The Morality and Ethics of Suffering

Today, I spoke at a rally at the WV State Capitol to advocate for veterans seeking access to medical marijuana. This is what I said.


My name is Mary Nichols and I’m a minister of the gospel.

I’m sure that some of my fellow Christians might object to me standing here today to advocate for access to medical cannabis for WV Veterans.  Some of my brothers and sisters in faith believe that all drug use is a sin. These sincere people are concerned about your souls—souls they believe are destined to be punished eternally in Hell. To them, this is the gospel.

The gospel is supposed to be good news. What perhaps my fellow Christians do not understand is what it means to live in a body that is continually punished in this life. It’s not good news when you are forced into a living Hell created by chronic pain, depression, anxiety, and PTSD.

In Luke 4:18-19, Jesus said,

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.

That’s what the gospel means. Freedom. That’s good news.

As Christians, we like to celebrate our veterans. We excel at honoring the men and women who have served to protect our religious freedom. Where we fail is in making sure you receive the medical and mental health care you need when you come home.

Since September 11, 2001, more than two and half million Americans have been deployed to the Middle East. According to the most recent report by the US Dept. of Veterans Affairs, more than 700,000 of those veterans utilized the VA healthcare system between March 2014 and March 2015. In that year alone, 61% of the patients seen were treated for musculoskeletal conditions and 57% were treated for mental health issues including anxiety, depression, and PTSD.  What are we doing, as the church of Jesus Christ, to alleviate the suffering of these men and women who have faithfully served God and country?

One of the biggest objections people of faith raise to medical cannabis is that it’s a gateway drug. Okay, let’s work through that. There are certainly a small percentage of people who start out using cannabis and go on to harder drugs.

You know what else is a gateway drug? Hydrocodone. Hydrocodone is a gateway drug to heroin.

I’ve been a chronic pain sufferer for more than 10 years. Seven of those years, I took Lortab every day. That’s 84 months, or 2,555 days that I used hydrocodone every single day.  I’m a minister of the gospel. I was also a drug user. The only difference is that I had a prescription for my drugs and they were covered by PEIA.

Oh, and all of that Lortab didn’t work because it’s completely ineffective for neuropathic pain. This is how people accidentally become drug addicts.

It seems like West Virginia is making the news every other day because of drug abuse. More people than ever are addicted to prescription pain medications. Do not be mistaken– our growing heroin problem is directly related to hydrocodone addiction. People who once used hydrocodone can’t get it anymore because of changes in the federal law about how pain medications are prescribed.

What I hear from some of the more than 50,000 Gulf War veterans in WV is that the treatments they receive from the VA are NOT working. A lot veterans share my story of unsuccessful pain management treatment with opioids that don’t work. Other veterans post pictures on Facebook of the DOZENS of medications they have been prescribed for PTSD symptoms. One medication is piled onto the others, sometimes in dangerous combinations, with no relief. I have friends who live with the daily fear that their husbands will either commit suicide or act out violently in some way. These men and women who gave up their health to serve their country feel like nobody hears and nobody cares about their suffering. These are men and women who have turned to the VA time and again for help only to be handed yet another prescription. In almost half of the United States—23 other states— those same veterans could receive some degree of relief from medical cannabis. But not here. How is that fair or right? How does this honor the men and women who have faithfully served?

A growing body of medical research has shown that cannabis is both safe and effective in treating many of the conditions I have just described. Yet, because we’ve been socialized to believe that cannabis is a bad drug smoked by dirty hippies, we refuse to even consider the science that is right in front of us.

I’m a minister of the gospel and I believe that God created the world. If that’s the truth, it only makes sense, then, that God also created cannabis. Not only has cannabis been used medicinally by human beings for thousands of years, science has demonstrated that cannaboids occur naturally in the human body. Specifically, nursing mothers produce cannaboid compounds in breast milk. These compounds are believed to stimulate appetite in infants and to induce sleepiness after nursing. Our bodies are designed from birth to be soothed and healed by the compounds in marijuana.

I’m a minister of the gospel, and I agree that the issue of medical cannabis is indeed a moral and ethical issue. It’s about the morality and ethics of human suffering. For too long, we have sent men and women into battle for our freedom and then denied them access to a God-given substance that might help alleviate their suffering out of a misguided concern for their spiritual welfare.  The Bible speaks clearly about the evils of alcohol and drunkenness, yet in 1 Tim 5:22, Paul advises Timothy, “No longer drink only water, but take a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.” If Timothy had PTSD, would Paul not have suggested that he try a little cannabis?

