Wednesday, April 16, 2014

SALVATION FOR ALL: Believing and Forgiveness

Acts 10:34-43
34Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. 37That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: 38how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; 40but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, 41not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. 43All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Salvation for All: Believing and Forgiveness
By
Richard Mario Procida, Esq.


God “desires everyone to be saved”. [1Timothy 2:4]  As Christians, we are called to bring God’s salvation to all the nations of the world.  [Matthew 28:18-20]  We must take this challenge seriously.

Peter has just had a dream.  In that dream Peter sees “four-footed” animals, snakes, and birds and hears a voice saying “get up and eat.”  Peter, a Jew who followed Jewish dietary laws, exclaims “No!  All my life, I’ve never eaten anything profane!”  To this the voice replied “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”  [Acts 10:11-16] 
         
At the same, Cornelius, a Roman centurion and captain in charge of over a hundred soldiers, is visited by an angel.  Cornelius respected Judaism and gave generously to the local community.  The angel tells Cornelius that God hears his prayers and accepts his gifts.  The angel instructs Cornelius to invite Peter into his home.           

When Peter arrives, he begins to speak: “God shows no partiality.”  Anyone who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to God.  Christ, God’s messenger of peace, is “Lord of all.”

Jesus did right and healed the oppressed.  Though by law anyone hung on a tree is cursed by God [Deut. 21:23] God was with Jesus.God raised Jesus from the dead.  His followers ate and drank with him.  God made him judge of the living and the dead.  Anyone who believes in him is forgiven.

We are to believe in Jesus.  We trust him.  We have confidence in him.  In Old English, be loef meant “to hold dear.”  As Marcus Borg has pointed out, the meaning is similar to the modern English word belove, which means “to love”.    

“God is gracious and forgiving, compassionate and loving, passionate about our transformation and the transformation of the world.”  (Borg, 2011)

God graciously accepts us.  All who fear God and do right are accepted.

It is good to fear God. (Reardon, 2013) The midwives who feared God did not obey the authorities.  They spared the lives of Hebrew children. [Exodus 1:17]  Moses chose leaders who feared God; they would not take bribes. [Exodus 18:21]  When a community fears God, they ensure others are cared for. [Leviticus 19:14, 32]

Fear of God in this context stands juxtaposed to fear of the Empire and its rulers. They can kill only the body but not the heart. [Matthew 10:28]  

Our souls are not just the essense of our spiritual being, they are the spirits of our institutions and the energy behind our collective actions.  They are our indiviual conscious and the conscious of our nation. (Wink 1992)

Those who killed Jesus were the authorities, the Roman Empire.  Jesus taught us to not fear our rulers.  Even the Law is not to be trusted. [Deut. 21:23]

Cornelius was a Roman centurion, a symbol of the Roman Empire.  Cornelius feared God; he treated others well.  So God accepted him despite his being an agent of Roman rule.

We are all Children of God.  The power of Christ is the collective power of those following God’s call to believe in the messenger of peace.

We are all redeemable.  We are already forgiven.  Repent and do right.  For God can touch the hearts of our enemies.  

Salvation is liberation from bondage. [Exodus 15] Death has been defeated. Rise up.  Believe in what Jesus did.  Trust in his way.  Follow him.

Do not fear death.  Hold Christ’s example dear.  Though he died on a cross, he lives.  He lives within us, just as all martyrs live in the hearts of the people of all nations.


We are now made free to carry out God’s will, that all find liberation.  That all be made free.  “We can now participate in God’s passion for transformation—of ourselves and the world.” (Borg, 2011)

Sunday, March 23, 2014

BE CHILDREN OF LIGHT: The Powers and Spiritual Warfare (Ephesians 5:8-14)

Be Children of Light:
The Powers and Spiritual Warfare
(Ephesians 5:8-14)
By
Richard Mario Procida, Esq.

Ephesians 5:8-14
8For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light— 9for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. 10Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. 11Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.12For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly;13but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, 14for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”


