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.

 

 

 

 

 

The Death Penalty

In our system of justice, punishment is supposed to have a rehabilitative effect, and also a deterrent effect . “Justice” is not supposed to equal “vengeance”.

As penalties ascend, eventually the ultimate punishment a society is willing to inflict is reached. In America, we occasionally kill people when they’ve done terribly offensive things, at this point it is reserved almost exclusively as a penalty for aggravated murders, which causes some confusion amongst the “eye for an eye” crowd.

The problems with the death penalty are legion, beginning with the misunderstanding of its purpose. If you believe that killing someone is a way to stake out the high moral ground, indicating that killing people is wrong, you may miss the finer points of this article. Do not be distressed, I believe that the death penalty is the only resort left in some instances. I see the problems, and have no clue what a reasonable solution might be.

We do not want to see ourselves as barbarians, so we have always sought means of execution that are humane. The Guillotine was not only quick and efficient, it was humane. Hanging, performed properly, is humane, in that the neck is broken immediately, releasing the deceased from any sensation. Lethal injection is perhaps the most humane form of death possible, with the caveat “If performed properly.” Here we run into a problem. Lethal injection requires a physician, who took as his first oath “Primum non nocere” (doctors prefer Latin so you won’t know what they are saying) meaning “First, do no harm.” The contradiction of goals should be clear to anyone. Drug manufacturers who make the drugs traditionally used for lethal injection refuse to supply the drugs because they are opposed to the death penalty. Who really believes that a corporate sponsorship of an execution is a good idea?

This last week, the result of performing a medical procedure without medical advice came to its obvious conclusion. A man who had failed to kill a young woman by shooting her and then buried her alive was scheduled to be executed, and after the injection he lingered until his heart failed forty three minute after the injection. The State of Oklahoma was as clumsy as Clayton Lockett had been when he murdered Stephanie Neiman.

Clayton Lockett was not the poster boy for leniency. I don’t know how long his victim suffered, but that is not the point. Neither is the point that some people are found innocent after they are executed. My point is that despite a declining trend, over 16,000 people were murdered in America during the last year for wich the CDC has data. The odd execution is a meaningless deterrent, yet the odd botched execution stops us in our tracks, resulting in Charles Warner’s execution being suspended. Charles Warner was scheduled to be executed next, he had been convicted of raping and murdering an 11-month-old child two years earlier. On autopsy Warner’s 11 month-old victim was found to have a six-inch skull fracture (on an 11 month-old child, picture that), a broken jaw, three broken ribs, bruised lungs and a lacerated liver and spleen. Again, no poster boy for leniency.

Any single argument is inadequate. People like Lockett and Warner need to be removed from society. Nothing within our concepts of humanity will allow us to give them what most of us feel they deserve. Incarceration for life is in many ways an inhumane form of punishment, and the possibility exists they could kill other prisoners or guards, or even escape. Surgically or chemically altering their minds violates every standard of humanity. The death penalty is morally reprehensible to a large portion of society. No punishment will ever return the victims, but how do we protect society from the perpetrators?

Reasonable dating of historical events places Moses’ existence at around 1500BC. At that time, the law was brutal, the idea of “an eye for an eye” was a quantum leap in jurisprudence. 1500 years later Jesus taught “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” Many of us can not seem to accept that in the intervening 2000 years not everyone has evolved, but that is the way the world works. Some of us have developed ethically, and some never will.

The challenge we face as a society is how to do the dirty work that evolution has failed to do, without falling into the pit with the animals.

 

 

 

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.

 

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.

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.

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.

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.

Enemies

It’s comfortable to live in a black and white world, but even with that there are shades of grey that provide definition. We tend to see good and bad, friend and enemy, liberal and conservative as opposites, like black and white. In our hearts we know differently.

I tend away from favorites. Last week a friend asked what my favorite Beatles song was, I had no answer. I can’t say my favorite food or wine or beer, it depends on the moment. I try to appreciate all the facets of the things I enjoy, and by looking at life in that manner, I often find facets that are positive in things I don’t generally like.

