JoeAm Preaches a Sermon

Brimstone Joe?

Good morning my friends, it is a joy to be here today.

Let us pray.
“Our Father, we gather here today to honor Your Work on earth, a work that is partly done, and which you have left for us, free of will, to complete. You remain a Mystery to us, and that is what excites us about this day. Today is a day for decisions. We must make them well, because we know You trust us to act in dignity and honor.
We are excited to know that You have set before us a grand puzzle, intricate of design, dangerous in places, safe and secure in others. A challenge, for sure.
It is up to us to think well as Your Children, to chose among the many paths available to us to find the one that is wholesome, the one that is enriched with kindness toward others.
We ask for Your Patience as we consider our choices. We want to choose well. 
In Your Name we pray,
Today I would like to speak about choices. About the decisions we make. About how we deal with the good and the bad outcomes of our decisions.
Let’s turn to James in the New Testament of the Bible, Chapter 3, starting with verse 13.  For those Jews, Muslims, atheists or other believers and non-believers shifting uncomfortably in the pews, please consider this a secular reading, as if God were simply the Goodness in your heart. We are not really interested in the politics of religion, but in the meanings we can draw from the thoughtful words we read in this great book of wisdom and confusion. I will offer brief interpretive remarks at the end of each verse. The verses are short, so this won’t take long at all.
  • 3:13 Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom.
  • If you are wise and knowledgeable and engage in discussions with others, display the quiet confidence a wise man would choose.
  • 3.14 But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth.
  • If you act out of envy or anger, take care not to go against truth.
  • 3:15 This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish.
  • For this kind of wisdom is sure to cause problems.
  • 3:16 For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.
  • Envy and anger create bad will and bad acts.
  • 3:17 But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.
  • But wisdom from the goodness of our hearts is gentle and easy to convey, filled with mercy and kindness and truth unshaded by deceit or need.
  • 3:18 And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.
  • Good will is created by those who speak in peace, sincerely.
So given this guidance, how might we approach our daily decisions?
A decision is a choice of paths we will take, or cause others to take. Some decisions are small. Should I wear red or blue today? Some are large. Should I get married or not?
Some decisions are easy. Should I put cheese in the Spaghetti sauce or not? Some are hard. Should I buy that property or not?
Some are beyond difficult. Should I file for annulment? Have another baby? Have an abortion? Shoot and kill the enemy soldier I see on the ridge over there?  They test our emotions, test our thinking, test our conscience.
And once we have made a decision, we have changed the course of mankind. We have set in motion a set of events or responses from the trivial to the extreme. One act begets another. And we do not always get the result we expected or wanted:
  • “You look sickly in that blue dress.”
  • “You idiot, I’m allergic to cheese!”
  • “You want an annulment? You can have it, but I’m keeping the kid!”
When we make a decision that causes a reaction we did not foresee, what do we typically do?
We explain ourselves. We make sure others are aware of our rational thought process, our good intentions, our innocence.
“Don’t’ call me an idiot, you twit. How am I supposed to know you are allergic to cheese? I always put cheese in the sauce.”
We seldom confess that maybe we could have done a better job thinking this through. Our credibility, our credentials, have been undermined by criticism. We start nailing planks every which way to shore up our standing.
Why do we feel this relentless need to justify ourselves? To explain, to make excuses? To blame?
Are we not violating the instruction of James 3:14, are we not going against the truth? Going against it by spinning the decision, by shifting responsibility for it, for failing to acknowledge it was, after all, OUR  decision, OUR act.
No, my brothers and sisters, when we weasel out of the results of our acts, try to sneak away in the bright light of day, we are shaping a new truth, and it is dishonest.
This is the troublesome kind of decision we are warned against in James 3:15. The earthly choice rather than the heavenly choice. We choose strife. We choose the deceits of self-justification.
When we chose the dishonest path, the blame, the excuse, we build a reality that is warped by lies and mistruths. And decisions and acts that flow from those mistruths are themselves flawed. We have contributed to the building of a monster, Satan’s delight, a reality built on fabrication.

On some days, we call it Senate.