I am a minister of the gospel, and I say with all certainty that God does hear and care about the suffering of WV Veterans. God cares about your body as well as your soul. God calls on us repeatedly through his prophets to do everything that is within our power to eradicate human suffering in all forms. The church should be doing more to help advance the cause of compassionate usage in WV, both for veterans who have served our country and for everyday citizens who suffer. The time has come for men and women of faith to become people of action.

Today is the day that we stand up for those who have stood up for us. Today is the day we call on our WV lawmakers to do everything within their power to advance access to medical cannabis for our veterans. I ask you to do this not because it is convenient or easy, but because it is good and right.


Dear Franklin Graham: You Keep Using that Word

Dear Franklin Graham:

This is becoming a semi-regular feature. You’re like the New Pat Robertson—saying something incredibly stupid every other day on the Internet in the name of Jesus. Except we still have the OLD Pat Robertson. We didn’t need a new one.

Here’s the latest:

“LGBT activists are trying to hook their caboose to the ‘freedom train’ and drag their immoral agenda into our communities by claiming that this is a civil rights issue,” the 63-year old Evangelical Christian activist wrote. “Civil rights issues are very real and important—but don’t be fooled, this isn’t one of them. I heard one African-American minister say recently that ‘the freedom train doesn’t stop at Sodom and Gomorrah.'”

Franklin is super concerned that an anti-discrimination act aimed at protecting LGBTQ+ people that is being proposed in his home town of Charlotte, NC is going to result in discrimination against Christians.

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

Do you know, Brother Graham, who is discriminated against?

LGBTQ+ people.

Do you know who does the discriminating?

In many cases, Christians. Sometimes at church, even.

Every single time the pastor had to come have a series of meetings with us to make sure my husband was “holy enough” to lead in worship, we were discriminated against.

When the kids in the church youth group ostracized my son, he was discriminated against.

When both of my sons stopped attending church youth functions and nobody even asked why, we were discriminated against.

When we left the church and barely a month later, there was a special Bible study on “What the Bible Teaches about Homosexuality,” we were discriminated against.

And the thing is, nobody at my house is “practicing homosexuality.” All anyone has done is to say, “This is the way I identify myself.” We have been following all the rules as they were explained to us and trying to be open and transparent this WHOLE time.

This is what happens when we boil the gospel down to “who is going to Heaven and who is going to Hell.” When we make the whole message of Jesus about a transactional salvation that gets us a ticket to the afterlife, we turn into Pharisees. Where the Holy Spirit is handcuffed, legalism runs free.

If the boundless love and grace of God isn’t deep enough for our LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters, is it deep enough for any of us? We all sin. But only some of us are defined as sinful because of the way we were born.

Don’t be fooled, indeed. If the Freedom Train doesn’t stop at EVERY SINGLE STOP, it’s not a freedom train.




Good News… for Whom? #bgbg2

In Christianity, we talk a lot about The Gospel™. Like, ad nauseam. “Gospel” is a word we use to mean a lot of things in a lot of ways. I wonder, though, if we really understand what the “gospel” really is.

I decided to ask Facebook. I’m friends with about 800 people, a healthy percentage of which are preachers. I posed the question, “What is *the gospel*?

A holy hush fell over Facebook. Seriously, y’all, crickets audibly chirped in the background.

My cousin Heidi, who is my favorite Lutheran, replied that the gospel is “good news.” Heidi is an engineer and not a preacher or theologian, yet was the first person brave enough to answer. She’s not wrong. The word “gospel,” literally translated from Koine Greek, means “good news.”

Yet the question hung in the void of cyberspace: what is the Good News, and for whom is the news good?

Follow-up questions. Y’all know I have them.

Mark begins his gospel with this sentence:

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God (Mark 1:1, NRSV).

We can gather that the subject of the “good news” is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. But, what’s so good about him?

A bit later, another friend, Scott, who is a pastor, replied to my Facebook post, “The good news that Jesus came to serve and to die for EVERYONE, not just straight, conservative, angry white people.”

