SPEAKING IN TONGUES
(based on 1 Corinthians 13:1 NIV)
“blah blah blah
blah blah blah blah blah
blah blah blahblah,
blah blah blah blah blah,
blah blah blahblah blah
blahblah blah blah
blah blahblah blahblah.”
“blah blah blah
blah blah blah blah blah
blah blah blahblah,
blah blah blah blah blah,
blah blah blahblah blah
blahblah blah blah
blah blahblah blahblah.”
We all have speed bumps that crop up in our lives. It may be a death, an accident or loss of some other sort that causes us to slow down and even stop to reconsider our direction in life. This is a good thing. Life’s tragedies large and small can be a sort of amazing grace. And sometimes they can even make us better.
Wherefore I am well pleased in infirmities, in damages, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses — for Christ; for whenever I am infirm, then I am powerful.
~ 2 Corinthians 12:12 (YLT – Young’s Literal Translation)
Being a citizen of the United States Of America the past 8 months have been excruciatingly difficult to endure. We have a President (along with other White House leadership) with no self-control, no discretion, no discipline, no compassion and no love who continues to emotionally/psychologically abuse, harass and harm the very people he is supposed to lead. Never has so much damage been done in and to the office of President of the United States than has occurred under Donald Trump. It will only go to deepen the cynicism and distrust that people have for politicians. I think the notion of a politician being a force for good is not even possible with the current leadership. It has been depressing to daily and sometimes hourly see breaking news stories of how the President has, yet again, done something so outrageous and shocking that it is virtually unbelievable. We are being forced to watch a reality media show that is seemingly never-ending. And the media is focusing on the sensational. Now I have no great love for the media and that is about the only thing Donald Trump and I have in common. Our reasons for disliking the media are completely different. I would like to see more investigative journalism and less sensational journalism. Trump just decries anything he doesn’t like as “fake news”. But it’s NOT fake news it is the reality we live in.
This past weekend we saw many developments in the United States. The rise of racism, talks of secession, hatred for all things non-white. And in the past few months we’ve been seeing the increased likelihood of nuclear war with North Korea, Venezuela, and a trade war with China. Sure with all this “madness” it would be easy to throw in the towel and say it is WAY bigger than anything I can have any power over or change. But I’m not ready to do that. Now more than ever we need to be strong.
We do need to look at both sides of a story but we also need to address and stand up to those values and positions that would harm others or enslave them for ones own enrichment. For example: The American Constitution has a provision for free speech and lawful assembly. These laws apply to ALL people – even people who believe differently from me. So for neo-nazis, white supremacists etc; we must acknowledge they have the right to protected free speech (we just don’t have to like it). Just like people who oppose them have the right to protected free speech. Now I know a lot of people are going to be uncomfortable with that notion. But as a follower of Jesus Christ I am a FIRM believer in what he taught about loving ones enemies (I’ll explain more on that later). It’s just that in these troubled times it is difficult to STOP, take a moment, consider, weigh ones reactions before making those reactions public. But that is exactly what we must do. I do not love Donald Trump’s policies I specifically hate his approach to what should be collaborative, positive working relationships. I hate his non-stop “twittering”. But I do NOT wish him dead. I hate now Trump and many in the white house continues to hold his business interests (even if they are in his children’s names – who are his official presidential advisors and aides) creating conflicts of interest. I cannot hate a man who is misguided, foolish, delusional and emotionally unstable. I can honestly say I’ve had to think about this long and hard. The past 8 months have shown me that we all have the capacity for hatred but we do not all act on that. I understand why people may think that the only way to solve this crisis we face in America is to kill or assassinate Donald Trump. I understand because I felt myself slipping into the same hate for hate thinking and had to stop myself. I pray to God that Donald Trump is not assassinated. Here’s why. I don’t have any confidence in the Vice President that would take his place. And killing Donald Trump would only give the alt-right extremists the martyr they’d love to have – which they would use to justify further violence. On top of that as a Christian I am against the death penalty for anyone because I believe that just as God gives life he also takes it away it is not up to man take life away. And anyone who behaves abominably should have the opportunity to change or, to use an archaic term, repent. If they are killed we are depriving them of that opportunity. So death is NOT the answer. But Donald Trump should be impeached and that needs to happen ASAP (in my opinion). I seriously doubt that Trump will survive to the end of his first term.
Sadly America can only blame itself for creating AND electing Donald Trump the tyrant. No one should be surprised by what he is doing. He used the same tactics in his reality TV shows. People who have participated in his shows “THE APPRENTICE” and “CELEBRITY APPRENTICE” have noted how Trump would pit people against each other, he would harass and harangue people to create and build drama in the show. He is a victim of his own celebrity – believing in a false value of self. Unfortunately, we can see that what works on television isn’t what works as a world leader. He has also gotten support from an “Evangelical Right” that uses scripture to justify and encourage Donald Trump giving him a false moral justification for all he does. This same type of Evangelical movement that uses the Christian Bible to justify white supremacy also supported Hitler and The Third Reich (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German_Evangelical_Church). I also think it may be time to do away with the electoral college. There was a time when the electoral college had value. But in the internet age the electoral college is an archaic institution that can only do more harm than good. It is time to elect leaders only by popular vote.
