God the Father

Father’s day is celebrated around the world, in various ways and with various spellings. The relationship each of us have with our own father is unique, for many reasons. We each define who our father is, what his duties as a father are, and how well he fulfills those duties. Some people spend time reflecting on their own responsibilities as children, and factor themselves into the equation. This all falls under the umbrella of understanding our father, fatherhood, and ourselves. Considering that at least one quarter of Americans have sought Mental Health assistance and folks most in need of help never seek it, I believe it is safe to say in general we do not know the participants in the father/child relationship well enough to make many judgements.

I know my children do not think I am a good father. I know many of the reasons why they think so, and the level of maturity they possessed when they made the decision, as well as the level of maturity I had hoped would reverse the impression. They haven’t gotten there yet, so I can only assume the situation is permanent. My relationship with my own father has changed a number of times over the years, which may indicate I am more flexible than my children (my impression), that they are emotionally damaged (a strong possibility), or maybe I am not a good father (always worth considering). The most definite pieces of information are they do not know me, and have made no attempt to know me, yet they harbor strong feelings about who I am (provided by their mother).

So earlier this week, when a dear friend made a statement about God, portraying it in a “paternal” image, in conjunction with the approaching holiday, my thoughts drifted to children and their illusions about fathers. The statement had been in the context of gun control, and he had said “every time it works, God smiles.” My God supports free will rather than denying it, so I don’t see God smiling in such an instance, and I started to wonder what made our perceptions about God so different.

The first thought was that the all powerful creator of the universe really doesn’t give a damn if you buy a gun or go bowling. Then I realized I was thinking of my God. I realized we all have different Gods, everyone sitting in the pew at church believes in a different God, because despite the holy texts, we each have to read and understand what we have read. We carry a banner (“Christian” in my case) but we have different beliefs, in some cases radically different. From what I’ve read, God wants us to live our lives according to his directions, and when we die we get to find out if we correctly interpreted the directions and how to follow them. Not before.

Some religions clearly don’t hold this view. Some people misunderstand their religion, and believe they are supposed to enforce God’s directions on Earth, even when the texts clearly state otherwise. Some people are just doing whatever they want, and waving a banner because it gives them a sense of authority. Problems arise from confusing terms, which inhibit communication. “God” is a concept, so when I say “God” it means the being that I imagine God to be, when Benjamin Netanyahu says “God” it means the being he imagines God to be, and when the leader of Daesh says “God” it means the being he imagines God to be. My theological mind argues we are all speaking of the same God, my psychological mind knows we are speaking about three different Gods, because we believe they are different, having in our minds created God and the differences between the Gods. We all believe God is greatest, if we speak Arabic we say Allahu Akbar.

I can be fairly annoying in arguments, because I tend to coach my opponents to make better arguments, I see all the sides.

I believe a part of my vision of God is based on my view of what a father should be, and my impression of myself as a father makes me believe I am doing it right. My children are each successful in their chosen fields. They are strong willed and independent. They don’t always do the things I would want them to do, but guess what? I didn’t do everything they wanted me to do. That doesn’t make them “bad children” any more than it makes me a “bad father,”  but they have placed themselves in judgement of my activities (which had nothing to do with them, particularly the ones that took place before they were born), so you might see how I can compare the relationship to that of God and Humans. They don’t know who I am now, how could they know anything about who I was then?

I consider the Christian Bible to be God’s word. I am fully aware the words themselves were written by human beings, and translated several times to accommodate various languages and ages. The Aramaic of 30 B.C. is unrecognizable to Arabs today, the English of 1611 would be unintelligible to an English subject today, Modern English is largely unintelligible to Americans. Many thoughts are ascribed to God in the Bible, they represent the message of the moment, not different Gods. The messages of the Old Testament are different from the messages of the New Testament. I suspect the punishment for arguing the order in which to prioritize its words would be similar to the punishment I meted out to my children when they brought up things I had said prior to their existence, it has nothing to do with the discussion at hand.

My beliefs have led me to understand God placed us on Earth to learn. Learning means making mistakes, and learning from them. There are sects which believe intent is an equal failure,  it may be, but I believe overcoming desire is the extenuating circumstance God will consider when it makes judgement. Jimmy Carter thought it was a sin to lust in your heart, but I believe acting on that lust is the sin God prohibited. Denying the opportunity prevents the sinner from making the decision to act. Allowing the opportunity gives the sinner the ability to redeem their heart. The same holds true in the gun analogy, Omar Mateen may have hated gay people, or just Americans, but had we prevented him from purchasing the guns, would it have pleased God? Would it not want Omar to have the opportunity to decide not to pull the trigger? Is it sad because you responded to Omar’s decision by arguing over his motives and methods rather than reaching out to his victims?

So on Father’s Day, which in America is celebrated on Sunday, considered to be “The Lord’s Day” by most Christians, get to know your father. Your father on Earth, and your father in Heaven. They both spent a good deal of effort on telling you who they are, but have no control over how you interpreted what they told you.

Get it right this time. It really is for your own good.

Whose God?

I’ve seen a number of discussions about God lately, not so much intentionally about God as about the nature of gods, inspired in part by Professor Larycia Hawkins of Wheaton College. Professor Hawkins had decided to wear a hijab to show solidarity with Muslims, and stated Christians and Muslims worship the same God.

As you might imagine, there has been quite an uproar over the suggestion that the God of the Christian Bible is also known as Allah. If he’s the same guy, why are the religions so different? Well, let us look at that question. Start with why do you think God, Allah, or any supreme being is male? You are trying to define the creator of the universe in human terms because they are the terms you are capable of understanding. For my part, when I refer to God I avoid gender specific pronouns, preferring “it” over “him” or “her.” This practice is the first step in incorporating the concept that God is in no way human.

One of the more troubling (to me) arguments to come out of these discussions suggests members of a religion in some way possess ownership of their God. This does not appear to be distant from the concept of my car owning me.

To answer the initial question, are these worshiped entities the same, very little investigation is required. Looking back a couple of millennia before Christ, Abraham makes his mark as a prophet. From Abraham comes Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, three different approaches to the same prophecies, commonly referred to as “The Abrahamic Religions.” The same God, called by different names as time passed and languages changed. As those religions developed, “God” was attributed with different qualities, the manner of worship acquired different rituals. God didn’t change, the way humans interpreted God changed. Islam is simply the latest developmental spur of the Abrahamic tradition, in which Jesus is merely a prophet, as is Mohammad; the Quran being the inspired message of God to Muslims.

The evolution from Abraham gives us Judaism, Jesus appears and is rejected as the son of God by the Jews but accepted as the Messiah by those who create Christianity, Mohammad comes along and delivers the Quran rejecting Jesus’s status as Son of God, creating Islam. God did not change, just who is believed to have delivered his latest instructions. Being most recent, the Muslim believes his religion to be most evolved, thus the correct or “true” religion. Christians may counter their religion is still evolving, Protestantism produces new denominations routinely, but the core of Christianity, Christ, dates the religion as beginning with his birth. Each of the Abrahamic religions believe they are the one and true religion, leading the followers of each religion to believe the followers of the other religions are at best misguided and at worst following a different God, perhaps even an evil God. Some take it a step further denouncing other beliefs as not being religions at all.

As I stated earlier, we as humans define God using the measurements we are capable of understanding. God is seen as a fatherly, therefore male, figure. He must be very old, so he would have grey hair, and he would carry a staff to assist in walking. Even if you are one of those who believe the religious texts date the universe at six thousand years old, God would be well beyond the aging process of humans. Yet no one ever depicts it as a young being, creating the universe is thought to be the work of a mature being. Do you think its hair turned grey at the age of forty, or forty million? The question may already be in your mind, how is the dimension of time traveled by a being who created the universe and time along with it? As humans we travel about seventy years, yet God has traveled at very least billions of years, with some of those being before the current measure of years existed, does it appear older today than at the origin of the universe?

As humans, we cannot pretend to understand the details of what God is physically, much less its motives. The best we can do is to interpret God’s intentions for us, and every religion on Earth teaches we should love each other. If you honestly believe a religion teaches otherwise, tell me how long you practiced that religion before saying anything else, don’t tell me what you have heard about a religion you have not been involved with. Religions are different because they were created by different humans, each believing they understand God better than anyone else.

So I believe the answer to the question “Do we believe in the same God?” is quite obviously “yes,” but not in the way most people mean when they ask the question. I believe the answer remains “yes” regardless of the religions being compared, well beyond the Abrahamic religions, because God is not the rituals we follow in worship, or what we eat or wear.

God is Love.

If you do not believe God is Love, then you do believe in a different God than I do, you might want to check with your religious leaders to see if you believe in the same God they believe in.

Us and Them

 

Let me start with a simple question. After 9/11, when you all met Osama bin Laden, who said “I guess he’s right, let’s give him what he wants.”? Anyone? If anyone wants to contact me through the comments but does not want their name published, I will update this, but my thoughts are no one was convinced of his position by his ability to kill three thousand people.

So when we blow up a village chasing a terrorist, how many of the relatives of the dead or injured villagers do you think are going to congratulate us on a job well done? Far more likely, they will hate us and support further terrorism against us.

This is not a war with fronts and battle lines with soldiers lined up shooting at each other. This is a war where all those things we thought only happened to other people can happen to us, are happening to us. That is the lesson. We are all other people in the eyes of other people, if you see “us” as humanity, it was never happening to others, it has always been happening to us, we are doing it to ourselves. When we turn away refugees because they happen to be of the same religion professed by terrorists, we have have lost sight of that which makes us different from the terrorists.

I’m not saying I don’t want terrorists eliminated. As far as I am concerned they have violated their contract with humanity and invoked the most prejudicial Golden Rule, but killing innocent people has never won anyone any friends. This is a war of intelligence, and although as a former member of the intelligence community I made jokes about the oxymoron of military intelligence I can say in all seriousness we are woefully unarmed as a species. A terrorist is far less likely to spend two years being processed as a refugee in order to enter America than he would be to simply walk across the border with the other illegal immigrants.

If you are not familiar with the term “Daesh” please become so. It is a pejorative term in Arabic for those terrorists who no one can agree on a name for. IS, ISIL, ISIS, Those bloodthirsty motherfuckers, whatever, they don’t like Daesh. Kind of like when Bush 41 referred to Saddam Hussien as “Saddem” a word meaning “shoe shine boy.” This is one of your weapons, perhaps your only weapon, the ability to deny the terrorists access to your terror. Very much as when dealing with animals, show no fear. You should certainly take prudent precautions, but should the feces strike the oscillating rotary device, laugh in their faces.