           The book of Ephesians deals with the Powers.  The powers are spiritual forces or entities that persuade persons and embody institutions both for good and evil. They are angelic and demonic and both and everything in between.  Paul refers to them as “every name that has been named”. [Ephesians 1:21] 
The powers are individual and corporate.  They come in the form of individual entities, and as the essence and nature of institutions, nations, and corporations. (See also Walter Wink and his trilogy on the Powers.) They contribute to all kinds of evil, and assist in all good works.  Demons and evil are manifestations of our fallen world.  Angels work for our redemption and represent ours and our institutions better natures.
These entities are real.  They are given life in and through us both individually and collectively.  They don’t control us, we control them, but they can and do harm masses of people, including ourselves.
 Demons cannot make us do things.  Instead we yield to them in our hearts.  Evils like torture, slavery, murder, and war are all manifestations of demonic activity.  Idolizing money and power, rather than love and compassion, feeds demonic powers.  
We distance ourselves from the malevolent effects of our idolatry using corporations or governments to do our bidding.  We then chose to blame or demonize the other, like the poor or illegal immigrants or anyone who gets in our way, in order to justify our support for policies and actions that inflict violence upon them, all for our supposed benefit.
Corporations pay slave wages to poor workers so we can have cheap products and corporate profits.  Governments engage in violence, whether torture, imprisonment or war, to protect corporate interests; to give their citizens a feeling of power, superiority, and security; and to protect us from those we hate or fear.  Rather than responding with compassion and empathy, we respond with threat and force, because it serves our financial and political interests to deny the other’s humanity when what we really want is to keep everything for ourselves.
Every act of evil is the result of human fostered demonic activity.  The same is true with angelic acts.  Paul reminds us to be “Children of Light.” 
Paul wants us to be aware of the powers, but he also reminds us that Christ has already defeated the powers. [Ephesins 1:19-21]  For those who follow Christ, the demonic is on the decline, and the angelic is at our fingertips.  We are equipped to do spiritual battle with the powers. [Ephesians 6:11] 
We do spiritual battle by exposing lies.  [Ephesians 6:14]  Here Paul encourages us to expose the works of darkness, to shed light on the shameful things done in secret.  These things include torture by governments, including water-boarding and forced feeding by our own government, done ostensibly for our security. 
Corporations forget their original purpose was to serve the public good rather than mammon,  The pursuit of power and wealth is the root of” all kinds of evil”. [1 Timothy 6:10]  The collective pursuit of Empire is antithetical to freedom and justice, to our salvation. 
It is harder for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of heaven that it is for camel to go through the eye of a needle.  [Matthew 19:24]  Our job is to put on the armor of God and do battle with the powers.  Our battle, unlike the ways of the world, will be nonviolent, “the gospel of peace.” [Ephesians 6:15] 
     Ephesians describes the Armor of God: Truth, Justice, Peace, Faith, Salvation, Spirit and Word.  We are to pray and petition not to God but "in the Spirit”.  We are to speak up for Truth and Justice.  We are to petition and demand from the powers that they come out of the darkness and into the light.  For these weapons are not met to inflict harm but to deflect falsehood. 
Therefore:”Sleeper, awake!  Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”  [Ephesians 5:14]  Rise up against injustice.  Petition our governments “for redress of grievances.” [U.S. Const., am. 1]. 
To pray is to make a demand.  Pray that governments respect the rights of all people.  Demand that Corporations serve the public good as intended.   As Paul shows us, though we have already won, there is still work to be done. 
Be Children of Light.  

Friday, February 21, 2014

JUDGMENT DAY: The Religion of Empire and the Second Coming

Judgment Day:
The Religion of Empire and the Second Coming
(2 Peter 1:16-21)
by
Richard Mario Procida, Esq.
2 Peter 1:16-21
16For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made with whom I am well pleased.” 18We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain.
19So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. 20First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, 21because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.
Introduction
          Jesus died a long time ago.  When is he coming back?  Is it all just a myth?  Early Christians had these doubts, too.
Speaking of the coming Kingdom of Heaven, Jesus said: “Truly I tell you, this
generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.” [Matthew 24:34]  The early church interpreted this to mean Jesus would return within their generation.  When he didn’t, the church suffered dissonance.      
          As first generation Christians passed away and Jesus failed to return, disappointment spread.   Many began reinterpreting Jesus’ promise, just like we reinterpret it today.  Some went so far as to call it a myth.
The Author of 2 Peter
          The author of 2 Peter is aghast.  Something essential is being lost.  He fears an ethical catastrophe should people not believe that Jesus will return to judge the world.  It would lead to corruption and avarice.   So he pens a letter in no less than Peter’s name to persuade Christians to hold to the faith.