Now about love. It may seem odd and unlikely to read about love in this type of post. I think it is necessary to bring the needed balance and provide level-headed options to the discussion. Please consider this; how do we love a tyrant, a despot, an oligarch, a hate-filled man? We CANNOT react in the ways he reacts. We can find ways to slow down the discussion allowing time for all parties to think about their positions. We can act respectful to them without agreeing with them. We can seek to remove them from their position for their own good. Donald Trump is clearly over his head and he is being battered on all sides continually and that would be enough to make anyone crack. The kindest thing we can do for America is also the kindest thing we can do for Donald Trump. Impeach him. Remove him from the position that is causing him so much distress. And wish him well as he leaves. Now I’ll be the first to admit this is easier to type than actually practice. Love is not some easy fluffy romantic notion – it is something we have to work at.
One of the benefits of writing this is that it also reaffirms what I believe and helps give me the strength I need to practice what I “preach”. I cannot hate Donald Trump I can only hate the carnage he has created while in office. I do not believe there are evil people only evil actions. And I choose to not act evil or out of malice toward my fellow Americans, or any living beings. And if I do act evil (because I am human and have occasional weakness) it is a weakness that I quickly seek to remedy.
Matthew 4:43-45 (NIV) “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 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.
Feel free to agree or disagree on any and all points. That’s why it’s called free speech. We can disagree and still be respectful.
***If you think more people should see this post – feel free to re-post.
For the second review in this (hopefully) ongoing series. I’d like to draw your attention to a relatively new recording by Icelandic composer, Jóhann Jóhannsson, titled Orphée. Jóhannsson has composed for numerous films including the recent ARRIVAL and upcoming BLADE RUNNER 2024 as well as many solo studio recordings….. But of all his work so far the one that really stands out as a pinnacle in his oeuvre is this “solo” recording exploring the myth of Orphée/Orpheus.
The second track on the album:
This recording for Deutsche Grammophon records can, at first listen, be compared to Samuel Barber’s ADAGIO – but that is only in mood and temperament. When listening to this masterwork by Jóhannsson I find so many rich and wonderful feelings and ideas. I can feel like I’m wandering through a darkened hallway, arms outstretched, moving slow and gently feeling my way around the space. With continued listening I also feel a sense of gravity a tension that a very large bird may feel as it starts out in flight and slowly lifts itself from the earth. And in its flight feels the constant pull of the earth again even in it’s supposed freedom of soaring on the winds. Maybe it’s the speed at which the musical themes evolve throughout this 47 minute composition.
When thinking about this music, and the ideas, of Orpheus in the underworld wanting to bring back his love. I also begin to muse on the “warning” he is given to not look back and trust that his love Eurydice is behind him. And when he does look back – she is lost to him forever. This notion of not looking back is also found in the Bible story (Genesis 19) of Lot and his family as they flee Sodom and Gomorrah who were also warned to not look back. When Lot’s wife looks back she is turned into a pillar of salt. I further begin to wonder, what is this problem with looking back? It seems to be something we as humans do all the time. It is the cornerstone of memory. We don’t have memories of the future, do we? Or maybe we just haven’t learned to access those future memories. And looking back isn’t really all that bad. In the case of Orpheus the underworld can be compared to underground that where things are rooted – for plants literally. Underground is the foundation upon which we build our buildings and other man-made structures. It is not only a place for the dead. It seems that one could make the argument that Orpheus was looking back to his roots and very foundation for his wife – the gods had tricked him. In the case of lot with his wife turning to a pillar of salt. Salt is beneficial and necessary in all our diets it is also a preservative. So maybe her looking back actually made it possible for the rest of her family to be saved/preserved. These two examples may relate to the sense of gravity that I hear and feel in this music under the earth there is no escape from gravity and a pillar of rock/salt is so completely connected to the rest of the rock it cannot escape.
We all look back at some point in our lives. It is not a weakness. It is only human nature and inevitable. Orpheus, like Lot’s wife HAD to look back. And that may be the tension I hear and feel in the music – the desire to only look forward while feeling the pull to look back that is ultimately irresistible. So maybe the problem isn’t the looking back; as the warnings imply (and many bible scholars will try to teach), maybe these myths simply teach us of the cost. There is a cost and consequence to everything. It’s not a matter of good or bad but simply an understanding of exchange. And that thought is freeing and non-condemning like a bird in flight.
The final and only genuinely vocal track on the album:
These are the many things that drifted through my listening of this excellent album. All that being said, this music simply stops me in my tracks and forces me to listen, think, dream. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.
1. Flight From The City
2. A Song For Europa
3. The Drowned World
4. A Deal With Chaos
5. A Pile Of Dust
6. A Sparrow Alighted Upon Our Shoulder
7. Fragment I
8. By The Roes, And By The Hinds Of The Field
9. The Radiant City
10. Fragment II
11. The Burning Mountain
12. De Luce Et Umbra
13. Good Morning, Midnight
14. Good Night, Day
15. Orphic Hymn
Follow the link for more info:
Is it possible that we have over-read and over-interpreted the Bible?
Has over-reading lead to mis-interpretation and misunderstanding?
Have we missed the whole point?