 

Remember that stuff about turning the other cheek? Which part did you think was negotiable? Here is your biblical lesson for today. The punishment for any transgression was once death. There was no measure, only one response to bad behavior. God spoke to Moses, providing the concept of measure; an eye for an eye, then Jesus brought us to the next level, teaching that our Earthly existence was of little importance. As a species we are not moving in the right direction, death for any transgression seems to be returning to popularity, when we should be ready to move to a level beyond turning the other cheek. Look into your soul, are you prepared to evolve towards Homo Sapiens Supra, or are you among those left behind, as Homo Sapiens Sapiens left Homo sapiens neanderthalensis behind?

I do not make these statements based only on Daesh and the responses to their war on everyone. You had to realize they were just plain old crazy when even Al Qaeda rejected them as “too extreme,” they are not representative of any religion, or any thought process for that matter. Extreme is becoming normal, tolerance is increasingly vilified as weak or even subversive. Tolerance is not the goal of extremists, obliteration of opposing viewpoints is their goal. Turn that around as well, those who seek to obliterate opposing points of view are terrorists. This applies not only to Daesh and Al Qaeda, it applies to anyone who seeks to silence (and at its most severe, destroy) anyone in disagreement.

In the same sense all Muslims are not terrorists, all white people are not racists, and all racists are not white. You might think after a century and a half of racial awareness in America we would make some progress. We did, now we have slid back down from the mountaintop. “Students,” more appropriately “professional activists,” have started a wave of protests at universities across America, using the arguments of their grandparents against the reality their grandparents forged. Demanding, among other things, a return to segregation, a group of privileged students calling themselves the “Black Justice League” occupied offices at Princeton University. “Jim Crow” is invoked in some twisted argument for a “blacks only” space. In the Twilight Zone episode in my mind, these children are slapped into unconsciousness by their grandparents over Thanksgiving dinner, and wake up to face actual racism, so they might understand the words they are using.

We have seen tolerance and sensitivity turned upside down. Rather than seeking knowledge, the “prize” today appears to be offense. Free Yoga classes for disabled students have ended due to complaints of “cultural appropriation.”  Following this line of reasoning, it would be inappropriate to learn a language other than that of your nation of birth, listening to music from other cultures would be banned. How do these practices bring us together as a species?

They do not. They splinter us, until we are seven billion distinct cultures, churches of self, paranoid of the knowledge other churches even exist. A recent Pew Research poll found forty percent of Millennials support censorship under certain circumstances (no one seems to be in favor of censoring themselves, regardless of how offensive I might find them). Suppressing the expression of unpopular ideas does not make them go away, and as Larry Flynt said, “Freedom of speech doesn’t protect speech you like, it protects speech you don’t like.” More golden rule stuff here, give my thoughts the respect you seek for your own, you don’t need to agree or even listen, but allow my words to exist if you expect me to allow yours to exist.

The United States of America is an idea. An idea forged from the oppression of our founders. The rights specified in our constitution were not theories, they are rights which had been denied. Denying those rights today is anti-American and unpatriotic, regardless of the number of flags on your pick up truck. I don’t care if we lead the world or if we just follow along, but if we continue to move backwards, against our principles, we deserve to be left behind with the terrorists by people more civilized than us.

Hearts and Minds

I am not your typical Christian, if there is such a creature. I’ve read the Bible a few times, the New Testament several, from which I believe I understand what God expects of me.

There are some parts which may be more significant than others, I shed tears when I get to Acts 5:30 “30 The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree.

Jesus’ words are the most important part, and his most profound and simple message is expressed in “The Sermon on the Mount,” recounted in the various gospels, of which I prefer the writing of Matthew. In Matthew’s fifth chapter, verse 17, Jesus says “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them (emphasis mine).” He makes several examples of a “that was then, this is now” nature, culminating with my favorite verses; “43 Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;45 That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.46 For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?47 And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?48 Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” Matthew finishes with Jesus’ final instructions in his 28th cahpter “19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”

This is the call to proselytize, the foundation of mission work. Note that Jesus told the disciples to “teach,” not belittle the beliefs held by others, or torture them into submission. One definition of “proselytize” is “to advocate or promote (a belief or course of action).

Obviously, some people misunderstand Jesus’ gentle ways, missing the message of Matthew 10:14 “And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet.

You can capture hearts with love, and minds with knowledge, but when you simply attack someone’s beliefs you should expect them to be defensive. If in your attack you misrepresent their beliefs, it’s time to go home. You lose. Think how you would respond to the same behavior. Offer the truth, and if you are turned away, turn away.

Presently the Muslim culture has been hijacked by terrorists, who distort their religion to justify acts of hatred and violence. So far the terrorists have been successful in convincing the Western world they represent Islam, routinely murdering any Muslims who dared to disagree. This is the forced conversion, from Islam to Al Qaeda, that results in resentment, and the eventual overthrow from within. Eventual.

Fearing the terrorists’ and their brand of Islam, Christian missions in the Arab word have flourished. This is not in response to Jesus’ call to teach, but true “Islamophobia.” Islam is not the problem, terrorism is. The two are different. Proselytizing as a political weapon is not what Jesus had in mind.

Recently I came across an article claiming pedophilia is a cornerstone of Islam. No, not any more than it is a cornerstone of Christianity. There are events in the Quran that could be called child molestation if they happened today, fortunately the Old Testament doesn’t mention ages in all that “begetting.”

Luke gives the most details about Jesus’ mother (Mary), from which it has been calculated she was 14 at the time of Jesus’ birth, and may have married Joseph at age 12. Judged in the same light as Islam, Christianity would include a cornerstone of child molestation.

We simply cannot judge a civilization of two thousand years ago by the standards of today. Are there Muslim pedophiles? No doubt in direct proportion to the number of Christian pedophiles. Oh, you’ve been in the same cave with the Pope? Pedophilia has more to do with power than sex. It is not an “American” problem, it is a “Human” problem.

When our missionaries attempt to convert Muslims by spreading lies about their religion, they are no different than the terrorists. Hearts and Minds follow attractive examples, Jesus (to me) is the best example of how to live. His message appeals to one third of the world’s population, he didn’t touch that many souls by lying to them.

Spreading lies and distortions are hate mongering. Anyone doing so in the name of any religion has missed the teachings of their religion. I’m pretty sure God doesn’t like that, and there is no avoiding his judgement. Our lives in this world are finite, choosing to live those lives opposed to God has consequences that last for eternity.

 

 

 

 

 

Not One More

This one is a little tough to write. I’ve given a great amount of thought to whether or not I should even publish these thoughts, as of late I have seen such polarized thinking I have considered giving up any hopes of changing minds altogether.

You are doubtless aware of the killings in Isla Vista, a student community of Santa Barbara California. An incredibly disturbed young man stabbed his two roommates and a visitor to death,  then he drove to a sorority house (which refused to allow him entry) where a few women who had refused his advances lived. Stopped by a locked door, he shot three women across the street, killing two. He then drove to a convenience store, firing multiple rounds inside the store, striking one man multiple times lethally. Sheriffs showed up at the store and the young man fled before they could determine he was the actor. He drove about on the wrong side of the road, running down bicyclists and pedestrians,  firing at and missing at least three people before encountering a sheriff with whom he exchanged fire. He then ran down a bicyclist, and fired into a crowd injuring three people. He shot one more person before a group of sheriffs caught up with him. They fired several shots into his vehicle as he sped off. He struck one more bicyclist before crashing into some parked vehicles. When the sheriffs removed him from his car he was dead of an apparent self inflicted wound.

That is what happened. Six dead, thirteen injured. Half of the dead killed by stab wounds, some of the injured assaulted with a motor vehicle. Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown summed it up at a news conference hours after the incident “I think the problem with an incident like this is it is obviously the work of a madman.”

Comments from those who knew the killer ranged from “It wasn’t a surprise, I wish I could have done something to stop it,” to “There was nothing I could have done, he was a troubled kid.” His parents were devastated, joining with the families of the victims in their grief. While they had been quite aware of his issues, they were unaware of the depth of his illness. Authorities had seen “warning signs,” but he failed to meet the criteria for involuntary institutionalization.

Why do I speak of this subject on a Sunday?

You are likely aware of the story of Cain and Abel, children of Adam and Eve. A jealous Cain kills Abel, and when asked where Abel was by God in Genesis 4:9 Cain replies “I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper?

Cain was punished, exiled to the land of Nod, but he was not killed, in fact God protected him saying in Genesis 4:15  “Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” Cain went on with his wife and procreated, founding the village of Enoch.

We are our brother’s keeper. It is natural for a parent to fail to see the sociopath child, I suspect every heinous villain in history has had his mother say “boys will be boys” about aggressive behavior. The rest of us do not have the excuse of parental ignorance. There is something we can do, and saying “I wish I could have done something” is perhaps the most pathetic of all statements. This young man was not an insane Norse warrior killing everything in his path. He was stopped by a locked door. He ran from confrontation. All that was required, all that was ever required, was for someone to stand up to him.

One victim’s father has made an effort to assign blame and responsibility. I understand his grief, and make allowances for his judgement. Elliot Rodger was a severely disturbed young man, multiple psychiatrists have stated so, everyone who had contact with him, even his parents, concur. The NRA and/or “greedy politicians” were not responsible for this young man’s actions, they did not place the knives, guns, and car keys in his hands. Sending postcards saying “Not One More” has not stopped the several hundred homicides that have taken place in the intervening month. Expecting “someone else” to solve the problem will only result in more victims.

