Jesus in Detention
The Jews solemnly lined the streets of Jerusalem as they once again watched invaders march triumphantly through their “Jewel on the Hill”. This time, it was the great Roman general Pompey. He had taken advantage of a family squabble between the formerly ruling Hasmoneans, which left Jerusalem vulnerable. The Romans had been on a tear through the area for years, consolidating power as they incorporated Syria into their ever-expanding empire.
Much to the Jewish peoples’ surprise, Pompey was friendly and respectful. He and Caesar both had trusted Jewish advisors and were familiar with the people and their customs. It was also characteristic of the Romans to allow conquered people to continue their traditions, if respect and money were paid to Rome on a regular basis. When Pompey marched into Jerusalem, he saw himself as emancipator rather than conqueror.
Unfortunately, Pompey was a general, not a bureaucrat. The Romans installed a new governor in Jerusalem, Antipater. He followed Rome’s lead and set about rebuilding Jerusalem’s pock marked and disintegrating walls and buildings. For decades, Jerusalem had been caught in the crossfire of the Hasmonean’s civil war. The city, like the people inhabiting it, were tired and falling apart. Antipater did his best to rebuild both.
A few years later, Antipater named his sons Phasael and Herod governors of Jerusalem and Galilee. A last-ditch effort by the Hasmoneans to gain control of the city resulted in Phasael’s death, leaving rule of the entire area to Herod.
Herod was ambitious, cunning, and ruthless. He went to Rome seeking control of the entire territory. The Senate named him King of the Jews and provided him all the military might he needed to reconquer what was left of the former Hasmonean territories.
For the next decade, Herod completely changed the face of Jerusalem by rebuilding it in the classical Roman form. He adapted old fortresses and dedicated them as temples to Roman Gods. He rebuilt three massive citadels to shore up the city’s defenses. He improved the water supply, renovated and expanded the entire Temple complex, built hippodromes, a theater, and an enormous palace. All in all, Herod was a good king and his Jewish subjects respected his efforts to improve the quality of life for all citizens. Herod’s beautifications also made the city appealing to pilgrims, who now came in the tens of thousands for special holidays such as Passover.
But Herod also had a very dark side. He was a paranoid maniac who would do anything to protect his position of power. Early in his reign, he had 45 of the city’s most influential aristocrats murdered. Since he was not of priestly lineage, he needed to appoint a high priest to the Temple. At his mother-in-law’s urging, he selected his sixteen-year-old son Aristobulus. As Aristobulus gained popularity, however, Herod had him drowned. Over time, Herod had all the remaining members of his family killed, including his mother and his wife. Nobody would threaten his claim to the Jewish throne.
About the same time Herod finished consolidating his power by murdering his entire family, an aristocratic carpenter and his fiancée lived in Bethlehem, about 10 kilometers away. The young couple was expecting a child, and the birth was shrouded in scandal because they were having a baby out of wedlock. Further compromising Joseph’s position in town was the fact the child was not his. There were rumors about Roman abuse and even divine intervention, but whatever the reason for the baby, Joseph understood it his duty to stay at Mary’s side. He loved her and would raise the child as his own, no matter what.
Joseph entered their house with a cheery, “I’m home, my love, and I’ve brought you a special treat!” Mary sat up in her bed and smiled at Joseph. For a moment, he thought she was glowing, a golden halo embracing her head. He shook off the hallucination and showed her the package of goat meat. “Ooh!” she squealed with delight. “How wonderful! How did you know I was craving goat tonight?”
“You just relax and I’ll fix us dinner,” Joseph said.
Mary laid down and closed her eyes. As the smell of roasting goat and boiling vegetables filled the room, Mary began to dream. She saw an Angel who told her not to worry, that everything would be alright. “You are truly blessed! The Lord is with you!” The Angel continued, “Don’t be afraid, Mary. God is pleased with you, and you will have a son you are to call Jesus. He will be a great king, as his ancestor David was. He will rule the people of Israel forever, and his kingdom will never end.”