         The vast majority of scholars consider Second Peter to be pseudepigraphical, a work falsely attributed to a historical figure.   In other words, Peter did not write Second Peter.  The author wrote it years after Peter’s death.
          There are a number of books in the Bible that were not written by the author identified in the Bible or by the early church, including all of the Gospels, many of the letters of Paul, and some of the other letters.  Writing in a historical figure’s name was common in the ancient world.
          Many wrote in an apostle’s name in order to invoke that apostle’s authority.  This author went so far as to claim that he was present at the Transfiguration! People of the ancient world understood this.  It was a way of imagining what the apostle would say if confronted with the same issue.  The author portrays Peter as incensed and writing on his deathbed. [2 Peter 1:14]

Unknown opponents
          Who is the author so enraged at that he has to portray Peter as penning a letter just before he died?  We really don’t know.  The letter implies that the “false teachers” are within the Church.  [2 Peter 2:20-21]
The author sees the abandonment of the expectation of Jesus’ return and judgment as a disaster.  He describes those other members of the Church as dogs who eat their own vomit and pigs who after being washed return to wallow in the mud. [2 Peter 2:22]
          This type of vitriol was common.  Opponents of an idea would disparage their opponents when attacking their ideas.  Accusations of sexual immorality and other mudslinging were often nasty and unfounded.  It’s probably not an emblematic way of dealing with disagreement, especially within the church.
          It is inappropriate to portray our opponents as sexual perverts, pigs, and dogs.  Today we have books like Jonathan Haidt’s “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Disagree about Religion and Politics”.  We live in a pluralistic world where we respect those with different ideas, beliefs, and values.  We honor other cultures and religions.  Respect for others strengthens our communities.
          On the other hand, this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t clearly and forcefully state our views.  My faith calls upon me to follow Jesus through the city gates to confront Empire.  I see in Second Peter’s allusions to greed and self-interest as applicable to my opponents within the church.  
Shouldn’t Christians be compassionate toward the poor?  What in the Bible tells people they should oppose government social programs?  Did Jesus really support the rich?  Lower taxes and less regulation of banks and corporations are not supported by the Bible. 
Some use religion to support their own prejudices, and others use it to promote their own interests.  We all know that the Bible has been used to support all kinds of evil, including anti-Semitism, slavery and war.  Today we still see it used to support prejudice against immigrants, women and those of other sexual orientations and identities. 
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In my opinion my opponents have taken scripture and turned it to their own ends, and they have done it in an organized and systematic way.  I see 2 Peter’s references to greed and corruption in those who use the Bible to oppose progressive reforms, support wars and prisons, and block funding for services to the poor, including food stamps, a livable minimum wage, and universal healthcare, among other things. [2 Peter 2:3 and 19]
The Coming Kingdom of Heaven
          I see evil in the religion of empire, but the last paragraph of our reading tells us how to understand the second coming.  Being attentive to the “lamp shinning in a dark place until the day dawns and the morning star raises in your heart” should be read to describe the Kingdom of Heaven as coming near and is among us.  It arises from within. [Matthew 4:17 and 10:7, and Luke 17:20-21]  The return of Christ means the coming of Christ within and among us.  This is a proper spiritualization of the text.
          The last sentence builds upon this.  The spirit speaks through us.  No ecumenical council, no theological doctrine, no individual human interpretation is sufficient to understand God and the Bible.  We understand the Bible only through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit within us, and those leanings must be discerned within a spiritual community.  The Holy Spirit speaks through us when speak our truth and discuss our interpretations of scripture with others.
In other words, listen to other points of view and talk about things in your church.  Don’t tell people what to believe.   Listen to your intuition.   People don’t have to agree intellectually.   Reading the Bible is about spiritual inspiration, not intellectual assent.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

UNITED IN CHRIST: Avoiding Division By Respecting Diversity (Corinthians 1:10-18)

By

Richard Mario Procida, Esq.

1 Corinthians 1:10-18
10Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. 11For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. 12What I mean is that each of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” 13Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?
14I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius,15so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name. 16(I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.)
17For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power. 18For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.


