It means "writings." I write things.

1:34 PM

Those dirty wombats

Posted by Brad Polley |

I'm not sure I've ever seen a stranger story that this one right here.  I'm speechless.

9:49 AM

The good news

Posted by Brad Polley |

My whole life, I assumed that the gospel, or good news (Greek: evangelion) was that Jesus died for my sins, and was raised after three days.  I remember having a hard time grasping how that was good news and what exactly that good news meant for my life.  Here's the thing: Jesus dying on the cross and raising again isn't the gospel.  Every time I hear someone preach that the good news of Jesus is that he died for my sins, I want to scream, "NO IT ISN'T!"  In Mark 1, Jesus himself states very clearly the definition of the good news.  

After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God.  "The time has come," he said.  "The Kingdom of God has come near (some translations read: "is here").  Turn around and believe the good news!

Let's think about this logically (which I know is a stretch for a lot of Christians) for a minute. How much sense would it make for Jesus, while he's still alive on earth, to proclaim that he died and rose again?  How much sense does it make for Jesus to send out his followers to proclaim that he died and rose again, when he was as alive as they were.  It wouldn't make a lick of sense.  If I walked up to you on the street and said, "I have some good news for you,  I died." you would think I was insane.  

So how was God's Kingdom coming to earth considered good news for the people of first-century Palestine?  The first thing is to realize the political significance of this statement. Palestine was under the rule of Rome and Caesar.  Rome was a brutal and oppressive empire.  So for the oppressed people of Palestine to hear this grand pronouncement from Jesus meant that if God's Kingdom is here, then that means that he's actually in charge and Caesar isn't. Good news indeed.  This still holds true for us.  God's Kingdom is a place where his will is done. If God is the King, then all other empires (including the American empire) are invalid.  It means that we don't have to rely on any empire to provide for us, because we can provide for each other.  It means that empires hold no sway over us anymore.  It means that they could kill us, and still never win a victory over this Kingdom.  Why?  Because this Kingdom is, first of all, internal.  Our outward actions are all based on an inward Kingdom of love and peace.  Nothing, including a sword or AK-47, can touch it.  In the words of Ben Harper, "You can kill the revolutionary, but the revolution you can never bury."

The cross is the logical end to this type of thinking and lifestyle.  The last thing a powerful empire wants to hear is that they are, in fact, powerless.  The cross is where the Empire says, "We finally got you, you can't stand up to us."  The Resurrection is where Jesus says, "Is that all you've got?"  

That's good news.  This empire in which I live ultimately has no sway over me.  They can't defeat me with violence, they can't defeat me with money.  They can't win, because this Kingdom in which I reside has love at it's foundation; and we all know that, in the end, love always wins.     

2:14 PM

Have you ever just had one of those days?

Posted by Brad Polley |

I'm having one right now.

9:19 AM

The myth of a color-blind nation

Posted by Brad Polley |

I'm tired of hearing about how this nation is color-blind.  We're not.  White people aren't color-blind, and neither are black people.  None of us are color-blind.  The latest controversy with Obama and his ex-pastor proves it.  If this post sounds like I'm being racist, you can rest assured that I'm not.  I'm glad that our country moved out of the dark ages and started giving people equal rights (unless you're gay or Arab, of course).  But the civil rights movement didn't cure everything.  Let's take a look at this.

Last week, a video surfaced of Obama's ex-pastor giving a vitriolic sermon on why Obama should be the next president, and not Hillary.  In his sermon, he stated that, "Hillary's never been called a n*****."  I watched the video and I thought, "You know, you're right, but how does that qualify Obama for the presidency?"  Is this guy suggesting that this country owes it to Obama because he's black?  Basically, he was saying that Obama's color qualifies him for the office of president.  How is that considered color-blind?

Then Geraldine Ferraro, a Clinton supporter, opened her pie-hole up and said that Obama is only in this position (meaning the Democratic front-runner) because he's black.  I can't understand this line of thought.  Could it be possible that Obama is in this position because people like what he has to say?  Could it be possible that he's in this position because people like him more than they like HIllary (because, let's face it, she isn't all that likable)?  How is this considered color-blind?

Watch a comedian sometime (regardless of their race) and see how long it takes for them to stereotype a race of people (i.e. white guys have no style, Asians can't drive, etc.)  I hear black comedians talk disparagingly about white guys all the time.  I heard Dane Cook talk about how different races of people fight.  There isn't a hint of color-blindness in this country, regardless of what bumper stickers people have on their cars telling you the opposite.  