I, for one, appreciate the caveat at the end of Scott’s statement. Because, honestly, the church doesn’t make that clear 100% of the time. We’d like to add some terms and conditions, please.

Based on what most preachers have to say about The Gospel™, I would anticipate that what would follow next in Mark’s account is a discussion about how to get saved. Because that’s what most of us think about when we think about the “good news:” Jesus came and died on the cross so that you can be saved and have eternal life.

That’s pretty good news, honestly. But, there’s more. So. Much. More.

Mark doesn’t tell us how to get saved at all. Instead, he tells us about a guy named John. As we pick up on Mark’s narrative, John is having a naturalist/survivalist/hippie camp meeting out by the Jordan River. John eats bugs (Mk 1:6), which is weird even by First Century standards.

Despite his unconventional diet and appearance, John says something super-duper important, which is why he gets star billing so early on in Mark’s gospel:

He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mark 1:7-8, NRSV).

For those of you keeping score at home:

  • The “good news” is about Jesus.
  • Jesus is more powerful than John and
  • he’s bringing the Holy Spirit into the equation.

The beauty of Mark’s book is that he doesn’t let any grass grow under his narrative feet. Jesus shows up, gets baptized, and the Holy Spirit descends like a dove. So far, so good.  Jesus gets sent away by the Spirit to be tempted in the wilderness. After his own extreme camping experience, Jesus returns to civilization and begins his own ministry.

You can tell a lot about someone’s ministry by the way they describe it in their own words. Again, based on what we say and hear in church, you’d think Jesus would say that he has come to die to atone for our sins and give us eternal life in Heaven.


Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news” (Mark 1:14-15, NRSV).

Scoring update:

  • The “good news” is about Jesus.
  • Jesus is more powerful than John and
  • he’s bringing the Holy Spirit into the equation.
  • Jesus says the “good news” of his arrival means that something called “the kingdom of God has come near.”
  • His hearers need torepent, and, believe in the good news.”

Because many of us are deeply engrained in American Evangelicalism™, we are throwing our hands in the air and saying, “Oooo! OOOOO! This is the part about getting saved.”


Think that through for a minute. If “getting saved” means accepting that Jesus died for your sins and asking him to be your savior, how could anyone do that when he was standing right there, alive, in front of them? Jesus hadn’t died for anyone’s sins yet. He hadn’t even told a single parable yet. He was just getting started.

In this context, “repent, and, believe”must mean something other than kneeling at an altar, confessing your sins, saying a “sinners’ prayer,” and asking for forgiveness.

I will pause briefly while your heads pop.

Now, I know that some of you are thinking at this point, “She’s being awfully flippant about salvation and I, for one, don’t like it.”  So allow me to clarify that I believe in making a personal commitment to Jesus. I have been a born-again Christian for 36 years. I have never regretted it for one minute. I am a completely satisfied customer. Let me affirm some additional truths:

  1. Every single human being who has ever lived has done wrong on purpose at some point in their life.
  2. There is great power in both confession and prayer.
  3. The miracle of forgiveness to transform your life is real.
  4. We all need saving, not the least of which, from ourselves from time to time.
  5. None of the above is what Jesus meant in Mark 1:14-15.

Because I love the tension of sitting in the unresolved chords, I’m going to stop here for now. I have a lot more to say on the subject of what the “gospel” is, who the good news is for, and what it all means to us today. Unfortunately, this is a lengthy teaching and cannot be explored in sufficient depth in one blog posting. If you want a preview, the next installment will be about ancient covenants. You should go look up the word “suzerain” because I will be tossing it around frequently.

Ask Dande: What Does the Bible Say About Gender Equality? #bgbg2

This week’s question comes from my Facebook friend, Abram. Abram. has read the Bible thoroughly and sincerely and, like me, has a LOT of questions. I like people who have a lot of questions.

“Why does the Bible not address gender equality?”

Oh, but it does, young Padawan.

Here’s the part where, yet again, I offer a treatise on What the Bible Is Not.  If you are already up-to-date on this material, feel free to skip ahead.

In American Christianity, particularly the Evangelical brand, we have a super unhealthy relationship with the Bible. The technical term is “bibliolatry.” We have made the Bible into an object of worship in and of itself. We have, in many ways, made the Bible into God.