Just then, Mary was startled awake by Joseph gently rocking her shoulder. “Honey, honey!” he called. “Dinner is ready, you need to eat. Are you okay? It seemed like you were having a bad dream.”
“It wasn’t bad,” Mary replied, “it was just strange. An Angel of God came to me and told me to name our baby Jesus, and that our son would be the king of our people! It all seemed so real it startled me!”
“I suppose every parent wants their child to become a great leader,” Joseph said. “But you know Herod as well as me. That lunatic will never give up the throne. He’ll find a way to rule even after he dies, which can’t be soon enough in my book.”
“Don’t you talk like that!” Mary scolded Joseph. “If one of these Romans overheard you they would… they would… I can’t even think about how they’d torture…” Mary’s voice trailed away and she began sobbing uncontrollably. Joseph took her in his arms and did his best to calm her. “I’m sorry, darling. I didn’t mean to upset you. Please, have some dinner and try to get some rest. I won’t cause trouble. Herod can’t hurt us here. He doesn’t care about people like us, anyway. Please… Rest.”
A short time later, Mary gave birth to their child. Remembering the dream, she and Joseph named the baby Jesus. He was healthy and active, and the entire village embraced him. For the next three years, life was splendid. There was plenty of work in the new town Herod was building just outside Bethlehem, and Jesus was healthy and happy. Mary delighted in watching their child grow and play with the other kids in the village. Jesus giggled with delight chasing a chicken around in circles, and Mary imagined that life couldn’t get any better.
That evening, as the family put out the oil lamps and prepared for bed, Mary took Joseph’s hand, tenderly kissed him, and said “Thank you.”
“For what?” Joseph asked. “For being wonderful and bringing joy to our family. I love you.” Joseph took Mary in his arms, held her tightly and said, “I am but a reflection of the joy you and Jesus bring to me, my love.” They laid down to sleep, imagining there were no two happier people in the world.
As Joseph closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep, he had a dream about an Angel. “Get up! Hurry and take the child and his mother to Egypt! Stay there until I tell you to return, because Herod is looking for the child and wants to kill him,” the Angel said. Joseph awoke with a start, covered and sweat and short of breath. “What is it, my love?” Mary asked with concern and fear. “What’s wrong? You’re drenched! Did you have a bad dream?”
Joseph caught his breath, looked at Mary and said, “We have to leave. Right now.”
In Jerusalem, three ambassadors from different lands visited King Herod. “We bring you greetings of peace and offerings of respect form our Lords,” they said. “We have seen a sign in the sky and traveled for three years to see the infant, the new King of the Jews! Where is he?”
This was shocking news to Herod. A new king of the Jews? Over his dead body! Better yet, Herod thought, over this kid’s dead body. I won’t let even an infant usurp my power. I’ve murdered my entire family to stay on the throne, I won’t hesitate to kill someone else’s.
But Herod hadn’t maintained power all these years by giving his true intentions away. He shrewdly said, “A new king of the Jews, you say? How wonderful! I am getting old, and I have no heirs. It would be wonderful to have someone I could call my son to take the throne when I die. Unfortunately, this is the first I’ve heard about this! Do you know where the child is?”
One of the ambassadors from the Far East said, “I am sorry, sire, we do not. That is why we are here. Perhaps you could ask your priests if they know?” At that, Herod summoned the high priest, who explained the ancient prophecy: that a child would be born in Bethlehem, in the lineage of the great King David, and that the child was destined to be the King of the Jews. “From David’s line!” Herod exclaimed. “This is wonderful news, indeed!”
He told the ambassadors what he had learned, and sent them to Bethlehem to find the child, bring him gifts, and return him to Herod to be raised a prince. The ambassadors were thrilled and excited, and hurried on their way.
Joseph, Mary and Jesus were hiding in the back of a tin trader’s wagon. Their only chance for safety was in Egypt, but Egypt was under Roman rule, and Caesar Augustus had recently restricted immigration from Israel.
