Archives For December 2012

You will not be punished for your anger; you will be punished by your anger. Let a person overcome anger by love. Hate is never ended by hatred but by love.
— Buddha —

BuddhaThese words could just as easily come from the mouth of Jesus as from Buddha. But in reality Buddha lived on this earth several hundred years before Jesus. It amazes me how similar the reported lives of Jesus and Buddha are. Here are some of those similarities as found at Wikipedia and other sources:

  •  Buddha is actually a title which means “the awakened one”, his name was actually Gautama Buddha.
  • Traditional biographies of Gautama generally include numerous miracles, omens, and supernatural events.
  • Buddha was never historically regarded by Buddhist traditions as being merely human
  • Most of Buddhism accounts of this life, discourses, and monastic rule are believed to have been summarized after his death and memorized by his followers
  • Various collections of teachings attributed to him were passed down by oral tradition, and first committed to writhing about 400 years later.

While there are great similarities there are also great differences:

  • Unlike Christians, the ancient Indians were generally unconcerned with chronologies, being more focused on philosophy.
  • Unlike Jesus, Buddha was supposedly born to a royal Hindi family.
  • Buddhist texts reflect this tendency, providing a clearer picture of what Gautama may have taught than of the dates of the events in his life.
  • Unlike Jesus, Buddha lived for about 45 years after his great awakening
  • Buddha never considered himself a god, nor do most of his followers. He was human but not merely human.

Even though Buddha is not considered a god is as endeared by the Hindi religion as Jesus is to the Christian one.  I think that all of us should learn what we can from the various spiritual sources.  In that regard his words above inspire me. The anger itself is what punishes you and the way to overcome that anger is love. This relates very closely to the words of Jesus.  I will have to learn more about Buddhism.

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I am a regular reader of a Quaker blog called Quaker Quaker. On a recent posting  by Mac Lemann I learned a little about Mary Dyer. Here are some of his words from that post:

I had recently re-learned, at Pendle Hill from Marcelle Martin, the story of Mary Dyer and the other Quaker martyrs hung on Boston Common. Mary was a follower of Anne Hutchinson (see the Antinomian Controversy) who preached that every Christian believer could read, interpret, and preach the word of God and that the Grace of God is freely given. Mary was later convinced by George Fox in England of the Truth and power of Friends. Because of her conviction that God’s law is love and tolerance and despite the fact that the Massachusetts government, essentially the Puritan church, had passed a law banning Quakers from their colony, she returned to Massachusetts again and again in defiance of the worldly law and was martyred for her beliefs.

After gazing at the statue for a few minutes I turned and strode to the center of Boston common where Mary was hung and buried in an unmarked grave. I stomped my foot and jumped up into the cool air and sunny sky. I felt myself slam down onto the land forbidden to Quakers in the 17th century and I thought, “Goddamn it! I am a Quaker on Boston Common!”

When we think of Christian martyrs we most often think of the Inquisition or as I do the post-Constantine era of Christianity. We don’t often relate it to what later became the USA.  Most of us remember hearing stories of the Salem witchcraft trials but not many know about the hangings on the Boston Common for heresy. We don’t often remember that even though we have a separation of Church and State in our constitution that wasn’t so of the thirteen colonies that initially formed our country. Many including Massachusetts, Road Island, and Pennsylvania were made up of primarily the same religious sect and not very tolerant of other beliefs.

Can you imagine one Christian colony putting to death a citizen because they believed that all Christians can have opinions of biblical text or that God will eventually grant salvation to everyone? Thank heavens for those like Thomas Jefferson who had a more tolerant view of religious sects.

For a little more information here is what Wikipedia says about the Boston Martyrs:

The Boston martyrs is the name given in Quaker tradition to the three English members of the Society of Friends, Marmaduke Stephenson, William Robinson and Mary Dyer, and to the Friend William Leddra of Barbados, who were condemned to death and executed by public hanging for their religious beliefs under the legislature of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1659, 1660 and 1661. Several other Friends lay under sentence of death at Boston in the same period, but had their punishments commuted to that of being whipped out of the colony from town to town.

