Monday, July 31, 2006

Jesus in the Margins: Part 2-- Shame

Jesus made being marginal central.

He did it primarily by his meal-time practices.

In Jesus' day the Jewish culture operated on the power of shame. Social relationships were arranged hierarcially with those closest to God--the High Priest--then priests, Levites, obedient Jews on down to those most removed from God--Gentiles, shepherds, tax-collectors, prostitutes and generally the am ha 'aretz, the "people of the land," the illiterate human trash. You were kept in your place by stringent social shaming.

For example, Simon the Pharisee invited Jesus into his home and then immediately proceeded to exert the power of social shame (see Luke 7: 36-50). By deliberately humiliating Jesus before all his guests, Simon sought to put this upstart "prophet" from Hicksville, Galilee in his proper place.

Oops. Shame does not work on Jesus. Rolling with Simon's shame punch, Jesus proceeds to interpret a redeemed prostitute's actions for Simon and the guests. All the shame meant to slime Jesus boomeranged onto Simon. At a meal.

To be marginalized in Jesus' day meant to be shamed. Publicly humiliated and socially ostracized and spiritually scorned. You were considered, not just someone who did bad things, you were a bad, unclean person. To up the ante, the social shame declared that you were cut off from God. You had no place at the holy table. You were an outsider. You were gutter trash. You had no identity other than to be the foil for "the righteous ones" who said things like, "God, I am so glad I'm not like that tax-collector/same sex-oriented person/abortion-minded woman/alcoholic/Hezbollah terrorist over there."

Jesus prepares his table. The thing you never felt in his presence was shame. You felt welcomed. You felt honored. You felt joy. You felt included. You felt valued. You felt family. You heard "my friend" and looked up and saw that Jesus meant you.

"But I, I am...a very rich tax-collector."
"I am a...furious zealot with blood on my hands."
"I an unclean woman with an issue of blood."
"I am a smelly shepherd."
"I am a desperate prostitute."
"I am a lonely leper."
"I am a hated Roman centurion."
"I am a despised Samaritan and immoral woman."
"I am am ha 'aretz."

Jesus looks at us and smiles. He raises his hands and blesses the bread from the earth and the wine from the grape. He blesses as only a Good Host can bless. By the time he stops, we really don't care what we are, but who he is. And one thing he is, he's for us, not against us.

Jesus, as host, says, "Hey, Deborah and Matthew, separate a little bit. We've got to make room for father Abraham when he shows up. Good. You guys, there, make a place for Isaac. Alright. Let's eat."

Dark shame flees into the night in the presence of Light. Sadly the fleeing shame seeps into the crevases of graceless hearts turns into homicidal hatred. Shame hates being shamed.

"This is my body given for you" ...and they felt no shame.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Jesus in the Margins: Part 1-- Paradox

I've been ruminating again about Jesus' life with the marginalized of 1st century Judaism. I'm going to ponder in print some of my thoughts.

We often think that Jesus left his surburban bungalow on the green hillside of Galilee and went into the big city and sought out the disadvantaged. How good of Jesus to condescend and go to the marginalized, the outcasts, the rejects, the down-trodden. What a model of servant-leadership. I wonder if my shiny Hummer can navigate the narrow inner city streets?

Wait a minute. Jesus, himself, was born into and lived in the margins of his society. He was the ultimate outcast, the "sinner," the man with disreputable beginnings and unholy (read illegal) practices.

Good news. Jesus changed the margins. He dared to draw new lines of acceptance with God the Father. Jesus paradoxically made being marginal central.

Imagine that I announce to my Northview neighborhood that teenagers on the verge of getting their driver's licenses can meet me in a local school parking lot at a certain time. I will train them for free how to start a car, drive and park a car, learn to operate a manual shift, change a flat tire, check the oil, etc. I get approval from every authority interested and the area folk think, "How nice. That old, grey-bearded guy is helping our kids prepare to drive. And he's doing it for free."

One day, however, the teens come home, jumping for joy.

"Mom, Dad, I got my driver's license today!"

"You what? Let me see that."

"Yeah, the old guy who's been training us issued our licenses today. Isn't that wicked?!"

