Wednesday, December 16, 2015



“Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.” Romans 12:13
“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” Hebrews 13:2

The phrase “hospitality to strangers” used in these two verses is one word in the original  Greek of the New Testament: philoxenia (Φιλοξενία). Philoxenia comes from two root words, the noun “xenos” meaning alien, foreigner or stranger; and the verb “phileo” meaning to love, to have affection for, to delight in. The Greek language had several words for love. Most of us are familiar with “eros” which is often identified with physical or sexual love, and “agape” which is a deep caring love that seeks to provide what is in the best interest of the one loved. “Philo” love is a brotherly or familial kind of love. The early Quaker settlers in Pennsylvania established Philadelphia as the “City of Brotherly Love.”

So word philoxenia, translated as “hospitality” in Romans 12 and Hebrews 13, has the connotation of loving strangers as you would a brother or family member. And as I have stated before, to the first century Greeks and Greek speaking Hebrews and Palestinians, the word “stranger” did not just mean someone you do not know, it meant someone from an ethnic background, race, religion or culture that was different than your own. That is why some translations use the words “alien” or “foreigner” to translate “xenos” (ξένος). And that is what makes these verses so radical. Jews in the first century considered themselves “unclean” if they were even accidentally touched by a non-Jew, a Gentile. If a Gentile came into their home, they would have to ritually clean it before they could allow any of their Jewish friends or family to enter.

As I pointed out a few weeks ago, in Matthew 25 we see Jesus praising those who welcomed strangers (aliens) and condemning for eternity those who did not. In Romans 12 we see that the Apostle Paul commands Hebrew and Gentile Christians to show brotherly love to strangers (including aliens or foreigners). And the same command is repeated by the author of Hebrews in chapter 13 of that epistle. So I remain amazed and saddened that so many of my Christian acquaintances who say they want our nation to return to Christian values, are in fact demanding our nation do just the opposite of what the Bible commands and shut our borders to refugees from war and poverty.

The Christian church grew exponentially in its first few centuries of existence. Living out the Bible’s commands to show hospitality, the brotherly love of aliens, foreigners, or strangers, was the number one reason for that growth. If you really want a Christian revival in our land, then live like you mean it. Love the strangers, the foreigners, the refugees just as the early church did. To do otherwise mocks both the Christ and the Holy Scriptures you profess to love.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015


The Christian Bible records that around 2,000 years ago a man and a woman and their baby fled their homeland because a cruel despotic ruler was slaughtering innocent children. Joseph, Mary and Jesus became refugees in Egypt. Thankfully, there were no Teapublican governors at the border to turn them away. 

Apparently All Lives Don't Matter

I find it more than a bit disingenuous that many of the folks who demanded that the slogan "black lives matter" be changed to "all lives matter" are now, in effect, saying Syrian lives don't matter.

A Parable of Christ’s Return
The Sheep and The Goats

Several of my FB friends, both those of a secular background and those who purport to be Christians, have taken umbrage at my pleas to welcome to our shores a refugee population our nation helped create. It is to those who claim Christ I write now.

Just days before his crucifixion, death and resurrection, Jesus told this parable about his return:

31 "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.

34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, "Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.'

37 Then the righteous will answer him, "Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing?  39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?'

40 And the king will answer them, "Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.'                                
41Then he will say to those at his left hand, "You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.'

44 Then they also will answer, "Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?'

45 Then he will answer them, "Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.'

46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."

It is the word “stranger” in verses 35 and 43 that I would like to draw your attention too. The New Testament and thus this passage here were originally written in Greek, the language of commerce and diplomacy in the first century. And the Greek word translated as “stranger” in this parable is “xenos” (ξένος). Literally, xenos means foreign or alien. It is from this word we get the English word “xenophobia” which means fear of foreigners.

In the time of Christ, his people, the Jews, tended to look down their self-righteous noses at people who were not of their ethnic background. If a non-Jew entered their home they would have to ritually clean it before a fellow Jew could enter. If a non-Jew touched their garment, they would have to ritually clean it or perhaps even burn it. So this teaching of Christ was very radical to those who heard it the first time. Jesus was very clearly saying his followers are to be people who welcome the stranger, the foreigner, the alien, the person of a different culture and ethnic group, into their communities and, yes, into their homes.