“The hanging of Mary Dyer on the Boston gallows in 1660 marked the beginning of the end of the Puritan theocracy and New England independence from English rule. In 1661 King Charles II explicitly forbade Massachusetts from executing anyone for professing Quakerism. In 1684 England revoked the Massachusetts charter, sent over a royal governor to enforce English laws in 1686, and in 1689 passed a broad Toleration act.”


Merry Christmas

December 25, 2012 — 1 Comment

Jesus in the creche with Mary and Joseph

Merry Christmas Everyone

 

The Words of Jesus….

December 22, 2012 — Leave a comment

This is a continuation of the previous post about the words of Jesus taking front and center in Christian living.  Last time we talked about  how the red letters came about in our Christian bibles and about an organization dedicated to putting them back in their proper place in Christianity.  This time I want to tell you about a couple of books that put the red letters front and center.

Words of JesusThe first is a book by Phyllis Tickle entitled The Words of Jesus. This book which was published in 2008 was the first time I have come across something dedicated entirely by the words coming from Jesus’ mouth (at least as reported in the Gospel text). Phyllis Tickle is a firm member of the emergent movement and therefore one of my current favorite authors. This book was a rather ambitious undertaking as she admits in the preface. It is broken down into categories including:

  • Words of Public Teaching
  • Words of Private Instructions
  • Words of Healing Dialogue
  • Words of Intimate Conversation
  • Words of Post-Resurrection Encounters

I have used this book on several occasions as a way to find a particularly verse I was looking for. If you browse Amazon you will see it gets its share of low ratings from those who say all the words in the Bible are just as important as any others and also from those who say only their bible version is the “correct” one (she used several different versions).  As Tickle points out in her book pulling the red letters away from their surroundings in the Gospel text allows us to see them without prejudice of others interpretation. But to some degree they also then deny us the wisdom of the early fathers. I have most often used this book as a way to find a particular verse and then go to the gospel text for further understanding.

Red LettersThe second book in this area is a recent one entitled the Red Letters edited by Timothy Beals. This book is pure red letters and is organized in two distinct sections. One is the words are presented in chronological order as they were spoken. The second listing is by topic including: Kingdom and Creed, Hearing and Doing, Warnings and Woes.  This book resides on my Kindle beside the one above as a ready source for finding a particular verse for further study.

I would recommend both of these works to anyone serious about the teachings of Jesus. As pointed out above they do put all the emphasis on the unvarnished words of Jesus and then leave it up to you to understand the meaning. You do that by searching your heart and also looking at the surrounding text while keeping in mind that the surrounding text is just one man’s understanding of the words.

As I have mentioned several times on the blog over the years I believe it is up to each of us to come to our own understanding of what Christianity is all about and what the words of Jesus mean to us. While there have been literally thousands of theologians and such that have written their opinions very few of them seem to agree with each other.

If you want to know what Christianity is supposed to be about you must get that information directly from the foundation and that is Jesus. Any other source, which is always another person’s interpretation, is secondary at best.

I think its time to revisit a little history of the red letters and some of the people besides me who concentrated on them.  Who started putting the words of Jesus in red letters? Here is what Wikipedia says about that:

The term red letter edition is used to describe Bibles in which words spoken by Jesus, commonly only while he was on the Earth, are printed in red ink. This is not to be confused with the Red-Letter Christian movement, which has used this term to emphasize the teachings of Jesus in the Bible, particularly in regards to social justice.

The red letter edition was invented by Louis Klopsch, then editor of The Christian Herald magazine in 1899, and first published in 1900.  This style of Bible instantly became popular, and is sometimes favored by mainly Protestant Christians in the United States. Especially in King James Bibles, this format can be useful as quotation marks are not used.

Klopsch’s idea of printing the words of Jesus in red originated in Luke 22:20, which says: This cup is the new testament in my blood, which I shed for you. This inspired Klopsch to ask his mentor what he thought of printing the words spoken by Jesus in red, to which he replied, “It could do no harm and it most certainly could do much good.

Wikipedia made the point to emphasize that the  decision to put the words of Jesus in red letters has nothing to do with the Red Letter Christian movement now underway and growing quickly. Here again is what Wikipedia says about this movement

Red-Letter Christians constitute a non-denominational movement within Christianity. Proponents of the movement believe that Christianity, and especially evangelicalism, has been exploited by both right-wing and left-wing political movements and become too partisan and politicized. As a response they endeavor to create an evangelical movement that focuses on the teachings of Jesus Christ, particularly in regard to social issues. The two most prominent figures associated with the movement are Jim Wallis and Tony Campolo. 