10 Things that Christianity got WRONG:
10.) Thinking Heaven is about escaping life instead of living life.
9.) Emphasizing the divinity of Jesus and diminish his humanity.
8.) Choosing Duality instead of seeing Jesus as the ultimate non-duality.
7.) Missions; let’s face it, it’s proselytizing a sales pitch to try and get others to be part of the group.
6.) Reading the Bible literally – ’nuff said.
5.) Having a personal Jesus – teaching that Jesus came to change their world instead of helping THEM to change the world.
4.) 7-day church. It only promotes separation from the world not participation in the world.
3.) The “right” to bear arms against anyone we disagree with – to defend ourselves.
2.) 10 commandments/rules and regulations/rituals – [even though Jesus said that he was the end of the law]
1.) Exclusivity, being part of the “chosen”, us vs. them – [even though Jesus Christ was inclusive]
10 things Jesus NEVER saw coming:
10.) That he would have a religion named after him.
9.) A government which allowed him to be murdered would turn him into a state sponsored religion.
8.) People would actually pray to his mother.
7.) Temples/Churches would be built in his name that had nothing to do with what he taught. [And most of the people who attend those “temples” and read this still won’t “get it”.]
6.) That some worthless King(James) of England would make a political move and commission his own Bible that would be written with the intent to justify/legitimize his own English Church and that this would become the standard for “modern” Christianity even though it is inconsistent and full of errors in translation.
5.) That people would use him as an excuse to disengage from the world – except when they want donations.
4.) That his name [Jesus] would become a marketable commodity where trillions of dollars would change hands – even in church.
3.) The industrial revolution.
2.) The technological revolution.
1.) The internet and the information revolution.
10 things Jesus actually taught:
10.) That he would be the source of much misunderstanding and division turning, even, families against each other causing much suffering.
9.) Pray in a closet – not in public.
8.) Politics gets it wrong.
7.) Religion gets it wrong.
6.) You can have peace regardless how horrible your life circumstances may be.
5.) You’re a narcissist? – so what! love God and love your neighbor as much as you love yourself.
4.) It’s your faith, what you believe, that heals you. Healing comes from within.
3.) Love your enemies – because when you do, you no longer see them as your enemy.
2.) The kingdom of Heaven is within you – here and now.
1.) Churches are like tombs filled with the bones of the dead.
Bonus – The thing Jesus’ life revealed – He is the Saint of Impossible Causes (like me).
We are creeping up on the Easter holiday season, many Christians will be planning their celebrations of death and resurrection. They will be recounting the last days of Jesus Christ on his way to the cross etc. There will be many annoying bath-robe pageants, easter sunrise services and the like. The bigger churches will have glitz and glamour, and high-tech installations. Oh my, I think I just made myself sick.
I want to re-visit one of Jesus last messages. The message not only highlights why he was murdered by politics and religion but talks about something that I’ve heard often repeated since my youth; he talks about what so many Christians have interpolated as the “end times” – as in, “it’s the end of the world, pack your backs for the rapture – we’re goin’ to heaven.”
Text will be from Luke 21 in the Concordant Literal New Testament translation. The context is a number of days before the Last Supper and Jesus’ arrest. Jesus is with his disciples at the temple. He notices people caught up in the temple service and they are making a big show of how much they are able to give. Even a poor widow who gives all that she owns. His disciples are caught up in the hoopla and talk about how beautiful and grand the temple is. In other words we are seeing a cultic temple-centric (not God centered) experience complete with hype. Religious practice has become a show (kinda like Christian churches in our own time).
Jesus does NOT get caught up in the hoopla. He steps back from the fray and declares,
“These which you are beholding – there will be coming days in which not a stone will be left here on a stone, which will not be demolished.” [v.6]
Is it any wonder he was murdered? He was talking about the end of the temple religion – a religion that had become the very core of Jewish identity. Today this would be called anti-Semitism. And if someone said the same of Christian churches there would be riots in the streets. How did Christianity get “end times” out of that incident? It makes NO sense. But the next section may give us a clue. Jesus’ disciples start by asking,
“Teacher, when, then, will these things be, and what is the sign whenever these things may be about to be occurring?” [v.7]
So even Jesus disciples can’t believe the words that came out of his mouth. Jesus then talks about what to expect. He describes how nations will war with each other and smaller political entities/governments will war with, and within, each other (think of the war between Republicans and Democrats in the US). In other words great division. he also mentions great quakes, famines and pestilences,… fearful sights and great events in the heavens (i.e. space, the solar system etc). Jesus continues to talk about not only the desolation of the temple but also the desolation of Jerusalem. Again if this kind of talk happened here in America it would be considered traitorous punishable by death penalty – so as I said earlier – is it any wonder that people hated Jesus and begged for his crucifixion? Jesus goes on, in detail, to talk about various signs that the desolation is near and at the time of this desolation he says,
“And then they shall be seeing the son of mankind coming in a cloud with power and much glory. Now at the beginning of these occurrences, unbend and lift up your heads, because your deliverance is drawing near.” [v.27]
Pretty fanciful and this is where Christians have interpolated this notion of rapture and end times because they read this as a literal event not a metaphor for living now. He is describing those who are able to rise above the fray. Again this has nothing to do with the end of life as we know it. Just the end of the temple and desolation of Jerusalem. Continuing, Jesus then tells one of his famous parables – this time the parable of the fig tree. And this is another thing that disturbs me because most of the parables are mis-understood and taken out of the context in which they happen. He illuminates and interprets the parable for his disciples by saying,
“Thus you also, whenever you may be perceiving these things occurring, know that near is the kingdom of God.” [v.31]
This is wonderfully consistent because through-out the period in his life when he was teaching Jesus refers to the kingdom of God/Heaven as near and even here now and “within you”. So in the midst of all this crap that’s happening in the world the kingdom of God and Heaven is near, so near that it’s here now within us. Now most Christians will not want to hear this because they want some great escape from the crap in this world. But it doesn’t happen that way. Of course the next question could be “Why are we stuck here, why can’t we escape?” I think it’s because we’re supposed to make a difference to help others work through the crap in their lives to make this heaven for everyone.