When Herod realized the ambassadors had no intention of bringing the prophesied child king to him, he ordered the wholesale slaughter of every child under three in and around Bethlehem. This caused a mass exodus of Jews looking to protect their children in what was essentially a different Roman province. Rome, however, had its hands full with other issues in Egypt, and was unconcerned about what they considered one of Herod’s paranoid quirks. If Herod wanted to slaughter thousands of Jewish children, it was of little concern to Rome.
However, Augustus succeeded in creating the great Roman Empire in part by showing mercy and respect to conquered provinces. Rome almost always improved the lands they conquered, bringing advanced irrigation and sewage engineering techniques, roads and education with them. Since the Empire was at the beginning of these massive public works projects in Egypt, they were unprepared for this sudden influx of refugees. Not wanting to get involved in what he saw as a Jewish squabble, but also recognizing that thousands of discontented Jews could mount a serious rebellion, Augustus ordered the Egyptians to hastily prepare a series of detention camps.
Fleeing Israelites were herded into the camps like cattle. While their children were safe from Herod, the camps themselves were as dangerous as the streets of Jerusalem late at night. Pickpockets, thieves, mercenaries, and other unsavory characters looking to make a quick drachma made the camps extremely volatile.
The Egyptian border was now heavily patrolled. All transports were subject to search and seizure. Foot traffic was delayed at the border for hours, sometimes days at a time. Joseph hoped that by hiding under a pile of tin in the trader’s wagon, they might pass through to Egypt, avoiding the detention camps. Once past the border, Jews who had lived in Egypt for many years could safely guide them to synagogues, where they could remain hidden and safe for several years, if necessary.
It was a good plan, but once at the border, Joseph heard the guards rummaging through the tin cups, pots, shields and weapons of their merchant savior. The baby Jesus started to whimper, afraid of what the sound heralded. Mary tried to comfort him, but his fear overcame him and he began to bellow, loud shouts of anguish shaking the tin in sympathy.
“What do you have there, merchant?” The border guard shouted angrily. “Tell me or I’ll slit your throat and kill everyone I find in your cart!” The merchant stammered, “I.. I… I was only trying to help these poor people.”
“We have a system for Israeli refugees. Open up,” the guard said.
The merchant reluctantly revealed the trap door under a mountain of fake tin pots. The guard threw it open and found Joseph, Mary, and their baby Jesus staring up at him, abject misery and heartbreak emanating from their souls.
“Get up,” the guard said, and the family did as they were told. There was no point resisting now, they would go to a detention camp, and that would be that. At least Jesus would be safe until they could return home to Bethlehem, Joseph thought.
He quickly changed his mind when they arrived at the detention center. They were brutally shoved from one processing station to another. “Names,” a processing agent said emotionlessly. “Joseph, Mary, and Jesus of Bethlehem, sir,” Joseph meekly proclaimed.
“Purpose for visiting Egypt?” Visiting, Joseph thought. Does this guy know what’s happening, why all these people are here? The processing agent repeated the question again, louder and slowly: “PURPOSE. FOR. VISITNG. EGYPT.” Joseph didn’t want to say the words. He knew their fate if he told the truth. They were refugees, fleeing a maniac king who had no legitimate right to the Jerusalem throne. But Herod was a vassal of Rome, Joseph couldn’t insult him. So, he sighed dejectedly and simply said, “We want to settle in Egypt, land of our forefathers.” The processing agent seemed satisfied with this answer. He sealed a piece of paper with his ring and a small amount of wax, handed it to Joseph and gestured to the next line.
Joseph shuffled to another processing line. Jesus, tired, hungry and confused, began to cry and whimper. Mary held him close and whispered, “Don’t worry, little one, it will all be alright. God told me so.”
There are millions of people around the world who have been displaced and seek refuge in a friendly land. Nearly 4 million South Sudanese face a nation with no future unless food and medical care can be restored. In total, more than 65 million people have been forcibly displaced from their homes. 65 million! My friends, that is an appalling number for a global society that claims to be the most civilized ever on planet Earth.