                To be in agreement with no divisions we must be united in mind and purpose.  Don’t quarrel over identity, who’s a Christian or not, or over doctrines or beliefs. Don’t be divided by ideology, philosophy, or theology.  Instead, experience the saving power of God! 
Christ is not an idea or thought in your head. Christ is real!  We all experience God in our own ways.  Having a personal relationship with Christ means to have a unique relationship with God.  Discern, in consultation with others, what holds true for you, and be open to new and different ways of understanding God and the Bible. 
Christianity should not be about doctrines and creeds.  “Belief”, as used in the Bible, means to love, to hold dear, to cherish, to trust, to follow.  (Borg, 2011) Christianity is about following Jesus, his teachings and his path, and trusting that this path leads to the Kingdom of God.
The early church was divided about the nature of Christ.  Some even believed that Jesus never actually died.  This belief, called “docitism”, held that Jesus’ human form was an illusion.  As a divine being, Christ could not die.
 In fact there was a wide range of early Christian beliefs, even more diverse than today.  Many of these views seem strange to us today, and many others sound strangely modern. 
The earliest Christians were Jews.  They viewed Jesus as the Messiah. They argued that to be Christian one must follow the Jewish Law.  They claimed Peter and Jesus’ brother, James, as their founding authority.  They saw Jesus as completely human and not divine.
Then there were the Marcionites, lead by Marcion, one of the most significant early Christian thinkers and writers.  Marcion thought the God of the Jews was an evil God.  He saw the God of Jesus as the new true God come to save man from the vengeful creator God.  To the Marcionites, Jesus was completely divine and not human.
There were also Gnostics.  They saw evil in the material world.  Human sin brought corruption into creation, but within some humans there is the spark of the divine.  Gnostics believed that one is saved by this secret knowledge or Gnosis, the knowledge of who one is.  Jesus provides this knowledge through his life and teachings.
Most Gnostics saw Jesus and Christ as two separate beings. Christ is pure spirit.  Christ entered into Jesus at his baptism in the form of a dove.  This Spirit is God’s emissary who conveyed secret knowledge through Jesus. 
Christ left Jesus before his death.  Jesus suffered and died alone.  To Gnostics the Resurrection was real but not some “crass revivification of the material body, which itself is illusory.”
For hundreds of years after Jesus’ death, the nature of Christ was debated among Christian leaders.  The winners of this struggle, the proto-orthodox, finally hammered things at the Council of Nicea in 325 CE some three hundred years after Jesus’ death.  These early Christians had not even formalized the cannon.  Final agreement on which books would be included in the Bible didn’t happen until the late 4th century. (Ehrman, 2003)
The Bible is “Divinely inspired”, but it is not perfect, inerrant, or even consistent.   The authors were inspired by the Holy Spirit, but the Spirit did not tell them what to write.  The Spirit led them and gave them vision but didn’t dictate to them. 
These leanings and insights were then filtered through the author just as an artist is inspired to paint and the sculptor to put chisel to stone. The authors were men of their age, with pre-scientific world views and first century prejudices.  Their writings reflect the world in which they lived.
God did not write the Bible.  Men wrote it.  Yes it’s God’s word, but it isn’t God’s words.  The authors did not channel God. 
A channeled book is where the author claims to be in contact with a spirit who tells the author what to write. The Bible is not a channeled book.  The men who wrote the Bible were human beings, inspired but imperfect human beings.  They were not inerrant.  They were imperfect conduits, as are we. 
The Bible isn’t perfect.  It has errors and inconsistencies.  These include errors in citation, errors of fact, incompatibly different versions of events, different and even contradictory opinions, and even, yes, wrong and evil things.
Use common sense.  Nothing is true, no matter how vile or absurd, simply because “it’s in the Bible.”  God is not bound by a book.  Our doctrines and understanding do not define or limit God. 
God is bigger than we can imagine.  Our understanding is incomplete.  Better to approach God with humility than to call others heretics and declare them condemned to hell simply for thinking differently, something that is incompatible with a wise, loving and caring God.
The Bible did not “fall from heaven in a Glad bag”.  It didn’t magically appear.  Instead, the Bible was born of bloodshed and conflict.  There were disagreements and arguments.  People were defamed, maligned, tortured and killed.   Different points of view were systematically and sometimes even violently suppressed. 
When the “proto-orthodox” won the debate, they proceeded to suppress different views.  They destroyed  many early Christian’s sacred texts and labeled them heretical.  Over the years the Church waged war, tortured, beheaded, and burned at the stake many who thought differently. The Bible has human origins, and it’s a violent and bloody tale.
Worshiping the Bible obscures this violent reality. It whitewashes history and makes the development of the cannon seem pure and clean when in reality it was violent and bloody.
Worshiping the Bible is a form of idolatry.  It is called “bibliolatry”. 
Bibliolatry consists of claims that the Bible is the inerrant, literal or actual words of God.  Claims that the Bible is perfectly accurate, consistent, and correct in every way are false and a form of idolatry.  They turn the Bible into the embodiment of God rather than what it really is: a compilation of different books written by different authors over different periods of time expressing different and even conflicting views about God, humanity, and spirituality.
Many exclaim: But if the Bible is not a magical perfect book handed down to us by God, if it is not the literal words of God, then why study it?   If the Bible is not superior to books like the Koran or the sacred texts of other religions, then why become a Christian?  These questions are answered simply.
The Bible fostered the world’s largest religion.  It is the most influential book in human history.  It is a foundation of the Western world.  It’s an extremely important book, one that takes center stage in the history of the world.  It must be read.  It should not be ignored.  It is divinely inspired and when read properly it transforms us spiritually.
My denomination, the United Church of Christ, has a saying: “God is still speaking.”  God still speaks through us.  God inspires us.  God breathes creativity into us.   God uses us.  We are God’s instruments in the process of creation and transformation. 
Christians know this.  We feel God’s presence in our lives and sometimes even recognize God’s providence.  We perceive God as present in what we say and do and in the synchronicities in our lives. 
God is constantly providing us with opportunities to transform ourselves, others around us, and the world.  Sometimes things happen because of God. 
This does not mean, of course, that every misfortune can be avoided, or that God is conniving to give us everything we want, to make us rich, or that the universe gives us anything we set or intention on, though intention is a very powerful tool.  What it does mean is that we can understand the Bible as divinely inspired without turning it into an object of worship.  As we say at my church, we “take the Bible seriously, but not literally.” 
There is much more to the Bible than facts and data.  The Bible is not a history textbook.  It’s a religious text.  It’s a book of stories, lessons, and myths that enlightens us and teaches us to grow spirituality. 
The Bible teaches us how to live in community, do God’s will, and be in communion with Spirit.  It does not tell us what to think and believe.  Instead, it encourages us to ask questions.   By questioning the text and listening to the many different responses and explanations we gain spiritual insight and understanding.
As churches split, divide, and indoctrinate others to their own version of correct belief and theology, they rewrite history.  Every sect claims it went back to the original Christians.  Every change is an effort to get back to” the Truth”. 
The claim is always that the church has gone off course is some way.  We are 2000 years away from the events at issue.  The original disciples and the early church thought differently than we do.  Christianity was much more diverse.  Later theological developments were unknown to early Christians.
Yet none of this is essential to Christianity. There is only one Christ, not three.  God’s saving power should be our focus, not creeds and doctrines. 
Life after death either is or is not, but God’s saving power is real and present.  Unless we can offer the power of Christ in the here and now, what good is the promise of eternal life?  
If we have eternal life, we have it now. In fact, “eternal life” and “salvation”, as used in the Bible, is more often about our experience of life in the present and not life after death. (Borg, 2011)
God promises to be with us.  If we don’t have God with us, then how can we say we have “eternal life”.
If the grace of God is not present in our church, if we are in such a ruckus with bitter disputes and division, when we are weighed down with doctrines and creeds denying the validity of other’s experience of Christ crucified, we are not demonstrating the saving power of God.  
A narrow minded, my way or the highway, approach to Christianity is repugnant to truth.   Church doctrine has been written and rewritten over and over for 2000 years.    
Doctrines have become stale, dry and dead.  We hear the same things over and over.  Church has become a “repeat after me” and “you dare not disagree” event. 

