Tag Archives: Boundaries

The Internet the Backbone of the Digital Age

Session 3: The Internet the Backbone of the Digital Age

This is the third part of a now eight-part series on faith in a digital age. It expanded due to the richness of the discussion on the internet and the amount of material I couldn’t cover in this first week. The outline of the series is:

Week one: Advertising in a Digital Age
Week two: Email, Multi-tasking and the blurring of the work/home divide
Week three: The Internet the Backbone of the Digital Age
Week four: The Impact of the Internet and Engaging it faithfully
Week five: Cell phones and a continually connected life
Week six: Social media and the projecting and mining of the digital self
Week seven: Dating and relationships in a digital age
Week eight: The dangers of a digital age

This is a series of classes I’ve been teaching with my congregation that I’ve been attempting to capture digitally so that they could be used by other communities or small groups or for members who are unable to be present in class.

The internet is the backbone, the infrastructure that makes the digital age possible. My children have never known a world without the interconnections that the internet makes possible, but I still think the internet is a mystery to a lot of people. The internet is simply a set of interconnected servers and computers that enable data to be exchanged both over hardwired connections and wirelessly. For a simplistic illustration think of phones: when I was growing up, I had a large number of phone numbers memorized and there were large phonebooks that gave me both the business and personal numbers I needed. If I wanted to talk to somebody, I would enter the phone a seven-digit number for a local call (eleven for a long-distance call 1+an area code+ the seven-digit phone number) and I would be connected to the proper phone in the proper house. Now with my cell phone I remember many fewer numbers, they are stored in my contacts. I can go to the contacts and select, for example, work and the phone translates that into the number 972-569-8185, or I can say to my phone “call work” and it will dial this same number. With the internet it works in a similar manner, if I type into my browser http://www.rejoicefrisco.com it automatically goes to a registry and translates this into a long numerical address which tells the computer the location on a server that I want to see. It goes to a space on the server and translates the data that has been stored there into a visual page. The way the internet is designed allows for multiple pages and places to be linked together and displayed on in a user-friendly way but the internet itself is just the backbone, it is just the structure that everything else we use it for is built upon.

Even though we say the internet is ‘just’ the infrastructure this infrastructure has changed so much of how we live and engage our world. One of the big stories the week before I presented this was the multi-billion dollar divorce of Jeff Bezos, the founder and CEO of Amazon, a company that wouldn’t have existed without the internet and the capabilities it provided. Amazon is significantly larger than its next largest competitor, Walmart. Many of the traditional retailers have been heavily impacted by this change. Sears is celebrating 125 years of business this year but also is in the process of being liquidated because the world has changed around it and it isn’t hard to think of the number of stores that no longer exist. It has changed the way we think about the need for a physical place to do business, to bank, and many other things.

We use the internet for a wider range of things from communications, to shopping, to getting news and information, to watch sports or entertainment programming, and many more things. We use it to monitor information and it also watches us (this is where many of the cookies on your computer come from). It is what most of the aps on our cellphones access to be useful and it connects us not only through our computers but through all our devices. As we enter a time where people have smart houses and smart cars, they are also continually transmitting information to servers which monitor these things. As we discussed in advertising, we can give up our information without thinking about it and often for a benefit (a lower insurance rate for example if they can monitor our driving behavior) but it is worth thinking about what that information is worth both to you and the person gathering it.

Most people realize that just because something is on the internet that doesn’t mean it is true. Yet, there are many things that people accept that may not be true for various reasons (confirmation bias and misplaced trust are just two examples) . The internet has no editor, no one to go back and verify the factuality of a page or article. Now an individual site may have its own controls: if you go to a news site, they have an editor or something like National Geographic would, but many sites do not. It is a great place to get information out quickly and easily and that is a great freedom. The internet makes this site possible but there is no editor other than me. There is no ‘peer review’ that we would see in the academic world where an article would be placed out with a claim and then be reviewed by others in the field to see if the claim can be verified: this is how everything from science to theology and biblical studies worked for years. The internet doesn’t do this.

There have been some creative ways to get around the lack of an editorial or peer review structure and a good case to think about this is Wikipedia. In the early 1990s Microsoft decided they were going to reinvent the encyclopedia with Encarta, a resource that they put their significant resources behind at the same time a small startup called Wikipedia entered the landscape. Encarta went with the traditional, but cumbersome peer review method to create its encyclopedia the way organizations like Encyclopedia Britannica had done in the past but Wikipedia allowed the community to create and comment on articles creating an agile and quick way of updating information. Microsoft eventually gave up on Encarta and Wikipedia has proven, through allowing others to critique articles, to be as accurate as the older peer review methods had delivered in the past.

Trust is a central issue in the evaluation of a source. If you are reading this as a blog or watching the video of this presentation and you don’t know me personally then you have to evaluate, “do I trust Neil as a presenter or not?” “Is the information he is giving me accurate or not?”

The internet has also proved a challenge for a lot of traditional businesses and industries. If you are still functioning as a business or an organization, you have probably adjusted how you work due to the internet. Many customer service related jobs have disappeared and have been replaced by technology or been relocated into central warehouses for an organization or in larger online companies like Amazon or Zappos. There has been a way people think of the need for a physical place. Even in the world of religion it has changed the way people think of the need for a physical space. One of my realization as I’ve been experimenting more with placing more video and discussions on the internet is that many people have watched many of these videos before ever considering coming to my congregation.  Even if people never do come my hope is that I am making a positive impact for them, but could you imagine a virtual church? I know some people who are trying to do this, to replicate a church experience for people who for various reasons may not want or be able to come to a traditional experience of worship.

The church has always been a community that was connected even when its leaders couldn’t be present. The apostle Paul is the first we see this type of attempt to maintain a presence in his communities even when he couldn’t be there physically. The letters to the church in Rome, Corinth, Philippi, Thessalonica and more were attempts to influence and impact a community when he was physically somewhere else. We have always used the technology of the day to attempt to transmit the faith across distance. In my own tradition, the Lutheran tradition, Martin Luther benefited from the invention of the printing press approximately fifty years before the reformation began as a way of transmitting his thoughts, protests, sermons and teaching material from Wittenberg across much of Europe. Several large churches have developed satellite congregations connected by video with the central pastor/preacher who is the charismatic leader of the community. Even among traditional churches, like the one I am a part of, there is an increasing realization that for many of our smaller communities we may need to think creatively how they can continue to worship and be connected with the larger church with limited resources.

