So I have recently, I think maybe the last 2 months now, been reading through the Bible as well as reading through James Kugel’s book “How To Read The Bible: A Guide to Scripture, Then and Now”. It has been, I would say, a very challenging and rewarding experience.

I have wanted to try to read through the Bible and try to overcome any pre-existing biases I have towards the text for a very long time… to simply read it as it is without any preconceived ideas towards it.  I had tried doing that a few times before, but, to be perfectly honest, it can be hard to pull yourself out of your own biases.  I’ve found that by reading through this book and having multiple interpretations and ways of interpreting thrown at me (generally at least 2 per account that he writes about), I am better able to read objectively than if I just try to will myself into being a blank slate.

One of the things I also wanted to do was to read in a way that introduced the smallest possibility of someone else’s bias affecting what I read as well, and so, while ideally I’d be able to read in Hebrew and Greek, I cannot do either, and therefore I chose the English Standard Version (ESV), as it is a literal word for word translation.  The other types of translations, for the curious out there, would be thought for thought translations (which are the most common), such as the KJV or NIV, or paraphrases such as The Message.  The downside to a thought for thought translation is that translator bias enters into the equation of how they translate… they translate it to say what they believe the text is trying to say.  There are advantages as well, and disadvantages to the word for word approach, but, that bias is specifically what I want to avoid.

This process is probably the most elaborate deconstruction of my beliefs that I have entered into thus far in my life.  It’s a true no holds barred scenario in which nothing is off the table.  I can imagine that some might find that prospect terrifying, as I am essentially telling myself that I know nothing as I evaluate a set of beliefs that I used to know.  I do not see it as terrifying though, because no matter what I tell myself about what I believe, something in the core of me tells me that so long as I am honestly seeking the truth, then I will find it.  I certainly hope that everyone reading this knows me well enough to know that I am seeking the truth.

One of the words that I’ve encountered a lot thus far in my read through of the Bible (I’m a few chapters into Numbers now) is the word sojourn, or references to sojourners.  I like that word.  For some reason I just like the way that it sounds.  For whatever reason it also fills my head with imagery and subtle hints of further meaning just beyond the word itself.  The simple definition of a sojourner is simply someone who stays temporarily in a place.    We’ve all been literal sojourners at some point in our lives, I can’t imagine that anyone reading this has never taken a vacation.  That said, there is an interesting, I guess dichotomy is the right word, within the pentateuch as it tells us about the Israelites, and about people who are sojourning among them (It very often makes reference to laws that those sojourning amongst the Israelites are also to obey).  At this point in time, the Israelites are themselves sojourners, a people without a home, and so everywhere they stay is temporary.  So we’re talking about sojourners amongst sojourners.  I think that is an interesting way to look at the Church as we interact both with others within the Church and those outside of it.

One of the things that the word sojourner says to me is that this is a person who is, to some degree, alone.  It doesn’t mean that they have no interaction with anyone or that they are an island, but that they are on their own specific journey, and while it overlaps at times with that of another, ultimately their journey is their own.  Is that meaning literally in the word?  No, not at all.  But for some reason, when I read the word, I think that.

At this point I’m guessing you can tell the direction I’m going with this.  I think that these accounts in the Pentateuch show a picture of our own sojourning, in a spiritual sense.  I think that we are all sojourners among sojourners, and that none of us has a place to call home, and so we will simply keep sojourning.  We are all at different points in our journey, and none of our journeys are the same.  One thing that I refuse to ever say to someone as an argument is to assert that I once believe as they did, and then imply that one day when they mature in their belief they will surely come to see that I am right.  Even if I think it’s true in some circumstances, I hate when people do that to me, and it would show a belief on my part that I have arrived, which, I most certainly have not.

There are a lot of Christians out there that I tend to think are mistaken on a lot of things.  I love all of them, especially the ones I know personally, and I would never call into question their Christianity.  We may sojourn a bit apart from each other for now, but certainly someday we will find ourselves together again, so long as we’re looking for the same thing.