“There was nothing I could’ve done,” the neighbor said. “Maybe I could’ve postponed it, but he was a troubled kid.” – See more at: http://thebottomline.as.ucsb.edu/2014/05/isla-vista-mass-murder-claims-lives-of-6-ucsb-students-13-injured#sthash.40rlGjCt.dpuf
I think the problem with an incident like this is it’s obviously the work of a madman.” – See more at: http://thebottomline.as.ucsb.edu/2014/05/isla-vista-mass-murder-claims-lives-of-6-ucsb-students-13-injured#sthash.40rlGjCt.dpufI think the problem with an incident like this is it is obviously the work of a madman.”
Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown at a late-night press conference a few hours after the incident. “But I think the problem with an incident like this is it’s obviously the work of a madman.” – See more at: http://thebottomline.as.ucsb.edu/2014/05/isla-vista-mass-murder-claims-lives-of-6-ucsb-students-13-injured#sthash.40rlGjCt.dpuf
Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown at a late-night press conference a few hours after the incident. “But I think the problem with an incident like this is it’s obviously the work of a madman.” – See more at: http://thebottomline.as.ucsb.edu/2014/05/isla-vista-mass-murder-claims-lives-of-6-ucsb-students-13-injured#sthash.40rlGjCt.dpuf
Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown at a late-night press conference a few hours after the incident. “But I think the problem with an incident like this is it’s obviously the work of a madman.” – See more at: http://thebottomline.as.ucsb.edu/2014/05/isla-vista-mass-murder-claims-lives-of-6-ucsb-students-13-injured#sthash.40rlGjCt.dpuf
Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown at a late-night press conference a few hours after the incident. “But I think the problem with an incident like this is it’s obviously the work of a madman.” – See more at: http://thebottomline.as.ucsb.edu/2014/05/isla-vista-mass-murder-claims-lives-of-6-ucsb-students-13-injured#sthash.40rlGjCt.dpuf

Jesus repeatedly told us to love one another. He did not say “hope things work out” or “wish for the best” or “wait for someone to do something.” He called us to action, the simplest action, the easiest action. Love. Love can be defined in many ways, but what is more simple than helping the injured soul? Action for young Elliot would have prevented his suffering, the suffering of his victims, and the suffering of his victims’ families. It was obviously not an easy choice, his parents could not bring themselves to it, the authorities required a more clear and present danger, but everyone knew he needed help. No one felt they were his keeper. For some reason it is more appealing to chase the evil giants than to deal with issues on a personal level. One approach works, the other never will.

Elliot Rodger was our brother. George Chen, Cheng Yuan “James” Hong, Christopher Ross Michaels-Martinez, and Weihan “David” Wang, were our brothers, Katherine Breann Cooper and Veronika Elizabeth Weiss were our sisters. The thirteen injured physically, and the thousands injured emotionally are our brothers and sisters. By failing Elliot, we failed all of them.

All it takes is a word or two, and enough love to intervene.

 

 

Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown at a late-night press conference a few hours after the incident. “But I think the problem with an incident like this is it’s obviously the work of a madman.” – See more at: http://thebottomline.as.ucsb.edu/2014/05/isla-vista-mass-murder-claims-lives-of-6-ucsb-students-13-injured#sthash.40rlGjCt.dpuf

A difference of opinion

 

The Ichthys is a symbol in Christianity, from the Koine Greek word for fish, based on Matthew 4:18-19:

18 And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers.19 And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.

During the time of persecution by the Roman Empire, the Ichthys was a symbol used to mark meeting places, and even as a “salute”, to covertly distinguish friends from persecutors. If you recall the television program “The Prisoner,” you might recognize the symbol.

The Ichthys salutation

The Ichthys salutation modified to mean “I’ll be seeing you”

 

In the last few decades, the symbol has been re-popularized, initially as a bumper sticker or medallion quietly acknowledging Christianity. Not willing to let a private expression of faith go without an argument, several groups decided to mock the Ichthys, creating their own variants.

 

Evolution of the Ichthys

Evolution of the Ichthys

If you know so little about both Christianity and evolution you believe the two are in conflict with each other, you might find some of the more aggressive variants (none of which are shown here) as expressing something you consider to be “truth.” The truth is, by displaying a “Darwin Fish” you have expressed your general ignorance and arrogance. Christ had nothing to do with creation. That was his father, God, who gave the people sixteen centuries before Christ a story of the creation of Earth they could understand. There is no rational reason to believe that the creation story in Genesis reflects the actual or complete mechanics of the creation of the universe, but it does follow the path that scientists believe took place. Some people might feel that lends some veracity to the story. Other would prefer to pick apart the story for what is left out. If you think Genesis is a science book, you missed the point, regardless of your religious beliefs.

In a recent conversation about arrogance, one contributor displayed both his arrogance and ignorance as he attempted to preserve his point of view with something that no doubt sounded wise and noble to him by saying “it should also be noted that respecting someone’s right to have a belief in something is a given. But it in no way means that the belief itself, especially one that is considered to be the cause of much damage and suffering, should be respected. Indeed, it becomes one’s duty to hold it up for ridicule and scorn.”

I can respect someone I don’t agree with, but when you feel it is your duty to ridicule and scorn someone’s beliefs, you are not in any way respecting the person, their right to have the belief, or the belief. Trying to sugar coat your arrogance only makes you appear more arrogant, as if the foolish Christian can not see through your self deceit. Very little elicits more pity than a fool who genuinely believes he is wise.

If you choose not to believe the Judea-Christian beliefs, so be it. You are not alone, roughly two thirds of he world’s population is neither Jewish or Christian. However, very few people actually believe there is no God. If you wish to express the superiority of your views that no God exists, even claiming them to be backed by science, you might want to consider the meaning of both “Atheism” and “science.” To say you believe there is no deity, none at all, because you have no empirical evidence of its existence, indicates faith. You believe in something you can not prove. Were you to have any understanding of science you would know that the absence of empirical evidence of something does not imply the actual absence of that thing’s existence. There is no empirical evidence of the existence of electrons, yet we are all certain they exist. Intellectual honesty would require a thoughtful person who does not believe in a deity to accept the possibility that a deity might exist. Such an intellectually honest person would call themselves an Agnostic.

If you call yourself a Christian, there are rational discussions to be had about your beliefs, such as “why you think you are in a position to judge other people.” If you call yourself a Muslim there are rational discussions to be had, such as “why do you believe you should kill people who do not share your faith.” If you call yourself an Atheist there are rational discussion to be had, such as”Why do you have faith in something that can not be proven (there is no God) yet feel you can judge others who have faith in something that can not be proven (there is a God).”

We all have differences of opinion, and if we are secure in our opinions can discuss them without insulting other people’s opinions. People who feel they can simply shout down any opinion that is contrary to theirs lack security in their beliefs, whether they be the Westboro Baptist Church, the Taliban, or Atheists. They are all equally annoying to those of us who have explored our spirituality and can express our beliefs rationally.

Secure in our beliefs, most of us can take a joke. I might even put this medallion on my car.

car-emblem-sticker-fish-n-and-chips-darwin-fish_350314693843

 

 

The devil in the details

During a conversation about religions, one person said “the differences are only very small details.” That is often very true, and some details are insignificant in the big picture. Some are not. We are, as members of related denominations, more alike than different, but there are reasons behind some of the differences. This is where the deceptions occur which are used to attack faith.

I have a friend, I’ll call him “Mark”, who is agnostic. He was raised in a religious family, but when he had questions he received unsatisfactory answers. He paid attention in church, but found the information confusing, even contradictory. Given only bits and pieces of scripture reinforced his impression the Bible was self contradicting. So he gave up, still believing in the existence of a creator, but unwilling to believe a book full of contradictions.

The Bible is not the story of the events of a weekend. It is the history covering several thousand years. As history develops, ways of explaining and interpreting it change, the very language in which it is recorded changes. Over the course of a decade, Mark repeated several times the Bible was self contradicting, yet at no point could he produce any contradictions. I believe he perceived them, he just couldn’t pin them down.

Another friend recently said “very little in the Bible is concrete.” As evidence he offered “Depending on the religion, there are several different organizations of what the 10 commandments consist of.” This is remarkably similar to Mark’s point of view. In fact, the differences in “The ten commandments” are based on the way they are presented. In the twentieth chapter of Exodus, Moses receives the stone tablets, which no longer exist. The commandments are not numbered, or separated five per tablet, in fact one interpretation is they were two copies of the commandments, one on each tablet, as is common in legal contracts. The way in which the they are presented is narrative, so various denominations have punctuated them differently, all coming out with ten commandments, although the number and contents of each individual commandment does not always remain the same. Then in the fifth chapter of Deuteronomy Moses retells the story to a younger generation. There are differences in the phrasing, but the essential commandments remain the same. But this is only the beginning.

The choice of a Sabbath is based on theology. At the time the commandments were given, they were given to the Jews, who honor the Sabbath as the seventh day, based on creation as recorded in Genesis. Christians began to celebrate the first day, “the Lord’s day,” as the Sabbath in the second century, as Christianity became independent of Judaism.

Various translations differ on “Thou shall not kill.” The Hebrew words “לא תרצח (lo tirtzach)” are alternately translated as “Thou shall not kill” and “Thou shall not murder”. There are many examples of accepted killing and self defense in the Bible, it seems clear the commandment addresses unjustified killing, but there remain people who choose to see this as a contradiction.

This one came up in my research and presents the reason I keep looking deeper. German Theologian Albrect Alt has suggested “Thou shall not steal” was originally intended against stealing people, as in kidnapping or slavery. The Talmudic interpretation is “Thou shall not kidnap.”

In what is part of the first or second commandment (depending on your numbering) “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them” has been stretched to extremes. The Catholic Church claims that images and statues representing holy figures are not worshiped. Protestants claim that images of Jesus are of the man and not of the Son of God, and Protestant crucifixes are bare of Christ’s form. Jews won’t even spell the word “God”, and Muslims have elevated the prophet Mohammed to a Godlike state in that any representation of him is viewed as veneration.

In the 3500 years that have passed since the time of Moses, tens of billions of people have considered the words of the Bible, people who have spoken thousands of languages. The words are far less important than the message, and that message continues to be shared. There will be those who choose to see contradictions, or manipulate interpretations to fit their desires.

If I say I am averse to lying, and acknowledge I have lied in my life, does that represent a contradiction? Does it suggest everything I say is a lie, or that I have struggled with the circumstances of life and regret my transgressions? There are many ways to interpret words, and much of what we believe comes from within. When it come to eternity, it makes sense to carefully examine the totality of a belief system, rather than discarding everything based on differences in punctuation.

Easter Sunday

easteregg5

The birth of the Easter Bunny

On the odd chance you are from some far away, heathen culture, say England perhaps, I’ll be sharing the story of Easter today.