I’m indebted to Deanna Thompson’s honest reflections in The Virtual Body of Christ in a Suffering World which reflects on her own experiences with technology while she was dealing with treatment for cancer. Technology enabled her to remain connected with people when her physical body was unable to have sustained conversations and it allowed her to not be defined by the look of pity that she would see from people when they would visit her. CaringBridge, a website for giving medical updates on someone undergoing treatment, allowed her to pass on information about her treatment to a wide range of people and to receive messages from an unexpected number of people who were praying and sending thoughts. Through technology she was able to communicate in ways that reflected her normal intelligence and wit because she could communicate on her own terms. As she writes:

What I wrote and published online still sounded like the me I was familiar with, the me that was not wholly overcome by the stigma and diminishment caused by advanced stage cancer. (Thompson, 2016, p. 63)

When we are sick, we may lose our self-image as a person who can contribute, who has a voice.  The internet can provide means of communicating that may be harder face to face.

There is a lot more I want to discuss in relation to the internet and some things I plan to discuss next session include:

How does the ease of information availability change the way we store information in our memory?

Many facts we need background information to even understand the answers.

Lack of ‘stopping clues’ designed into many aspects of the internet and how we can lose time by not stopping at regular intervals

How I attempt to use the internet in various ways and some boundaries I set

From a faith perspective we are going to think through some parts of the sermon on the mount and what that might have to say about how we interact online

We will also think about how we can do ancient things like prayer, connection, teaching and maybe even worship in a connected age.

Finally, we will think about the online identities we construct and how they connect to our physical identities.

Discussion questions:

What do you use the internet for? How frequently do you use the internet?

How do you use the internet to communicate and connect with other people?

What are some changes you’ve noticed happening because of technology?

What are some of the strengths of connecting with people across the internet? What are come of the challenges of connecting with people across the internet?

What are your thoughts about a virtual faith community? What would be some benefits and some challenges to your understanding of what it means to be faithful?

Why would people seek out a virtual church community rather than a traditional community of faith?

Have you ever used technology to communicate when you were physically unable to be present with someone? How was the connection you felt over the distance?

Email, Multi-tasking and the blurring of the work/home divide

Session 2: Email, Multi-tasking and the blurring of the work/home divide

This is the second part of a seven-part series on faith in a digital age, the first session was on advertising on a digital age. And the outline of the series is:

Week one: Advertising in a Digital Age
Week two: Email, Multi-tasking and the blurring of the work/home divide
Week three: Advent of the internet and a connected age
Week four: Cell phones and a continually connected life
Week five: Social media and the projecting and mining of the digital self
Week six: Dating and relationships in a digital age
Week seven: The dangers of a digital age

This is a series of classes I’ve been teaching with my congregation that I’ve been attempting to capture digitally so that they could be used by other communities or small groups or for members who are unable to be present in class.

I remember in the 1970s and 1980s when I was growing up the promise that technology would enable us to work fewer hours and spend more time at home with people doing what we enjoyed. One of the cartoons of that age, the Jetsons, the father only worked a couple of hours at a very leisurely pace and then came home and spent almost all of his time with his family. The reality is that people are not working fewer hours, they are working more hours than previously. The quantity and quality of work an individual person can produce has increased dramatically due to technology but now we are expected to do more work with fewer people. We do less physical work than we did a generation ago but our time at the office or engaged with work related items has increased dramatically.

Email starts out as a tool in the business, academic and military. Originally it took a dedicated network of terminals connected to a larger computer and I remember at Texas A&M when I was a student in the early 1990s logging in on a ‘dumb terminal’ to check my email for assignments from class. Email was much less convenient but it was also limited to devices connected into the main server and so your email for work stayed at work. Email would soon evolve to become far more connected and capable and this would create both new possibilities and new challenges.

One of the benefits of email is it is free. Now understand it is free because someone else, either the office or school we are associated with or advertisers have paid for the servers and infrastructure required to make the email possible. Yet, it is free which, unless you are the postal service and have seen electronic communication eat into the volume you deliver, is a good thing. Email is also able to carry immense amounts of information. For example, my congregation sends out a weekly email to the congregation which includes documents, links as well as highlights of events occurring each week.

One of the realities of email is that we get overwhelmed with information. Most people can relate to the experience of opening your email account and checking many of the emails to delete even before you open them. We are exposed to a lot of information and it becomes overwhelming and so we have to learn how to filter what is vital, what is important and what is not important. We have always sorted, even before email we would quickly sort our postal mail and determine what was trash and what was worth opening. Yet, even once we open an email, we quickly see what we think may be important and one of the realities is that information often gets missed. For example, the synod (the higher body over the churches of my denomination in the North Texas-North Louisiana region) sends out a weekly email update which includes events occurring in the region and if something is not in the first several events there is a strong possibility that I may have stopped reading at that point. We have become so overwhelmed with information that we have to find ways to limit so that we can focus on what we believe are the important things.

In any technology that communicates by text one of the things to understand is we do not have a number of the physical clues from voice and body language that we use to insert the emotion accurately into a message. Most of the information we take in when we speak to another person is non-verbal and so it is easy with text-based communication to misinterpret the emotion of the sender. For example, let’s assume that I was in an accident prior to arriving at the office and the first email I read I assume that the author is yelling at me. Now the way the email is worded may lead to this interpretation but it may also be about my own shame or anger at being in an accident. I may transfer my anger with the person I had an accident with to the sender or if I am ashamed of being in the accident, I may feel that I deserve to be yelled at. But these may have nothing to do with the intent of the sender, they are things I have read into the text message.

One of the other things it is easy to do with email is to send a message to more people than you intend or the wrong person. Many people can relate to times where they intended to forward a message and replied instead or they wanted to reply to an individual and they unintentionally hit the reply all response on the message.

People could reach out for work related things by phone long before email, but email was really the first area where we see an increasing tendency to take work home with us. We became available to people from the office, once email was connected via the internet, twenty-four hours a day and seven days a week. I know many people will take their email with them on vacation and respond to it, or they may attempt to respond to email in the evening or during a meal. This can become an unhealthy dynamic for us as individuals and for our relationships.

