Saeed Abedini: Free at Last


Abedini Saeed hashtag 280x210American pastor, Saeed Abedini, was set free by Iran today after being imprisoned since September 2012.  He was jailed while he was working under the guidance of the Iranian government in launching an orphanage for Muslim children.

Abedini was serving an 8-year term in prison for his faith in God. He experienced internal bleeding from beatings, torture and psychological torment.

Christianity Today has a good article on the release here:

January Letter

In January 2013, he sent a message to his wife.

He wrote:

“I always wanted God to make me a godly man. I did not realize that in order to become a godly man, we need to become like steel under pressure. It is a hard process of warm and cold to make steel. This is the process of my life today. One day I am told that I will be freed and allowed to see my wife and kids on Christmas—which was a lie. And the next day I am told I will hang for my faith in Jesus. One day there are intense pains after beatings and interrogations. The next day they are nice to you and offer you candy….

“What is in us is stronger than what is in the world, and it has conquered the world.
“Pastor Saeed Abedini, in chains for our Lord Jesus Christ”

February Letter

In February he wrote to his wife again:
“The conditions here get so very difficult that my eyes get blurry, my body does not have the strength to walk….
“After all of the nails they have pressed against my hands and feet, they are only waiting for one thing…for me to deny Christ. But they will never get this from me…..
“I deeply need God’s saving grace so that I can be the fragrant scent of Christ in the dark house of Evin prison….
“So, see your golden opportunities in pressures and difficulties.
“See the Shining Morning Star in the dark times of your life.”

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Church-Based Theology

What is your compass? The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is making a rapid—though unconstitutional—shift to church-based theology.

Church-Based TheologyGrowing up in a Lutheran parsonage with five brothers, we argued philosophy and theology…a lot. Sometimes we could resolve a question, sometimes not. The winning move was simple—logic and the Bible. As an adult I have discovered Christian traditions that navigate theology by a different compass. This came into focus for me in two conversations, the first on a jet and the second in a restaurant.

As the plane prepared to take off, my white-bearded seatmate was reading Latin Scriptures. I asked if he were a Catholic priest. No, he was an Orthodox priest, formerly Episcopal. His path of discipleship, leadership and church migration was a fascinating tale. He left the church he had known for a church where he could serve with integrity. I expressed my admiration.

I asked him about a growing trend in Lutheranism—praying for the deceased in funeral services. I grew up without this practice, but two recent hymnals (1978 and 2006) have added such prayers.  I mentioned Hebrews 9:27, “People are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.” He responded matter-of-factly, “Our people have always prayed for the dead.” In his mind, long-time Church practice validates something. He described the Church as preceding Scripture. The Church is his primary authority, his compass. He has a high view of Scripture, but he does not subscribe to the Reformation cry, “Word Alone” or “Sola Scriptura.” I understand his position of church-based theology.

A few months later I sat down with a national leader of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) for a delicious lunch and vigorous conversation. We munched and discussed church policy and theology—without reaching consensus. After an hour and a half, he succinctly summarized our positions: “We differ because your theology is more biblically based instead of church based.”

“That’s because the ELCA requires biblically based theology,” I said. “The ELCA Constitution declares that the Bible is the ‘Word of God and the authoritative source and norm of its faith, proclamation and life.’ The ELCA Constitution does not allow us to have church-based theology.” (See Constitution of the ELCA 2.03, 7.22, 20.21.01, 20.51, 20.53.A11, excerpted below.)

He attempted to cite Martin Luther to support church-based theology. I repeated that the ELCA Constitution does not allow church-based theology; the Bible is our authoritative source and norm for faith, proclamation and life. He smiled and held to his position. My compass is the Bible; his compass is the church (when it decides in his favor).

How widespread is church-based theology as the compass among ELCA leaders? Our common confession in the ELCA affirms the Incarnation and Virgin Birth as declared in the Apostles Creed (Constitution of the ELCA 2.04) and in Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2 (2.03). However, bishops and confirmation curriculum reject the compass of Bible and Creeds for church-based theology. ELCA leaders misrepresent their operational values.