Matthew tells the story like this, in his twenty eight chapter:

 “In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre.And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it.His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow:And for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men.And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified.He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead; and, behold, he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him: lo, I have told you.And they departed quickly from the sepulchre with fear and great joy; and did run to bring his disciples word.And as they went to tell his disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, All hail. And they came and held him by the feet, and worshipped him.10 Then said Jesus unto them, Be not afraid: go tell my brethren that they go into Galilee, and there shall they see me.11 Now when they were going, behold, some of the watch came into the city, and shewed unto the chief priests all the things that were done.12 And when they were assembled with the elders, and had taken counsel, they gave large money unto the soldiers,13 Saying, Say ye, His disciples came by night, and stole him away while we slept.14 And if this come to the governor’s ears, we will persuade him, and secure you.15 So they took the money, and did as they were taught: and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day.16 Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them.17 And when they saw him, they worshipped him: but some doubted.18 And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.
If you are just coming in to the story, in the previous chapter Jesus had been put to death, and sealed in the sepulchre, so finding him walking down to Galilee was rather amazing. The “other Mary” is Jesus’ mother. There are no eggs or hares in the story (or bells, which is a European version of the egg story, in which bells fly from Rome to deliver Easter eggs).
Easter Bells

Easter Bells

This is the story as told in the Bible. A recent survey of English schoolchildren found over one in four (25%) believe Aesop’s Tortoise and Hare are featured in the story. That’s pretty good, because over four in ten English schoolchildren (40%) are not Christian, which means more than  one in three non-Christians (13% 0f the total children, assuming that 100% of the Christians got the question right) are aware Aesop didn’t write the Bible. How much do you know about other religions? If you are a Christian, were you aware that Jesus’ mother was so unimportant after giving birth to him she is referred to only as “the other Mary”? How much of your own religion do you believe only because you have heard about it?
Easter is the most celebrated of Christian holidays, in that more Christians recognize the holy significance of their savior rising from the dead than his birth. Consider that. Easter is a celebration of life, life following death. Eggs represent life, so they have become intertwined with this holiday. A final parable if you will.
The product of a mixed marriage, rabbits and bells

The product of a mixed marriage, rabbits and bells

If you search the internet for “Easter”, the first page of results is unlikely to refer to the Bible at all. You will find references to favorite candies and how many calories they contain, egg hunts, and I came across one story about PETA protesting the use of eggs at the White House. A lot of stories, but somehow the guy who came back from the dead didn’t make the news.
Toady is Easter Sunday, the day we celebrate Life in the message from a man who died and returned. Perhaps we can honor his last wish, one so important he crossed the void to deliver it in person, “observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” Observe (in the sense of “analyze” and “discover”) your religion, read your holy book. Maybe you will find the things you took issue with are not even in there. Maybe you will find new reasons to follow more closely.In the spirit of Christ rising from the grave, bring your faith back to life today.

Blessings

The fifth chapter of Matthew begins with “The Blessings”, or “Beatitudes”.

“And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him:

And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying,

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.

Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.

10 Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.

12 Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.”

 

We are blessed as we develop our relationship with God. It is not easy, and as I often say “If it was easy everyone would do it”. The path is available to everyone, and in these scriptures Jesus offers the reassurance of his understanding. He does not say “Follow me and all will be well”, but rather “You will be persecuted and hated, it has always been that way, at the end of the journey is peace.”

I know enough about trends and statistics to understand our current path may not be an indicator of calamity. It appeared we were improving, treating each other with greater respect, allowing that we are all equal under the skin, yet in the last twenty or so years evil has taken a lead again, driving the course of human behavior away from civility. This is not the end of the struggle. We may turn things around, there will be ups and downs on the graph of humanity. Satan is often referred to as “the deceiver”, it leads you to believe you have lost and might as well give up.

A few weeks ago in Southwest Philadelphia, at Bartram High School, a school with a terrible history of violence, a conflict resolution specialist who had been assigned to the school to reduce violence was knocked unconscious by a student. Alphonso Stevenson is still receiving medical treatment for multiple skull fractures, and the young man who attacked him is still roaming the halls of Bartram High (despite having been expelled). The school did not close, the conflict resolution specialists did not throw their hands in the air and give up (although the last principal quit after two weeks).

The struggle does not end next week, or next year, or even next century. The struggle is eternal. Some days we win a little, some days we lose a little, and when our part on Earth is done we will be judged. Did we hunger and thirst for righteousness? Were we merciful? Were we pure of heart? Words will be meaningless, God sees all, it sees our actions, and it sees our hearts. We might fool everyone, including ourselves, but God will know the truth.

Knowing not when I will stand spirit to spirit before God, I do my best to be a peacemaker, because I know the warrior within is searching for a way to get out. There is a lot of bad to make up for, so I keep trying to tip the balance. The reward is not Earthbound, there is no sense in seeking applause for our efforts.

My choice of music today acknowledges the tight rope many of us walk.

 

 

The Bible

When you hear “The Bible”, what comes to mind? A big book with a jewel encrusted gold cover that is open on the table on an alter with a man wearing robes and speaking in Latin? The 5 X 7 book with a worn leather cover your grandfather carries to church each week? That pristine dust cover on your bookshelf with a binding that has never been stressed?

Regardless of your beliefs, the idea included Christianity. The Christian Bible holds an unregistered trademark on the title, although the word is derived from the Greek “biblion” which translates to “scroll” or “paper”. By the second century Jewish groups had stared calling “Bible” books “holy”, and as Christianity grew and overwhelmed its Jewish roots “The Holy Bible” came to mean the sixty six books of the Protestant Christan Bible, broken into two sections named “The old testament” and “The new testament”. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church’s bible consists of eighty-one books.

The Old Testament contains, at minimum, the twenty-four books of the Hebrew Bible divided into thirty-nine books and ordered differently from the Hebrew Bible, and the Catholic Church and Eastern Christian churches also hold certain deuterocanonical books and passages to be part of the Old Testament. The New Testament, contains twenty-seven books, the four Canonical gospels, Acts of the Apostles, twenty-one Epistles or letters, and the Book of Revelation.

Christians include the Hebrew Bible within the Old Testament, it is the history leading to the New Testament, not the core beliefs of Christianity.

As the Bible spread throughout the world, it was translated into all the languages of mankind, and with the passage of time re-translated as those languages changed. For better or worse, these translations are referred to as “versions”, as the differences in translation can be seen as a difference in interpretation. For believers in Christianity, it is taken that translators have been divinely inspired, so that the meaning remains as intended. This is not always true, versions have been written to fit the interpretations of the translator, most notably “The New World Translation” (NWT) written by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, which varies from the commonly accepted meanings and omits and replaces so much information that it is not accepted as a valid translation by most biblical scholars.

In the Book of Revelation, near the very end, chapter 22 verses 18 and 19, it is said “18 For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book:19 And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book”.

I own two Bibles, the Revised Standard Version, given to me on my eighth Christmas, and my grandfather’s King James Version (complete with his margin notes and bookmarks). In writing articles for these blog entries I use BibleGateway.com, which has more than one hundred and eighty versions in over seventy languages for cross referencing scripture, when I quote or link to scripture I always use the King James Version (KJV) for consistency.

With all these resources available, two things about mankind’s relationship with the Bible irk me on a nearly daily basis. The first is non-believers misquoting and mis-interpreting scripture. Often I can easily forgive ignorance of a subject, but if you have chosen not to believe, at least know what it is you don’t believe in. The second is believers misquoting and mis-interpreting scripture. If you have chosen to believe, shouldn’t you know what you believe in? As Fred Phelps is discovering this week, spreading your own variant of God’s word is not spreading God’s word.

I’ve said it thousands of times, and will certainly say it thousands more, it is not a difficult book to read. It is shorter than some Stephen King novels, and there is a version written in a language you will understand. That’s what “divinely inspired” means to me, God wants you to read his word and is doing everything possible to make it accessible. “The Word on the street” version translates Genesis 1:1-3 “First off, nothing. No light, no time, no substance, no matter. Second off, God starts it all up and WHAP! Stuff everywhere! The cosmos in chaos: no shape, no form, no function– just darkness … total. And floating above it all, God’s Holy Spirit, ready to play. Day one: Then God’s voice booms out, ‘Lights!’ and, from nowhere, light floods the skies and ‘night’ is swept off the scene”.

It’s easy.

Redemption

Redemption is a very appealing concept to most people, it infers rising above one’s current state, acceptance despite failure. Recognizing the difficulty most humans have with forgiving each other, Luke relates three parables about redemption, focusing on the joy of the redeemer rather than the redeemed. I believe this is an attempt to say “You might not quite understand this, but God still loves you”.

The first parable, “The parable of the lost sheep”, appears in both Luke and Matthew.  In this parable, a shepherd with one hundred sheep loses one,  and leaves the other ninety nine while he searches for the missing sheep. When he finds it he is filled with joy.

In case one might think there was something special about that individual sheep, Luke follows with the parable of the lost coin,  in which the subject sheep are replaced with coins, ten pieces of silver, of which one is lost.

Luke completes the series with the most popular parable, “The prodigal son“, possibly because it is more complete in its explanation, and possibly because while many of us might not own one hundred sheep or even ten pieces of silver, we can all understand the concept of a stray child.

“Prodigal” does not refer “Prodigy”, its meaning translates to “wasteful” in modern English. The prodigal son is the younger of two, and requests his inheritance while his father is still alive. In a world in which actions had deeper meanings, asking your parent to just go ahead and give you your inheritance is similar to saying “You’re dead to me”. Back when words had deeper meanings, that was as severe an insult as you might hear.

The elder son stayed with the father and family, working the land, and the younger son took his inheritance to a foreign land, where he wasted his money on “riotous” living.  Some translations mention prostitutes. After he had spent all he had, the land fell on hard times and famine, keeping in mind this is a parable, it is possible to translate this to mean the younger son himself was the source of “wealth” in his self imposed exile.  The young son found himself working as a swineherd (remembering the Jewish aversion to pork, this is an incredibly low position) and envying the pigs their food. He decides to return home and repent to his father, asking only that he be allowed to work for him, because his father’s servants had never gone hungry. But his father saw him approaching.

The father ran to him, embraced him, and clothed him in a fine robe and sandals, and called for a feast to celebrate his son’s return, killing the fatted calf for the feast. And here, the most important verse.

24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found”.

Take this point. When the son requested his inheritance, not only had he removed his father’s presence from his life, he had ended his own life in his father’s eyes. This was not an issue of the father’s anger, but of the grace the father displayed by letting the son go.

The older son wasn’t quite as understanding, and upon returning from the fields refused to enter the feast, so that his father had to invite him in, and the son was still reluctant to enter, “29 And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends:30 But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf”.

Humorous aside. While checking various translations, one read “You never gave me a goat to party with friends”. Just places a strange image in the mind.

The father responds to the elder son that he (the son) is always with him (the father), and all the father has is the son’s, going on to reprise “32 It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found”.

The idea that the “righteous” might be jealous of those that strayed and returned is also reflected in Matthew, chapter 20, verses 1-16, in which a man promises to pay workers to harvest grapes, and as the day passes he hires more workers, offering higher wages. At the end of the day those that had worked the longest received the least, and those workers who had worked all day complained, but the man responded “did I not pay you what I promised?”.