Email was one of the first areas where we saw the advent of digital multi-tasking. Especially with the advent of push notification we see email constantly interrupting our day. So, most people who have outlook or another email device on their computer and phone will receive a pop-up whenever an email comes in and our eyes are immediately drawn to it and we make a decision whether to open the email or allow it to sit until a later point. Yet, even the reality of looking at the pop-up and making a quick decision has taken us away from the work we are doing and those who study efficiency have seen a drop in efficiency from these frequent interruptions. It takes our mind time to switch between tasks and to engage what is being asked of it and then to re-engage what we were working on initially. Multi-tasking doesn’t make us more productive or efficient, it actually is a productivity killer. It is like when your computer has multiple tasks open the available memory and processing capability it has is reduced for any one task so it runs slower. Computers have evolved quickly to be able to increase their processing capacity but the human brain cannot evolve in the same way. We simply were not made for a world of continual interruption.

In our culture we seem to value being busy. I’m guilty of answering the question, “how are you doing?” with the word busy and sometimes we wear our constant activity as a badge of honor. ‘I’m really important because I am always busy.’ Yet, I think we need to talk about the reality that people use being busy the same way they use drugs and alcohol—as a numbing device. If I am busy doing something that has meaning to my life and my relationships that a good thing, but if I am busy so that I don’t have to think about the brokenness in my life or my relationships or so that I can avoid difficult conversations and feelings then we are using our activity to keep us numbed.

One of the other things that can happen with all of these technologies is if we don’t set our own healthy boundaries, we will allow the person with the least healthy boundaries to determine how much of our time they can demand. The person who believes they need verification from you or your attention to validate their importance can take time away from the people in your life who truly are important to you or the things in life that give you value and meaning. I will talk about some of my own values below but I think it is a very healthy thing to reflect on how we use any technology and when are the times we feel like it is impacting our life, health and relationships in a negative way.

Is checking an email a bad thing? No, but sometimes the way it dominates our life can be. I know there are times when I spend multiple hours responding to emails after a weekend and that is time that is taken away from being present with other people, doing the work I need to get done on a weekly basis and doing the creative work that brings life and joy to my life. One of the questions to ask is, “Is this a productive use of my time.” Frequently it can be, but it will not always be. If your answer to the question of the use of time being productive is frequently no, then it may be time to look at establishing some boundaries and thinking how you might limit the amount of time you spend with email or any other item.

So, as a pastor and I want to help us think through this from a faith perspective and help us to imagine how we might live a good life. I will also share some of my own boundaries below that have come through my own wrestling with these issues. I’m not perfect at this, I continue to have days or weeks where I am not as diligent or healthy as I would like to be. To begin examining this question from a faith perspective I am going to start with the two great commandments. Here is how the Gospel of Mark tells the story where the two great commandments are introduced:

One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one: you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these. (Mark 12: 28-31)

I’m going to focus in on the second commandment, and in particular the second phrase. If we are going to love our neighbor as we love ourselves it means we need to be able to love ourselves. It is hard to love your neighbor more than you love yourself. When we are not taking care of our needs we often reply in anger, frustration or in resignation that this is one more person who is taking us away from what we want to be doing. We set boundaries so that we can be present with our neighbor. To be able to be present with another person is one of the greatest gifts we can give them.

For me this also goes back to my baptismal identity. In my baptism I am reminded that God values me for who I am, not primarily for what I can do to earn God’s love or favor. God’s grace frees me from this continual seeking to be good enough in God’s eyes and my baptism reminds me I am already loved and valued. I have a plaque on my wall that came from my advisor in seminary which reads:

Neil Eric White, remember you are a baptized child of God; for that is the basis of everything else you will become.

My value does not come from how busy I am but from who I am as a child of God. There are times when I forget this and I get caught in the trap of looking important and busy. Yet, I am valuable not because I am busy but because I am a person created in the image of God.

A part of our identity as humans is that we were created for connection with God and with one another. That is one of the things I take away from the narrative of Adam and Eve in Genesis 2 and 3. One of the predictors of an early death is the lack of strong interpersonal connections with family and a network of friends. We need interpersonal connection and technology can help facilitate that and it can also take us away from acknowledging the humanity of another person. Have you ever been interacting with someone when they suddenly interrupt the conversation to interact with their email or their phone? Or have you talked with someone and they never looked away from their email during the entire conversation? How did that make you feel?  It can make you feel unseen, unvalued and unloved. For parents I think this is one of the places where our messages can speak louder than any words we say: our children watch us to see a model of what is important and how they will interact with the world. If they see us modeling that email or work is more important than their conversation, playing with them, and physical signs of affection then they will also look for meaning and value in their work and electronic devices.

Here are some of the boundaries I use as a person who has thought through some of these items from the perspective of faith and seeking a better life: I include these a descriptive and not as prescriptive, they are what I do and I would invite you to think about how you might set your own boundaries.

  • I attempt to engage email in a couple blocks during the day. Typically, I try to respond to email in 24 hours if a response is needed. My normal pattern is once when I begin my work day, once before lunch and once later in the afternoon.
  • I do filter based on who an email is from and the content of the title whether I even need to open an email. Do I occasionally miss something? Yes, but I am willing to risk missing something for the time and the freedom I gain from this.
  • I do not open email on my day off unless I feel it is something that needs a quick response or something that will cause me anxiety not to respond to.
  • I do set aside times to be present with people and if I am present with someone, I will not look at my email or my phone until that time is over. I also do not check email or phone when I am out on a date with my wife, when I am working out or working in the yard. It can wait
  • Between 9 p.m. and 8 a.m. I typically don’t check email and I assume any type of communication I receive needs to be an emergency. If it is not an emergency, I attempt to let the person know politely but firmly that this is not an emergency and when they should contact me.

I do believe that we as people were created for rest, that we need a Sabbath and that means finding a way to be away from the demands of work for a time. My hope in this is that we can be both curious but also to provoke some challenging conversations about the values we have and the type of life we want to live. I don’t think of email as a negative thing, but I do know it can be used in a way that is detrimental to our lives, our health and our relationships. I do this as a way to model not only for my congregation but also for my children what is important. There is a phrase I learned from my mentor in seminary that says, “Don’t worry that your children aren’t listening to you, worry intently that they are watching everything you are doing.” If we say we want them to value other people and then we check our work email or our personal email instead of interacting with them they see where our true values are and they will emulate that. If we use digital technology and devices as a way to entertain and distract them while they are young don’t be surprised when they use them to stay entertained and distracted when they are older. They often learned their behaviors by modeling what we ourselves have done.