The fifth chapter of Matthew illustrates this point. Matthew is my favorite book of the Bible, and this is one of my favorite chapters, because it contains so many of my favorite verses. It is part of what is commonly referred to as “The sermon on the mount” (along with chapters six and seven). I’m going to work from this chapter today, not in linear order but by cross referencing the verses.

I want to start near the end, the summation of this lesson, verses 43 and 44, what I believe is the center of Christ’s teachings. “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;

In these verses, it is clearly stated “That was then, this is now”, “Love everyone”, and “What matters is not who loves you, but who you love”.

Reinforcing this is verse 45, “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.

From this I take that our Earthly existence is as equals. The sun shines and the rain falls on all of us. Illnesses and disasters are not punishments from God, “Good fortune” is not his reward. These things are only elements of life, how we deal with them will be the measure by which God judges us after this life.

The remaining verses of the chapter explain once again the logic of the lesson, “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.

Two translations here. “Publicans” were the tax collectors, “Perfect” is taken to mean “Complete”. Other Biblical translations use different words in those places, this is the King James Version, which I always use to remain consistent throughout my writing.

The chapter had started by addressing the crowd, and identifying them as special. Not as a crowd, but as individuals, various shades of grey. The verses (two through eleven) that begin with “Blessed are the…” are in this section.

The next section (verses twelve through sixteen) speaks his message, starting with “12 Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.” In simplest terms, your reward is not on Earth, but in heaven. He also states that the message is to be shared, by remaining true to the virtues of the lesson “15 Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”

Then, he separates the Old Testament from the New. Not by destroying the old, but by fulfilling the prophecies of a new teacher. “17 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.” This is important to reflect upon. Many people reject the Bible because they say it contradicts itself. Jesus is merely fulfilling the prophecies of the Old Testament, refining the message for a “modern” audience.

The next part includes what I interpret as the quality of mercy, “19 Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” Failing to be “perfect” may not mean failure to enter heaven. But it should not be considered a good thing to see how much you can get away with.

This is followed by several verses giving thought to the concepts of responsibility, forgiveness, and shades of grey. Some of the most misunderstood verses are these “31 It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement:32 But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.” The example here is about the responsibility of the male. When you cast away someone who has not done you harm, their reaction is your responsibility.

He finishes with a message about charity. “42 Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.” I justify my lack of absolute adherence to this teaching by saying “I can only give so much”, but the message is we are not to determine need, but give when asked. Today, we are so overwhelmed by need that we can pick and choose to whom we give, That should not prevent us from giving freely. You will be taken advantage of, your charity will be abused, but God isn’t interested in that. In the final measure, you will be judged by your charity. Those that abused your charity will be judged for their actions. Taken with verses 31 and 32, abusing charity prevents those with need from receiving charity.

If you interpret the Bible with love in your heart, it is easy to see the love in the messages. If you do not have love within you, you will not understand, you will interpret the verses to suit your desires. This is the message of earlier verses, “23 Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee;24 Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.25 Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison.” Read that as a parable, you do not know the number of your days, or when you may face judgement.

You are not expected to be without flaw, you are expected to do your best despite your flaws.

Religions, Chapter four, “Other”

The previous chapters focusing on Christianity, Islam, and Eastern Religions, can be accessed by clicking those links.

rel_pie

There should be nothing taken from my choice to address the various religions by size. Spirituality is not a democracy, there is nothing to be judged by the members of adherents about the validity of any system. I don’t like the title “others”, it somehow degrades the remaining religions. I go back to my own Christian beliefs, and Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:20,For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” from which I interpret that a “Church” is when at least two people gather. I see this scripture as anti-charismatic, validating the individual rather than the organization.

For this grouping I have included the sectors of the above graph “Non-religious” (which includes several religions, and in doing so, cultural bias), “Primal- Indigenous”, “Other”, Sikhism, and Judaism. One of the first surprises when I started researching this series was the relative size of various religions, I would have never have guessed there are so few Jews.