Let’s take some time to pray and educate ourselves today. Please visit the UN Refugee Agency website at http://www.unhcr.org/ to learn more about opportunities to help and events in the U.S. today (and ongoing). The number of refugees around the world is jaw-dropping and disheartening. Our only civilized response (not to mention Christian response) is to assist, whether that means educating ourselves and our friends; donating time, supplies and money; and/or praying for love to eradicate fear.
One of the most important programs for our denomination, The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), is our Refugee and Immigration Ministry. We encourage our churches to participate in refugee services, we’re lobbying against stricter regulations, and we offer aid to asylum seekers and migrants. For more information, please visit Disciples Home Missions at https://www.discipleshomemissions.org/missions-advocacy/refugee-immigration-ministries/
In our own Naples congregation, we are blessed with the presence of Renee Gifford, an activist and philanthropist focused on refugee and immigrant services. Renee is working with refugees throughout Southwest Florida. We hope to soon communicate with (and perhaps visit) a refugee neighborhood in Miami. Renee recently reminded me that migrant and refugee families need more than cash (although cash certainly helps). They also need English tutoring, job mentoring, transportation assistance, food, clothing, furniture, housewares, and of course, prayer. In future church services and events, we’ll discuss how God is calling us to serve people displaced in much the same way as Jesus and his family when they were being hunted by King Herod.
Let us never forget that we live in this country because our ancestors were immigrants (unless we are Native Americans). Many of us were brought here forcibly. We call ourselves Americans, but we still have a tremendous amount of work to do before everyone in this country feels like part of the same family.
More information can be found at these links:
UN World Refugee Day: http://www.un.org/en/events/refugeeday/
Stand With Refugees Movement: http://www.standwithrefugees.us
A great sermon from an Australian minister, as pertinent today as it was in 2001:
Meditation: God of justice and compassion, make me the instrument of your peace.
answer to all mysteries,
restore our curiosity and wonder.
We have lost our imaginations
both individually and collectively.
Once we wrote with poetic flourish;
created abstract art
open to interpretation;
and built structures that represented
our inventive ability.
Now we approach the world
with cold, conformist,
Need a new building?
Here’s a glass rectangle.
Producing a new movie?
Here’s another sequel.
Writing a new novel?
I hope the main character is Harry Potter.
With this forfeit of imagination
we have conceded our ability
to consider that
the universe is more than
what we can perceive.
Our senses are limited,
but our minds are not.
Why do we continue
to let our physical nature
define who we are
and of what we are capable?
We need more Einstein and Tesla,
more Marx and Heidegger,
more Musk and Jobs,
more Tubman and Sojourner Truth;
people willing to think differently
despite being told
“This will never work.”
We should insist on
more original thought
and fewer people screaming at us
to stop thinking differently,
to stop thinking at all.
I push ever forward, my Loving, creative energy,
by imagining you as the innovative spark of the universe.
Is there proof?
No, and who cares?
I cannot define what you are
or how you work,
but I can imagine
something underlying all things.
Smaller than a boson,
yet larger than all the multiverse combined,
I imagine God.
I do not envision a petty God
who judges and rewards,
but a God whose sole interest is creation,
constant and in ways
we can only imagine,
if we would simply
allow ourselves to imagine.
I am tired of a cold war worldview
where someone wins, and the rest of us lose.
Humanity obviously needs inspiration
to achieve greatness, justice, love, and peace.
From where does inspiration come,
if not from you,
our Eternal Creator and Sustainer?
Inspire us once again
to think more broadly
and demand greater of ourselves.
Encourage us to work together
to create astounding public works
that withstand time;
to reach for the stars together,
seeking out other lifeforms
who have hopefully already solved
their own economic and social issues,
so that they might also teach us
how to be one with each other,
by first realizing we are one with you,
the completeness of this
and all realities.