What happens next in the scripture is that Jesus gives us a map, a guideline of behavior and mindset, for surviving this life and it is loosely linked with the golden rule. Jesus tells us to beware for ourselves that we don’t get sucked into all that’s going on around us,
“Now take heed to yourselves, lest at some time your hearts should be burdened with crapulence and drunkenness and the worries of life’s affairs,….” [vs.34]
We need to protect our own mindset because if we don’t we can get bogged down by “crapulence” (literally skull-wrestle or mental distress), drunkenness if we give in and stressed by life’s affairs. He goes on to say that getting bogged down by this stuff is a trap. A hidden trap that will snap shut and victimize us. He does not want us to be trapped or victimized so he is warning us to beware of our own thinking and behavior. This is incredibly difficult to do in our technological environment where we are continuously blasted by news of all that is going on around us – it is easy to get caught up in events and not remain separate and guarded so that we can be of benefit to others. But this is exactly what he is talking about. In verse 36 Jesus comes to the end of this particular teaching and says,
“Now be vigilant, on every occasion beseeching that you may be prevailing to escape all these things which are about to occur, and to stand in front of the son of mankind.” [v.36]
Again he reiterates to beware at all times. And why? Not so that we can escape from this life but that we can escape from the harm of getting sucked into the vortex of all that is happening around thus rendering us ineffective. Is it the end times? Sure, because all the signs are there. Will there be a great escape for Christians? Nah, don’t think so. If Christians truly believed they were chosen then they would want to stick around to be a part of the healing and restoration fulfilling the teaching of Christ. I plan on sticking around. I’d rather be dancing in the mosh pit or some jazzy dive than in some grand disco in the sky.
THE PART YOU THREW AWAY
I want to start by saying, I love Atheists. Even though I’m a Christian I love how Atheism continues to ask the hard questions. My personal experience with Atheism is that in America it seems to be primarily a backlash against Institutional Christianity and how Christianity is preached and practiced. I would add that I think there is good reason to agree with some of the arguments Atheists make. A favorite story I recently came across was this one by magician Penn Jillette who talks about why he is an Atheist – and it generally expresses what I’ve heard from all who are Atheists.
“What we get told about the Bible is a lot of picking and choosing…. When someone’s trying to interpret something for you they always have an agenda.”
And I think that this is important and offers a clue why institutional Christianity has gotten so out-of-whack. When I started reading the Bible for myself and stopped depending on what others told me about what I believe and why – I found so much more. I found stories, concerns and issues that, in my 50+ years of existence have never been taught. Now reading the “source material” has not led me to Atheism like Penn Jillette but it has made me see what has happened to my spiritual tradition over the last 1700 years.
Now about the text I really wanted to talk about. And yes I have an agenda but it’s not to reinforce institutional tradition and understanding; I want to offer up some questioning, discussion and exploration. My text today is from Apostle Paul’s letter to the Galatians. First chapter. In this letter he comes out swinging. In verse 7 he writes,
“Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.”
He then goes on to say later in verse 9,
“If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!”
Now I could focus on Paul’s strong combative language but that would miss the point of what Paul is saying. I could also say that we need to support our religious institutions – but again, that would be missing the whole point of what Paul is saying. It’s not about defending ones position or traditions. I want to focus on what Paul refers to as “the gospel of Christ” – notice, he says gospel OF christ which suggests the content and subject of Christ teachings and revelations. He does NOT say the Gospel ABOUT Christ.
I’ve written before and would like to refresh here that sometimes the archaic language is problematic for contemporary readers. The word “gospel” literally means “good news” straight-forward and simple. And Paul says that the message we should cling to is the same good news that Jesus taught. As I’ve said before, in another post, the good news that Jesus taught was that the kingdom of heaven is within you (near and here now), you are forgiven, and you are loved without exception. But ever since Christianity was adopted by Rome (312 AD, under Constantine) as the state religion the message has been the good news ABOUT Jesus Christ, the person. It’s a subtle prepositional change from “of” to “about” but it is significant. Even a popular Bible dictionary defines the word “Gospel” saying it’s about
“all that God has done, is doing, and will do in his risen Son, Jesus Christ.”