"Hey, settle down. This 3 X 5 card with a polaroid picture taped to it isn't exactly a driver's license."

Word gets out and soon the Michigan Secretary of State sends some authorities to check out this unusual and illegal behavior. Teens are being arrested for driving with a lumpy 3 X 5 card as a valid license.

"Uh, Reverend Frye, you can't just issue driver's licenses like this. We appreciate your help getting the teens road ready and all that, but you can't issue a license to any of them. That is the job of the State of Michigan."

Jesus is famous for his meal-time habits. His eating habits are one of the most reliable and uncontested features of his life. Jesus ate with people in the margins. For a God-fearing Jew, he ate with the wrong people. But that in itself could be tolerated. "Birds of a feather flock together. He eats with 'sinners' because he's a 'sinner.' "

What got Jesus in trouble was issuing licenses, so to speak. He said, "At my table, you are sitting right in the middle of the Kingdom of God. Eat up. Drink. Laugh. The kingdom is for you!!"

"Uh, Rabbi Jesus, we're from the know, the big one in Jerusalem. You just can't go around telling people, especially these people, that they are in the kingdom of God. That's the priests' job."

Jesus with a furious twinkle in his eye says, "Oh, no, my Temple friends, you've got it all wrong. It IS my job. And I'm doing it."

At Jesus' table Deborah, the prostitute, passes a bunch of grapes to Matthew, a tax-collector, and the cups of wine spark laughter (for Anne Lamott laughter is "carbonated holiness"). Deborah and Matthew wonder aloud what they will ask Abraham when they sit at the table with him. Jesus had said that they would eat with their ancestors in the faith.

"I never knew there was a place at this table for me," Deborah says quietly. "I don't look like a Pharisee. I don't talk like one and I, for sure, don't act like one. I never did learn to talk 'Pharisee.' "

"Nor I, " says Matthew, "but here we are! In the middle of the Kingdom of God."

Bread, fruit, lamb and wine. Laughter. Heaven and earth meet at the table.

Who's marginalized?

Thursday, July 27, 2006


Armageddon again and again and again.

On our recent trip to San Diego, I caught news snippets about evangelicals and Pentecostals announcing the "end is near." The Israeli war with Hezbollah terrorists has opened the lid on all the apocalyptic voices that announce that this is the end...really the end...the end of all ends. Jerusalem countdown and all that.

I think I'll sit this one out.

Since my conversion to Jesus in 1959, I have been exposed to many "ends" of time. U Thant, then Secretary-General of the UN was "the anti-christ" and apocalyptic types were scrambling to identify "the ten toes." Our church's evening service was spent looking at a bed sheet strung across the altar area with the "end times" chart. As a little junior high convert, it scared the pee-waddlely-do out of me. I went home and accepted Jesus again.

The beast, the dreaded "mark of the beast," the four horsemen, the bowls and trumpets and, and, the GREAT white throne judgment...and hell. You get the picture.

Poor JFK...he was voted in as anti-christ, a Catholic and what with the wound to the head, etc.

Then Israel's "six day war" in the middle '60's. Let's get the temple mount back from the infidel Muslims and find that ark of the covenant.

In the early '70's when oil became the issue, the charts came out again. THIS is it! Late Great Planet Earth and all that. Apache helicopters are stinging beasts from the pit. Wait. Dang. Wrong again.

1988!! Forty years from the birth of the nation of Israel. One generation...this is IT!!! Oops.

And what about former Soviet president Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev and that tell-tale sign "666" (yikes!) on his forehead. (Thanks, Scot, for the reminder.)

Then in recent years the anti-christ was Saddam Hussein and Y2K was a key factor for the end. And the EU (European Union) was forming...who's in, who's out of the EU...I see "toes" coming together. Whatever happens, don't be "left behind."

So the other day, the pretty CNN anchor asks two "biblical experts" if this is "Armageddon" or the stage for Armageddon. Talking heads wasted air time speculating again.

This is the stuff of comic books.

I'll sit this one out.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Lillian May--the Love Magnet

Lillian May is a Mini-magnet of Love.