Red Letter ChristiansAs you can tell from the title of this blog I am very much aligned with this movement. To me the words of Jesus Christ, especially those aligned with social justice take front and center in my life. If you are interested in learning more about this movement I would recommend the book entitled Red Letter Christians by Tony Campolo. If you search for the term “red letter christian” on Amazon several books will come up. This is a testament to the growing popularity of getting back to the words of Jesus as the early Christians did.  Most of what we call Christianity now is actually the result of men, both well-meaning and otherwise, who came after Jesus, sometime long after Jesus.

If you have read much of what I have written here you will know that to me Christianity has been hijacked to be what we believe about Jesus and many other unrelated things versus trying to “be” like Jesus as he commanded us. Part of the emergent movement that is now taking place in much of the world also aligns with putting the red letters back as the focus of our faith.

This is a continuation of the previous post about heresy and why it has contaminated the church. We all have our opinions of what God wants us to do and believe and we are for the most part not at all tolerant of those who might think differently than we do. It seems when someone has the inherent power to do something about those who disagree with they usually deemed their opponent a heretic and  then drive them from their midst. In the post-Constantine age over 25,000 were murdered for not totally aligning with the then current church leader.

I must make it clear that heresy is by no means limited to the pre-Reformation times. Our Protestant brothers and sister have become very good at it. They might not any longer be executing those who they proclaim heretics but they have become very proficient at shunning and dividing when they can’t agree. 39,000 versions of Jesus Christ! Shame on us for fracturing so easily about man-made beliefs. I believe that our fracturing is one of the primary causes for the current church implosion. We as believers are somehow supposed to pick the one true church and then go about shunning all the rest. How can a new Christian even begin maneuver through that terrain?

Fractured Church CoverJesus clearly told us he wants us to be one just as he and the father are one. What happened? I will be studying that in the coming weeks and report more info then. One of my primary sources for this info is a new book I recently encountered entitled The Fractured Church by Bill Sizemore. It will be interesting to see more info about how we have become so fractured. One interesting question  this book presents  is will Jesus come to us while we are so fractured or will he do something to bring us back together before his appearance?  A question that deserve some time to  study and contemplate.

My initial thoughts on the effect of heresy in the church is that it has done almost irreparable damage to the church of Jesus. We have become so stiff-necked in our beliefs that we just can’t tolerate anything representing the diversity that were so common in the early Christians. I truly believe that what makes the United States a world leader is our diversity. We are almost totally the results of immigrants. Likewise the Christian church could become a leader in world spiritual rejuvenation if we simply celebrated diversity in our midst instead of prosecuting it.

Am I saying that there are no reasons that would justify fracturing the church? I am absolutely not saying that! But what I am saying is that it is insane to believe that there are 39,000 reasons to fracture.

The Emergent church movement that I am hanging so much hope on sees this in a completely different light. They deem diversity in thought as a plus. Here is what Robin Meyers in his book The Underground Church says about that:

 They (the emergent church) value open and inclusive approaches to Christianity and are less interested in having all the answers than in living the questions. Emergents wish to participate in communities of faith that take the Bible seriously, but not always literally. Emergents believe that following  Jesus isn’t just about getting to heaven when they die, but is about partnering with God to bring heaven to earth in the here and now.

 

What is Heresy??

December 16, 2012 — Leave a comment

Many people throughout church history have been put to death because of heresy. But, just what is heresy? That is what this post will be about. Many church leaders have charged others with heresy many times in its history. The most recognizable instances are the inquisitions, post-Constantine period, the Crusades, and of course Galileo and Joan of Arc.  Of this list I am the most familiar with the post-Constantine period. It is estimated that about 25,000 Christians were put to death for heresy during the two centuries after the Roman King Constantine made Christianity a State religion. That number far surpasses those put to death by the Romans in the Coliseum.

Let’s look at the definition of heresy:

1.  opinion or doctrine at variance with the orthodox or accepted doctrine, especially of a church or religious system.

2.  the maintaining of such an opinion or doctrine.

3.  Roman Catholic Church . the willful and persistent rejection of any article of faith by a baptized member of the church.