Never once does this dictionary define the “good news” as Jesus defined it. Never once!. The message was changed from what Christ actually taught, and how he lived out his teachings, to WHO he was. This is where the problem starts. It’s like Jesus was the envelope for the message and the message (or letter) in the envelope was the good news for humanity – ALL of humanity. But when the focus changed from the good news that Jesus taught to the man himself it was akin to saving the envelope and discarding the message that was in the envelope. Or maybe a better analogy in these technological times is – It’s like being thrilled that you got an email and moved it to a special folder but never opened the email or read it. And Paul also addresses the issue of letting others tell you what the bible means. It’s like letting someone read the letter you got in the mail, picking out and telling you the parts they think are important and/or acceptable then discarding the rest. Meanwhile you have no real clue as to what the entire letter said. And when one person, priest, pastor etc does this for a whole group of people – this is how the message becomes institutionalized. This individual is gone. One person is now telling other what the experience looks like and the individual has no say if they want to continue to be a part of that group. I think this is what Paul was talking about when he said that the Galatians had allowed someone to tell them what the good news was about and they lived according to that message as opposed to based on their own individual experience.
The institutionalized church has treated the word of God like SPAM long enough. The only way to get around that is for each person to read the source material for themselves (as Penn Jillette would encourage). Understand the context in which it was written and then make your decision. Understand the flow of history and how the ideas have changed. One thing that Apostle Paul points out in this letter specifically is that he discovered this stuff on his own. After his conversion he did not associate with the other Apostles or become indoctrinated by them. He specifically says,
“I did not consult any man.” (vs.16)
In his own life Paul was so overcome by the good news that Jesus taught that he went immediately into Arabia and only later returned. In fact it was 3 years before he went back to Jerusalem to meet Peter. (vs.17-18) So Paul had 3 years of just getting acquainted with Jesus teaching on his own. No seminary, no school. Just life and living. In fact if anyone could have disputed the whole thing it would’ve been Paul because he came out of the institutionalized Jewish tradition. When he met Peter, Paul only stayed with him 15 days and then he left again and didn’t return for another 14 years to meet the other Apostles. There is not a single institution that would allow this today. The faith of Paul was incredibly personal and he had a connection to God that allowed him to develop on his own to practice and reveal the good news in a way that was unique to his life experience. Today you would be sent to classes (“sunday school” for the lay person) or seminary (for those who want to make money doing this) for further indoctrination. I know I’m questioning authority here but I believe it is necessary. We MUST question authority that is both political and religious. This attitude toward individualism is echoed in the book of the Bible known as I John, where the author says,
“…you do not need anyone to teach you. But his anointing teaches you about all things, and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit – just as it has taught you, remain in him.”
Now “anointing” is another archaic word. It simply means to pour or rub oil or ointment on a person or thing and that’s how it was used in the Old Testament. But its meaning changed in the New Testament to signify a divine appointment as a result of a relationship between the physical and metaphysical (or man and God). Through this one-on-one relationship a person learns directly from the Bible through their own individual reading and is responsible for applying principles to their life. The choice is always ours. This anointing, this relationship, is free and available to everyone regardless of their beliefs. This openness in the Christian belief system is rarely (if ever) taught these days as institutions try to keep their people “on point” or “on message” always trying “bring it back home” when they feel it starts to get too individualistic.
So, I’ll put this in plain English – Don’t let anyone tell you what the bible should mean for you. Read the Bible for yourself. Ask questions of the source material. The answers are there. They may not be revealed all at once. And because it uses some archaic language it may take some time to understand it. Don’t get sidetracked by the envelope or package the message came in but read the message for your self. Peace.
What happens when we let other pick and choose what we read and comprehend? I think the overall tune is forgotten like dropped notes teh melody eventually fades. Tom Waits say’s in his tragic song, “You’ll soon forget the tune that you play, ’cause that is the part you throw away.”
Tom Waits – THE PART YOU THROW AWAY
I’ve been thinking about Christianity and how it seems to be serving two masters. I will suggest that modern Christianity in its institutionalized form actually follows John the Baptist in practice while claiming to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ. Many people are not going to see the problem with that. But I hope to show that the difference between John the Baptist and Jesus Christ is significant and that by blending the practices and teachings of both John and Jesus we are actually of a divided mind and trying to serve two masters at once. Just like Jesus’ arrival on the existential scene brought an end, or completion, to the Old Testament he also brought an end to what John the Baptist taught and practiced. I’ve struggled and labored to find the right words for this post since 7/20. I am not attacking Christianity, because it is the spiritual tradition I identify with most. But I have more questions about it than previously. In fact, The older I get the more I question why I believe what I believe. I’m not even sure this article is complete as I think of new aspects to this subject. This is only a blog post, not a book (even though I think I could write a book on this). I wanted to post it anyway to possibly stimulate discussion and see what other ideas are out there. So if you’re not interested in this subject you can just skip over the rest of this article. For fundamentalists, conservatives, and evangelicals who read this – you may be offended by some of what I say. It is not my intention to offend but I only wish to stimulate thought and self-examination.