No matter where you sojourn, remember a few things.  First, that wherever you are took time, effort, and likely some pain, so be patient with someone who from your perspective seems to be a bit behind.  Be kind to your fellow sojourners.  No matter where you differ, if you’re both seeking to know the truth, your journeys are in line, you are partners in that quest.  Remember that none of us have arrived, we are all likely to be wrong in some aspect of our belief about the truth, so don’t judge anyone for not adhering to some aspect that seems particularly important to you.  Leave that to God, as God is the only one fit to do it.

Edit: Oops, I said I was reading a different translation than I actually am.  Fixed.

The Greatest Story

The story of Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection has often been thought of as being “The Greatest Story Ever Told”.  In fact, it is the title of a movie about Jesus, that was based on a novel of the same title, that was based on a radio play of, you guessed it, the same title.   It is, of course, a compelling story.  But it is not the greatest story ever told.   Well, at least, it’s not the greatest story ever told in its entirety.  It’s a rather exciting and interesting portion of an even greater overall story, and that story… that is the greatest story ever told.

I think perhaps the most common struggle that Christians have, and perhaps theists in general, presuming they believe in a god that has great power and is also good, is trying to figure out why there is so much suffering in the world.  Some is easily explained as humankind’s inhumanity to their fellow people, but that doesn’t hold up so well under acts of God and nature.  Tornadoes, floods, earthquakes, and the like cannot be blamed on the acts of a wicked person.  Nor can terminal diseases such as cancer.  Why do these things happen?

At some point in the last few years, I began to look at the unfolding of human history, especially as it relates to Judeo-Christian beliefs, and God himself, as a story.  I believe it is a story that God is compelled to tell, and must be told both for His benefit and for our benefit.  Each and every human that has ever lived or that ever will live plays a role in that story.  At first thought this seems like a great honor.  You and I are in unique places in this story, and we are helping to tell what is surely the greatest story that will ever be told.

However, when you think it through a bit more, it becomes considerably less pleasant.  Think about every story that you have ever read or seen on screen.  Or at least, every good one.  Think about what happens to the characters in those stories.  Especially the more important characters.  A great story puts the characters through hell.  A story that rings true to our lives tends to be one that puts its characters through the greatest hell.  Consider extremely popular stories, such as Game of Thrones, or Breaking Bad.  In both cases, these characters literally go through hell, and that pain and suffering resonates within our very beings as truth.

While this understanding doesn’t make pain and suffering OK for me, or easier to deal with, or help someone else who is suffering deal with, I find it somewhat comforting and satisfying.  I feel like it gives suffering a purpose.  And it communicates to me that God isn’t a sadist.  Writers don’t generally enjoy hurting or killing off their characters, often not even the particularly evil ones.  They grow to love their characters for who they are.   But they still do it anyway, because it’s what needs to happen for the sake of the story.  And the story, if it’s a good one, will show something true and beautiful to the world.

I find comfort in this because even if I feel in a certain moment like my life isn’t going anywhere, which I think we all feel sometimes, I can have faith that I’m right where I should be, and that the next part of my story just needs to be set up.  While being in control can be comforting because we think we always know what is best, not being in control can be liberating, especially if the one in control is a writer who will place you exactly where you need to be in the story.

There are certain things in my life that, had I possessed perfect foreknowledge, and thus been given the choice beforehand, I probably would have avoided altogether.  That probably even includes if I knew what was to follow, even though much of what has followed has been good.  For myself, I hate that sort of emotional turmoil and pain.  And it lasts, and it scars, and there are things that effect me to this day… Now that I’ve been through the worst of it, despite those scars, I can be glad for it.  But if I were given the choice of suffering or not the next time the story calls for it, I’m sure I’d opt out.  But the truth it, that’s not what’s best for me.

To close this out I want to share a Rocky Votolato song called “The Rain Will Come”, and I will post a couple lines that have a great tension, that I feel like sort of embody the idea that I was hoping to capture in this post.

“Maybe I should be running /
If I controlled anything I’d be scared of the place that I’d be.”