We should not promise life after death unless we can deliver it in the here an now.   Experiencing God’s saving power, not waiting for it, is what Christianity is all about.  Open your mind and hearts to the experience of God’s saving grace. 

Saturday, December 14, 2013

OUR KING HEROD: Newtown and the Slaugther of the Innocents

By

Richard Mario Procida, Esq.

Matthew 2:13-23

13Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”
16When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. 17Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: 18“A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”
19When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, 20“Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.” 21Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. 22But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. 23There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.”

I. Introduction

          Christmas is a time for joy.  A celebration!  “A savior is born!” 
Allison N. Wyatt, Age 6
Christmas is not joyful for everyone all of the time, but for those who celebrate it, its potential is grand.  It’s a child’s holiday.  It’s a day parents and family find joy in giving gifts to children and to one another.  All too ready to play, our children and family return our kindness with love.  At least that’s how it’s supposed to work.
          Jesus’ birth was a day of celebration, too.  A brilliant star hung overhead while
Ana Marquez-Greene, Age 6
 wise men offered gifts of frankincense, gold and myrrh.  But there’s something else the celebration of Jesus’ birth and today’s Christmas have in common—they are both short lived.
Avielle Richman, Age 6

   II. The Slaugther of the Innocents. 

      Not long after Jesus’ birth Joseph encounters an angel in his dream telling him to flee to Egypt to escape “the slaughter of the innocents.”  Herod is said to have ordered the killing of all first born boys aged 2 and younger in and around Bethlehem.  It could have been a large number or a small number of children.  No one knows, because we have no record of it outside of Matthew.  Regardless, it’s a quick end to a celestial party.
Bushmaster used by Adam Lanza
          Today our celebration ends quickly, too.  Today we remember the twenty children and six adults murdered by Adam Lanza last Christmas in a video game style assault on Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.