Top picture: the sleeping beauty--Lillian May. (Isn't she the cutest?)
Second: a happy grandmother--Julie and Lillian.
Third: grandfather John and his little look-alike.
Fourth: tired Mommy, Elisha, and her new daughter.
Bottom: the little princess and her knights--father Bryan and brothers, Benjamin (r) and Zachary (l).

We had a brief, whirlwind time being with Lillian and her family. We were in San Diego and Los Angeles in some record-breaking hot days.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The Irresistable Call of Lillian May

Lillian May Francis

Lillian May beckons. She wants her grandma Julie and grandpa John.

Julie and I leave Thursday morning, July 20, from Grand Rapids, MI and arrive in San Diego, CA at 9:30 a.m. Pacific time. We return next Tuesday.

We'll see our daughter, Elisha, and her family, Bryan (husband), Benjamin and Zachary (sons), and Lillian (the brand new daughter). Isn't she the cutest?

Can't you see a little bit of her grandpa John in her?


Once in a while I'll surf around the theological blog world to see what's being discussed. Many bloggers are commenting on "the emergent movement/church/conversation." I think this is healthy because good, respectful dialogue sharpens all in the discussion.

What I find alarming are "the evangelical thought-police." Some bloggers take it upon themselves to insist that there is only one way (their way) to understand a debatable Scripture passage or a certain doctrine under discussion.

These choppy blog waters include "Is Tony Jones a Christian?" "Is Richard Foster introducing 'New Age' practices into the church?" "How heretical is Rick Warren?" "Can there really be a 'saved' Catholic?" "Hell and Open Theism are Twins." "Luther, Calvin and Zwingli are the Incarnate Trinity." [These are my own summations of a few hot topics.]

And it's not just in the blogosphere. I have a friend who very recently told me that he was warned that if someone denies the pre-Trib rapture, they can't be saved. Hot-diggity.

Self-appointed evangelical thought-police, serving as junior holy spirits, need to be reminded that only the Word of God, the Bible, is inspired. Every theological statement, a mere human-being crafted statement, is tainted with fallenness and finiteness. And theological "systems" carry systemic, fallible fissures of massive proportions. Everything is open to discussion.

Now, before some reader has a fit, I'm not saying all theological statements are useless, unprofitable or erroneous. That would be stupid to say. But all topics are open for discussion.
It seems that the thought-police speak from a platform of absolute rightness. Their views, in their thinking, are on equal ground as the very inspired Word of God! I find it ironic that the present day thought-police, who for some reason still have it in for the Catholics, are acting more and more like the rigid Catholic leaders of Luther's day: "You can't think that, Martin Luther!" "You can't write that, Martin Luther!" "You can't teach that, especially to our children, Martin Luther!" It's almost comical...and is very sad.

Yet, for some, it appears that policing others is their divine right and saving mission. But be warned, their right(eous) views and righteous motives transform them into the deadliest of all Christians---crusaders.

Friday, July 14, 2006

"Father, forgive them; they don't know...."

I have a good and thoughtful friend who is pondering the request of Jesus to the Father to forgive his enemies.

Luke writes, "When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, 'Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing' " (23:33-34). The immediate context reports that the request is directed toward the Roman soldiers whose task it was to nail Jesus to the cross. The verse goes on to report that the soldiers gambled for Jesus' robe.

Question: Did the Father hear and answer this request of his Son? Jesus does not say from the cross, "...nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done" as in Gethsemane. Here it is a straightforward request. Dare I say it was a passionate command?

If the Father did forgive them, what do we do with the need for repentance before forgiveness? These hardened soldiers certainly aren't asking for forgiveness; they're simply doing their gruesome job. Did the soldiers unknowingly and undeservingly win a "get out of hell free" card at that moment?

If the Father does not forgive them, what are we to make of Jesus' request to the Father? If the Father says "No" to his Son? Why? The Father and Son are not "one" at this point?

It's not enough to make this a general and kind blanket request for forgiveness of the whole world, is it? That presents another mega-set of problems, doesn't it?

Did the Father answer Jesus' specific request from the cross or not? Please comment.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006


The Crucifixion (painting: Thomas Eakins, 1880).

