I do not often preach, I prefer to share my religious beliefs by example. I will work scripture into a discussion, and point out misinterpretations of various religions. I’ve studied a variety of disciplines, and have settled into my own set of beliefs and philosophies which I refer to as Zen Baptist.
I had a wonderful minister in my life, Dr. C.E. Colton. As a child at Royal Haven Baptist Church in Dallas, TX back in the early 60s, I was in awe of him. His manner of speaking appealed to me even as a five year old child, and still in my twenties when I returned to Dallas. He seriously pissed me off at my Grandfather’s funeral in the 90s, at which he came out of retirement to speak, but I never lost respect for him and struggled to understand the conflict, which may have made me a better person. He passed away in 2003 at the age of 89.
Dr. Colton was a scholar, and wasn’t just a polyglot, he was fluent in the languages he understood. He would pause during a sermon, and explain that the original Aramaic or Greek words had a different meaning at the time they were written than at the time they were translated, and/or the English word has a different meaning today than at the time of the translation. He brought the otherwise boring Sunday morning activities to life, challenging us to understand what we were reading. Then he bestowed upon me the lesson that would guide my life, through the radical 60s and my days as an Intelligence Specialist, as a husband, father and friend.
In the midst of a sermon, he related a story from his days in college. He had a question about a concept, and approached one of his professors to further his understanding. His professor had said “Well, I have my own opinion, which I will discuss with you later. What you should do is go speak with Dr. Jones, as he is considered an authority on the subject. Then when you understand his point of view, ask him who holds an opposing opinion and is as well versed as he. Understand that person’s position, then make up your own mind. After that, come talk to me and we can discuss it.”. Most people apply their own prejudices and find it impossible to believe that those words came from a Southern Baptist minister.
As a teenager in the waning years of the Viet Nam war, I was filled with revolutionary ideals. I was always thoughtful about the direction (or lack thereof) of the organizations I supported. A careful listening to the song “Volunteers” by The Jefferson Airplane fertilized the idea that many of my fellow “radicals” were just there for the party. Today more than ever that is true, as any protest brings out “the crazies”, every wing nut in the vicinity waving their own flag, suffocating the original cause.
I studied various branches of Christianity including Catholicism, dabbled in Judaism with a best friend and a couple of Jewish step brothers, studied the Hindi and Buddhist teachings, and explored several “New Age” beliefs as well as Wicca. I investigated the relationship of religion and the “new religion”, Science. In the 80s I had reason to understand Islam, as well as people of Islamic faiths. Eventually I found that I was a Christian, in the sense that I believe and attempt to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ. I do not attend a church, as I have yet to find one that teaches and adheres to the teachings of Jesus Christ now that Dr. Colton is gone and I live in New Jersey. Since around 1996 I have been a Zen Baptist.
Christianity is based on Christ, AKA Jesus of Nazareth. He brought a new message, and the story of his life is called “The New Testament”. The “Old Testament”, the beginning of the Christian Bible, is very similar to The Torah, the religious text of Judaism. When someone claims to be a Christian, and quotes the Old Testament as supporting their beliefs, they are most often confused about of what their religion consists. Jesus was exceptionally clear about speaking in parables, and yet so many “Christians” choose to interpret his words literally.
To me, the Old Testament is to be seen as a parable itself. God spoke to people who had no way of understanding the process of creation. So he gave the story as a series of seven days. Paying attention to that story reveals there was no measurement for time for the first few days, so it seems far from likely that they were strictly measured twenty four hour days. The description of God, “a spirit on the water” (Genesis 1:2) is the most in depth description in the entire book, yet God’s physical appearance is described by humans every day.
The New Testament is arranged so that the first four books are the same story, told by four different people who were present. How can you see that and not recognize the overall massage is that we should not take every word literally, each disciple interpreted the event differently and they were there. The important messages are repeated, over and over, hoping to work past individual interpretation, and the translations that would spread the word around the world.
The message is, Love each other.
I invite you to examine the book of Matthew, fifth chapter verses 43 through 48:
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Dr. Colton would, among other things, point out that the word translated as “perfect” is closer to meaning “complete”.
The other quality that Dr. Colton taught was to teach in small segments. Let the information roll around and soak in. And finish the sermon in time for everyone to get home in time to watch the Cowboy’s game. They are after all, God’s team, why else would the sky be blue and white?
It may not be recorded in the Bible, but I believe Jesus had a sense of humour, and laughed well.