Discussion questions:

List the positive and negative aspects of email.

How do you feel when you are interrupted when you work? Do you feel like email is an interruption?

Have you ever used being busy to avoid a hard conversation or to avoid thinking about brokenness in your life or relationship? Has email become something you are addicted to checking?

Do I model using technology in a way that I would want to model for my children?

What boundaries would be healthy for me to set around my work? My response to email?

Do you feel like your email overwhelms you with information? Are there ways you can limit the emails you receive or filter them more efficiently?

How do we show another person that they are important to us?

Exodus 22: Boundaries, Trust and Reconciliation

Grigory Mekheev, Exodus (2000) artist shared work under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0

Exodus 22:1-15 Expanding the Commandment on Stealing

 When someone steals an ox or a sheep, and slaughters it or sells it, the thief shall pay five oxen for an ox, and four sheep for a sheep.1 The thief shall make restitution, but if unable to do so, shall be sold for the theft. 4 When the animal, whether ox or donkey or sheep, is found alive in the thief’s possession, the thief shall pay double.

 2 If a thief is found breaking in, and is beaten to death, no bloodguilt is incurred; 3 but if it happens after sunrise, bloodguilt is incurred.

5 When someone causes a field or vineyard to be grazed over, or lets livestock loose to graze in someone else’s field, restitution shall be made from the best in the owner’s field or vineyard.

 6 When fire breaks out and catches in thorns so that the stacked grain or the standing grain or the field is consumed, the one who started the fire shall make full restitution.

 7 When someone delivers to a neighbor money or goods for safekeeping, and they are stolen from the neighbor’s house, then the thief, if caught, shall pay double. 8 If the thief is not caught, the owner of the house shall be brought before God,1 to determine whether or not the owner had laid hands on the neighbor’s goods.

 9 In any case of disputed ownership involving ox, donkey, sheep, clothing, or any other loss, of which one party says, “This is mine,” the case of both parties shall come before God;1 the one whom God condemns2 shall pay double to the other.

 10 When someone delivers to another a donkey, ox, sheep, or any other animal for safekeeping, and it dies or is injured or is carried off, without anyone seeing it, 11 an oath before the LORD shall decide between the two of them that the one has not laid hands on the property of the other; the owner shall accept the oath, and no restitution shall be made. 12 But if it was stolen, restitution shall be made to its owner. 13 If it was mangled by beasts, let it be brought as evidence; restitution shall not be made for the mangled remains.

 14 When someone borrows an animal from another and it is injured or dies, the owner not being present, full restitution shall be made. 15 If the owner was present, there shall be no restitution; if it was hired, only the hiring fee is due.

We no longer live in a time where cattle rustlers and sheep stealers are our greatest concern, but concerns for the integrity of one’s property and household continue to actively consume our daily life. We live in an age where we attempt to insure our property and livelihood is protected by paying an agency for insurance but in the ancient world the community and family was the insurance that the individual and family invested in. Theft, irresponsibility, and inter-family strife threaten the bonds that hold the community together. As we look at the way the book of Exodus attempts to structure the communal life of the people of Israel I will also attempt to bring in some parallel concerns for our own age.

I have followed the NRSV in rearranging the Hebrew verses in verses 1-4 in a way that keeps the themes of restitution for a lost animal together. The way it is arranged above (vs. 1, 3b, 4, 2, 3a.) unites the themes about if the animal is lost with if the animal is found alive in the thief’s possession. The penalty for a slaughtered or sold or otherwise unreturnable animal is four or five-fold, while a returnable animal is two-fold. Note that the justice is restorative-intended to restore the property and repair the relationship between the thief and the person whose property is stolen.  Contrast this with our system where a person who has stolen something is incarcerated by the state without restitution being made to the individual whose property has been lost. The system in Exodus is dedicated to restoring relationships between individuals in community. In our system, the loss may be borne by insurance agencies (if a person can afford appropriate insurance) and the state pays the price of holding a person. In ancient Israel, a person unable to pay their debt to their neighbor could, as outlined in the previous chapter, sell themselves to be a slave of the offended party and their debt to their neighbor was worked off in their service. In an age where our rate of spending on prisons is outstripping many other important functions that the state oversees. At least in the state of Texas, it costs more per day to have a person in prison than to educate a student. If for only economic reasons, it would be worth looking at ways in which at least some crimes could be settled in a way that kept a person out of prison and as an active part of the community and society. If you look at restorative justice systems they are focused on attempting to have the offender make restitution for the crimes they have committed and have a path for returning the trust to the community.

In the United States, several states have passed Stand Your Ground laws which give an individual permission to defend themselves with force, even lethal force, when they feel threatened. The Castle Doctrine, which allowed this type of self and property defense within the home was extended by the Stand Your Ground Laws to anyplace a person has a legal right to be. The Castle Doctrine does parallel, at least partially, the provisions for a thief breaking in. Here it is assumed that thievery will happen at night and that in the confusion of night a person could be beaten to death but in the daylight the ability to identify someone clearly and how they were endangering life and property could be more easily discerned. Legislating these things takes wisdom, something that is sadly lacking in our time. In our society, we have inverted the concerns of the people of Israel. For us the debates center around personal security while in Israel they were about community relations. Note that the limits are placed on the bloodguilt that the family of the invader could claim. The ability to claim that one’s neighbor was threatening as a justification for killing would not have been acceptable for Ancient Israel.

The model of restitution continues throughout the passage as it addresses property damage by irresponsibility, disputed property, safekeeping of money or goods, safekeeping of livestock and loss while borrowing of livestock. If one causes a field or vineyard to burn (the future prosperity of the individual) one is responsible for restoring that loss. Although things are more complex in our world it does make me wonder if there is some wisdom in looking at how restitution could be made when the actions of a person ‘playing with fire’ endangers the future income of another. Throughout my lifetime I have heard countless stories of people’s retirement income being bet on risky investments by an investor and lost. While it is challenging to imagine how the debt could be repaid in these situations it is an interesting situation to ponder. In cases where property ownership is disputed we often see the courts involved, and I’m not advocating a return to religious courts that deal with this litigation-but the system in ancient Israel was about restoring relationships and taking the issue before God perhaps provided a less costly and less antagonistic process for restoring those relationships. The issues related to safekeeping goods, money or livestock there is a quick examination to see whether the person safeguarding is at fault: if an animal is attacked by a wild beast or a thief carries off the money or goods and is caught the person safeguarding is not at fault. In other cases, the fault may be more difficult to discern and this involves wisdom and therefore the parties are brought before God. Similarly, when an animal is borrowed while the owner is present and dies the borrower is not responsible, but if the owner is not present there is restitution made.

