the beginning, we are being told, there was effort expected. It seems that the earth was not so compliant and the work of humanity more challenging than the stories I was told as a child. Greater minds than mine need to ponder the texts and do the linguistic analysis, but I see nothing which indicates that in the beginning humans were on a permanent vacation and life was pleasure island!

The same is true of the second account in chapter 2. Adam is a tiller of the earth in Genesis 2:15, he is supposed to work (abad = to labor, to work, to serve) and keep/guard/watch over/protect (shamar). Once again, the text seems to indicate that there was work and that there was a need to care for, even protect, the Garden. What will change with the Fall is the results of the labor. The earth will be cursed and the results of the work will be opposed by thistles and thorns. Things are much worse.

Some may ask, what difference does it make? Well, for one, if humans always had to work, even struggle with the earth, then there is less disonance between the Biblical account and the 'scientific worldview' then we are led to believe. Human sin complicates mattes and makes things worse, but there does not seem to be an idea that the world was "perfect" prior to the Fall. This also means that work is not a curse, but actually part of the original state. The curse is the opposition to our work, not the labor itself.

This will have repurcussions on how we understand our final destiny as well. If we are called to return to an Eden-like existence in God Kingdom someday, perhaps it will include effort and work. Perhaps we are best when we face and overcome challenges. I do not know completely. What I do know is if you actually read the Bible it sometimes says unexpected things. It is God's word, so we do well to listen to it, to ponder and pray and be transformed by it.