4.  any belief or theory that is strongly at variance with established beliefs, customs, etc.

Harvey Cox in his book The Future of Faith tells us that heresy is a man-made invention that came about many years after the first Christians.

In the last few decades, however, all these assumptions have proven erroneous. The following are now evident. First, there never was a single “early Christianity” there were many, and the idea of “heresy” was unknown. Second, it was not the apostles themselves, but subsequent generations who invented “apostolic authority,” and both creeds and hierarchies emerged much later than had been thought. Third, an essential key to comprehending the earliest Christians, including those who wrote the New Testament, is to see their movement as a self-conscious alternative to the empire that tyrannized them. And the best way to understand the succeeding generation of Christian leaders is to notice how they reversed course and gradually came to admire and emulate that empire.

It turns out that heresy is almost exclusively about beliefs and has nothing to do with “being” a Christian. Why does this problem between beliefs vs being crop up so frequently in the church?  I think much of it has to do with the power structures built up by the church and of course the egos that go along with  that power. No, the church is not exempt from the old saying that Power corrupts and absolute power absolutely corrupts. Throughout its history the Christian church has had a very vertical hierarchy. As a result almost all change comes from the top down. Grass roots change is very rare among any Christian church structure both before and after the Reformation.

Since God is obviously not in the refereeing business, or he would have taken care of this long ago, he leaves it up to us to work out. Obviously we are not good at it at all! Too many egos in play. It just seems difficult for Christians to allow diversity of beliefs to exist in Jesus’ church

More about that in the next post.

About The Man Jesus…

December 14, 2012 — Leave a comment

I do believe that Jesus was both a man and God. How that combination can co-exist is a total mystery to me. In that light I continue to study and try to learn as much about Jesus,  both his God side and his human side. In this post I want to reflect a few things that I have learned about his human side.

We know almost nothing about the person Jesus outside the gospel accounts. He simply did not show up in any written Roman accounts of the time. His trial before Herod is not documented by any Roman sources. But from what we have learned from archeological studies and such about the times he lived we can make a pretty good guess on just who the man might have been.

We know that Jesus lived in and was probably born around Nazareth in Palestine.  Palestine was very much under the control of the Roman empire and was considered a hot bed of political unrest.  Kind of like Berkeley was in the 1960’s in the U.S. We know Jesus was born during the reign of Caesar Augustus who was known as “the Son of the Divine One” or “Son of God”. So when Jesus took on that self-proclaimed title he assuredly  raised the ire of a  least a few local Roman officials.  This self declaration was likely one of the main reasons that the Romans executed him especially by crucifixion. They considered no one, especially a lowly Jew, except their king to the the “son of God”!

Nazareth is never mentioned in any pre-Christian text but it has recently been found to be about four miles north of the major Roman city of  Sepphoris.  Nazareth was probably never really identified by the Romans because it was never considered anything but a suburb of that major city. Given its location it was likely not the backwater town as depicted in the biblical accounts. Since Sepphoris was experiencing a major expansion during Jesus’ time it is likely that he and his father were employed by Roman authorities in that massive building program. Everyone in that area likely was.  If Jesus was a carpenter he was not lower class as some biblical myths proclaim. He would have been considered a skilled artisan in that time and  place and paid accordingly.

Outside archeological discoveries, what we know of Jesus is mostly interpretation of those who followed him. The earliest Christians, almost all of whom were illiterate, kept Jesus alive by verbally telling their stories over and over again. Those stories were eventually written down several years after his death and resurrection. The four most recognized written accounts are found in the Gospel text.  But Jesus also is mentioned in several other Christian writings of the time; some have just been recently discovered as part of the “Dead Sea Scrolls”. Many of these new sources are identified as gnostic in origin. More on that in a later post.

To finish up this post we must make it very clear that Jesus was first and foremost a Jew. He likely attended daily worship as a Jew and later even became a Jewish clergyman. The biblical account show that he commanded that his followers restrict themselves to only jewish land and people. It was only after his death that Gentiles were included as his followers. All of the twelve apostles were most certainly Jews as well as Paul who would come along later. There is no real evidence that Jesus ever intended to stray from his Jewish roots.

As I have mentioned in previous posts Luke Chapter 6 is at the heart of the Bible as far as I am concerned. Lets look at some of it starting at verse 27.