The two are not interchangeable.

  1. The Bible is not a single book. It’s really more of a library of books with writings of many genres and styles. It certainly has a cohesive theme of love, specifically, God’s love for the world he created and the people who live in it. But within its pages you will find a variety of kinds of literature—everything from codes of law (various passages within the Pentateuch, Genesis – Deuteronomy), poetry and hymns (Psalms, Lamentations, Song of Songs, etc.), prophetic writings, history (Kings and Chronicles, Joshua, etc.), moral stories (Ruth, Esther, the synoptic gospels)—to theological treatises (the gospel of John, parts of the epistles, Hebrews), pastoral newsletters (much of the content of the epistles), and apocalyptic writings (the last part of Daniel and the Revelation, among others). This wide variety of literature needs to be considered in context of each genre, audience, social-historical setting, and the intended message of the author. That doesn’t always come out to a valid literal reading.
  2. The Bible is not a record of God’s All-Powerful Text Messages to Earth. When some people use terms like “infallible,” “inerrant,” or “authoritative,” what they really mean is that “you can’t argue with my interpretation of scripture.” I affirm the divine inspiration of the scripture. I’ve experienced divine inspiration myself every time I’ve prepared a sermon or written a blog posting about theological subject matter. Divine inspiration doesn’t mean that God has given me word-for-word dictation about exactly what to say. There are certainly scriptures, especially in the prophetic writings, where the author makes clear “thus says the Lord.” But in most other cases, I believe the divine inspiration is the same thing I’ve experienced—the spark of an idea and the whisper of the Holy Spirit prompting me to use my own intellect, my own unique voice, and my own experiences to communicate divine ideas.
  3. The Bible is not a constitutional document. Only some parts of the Bible are a code of law, but we want to read the whole thing like we can quote chapter and verse, within or without context, and come up with the answer to any situation we face. I don’t find this to be true. If it is, then we are in violation of large parts of it where we are specifically forbidden to do certain things (like eat shrimp cocktails and bacon cheeseburgers) and specifically commanded to do other things (like sacrificing animals or stoning adulterers). It’s not always like the West Virginia State code, where if I want to know what my responsibilities are if I dig up my sidewalk and block the road, I can go to Chapter 17, section 16, sub-sections 2 and 3 to find out that I’m not allowed to block the road with my rubble pile and if I do and fail to remove the obstruction, the state can come remove it and charge me with the expense. When we read the Bible like a constitution, we have a tendency to take scripture out of context and apply it in ways that the original writer never imagined. Especially if the genre of the scripture in question is not legal code.
  4. The Bible is not an Owner’s Manual for Every Life Issue. We get into deep trouble when we try to piece together scripture to address issues that the Bible never imagined, like stem cell research, by trying to create a “biblical ethic” based on a sort of case-law precedent. A good example of this is when I hear people talk a “biblical definition of marriage between one man and one woman.” This comes from taking Genesis 1-2and reading those passages alongside Matthew 19:3-9 (which is really about divorce) and 1 Timothy 3 (which addresses the qualifications for holding the office of bishop and deacon). What is happening in this case is that we’ve already got a moral construct in mind: that monogamous marriage is the moral gold standard, and we’ve cherry picked scriptures, a practice known as proof texting, in order to justify the moral standard. The problem with proof-texting is that it damages the very authority of the Bible we’re trying so hard to protect and maintain.  That’s what happened when the American church used the scripture to condone slavery and then to further condone segregation and Jim Crowe.  In trying to justify our wrong view, damage was done to both the church and to society that still has not been fully repaired. I have a feeling that a hundred years from now, our descendants will be able to come up with several more examples of where the church got it wrong and caused more harm than good.
  5. The Bible is not a science book and it’s also not a history book. Our understanding of science has grown and changed since the dawn of time. Similarly, ancient people had a different idea than we do about how one goes about writing history. When we try to force the Bible to function as the basis for literal science and literal history, we get into all kinds of crazy arguments, like insisting that the world is only 6,000 years old. Then we have to insist, like crazy people, that the Devil obviously put dinosaur bones into the ground to deceive us about the creation accounts in Genesis 1-3. More than anything else, the Bible is a collection of faith stories that explain how people in different times, places, and situations understood who God is, how he relates to human beings, and what he’s trying to accomplish in the world.
  6. The Bible is not monolithic. By that, I mean that if you read the Bible carefully, you will notice that this view of God evolves from Genesis to Revelation It’s an accounting of how people have understood God and how they perceive his relationship to us over a long period of history. God doesn’t change, but the way people understand him and his agency in the world does.The God of the first several books of the Old Testament is vengeful and angry. He needs to be appeased through sacrifices and rituals. He demands that the enemies of his people be completely destroyed. Imagine yourself living in a world where everything that happened, from the weather to attacks by random neighboring tribes to disease seemed utterly random. Looking through that hermeneutical lens, it’s pretty easy to understand how the most ancient monotheists understood God to be angry and vindictive. By the time we get to the prophets, God is much less concerned with what people do towards him than he is about how they are treating one another. The writings of the prophets show a God who is deeply concerned with both personal and corporate righteousness as well as social justice. In the New Testament, the God of the Old Testament puts on skin and walks around on earth, proclaiming that the Kingdom promised in the prophetic writings has come to pass. The Jesus of the gospels becomes co-equal with God in the Christ Hymn of Philippians 2:6-11.