We pray these things
with hope for a better today,
in every name we,
the people of Earth, call you,
and in all the names
we have yet to dream for you.
Among the many utterly unacceptable and uneducated statements I’ve heard since the disaster that is the Trump Presidency began, the most heinous is the claim that Herr Donald is somehow making America a “Christian” nation again (although I suspect that the people I hear that from are using “Christian” as a secret code word meaning “White”).
America is not, nor has it ever been, a Christian nation—well, at least not with respect to state religion. Perhaps we were a nation with genuine Christian values once upon a time, when we still warmly welcomed refugees and immigrants, believing what is etched on the Statue of Liberty; when we provided affordable, quality health care; took care of our elderly; worked hard to help the poor lift themselves out of poverty; put people to work on infrastructure projects and… well, you get the idea. Those are Christian values. Caring for the other—especially the stranger—is core to Christ’s teachings. A nation with Christian values does not build walls. It tears them down, just like Jesus did.
As a nation, we gleefully discarded our Christian values long ago, when we shackled other humans and forced them to leave their homes to be beaten into subjugation. We stopped following Jesus again recently when we started treating corporations better than the people working in them. Either way, it’s not Jesus’ teachings of self-sacrifice for the common good that Trump’s soon-to-be-brown-shirted goons are celebrating (because they are Christian in name only, after all). Rather, the ultra-right imagines Christianity as the state religion, as they believe it was in the beginning and should be for all time. ‘Murka! Sieg Heil!
The mistake the ultra-right makes, of course, is that America has never had a state religion (thank God). The founders intentionally created a secular nation. They did this for a multitude of reasons. They knew first-hand the prejudice and terror caused by state religions—that’s why they were in the colonies, after all. The founders were primarily Protestants (only two of them were Catholic), but Protestants have wildly different ideas about what it means to be Christian. To ensure no one of them could foist their brand of Christianity on the entire nation, the founders wisely separated church and state. But, there’s an even more interesting reason the founders avoided creating a single state religion: out of respect for the thousands of Muslims living here in 1776.
That’s right. Even as the Constitution was being drafted, the colonies were filled with hard-working non-Christians that included Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, and a very large population of Muslims. Muslims who had been forcibly brought here as slaves. Think keeping slaves is Christian? Neither did Thomas Jefferson. Nor Jesus.
I don’t want America to be a Christian nation. In my opinion, secular government is the ideal. What I would like is for the Christians in America to start acting more like Jesus and a lot less like President Trump. For that to happen, we need to remember some extremely basic ground rules:
1) Christians welcome ALL PEOPLE into their country, regardless of race, creed, or religion and without tests. REMINDER: Jesus wasn’t a Christian. He was a Jew. In Trump’s America, Jesus would be turned away at the border. Because Jesus was also a refugee—from the Middle East. 
2) Christians love God with all our hearts, souls, strength and mind; we love our neighbors as ourselves (Luke 10.27).
3) Christians sacrifice the needs of the few (or the One) for the needs of the many. What do we think the crucifixion story is all about, anyway?
4) Christians gladly redistribute our wealth. We never hoard for ourselves like the 1% of Americans who control 90% of all the money. Jesus’ first followers brought everything they had to the community—talent, time, gold, food—whatever they could offer, and they gave it freely to sustain the community.
5) Christians love diversity! The first followers of Christ were Jews, after all. Eventually, Gentiles joined the fold. The mix of Gentiles and Jewish followers of Jesus caused confusion in the First Century, CE synagogues. That’s when “Christians” splintered off and planted the roots of a new religion.
Early worshipping groups were exceptionally diverse. Disciples (a fancy word for students) were rich, poor, male, female, slave and free. They all worshiped, studied, and ate together. Women were in positions of leadership and financed churches. The first Christians were what we would today call socialists. They were doing exactly what Jesus had taught them. Yes, you read that correctly: Jesus was a socialist, not a capitalist and certainly not a political hard-liner.