Heaven is all the reward waiting. There are no first class suites, no steerage compartments, and our father is happy to bring us on board anytime before the boat sails. None of us are more valuable to him than any other, our works are either good or they are not, we either enter heaven, or we do not. “Purgatory” is not a Christian concept, and seeing that the idea predates Christ its absence from the New Testament is telling.

Life is purgatory. Be the best you are capable of, your time here is fleeting and without schedule.

 

 

 

 

Responsibilities

By and large, humans shun responsibility. Responsibility infers blame, and although positive and negative events are fairly evenly distributed, the fear of being held responsible for a negative event overrides the desire to be recognized for positive ones.

From Luke, chapter 10 verses 30-37, “30 Then Jesus answered and said: A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side. 33 But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 On the next day, when he departed,[a] he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.’ 36 So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?37 And he said, “He who showed mercy on him.”Then Jesus said to him, Go and do likewise.

Since 1959, every state in America has adopted some form of “good Samaritan” statute, protecting those that provide aid from being held liable for injuries sustained, but the laws vary by jurisdiction and are often so ambiguous that neither the injured or more importantly the person capable of providing aid do not understand what protections exist. In other countries, the law reaches further, with Germany going so far as to criminalize non-action, and indemnifying the person providing aid even if their actions made matters worse.

Why do we need laws to tell us to show mercy to our neighbors? Because we have a problem with responsibility. In this precise case, it had become so common for the injured to bring suit against their rescuers those that could provide assistance learned to stay away. This would suggest that anecdotes of rescuers being sued for “damages” are not rare but in fact normal.

We are reminded of a higher responsibility in II Corinthians chapter 5, verse 1o “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad”.

Personally, I believe this is the root of atheism. The desire to avoid responsibility for our actions in life. A fear that our choices have not been worthy of redemption, and we in turn may be judged to be lacking.

One who knows God may be confident in his actions. One who does not know God lives in fear, because he does not only not understand which actions will be judged as bad, he also does not know which actions will not be judged as bad, and because he does not understand the mercy and love that is God, he cannot understand which actions will be forgiven.

In believing in God, one also believes in Satan, and when one knows (that which can be known about) God, one also knows Satan. The only strength Satan possesses is to deceive, to mislead. So he spreads untruths about God, allowing fear to rise from ignorance.

In today’s parable, we see the priest and the Levite as doctors and laypeople afraid to provide assistance out of fear of Earthly consequences, and the Samaritan as a Godly person who realizes the only consequences that are important occur beyond this world.

This concept is universal, it applies not only to the physically wounded but also the emotionally wounded, and certainly the spiritually wounded.

Be nice. Let it flow through you. It’s contagious.

 

Carrying on

We all have bad days. Sometimes several. The measure of our faith is how we handle them.

Right now I’m tired. Fatigued. Weary.

I try to look beyond the present. I try to look beyond my immediate position in the physical world. I’ve been here before, things get better, things get worse, the physical world is finite but my soul is not.

I reflect upon 2 Corinthians, chapter 4,“15 For all things are for your sakes, that the abundant grace might through the thanksgiving of many redound to the glory of God.16 For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.17 For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory;18 While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.”

My outward man is worn, leaning upon my inner man to get through the day. It is comforting to have such refuge, and it is very tempting to permanently retreat to this refuge. But it’s way too quiet in there.

So if I am a little slow at times, consider that I am resting. I spend a great deal of time in research, both searching and digesting information, and measuring public responses through various social media outlets. Most days, it is like standing in the rain, some days it can be like standing naked in a sand storm.

Sometimes a quiet voice says more than thunder. I need to work on my quiet voice today. So I’ll be experimenting with a new tamale recipe, creating a balance of flavors and textures that I hope will be appealing and satisfying for my guests this evening.

 

Priorities

Setting priorities requires understanding. Understanding not only the issues being prioritized, but the effect those priorities have.

We often refer to Mark, chapter 12 verses 41 to 44 when it comes to being charitable, “41 And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much 42 And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing.43 And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury:44 For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.

This is often interpreted as illustrating the depth of commitment of a poor widow who gives all she has in contrast to wealthy people giving what is easily afforded. It is not. Read further.

The next chapter (13) begins “And as he went out of the temple, one of his disciples saith unto him, Master, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here!And Jesus answering said unto him, Seest thou these great buildings? there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.And as he sat upon the mount of Olives over against the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately,Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign when all these things shall be fulfilled?And Jesus answering them began to say, Take heed lest any man deceive you:For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.And when ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars, be ye not troubled: for such things must needs be; but the end shall not be yet.For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be earthquakes in divers places, and there shall be famines and troubles: these are the beginnings of sorrows

In this context, you can see that the widow and the wealthy had given to build a great temple, but it was a false temple. She had given all she had to scribes building great temples, when Christ, who had for her eternal life, stood only steps away, ignored.

As we make choices in life, it is our best qualities that move us to give of ourselves. We should not be blind to what it is we are giving to, and what giving denies to the the issues we have not prioritized. More importantly, we need to be selfish enough to give of ourselves to that which will benefit us. To do that, we need to understand what will actually benefit us.

Predeterminism

I’ve never quite understood how people can believe in predeterminism, that all events are inevitable and unchangeable. I can see it growing from the disappointment surrounding the discovery there are things we cannot change, but it feels like a surrender.

I recognize that the sun will rise in the East each morning, and should I release my coffee cup it will fall to the floor, but I believe releasing my coffee cup is a choice. I believe when God created the universe, and said “Bang!”, there was light, and God knew what would happen next in the same sense I know my banana bread will be ready in an hour when I place it in a 375°F oven.

Continuing the baking analogy, creation was proofing the yeast, the great flood was punching the dough, Christ was placing the loaf in the oven, Revelations represents the finished bread. Does God know there will be bread at the end of the process? Of course. Does God know where on the bread a remaining bubble in the dough will cause a brown spot on the crust? No, but he does know there will be brown spots.

In physics we know certain things about the behavior of subatomic particles. We know they behave within certain limits in a scale of probability. Is it possible that every molecule of oxygen will congregate in a one meter cube in the corner? Yes, it is. Brownian motion is random, so any outcome is possible. If we were to measure the area involved once per second over the course of five billion years, we might never see it happen, because although it is possible, it is highly improbable.

If every event in the universe is predetermined, if we are part of some grand, rigid machine, how would we know? Every conversation, every thought, every attempt at action we make and its result would be predetermined. That we would ask, consider, and discuss the issue would be predetermined. If it is predetermined that I will win the lottery, it must also be predetermined that I will purchase the winning ticket.

Belief in determinism or predeterminism is rooted in faith, there is no real proof for either side.

In my life, I have acknowledged my inability to control the universe. Disease comes along randomly, sometimes it can be treated, sometimes it can be cured, sometimes not. If the course of a disease is predetermined, is not that determination based on attempts to treat it? If my destiny was set at the instant of creation, isn’t a part of that destiny my struggles to alter my path? If I decide that I am a pawn to predetermination, that decision in itself would be predetermined.

Trying to see the universe through the measure of a life that at best spans a century is foolish. In the ninth verse of Second Peter, it is said “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance”.

 

God is waiting. He has forever. You don’t.

Morals

Morals are typically defined as rules or habits of conduct, with reference to standards of right and wrong. “Having” morals means possessing a set of rules or habits which have been developed based on standards of right and wrong.

“Right” is defined as that which is morally correct, just, or honorable.

You can see the circle in logic, an assumption of a universal “Right” and “Moral”.

So what are the odds that someone would have no morals? I’ve been accused of having no morals, because my morals were different from those of the accusers. The accusation not only taught me about the differences in cultures, it taught me about the thought process of the people who make such accusations. In the world of absolutes, there is no room for discussion.

When we judge others, we’re really judging ourselves. We are comparing ourselves, and finding one of us (typically the other person) lacking.

When we fear judgement, we have already found ourselves lacking, and are uncomfortable sharing what we’ve found.

So let me share with you my personal philosophy. Be a cowboy.

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It doesn’t matter what people think. What other people think takes place in their minds. It is the result of their lifetime of experiences and their culture, and it more than likely has very little to do with you. Their judgement will not change your life, only theirs.

From that, and knowing just a bit about me, you can figure out the next part.

What I think isn’t important. At least, not important to you. I share my point of view, and try to explain it. It may resonate with you, causing you to explore the ideas further. It may not resonate with you, in which case you may choose to fortify your opinion by exploring the ideas further. Either way, we both “win”.

There is no absolute “Right” and “Wrong” in our world, only the right and wrong we choose for ourselves. We may share these morals with other people, in whole or in part. I find the people I share the least with the most interesting, we both have more to learn than people who have identical viewpoints. I’ve learned a lot about being a Christian from talking with Atheists. I’ve learned a lot about human rights from talking with people focused on animal rights.

The loss occurs when an opportunity to learn is wasted. If nothing else, we can learn something about ourselves from how we respond to a situation. Of course we make judgements, the conversation ends when we pass judgements.

Carry on the conversation, share your passions. Win by helping others win.

Today’s inspiration is the fourteenth chapter of Romans, summarized in the fourteenth verse. “I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean.”

“Religious” violence

In every discussion about religion, the issue of religious violence comes up. Typically it is the “atheists” who will say “More people have died over religion than for any other reason”

Ahem

I am unaware of the part religion plays in heart disease, or malaria, or AIDS. In fact, there is evidence indicating a relationship between being religious and better health. Certainly most religious practices guide the follower towards healthier lifestyle choices, yet thirteen million people died of heart disease and stroke in the last year for which statistics are available.

As it is, only one out of ten deaths can be attributed to violence.

So then the anti-religious person responds, “Well, what I meant was that more violent deaths are caused by religion”.

Really?

So the majority of the 1.3 million people who died in traffic accidents were driving to Church?

There are a number of ways to quantify causes of death, my favorite report (I’m a guy who used to subscribe to the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report) is called “Deaths by mass unpleasantness“, but a more conservative measure by the World Health Organization suggests that of the one in ten deaths caused by violence, one in ten of those is homicide, and I’m fairly sure that not all of those were religiously motivated.

You could certainly factor in such things as “Death by oppression”, but there is no evidence that a significant number of people have died because of religion. Not even when you include historical atrocities.

“But really” he pleads, trying to vindicate his position in the face of factual evidence, “More wars have been fought over religion than any other reason”.

Guess again

According to the Encyclopedia of Wars, of the 1,763 major conflicts in recorded history, only 123 of them can be classified as having been fought over religious differences. That’s less than 7 percent.