Bishop Mike Rinehart leads the Gulf Coast Synod and was second in balloting to Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton for that office. He published a pointed rejection of the Incarnation and Virgin Birth to prepare his pastors for preaching in Advent. “I certainly do not believe they [the ‘nativity stories’ of Matthew and Luke] are ‘historical’ in any modern understanding of historicity…. I think that the stories are made up.” (The article was written by Rinehart’s chosen assistant, Rev. Don Carlson.)

The Synod Constitution, however, requires that a bishop “teach…in accord with the Confession of Faith of this church” (S8.12)—including the Incarnation and Virgin Birth. Rinehart’s published rejection of biblical theology and ELCA Constitutions does not appear to raise an eyebrow among ELCA leaders; ELCA leadership embraces his church-based theology.

HereWeStand confirmation curriculum sows similar seeds of doubt and undercuts these foundational teachings in teaching the birth of Jesus, saying, “Luke is more like a storyteller than a historian.”

Ministers and bishops are welcome to embrace church-based theology as their compass, but the ELCA Constitution requires that they give up their ELCA credentials if this is their “Here I stand.”  They could minister honestly in a body with Church-Based Theology.

This church accepts the canonical Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the inspired Word of God and the authoritative source and norm of its proclamation, faith, and life.” (Constitution of the ELCA 2.03)

“An ordained minister of this church shall be a person…who accepts and adheres to the Confession of Faith of this church…. An ordained minister shall comply with this church’s constitutions, bylaws, and continuing resolutions.” (Constitution of the ELCA 7.22)

“Ordained ministers shall be subject to discipline for:
a. preaching and teaching in conflict with the faith confessed by this church….
d. willfully disregarding the provisions of the constitution or bylaws of this church.” (Constitution of the ELCA 20.21.01)

 “The recall or dismissal of the presiding bishop, vice president, or secretary of this church and the vacating of office may be effected:
a. for willful disregard or violation of the constitution and bylaws of this church” (Constitution of the ELCA 20.51)

 “The recall or dismissal of the bishop, vice president, secretary, or treasurer of a synod of this church and the vacating of office may be vacated: 1) for willful disregard or violation of the constitutions.” (Constitution of the ELCA 20.53.A11)

 “As this synod’s pastor, the bishop shall be an ordained minister of Word and Sacrament who shall:
a.  Preach, teach, and administer the sacraments in accord with the Confession of Faith of this church.
” (Constitution for Synods of the ELCA S8.12).

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Christmas Purge

Farewell, Christmas! How the Grinch Stole Christmas asked the right question for our time, “Where are you, Christmas? Why can’t I find you?” The great purge of Christmas symbols is complete at my craft store.

What is most important about Christmas, or any holiday? Look at the symbols. Symbols expose the core of a celebration. This makes the loss of symbols a cultural wound.

The once-common symbols of Christmas included Visual and Verbal Icons.
Visual: Manger, Star, Stable, Angels, Shepherds, Magi, Holy Family, Camels, Sheep
Verbal: Jesus, Savior, Joy to the World

Most Americans celebrate Christmas. Thirty to forty percent of Americans attend church frequently. In the name of profit, why wouldn’t a store increase sales by offering the symbols that people associate with the holiday? In ancient Bethlehem, there was no room for Baby Jesus in an inn. In my craft store, there is no room for Jesus anywhere. Also, no room for Manger, Star, Stable, Angels, Shepherds, Magi, Camels or Sheep.

Instead, what are the symbols of Christmas according to my local craft store this year?

The symbols of Christmas in Gift Bags are:
Visual: Snowman, Owl, Snowflake, Santa Claus
Verbal: Ho Ho, Happy Holidays, Joy, Noel, Peace

Gift bags.jpg

The symbols of Christmas in Gift Boxes are:
Visual: Snowman, Penguin, Santa Claus, Hat, Bells, Wreath
Verbal: Ho Ho Ho, Merry, Merry Christmas, Joy to the World

Gift boxes.jpg

The symbols of Christmas in the Gift Cards are:
Visual: Snowman, Evergreen Tree, Reindeer, Snowflake

The craft store does respect Hanukkah with the image of a Menorah.

Gift cards

The symbols of Christmas in Cookie Tins are:
Visual: Snowman, Reindeer, Santa Clause
Verbal: Ho Ho Ho, Love Sweet Holiday, Peace Love Joy

Gift tins.jpg

The symbols of Christmas in Wrapping Paper are:
Visual: Snowflakes

Gift wrap.jpg

The symbols of Christmas in Christmas Tree Decorations are:
Visual: Snowflake, Sleigh, Bell, Sleigh Bell, Wreath, Stocking
Verbal: Joy, Season of Jolly, Holly Jolly Christmas


Farewell, Christmas!