“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,  bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.  If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them.  Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.  Do to others as you would have them do to you.  

These are some very hard words when we take them literally! Jesus gave us many messages through parables, stories, and such. Sometimes that is difficult to understand. Why didn’t he just come out with a set of rules instead of constantly telling us stories. I think part of the reason for that is because he knew that two thousand years in the future we would still be studying his messages and they needed to seem relevant to that time and all the time before and after.

When I look for the underlying message from the above words I think Jesus was trying to tell us  that we are not to have a retaliatory attitude. In other words he was canceling the Old Testament verses about an eye for an eye. Even though he claimed he only came to fulfill scriptures, Jesus seemed to take several  Old Testament rules off the table during his ministry. When God said vengeance was his I think he really meant it. It is not up to us to take revenge on others who we deem has done us wrong. God will do that; maybe not in this life but certainly in the next.

Of course, like so many other messages from Jesus the final sentence above is the one that attracts all the attention. Like the story of the sheep and the goats where Jesus is talking about “being” Christians instead of jut mouthing the words, we often ignore the verses we don’t like.  Many have turned sheep/goats story into being about beliefs instead of actions. Yes, there are messages hidden within many of Jesus’ word  but we should not immediately discount the possibility that he might have also meant them literally.

For most of us it would be extremely hard to turn the other cheek or to not try to get back what others take from us. But I think the underlying message in this instance is that we should not give much priority to the “things” we own. They are just things and are not that important in a true Christian’s life. Being our brother’s keeper is a hard thing to practice in this world but that is what Jesus insists if you espouse to be a Christian.

Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless and pray for those who mistreat you.  Don’t fight back, give to anyone who asks. These are hard lessons to learn. May we all struggle daily to try to live up to them.

PriestIt always saddens me to see yet another instance of a Christian church exercising exclusion but that is what this article is all about. This time it is the Roman Catholic church. They stripped  Rev. Bill Brennan, a 92-year-old Jesuit priest (that is him in the picture here) of his duties because he performed a liturgy in with a female priest not sanctioned with the Roman Catholic church. Here are some bits and pieces from the source article for our discussion today:

source:  Priest stripped of duties for celebrating Mass with woman priest – U.S. News.

A Milwaukee-area Catholic priest was stripped of his priestly duties after he presided over a Mass with a woman priest last month in Georgia….

The Catholic Church prohibits women’s ordination, saying it has no authority to ordain women because Jesus chose only men as his apostles….

About 59 percent of American Catholics are in favor of women’s ordination, according to a 2010 poll by The New York Times and CBS, but the Vatican sees the initiative as having the potential to cause a rift in the church….

Brennan, who lives with other retired Jesuits in the Milwaukee area, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he understood the risks when he decided to perform a liturgy alongside a woman priest.

“Sometimes in our lives we have to trust our conscience and bring about the consequences,” he told the newspaper. “I wasn’t trying to show off for the ladies.”….

I have heard of two reasons now why the Catholic church does not allow priests to marry. The first was that King Constantine who hijacked the church in the fourth century to make it a State religion did it so that priests could not pass on their power given by Constantine to their children.  He insisted that he alone had that power and that is would not be inherited.

The second reason now is that all of the apostles were men and therefore Jesus did not intend women to be faith leaders. If you know even the slightest amount of history during this period you know just how little power women possessed in those times. They were for the most part considered property of either their fathers or their husbands. Documents that have been appearing in archeological digs since the 1940’s sheds a seemingly new light on early Christian female leaders. Mary Magdalen comes to mind first but there were several other women leaders in the early church despite the fact that it was generally culturally prohibited at the time.  I’m just a simple guy but this excuse for limiting spiritual leaders to only men seems kind of lame to me standing here in the 21st century.

So here we are with a 92-year-old priest who has given his life for his God being chastised by the church hierarchy for trusting his conscience.  There seems to be an ongoing conflict between American Catholics and the Vatican in recent years and this is one of those cases. But, like most other Christian churches the Roman Catholic church is has a very vertical hierarchy. The person at the top is given predominate power over those below him. That often results in very slow changes from the grass roots level.

It is sad to see the church spend more time excluding others than to welcome the stranger as Jesus taught us. I am hoping that the emergent church movement will eventually correct this anomaly.