Here's the thing: color-blindness isn't possible unless you're blind.  The fact is that when I see a black person, I see a person who has black skin.  That isn't racist, it's just an observation.  When a black person sees me, they see a pasty white guy.  That isn't racist either, just an observation. We can't avoid seeing people's various skin tones.  Our minds just don't work that way.  The question isn't whether or not we notice someone's skin tone, it's about whether or not we start making all sorts of other judgment calls based on their skin tone.  If I see an Asian, there's nothing wrong with thinking, "That person is Asian."  There's nothing racist about that at all.
I don't think that color-blindness is even the goal of society.  I think the goal should be to acknowledge our differences and be okay with them.  Are you black?  Ok, celebrate that.  Are you Latino?  Great.  Are you Asian?  White?  Great, celebrate all of that.  The question isn't whether or not a culture can erase the lines that make us different, the question is whether or not we can co-exist with our differences.  We should be seeking oneness (something the Church is supposed to be all about), all the while acknowledging that we all have different backgrounds.  

This is actually what I love about the Church.  It isn't color-blind at all, it's never been about that.  It's about different people realizing that although we may be ethnically different, we're still brothers and sisters brought together under the banner of Christ.  We're one because he makes us one.  The Apostle Paul said, "Now there is neither Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, for we are all one in Christ Jesus."  The colors (and ideas) are all still there, but no one rules over another.  No one is better than another.  In Revelation, there is a beautiful picture of people "from every tribe, nation, and tongue" coming together to worship God. That's the ideal.

10:15 AM

A love like that - part 2

Posted by Brad Polley |

But are we really worth dying for?  We've all been told (whether overtly or sub-consciously) that aren't worthy of anything.  Some of us have endured this message of worthlessness from parents, ex-boyfriends/girlfriends, abusive spouses, and bad teachers.  Some of us have heard this message preached to us from the pulpit for years in church.  You hear so much about your sin and you walk out feeling so crappy that you aren't sure if Jesus really died for you and you can't really see why he would want to anyway.  So all of this (that we've all endured in some way) leads us to seriously doubt whether we are worth dying for anyway.

Most people walk around with a profound sense of the fact that we are ugly, unlovable, too fat, and possibly worthless.  This isn't in any way true, especially when you study the word "love" in the Hebrew and Greek languages (which are the biblical languages).  In English, we have one word for love.  What this leads to is me saying that I love my wife, but then I'll say later that I also "love" pizza.  That is patently ridiculous.  Because we have only one word for love, we express the fact that we like something by throwing around the word love.  Greek and Hebrew both have three words for love, each of which speaks of a different aspect of love.  The word that Jesus used for love, and the word that the rest of the New Testament used to describe his love, is the Greek word agape.  Here is how Rob Bell describes the meaning of the word agape.

"Agape doesn't love somebody because they're worthy.  Agape makes them worthy by the strength and power of its love.  Agape doesn't love somebody because they're beautiful.  Agape loves in such a way that it makes them beautiful.  There is love because, love in order to, love for the purpose of, and then there is love, period.  Agape doesn't need a reason."

Think about that for a minute.  The answer to the question, "Why does God love me?"  is "Ummm, he just does."  That doesn't make much sense to us, because very few of us have ever experienced that kind of love from those around us.  Most of the love we experience is purely conditional ("I'll love you if...I'll love you until...).  

The question that this kind of love begs is: what do you do with a love like that?  There has to be a way to respond to agape, but what is it?  Jesus says this, "If you love me, you will obey my teaching."  On first reading, that statement seems to be saying that our love for him will never be anything but conditional.  But what is his teaching?  Someone asked him once what he thought were the two greatest commandments.  He says to agape God, and agape people.  So what Jesus is really saying is this, "If you agape me, you will agape God and agape people."  
How do we respond to a love like that?  With love like that.  

One of the central messages of the cross is that people are worth dying for.  This means you, no matter how unworthy you think you are, no matter how messy you're worth dying for.  So is that person that hates you.  So are terrorists.  So is Ann Coulter (that was hard for me to type).  The only proper response to love, period, is love, period.  Jesus doesn't need a reason to love you, he just does. There are many people who give us no reason to love them, but we should anyway.    

9:40 AM

A love like that - part 1

Posted by Brad Polley |

This week, you'll hear a lot about Jesus, the cross, the resurrection, etc.  Given the fact that Easter is this Sunday, it will be hard to ignore.  One of the main things you will hear is this phrase, "Jesus died for your sins."  If I'm honest, this phrase has lost pretty much all meaning to me.  I know that sounds odd coming from a pastor, but I've been in church my entire life, and I've heard this phrase thousands of times.  Sometimes repetition leads to over-familiarity.  This doesn't mean that Jesus has lost meaning for me, or that the cross has lost meaning for me, but this phrase means basically nothing to me anymore.  I don't think I'm alone in this either.