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Group Marriage in Brazil

Polyamory heart infinityIn October, three women in Brazil formed a civil union under the authority of a notary public.

In March, three men in Thailand in Thailand had a ceremony for their own group marriage.

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Lost: A Common Language


The United States is losing a common language. Nonsense highway signs show this plainly.

Exhibit A
This highway ramp in Simi Valley may be closed “intermediately” for a year (photo taken 10/31/2015). Unfortunately, these words do not mean anything. Our good friends at California’s Department of Transportation intended to say “intermittently” rather than “intermediately.” I drove back to take a picture of this sign because this is not the first time California has goofed up this very term.

Exhibit B
A couple years ago, in this same county, California’s DOT spent thousands of tax-payer dollars on signs that said highway ramps would be closed “temporarily” for several months. “Temporarily” is not a substitute for “intermittently.” I did not take a picture then because I did not imagine that such a mistake could ever happen again. However, we have lost a common language.

Education to the Rescue?
California government policies do little to support a common language. Teacher accreditation, for example, has a very low bar with regard to English. At Parent’s Night at my child’s school, a teacher had three key terms for the class written on the white board with definitions—three words and three short phrases. One of the key terms was spelled wrong. For each of the other key terms, the definition was misspelled. I gently mentioned it to the teacher, hoping that it was an oversight. She asked me to show her the misspellings because she had no idea where her mistakes were! I wanted to take a photo, but I chose not to so that I would not hurt her feelings.

When I took a California teaching exam, the exam stated that if I found an error in the exam, I should tell the manager of the exam site. There was a mistake in the exam along with poorly worded questions, and I told the proctor. This person had no idea what to do with my notification. I wrote to two California state teacher certification offices to alert them that I had found an error and other problems. One did not respond. The Commission on Teacher Credentialing wrote to me that this was not their job.

We have lost a common language.

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PETA: Rat = Boy

Monkey-selfieWelcome to the universe of PETA.

Because a macaque took a picture of itself with a photographer’s camera, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) filed a copyright lawsuit today on behalf of the monkey.

There is a mountain of theology tucked under this lawsuit. The Bible describes humans as the only creatures made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). This is the basis of human rights (Genesis 9:6).

PETA lives in a different universe: People are another species of animal—nothing more, nothing less. As PETA founder Ingrid Newkirk has said, “When it comes to pain, love, joy, loneliness, and fear, a rat is a pig is a dog is a boy.”

Therefore, if people have rights of personhood, great apes should have the same rights. In fact, great apes can deserve even more rights than people. As PETA’s “high priest,” Princeton ethicist Peter Singer said, “Killing a newborn baby is never equivalent to killing a person.”

Here are a few milestones in PETA’s quest:
In 2007, Majorca and related Spanish islands granted legal personhood rights to great apes.

In 2014, Argentina granted basic human rights to an orangutan.

On April 20 this year, New York Supreme Court Justice Barbara Jaffe granted a writ of habeas corpus to two chimpanzees.

The next day, April 21, the words “writ of habeas corpus” were removed from the order.

Today’s lawsuit regarding the monkey selfies is the surprising next step. When will PETA file suit for personhood rights for rats?

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My Homeless Neighbor


Art leans toward personal experience. Next week and next month I will help transition homeless neighbors from long-term camps. Because I struggle with this, my mind has wandered into verse.

“My Homeless Neighbor”

My ceiling is stucco, but yours is the stars.
My floor has some dust, but yours is the dirt.
My walls are light wood, but yours are the wind.
I sit in a rocker, but you on a rock.
I cook on a stove, but you cook in smoke.
I fill my dog’s dish, but your share your dinner.
I rest on a sofa, but you on a stone.
I plan a vacation, but you an eviction.
As darkness descends and we crawl in our beds,
we fluff up our pillows and lay down our heads.
I pray for my family as you pray for yours;
on some nights we whimper, on others we roar.
We wake in the morning another day old,
and I’m wrapped up cozy but you’re in the cold.

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