These commands are not as developed as a modern legal system but they do begin to unpack the commandment on stealing and illustrate how they are to build a community that live out this vision of justice and community. Without justice, the community quickly breaks down. Yet, justice needs a human face. There are times where a unique situation must be considered and therefore these cases are to be brought before the LORD. The wisdom of the system in Exodus is in how it attempts to reconcile the parties and to rebuild community. Just as in their time, we too need wisdom as we attempt to construct a society that is just and where neighbors can live in harmony.

Exodus 22: 16-31 Community Prohibitions and Safeguards

 16 When a man seduces a virgin who is not engaged to be married, and lies with her, he shall give the bride-price for her and make her his wife. 17 But if her father refuses to give her to him, he shall pay an amount equal to the bride-price for virgins.

 18 You shall not permit a female sorcerer to live.

 19 Whoever lies with an animal shall be put to death.

 20 Whoever sacrifices to any god, other than the LORD alone, shall be devoted to destruction.

 21 You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. 22 You shall not abuse any widow or orphan. 23 If you do abuse them, when they cry out to me, I will surely heed their cry; 24 my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children orphans.

 25 If you lend money to my people, to the poor among you, you shall not deal with them as a creditor; you shall not exact interest from them. 26 If you take your neighbor’s cloak in pawn, you shall restore it before the sun goes down; 27 for it may be your neighbor’s only clothing to use as cover; in what else shall that person sleep? And if your neighbor cries out to me, I will listen, for I am compassionate.

 28 You shall not revile God, or curse a leader of your people.

 29 You shall not delay to make offerings from the fullness of your harvest and from the outflow of your presses.1

The firstborn of your sons you shall give to me. 30 You shall do the same with your oxen and with your sheep: seven days it shall remain with its mother; on the eighth day you shall give it to me.

 31 You shall be people consecrated to me; therefore you shall not eat any meat that is mangled by beasts in the field; you shall throw it to the dogs.

When you attempt to construct a society, there are things that you allow and encourage and there are limits that must be set. The vulnerable within the society must be protected, certain individuals who are deemed a danger to the community are eliminated or excluded and certain behaviors are expected. Some of these come from a worldview that is very different from our own but they still are worth wrestling with, even if we would disagree with them, because they place values on certain types of security and relationships.

I wrestled with placing verses 16-17 in this discussion: whether to include them in the previous section, cover them independently or to link them with this later section of prohibitions and a good argument could be made for any of these options. A man who has sex with a virgin who is not engaged could be viewed as a person who has threatened the property of the household of the father and therefore restitution is to be made to the father and security provided for the woman. This could also be viewed as an unfolding of the sixth commandment on adultery and therefore separate from the discussion of theft and individual property and this could be one illustration of how to deal with individuals who transgress this boundary. Finally, non-betrothed women could be looked upon as one of the vulnerable in society along with the resident alien, widows and orphans who require legislation to protect them from becoming victims to a man’s irresponsible actions.

Wrestling with these verses in a very different context where issues like consent would be central it is difficult to imagine a world where a woman’s consent is not an issue of consideration. As discussed in Deuteronomy 21, 22 and 24, talking about captive women, women of Israel and divorce respectively, the perspectives of the writers understood women, their role in society and their rights much differently than we do today. Here, if a man sleeps with an unspoken for woman he can buy her as his wife regardless of her desires as long as her father permits it. As I mentioned, this probably ensures some security for the woman but it is at least uncomfortable if not distasteful to modern hearers. But in a time where men and women marry later and consensual sex before marriage is accepted by much of the society we still need to question what is the responsibility of the man and the woman as well as the families for people who engage sexually outside the security of marriage. When these unions result in pregnancy, what obligation does the man to the future mother and to the child? How are women protected and provided for in these relationships?

Female sorcerers are singled out here for death. As in Deuteronomy 18: 9-14 where a whole list of different predictors of the futures or practitioners of magic are outlawed there is a concern that these other options would lead people away from trusting in the LORD their God. This along with the reiterated prohibition about sacrificing to other gods is to remind the people that they are to be a people centered on the LORD their God and only the LORD their God. In a society where these other gods or practitioners of magic were attractive alternatives they are strictly forbidden.

Bestiality is also highlighted as one of those things that merit a death sentence in Exodus. This is a boundary violation, crossing the boundaries of species and what is permitted for the people of Israel. These boundaries, as I discuss in Deuteronomy 14 with relation to what food is not eaten, become marks of who is a part of the community. To be a part of the people of Israel means to do certain things, like celebrating the Passover and removing the leaven from their houses for that time, and not doing certain things, like lying with an animal or eating certain animals. Transgressions of those boundaries are viewed as direct threats to the holiness of the community.

The vulnerable of the community must be protected for a just society. Here the resident alien, the widow, the orphan and the poor become the examples of the vulnerable. Narrative reminds the people that they are to deal with the resident alien in justice since they themselves were resident aliens in Egypt. They are to be a society that models a different way of treating the vulnerable in society than they experienced in their slavery. They are to care for the vulnerable and God chooses to stand on the side of the vulnerable. If the resident alien, the orphan or the widow cry out to God, God promises to hear and act as a judge on their behalf. The threat to those who are comfortable is that if they become a society that does not care for the vulnerable then God will ensure they become a society of vulnerable people again: aliens in a foreign land, widows and orphans without men for security, and poor with no one to care for them. They are not to utilize the poor to increase their wealth: they are their neighbors to be cared for rather than exploited. Ultimately one’s view of society’s good is supposed to override one’s drive for personal profit.