Lincoln and the Romanticization of History

A couple of nights ago, Jon Stewart had Judge Andrew Napolitano as a guest on the Daily Show.  They discussed the Judge’s views on Lincoln and the Civil War.  I initially learned of the exchange via a post-interview video that was made by Tom Woods, who asserted that while a panel of judges on the Daily Show during their “faux game show” segment were wrong in their declaring what Napolitano said was incorrect, he also provided a source for his assertion.

Before I go any further, I want to say that this topic is one of the primary things I knew I wanted to write about when I decided to reboot this blog, and as it deals with what is to this day sensitive subject matter, it is a big part of the reason I felt compelled to provide a warning that certain posts here may offend.  If it sounds like a topic you would like to avoid, please do, you can always come back when I post about something less sensitive.

One further note: I have nothing but disgust and revulsion for the institution of slavery, and the ideology of racism.  I also make no effort and have no intent to defend the Confederacy, but I do feel it’s important to remember that the States and people who comprised the Confederacy were just as nuanced and real as the States and people who comprised the Union were.  Just as we should not remember Lincoln and the Union as better than they were, we should not remember the Confederacy as being purely evil, although they were clearly wrong on the very big issue of slavery.

Now, here is background material for what inspired this post:

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And now we can finally begin!

As is obvious, the traditional beliefs concerning Abraham Lincoln are that he was a hero who not only saved the country from disunity and destruction, but in the process even managed to end slavery!  For this he is typically thought of by a majority of people as being the greatest President that the United States has ever seen.  Now, if one happens to agree with Lincoln’s particular ideology, I suppose this could be a valid way to view him.   However, he still was not quite so great as many people remember him, especially in regard to his role of “ending slavery.”

To get things started, let’s see Lincoln’s own words in regards to how slavery related to the Civil War.


In the interest of truth and fairness, I will include that contextually this is part of a larger statement, and it ends with the words “I intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men everywhere could be free.”

By no means am I saying that Lincoln did not “wish” or prefer that “all men everywhere could be free,” however, it was not his paramount concern.  While looking back on history we see slavery as  being the issue that the Civil War was fought over, which is patently not true.  It IS true to say that without the issue of slavery that the war wouldn’t have happened, because slavery was the primary reason given by the Confederate states for their secession from the union, and in that way slavery instigated the Civil War… but make no mistake about it, the Civil War was about preserving the Union at whatever cost.

Regardless of Lincoln’s personal beliefs, the mainstream political beliefs for the purpose of not allowing new slave states to enter the Union was not that they necessarily viewed it as being abominable, or because they believed that blacks were equal to whites, but rather because they wanted the west to be exclusively for the white man (if you’re interested in a source on this, it can be found in Tom Woods’ “The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History”, I don’t have the time to find the exact quote right now).  This is a big part of why the Confederates seceded, they were going to lose votes in how the Union was run, and they would not be able to protect the interests of their states, which, yes, was primarily slavery.

The big issue in the Daily Show video is over fugitive slave laws.  I won’t argue that for sure that they were enforced by the union during the Civil War (though it would seem logical to assume they were, since in Lincoln’s view the Confederate states never legitimately seceded, and were therefore still part of the Union, and slaves were not freed in those states until the Emancipation Proclamation).  However, I bring it up because if Lincoln’s primary concern had not been preserving the Union, but instead ending slavery, southern secession would have been a huge boon to making that happen.  No more would fugitive slave laws apply to the north, because they would have no obligation whatsoever to the States of another sovereign nation.  This is a viewpoint that many abolitionists promoted.  Let the south secede, and it will be the beginning of the end for slavery.  A shameful fact of history is that the United States is the only country in which slavery was ended through war and bloodshed.  It may have taken more time, and obviously thinking of someone remaining in slavery for longer is a horrible thought, but so is the violence and death and suffering that comes with war.