Teaching students causes me to rethink the way I say things.  Because they've heard it all too, and respond with a giant, "Yeah, so what's your point?" to phrases like this.  "So what if he died for my sins, what does that have to do with the fact that my life sucks right now?" In fact, it has everything to do with that, but the phrase has grown meaningless with time.  So what about the cross?  If this phrase has lost meaning, what is the basic central message of the cross?

Let it be said that I don't think Jesus dying for my sins is all the cross stood for.  I think it stood (and stands) for many things.  I don't even think that him dying for my sins is even the most basic message of the cross.  I think when you boil it all down, it all really comes down to this one incontrovertible fact: you're worth dying for.

Let's go through a scenario.  If you were God (I assume that you aren't), and you desired above all else to be connected to the beings you have created, what do you do?  Keep in mind that every time you speak, people freak out and hide (read the Hebrew Scriptures).  So you want to be close and convey this message of your desire for a relationship, but you're "up there", and your beings are "down there."  How do you rectify this situation?  Could it be that you decide to walk around on earth with your creations for awhile?  If you want to be close, go and be close. But now you have another problem.  Just showing up doesn't necessarily convey to your beings that you love them does it?  You love humans with a love that is stronger than anyone can imagine, but you find it hard to accurately convey it.  So what do you do?  Could it be that you show these beings that they are, in fact, worth dying for?  What greater compliment can you give to someone?  

Jesus himself said, "Greater love has no one than this, that he lays down his life for his friends." The only true and perfect way for you to show someone that you love them is to get the point across that baby, you're worth dying for.  In my wedding vows, I stated very clearly, "until death parts us."  If you really dissect that (and the other vows), what you're saying to your spouse is that you are committed to the point of death, if it comes to that.  

The problem is that most of us can't comprehend how we're worth dying for.  

Read part 2 to see the proper response to all of this.

9:36 AM

The cure for evil

Posted by Brad Polley |

I'm reading a stunning book called "To Heal a Fractured World: The Ethics of Responsibility" by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks.  It honestly might be one of the top five pieces of non-fiction that I've had the pleasure to read.  In it, he speaks of how God created us as beings who, in his creative image, continue the work of creation through healing the brokenness and injustice that we, as humans, inevitably cause.  I'm intrigued by this thought, because I've long rejected the still preached thought of most Christians that since Jesus is returning anyway, we basically just wait around until he returns, while the world degenerates further and further into a chaotic hellhole.  Most Christians see their only duty as proselytizing people so that more people will be on the heavenly train when God destroys this earth anyway.  

Let me just say that I don't believe God is going to destroy this world.  In fact, Revelation, the deeply symbolic and coded book that so many Christians use to define their "Left Behind" theology, speaks of a new heaven and a new earth coming down out of heaven.  In fact, Jesus speaks greatly of the idea of God desiring to come down here (look, for instance, at Jesus being "God with skin" on earth).  In Jesus' most famous prayer he says this, "Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."  In other words, "may we bring a little bit of heaven down here by what we do."  

I say all of this to build up to this point, there's a lot of evil in the world (anyone that denies this is either blind or just totally ignorant), and God isn't just going to fix everything.  He has given us creative ability to fix a lot of the problems of this world by bestowing us with his creative image.  This means that he has left the responsibility of ridding this world of evil, albeit with him backing us with his strength.  So how do we even begin to bring justice to an seemingly unjust world?  What can we do in the face of so much unspeakable evil?  

Rabbi Sacks says this, "The only way to fight evil the morning after the storm is to do good, countering hate with a no less determined love."  Sounds an awful lot like a rabbi who lived 2000 years ago.  Rabbi Jesus said, "But I tell you who hear me: love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you."  

The only way to conquer hate is with love.  Pure and simple.  Some may remember the journalist Daniel Pearl, a Jew who was brutally murdered by terrorists in Pakistan while he was on assignment writing a story.  Since his death, his father (also Jewish) has sought out ways to bring reconciliation and understanding between Jews and Muslims, the very people who killed his son.  When asked what motivates him to do this, he said, "If I were to fight hate with hate, I would only create more hate.  Therefore I fight it with love."  War isn't the answer to the world's problems.  All war does is create more conflict and war.  If you don't believe me, look at the brief history of our country, we've basically been at war since we began.  Doesn't seem to be working.  

War is not designed to cure evil.  Only love can do that.  I know it sounds like I'm just a hippie idealist, but reality is reality, so call me what you will.  Your way isn't working and never has.  Jesus' way seems to work, maybe it's time we, as Christians, started acting like him.  