It was funny when George Carlin said “More people have been killed in the name of God than for any other reason”, but that was the seventies, and we’ve had forty years to check the facts. And George taught me to question everything, including him. The people who run around quoting him weren’t really listening to him.

Judaism wasn’t a threat to Germany, but Adolf Hitler exploited religious prejudices into a unifying hatred, from which he propelled his thousand year Reich into a twelve year suicidal spiral. Wars are fought over real estate, religion is often used as an excuse or incitement.

Our most current experience with “religious wars” are not religious in nature at all. They are power struggles between greedy leaders, and greed is a sin in every religion I know of. Exploiting a largely illiterate and uninformed populace, claims of religious righteousness are made. Any student of the religions involved knows that murder is not the prescribed remedy for conflicts within or without the church.

Which brings me to my summation. “Fewer people have died due to Religion than any other cause”. Immediately you know the statement is false, more people have died due to religion than have been trampled by elephants. When we consider the violence caused by religion, we need to quantify the statement. I’m not even going to argue the balance of good spirituality has provided to mankind, damage is not undone by good works. I will argue that of the violence inflicted in the name of religion, very little has been caused in the active and prescribed practice of religions.

What would Jesus do?

There will be those among you who find this irreverent. That, I believe, is the point.

We are all too familiar with the shortest verse in the Bible, John 11:35 “Jesus wept”. There is no counterpoint, no scripture that reads “Jesus laughed”, but are we to believe that he delivered all of his parables without jest? Many stories invoke a sarcasm that must have been delivered with a smile, and I can’t see rejoicing, which Jesus often did, without a smile. As children flocked to him were they attracted by a scowl?

There are many individual moments in the Life of Jesus that are not recorded. There is a gap of eighteen years in the gospel, and much speculation as to what he might have done in that time. The purpose of the gospel is to reveal the critical moments in Jesus’ life, the intervening years summed up in Luke 2:52 “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man”.

Some Anglicans believe that Jesus traveled to England, there are Buddhists who believe he traveled to India. There is one story that he traveled to what is now Texas, where the crowds were fed with the meat of a pig that had been anointed with the holy trinity of spices, garlic, chili, and cumin, after which its skin was passed the length of assembly, often one hundred yards, the members of the crowd raising their hands to the sky each time the pigskin reached its goals. This theory is backed by the Mormons, who believe Jesus returned to North America after his crucifixion, on a Thursday in November, where he met with disciples from the UTA and A&M. Following this meeting the sunrise was marked with a maroon sky, and sunset skies were burnt orange. Meetings continue to this day, with groups of eleven men to signify the absence of Judas, led by a Messiah (or “Coach” in English) gathering every Sunday.

Interpreting an untold story can take you anywhere.

Which brings me to another untold story, what Jesus had to say about homosexuality.

Nothing.

Anything we attribute to Jesus on the subject is by inference. Maybe he didn’t mention it because it was obvious, like some of the other things he didn’t mention (bestiality, pedophilia). Maybe he didn’t mention it because it wasn’t important. What he did speak against was infidelity, and as same sex marriage was not mentioned, any homosexual acts would be outside of marriage.

So how did he treat those who committed the sin of adultery? In the eighth chapter of John, he comes across a woman accused of adultery, and is asked “Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?” to which he replies He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her“, and then finding himself alone with her says “Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more“.

From this I infer Jesus’ teachings focus on that which is important. While adultery is a sin, judgement is reserved for God. Homosexuality may or may not be a sin, but judgement is reserved for God.

We are faced with many lessons on what we should and should not do, from following the Gospels it appears the more important a lesson, the more often it is repeated. Loving our enemies is mentioned repeatedly, forgiving transgressions is mentioned several times, and admonishments to reserve judgements to God number in the scores. Homosexuality, zero. So if we’re keeping score, it appears Jesus was much more concerned with what we should do than what we shouldn’t.

This is not to say our actions are unimportant, just that our positive actions are likely to be found more worthy of God’s grace than our negative actions would be of his retribution. But that all remains up to God.

 

 

Apologies

The reason for apologies is not to sooth the person who has been injured. It is to better the soul of the person offering the apology.

Forgiveness should be given regardless of apology, in fact it is better without an apology. Forgiveness is the grace of the injured. Demanding an apology is a lack of grace. Desiring an apology is hoping that the person you have forgiven will grow from the damage they have done. The reason bad things happen is so we can all grow, victims and perpetrators alike.

A few years back my step son showed a great lack of respect for his mother. We demanded an apology, wanting him to acknowledge the pain he had caused. Instead, he refused. He said, “I’m not going to apologize because I’m not sorry”. At that moment he earned a great deal of respect from me. He was not going to give a phony, meaningless apology. I realized that he had adequate character to learn from the situation, and some time later he did make amends. I think we all learned from that incident.

A few other people out there have displayed only their weaknesses, we all travel through life on separate paths. I was speaking with someone about one particularly disappointing individual the other day. He has my forgiveness, but I will never let him close enough to do any more harm. In Matthew chapter 18, “21 Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?22 Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.” It takes a lifetime to forgive that often, until the only response left is to expel the person from your life, as earlier in Matthew 18:17 “And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.” So it goes.

The essence of an apology is the recognition of injury, and the desire to cause no further pain. In the case of spreading hurtful words, an apology does not require the strength to face the injured party(s), but a first step would be to stop causing pain. A person of character might rescind his comments, “Bob, you know when I said this? Turns out it wasn’t true”. A truly weak person continues spreading the story, knowing it to be false, to preserve their own ego. That person requires forgiveness, an exposure to grace, more than anyone. Sometime after seventy times seven times it is time to just walk away, as a final act of grace.

These things have been difficult for me to learn. My life has been entwined in repairing things that are broken, giving up was never an option. I wanted apologies not to ease my pain, but to satisfy my need to repair the other person. Some people can’t be fixed. It was never my job to fix them, just to give them opportunities, which I have, as they have given me the opportunity to grow.

In the fifth chapter of Matthew, Christ gives what I consider to be our most important lesson, “43 Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;45 That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.46 For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?47 And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?48 Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

Those that hurt you give you people to forgive, and for that alone you should love them. Continue to aim for perfection, which in this case means “completion”. We exist in our own bubbles, other people are only opportunities to respond gracefully, or less so.

The most wonderful time of the year

On Wednesday we celebrate the birth of Christ. This is a time of much reverence.

Whatever your beliefs, you are probably aware of the existence of Jesus of Nazareth. You may not be aware of his teachings, I cannot comprehend why the message of loving one another has not caught on, but I guess if you were trying to spread an opposite message you might start by masking the truth of your opponent. Behind the dogma of the various churches, hidden behind the dull passages of the old testament, the message of love and peace is there for anyone to see.

There is a fair argument that Jesus was not born in December. There is widespread skepticism that he was the son of God, but there is ample evidence that he existed.

So a man comes to a part of the world torn by religious conflict before and since, shares the message that God loves you and wants you to love each other, and there’s some reason to deny his very existence? Might that reason be to deny the message? It isn’t Jesus’ “birthday” that we celebrate, it is his birth,and thus his life, and with his life the message he shared.

The message is what we honor every 25 December. The idea. The concept that God is willing to give of himself to us, and in honor of that, we should give of ourselves to each other. If you don’t believe in God, how does that make love a bad thing?

This Christmas, take a deep breath and contemplate what the holiday celebrates. Release yourself from the shackles of ritual, whether that ritual is blind adherence to the practices of a church, or blind avoidance of the message of Christ. Read about Jesus of Nazareth, the book about him is everywhere.

Black and White

With family gatherings approaching, there will ba a number of “hot topic” conversations taking place. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to have a reasonable discussion lately. I’ve seen a number of instances in which an issue is defined as “polar”, there is no middle ground, there are simply two possible alternatives. Black or white. I know that sometimes an issue does have a simple, binary nature, but most of the time these black and white issues turn out to be purple. Sometimes it’s even helicopter.

When an issue is framed as only having two possible sides, it is often more a reflection on the person presenting the situation’s lack of experience. There’s a possibility that escaped the person’s imagination. An obvious and repeated example this time of year is the ethnicity of Jesus, and new in the news this year is Santa Claus.

In a confluence of circumstance often described as a “perfect storm” but more properly referenced as a “Charlie Foxtrot”, Megyn Kelly, former model and current talking head, said “Santa just IS white, like Jesus he’s an historical person”. Faced with an outpouring of criticism, she later said it was meant as a joke. Too late, the “it’s a joke” part didn’t make the headlines, and millions of ideologues are arguing (which appears to be the primary function of FOX). As one person said, “I love it when people offended by stupid, unfounded remarks make stupid, unfounded remarks”. The arguments evolved anything to do with Christmas. People who feel a kinship to FOX ignored the “joke” defense and treated anyone suggesting that Santa wasn’t white as an enemy of their way of life. People on the other side blamed Santa for Global Warming.

Saint Nicholas of Myra was a fourth century Greek bishop, born in what is today Turkey. Jesus of Nazareth was born in Northern Israel, and regardless of your beliefs about his heritage, most scholars agree that he did indeed exist. Neither man would be considered black, nor would they be seen as white. They were both Mediterranean, with dark skin, hair and eyes. The best explanation came (inadvertently) from a woman defending the “whiteness” of Santa. “He was originally ‘Sinter Klaas’, a Dutch Saint, so he was white”. Sinter Klaas is the Dutch translation of Saint Nicholas (shortening Nicholas to Klaus rather than Nick), but the characterization in Northern Europe stayed popular with people of European ancestry. If you visit a black household, Santa will be a black man, and so will Jesus. The beauty of the two men is that they are identified with, their message of love and generosity is personalized to the point they are a part of the family.

Another polar approach is the sarcasm defense. Faced with a fault and unable to apologize or acknowledge wrongdoing, the response goes to hyperbole. “Yes, I’m the worst person in the world”. As if there are only two possibilities, either they are the worst, or they have no responsibility for the issue being discussed. This is essentially the “there are no logical comments left” point. Along these lines is the nonsense defense. I once asked my sister in law why she didn’t recycle. Her response was “They don’t take plastic”. There was a mandatory recycling of paper, plastic, and metal, but she didn’t recycle any of those things because there wasn’t recycling of plastic. She might as well have said “There’s a banana in the attic”.