I’m going to approach this group in reverse order, starting with the smallest sector.

Judaism is more familiar in the Western world than many other religions, and by familiar I do not mean understood. With around fourteen million followers, Judaism is the smallest of the recognized unique religions. Within Judaism there are three distinct “movements” (Orthodox, Conservative, and the Reform/liberal/progressive movements) and like other religions variants within those branches.

Judaism is not simply Christianity without Christ, The Tanakh (Jewish Bible) is broken down into three sections, the Torah, (the five books of Moses), the Nevi’im (book of prophets), and the K’tuvim (book of writings). There are difference between the Tanakh and the Christian Old Testament, as well as different books in each. For the most part, Jews and Christians celebrate the same God, but don’t really agree on much of the last two thousand years.

Sikhism, while having more followers than Judaism, is hardly known at all, at least in the United States. Sikhs wear turbans, and are often assumed to be Islamic (more ignorance, Arabs don’t wear turbans). Sikhism was founded in what is now India in the sixteenth century, and is a monotheistic religion that sees a coexistence with spiritual and secular worlds. This translates to a fundamental Sikh teaching, deeds are more important than rituals.

Some interesting Sikh traditions are a prohibition on consuming ritualistically killed meat (the exact opposite of Judaism and Islam), and a prohibition against “blind spirituality”, or participating in rituals such as pilgrimages and purification. It is easy to see Sikhism as a rebellion against the structure of Islam, Judaism, and Catholicism.

Other contains all the religions that do not fit in other categories but are still considered religions. This is murky territory. Certainly within this group are such diverse beliefs as Baha’i, Jainism, Zoroastrianism, Rastafarianism, and Scientology, but also other religions that appear to be a part of a larger group but have emphatically denied any bond, such as Unitarian-Universalism, and Shinto. Wicca and Paganism are included in this group.

Essentially, to be part of “Other”, there is a belief system and an organized church, but in fact several religions in this category don’t fit that definition. When we get to “Non-religious” I’ll explore this cultural bias a little deeper.

Primal- Indigenous, religions are generally “tribal” religions, practiced by small communities in Africa, the Americas, and Island nations. Why these are separated from “Other” is outside my understanding. Every major religion began in a tribe,

What I have found interesting is the similarities in traditions. There are stories in several Indigenous religions that mirror stories in major religions. Stories of sinful cities destroyed by God, stories of a great flood, stories of exodus.

Non-religious is the most poorly labeled group, in that half of the people in it identified themselves as “theistic”. While the group includes Agnostics, who profess to have no proof of God and thus no faith or religion, and Atheists, who deny the existence of God, I can testify to the fact that there are no Atheists in foxholes. I have seen the most adamant Atheists search for a higher power when faced with calamity.

Every Atheist I have known developed their beliefs as a reaction to a religion, typically Catholic, and they couldn’t live within the structure of the religion. As the religions they are rebelling against are typically authoritarian, they are under the belief that God is the church, so in leaving the church that they have no faith in, they believe they are leaving God. I have asked a couple of Atheists to participate in the discussion, but they have not responded. If and when they do, I would like to write an entire article on Atheism.

This is where we need to discuss “What is a religion?”. Is a religion a building? From a Christian point of view, no. In Matthew 16:18 Christ says “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” The “Church” is the leader. And when he later says in Matthew 18:20 “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” he is saying that any two may be a church. The phrase “The Church” strikes me the same way as when people refer to New York as “The City”. There are many.

So a religion is a set of principles. Not a church, and not a building, not a deity.

I would then say the half who said they are “theistic” believe in a higher power, and are therefore a religion. I would say Agnosticism, when followed as a way of life, with moral underpinnings, is a religion. I would even say that Atheism is a religion, because to believe that something is not God, you have to have faith, faith in yourself, alone in the universe, but faith nonetheless.