1:25 PM

Well worth 5 1/2 minutes of your time

Posted by Brad Polley |

This video is pretty funny, and creative.  It's also a scathing indictment on war in the form of ethnic foods.  Good stuff.  

9:09 AM

Hate, Hate, Hate

Posted by Brad Polley |

I just watched a news report video about a lawmaker in Oklahoma going on a rant about gay people.  In her rant (during which she didn't know she was being taped), she said that gays were more dangerous to this country than terrorists.  Let that one sink in for a minute.  I'm having a hard time understanding this line of thought.  I don't know, I guess I was just unaware that the 9/11 hijackers were, in fact, a gang of Arab homosexuals, and not terrorists.  

Of course, this woman is a Christian, and she said that her remarks were made because the gay lifestyle is immoral.  It's kind of funny that she mentions that, because I was under the assumption that hating people (she would say that she doesn't hate them, but you can't say something like she said, and actually love the people you're talking about) was considered by Jesus to be a huge no-no.  In fact, the whole foundation of his teaching was based on loving people, regardless of who they are and what they do.  So if we're going to talk about something immoral, let's go ahead and talk about our hate being immoral as well.  

She also said in her rant that gays were infiltrating schools and indoctrinating our children in the gay lifestyle.  "Even children as young as two."  Mind you she had no evidence of this.  I hear this kind of crap from Christians all the time.  I hear this idea that homosexuals are on some crusade in our schools and through the media to turn kids gay.  You will absolutely never convince me that this is true.  I read blogs written by gay people, I've met numerous gay people in my life; not once have they tried to indoctrinate me, and never once have I read an article where they have spoken of trying to turn kids gay.  The very notion of it is ridiculous.  All gay people want is to be treated like human beings, I see no problem with that.   

In the news report, she says this: "Isn't it my right under freedom of speech to say these things."  I would have to say yes, it is in fact protected under freedom of speech.  The reality is that freedom of speech protects speech that we hate, not just speech that we like.  However, just because you have a right to say it, doesn't mean that you should.  She may have the right to say it under U.S. law, but not under the Bible that she claims to follow.  It, in no way, protects that sort of speech, nor condones it.  It's time for "Christians" to knock this crap off.  It doesn't represent Jesus in the way he should be represented.  It's turning people away from a lifestyle that leads to real life; a life of peace, and a life of wholeness.  If you're reading this and you don't consider yourself a Christian, please don't let a few (outspoken as they may be, they are still few) people turn you off of Jesus.  He isn't like they say he is...I can promise you that. 

9:17 AM

Babar the Baby

Posted by Brad Polley |

My wife's doctor scheduled another ultrasound because she was measuring rather larger than she should be.  We had the ultrasound yesterday, and sure enough, she's giving birth to Babar the elephant.  The ultrasound started off normally, then the ultrasound tech switched over to a 4-D view of the kid.  Holy crap, it's my kid...for real!  Normal 3-D ultrasounds are sort of vague and fuzzy, this one looked like someone infiltrated my wife's womb with a digital camera. Below is the world's first real picture of Abram Michael the Shroud of Turin, depending on your perspective.

In the first picture, you may notice that he has an eye open and is looking at the camera with an "I'm fairly uncomfortable, can someone freakin' get me outta here?" type of look.  The second picture reminds me of Viggo the Carpathian on Ghostbusters 2 when he starts morphing and melting.  The top left of picture 2 shows his hand.  It's all distorted because he started moving. So not only is he massive, he's basically adorable.  Other than the fact that he's going to exit the womb while gnawing on a turkey leg, he's healthy.  We're hoping that he shows up early, because the ultrasound had him weighing 7 pounds, 9 ounces.  You may be thinking that that isn't too bad, until you realize that my wife has six more weeks to go.  The doctor informed us that during this stage, they can gain up to a half a pound a week.  If you do the math, you quickly see that he's going to come out looking like King Kong.  I can't wait to my mustachioed Sasquatch of a son.  Big brother had better look out, because he's a tiny little thing. 

2:12 PM

Angry God - part 2

Posted by Brad Polley |

We've covered the fact that God gets angry, and almost exclusively over injustice.  But what about Jesus?  What pushed his unhappy button?  

In Mark we read about a story in which Jesus has a run-in with the religious leaders.  It's the Sabbath, the day of rest, and no one was supposed to work.  The rabbis realized very early on that this was a bit vague to just say that you couldn't work, so they set out to define the various activities that constituted work.  By the time of Jesus, there were numerous laws which defined work.  One of them was a prohibition against healing someone on the Sabbath.  