No, no, my friends.
It is important to build our decisions and our acts on truth, lest our whole world become a lie.
Our institutions are the work of many men and women. Our government and its agencies. Our churches. Our businesses. Our schools.
How many of them are built on the rock of truth? On the foundation of integrity?
How many are built on the sands of fabrication, mistruths aimed, not at promoting honest solutions, but self-serving acts? How many are built on the earthly corruptions of small man rather than the heavenly glory of honorable man?
  • We should demand honesty, for it is good.
  • We should demand integrity, for it is good.
  • We should demand accountability without shame, or blame, or excuse, for it is good.
So think about this as you go forth to make your decisions today. And the next day.  And accept the results of your decisions forthrightly after they have settled in and changed the way of our world forever.

Claim your decisions with courage and honor, without fear or regret or shame. Claim them with all the Goodness of your heart.

Let us close in prayer.
Thank you oh Conscience Pure, the Heaven in my heart.
You guide us through light and dark, You give us vision of the riches of our troubled Eden, the world about.
Thank You for this vast, intricate puzzle, our Nation, our World.
In Goodness, we go forth, seeking to choose well, and to build.

In peace.


33 Responses to “JoeAm Preaches a Sermon”
  1. Edgar Lores says:

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Anonymous says:

    JoeAm may have been a bishop in a past life. I wish Sen Enrile, Recto, Sotto, and Rep Evardone or their staff would read this 'sermon'.Dr. Goros- was one tough bitch. Reminds me of Ninoy.DocB

  3. Edgar, I deleted the link because the graphic nature of the article was in conflict with the tone I am trying to set in this article, of goodness of heart. We can find a place for it elsewhere perhaps . . .

  4. Edgar Lores says:

    1. JoeAm, that's fine.2. There are stark choices to make. Ultimately, the battle is between good and evil, life and death.3. I note that you use the King James version, my choice for it's poetry.4. Poetry sometimes reveals the reality of joy but sometimes cannot disguise the reality of tragedy.

  5. jcc34 says:

    joeam, my prayer goes to your compatriot, George Anikow, who was stabbed to death by 'deranged' Filipinos, Saturday.

  6. 1. Thanks.3. King James has been my Book since I first started studying the bible at the age of 9. I dropped out, then got back into it later in life under the guidance of a really smart guy, a Baptist engineer, actually, who taught me to read, not for the stories or necessarily the spiritual glory, but for the many deep lessons contained in this amazing book.

  7. And mine, to the four boys who did not intend for things to happen the way they did. I commented on your blog.

  8. Coco says:

    Some spontaneous reaction, should study your text in detail to build the correct arguments.1. And what if truth does not exist? Perceptions exist and they can be very different for different people, for the same person over time. Between 100% true and 100% lie there is a continuum. Even for perceptions there are things I’m 100% sure of and others I think I have observed/experienced.2. Do not underestimate the unconscious part of your brain in making decisions (see “Thinking Fast and Slow”, Daniel Kahneman) What you think is rational is just an accumulation of illusions, associations, bias, wrong interpretations… As you were upset, unconsciously you added the type of cheese to make her react allergic, later you convinced yourself you didn’t know. 3. What about lying for the greater benefit? If I can save 100 lives with a little lie? I have difficulties with people finding a message in every single phrase of the bible. The bible is one big story book, not a rational explanation that westerners are used to, but the eastern way of explaining via stories to make feel intuitively. Enrich yourself by getting in the mood, no need for rational explanations. Just as poem loses its magic when explained line by line. I’m a situational guy, it all depends. There is not one type of rightness, it depends on the circumstances as time available, motivations of people involved, consequences of either decision, availability of alternatives, just to name a few. Unique thinking eventually leads to extremism and that history taught is certainly wrong.

  9. Preacher Joe responds,1. Then that would be a truth, that truth does not exist, and varying perceptions, even varying universes overlay one another in a great mishmash of finite irrelevancy. So all structure becomes a game, and one find's one's value in how principled one plays the game, not in how loose and easy one plays it, with cheating and harm dealt to others. It's a choice, no matter the scene, how one wades into it.2. See 1.3. It would be a good decision to lie.Regarding bible lessons, that is true. You can find different and sometimes conflicting meanings in a single verse, and context means a lot. However, you can take one line from a poem and find wonderful or magical meaning, "Ah, but a Man's grasp should exceed his reach, Or what's a heaven for?" BrowningRemember, your 1. No rules.Your last paragraph is very good. Worth thinking about, too.