So back to gender equality. Just as with the issue of slavery, the American Evangelical Brand of Christianity™ has taken a variety of scriptures and ideas from all over the Bible (treating it as monolithic) and interpreted those scriptures with some seriously busted hermeneutical lenses. It’s not that the Bible doesn’t address gender equality. It’s that as the church, we’ve done a horrific job of interpreting the Bible.

As Christians, we always have to tie our ethical outcomes back to Jesus. Look at the way Jesus treated women. Women take on a greater role in the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) than anywhere else in the entire Bible. The gospels preserve interactions between Jesus and more than a dozen specific women. Women follow Jesus as disciples and financially support his ministry. In every case, Jesus raises up the status of women (think about the woman at the well, the woman caught in adultery, the woman who anointed his feet). Jesus’ treatment of women is scripturally, culturally, and historically unprecedented.

Paul’s writings, which make up much of the remainder of the Christian scripture, also give us a glimpse into how the Bible addresses gender equality. There’s a lot of stuff in the epistles that, taken out of cultural and historical context, seems to be misogynistic. I sincerely do not believe Paul was a misogynist, as he is often portrayed. Paul celebrates women who served alongside of him and mentions them by name: Priscilla, Junia, Phoebe, Claudia, Julia, Nereus’ sister, Rufus’ mother, Tryphena, Tryphosa, Mary, Persis, Eunice, Lois, and Chloe. Would this be true if Paul were really a misogynist who thought women were only meant to be barefooted, pregnant, and silent?

The epistles, for the most part are addressing specific questions or problems in specific congregations. We cannot seriously take verses meant to instruct women in the First Century to behave in ways that were culturally appropriate as mandates for modern times.  I feel like I need to say that again, only bigger and bolder.

We cannot seriously take verses meant to instruct women in the First Century to behave in ways that were culturally appropriate as mandates for modern times.

This brings me around to my favorite verse of course. If I accomplish nothing else writing this blog, I hope that someone memorizes and takes Gal 3:28 to heart.

 There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus (NLT).

Galatians 3:28 is Paul’s mission statement. Everything he teaches and preaches is about bringing unity to the body of Christ. Without equality in the church, there can never truly be unity in the church.

I’ve heard the argument made that Paul is talking about “spiritual equality.” We’re all equal in the eyes of God, but he has different roles for us. Of course he has different roles for us. But I reject the idea that those roles are defined by gender. Here’s why:

  • If, as a woman, some gifts of the Spirit are denied to me because of my gender, I am not equal.
  • If, as a woman, I am permitted to teach and preach, but only to other women, I am not equal.
  • If, as a woman, I can sit under the teaching of another woman just because we’re both women, I am not equal.

Either I am equal and the full measure of the Spirit is permitted to me, or I am not equal. Spiritual equality is an empty promise without actual equality.

The Bible addresses gender equality in a radical way that is well ahead of its time. It’s the church that has profoundly failed to properly address gender equality.

If you have a question for a future Ask Dande, contact me!

Franklin Graham, You Could Learn a Lot From My LGBTQ Son #bgbg2

I just read this article about comments Franklin Graham, evangelical icon, made on James Dobson’s radio program about LGBTQ children being the enemy.