Is a religion a system of beliefs? To this I would say yes. Most of the Eastern religions are simply systems of beliefs. Common among all religions is a belief in the sanctity of life. Even the Aztecs and Mayan, who performed human sacrifices, were sacrificing something they felt was precious, the purest gift they could give to God.

However you express your faith, it is you, a human being, expressing it. Be it an all powerful god, or many gods working together, or no God. As humans we like to help other people see what we see, especially when it’s a good thing, so we share our beliefs. The problem occurs when people don’t want to hear anyone’s beliefs but their own, or when people insist on sharing beliefs that you’re just not interested in.

As annoying as Christians can be with their proselytizing, when they won’t go away remind them 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.”

Next week, I’d like to summarize these similarities and point out the radical elements that take the headlines away from peaceful followers, or I may choose to write about proselytizing by different religions I haven’t decided on the focus yet.  See you then.

Call no man your father

To start with, there is a reason I chose to not write about this last Sunday.

Years ago, Emma and I would attend Catholic Mass together on Sundays. She, along with a large segment of the population, was born and raised Catholic, and had since fallen away from the church. Like many others, she insisted that she was Catholic, yet she followed very few of the church’s teachings. Another “Half-Cath” I had dated once said about converting to another religion “You can’t just pick and choose what you want to believe”. It was okay to choose what you considered to be a sin, but not okay to go to a church where everyone felt the same way. .

I enjoyed Mass. Emma tried a Baptist service with me once and just couldn’t take it. People wanted to talk to you and were friendly, the service ran far too long. She said “I want my religion once a week in a thirty minute dose”. So we would walk over to Saint Nicholas (yes, that was really the name) and do the Catholic dance, and on the way home I would explain what the snippets of scripture actually meant in context.

On father’s day one year I opened the missive to see which scriptures they’d be discussing, and there was Matthew, 23:9. “And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven“. A small smile crossed my face. “I wonder what Father John will have to say about this?” I thought. Father John was a charming guy, I genuinely liked him. He had a powerful presence, and a strong voice. If you watched The Sopranos, he was very reminiscent of Uncle Junior. He read the scripture, and then went into an incredibly unrelated sermon. I wasn’t sure exactly how I would approach the discussion on the way home.

Emma helped. Even she had noticed the lack of connection. So I began with “you have to figure that you’re not getting the entire meaning when the scripture begins with the word “and”, don’t you think?”. When we got home, we went over the entire chapter. I’ve reprinted the most relevant part here, but the entire chapter is not very long.

23 Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples,Saying The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat:All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments,And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues,And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi.But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren.And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven.10 Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ.11 But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant.12 And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.13 But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.

How amazing is that? It’s all about hypocrisy, and focusing on the hypocrisy within churches. Depending on your beliefs, these are the words of Christ, spoken years before the creation of the Catholic Church, or it is a fiction, created by the Catholic Church. Either way, the Church was aware of these words, and decided to create a hierarchy separating the faithful from God, and to call their teachers “Father”. Perhaps it is this scripture alone that is responsible for the Church keeping the Mass in Latin for so long, and frowning upon individual Bible study. Perhaps. I have another theory that I may or may not discuss on a later date.

I’m sure I’ve said it before and will most certainly say it again in the future. If you can handle a novel you can read the New Testament. At 138,020 words, It is longer than “A tale of Two Cities” and shorter than “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn”. It is very close to exactly the average word count of the Great Novels, which is 136,604 words. You don’t need someone else to tell you what it says, read it yourself. Church is like Cliff Notes.

Read the book. That was the writer’s intention.

Fear

I usually don’t tell people not to be afraid. Not because there is no reason to be afraid (sometimes there is) but because fear is irrational. Fear cannot be controlled, it can only be avoided. I worked with animals for a while, and having learned to avoid fear I was pretty good with the more aggressive ones. No matter how tough you are, if fear enters your system animals can tell. None of this is to say that I am fearless, or even brave. I just know when I can allow myself to display fear. With animals, it’s easy (for me), I’m bigger than they are. An animal usually judges how “big” you are by the distance between your eyes and the ground. He knows you’re bigger, and just wants to show that’s he’s dangerous. As long as you remember that you’re bigger, there is nothing to fear. It also helps to “speak” the language, don’t let your language betray your size.

