“. . . but perfect love casts out fear . . .” (1 John 4:18)

the good samaritan

Antonio Zanchi, The Good Samaritan, 1680

I assume I understand some important concepts of the Bible―at least in a general sense―even if I don’t believe them. I grew up as the son of a Baptist minister and attended Baptist Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, and even a “nominally” Baptist University. For a semester I attended a Methodist seminary. They asked me to withdraw because I’m gay (that was 1968, and I don’t know why I was in seminary anyway).

About 30 or 40 years ago, I began seriously thinking about what I hear when others, Christians, speak of Bible basis for their faith/belief. Some theological constructs have such a tenuous relationship to anything I know about the Bible that it’s easy to dismiss them out of hand. The Rapture. Dispensationalism. The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin. A prohibition on abortion.

I don’t have any trouble with literal beliefs in ideas from the Bible that are obviously meant as mythology. If someone has to believe God created the universe in six days in order to navigate their life on this earth, that’s fine.

All of those nit-picky little “beliefs” are immaterial to me. My relationship with the Bible is only a little more personal than my relationship to Beowulf, Siegfried, and Odysseus. If anyone wants to believe in “The Clear-Eyed Athena,” that’s fine with me, just don’t expect me to join in any sacrifices in an old stone building in Athens.

The ideas I wonder about even in my apparent apostasy are less based in “factual” details that someone might or might not believe, than in what seem to me to be the “big ideas” in the Bible. Some of those “big ideas” I do believe in.

For example, the concept “love” in the Bible. Here are some Bible verses about “love” I remember. I had to look up exact citations, but I remembered all of these verbatim (not exactly―I found the NRSV translation to replace the King James language I memorized as a Baptist kid).

• Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. (1 John 4:7-8)
• So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. (1 John 4:16)
• There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. (1 John 4:18)
• By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness (Galatians 5:22)
• If you love me, you will keep my commandments. (John 14:15)
• He said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

From the news:

[On FOX News Cruz] listened as Crowder outlined “four winning issues for Republicans. . . . Islam, now, is a winning issue: calling it out for what it is.” Cruz nodded vigorously and responded, “Yep.”
___That’s what’s really going on. Cruz isn’t agonizing over the mechanics of vetting refugees. He’s exploiting anti-Muslim anger and sucking up to the Christian right. And he’s doing it while wearing his own disguise: principled leader. (Saletan, William. “Ted Cruz’s Sophisticated Bigotry: This is how you bash Muslims while pretending to be principled.” Slate. Nov. 24, 2015.)

And again:

[Cruz appeared] On Fox News, the day after the attacks on Paris. If there are Syrian Muslims who are really being persecuted, he said, they should be sent to “majority-Muslim countries.” Then he reset his eyebrows, which had been angled in a peak of concern, as if he had something pious to say. And he did: “On the other hand,” he added, “Christians who are being targeted for genocide, for persecution, Christians who are being beheaded or crucified, we should be providing safe haven to them.”
(Davidson, Amy. “Ted Cruz’s Religious Test for Syrian Refugees.” The New Yorker. November 16, 2015).


Cruz is ramping up his South Carolina efforts. . . . On Monday, he visited one of his two campaign headquarters in the state . . . He quoted Scripture and prayed with a woman on the phone as Vonnie Gleason, a volunteer in her 50s, looked on with tears in her eyes.
___“His words are so much from the heart,” Gleason said. “He was praying with her like she was his best friend.”
___That ability to connect with Christians gives Cruz “a real good chance, because of all the conservative Christians here,” said Linda McCarthy of Greenville. (Glueck, Katie. Politico. 12/09/15.)

I do not mean to accuse Ted Cruz of anything. I don’t know the man. I’ve never heard him say, “I hate Muslims” or “I hate gays.” However, these positions he has taken are clearly not congruent with

  • There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. (1 John 4:18)
  • By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness (Galatians 5:22).

Ted Cruz is rising in the polls for the Republican nomination for President, seemingly poised to give Donald Trump, who has said blatantly hateful things about women, Hispanics, and Muslims, a run for his money. I do not mean to denounce Cruz or Trump (although it probably seems that I am). I’m pretty sure I could have found such items for every candidate.