  10. Anonymous says:

    I agree with both Edgar and Coco here. The big book is about black and white and it's light for those in a bind but reality is gray or Coco's situational or contextual reality and what I'm seeing is not pretty. Exhibit A: Ampatuan Massacre.DocB

  11. Well, it is gray because people want it that way, so they can connive and thrive. There are also those who believe we ought to build black and white structures, call them laws, that allow us to live safely whilst ensuring the freedom to prosper and find happiness in our own terms.The Bible suggests some of the rules. Some of them we have to figure out for ourselves, based on other readings or new knowledge. My point in the article is that the framework, a complilation of the community's values, black or white or grey or pink, starts within each of us as individuals. When we build our framework on blames and deceits, we are assured of an unhealthy structure, rich with unkindness and lack of trust.It is what it is. But we are empowered to make it healthy, kind and trustworthy. If enough of us want to do that. If we have the intelligence and discipline to do that. It does not have to be forever what it is today.

  12. Anonymous says:

    The problem or danger happens when the self-righteous, some of them bible or koran- thumpers, become fascists and talibans. Basic human freedoms are sacrificed for a berth in heaven or assignation with a vestal virgin.DocB

  13. Anonymous says:

    Clear as daylight. Ampatuan guys killed those people. Punish them. Good. Before we punish them must we argue for 3 long years who gets to be inside the jail and for how long? DocB

  14. Coco says:

    1. Snow is white, unless you perceive only the shadow of snow, then you have to say truthfully that you saw black snow. hehehe And what is white? Absolute white? Then snow is not white but light grey. 3. In your article you said all decisions should be based on the truth. !00 live is an easy desission, what if a little lie can reduce a child’s unhappiness? How to balance private rightfulness with public interest? Not telling the truth by omission?Truth of a mathematical or logic statement is absolute and exist. Truth as factuality is more difficult because you can only perceive facts and our senses and brain can play tricks with us. Truth in Africa was leavened with superstition. Truth in the bible belt is truth permeated with the bible, the only source of absolute truth. Truth in a science lab is factual, statistical. I don’t believe in absolute truth, may be in half-truth. Truth is always part of the logical system you are operating in, truth as factuality depends on the perception, truth is linked to the semantics. I do believe in transparency, I do believe in honesty. The simple New York Times test: “if the base of your decision was published on page 1 of the NYT, how would you feel?”( Wikipedia: Truth intrigued philosophers for a long time: Correspondence theory, Coherence theory, Constructivist theory, Consensus theory, Pragmatic theory, Minimalist theory, Pluralist theories…and I’m just a layman)

  15. Maybe truth was the wrong word to use. Maybe integrity would be better, or some new word we haven't invented yet. Transparency and honesty are a part of it. I believe it is better if people own their decisions rather than package them in deceptions. Often self-deceptions, trying to shore up weak self-esteem. I don't think Senator Sotto is an anomaly. I think he is fairly typical. And when the values of the land get hitched to a sense that "whatever I can get away with" is fine, then the community loses it's drive for any claim to a standing higher than animal.

  16. There is a danger to you and me declaring them guilty. "Due process" is a right as important as free speech. It simply does not exist in the Philippines because the police and the courts stink. Echoing what I wrote to Coco, we either strive to live by principles higher than animal, or we live as animal. Either works. We die in the end. The difference is what we fill ourselves up with between the bookends, dust.

  17. A gun doesn't shoot people, the guy holding it does. ahahahahaYes, I dislike organized churches because they too often seem to do the devil's work.But the Bible is an amazing book. It was like our internet in its day, the place of knowledge. Monks sat in their cells under the candlelight painstakingly etching out another page, another chapter, another book. They didn't have keyboards in those days.