I fear certain things. I fear losing loved ones, because I love them and want them near me. I fear falling (not heights, just falling), so I stay away from places from which I might fall. I fear hurting people, because I have learned that some hurts can’t be undone.

I do not fear death. I have no desire for a painful death, but I have no fear of leaving the living behind. I have a variety of opinions of what my consciousness will experience consist of once my body assumes room temperature, and none of them are frightening. Most are actually attractive.

Jesus speaks of fear in Matthew 10:26-31:

26 “So do not be afraid of them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. 28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. 30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”

There’s a lot going on there. Jesus is advising his apostles that there is nothing they should fear on Earth, damage to the body does not compare to damage to the soul. He tells them that their souls are safe with God.

This would be the definition of bravery. To recognize the danger and also the value of the “reward”. It’s why people run into burning buildings. Without regard, most humans will risk their lives to save another. And that is what Jesus was telling his apostles. They might risk their earthly lives, but they would be saving the eternal lives of others. There was no reason to be afraid, because their eternal lives were safe.

It’s not difficult to be brave. As long as you know what you are, and what you are not, risking. It sounds obvious, but it does require consideration. Consideration ahead of time, so that you’re prepared when the opportunity presents itself. So take a moment now to prepare yourself. Compare the risk and the reward for a couple of things you might hesitate to do.

What risk is involved in telling someone that you love them?

Smiling at a homeless person and looking them in the eye?

Holding the door open for a stranger?

Doing the right thing?

Now you’re ready.

Just do it.

Conflicting desires

Psalm 34:16 The face of the LORD is against them that do evil, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth.

There are times when we seek to rationalize our desires, and are tempted to go “all Old Testament” about something. In the Old Testament, God was much more severe than he is in the New Testament. Life was harsher, there was a need for black and white situations. We continue to struggle towards a more civilized world.

In America, our justice system allows for the penalty of death in some circumstances. Last year we executed forty three people (name one…). With fewer executions and more people condemned, the population of “death row” has swollen to 3,125. In most cases, this allows us to forget about them, and either be merciful or allow them to eventually die while appealing their case. Case in point, Richard Ramirez, “The Night Stalker”.

Our conflict in this case is our desire for swift and absolute justice, and errently putting an innocent person to death.

Matthew 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.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.

It is not our place to decide life and death, but we do have the need to remove threats. From a financial point of view, it is no longer less expensive to keep a prisoner for life than to execute him/her. The expense of appeals, both financially and emotionally, is a weight in excess of life imprisonment. But these decisions should not be made by such standards, we are, after all, providing public service, expense is not to be considered.

It has occurred to me that the appropriate sentence should be “Dead to the world”. This would be life in prison, without the possibility of parole, and without access to the media. No book deals, no film deals, no interviews. The sentenced would cease to exist in the eyes of the world.

This is what Yoko Ono desired for the murderer of John Lennon. I do not celebrate John’s life on the anniversary of his death, but on his birthday. I do not speak (or write) the name of his murderer. I cannot remember the name without some thought, which, other than right now, rarely happens. Ramirez had suffered a similar fate, in that he had faded from memory, Manson, on the other hand, never goes away.

By sentencing a person to “dead to the world”, we erase their memory from the Earth, but there is no opportunity to make an irreversible decision.

The best of both Testaments.

 

Sunday Sermon

I do not often preach, I prefer to share my religious beliefs by example. I will work scripture into a discussion, and point out misinterpretations of various religions. I’ve studied a variety of disciplines, and have settled into my own set of beliefs and philosophies which I refer to as Zen Baptist.