Children. He said children. I could just throw up.

It’s time I came out.

The truth is that I probably should have come out long ago. I’ve agonized, prayed, and cried. Now is the time. I’ve soaked the laptop in a river of tears just writing these few sentences.

No, I’m not the one who identifies as LGBTQ. I am, however, coming out, loud and proud, as an ally. Continue reading Franklin Graham, You Could Learn a Lot From My LGBTQ Son #bgbg2

Ask Dande

So, I was thinking it could be fun if we had a little feature. You know how I love questions. I have a million of them, but I figure some of you have some, too. It might be interesting to explore some of your questions. So, if you have question about God, the Bible, Christianity, faith, etc., here’s your chance to ask!!

Use the Contact Dande page to reach me with your questions or anything else your heart desires!  If you’re submitting a question, please use “Ask Dande” as your subject.

I will pick a question each week and post about that topic on Mondays.

Dear Donald Trump #bgbg2

Dear Donald Trump:

That “two Corinthians” thing yesterday at Liberty was a real bummer, huh?

The Interwebs are having a field day with that one. I mean, Bernie Sanders is an agnostic Jew, but I bet he knows it’s “second Corinthians.”

You seem like the kind of guy who doesn’t handle public humiliation very well. Jesus’s people can be a tough crowd. I mean, you should totally come to a church business meeting and watch us turn on each other! Wrestlemania has nothing on us.

Obviously, you did not grow up in church. I would say you couldn’t have even possibly have attended church 10 times in your whole life and still messed up “two Corinthians.” Me, I have a degree in Advanced Sunday School. As a world-renowned bleeding heart liberal, I find myself feeling badly for you. While I admit that it is tempting to make fun of your little biblical gaff and out you for not being quite the bible-worshipping loving Christian you claim to be, I want to help you.

Don’t get me wrong. I think you’re possibly a reprehensible human being and I definitely have no plans to vote for you.  What I’m saying here is that the Jesus I follow would invite you to dinner and help you sort this out.   So that’s what I’m doing. Let’s go to dinner and I’ll give you Introduction to the Bible for Beginners. I guarantee you that you really will think of The Art of the Deal as a deep, deep, deep second to the Bible once you learn more about it. And, if you were to meet the Jesus I know and love, you might decide you want to follow him for real. Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. Indeed.

Wouldn’t that be a kick in the pants?


Sister Mary Dandelion

Ask Dande: Will There Be Any Stars In My Crown? #bgbg2

Occasionally, a friend on Facebook asks me a theological question. Earlier this week, I received this beauty from my friend, Jinny:

I have a question. Someone told me yesterday that you get a jewel in your heavenly crown every time you talk to someone about Jesus. So, even though everyone will have a crown some will be more blinged out than others. Is this biblically accurate? And if so I’m gonna have one sorry looking crown.

Ugh. Where do people come up with this stuff?  Well, let me tell you, they hear someone preach it. It’s called folk theology. It comes from poor exegesis and bad hermeneutics and it spreads faulty doctrine like wildfire.

Let’s look at where the idea of earning a crown does appear in the Bible:

As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing. (2 Tim 4:6-8, NRSV)

A “crown” in the Greco-Roman world doesn’t necessarily mean a big shiny tiara. It can mean more like a garland or a wreath, kind of like a laurel crown. The writer of 2 Timothy, historically associated with Paul (although most serious scholarship would refute Paul as the author), is using the imagery of running a footrace, so the “crown of righteousness” is more like the laurel wreath than the Crown Jewels of the Empire. In other words, American Evangelical Christianity has not done adequate social-historical exegesis and has come up with a folk doctrine about crowns and jewels that is extraneous to scripture.

This is American individualism at work in a bad way. I can do something more or better than everyone else and earn some stars for my crown. I can do it all by myself and I can do it better than everyone else. You will all know how superior I am because I will have more jewels than you.

The idea of one person having a more blinged out crown than another one is actually contrary to the Gospel. The Kingdom of God is an upside-down, inside-out enterprise when we try to understand it with human logic. Our rules do not apply, or if they do, the Kingdom truth is usually the opposite of what we expect.