A WORD ABOUT BAPTISM
This post is not about baptism but because it is the practice most associated with John the Baptist I will make a brief statement about it. I think too much emphasis is placed on baptism today. How many people have been baptized more than once? Is it necessary to be baptized at all? Too many churches use baptism as an act of membership. It is part of the team uniform for being a member. Therefore like many others, I have been baptized more than once because at different times in my life I’ve been a member of different churches in different Christian denominations. Now this is utterly ridiculous. Is not the Jesus of one denomination the same as Jesus of another? Why so much emphasis on baptism? Should it continue?
I will suggest that the practice of baptism as it is now used needs to stop. If someone wants to be baptized they should have the freedom to approach someone and request it. But it should not be part of some institutional agenda to help measure who is part of the team. Baptism should not be a requirement – suggested, spoken or unspoken. It should only be discussed in the context of a historical practice. Placing such importance on baptism is the way of John the Baptist not Jesus Christ.
PREPARING THE WAY OR LIVING THE WAY
In Christendom it seems that there are those who see themselves as preparers and those who are practitioner’s. The preparers are those who evangelize in the hope of getting everyone on their side before Jesus Christ returns. they are actively involved in missions around the world. They want to be on the winning team. And they set up institutions to ensure their success. While the practitioner’s really don’t give a damn about being on the team – they are more concerned with living what Christ actually taught; seeing and living the kingdom here and now; loving one’s enemies, giving freely to those who ask without placing conditions on the giving, looking after those who are defined by their culture as disadvantaged, treating people as equals, and seeing ALL people as being created in the image of God regardless of their race, politics, sexual orientation, country of origin, and religion. Looking after the planet with the same environmental concern that one has for a garden, etc. I get so fed up and irritated with all the sports metaphors and this concept of “team” that preachers, teachers and churches constantly rely on. They have missed the point. Being a part of the kingdom of heaven is not some team sport!
A TALE OF TWO KINGDOMS?
Now I wonder why anyone would want to be a preparer. It seems that I grew up for most of my life being taught and thinking about the second coming of Christ. I wonder if because we know the end of the story we are at a disadvantage. Isn’t the second coming more of an epilogue; a final period at the end of the story? I guess I’m wondering, what is there to prepare for? Whose job is it to prepare? Is the kingdom to come more important than the kingdom of heaven that is already here? But most importantly should we even bother? Why do we think it is our responsibility to go out and evangelize others in preparation for the second coming?
Is the second coming of Christ more important than the first? John the Baptist preached a new kingdom to come with a benevolent ruler that would baptize with fire. What is this “second coming” all about? I can’t help but think that it will be less of a deal than what people have taught for centuries. Revelation 21:1 says that it is merely a replacement of the old heaven and earth with new ones. Another way to read that is that it will be a replacement of the old ideas of heaven and earth with new ones that will significantly impact how life is lived on this planet. Two significant characteristics that separate the old from the new is that the new will be incorruptible and also there will be no temple (churches, synagogues, mosques, etc). These are BOLD changes from the world we currently live in. But let’s not get side tracked. Because again, because that’s the “end” of the story. But it is important to be aware of this in light of the discussion about who we are following. John the Baptist did NOT preach this vision of the end. He preached that there was a change coming. He wanted people to be aware and knowledgeable about this change. Jesus taught that the change is here! You are forgiven. Start living now as if the new heaven and earth have already arrived. LIVING THESE CHANGES NOW IS THE PREPARATION for the second coming.
I love the parable Jesus told of the 10 virgins were watching and waiting for the bridegroom (Matthew 25:1-13).
(my modernized version) 10 women were waiting for their man for a late-night party. 5 had flashlights and 5 didn’t. As it got dark the ones who were prepared got out their flashlights and were just hanging-out, waiting and watching having a good old time like women do. The ones without flashlights got nervous, were afraid of the dark and decided to go buy some flashlights quickly before the man hosting the party arrived. While they were gone the man they were waiting for arrived. The five women with flashlights went inside for the party and the door was locked. The five who weren’t prepared and left to get some flashlights came back knocking on the door and crying, “it’s not fair, let us in”. And the man simply said, “go away, I don’t know you.”
My understanding of this story is; “Sure, watch and pray – but all the watching and praying isn’t going to make a bit a difference if we’re not prepared by living NOW in the manner that Christ taught.” In other words, preparation doesn’t mean paving the way as John the Baptist did. True preparation is living and BEING the way.