One more, actually the genesis of this article (yeah, I know I write backwards). The “It’s either this or that” statement, denying the existence of other possibilities. There are a number of variations to this, from the simple “If you’re home late from school, you must have been robbing the grocery store”, to the witch trial logic of “If she drowns, she’s innocent”. I heard one leveled against a colleague, “If you’re telling the truth, you would have been fired, and since you weren’t fired, you must be lying’. Adding additional conditions, in this case that the truth equaled being fired, destroys logic. Instead of insisting on one assumption, the person was insisting on a series of assumptions. The possibility that the action wasn’t a fire-able offense is ignored. Any response that negates one assumption does not (in this persons mind) negate any of the others, it verifies it, along the lines of “When did you stop beating your wife?”

The root of all of this is people who are more interested in being right than knowing what they’re talking about. When someone starts misinterpreting your comments, and refuses to understand after you’ve explained again, walk away. It’s not worth the frustration. “You FOX news followers are all racists”, “No, I don’t watch Fox and I’m not racist, we’re discussing healthcare”, “So do you have pictures of yourself in a white sheet at a KKK rally?”, “Hey mom, do you need help with the dishes?”.

I genuinely love conversations with people who have different points of view. Sometimes I change their views, sometimes they change mine, and always I learn something about the subject and the person I’m discussing it with. It seems that too often what I’m learning is about the other person, because even though they don’t understand their position, they’re defending it. I would rather not be aware of that fact.

The point of a conversation is to learn and teach. Let the lesson you teach be that you are a gracious and understanding person.

Unconditional Love

Today I’m going to bounce around a bit. The topic is unconditional love, and though we often talk about it, we seldom practice it. It’s hard, we are immersed in a world of quid pro quo, expecting something in return from those we love appears natural. But that is not what love is about.

First Corinthians chapter 13 is often recited at weddings. It speaks of the attributes of love, verses 4 through 7 are familiar “Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things”. But the part that I want to explore today is the first three verses, “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.”

Love happens. It is not a product that you can create or earn. It is it’s own “reward”. I see it as a gift from God. God loves us unconditionally, and as we know God, we know love. It still isn’t easy. I still find myself expecting something in return for love at times, but as Tina Turner said “What’s love, but a second hand emotion”. My love is within me, it does not compel another to reciprocate in any way, and certainly not in a way I desire. My second wife would often say “but I cleaned the kitchen for you”, when what I had wanted had nothing to do with the kitchen. I don’t know if she did what she did as an expression of love or payment of a debt. It doesn’t matter. I claimed to love her, yet I expected a quid pro quo on my terms.

Jumping to a section of the fourth chapter of First John, “Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.10 Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another12 No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us“.

Love is the manifestation of God within us. It may be, if there is a measure, the measure of our acceptance of God’s presence with us. Are we merely clanging cymbals, speaking of love but not knowing it? Without love we are nothing, we can choose to define love however we wish, but saying it doesn’t make it so. You have to do it. Love one another, without expectation, without condition, and you will know love. You will find what you are seeking, the fulfillment you dreamed of, by knowing love.

One last bounce, to the fifth chapter of Romans, which speaks to the unconditional nature of God’s love. The theme is repeated throughout the chapter, I’m fond of the eight verse “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us”.

Do not let the evil in the world stand in the way of love. It’s not easy, if it was easy everyone would do it. But it’s certainly worth it.

Faith

I have a passion for language. As with any passion, the very thing I love is often the source of frustration. In order to be useful, words must have an agreed upon meaning, otherwise we are just babbling at each other.

Faith: A complete trust or confidence in something.

I have faith that Jesus of Nazareth is the son of God. There are a variety of reasons for that faith, and as I examine them against the argument “there is more evidence that Jesus existed than that Julius Caesar existed” I find that the argument is faith. One argument for Caesar is that he wrote books, while Jesus was only written about. That would indicate more faith in the person who says the books were authored by Julius Caesar, there is no “proof” that he actually wrote the books. Meanwhile, there are multiple sources contributing to the Bible, and for some reason the story of a Jewish carpenter has survived two thousand years after his life on Earth.

Certainly Jesus of Nazareth existed, and the fact that his story survives through today is one indication that he is the son of God.

The argument comes down to “Do you believe in God”, if you do not, you cannot believe that Jesus was his son. If you do believe in God, then you are worthy of arguing whether Jesus was his son.

Do you believe in “The curse of the Bambino”? That having traded Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees, Boston was cursed to not win a world series for 86 years? Yet to believe that Jews would eternally have difficulty with hand tools for rejecting a carpenter seems foolish?

If the New Testament had been one story, it would be easy to dismiss. But it is several stories, all told from different vantage points, of the same events. The lesson within the story is there are different interpretations to reality. You and I see something, we describe it differently, at some level that proves that the event actually took place. One rule of interrogation is when multiple sources tell precisely the same story, it indicates they could be lying.

Can you prove that you exist? It all comes down to what you accept as proof. We exist because we have faith we exist. We have the testimony of our senses. We sleep at night and our senses tell us we can fly. Where our consciousness separates from the universe defines our existence. We choose to believe whatever we believe, we accept that reality. Mine is no more valid than yours.

This week’s scripture comes from Douglas Adams’s book “The Hitchhiker’s guide to the Galaxy”:

“Now it is such a bizarrely improbable coincidence that anything so mind-bogglingly useful could have evolved purely by chance that some thinkers have chosen to see it as the final and clinching proof of the non-existence of God. The argument goes something like this: “I refuse to prove that I exist,'” says God, “for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing.” “But,” says Man, “The Babel fish is a dead giveaway, isn’t it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves you exist, and so therefore, by your own arguments, you don’t. QED.””Oh dear,” says God, “I hadn’t thought of that,” and promptly vanishes in a puff of logic.”Oh, that was easy,” says Man, and for an encore goes on to prove that black is white and gets himself killed on the next zebra crossing.”

Where is your faith? What proof do you require?

 

 

Choosing a religion

A Methodist minister from Pennsylvania has been suspended pending being defrocked for presiding over a gay marriage. This article is not about gay marriage, or gay rights, in any way. This article is about playing by the rules.

The Methodist church does not excommunicate gay members, but it does not allow them to be members of the clergy, and it does not allow its clergy to preside over gay marriages. A minister in Pennsylvania decided to preside over his son’s marriage to another man in Massachusetts, where gay marriages are legal. Members of the minister’s congregation became aware of the issue and complained to the church council, who held a hearing and found the minister guilty of not following church doctrine. The minister was suspended for thirty days, during which time he will be allowed to reflect and repent, meaning promise to never preside over another gay marriage. The minister has stated he has no intention of repenting, because three of his four children are gay.

There are many denominations of Christians, and some will preside over gay marriages. Some will ordain gay ministers. But not the Methodists.

I can understand this minister’s desire to follow his beliefs. I can understand why the church will remove him from their clergy.

This country was founded on the principle of religious freedom. This means we each have the right to practice whatever religion we choose. It does not mean that we have the right to force a religion to follow us. I could understand if this minister was in a country with only one religion, and wanted to rebel, but at any time he could have said “Well, if you don’t believe what I believe, I’ll go somewhere else“.

I once dated a woman who was Catholic. She followed the rules she wanted to follow, and ignored the rules she wanted to ignore, all the time telling me that she was a good Catholic. When I suggested she convert to a religion that believed in the same things that she did, she said “You can’t just pick and choose what you believe in!”, and yet that was what she was doing. The relationship lasted two years five months and twenty six days. I know, because she told me after we broke up. Odd how people can focus on some details and not others.

In America, you are free to pursue whatever beliefs you wish. The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster could not exist in any other country. Within Christianity, people with different interpretations of the words of Christ form different churches. There are several scriptures which support this practice, one being Matthew 18:19.There are core beliefs that once discarded cause churches to be referred to as “sects” or “cults” rather than denominations. Most people don’t believe that the Westboro Baptist Church is a Christian organization, some people don’t feel Catholics are Christians. God will make the final determination, in the meantime, we are free to join a different church.

I can’t speak for God, but it would seem that belonging to any church and following its beliefs is better than belonging to any church and not following its beliefs. I don’t understand what is happening in the mind of a person who is trying to get others to join a church in which they themselves do not follow the beliefs.

Unexpected consequences

Romans chapter 8, verse 28, reads “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”

What do you see? Do you read this as only those who believe in God reap the benefits of his works? Do you read that because of God only good things happen?

Try it this way. “Those who believe can see the good in all things”.

A friend tried to point out that if there was a God, he would not have allowed the typhoon to destroy so much of the Philippines. Really? God would prevent weather? Without the typhoon, many people would never have the opportunity to display what they were made of. This can be both good and bad. Without God, maybe the effects would have been worse.

My cousin said he felt he wasn’t allowed to be what he should have been because he wasn’t able to serve in the military. Really? He’s a very good husband and father, his parents think he’s a good son, his sister thinks he’s a good brother, his nieces think he’s a good uncle, I think he’s a good cousin, countless people think he’s a good friend. Maybe that’s what he was supposed to be. Maybe serving in the military would have prevented all or some of that.

Lieve wanted to be an architect, but she did poorly in math the year she was to decide on her scholastic path. She decided to go into arts instead, and in photography had to study physics, in which she did very well. She wonders what would have happened if she had gone ahead and gone for architecture, since she obviously could handle the math. I would like to thank her math teacher. If he had been able to connect and teach this student, her life would have taken a different path, and I probably would have never met her.

Loving God means accepting the fact that his purposes are not always what we might want for our lives. Loving God means letting go of personal desires and trusting our creator. Being able to say ” It doesn’t really matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live – a long life; longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will”. You recognize those words, right? Being “to the mountaintop” is one way of saying you understand God’s vision is different than your own, and accepting it.

We don’t always see the consequences of our actions. We don’t always understand them. Some people only see the horror of the typhoon. My cousin saw that he couldn’t do what he had wanted to do. Lieve’s teacher may have thought he failed to teach his student mathematics.

It works the way we want it when we acknowledge we want whatever God wants. Listen, not just to what you want to hear, but to the message that keeps coming to you in different ways. Follow that path.


 

Who hath ears to hear, let him hear

We are surrounded by information. Breaking it down is the challenge.

In Matthew 13 we are faced with the parable within a parable. First, Jesus presents a parable, then he says “Who hath ears to hear, let him hear”. Translate that to “get it?”. The disciples ask him “Why do you speak to them in parables?”, and his response is to explain the very parable he just used to the disciples, then saying “Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand“. In that, I see an insult to the disciples, something of a “You don’t ‘get it’ either”. 

As I was thinking about all of this, it of course occurred to me that I was the one who didn’t get it, particularly while pondering verses 27-30 “27 So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares?28 He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up?29 But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them.30 Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.” Am I a tare, allowed to grow in the wheat until harvest time?