In discussing that in the end the Civil War did lead to the end of slavery in the US, I just want to be clear, I am discussing the ultimate end results of what happened, and not the motivations… ending slavery was merely a preference of Lincoln, and not the key reason for the war.  Further evidence of this is in the Emancipation Proclamation, which most believe to have ended slavery.  If you take the view that Lincoln had authority over the Confederate states at this time, he did end it in those states, however, the Emancipation Proclamation explicitly frees the slaves only in Confederate slave states.  (Source: The Emancipation Proclamation itself, read it, you’ll find it lists specific states and does not include border states that were still part of the Union:  The border states, which remained part of the Union, were left to maintain slavery solely because Lincoln did not want them to secede.  In fact, one of these States, Maryland, which the Union could not allow to secede as it would mean the capital would be surrounded by the confederacy, probably would have seceded, if not for several members of the General Assembly being arrested for their pro-Confederate views. (Source:  Simply to bring this all full circle on the issue of the ending of slavery, the Emancipation proclamation ultimately freed no one, and slaves were freed by the 13th amendment, which was passed by Congress, and had little to do with Lincoln, who merely did his duty in signing it into law, though, to be fair, he was surely not conflicted about it, given his preference for men to be free.

Now, into how I view Lincoln.  I see him as being perhaps our worst President.  I am fundamentally opposed to his ideology of a strong central government.  Prior to the Civil War, and certainly at the drafting of the Constitution, the States all believed that they had the right to peacefully secede at any point.  Post Civil War, the federal government proclaimed the exact opposite.  States could not secede, and in fact the secession of the Confederacy was never valid.    He also was a nightmare economically, as he vastly inflated the money supply in order to fund the war.  As previously pointed out, he  had dissidents arrested to keep state governments from functioning lawfully.  Because of Lincoln’s insistence that the Federal government should be stronger than it was intended to be, and that the Union should be inseparable, we are left with slavery ending perhaps a bit earlier than it otherwise would have, but in the worst way possible.  It created a huge amount of resentment that persists for some even to this day.  Government continued to oppress blacks with Jim Crow laws, and even the way in which these were repealed, trading one government mandate for another, ultimately lead to even more racial tension and resentment.  But that may be a topic for another time.

The Civil War, and the events leading up to, and following it, like all history, and even modern events, is far more complex than how we like to think of it.  People like to think of things in simple matters of clear right and wrong, and when it comes to history we like our heroes to be pure good, and our villains to be pure evil.  However, this doesn’t really happen.  If you made it to the end, I hope you got something out of this, and I’m happy for you to share your thoughts, whether in agreement or disagreement.

Starting Over

Hey everyone who found their way here…

I took a bit of a break from blogging, but I’ve been itching to write about a few things lately.  So I’m bringing back the blog and sort of starting fresh.  I considered changing the name and making it actually topical, but I’m not using this domain for anything else, so I guess I might as well just continue to use it.

I think the vast majority of what I post will probably be on political or spiritual topics.  I will also likely post things related to my own personal life, etc, but I don’t intend for that to be the main focus.

Now for a bit of a warning.  I will almost certainly post things here that are controversial in some way.  It is likely to offend someone, because people seem to like to get offended.  I may have offended someone by saying that.  If I offend you, know that it isn’t my intent.  I’m not sure if I’m sorry or not, if it’s something that I actually think and not a matter of me being unclear, then I wouldn’t want to take back whatever it is, but, I guess I do feel bad that it offended you.  Do with that what you will.  Yes, this is a sort of apology in advance.  All that said, I genuinely think that if you are a person who finds yourself frequently offended, that you spend some time evaluating why that is, what the purpose of being offended is, and what you think it accomplishes.  I view a person who constantly says they are offended as being intellectually dishonest, and copping out, as though their being offended somehow invalidates an argument or an idea.  To repeat a quote that I cannot properly attribute, but that I certainly agree with, “Being offended is fucking bullshit!”

Now that all that is out of the way, while I perceive this blog to primarily be just an outlet for myself, I would definitely be happy to have some back and forth with anyone who feels inclined to read it.  And with that, I end this introductory post, and declare this blog begun!

(First post hopefully coming tonight, but maybe tomorrow.  For now I’m out of time!)