Not reviling God of leaders among the people are linked together. Leaders in Israel are the one’s anointed by God. This is not a democratic society where the people choose their leaders. Ultimately there was a trust that there was some divine hand in the structure of society. In our time, we struggle with this type of hierarchical worldview. For us the pendulum has swung the other direction where faith in the pillars of society (political, social or religious) is at an all-time low and the individual is the primary basis for judging right from wrong. Yet, there does need to be people who fulfill leadership roles in society and while the Hebrew Scriptures will be critical of leaders, priests and kings they also did not want an anarchical society without structure.

Setting aside firstborns echoes Exodus 13: 11-16. This small reminder echoes the larger context of the final plague in Egypt and the consecration of the first born for the LORD. Just as the first born are set aside as the LORD’s portion, so they among the nations are to be the LORD’s portion-a holy nation as stated in Exodus 19: 6. Being holy, or consecrated, they are to refrain from unclean things and here that list expands to included meat from an animal that is killed by a beast. As a boundary marker, this is a practice that the people of Israel do not do.

 Deuteronomy 22: Miscellaneous Laws

Grigory Mekheev, Exodus (2000) artist shared work under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0

Grigory Mekheev, Exodus (2000) artist shared work under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0

Deuteronomy 22: 1-4 Caring for the Neighbor’s Property

1 You shall not watch your neighbor’s ox or sheep straying away and ignore them; you shall take them back to their owner. 2 If the owner does not reside near you or you do not know who the owner is, you shall bring it to your own house, and it shall remain with you until the owner claims it; then you shall return it. 3 You shall do the same with a neighbor’s donkey; you shall do the same with a neighbor’s garment; and you shall do the same with anything else that your neighbor loses and you find. You may not withhold your help.
 4 You shall not see your neighbor’s donkey or ox fallen on the road and ignore it; you shall help to lift it up.


I have broken the laws outlined in Deuteronomy 22 into three parts: those for the protection of the neighbor’s property, those for the creation of a properly ordered community and those that arise out of the interpretation of the commandment on adultery. This first section of commandments, addressing the neighbor’s property, specifically livestock property, is the easiest to address. In an agricultural world livestock is wealth, but a lose animal can also cause a lot of damage, particularly to farmland. Yet all of these actions that the individual is to take towards the animal is to ensure the best interest of their neighbor.

We live in a highly individualized society where we can often ignore the impact of our actions upon others in our community, but the book of Deuteronomy envisions a community where the neighbor is a vital part of one’s life. One does not have the option to hide from one’s responsibility for one’s neighbor. As Walter Bruggemann can point out in this passage:
The NRSV translates “You may not withhold your help.” The verb is “conceal, hide” stated in reflexive form. You may not withdraw from neighborliness. Perhaps in a more contemporary context, you may not hide behind high walls in a gated community, as though you are not obligated to be a neighbor. (Brueggemann, 2001 , p. 219)

The neighbor’s livestock and animals are not merely my neighbor’s responsibility, but they are mine as well. In our own time our neighbor’s livelihood is our concern as well. This is a difficult challenge then and now. When the question of neighborliness is asked it is natural for a Christian to go back to the parable of the Good Samaritan told in Luke’s gospel (Luke 10: 25-37) where our calling is to be the one who showed mercy (even when it is inconvenient or perhaps crosses the lines of purity or contamination in Luke’s gospel). This simple example of returning a neighbor’s animal or helping to lift it up or caring for an animal that is not one’s own goes against our own disinclination to become involved in the struggles of the neighbor. For the people of Israel to be who they are called to be they are called to look out for their neighbor’s best interest even when it would be far easier to simply ignore their struggles.

In our interconnected world this is a difficult challenge and one that I don’t have the answer to. There are a plethora of issues that can daily call out to me from the television or computer screen of people who are in need. The soft hearted part of me wants to help them all, the rest of me simply want to ignore my neighbors struggle both locally and across the world. Yet, I don’t get to put a limit on who my neighbor is and I believe that I am called to be the one who shows mercy. The reality is that no one person can do it on their own, but that is why the people of Israel were insistent on creating a community where neighbors are responsible for one another.


Deuteronomy 22: 5-12 Ordering the World

 5 A woman shall not wear a man’s apparel, nor shall a man put on a woman’s garment; for whoever does such things is abhorrent to the LORD your God.
 6 If you come on a bird’s nest, in any tree or on the ground, with fledglings or eggs, with the mother sitting on the fledglings or on the eggs, you shall not take the mother with the young. 7 Let the mother go, taking only the young for yourself, in order that it may go well with you and you may live long.
 8 When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof; otherwise you might have bloodguilt on your house, if anyone should fall from it.
 9 You shall not sow your vineyard with a second kind of seed, or the whole yield will have to be forfeited, both the crop that you have sown and the yield of the vineyard itself.
 10 You shall not plow with an ox and a donkey yoked together.
 11 You shall not wear clothes made of wool and linen woven together.
 12 You shall make tassels on the four corners of the cloak with which you cover yourself.

These seven laws may seem strange to us, but for the author of Deuteronomy the maintenance of a proper order was essential for the life of the people. The barriers between men and women and proper roles in Deuteronomy may seem strange to us, but this is written at least 2,500 years ago and the standards were much different. The idea of a woman wearing men’s clothing being abhorrent to the LORD seems excessive in our time, but in the tightly ordered world of Deuteronomy women and men were to remain in separate roles. The author of Deuteronomy would probably look down not only on crossdressing but also things like women wearing clothes styled after men’s clothing (like suits or pants). Probably a close analogy (although the clothing would reflect a different era) would be the Amish where men and women have specific clothing that they wear almost like a uniform. Deuteronomy’s boundaries are rigid and crossing them may have been viewed as a slippery slope to chaos and disorder and to being like the nations around them. Clothing is a significant part of identity and three of the seven laws address clothing. Mixing fabrics together was also considered crossing a boundary and leading to disorder as was the distinctive tassels they were to wear as a mark of their identity.

The command about a bird and its nest and eggs or fledglings does reflect an environmental concern that the people were to have, they were not to prevent a species from being able to continue to reproduce and produce more food by consuming the mother and the young at the same time. Yet, there is no remorse for eating the eggs or young of the mother bird-merely a limit on killing both. It is worth noticing that this command ends with the same ending as the commandment to honor one’s father and mother and to ponder if perhaps in the minds of the people honoring the mother in creation is connected to honoring the mother in the family. This may also relate to the command not to boil a kid in its mother’s milk in Deuteronomy 14: 21.