Much of this chapter has to do with interpretation, yet there is no clear guidance as to which interpretations are correct. What I gather is that the lesson is, once again, to not judge the interpretations of others, for judgement will come to all eventually. Verses 47-48 “47 Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind:48 Which, when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away“.

Jesus spoke in parables because, in the words of Jack Nicholson “You can’t handle the truth”. The chapter ends “54 And when he was come into his own country, he taught them in their synagogue, insomuch that they were astonished, and said, Whence hath this man this wisdom, and these mighty works?55 Is not this the carpenter’s son? is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas?56 And his sisters, are they not all with us? Whence then hath this man all these things?57 And they were offended in him. But Jesus said unto them, A prophet is not without honour, save in his own country, and in his own house.58 And he did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief”.

I tend to speak in parables, allegory, analogies. People listen. They make their own conclusions, see their own truth. When I was a technician, I grew a patch of facial hair (the only white hair I have), so that customers would see that I was indeed elderly and not just some kid from nowhere. It is impossible to impart knowledge to an unreceptive audience, but it is also impossible to impart knowledge without sharing a message.

The problem in my case is that I never know if I have been understood, sure, everyone nods their heads and says “yes, I get it”, but do they? I believe the answer may be “It doesn’t matter“. We each do our best, and in the end, perhaps that is our measure. How have we have done compared to the best we are capable of doing.

The Pope and David Peel

I couldn’t really use the title of David Peel’s song about the Pope, it is genuinely disrespectful, I’m thinking the song might be popular among the Cardinals as of late.

Pope Francis has proven to be unconventional, at least on the surface. This is a great thing for Catholicism Inc., the brand has been showing some rough edges and has been losing market share lately. Banishing a Cardinal who spent thirty one million euros on renovations grabbed some headlines. Walk in closets at $475,000? How many red gowns does he have?

The Pope has tried to demonstrate austerity by wearing simple shoes and living in a simple apartment, even though the special red “Pope shoes” had already been made for him, and the luxurious Papal apartments in the Vatican are still maintained. He drives his own car while the popemobile sits in a garage, but he is still surrounded by the Swiss Guard. Even in his attempts to show humbleness, the message is often missed. Recently he received complaints because he had washed the feet of women. The argument was that the ritual represents Jesus washing his disciples feet, and should only include the washing of male feet. The point, of course, is that Jesus didn’t wash the disciples feet because they were men, it was a symbol of humility, not sexism. Being humble before women was apparently more humble than his critics could handle.

This feeds directly to the Pope’s thesis. There is an obsession within the Catholic Church with ritual and ideology. Unfortunately, he’s fighting an uphill battle. No matter how clearly he presents his message (and how much I agree with it), the message gets twisted to serve an ideological point of view. The Pope is not speaking to “Right Wing Christians”, he’s speaking to Catholics who have forgotten the meaning of the rituals they mindlessly perform. Yet some people seem to think that the leader of the Catholic Church is commenting about Protestants. Jesus never visited Egypt, yet these Catholics seem to be swimming in the Nile.

Pope Francis is facing a difficult task, and I am wary of Papal politics, but if he is truly trying to return the Catholic Church to the teachings of Christ, he is to be praised. If he is merely trying to get Catholics back to church, he’s succeeding, I’ve seen many comments from Catholics saying he’s got their attention. If the message works its way through the bureaucracy down to the parish priests, Francis could change the world.

This could be the biggest change since Martin Luther.

Wealth

I saw a clip on television about a televangelist. He was saying “God wants you to be rich”. I’m hoping I misunderstood him, because he appeared to be talking about money.

There is a clear separation between Earthly wealth and spiritual wealth. In Matthew 19:23-24, Jesus says “23 Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven.24 And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” It is not to be taken that God prefers poverty, more that focusing on wealth takes the focus off of God.

Luke 12:15-21 Jesus says “15 And he said unto them, “Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.”16 And he spake a parable unto them, saying, “The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully:17 And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits?18 And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods.19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.20 But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?21 So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” This is the “rich” I hope the televangelist was conveying, rich of spirit, rich in God.

In John 12:23-24 Jesus says “24 Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.25 He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal.” The measure of our life is not here on Earth, this is only preparation for eternity. As I look around me, I see very little to love in life. I will not miss this world.

Most of us are familiar with 1 Timothy 6:10 “10 For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.”

Possessions are not the measures of wealth that should be important. The “intangibles” of life, a smile, laughter, friendship and love are the items that make one rich in the ways that matter.

 

 

 

The Seventh Day

Genesis chapter 2 “Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them.And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.”

I’ve had an emotionally rough week, so rough that I had no desire to write. Lieve mentioned a day of rest.

I thought about the Sabbath. Although most Christians observe it on Sunday, Jews observe it on Saturday, and Muslims observe it on Friday, how is the day of the week that God began creation, from which we would calculate a seventh day, determined? Considering it didn’t create days and nights until the fourth day (Genesis 1:14-19), which calendar was it using? Most Calendars begin the week with Sunday, although I’ve seen some that begin with Saturday or Monday. Did it set to work at 0800? GMT?

The answer seems clear to me, Genesis 2:4 “These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens”. Days are not twenty four hour periods, hours not being created until the fourth day. The word day is used as in “Back in the Day”.

So which day is really the Sabbath? Jews worship on Saturday. Muslims and Catholics have worship services every day. Baptists have Services routinely on Sunday and Wednesday. In Romans 14:5-6, Paul says “One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks”. Although he most likely said those words in Latin, seeing that he was speaking to Romans.

The name that you have given to the period of time you reflect upon your relationship with God and its creation is inconsequential.

At one point this last week, searching for what makes me different from others, it came to me. My relationship with God. That is not to judge the relationships or the significance of those relationships that others have, it is merely saying that mine is different, perhaps unique, and from what I can see, that is the way it is supposed to be.

God speaks to all of us, how we interpret its will is individual to each of us. It does not tell us what we want to hear, but what we need to hear, so most folks don’t hear it at all.

I am taking this day to rest, reflect, and explore some curry and bhindi masala.

Last words from the mount

The last portion of the Sermon on the mount deals with perspective.

Jesus starts in Matthew five with pointing out the good in his listeners, and explaining that his message was new, he was not destroying the law, but enhancing it. In Matthew six he speaks of the individuals relationship with God, emphasizing that the relationship is personal, not private. In Matthew seven he speaks about that perspective, God will judge, it is not our duty on Earth to be judges of the relationship anyone else has with God.

He begins “7 Judge not, that ye be not judged.For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again“. For something that is stunningly clear to me, this may be one of the most misused verses in the Bible. What constitutes sin is between you and God, I may not approve of your actions, but it is not up to me to condemn them.

Continuing this lesson, he says “And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye“. This takes two applications of understanding. We are not to look upon the failings of others until we have no failings of our own is the first part. The second part comes from understanding that once we have overcome our failings, we will not be judging others. That mote in your brother’s eye requires a different approach than you thought it did.

Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you” is a reminder to not force your knowledge on others. It is a waste of energy to share precious things with those that cannot appreciate them.

Verses seven through twelve advise that seeking God’s help will result in receiving God’s help. While many people tend to interpret these verses along the lines of “Oh Lord won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz” and I have actually seen Priests say “God will give you your heart’s desire”, meaning Earthly possessions. Your heart’s desire should be knowledge, a greater understanding of life.

Jesus goes forward with a parable about entering heaven, “13 Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:14 Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” which I see as a reminder. You’ve been given control of your path, don’t lose your way.

Next is a reminder to be aware. “15 Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.16 Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?17 Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.18 A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.19 Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.20 Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them“. Be critical of those that promise a shortcut to heaven. Cast out those that are dishonest. That you continue to read my analysis would indicate that you have evaluated my logic, if you haven’t, please do so. Do not be gullible and accept someone’s word without checking the facts for yourself.

And then we get to the key. The summation of all the lessons, and the consequences of failing to understand. “21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity“. Your relationship with God is not about your actions. It is about your soul. The key is to know God. You do not marry a person you do not know, why would you expect to spend eternity with someone you do not know. He continues with the analogy of the foundation of a house, “24 Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock:25 And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.26 And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand:27 And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it. Your foundation is your relationship with God. It isn’t a once a week hobby, it is a lifetime of understanding. You may not be “good” every day. But you know what good is and you work towards it. This is understanding. Constantly striving to be better. 

The sermon ends. “28 And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine:29 For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.

He spoke as the Son of God, not someone repeating what they had read. He spoke with authority that was recognized on hearing. By his fruits they knew him.

Still on the mount

Never wanting to leave a story unfinished, I’ve decided to continue with the “Sermon on the Mount”. I really want to get this out there because these are the fundamental teachings of Christianity, and most Christians don’t understand or even know them.

In the sixth chapter of Matthew, Jesus continues the lesson. He says “Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven“. Do you hear that televangelists? Prayer is between the individual and God, it isn’t a performance piece.

He continues to reinforce the lesson, saying that attracting the attention of men will not attract the attention of God. The seventh verse, “But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking“, says you should be mindful of your words, reciting words is not a prayer. It is simply chanting.

This is where people become confused. Verses nine through fifteen are commonly referred to as “The Lord’s Prayer”, or by those used to reciting words without meaning, the first two words of the prayer, “Our Father”. The important part is the first verse, “After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name“. After this manner. He does not say “Use these words”, he has just said “Use not vain repetitions”. Understanding means understanding every word, not just “getting the gist of it”.

Then again in verses sixteen through eighteen he reinforces the lesson of not making your prayers for public recognition. It would occur to me that this must be a very important lesson, for him to repeat it three times in succession. He gives an analogy in verses nineteen through twenty one, “19 Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:20 But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:21 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” You can see this as still pounding in the lesson. Most likely because he was attempting to reach people who had practiced the opposite all of their lives.

Now he builds into the next lesson. “22 The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.23 But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!” To bring this into my own “language”, I would reference “Rockman” from “The Point”. You see what you want to see. If you see darkness in people, that is all you will see, and if the darkness is inside you, everything will be dark.

And then, the focal point of this section. “24 No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” Do not misunderstand. This has been the theme from the start of the chapter. He says you cannot serve both. You have to make one or the other your priority. In doing so, the following verses come naturally.

If you have decided to serve God, your life on Earth is secondary. God knows what you need and will provide it. Verses twenty five through thirty three explain the difference between what you need and what you may want. Finishing with “34 Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” Do not worry about tomorrow, there is enough to deal with today.

You may not be here tomorrow anyway.