  18. I do not read the bible. It is a waste of time. Once I thought I understood passages, some sicko, tells me "DO NOT TAKE IT LITERALLY". The bible is like Philippine Laws: CANNOT BE INTERPRETED LITERALLYThe bible is like Philippine Laws: SOMETIME IT WORKS BUT MOST OF THE TIME IT DOESN'TThat is why Philippines are not taken literally by other countries. Cambodian President was not taken literally by benign0. When Filipinos say "NO", they actually meant "YES". When they say "YES" I say, "YOU GOTTA BE KIDDING"

  19. What books do you read? If I reflect on it, I probably get more out of a Charles Dickens book than any book of the bible. In both cases, I spend as much time between the lines as on them.

  20. Coco says:

    This I fully aggree. The sad thing is that when people start rationalizing their own bad behavior/decisions they start believing themself. I think Soto is genuinely convinced by now that his son died because of the pill, in his personal new definition of plagiarism, in God's guidance as he feel it. All good liars, and he is one, start believing themself. As said before, in this country you do not evaluate the correctness of a statement but the status of the messenger. Soto might have respect for his "intelectual" advisors, who in turn respect Soto's position as a senator and so you got a self-supporting system that easily gets detached from reallity. Others (he too?)are plain criminals indeed, with no moral values at all. (Some brain defects can lead to this, inherited or not. People lost their moral values after a stroke)People are not critical at all, it is too easy to fool them. This country needs a new type of education, not teaching to repeat the authority but to learn to think for oneself. Not only being able to use formula correctly, but to being able to deviate a formula oneself. Teaching that there is notting magical to knowledge. When I see the majority of the current teachers, I'm not optimistic. Also catholisism builds more on feelings than on understanding. It is because what the priest said full stop, the priest is the deputy of Jesus on earth, it is not because I compared what the priest said with what I read in the bible and with my own experience.

  21. Note to self: Send Preacher Joe down the river. It is a can't win approach. Religious readers get upset at the secularization of their faith and maybe the idea that Joe is waxing satirical with their beliefs. Non-believers are reminded of all the reasons they don't like religion and think Joe is trying to convert them to the Bible. Nevermind the principle that ought to apply to the believers and the non-believers, it is a better world if we take accountability for our decisions.Not that I'm whining or anything, just musing. Learning . . .Plus the closing prayer is really quite good. Slick rhymes if you read it right. You gotta find the spirit to read it right, though.

  22. Edgar Lores says:

    Then we will all go to hell in a basket?

  23. Yes, yes, yes. Especially the last paragraph, which points to the way forward. Alas, I fear Dep Ed doesn't quite grasp the problem or the solution.

  24. Not if you swear to the closing prayer without needing a bible or stack of Darwin tomes to place your hand upon.

  25. Anonymous says:

    How about a Shariah court or a Taliban court trying the Ampatuan massacre? (watched an Iranian film, A Separation, and their courts seem so much better)DocB

  26. Anonymous says:

    One cannot not hear or read about the Bible in the Philippines. But I wonder if that book put the fear of the Lord in Filipinos. Fear adequate enough to make Sotto keep from Sotto-ing.DocB

  27. I'm not convinced anyone here actually reads their Bible, much less studies it. It's rather like going to Church on Easter, a bumper sticker. The gap between what Jesus says and what many Filipinos do is like a Matrix time warp. I won't mention names, as they might demand a right of reply.

  28. That would only work if all the victims were Muslim.

  29. Anonymous says:

    My favorite Bible story is the Prodigal Son. Everytime I fall I think of this story. DocB

  30. Anonymous says:

    It's a good sermon Joe. It's positive. What did I get out of it? Be true to yourself don't kid yourself keep your cool at all times and you will do fine. – MB

  31. Thanks, yes. And if you are true to yourself, and don't kid yourself, there is no reason to shove blames and excuses onto others. I guess that is a kind of personal transparency. Then the community will do well, too.

  32. Anonymous says:

    Give us wisdom to avoid temptations from men who speak with forktongues.Strengthen our resolve to work earnestly not only for ourselvesbut also for the betterment of our communities.Imbue us with courage to face the dangers lurking in the shadowsas we thread a strait but narrow path.Most of all, let unadulterated conscience be our guide!Haven't prayed much in years but this is what I gathered fromyour closing prayer.amor

  33. Very nice extraction of meaning. A prayer on its own.In real life, I rarely pray, as I don't know to Whom to address it, exactly. And I seldom use words when I do pray, more gather up a set of feelings or hopes and blast them out. I never expect anything in return.

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