School Entrance
          Armed with a Bushmaster assault rifle, Lanza targeted the elementary school in order to increase his kill rate.  He kept a score sheet of past mass killings posted to the wall of his blacked out basement room.  The 7-by-4 foot spreadsheet contained 500 names recording the number of persons each murderer killed and the precise make and model of the weapons used. 
Lanza's Room
          The windows of Lanza’s computer room were covered with black plastic bags, too.  He had spent the three months prior to his killing spree mostly isolated in his rooms playing violent video games and planning his attack.  He refused to talk even to his mother.
          Lanza isn’t the only mass murderer to have planned his attack using video games.  Anders Breivik used the popular game Call of Duty to hone his shooting
Lanza's Video Games
skills prior to killing 77 people in Norway in 2011.[1]  Breivik specifically cited the game “Call of Duty” in his manifesto calling it part of his training-simulation.[2]
          These are today’s “slaughter of the innocents.”  May our thoughts and prayers be with the families of the victims this Christmas, and may their deaths be not in vain.


III. Media Violence Contributes to Violent Crime.

          Contrary to what some have written, exposure to violent media increases aggression.   In a recent study published in Pediatrics, the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Brad J. Bushman, et al., describes the conclusions of researchers: “For decades, 
Benjamin Wheeler, Age 6
researchers have studied the effects of exposure to violent media on aggression in children and youth. The evidence from these studies has been reviewed numerous times, and nearly all researchers have reached the same conclusion: exposure to media violence can increase aggression.”[3] Those who say otherwise have simply not done their homework.
Caroline Previdi, Age 6
          The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, and the American Psychological Association have all endorsed the following joint statement: “The conclusion of the public health community, based on over 30 years of research, is that viewing entertainment violence can lead to increases in aggressive attitudes, values and behavior, particularly in children.”[4]

Catherine v. Hubbard, Age 6
Research organizations as well as government agencies have also issued statements.  The US Surgeon General, the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Mental Health, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have all issued statements. In sum, virtually all scientific and health organizations have concluded that media violence can increase aggression.
Charlotte Bacon, Age 6
Media violence is a factor in increasing social violence, and the cases of Adam Lanza and Anders Breivik demonstrate that fact.  Of course, exposure to media violence doesn’t cause every person to turn into a mass murderer.  Not everyone exposed to violent entertainment goes out and kills people.  Imagine if they did.  We would have a real mess.
The issue has never been whether every single person exposed to violent
Chase Kowalski, Age 7
entertainment becomes a murder.  No one has ever argued that.  The issue has always been whether violent media contributes to an increased incidence of violence.  It’s always been a question about aggregate numbers, not individual responses. 
The evidence suggests that violent entertainment contributes to the problem of social violence.  It’s not the only factor, and it may not be the most influential factor, but it’s a significant part of the violence equation. 
Daniel Barden, Age 7
Multiple things come together to create a killer.  For example, exposure to personal violence is almost always a significant influence on the killer.  Violent video games and movies can make matters worse, particularly with the most impressionable persons who are already predisposed toward violence.  Adam Lanza was one such person. 

IV. King Herod and Empire

King Herod represents the impunity of the powerful.  "Empire", the "domination system" or the ways of the world, destroy our children and slaughter their innocence.  These are the forces that
Dylan Hockley, Age 6
 destroy the good and encourage evil.  The one who seeks to murder God’s son will not hesitate to kill our children as well. 
These forces of evil are multifaceted and complex.  In ancient times they were represented by the rulers and religious leaders who operated a corrupt and oppressive domination system in service of the Roman Empire.  Today the world is still ruled by Empire.
Emilie Parker, Age 6
The Military-Industrial Complex, the entertainment industry, the wealthy one percent, and large corporations in concert with the Religious Right wrest control of our democracy. They use unregulated campaign finance laws and control over our politicians, news and entertainment media in the pursuit of Empire. These and other forces serve to distract, misinform, dehumanize and desensitize us to violence.  They fill our minds with anger, lies, and violent thoughts and images.  Every Empire needs a supply of blood thirsty killers to do its bidding, and violent movies and video games train our young people in the ways of violence.