This is final part of a 3 part series on Jesus and the places of pain.

The first comment is that the physical pain of the crucifixion was not unique to Jesus. (Take time to read the JAMA--Journal of the American Medical Association article. It is incredibly informative.) The day he died, two other "bandits" were crucified as well on each side of Jesus. Rome was notorious for crucifying thousands who were considered traitorous or a threat.

There are many who believe and teach that God the Father cannot experience pain. God cannot "experience" anything...especially anything emotional. God is without feeling. This is the doctrine of impassibility (apatheia). Love is not a feeling in God, neither is joy nor grief nor anger. Impassibility is a subset of immutability which teaches that God cannot change. Feelings are so fickle and the last thing God is subject to is wavering feelings. God is a divine Dr. Spock.

Now, Jesus is just the opposite. He draws the short straw in the Trinity, so to speak, and enters incarnationally into the vexing universe of fluctuating human feeling. Because he is God and human, Jesus can feel everything we feel.

With the 1946 landmark book by Japanese theologian Kazoh Kitamori, A Theology of the Pain of God, in the background, I would suggest (on biblical grounds) that God the Father, Son, and Spirit are capable of feeling. Those who advocate the unfeeling God have "discovered" in the Bible "anthropomorphisms," that is, terms ascribing human characteristics like icky emotions to the unfeeling God. I believe that the terms in the Bible authentically reveal aspects of the Being of God. The primary biblical revelation is that God is love. One view "explains away" these terms. The other takes them at face value.

Kitamori presents a God who experiences divine pain because He is a God who loves. At the cross when the infinite love of the Father meets the just wrath of the Father, God experiences a pain unique to God. Yet it is this pain that enables God (Father, Son, and Spirit) to "feel" the whole scope and depth of human pain.

I don't want to go beyond Scripture, but does Jesus truly feel the sexual violation of a young woman by a gang of thugs? Where is God? Is He there? Does God feel the terror of a child beaten willy-nilly by a drunken parent? Where is God? In Rwanda church leaders and their people are hacked to death with machetes? Where is God? Does He feel the pain, the horror, the utter inhumanity? The scenarios are endless.

The cross for Jesus was the wholesale violation of an unblemished human being--body, soul, mind and spirit. Yes, Jesus agonized physically and his blood drained out of him. He also cried as they bitterly mocked, verbally abused, and taunted him. Jesus was deeply shamed and socially stygmatized. Out of modesty most crucifixion paintings have Jesus' loins covered. Yet, he died naked, exposed to the passers-by. Infinite indignity.

When Jesus advocates for me and you and for the oppressed of the world, the last thing I want the Father to say to the Son is, "I really don't know what you're talking about."

Monday, July 10, 2006


Lillian May Francis
7 lbs 9 oz, 21"
July 9, 2006
San Diego, CA

Isn't she the cutest? (no bias on my part)

She looks like her mother, though we're told she has her daddy's chin.

You know what is cool about this picture (other than the cutest little girl in the world is in it)? It was taken by our son-in-law, Bryan, on his cell phone in San Diego. He sent the picture to our daughter, Leah's, cell phone here in Grand Rapids, MI. She downloaded it to her computer and e-mailed it to us. Now I'm posting it on this blogspot. The wonderful world of the digital age.

We now have 4 grandsons and 1 granddaughter, yet Lillian May will have a little girl cousin soon. Our daughter, Leah, is also due with her first daughter in September.

Friday, July 07, 2006


Jesus waded out deep into the chaotic waters of human pain. Rather than breezing painlessly through his some 33 years as the Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity incarnate, Jesus daily sloshed around in the mucky misery of human life of his day.

Matthew's Gospel is intent on showing how Jesus fulfilled Old Testament prophecies. It is Matthew who has a penchant for writing, "And by this [whatever Jesus did or said] the Scriptures were fulfilled..."

Let's pause at Matthew 8:16-17. "When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to him, and he drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: 'He took up our infirmities and carried our diseases'" (see Isaiah 53:4).