And so, to my FB friends who claim Christ yet want to shun those he would welcome, I ask that you prayerfully reread the parable of the sheep and the goats and then make a decision to not be a goat.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Exodus 20:8-11 (ESV):  Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.  Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.  On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates.  For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day.  Therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.

Back in the late 1950s or early 60s a woman was arrested in my community for buying a gallon of milk on Sunday.  I remember hearing my parents talking about the incident.  They believed the whole thing was a set-up designed to outrage the community into repealing the blue laws.  For those readers too young to be familiar with the term "blue laws" an explanation is in order.  blue law was a type of law common in many states designed to enforce Christian religious standards, particularly the observance of Sunday as a day of worship or rest, and a restriction on Sunday shopping. Most blue laws have been repealed, have been declared unconstitutional or are simply unenforced today.

My father, though an avowed atheist or at least an agnostic at the time, was not in favor of repealing the blue laws.  He owned a car dealership and believed if the laws were repealed and some of his competitors opened their dealerships on Sundays then he would be forced to be open seven days a week as well.  I think his main concern was not being able to play golf on Sundays if the laws were repealed.

In many American cities today, for Christian and agnostic alike, Sunday is the busiest shopping day of the week.  Almost all retail businesses today are open on Sunday.   I say almost because on the way home from church one recent Sabbath, after driving past one business after another that was opened I finally spotted two that were keeping the Sabbath.  The first was a liquor store and the second was an adult bookstore.  

The Truly Righteous Always Promote Justice

Any way you read it...

Proverbs 29:7 NIV -- The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern.

Pro 29:7 NASB -- The righteous is concerned for the rights of the poor, The wicked does not understand such concern.

Pro 29:7 CEV -- The wicked don't care about the rights of the poor, but good people do.

Pro 29:7 KJV  The righteous considereth the cause of the poor: but the wicked regardeth not to know it.

Naturally, as a Christian Kvetch, my favorite philosopher/theologian is Soren Kierkegaard. Here is one of my favorite Kierkegaard quotes:
"The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any word in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world? Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church's prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Oh, priceless scholarship, what would we do without you? Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes, it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament. "
--Soren Kierkegaard, Provocations: Spiritual Writings of Kierkegaard, ed. Charles E. Moore (Farmington, PA: Plough, 2002), 201

While driving to the Botanical Gardens with my grandchildren a car plastered with Tea Party and Romney bumper stickers swerved in front of me from the right lane and slammed on his breaks so he could make a left turn at the light. Luckily I was driving slowly enough I could break without startling my granddaughters. However, I muttered under my breath, “What an ass.”

Apparently I spoke louder than intended because right away my granddaughter Bridie asked, “Grandpa, is “ass” a bad word?”

Me: It all depends on how you use it in a sentence.

Bridie: What does, “How you use it in a sentence mean?”

Me: Well, ass is another word for donkey, so if you see a donkey and you say, “Look, there’s an ass,” then ass is not a bad word because it’s just another word that means the same thing as donkey.

Bridie: Was there a donkey in that car?

Me: No, but there was a Republican in the car.

Bridie: Is it bad to call a Republican an ass.

Me: No, that’s another case where it means the same thing.

Bridie: Oh.

I love helping my grandchildren learn grammar.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Alice Walker Quote

‎"The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don't have any." - Alice Walker

FYI: African-American novelist, poet and activist Alice Walker says she became a radical due to the influence of Howard Zinn who was one of her professors at Spelman College during the 1960's. I knew Zinn at that time because he was the father of a friend of mine and occasionally  lectured at the socialist commune I was living at in 1962-63.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Changing Goals

When I helped edit a left wing newspaper back in the late sixties and early seventies I saw myself as the next V.I. Lenin or at the very least, America’s next E.B. Debs or maybe Herbert Aptheker. Years later, when I was in seminary, I saw myself as the next Billy Graham (but with strong Walter Rauschenbusch leanings).  Now that I’m in the autumn (if not winter) of my years I find that what matters most is that I be remembered fondly by my grandchildren.