V. Violent Movies, Violent Scripts

Grace Mcdonnell, Age 7
Our culture has become too tolerant of media violence, particularly gun violence in movies and video games.  Violent entertainment is increasing.  The study by Bushman, et al., found that gun violence in PG-13 movies has tripled since 1985, and overall violence in movies has doubled since 1950.[5]  Their study raised the concern that gun violence in movies train young people to use guns.
Jack Pinto, Age 6
Young people solve problems by observing how others solve those problems.[6]  They accumulate a set of programs, called scripts, for solving social problems.[7]  Scripts can be learned by observing violent characters in the mass media. [8]  The authors of the study posit that gun violence in movies, video games, television and the internet provide young viewers with scripts for gun use.  Gun violence in films may also encourage an association between guns and violence.[9]

VI. Guns and Violence


James Mattioli, Age 6
 The United States already has one of the highest rates of violent crime and homicide, per capita, of any developed country.[10]  Many American cities have rates of gun homicides comparable to the most violent nations in the world.[11]  The U.S. also has the highest rate of civilian gun ownership in the world. With less than 5% of the world’s population, Americans own roughly 35-50% of the World’s civilian owned guns.  No other country compares.[12]
Jesse Lewis, Age 6
Adam Lanza’s bedroom was essentially a gun locker.  It housed several firearms, more than 1,600 rounds of ammunition, 11 knives, a starter pistol, a bayonet, and 3 samurai swords.  Lanza wore head to toe military garb around the house and created an indoor target range throughout the house and in his bedroom.  He used his pellet gun to shoot at the targets.  He was obsessed with weaponry, had military posters hung throughout the house, and wanted to join the Marines.   Lanza killed his mother, twenty children and six other adults not long after his mother told him he was not cut out to be a Marine.

VII. A Comprehensive Solution to Violence


Jessica Rekos, Age 6
The solution to the problem of violence in the United States is, just like the causes of violence, multifaceted.  Gun control, mental health treatment, social and anti-poverty programs for children, and law enforcement all have roles to play.  One important area is our too easy tolerance of violence in the movies and video games.  Reducing violence in video games, movies, and on television would help.
Jesephine Gay, Age 7
Our obscenity law and our rating system are more tolerant of violence than other western democracies.[13]  Europe and Canada think differently.  For example, Canada and many western countries, including England and Australia, all include references to violence in their obscenity laws.  The United States, under the Miller test, does not. The people of most western nations are more concerned about violence than they are with nudity.   Our culture finds public nudity distasteful and focuses on sexually explicit materials more than on gratuitous violence. [14]

VIII. Modifying the Movie Rating System


Madeleine F. Hsu, Age 6
The movie industry created the movie rating system in response to increasingly strict enforcement of the Motion Picture Productions Code, also known as the Hays Code.  The Motion Pictures Producers and Distributors of America, now the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), took over enforcement of the code in 1934.  In 1968 it replaced the code with its own rating system.  The system is voluntary and not enforced by any government agency.[15]
Noah Pozner, Age 6
In the early 1980s people began complaining about increasing violence and gore in films that received PG ratings.  In 1984, the MPAA introduced the PG-13 Rating.[16]  The PG-13 rating is much more tolerant of violence than it is of nudity.  While even brief nudity will require at least a PG-13 rating, violence is tolerated so long as it’s not extreme or persistent.[17]  This is important, because PG-13 movies have the largest audience of young people.  We have for too long tolerated violence to the exclusion of sex.  

IX. Remember the Children and Families of Bethlehem and Newtown


Olivia Engel, Age 6
          It’s time for change.  This is the message of “the slaughter of the innocents.”  While we can celebrate our savior’s birth, there is still much work to be done.  Life is not just one big party.  Even our celebration of the birth of the world’s savior must end.  The wickedness of the world intervenes and forces us to face reality. 
          Gun violence is at epidemic proportions in the United States.  The sound of gunfire and children dying again interrupts our celebration.  On Saturday, December 14, 2013, at 9:56 in the morning, church bells throughout Orange County, California will ring twenty-six times in honor of the twenty children and the six adults killed at Sandy Hook Elementary a year ago.  This coming Sunday after Christmas we can remember again by ringing our church bells 26 times, and having a moment of silence as we read about the “slaughter of the innocents.”
Remember today’s and yesterday’s “slaughter of the innocents.”  Pray for an
Adam Lanza
end to gun violence.  Campaign to regulate firearms; provide treatment for the mentally ill and social, health and welfare intervention programs for poor and disadvantaged children; and reduce violence in movies, video games, television, and the internet.  The lesson of the “slaughter of the innocents” is this: Get back to work!  Least Jesus, the children of Bethlehem, and the children of Newtown die in vain.