WHAT JOHN AND JESUS SAID ABOUT EACH OTHER
John the Baptist announced the coming of Christ. That was his message and function. He was the one shouting “prepare the way”. That was his job. And it seems that Christianity has fallen into that trap. The trap of preparation, as if that was the end of the story. In doing so they are equating the second coming with the first arrival of Jesus on the world scene. But is that correct? By focusing on the second coming of Christ are we jumping over and ignoring the teachings and presence of his first arrival? Are they just cool stories? I wonder if the need to prepare actually ended with Christ’s arrival. It turns out that there is some precedent for this question. Even after Jesus arrived and was baptized by John people were debating. And how did these key players respond to the debate? First let’s look at why Jesus was baptized and the result of that baptism. Jesus requested, yes, he asked to be baptized by John (Matt 3:13) Why? Because it was “proper…to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” With the baptism of Jesus the focus shifted from the preparation message of John to the acceptance message of Jesus. In the baptism John’s message was both completed and ended. Now it would have also been proper for John to stop preaching at this point but like most institutions he felt the “need” (it was a worthy cause) to continue perpetuating the message of preparation and was eventually imprisoned. John watched Jesus closely and he even questioned him at one point. (Matthew 11:2-6) “When John heard in prison what Christ was doing, he sent his disciples to ask him, ‘Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?’ Jesus replied, ‘Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor….'” And then Jesus does something remarkable he addresses the change in message from John’s to his own. He does this in a simple statement in Matthew 11:11 & 12 “I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the Kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” And here is the BIG change, “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it.” Do you see the change in message? It officially changed from future to present. John is not “top dog” in the kingdom. Its the “Everyman” who is “top dog”. Why? John the Baptist preached about the future, Jesus preached the power of NOW as people are now LAYING HOLD OF THE KINGDOM. Again preparation is not about paving a way to the second coming of Christ. It’s living these changes in the ever-present NOW. All four of the traditional Gospels record this.
Another amazing incident that is very telling is recorded in the Gospel of John (3:22-36). Jesus and John are both baptizing in the same area. John’s disciples were very concerned and went to him and asked John, “Rabbi that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan – the one you testified about – well, he is baptizing , and everyone is going to him.” Can you see the concern and jealousy start to develop? But John, who I suspect knew that his message had become obsolete said (vs 28), “You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Christ but am sent ahead of him….'(vs 30) He must become greater; I must become less.” So John surrenders his message of preparation. So why do we get stuck on this idea?
Jesus Christ message was, “the Kingdom of God/Heaven is within you”. His purpose and function was to live that message so that people would understand their day-to-day lives with a new and enlightened perspective. And many did and still do.
So if the Kingdom is here and so very near that it is within us what are we preparing the way for? Why does anything need to be prepared. The preparation was done and completed more than 2,000 years ago. Jesus was (body) and is (spirit) here. It seems to me that if we are focused on preparation we are following the wrong master. Like Jesus we should focus on BEING. It’s not about the institution it’s about the individual.
FORGIVENESS AS COMMODITY OR FORGIVENESS AS GIFT
Of course we cannot discuss the differences between John the Baptist and Jesus without touching on the subject of forgiveness. Baptism for forgiveness of sins was one of John’s modus operandi. John’s mission, as spoken by his father, was to give people knowledge of forgiveness. John did that by saying you can be forgiven and adopted a practice called baptism. It was a sort of spiritual economic exchange. You can be forgiven if you are baptized. Baptism became the ritual and focus of the message. It became institutionalized and became the model for all sorts of “rules of the game” by which people were expected to follow. It was the way to prepare/pave the way for the coming of the Christ. But we must also look at John’s description of baptism which suggests that with Christ there will be a change. He said, “I baptize with water but there is one coming after me who will baptize with fire” We have here the comparison of the material world of men and institutions compared with the spiritual/metaphysical world. John knew the difference. He knew a change would come and I think he would be disheartened if he still saw people preaching baptism by water for forgiveness of sins today – If he saw how baptism is being used as an “outward sign” of being in the club. In fact I think he might be more than a little irritated.
When Jesus was baptized by John it was the equivalent of John handing the torch to Jesus to carry on. Which Jesus started to do because Jesus also started baptizing. And the gospels only record Jesus baptizing other in the earliest part of his ministry. At some point he abandoned it. Why? Because it became irrelevant. The message changed. Jesus changed the message. There was no more bargain, forgiveness was not something to be purchased with baptism being used as coinage. It was now a gift. When Jesus talked of forgiveness it was simply YOU ARE FORGIVEN. There’s no “you must do this…” or “that” to be forgiven. You just are forgiven. Period. You are no longer a slave to your past. You can redirect your destiny with a fresh start. People may try to use the past as a weapon against you (the media has perfected this – ask any politician) but as long as you know you are forgiven their weapons are of no good. For Jesus’ grace, mercy, and forgiveness was a gift. It was not some commodity to be traded. To continue to follow John is to say, “I will be forgiven” but to follow Jesus is to say, “I AM forgiven.”
People need to embrace the gift and pass it on because that is where real changes will start to happen. As long as the gift is used as a bargaining tool it will never be effective and produce lasting change. Remember you are forgiven. To the believers I say, let John the Baptist go – embrace Jesus. As long as the gift is used as a commodity to prepare the way it will never be effective. It’s time for a change. One master, one message. To teachers, preachers, churches, and other religious institutions. I think it’s time to re-tool. It’s to to re-evaluate what message your actions are sending. Do your actions and policies promote a paving of the way for the second coming or do they actually promote the more radical idea of acceptance and living in the kingdom of heaven that is here now within each of us? Do you teach your people that they are part of the kingdom already or are you still inviting them to come get ready for the coming kingdom? Do you teach your people to see the kingdom of heaven in others or do you promote exclusivity and separation from others who may not fit YOUR criteria of religious belief? And like the story above of the 10 women; If you want to be part of some exclusive spiritual “club med” where your team, your church, your religion is the definition of rightness then you are watching and waiting without a flashlight. if you follow John the Baptist’s methods and practices you may want to buy a flashlight before it gets dark. I’m not saying it’s going to be easy. It’s not. You will fail as I have failed. But we must pick ourselves up and learn from these lessons and allow them to change us and help us grow toward perfection. Perfection is the new spiritual “singularity”. It is possible and it is near.