Notice that this verse is about Jesus' active exorcizing and healing ministry, not about his death on the cross (though I am not saying that Jesus' cross death is not crucial to human liberation and health). Yet, this is way before Jesus' cross death. This is healing in Jesus' ministry, not in his atonement.

Imagine this dusty, 1st century scene somewhere in Capernaum near the shore of Galilee Sea. The sun is setting, Sabbath is ending so that people begin working by bringing the demon-possessed and diseased to Jesus. Surrounded by hundreds of bodies with smelly, infectious flesh, some screaming, others with oozing wounds and sores, bleeding gashes, fevers and heart-breaking cries of pain, Jesus sets about to reverse the curse of sin and death. I worked as an orderly in a Dallas, TX hospital and it was bad enough in the antiseptically clean emergency room when people came in bloody pain. All the misery that the first Adam got the human race into by his disobedience, Jesus is liberating people from by his compassionate obedience. Death is meeting life and life wins.

"Oh," thinks Matthew as he writes this event, "this is the fulfillment of Isaiah 53." Usually when a Jewish writer quotes part of a verse, he intends the readers to think of the whole text. In this case the whole text would be Isaiah 52:13-53:12, known as one of "The Songs of the Suffering Servant." I am convinced that Jesus purposely intended to live out what Isaiah wrote (see, for example, R.T. France, Jesus and the Old Testament).

Just previous to Isaiah 53:4 which Matthew quotes directly, we read, "He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering" (Isa. 53:3 NIV).

Jesus was a person characterized by sorrows, i.e., a sorrow-full man. The word "sorrows" is literally "pains." The word "familiar with" means "closely acquainted with through diligent involvement/inspection." Jesus was neither emotionally detached nor clinically remote. He was physically, hands-on, emotionally, wholly engaged in the full range of human suffering and pain.

There were doctors in Jesus' day. Luke, another gospel writer, was one of them. Jesus, as you recall, was a carpenter, a teknon, perhaps a stone mason. He was, forgive the term, a layman. He wasn't a professional religious guy.

I am not a doctor and probably you're not either. If you are, God bless you. But being medically trained is not a prerequisite for engaging the suffering of the world. Jesus did not have to go to the places of pain; he was born smack dab in the middle of horrendous human misery. Some, if not most, of us will need to leave our artificial comforts, to forsake our levees against the Katrina-winds of pain churning the raging waters of human lives, if we want to be like Jesus.

Suburban materialism may be the greatest threat to the Gospel of the kingdom of God in the USAmerican church. It is the number one narcotic against Christ-like engagement with this pain-filled planet, a whole planet becoming more like Jesus' Galilean country every day.

So, where are the places of pain? Global Mapping International has mapped the "human suffering index." (At the GMI web site, in the list click on "human suffering index.") Even though it's hard to read, check out the "key" to the various colors. Note how many countries are indexed as "extreme human suffering." Check out the U.S. of A.

Monday, July 03, 2006


This is a picture from Google Images titled "Rwanda genocide."

When you have a moment, type in the Google Images window these places--Rwanda, Congo, and Darfur (in Sudan)--and browse through the pictures. Be prepared. Some of the pictures show graphic violence.

It's the pictures of the children that get to me.

Look at this terrified child. What has he or she seen? Or, what is she or he looking at the moment the camera clicked? What is this child's future? Is he or she still alive?

Why did I write about Jesus and conflict in the previous post? Why do we have to think about Jesus and the bloody violence of his day? Jesus saw this sad situation often as massacres occurred in his day. What did Jesus do? He personally cared for some, but not all. He left the massive crises to us--his "second body."

It has become trendy to ask W.W.J.D.?

I think Jesus is calling out and mobilizing thousands of deeply compassionate and active people who will go "to the places of pain" on this planet and pray there and stay there and love there, with food and shelter and medicine and water and clothes...and, most of all, hope.

"Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me." Mark 9:37

"Then these righteous ones will reply, `Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison, and visit you?' And the King will tell them, `I assure you, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!' " Matthew 25:37-40

Can we hear Jesus also say, "I was abandoned in Rwanda/Congo/Darfur/New Orleans/wherever children are left to die and you took me in"?