The story says that Jesus was in the synagogue when a man walks in with a withered hand.  This, presumably, is an affliction he has dealt with his entire life and Jesus feels compassion for him.  It says that the religious leaders were watching Jesus closely to see if he would heal this guy on the Sabbath.  Jesus tells the guy to stand up in front of the whole assembly.  Jesus then stands in front of the entire congregation and says this, "Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save a life or to kill?"  The text says that everyone remained silent.  I think we can reasonably assume that they knew they were busted at that point.  

The story then says, "He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, 'Stretch out your hand.'  He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. "

Here's what I love about Jesus.  He stands in front of the very leaders who he knows have the power to have him killed for transgressing the law, and in one giant "middle finger" type move, he does the very thing they hate in the name of love and justice.  

So why was he angry?  They followed the law, but they sucked at justice and mercy.  Once again, the people in charge of the chosen nation of Israel were setting a horrible example to the nations, and God with skin is none to happy about it.  He basically says to the leaders of Israel, that, although they follow the law, they're neglecting the entire spirit of the law, which is mercy, love, and compassion.  In another gospel, Jesus says this to the same leaders, "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You give a tenth (required by the law) of your spices--mint, dill, and cumin.  But you have neglected the more important matters of the law--justice, mercy and faithfulness..  You should have practiced the latter without neglecting the former.  You blind guides!  You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel."

Once again, Jesus is angry at the fact that they follow the law, but they neglect the real law, which is justice and mercy.  They're practicing small things (straining out gnats), but totally missing the bigger things (swallowing camels), the things that really matter.  I have to wonder, as so many Christians neglect social justice issues, and stink at loving people, what would Jesus say about us?  I don't know about you, but camel doesn't taste very good, I'm tired of swallowing it.  


9:25 AM

Angry God - part 1

Posted by Brad Polley |

This morning I started reading through the book of Isaiah.  And by "started," I mean, "haven't even scratched the surface."  I like reading the books of the prophets in the Hebrew Bible because they were so focused on making this world a better place through justice.  One theme, though, stands out in most of the prophets' writings...God is ticked.  

If you read the prophets for, oh say, 3.5 seconds, you get the impression that God is generally one step away from wiping Israel off the map.  To some people (like the psycho leader of Iran), that doesn't sound like a bad plan.  I've always wondered why God is so angry.  I've always had trouble balancing this God with Jesus, who came to show what God was like.  Jesus always seems sort of emotionally balanced.  It isn't that he doesn't get angry, but he wasn't as up and down as the God of the Hebrew Scriptures.  So why is God so angry?

I think you have to look at some history to understand why God seems so harsh to the Jews. Judaism represented the first monotheism.  Every culture to that point had numerous gods, usually taking the form of something in nature (i.e. the sun, water, etc.).  One day, God speaks to Abraham, basically stating that he's the only true God.  Thus monotheism is born.  He promises to make a great nation out of him and tells him that his descendants will be as numerous as the sand on the seashore.  So God's plan is for all people, everywhere, to acknowledge a monotheistic existence (hence the reason he tells Abraham that his descendants will be "as numerous as sand on the seashore").  So if you're God, and I'm assuming that you're not, you probably need more than one guy to make this happen.  You need an example to the nations to show that this monotheism thing is ok and worth giving a shot.  So you need a "chosen" people to be an example of what all of this looks like, and what it means to put God's world back together after we wrecked it in the first place.  Enter Israel.  

A lot of people see the idea of a chosen nation, such as Israel, as the height of arrogance.  If I'm honest, I always thought that way, until I read Rabbi Jonathan Sacks' excellent tome "To Heal a Fractured World."  He reveals that this idea of being chosen is really a giant responsibility.  God needed an example of what monotheism could bring to the world, especially in the areas of justice, mercy, and righteousness (this word came to be understood in the Hebrew language as "charity").  So when you read the prophets, you see God getting ticked off when Israel falls short of his standard in these areas.  He even says in Isaiah, "Take your evil deeds out of my sight!  Stop doing wrong, learn to do right!  Seek justice, encourage the oppressed.  Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow."  

God is ticked because they were basically acting like everyone else and, frankly, their example to the nations sucked.  By threatening to wipe them off the map, he was trying to wake them up and remind them that they have a huge responsibility to the world to advance his name through doing good in the world; seeking justice, defending the fatherless.  His anger, far from being unfair and ridiculous, is a corrective anger.  It's a broken-hearted plea from a father who wants to see his created realm fixed by the ones he created.  His call remains to all of us today.  Tomorrow, I'll look at the ways in which Jesus took up this mantle as an example to the world.