Bloodguilt again enters the discussion (as before in Deuteronomy 19 and 21) and this time the command is to prevent innocent blood by creating a parapet on the roof of a house to prevent someone falling off and bringing guilt on the house and land. Sowing multiple seeds in a vineyard and not plowing with and ox and a donkey together close out the commands here which again point to definitive practices that the people were to practice that made them different than others. Deuteronomy envisions a rigidly ordered world and that rigidly ordered world keeps the chaos and danger of wilderness and the surrounding people away from their world. These boundaries helped them feel safer in an uncontrollable world and perhaps we may reflect upon the boundaries we erect that help us feel safer.

Since the next section will deal with sexual relations in a way that are very foreign to us perhaps we might begin with looking at the command against wearing the opposite sex clothing in verse 5. For some communities this would still be abhorrent, in others it is accepted. One of the challenges of any time is to define the boundaries of acceptable and unacceptable behavior, yet in making these distinctions we also have the challenge of accepting neighborliness and learning to love the neighbor as they are. One of the struggles of the church in the 20th and 21st century in the United States was the role of the church in defining those boundaries. For example there are churches who want the society to reflect a set of conservative moral boundaries that they feel protect families and they often act like a shrill siren against the perceived moral decline of the society. Yet, there are great differences within the Christian church and I serve a much more gracious (and in many others eyes more liberal) community that attempts to meet the neighbor where they are. There is not an easy answer in this either, and while I can understand Deuteronomy’s wish for a simple and ordered universe, I also can’t say that this is a worldview that I share.

Deuteronomy 22: 13-30 Sex, Lies and Proper Proceedings

 13 Suppose a man marries a woman, but after going in to her, he dislikes her 14 and makes up charges against her, slandering her by saying, “I married this woman; but when I lay with her, I did not find evidence of her virginity.” 15 The father of the young woman and her mother shall then submit the evidence of the young woman’s virginity to the elders of the city at the gate. 16 The father of the young woman shall say to the elders: “I gave my daughter in marriage to this man but he dislikes her; 17 now he has made up charges against her, saying, ‘I did not find evidence of your daughter’s virginity.’ But here is the evidence of my daughter’s virginity.” Then they shall spread out the cloth before the elders of the town. 18 The elders of that town shall take the man and punish him; 19 they shall fine him one hundred shekels of silver (which they shall give to the young woman’s father) because he has slandered a virgin of Israel. She shall remain his wife; he shall not be permitted to divorce her as long as he lives.
 20 If, however, this charge is true, that evidence of the young woman’s virginity was not found, 21 then they shall bring the young woman out to the entrance of her father’s house and the men of her town shall stone her to death, because she committed a disgraceful act in Israel by prostituting herself in her father’s house. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.
 22 If a man is caught lying with the wife of another man, both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman as well as the woman. So you shall purge the evil from Israel.
23 If there is a young woman, a virgin already engaged to be married, and a man meets her in the town and lies with her, 24 you shall bring both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death, the young woman because she did not cry for help in the town and the man because he violated his neighbor’s wife. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.
 25 But if the man meets the engaged woman in the open country, and the man seizes her and lies with her, then only the man who lay with her shall die. 26 You shall do nothing to the young woman; the young woman has not committed an offense punishable by death, because this case is like that of someone who attacks and murders a neighbor. 27 Since he found her in the open country, the engaged woman may have cried for help, but there was no one to rescue her.
 28 If a man meets a virgin who is not engaged, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are caught in the act, 29 the man who lay with her shall give fifty shekels of silver to the young woman’s father, and she shall become his wife. Because he violated her he shall not be permitted to divorce her as long as he lives.
 30 A man shall not marry his father’s wife, thereby violating his father’s rights.

This is another of those passages in Deuteronomy where their worldview is drastically different from mine, but I come from a much different time and would ask much different questions in these circumstances than Deuteronomy would.  As I have done before I will begin with how Deuteronomy would understand these things in its would and then attempt to move to thinking through how we might faithfully walk with people who find themselves in these situations today.

In the ancient world, marriage and sexual relationships may involve love but they are primarily based on economic and honor concerns. In the ancient world women were viewed as property, their father’s property until (by an economic arrangement) she is married and then she becomes her husband’s property. As in Deuteronomy 21: 10-14, where the issue of a female captive is discussed, the woman has no choice in many of these matters. It is a patriarchal society, much like the other societies of the ancient world, and even though there are some restraints placed here as well, there are not many placed upon this worldview. In an arranged marriage one of the expectations was that the new bride would be a virgin, and while scholars can debate about exactly what ceremonies would have been involved after the wedding to acquire this ‘proof of virginity’ ultimately it was important to the father of the new bride that he be able to demonstrate that he is giving the new husband an undamaged product. Divorce will be covered in Deuteronomy 24, but here Deuteronomy imagines a situation where the new husband is immediately dissatisfied with his new bride and tries to break the marriage based on an accusation that the daughter is not a virgin.

The accusation of a woman having sex out of wedlock are serious accusations for the woman and the family involved. It is a life or death issue for the woman in Deuteronomy’s strictly ordered world but it also brings a great deal of dishonor upon the family and may endanger the ability to negotiate future marriages for other children. There are a number of parallels between the daughter who brings dishonor by having sexual relations prior to marriage and the rebellious son discussed in Deuteronomy 21: 18-21. What is at stake is the family’s (particularly the father’s) honor and their standing within the community. The stakes are high for the author of Deuteronomy and he attaches the ending, “so shall you purge the evil that is in your midst” to this command (see also Deuteronomy 13: 5, 17:7, 19:19 and 21: 21) The stakes are not nearly so high for the accuser. Notice that the hundred shekel fine is paid to the father to account for the damage the accusation may have done, and while this is not a trivial fine it is not a life or death matter. Again the elders of the community are the ones who are responsible for the judgment and its execution with the man who makes the accusation. In addition, the man may never divorce this wife he has slandered, which does provide her with economic security as long as he lives.