If you are one of the few that have made to the end of this post, whether you are Christian, Muslim, Jew, Buddhist, Hindu, Atheist or any other belief or non-belief tradition; know that there is only one message: YOU ARE FORGIVEN! Accept it and enjoy. You have a blank slate to fill, a new book to write, a new picture to make, a new movie, music or art to create. A new life to live. Go ahead, say it out loud, “I am forgiven.” And view everyone around you as forgiven and live accordingly. If you are reading this, if you are alive and on this planet, in this place and time in all of existence, then you are already a part of the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of heaven is already within you. As Richard Rohr wrote on his blog – UNPACKING PARADOXES in a post on forgiveness,
“To help people ACCEPT THAT THEY ARE RADICALLY ACCEPTED is the only real task of Christianity.”
When we accept that we are unconditionally accepted and when we in turn unconditionally accept others we have taken our first steps on the road to perfection.
Enjoy this song by Sanctus Real – FORGIVEN
“Forgiveness is the cash you need – All other kinds of silver really just buys strange things – Everything has music – Everything has genes of God inside – But learn from those courageous addicted lovers of glands and opium and gold – Look, they cannot jump high or laugh long when they are whirling – And the moon and the stars become sad , when their tender light is used for night wars – Forgiveness is part of the treasure you need to craft your falcon wings – and return – to your true realm of divine freedom” ~ Hafiz(Hafez of Shiraz)
Matthew 3:3, Mark 1:3 and Luke 3:4 all recount the same event.
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness,
‘Make ready the way of the Lord,
Make His paths straight!’” [NASB]
This verse is an inaccurate/incomplete quote from the prophet Isaiah. (40:3-5)
“A voice rings out:
‘Clear in the desert
A road for the Lord!
Level in the wilderness
A highway for our God!
Let every valley be raised,
Every hill and mount made low.
Let the rugged ground become level
And the ridges become a plain.
The presence of the Lord shall appear,
And all flesh, as one, shall behold –
For the Lord himself has spoken'” [Jewish Publication Society]
Without regard of the differences in text this message is always associated with John the Baptist. But John the Baptist DIDN’T preach this. And Isaiah didn’t talk about baptism. John the Baptist preached baptism for forgiveness of sins which isn’t mentioned at all in the previous quotes.
Now I read in my Jewish Bible a great commentary that said that throughout history this text from Isaiah has always been perceived by the Jews as a metaphor that God would clear away all obstacles to salvation.
My next question is; What is salvation?
Before salvation humanity was perceived to be separate from God. Humanity attempted to connect with God through laws,rituals,sacrifices,etc. After Christ, those previous attempts (and that’s all they were) become utterly worthless. We now need to look at what Jesus taught. He was THE WAY to a relationship with God. HE was the one who actually fulfilled The prophecy in Isaiah of paving the way to salvation/communion/oneness with God. (John 14:6) Jesus said to him,
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”
In his daily actions and teachings Jesus, the Christ called out to humanity and cleared ALL obstacles to God – and that happened more than 2,000 years ago. Humanity has had that direct line and communion with God ever since then.
More than ever before the good news for humanity is that WE ARE ALREADY SAVED. WE ARE CONNECTED TO GOD. WE WERE SAVED BEFORE WE WERE BORN (because every single person alive today was born after Jesus, the Christ.) WE WERE SAVED BEFORE WE EVEN WERE TAUGHT THAT WE WEREN’T. Anyone born from now on is ALREADY SAVED. Now that IS good news!!!
Now the reason I think this is affiliated with John the Baptist is because at that particular time he was on the public scene before Jesus. He was already preaching and baptizing etc. He was going against Jewish tradition so naturally he was seen by the masses as the one removing all obstacles to salvation/communion/oneness with God. Baptism was outside the institutional realm at that time. But like all things in modern Christian religion John’s message and practice of baptism has BECOME the institution and therefore becomes the obstacle to salvation.
The failure of ALL religion, Judaism and Christianity included, is that religion continually reinvents the wheel by making salvation/connectedness/oneness to God something to be attained. Religion teaches that each person must remove the obstacles of salvation through, practices, rituals, behaviors, regulations etc. But this is wrong and anti-christian. Why? Because Jesus already did the work.
What does this mean for us now? When we view and understand that EVERYONE, (yes every single person including Hitler, Saddam Hussain – insert name of most hideous evil person you know) is already saved, even if they persist in their religious beliefs, or do evil, or are just plain jerks – it changes how we interact with them. This realization allows us to act with mercy, forgiveness, grace, peace and love. It allows patience, long-suffering and endurance and all the other fruits of the spirit.
The way of Christ and the true nature of his salvation will never be taught in religious institutions/organizations. It may be alluded to – but to practice it would mean the end of the institution. The Way of Christ can only be practiced and taught (through our daily actions at home, work, play) outside the realm of religion. Because it is about life, living and being – not religion. Of course when people ask us what’s changed that’s when we can tell them the good news.