Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Living in the spirit

I truly think that the place to start is to focus on what creates peace. Thus, before you think, speak, or act, ask your SELF if what you are about to do is going to bring peace. Ask your SELF, for example, if what you are about to do is out of love and compassion, as opposed to being right or seeking fairness (which is based on the ego). Love and compassion always lead to peace, and thus Oneness with our Maker and with each other. Love and compassion are the essential elements of acting in the Spirit.

The message of unbridled love and compassion was the core of Jesus' teachings. That was the pistis Christou that Paul talked about... the "faith of Christ".

Note that love and compassion don't always "appear" to bring peace in the here and now or to you and those close to you. You have to think of peace in a broader, timeless and more Spiritual sense. You have to find a way to disassociate your SELF from your physical body and mind. You have to believe that your true SELF is not your body and mind, but rather your Spirit.

Ultimately, this way of fully realizing your Spiritual nature and being able to think, act and do in the Spirit, rather than in the interest of your ego, is the journey that each of us must undertake. I believe that this is the purpose of our physical lives... to reconnect to our true SELF, our essential Being.

Scripture provides some helpful guides, but I do not think it provides all the answers for everyone. You can often tell when Scripture is written from an ego-centric perspective, rather than out of love and compassion. When you sense that, that is when you should be concerned that the guy(s) or gal(s) who wrote the piece may just have missed the point.

In the final analysis, I believe you have to trust your true SELF, your Holy Spirit. You have to listen. You listen through contemplative prayer, meditation, and silence. And you practice unbridled love and compassion every moment you can, as if that moment were the last here on earth.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Critiquing scripture

I tend to feel that the Bible contains the inspired wisdom of the Source of creation. I believe that this collection of writings contains the Way of attaining Oneness with God and all of God's creation... as taught to us by Jesus of Nazareth.

But I do not believe that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God. I see this body of work as written and assembled by human beings. I think that much of Scripture has long-term relevancy. Some of Scripture has already proven to have outlived its relevancy. Time will continue this process.

I think much of Scripture is extremely flawed or worse, and I do not think that it was God-inspired... And thus I think it should be thoroughly critiqued and certainly not observed. Personally, I have no doubt that you and I are just as enlightened or more so than many of the writers of Scipture. We've had the benefit of history and a wider sociological education.

One of the greatest dangers that exists is when we take a collection of work written by human beings and give it the status of God. Remember the story of the finger pointing to the Moon? Scripture is the finger. It is not the Moon. Thus, it should not be worshipped. It should be used to bring us closer to God. It is not God. Neither is the Koran. Neither is the Book of Mormon. Neither is any "sacred" book. In my view, they are wisdom on paper... some of the wisdom is good, some not so good.

Scipture has been used to justify some of the most horrendous acts perpetuated by one human against another. In some cases, Scripture has simply been mistranslated and(or) misinterpreted. In other cases, Scripture has just flat out been wrong... in my humble opinion.

Monday, June 12, 2006

The cleansing of the temple

I have been reading a lot about the "cleansing of the Temple" story and trying to understand its significance, its meaning. Note that in the synoptic Gospels (Mark, Matthew and Luke), the incident comes at the end of Jesus' ministry and is usually considered the action by Jesus that led to his arrest and ultimate execution. In the Gospel of John, the incident comes at the beginning of Jesus' ministry.

Traditionally, the story is interpreted as Jesus overturning the tables of the money changers and bird sellers as way to show his condemnation of using the Temple for the purpose of conducting business. The idea is that God's Temple is holy and should only be used for prayer and worship... kind of like our church.

On the surface, this interpretation makes complete sense.

However, it is entirely possible that this interpretation may be missing some facts that would change it rather dramatically.

In his book, The Trial of Jesus, Alan Watson notes:

"The sellers were there for the benefit of pilgrims who had come to sacrifice as Passover. Animals for sacrifice had to meet stringent requirements and would not be easily found by those coming for the festival if it were not for the sellers in the Temple precincts. No prohibition against buying sacrificial animals in the Temple existed, and Mishnah Shekalim 7.2 show incidentally that the presence there of the sellers was both lawful and known. The sale of doves for sacrifice in the Temple at any time was even controlled by Temple authorities."

Jesus was an obervant Jew. He would not have objected to the Temple system of making sacrifices to God. That was the accepted tradition for the Temple, and particularly so during the Feast of Passover when Jewish pilgrims traveled to Jerusalem to celebrate Israel's liberation from Egypt and to offer animal sacrifices.

I think the reason traditional Christianity has taken the "anti-business in a holy place" interpretation is that it has not seen the incident from the Jewish perpective. It has perhaps failed to put "Jesus the observant Jew" in that story.

In the recent book, The Last Week, by theologians Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan, the authors stress that Jesus' consistent and primary message was to proclaim the coming of The Kingdom of God and to challenge the dominant political system: the Romans and their local collaborators (the ruling Jewish class dominated by the Sadducees, Pharisees and Scribes). That ruling class had its base of operations in the Temple.

Jesus' attack on the money changers and bird sellers was much more than an attack on simple tradesman. It was less about defiling the Temple with needed and commonly accepted money transactions and more about attacking the power structure of Jewish society at the time. The "den" of thieves refers to the safe haven of the thieves -- the Roman collaborators who ran the Temple.

Jesus' teachings were mostly and consistently about social justice. They strongly opposed the domination system of the time and thereby probably any system that creates an elite and powerful class that keeps the masses poor and powerless... for whatever reason. Jesus was a social revolutionary, a radical. He wanted to change the status quo, and that of course ended up getting him into a heckuva lot of trouble.

I often wonder what Jesus would think of the US and capitalism. I wonder what he would think of the world's free market system, where essentially the strong, influential and clever do very well and the vast majority of our brothers and sisters are either dying of hunger or are barely able to earn a living.

If we simply interpret the cleansing of the Temple story in the traditional manner, all you have is a critique against "defiling" a holy place of worship -- a physical structure made of stone. The assumption is that somehow the Source of the universe, of all creation is offended by a few businessman. I have no idea what to DO with this lesson.

However, if we interpret the story from the standpoint opposing the domination of the people by a small elite class collaborating with a foreign occupying power (Rome) and truly establishing the "Kingdom of God" on earth in the here and now, then the message is clear.

We are called to transform our world by seeking justice, a fair distribution of the resources that God has temporarily "lent" us.

I grant you, this is pretty radical stuff. It is revolutionary. It almost sounds un-American. It is the kind of stuff that people who might try to implement this Way would likely be persecuted, even killed. Sound familiar?