I had a wonderful minister in my life, Dr. C.E. Colton. As a child at Royal Haven Baptist Church in Dallas, TX back in the early 60s, I was in awe of him. His manner of speaking appealed to me even as a five year old child, and still in my twenties when I returned to Dallas. He seriously pissed me off at my Grandfather’s funeral in the 90s, at which he came out of retirement to speak, but I never lost respect for him and struggled to understand the conflict, which may have made me a better person. He passed away in 2003 at the age of 89.

Dr. Colton was a scholar, and wasn’t just a polyglot, he was fluent in the languages he understood. He would pause during a sermon, and explain that the original Aramaic or Greek words had a different meaning at the time they were written than at the time they were translated, and/or the English word has a different meaning today than at the time of the translation. He brought the otherwise boring Sunday morning activities to life, challenging us to understand what we were reading. Then he bestowed upon me the lesson that would guide my life, through the radical 60s and my days as an Intelligence Specialist, as a husband, father and friend.

In the midst of a sermon, he related a story from his days in college. He had a question about a concept, and approached one of his professors to further his understanding. His professor had said “Well, I have my own opinion, which I will discuss with you later. What you should do is go speak with Dr. Jones, as he is considered an authority on the subject. Then when you understand his point of view, ask him who holds an opposing opinion and is as well versed as he. Understand that person’s position, then make up your own mind. After that, come talk to me and we can discuss it.”. Most people apply their own prejudices and find it impossible to believe that those words came from a Southern Baptist minister.

As a teenager in the waning years of the Viet Nam war, I was filled with revolutionary ideals. I was always thoughtful about the direction (or lack thereof) of the organizations I supported. A careful listening to the song “Volunteers” by The Jefferson Airplane fertilized the idea that many of my fellow “radicals” were just there for the party. Today more than ever that is true, as any protest brings out “the crazies”, every wing nut in the vicinity waving their own flag, suffocating the original cause.

I studied various branches of Christianity including Catholicism, dabbled in Judaism with a best friend and a couple of Jewish step brothers, studied the Hindi and Buddhist teachings, and explored several “New Age” beliefs as well as Wicca. I investigated the relationship of religion and the “new religion”, Science. In the 80s I had reason to understand Islam, as well as people of Islamic faiths. Eventually I found that I was a Christian, in the sense that I believe and attempt to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ. I do not attend a church, as I have yet to find one that teaches and adheres to the teachings of Jesus Christ now that Dr. Colton is gone and I live in New Jersey. Since around 1996 I have been a Zen Baptist.

Christianity is based on Christ, AKA Jesus of Nazareth. He brought a new message, and the story of his life is called “The New Testament”. The “Old Testament”, the beginning of the Christian Bible, is very similar to The Torah, the religious text of Judaism. When someone claims to be a Christian, and quotes the Old Testament as supporting their beliefs, they are most often confused about of what their religion consists. Jesus was exceptionally clear about speaking in parables, and yet so many “Christians” choose to interpret his words literally.

To me, the Old Testament is to be seen as a parable itself. God spoke to people who had no way of understanding the process of creation. So he gave the story as a series of seven days. Paying attention to that story reveals there was no measurement for time for the first few days, so it seems far from likely that they were strictly measured twenty four hour days. The description of God, “a spirit on the water” (Genesis 1:2) is the most in depth description in the entire book, yet God’s physical appearance is described by humans every day.

The New Testament is arranged so that the first four books are the same story, told by four different people who were present. How can you see that and not recognize the overall massage is that we should not take every word literally, each disciple interpreted the event differently and they were there. The important messages are repeated, over and over, hoping to work past individual interpretation, and the translations that would spread the word around the world.

The message is, Love each other.

I invite you to examine the book of Matthew, fifth chapter verses 43 through 48:

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Dr. Colton would, among other things, point out that the word translated as “perfect” is closer to meaning “complete”.

The other quality that Dr. Colton taught was to teach in small segments. Let the information roll around and soak in. And finish the sermon in time for everyone to get home in time to watch the Cowboy’s game. They are after all, God’s team, why else would the sky be blue and white?

It may not be recorded in the Bible, but I believe Jesus had a sense of humour, and laughed well.