I merely want to ask a question.

In order to feel secure in a society presumably based on Christian and/or liberal democratic principles, must we forego treating non-Christians and/or those who are not already steeped in liberal democratic principles with the “love” that seems to be at the core of the Christian tradition?


Ferdinand Hodler (1853-1918), The Good Samaritan

“. . . make your house fair as you are able. . .”

across the street R
When you get to be my age (I’m that old guy you used to avoid because you didn’t want anyone who was out of touch with the realities of the modern world to be telling you what things were like in the “good old days”), you begin to think things that would have been unthinkable even a couple of years ago.

I’ve been wondering why we spend so much time and energy keeping our homes so spotlessly clean—and why we are so judgmental of anyone who doesn’t. This house cleaning business is a mystery that has built in intensity in my mind over the years. It’s an obsession that cuts across cultural, racial, gender, and age lines with impunity.

I did what I often do (old habits die hard) when I want to investigate the origin of something that seems to me to be purely a societal foible—I went to Strong’s Concordance of the Bible to find Biblical references to it. “Cleanliness is next to godliness” may be an idea that comes from the Bible. “Clean” appears 117 times in the King James Bible. But not one use has anything to do with your tent or your house. All of them are about ritual “cleanness,” rituals no modern American (even a fundamentalist who claims to live by the Bible) would think of practicing.

People who observe Advent in the church sing with fervor (because they know without thinking what it means),

People look east, the time is near
of the crowning of the year;
make your house fair as you are able,
strike the hearth and set the table.
People look east and sing today,
love the guest is on the way.

Those words sound like a folk song of some sort, but Eleanor Farjeon wrote them in 1928.

Strike the hearth and set the table.

Strike the hearth and set the table.

Make your house fair as you are able.

Because cleanliness is next to godliness. That applies to both our persons and our homes. And that truism is so thoroughly ingrained that even people who couldn’t care less about God or godliness believe it (or at least live as if they believe it) as fanatically as godly folk do—perhaps even more so.

Of course it may be a purely animal instinct that we couldn’t eradicate if we tried. Watch a squirrel build and maintain her nest. Think about your cat’s constant grooming and cleaning.

But cleaning isn’t all that’s involved in making our houses as fair as able. There’s this decorating business.

I’ll soon be faced with figuring out how to live “comfortably” in the increasing poverty in which I will live as I get older. I must get rid of stuff, lots of stuff (including the pipe organ in my living room) so I can get a smaller, cheaper apartment when it’s necessary. Stuff I’ve bought or been given because it’s beautiful or makes my home look like I’ve “[made my] house fair as [I] am able.” I have some lovely things. Three paintings by the Canadian artist Allen Sapp come to mind. I must sell them.

The cleanliness issue is going to follow me wherever I go (I’m not referring to personal cleanliness). I have these valuable paintings on my wall, but I have no skill in (or, shall I be honest and say little interest in) spending time and money to keep the place fair as I am able. Yesterday I came home to a mess on my living room floor made by my cats scratching on the “Wide Cardboard Scratching Board with Catnip.” I inadvertently left it in a more obvious place than I should have. I was in a hurry to catch the train to come to my inamorato’s house (which he keeps as fair as he is able—and I love it!) and had to decide whether or not to get out the vacuum. I did not. That would be unnatural behavior for me. Later.

Across the street, a new building (actually refurbished and remodeled) is about to open with 250 apartments to rent. I’ve been wondering what it will be like to watch 250 renters move in. Think of the STUFF!

It’s not an architecturally distinguished building. In an effort (I suppose) to make it more exciting or inviting, the owners have installed outside lights that change color. From blue to green to pink to purple—all night long they change color. Is this making the apartment house fair as they are able? Is it a money-making come on? Is it playing out the same mammalian instinct that keeps my cats groomed? Beats me.

I must get rid of stuff, lots of stuff

I must get rid of stuff, lots of stuff

It’s fun. It spruces things up. But you have to admit it’s pretty silly.