X. Theological Reflection (Update)

Someone who read this article asked: "Where's the Good News?"  
The Good News begins today.  Today we embark with Jesus on his journey to Jerusalem.  Jesus' return to Nazareth is the first trek on his steady march to the city gate. The Good News is that Jesus has shown us the way to the Kingdom of God.  While we follow Jesus as his ministry marches to it's inevitable end in Jerusalem, we must never forget all the innocent blood spilled along the way.
Anne Marie Murphy
Others have pointed to the role of King Herod as compared to Adam Lanza.  Those in power have always used young men to deploy power.  "Empire needs a supply of blood thirsty killers to do it's dirty work."  Herod didn't kill the children of Bethlehem himself.  He sent a crew of young brutal killers to do it.  Every empire needs young men willing to kill.  It is as true today as it was then. This is how we train our young men to kill today.  We expose them to brutal violence and train them to pull the trigger.  
Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung, Age 47
It was the same then as it is today.  Empire, the ways of the world, the world we live in, life in Jesus' day was brutal and cruel.  While we have advanced significantly in democracy and civil and human rights, our world remains brutal and cruel.  Even places relatively peaceful are saturated with media violence.  How do we seek the Kingdom of God in such a world.  The Good News is that Jesus has shown us The Way.
Mary Sherlach, Age 56
Jesus demonstrated for us the Way to the Kingdom of God.  We follow Jesus throughout the year as he travels to Jerusalem to change the world.  In other words, all the progress we have made in over 2000 years in human freedom and self-government has come as a result of following Jesus Christ, whether you're Christian or not.  The act of following Christ is the essential thing.  All religions offer their unique approach, but they all essentially offer the their own version of Christ's One Way.[Matt. 7:21-23]
Lauren Rousseau, Age 30
The Good New is that Jesus has shown us how to change the world! Jesus said: "seek ye first the Kingdom of God".  This is the gospel, the good news that Jesus preached about: the Kingdom of God is near.  
The Kingdom of God is not brought about by observation.  No one can say "Look, here it is!' or, 'There it is!"  You can't sit on the sidelines and point it out.  You have to a part of it.  The Kingdom of God is in our midst.[Luke17:20-21]
The Good New is that together we can change the world.  Get involved.  Do your part.  Follow Jesus. God has empowered us, through Christ, to do great things.  [John 14:12]  The Kingdom of God has come Near, Repent and believe the Good News. [Mark 1:15]



Nancy Lanza
Rachel D'Avino, Age 29
Victoria Sota, Age 27














[1] Edgar Sandoval, et al., News' report on Sandy Hook gunman Adam Lanza's video-game-style slaughter score sheet inspires calls in D.C. to stiffen regulation of violent games
(http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/crackdown-urged-violent-games-lanza-report-article-1.1292402)

[2] Id.

[3] Brad J. Bushman, et al., Gun Violence Trends in Movies, Pediatrics (Nov 11, 2013)( http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2013/11/06/peds.2013-1600)
[4] American Academy of Pediatrics. Joint Statement on the impact of entertainment violence on children, Congressional Public Health Summit, July 26, 2000. Available at: http://www2.aap.org/advocacy/releases/jstmtevc.htm. Accessed October 10, 2013.
[5] Brad J. Bushman, et al., Gun Violence Trends in Movies, Pediatrics (Nov 11, 2013)( http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2013/11/06/peds.2013-1600)
[6] Bandura A. Social Learning Theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall; 1977
[7] Schank RC, Abelson RP. Scripts, Plans, Goals, and Understanding. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum; 1977
[8] Huesmann LR. An information processing model for the development of aggression. Aggress Behav. 1988;14:13–24
[9] Brad J. Bushman, et al., Gun Violence Trends in Movies, Pediatrics (Nov 11, 2013)( http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2013/11/06/peds.2013-1600)
[10]Johnathan Stray, Gun Violence in America: The 13 Key Questions (With 13 Concise Answers),( http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/02/gun-violence-in-america-the-13-key-questions-with-13-concise-answers/272727/#international accessed December 8, 2013.
[12] [12]Johnathan Stray, Gun Violence in America: The 13 Key Questions (With 13 Concise Answers), http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/02/gun-violence-in-america-the-13-key-questions-with-13-concise-answers/272727/#international accessed December 8, 2013.
[13] Richard Procida and Rita J. Simon, Global Perspectives on Social Issues: Pornography (Lexington Press, 2003).
[14] Id.
[15] Wikipedia, Motion Picture Association of America Film Rating System, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motion_Picture_Association_of_America_film_rating_system)
[16] Id.
[17]What Each Rating Means, available at  http://www.mpaa.org/ratings/what-each-rating-means, accessed on Nov 29, 2013.