In Mat 20:1-16, Jesus tells a parable to illustrate how the reward system works in the Kingdom of God.  The story is about a vineyard owner who goes to the market to hire day laborers. There are some hired in the morning, some in the afternoon, and some in the last hour of the day. The ones who were hired last are paid the exact same wage as the ones who worked hard in the sun all day long. These guys are mad about it—that’s human nature.

Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” (Mat 25:10-16, NRSV).

See? The economics of the Kingdom are totally upside-down.

I imagine someone is reading this and asking, “Sister Mary Dandelion, what difference does it make if people believe they are earning jewels for their heavenly crown by things they do for the Lord in this life?”

I’m glad you asked.  One of the most important values in the Kingdom of God is unity. Unity requires equality. Equality means that we all are the same in the eyes of God. We can’t truly have unity as the Kingdom of God on Earth if we’re secretly comparing and wondering who has more stars in her crown. The very idea of one person having the most blinged out crown in Heaven goes against key Kingdom values.  If some people have more bling than others, there’s a hierarchy. It’s just the natural result. We can’t have a hierarchy because it violates the core equality laid out in Gal 3:27-30. We are all heirs, co-equal with Christ. We are all children, equal in adoption.

There’s another aspect at work here—maybe even more crucial than the idea of unity and equality. Being “in” the Kingdom is based on our sincere belief that Jesus is who he says he is and that he has truly ushered in the Kingdom of God, even while we’re living in the tension of the “now and not yet.” If the King is who he says he is and the Kingdom is NOW, then our motivation to do good is because we believe that we are living as Kingdom citizens in the present age. If the Kingdom is some far-off dispensation that has not arrived this side of eternity, then we work because we are trying to earn brownie points. We compete to see who gets more jewelry. We turn the work of the Church into a contest.  Where there is a contest, there is a winner and a loser. Winning and losing is not a Kingdom value.

Think about the recent situation with the Miss Universe pageant, where the runner up was crowned by mistake and then the crown was taken and given to another person. Were Kingdom values on display in that moment when the crown was taken and given to the “rightful winner?”  If your answer is no, then you’re on the right mental path.

So, to answer the question, no. I don’t think we earn extra jewels for our “crown” by working for the Lord. As much as I LOVE a tiara, I think we should work for the Lord because we believe he is truly the Messiah who has brought the rule of the Kingdom of God into being in this world and in whatever is to come afterward. And, as the prophet Micah said, he has told us what he requires:

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8, NRSV).

The One Where Dande Visits a Mosque #bgbg2

Since the Paris attacks and the San Bernadino shooting and all of the hate on the Internet, I’ve had a burning desire to DO SOMETHING. The local Islamic Association published a statement condemning the Paris attacks that made the rounds on Facebook. I linked back to their Facebook page where a horrible little troll of a person posted an extremely hate-filled rant. I objected to the comments (which were subsequently taken down by the page administrator). In the follow up, a woman who is the mother of a high school classmate contacted me with her personal cell phone number.  We had a lovely chat. She invited me, along with women in the local Interfaith group, to attend a prayer service on New Years’ Day. So, on Friday, I went to the mosque. Continue reading The One Where Dande Visits a Mosque #bgbg2

When the View From Here Sucks #bgbg2

As you may or may not realize if you’re not one of my 22 faithful readers, I have a chronic illness that keeps me close to home much of the time.  Social media is my window on the world.

Sometimes, the view from my window sucks. This is one of those times.

It’s funny, because I meticulously curate my personal Facebook account.  There are rules.  If you are continually filling up my window with negativity, you don’t get to be in my window.  We can stay friends in 3D Life, but you don’t get to distort the view on social media.  Boundaries—they are part of adulting.

Some terrorists who happened to be Islamic perpetrated an attack in Paris.  I’m surprised by the people I thought I knew who have jumped the proverbial couch over this.  People who are expressing fear and painting the world with broad strokes of generalization.  People who say, “We don’t want those people here,” and people who support politicians who feel the same way.

Honestly, I’m less afraid of “them” and more afraid of “us” right now.

Stop for a minute and think about what it is that the terrorists who perpetrated the Paris attacks want from us.  What reaction are they trying to stir?  They want us to be afraid because fear leads to isolation and isolation leads to hate.

The Islamic terrorists who attacked Paris want us to hate all Muslims. Continue reading When the View From Here Sucks #bgbg2

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