The next three situations (vs. 22-27) involve a woman who is already spoken for who is caught in a sexual act with another man. If a woman is married both she and the man are to be killed. If she is engaged she is still considered to belong to the one she is engaged with and so the penalties are the same. The only time where she is given the benefit of the doubt is in the open country where she may have cried for help and was not heard. In that case only the man is killed, but in any other case both the man and the woman are killed. While these penalties are harsh, they are consistent with Deuteronomy’s view of harsh justice.

The situation envisioned in verse 28 and 29 shows how different the stakes are for women and men. We need to be honest that this is a situation of rape, where the man seizes and lies with her. If it was a woman who had sex out of wedlock and was therefore damaged property the penalty is stoning, but for the man he pays the fine, marries her and cannot divorce her. Finally, the situation is discussed where a son wants to marry his father’s wife. This is not the son’s mother, for that would be incest, but in a polygynous marriage where a father may have multiple wives a son may not marry one that belonged to his father, even after his father’s death.

Texts like this are distasteful, but perhaps more distasteful is the way the church has often preferred texts like this one that favored a male based power structure and had to be drug kicking and screaming by the enlightenment to grant women a greater role in the human enterprise. The church has struggled to be critical of its own traditions in the light of the gospel. Men and women together are critical parts of both families and societies and laws are needed to protect both women and men. We cannot simply accept a worldview where sexual relations are a life and death issue for women and an economic one for men. Nor should women be viewed as property that can be dealt with in any way the head of the household pleases. There are still significant conversations to be had around sexual ethics within the church and the household, but we cannot do it from the patriarchal framework of Deuteronomy and be faithful to our calling today.

The questions of sex before marriage, affairs, rape, unhappy marriages and abuse and domination within marriages are all very real and have drastic consequences on our lives and our communities. It is challenging to navigate the middle ground between the moral absoluteness of the community in Deuteronomy and the individual autonomy of today where fidelity to family and community are no longer valued in the same way. These are difficult questions, but I think perhaps a place to begin is the value of the individual within the relationships. Both women and men have needs and value in families, in the workplace and in our religious and other communities.

Perhaps the story recorded in John 8: 1-11[1] gives us a starting point to look at the way passages like this might have been handled by Jesus. The story has the scribes and Pharisees bring Jesus a woman caught in adultery (note the man is not brought forward and never appears in the story). Instead of following Deuteronomy in its rigid justice where she is to be stoned he places the challenge back upon the accusing community and does not condemn her. Forgiveness is hard, grace is challenging and for both women and men who are victims in sexual violence, abuse and affairs the desire for punishment and justice is real. How do communities of faith today stand with the victims and is there a place where reconciliation in some circumstances might happen? Can we be a part of a community that brings healing to women and men who have often not received grace in their families, society, and religious communities.

"Christ and the sinner" by Andrey Mironov - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Christ_and_the_sinner.jpg#/media/File:Christ_and_the_sinner.jpg

“Christ and the sinner” by Andrey Mironov – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Christ_and_the_sinner.jpg#/media/File:Christ_and_the_sinner.jpg

[1] Even though this passage is not a part of the earliest historical copies of the Gospel of John, it is one of the more better known stories distinctive to John’s gospel.

Something Different: Church As A Farm Without Fences

I will continue on with my growing project on authority tomorrow, but since I haven’t completed the next post in that series I’m going to do something different today. The question of authority is a very live question, and it is very present in our popular culture-not surprisingly my first listen Linkin Park’s new album Living Things has several of its songs  seem to deal with authority (it was just released yesterday so I’ve only listened through once)…but today let’s talk about boundaries.

In Kendra Creasy Dean’s book, Almost Christian: What the Faith of our Teenagers is Telling the American Church (which is an interesting book in its own right) she includes this story from an African Christian:

You Americans think of Christianity as a farm with a fence. Your question is, ‘Are you inside the fence or outside of it?’ We Africans think differently. We think of Christianity as a farm with no fence. Our question is, ‘Are you heading towards the farm or away from it?’ “The church’s identity is not defined primarily by its edges, but by its center: focused on Christ, the sole source of our identity, no intruder poses a threat. No alien hops the fence, because there is no fence.

I would give a page for the above quote, but since I am reading this on an e-reader this is one of those books not set up with page numbers.

I think there is something very revealing about this change in perspective. One of the gifts of modern thought was the increase in specializations, but that was also one of its greatest challenges. Let me explain what I mean by this with a medical illustration: if I need to have a surgeon do a bypass of the arteries around my heart or do brain surgery after an accident I really don’t want this to be the only time they will do heart or brain surgery this year—I want someone who has experience in this and knows what they are doing, hence if the problem is with my heart I go to a cardiologist. Yet I am around hospitals a lot, and while this is improving there are still times where you have a whole team of doctors caring for a patient and the patient feels a little like a chemistry set or a lab rat. The cardiologist may do one thing, and yet that may require something else from a doctor who knows about kidneys, something else from physical therapists, and as a problem becomes more complex each person may know their part but no one can integrate all the parts together.

For the church, in the enlightenment and following eras there was a movement towards a precision of thought who God was and how God acted that may seem strange to us now. Boundaries were drawn between Lutherans and Reformed, Catholic and Anglican, Baptist and Presbyterian and as things progressed it got a little out of hand as the differences became more and more trivial.  I am not saying that the histories of each of these groups are not important, but it is too easy to become focused towards the fences the boundaries that separate one from another. Certainly this has been an age of walls lowering between the older faiths and the discussion has been fruitful…but are we missing the point? I’m not saying that myself as a fairly liberal (at least in some aspects) Lutheran minister and a conservative Southern Baptist are going in the same direction (to be honest there are times when I wonder if we are even talking about the same God or Jesus) but can I and others give up my need to say this is authentic and this is not…or to go a step further this person is on the inside of the church or salvation (whatever one means by that term) by putting up walls of saying who is in and who is out (as if we get to make that decision).

Maybe rather than focusing on the boundaries/fences and differentiating ourselves from that which is outside the boundaries (to use a mathematic term-rather than trying to be a bounded set) what would it mean to focus in on the center and to invite the intruder and the alien to walk into our territory and join us at the table (being a centered set in mathematics).

One final note: David Lose, who teaches at Luther Seminary, had an interesting post coming at this from a very different direction which is worth some thought and caused a lot of discussion in a group I am a part of. For those who want to read it, it was re-published here in a more refined form : Do Christian Denominations Have A Future.

purple rose 01 by picsofflowers.blogspot.com