This country has some soul-searching to do, and we who claim to be Christian must begin to reclaim the faith and remind people what it means to live like Jesus, not just pay him lip service. Most importantly, though, we need do the one, simple thing Jesus most demands of us: Be decent human beings.
Meditation: I am a disciple of Jesus. I am selfless, not self-righteous.
God who is our fountain of light and truth,
restock our arid hearts and souls
like the rains filling parched desert lakebeds.
Open the eyes
of those who cannot see,
choose to ignore
the pain and suffering
of a planet in the throes
of self-inflicted wounds.
Open the hearts
of those who would deny
the most basic human dignities
to any brother or sister
subjugated to terror and slavery;
in need of medicine and doctors;
looking for shelter and a kind word.
Inherently, we understand
that we all deserve shelter, medicine, and kindness.
We know that those of us who have much
are obligated to give to those who lack.
Remind us of our obligation
to be your hands and feet in this word
by motivating us to serve each other
Open the wallets of the greedy few
who hoard all the money
and refuse to share it
with even those whose backs they have broken
on their way to the top.
There are too many broken backs,
and too few open wallets.
Perhaps more than anything else, Lord,
I pray for you to enlighten people:
to return intelligence to conversation and debate,
to return honesty to the public forum,
to remove from office all those who lie and cheat,
to give those of us who love you
with all our hearts, minds, and souls
a chance to rebuild this world
in your more tolerant image.
with unconditional acceptance for all people,
regardless of gender, sexual orientation, or skin color.
Create through us
a world where children of all races
can play together in their neighborhoods,
without fear of being gunned down by criminals
both with and without badges.
Fill us with compassion.
Remove our lust for power.
Motivate us to eliminate walls and borders,
and continue to transform humanity
into the loving, peaceful,
intellectual, artistic, creative beings
we once were
and might be once more.
In your infinite names and images,
we pray for an end to the heartbreaking madness.
We are firmly in the grips of a Southwest Florida summer. It’s ludicrously hot, the humidity is a zillion percent, and you can count on regular rainstorms and power outages.
If your house is anything like mine, power outages are a major inconvenience. The TV, stereo receiver, even the fridge and microwave all click, beep and buzz their way back to life as lights flicker on and off like a scene from Poltergeist.
While I was working at home one day, there were several of these outages in a row. This got me thinking about resets. Since it was just before Pentecost, it occurred to me that in many ways, the Pentecost experience was a global reset of sorts. As I continued down this rabbit hole, I realized that video games are a terrific example of what happens to us when God resets our lives through both Ascension and Pentecost.
I grew up in the 1970s and ‘80s when video games were starting to take root in American culture. I remember my parents dropping me off at the Prien Lake Mall in Lake Charles so my friends and I could spend the afternoon at the arcade trying to beat KJN, whose initials topped everything from Pac-Man to Donkey Kong.
When the Atari 2600 console was released, you could play games in your living room instead of the mall. These games were more complex, took a longer time to complete and didn’t gobble up quarters. And there was an unexpected bonus with single player living room games: you could reset and start again. Technically, I suppose you could restart in the arcade too, every time you lost your last life (think about that metaphor for a moment), but it would cost another quarter–like paying the ferryman to cross the river Styx.
Either way, resetting a game gives us a chance to do a better job. Whatever the goal of the game—finish the race first, survive the longest, solve the most puzzles—resetting allows us to try harder, to be more focused, to accomplish the task at hand at the highest skill level possible by remembering what we did on the previous turn and learning from it (hopefully).
This sort of reset is what the Ascension story is about for us as individuals, and the Pentecost story is about for humanity in general.
Ascension is the goal of our life game: to ascend to the mind and being of Christ. Pentecost is where the Holy Spirit resets thousands of people’s lives, the way God resets our life’s purpose and walks us toward ascension. It’s what we refer to as “a call,” or “inspiration.”
At Pentecost, everyone is reset. There are no more foreign tongues. People are in a frenzy, but perhaps only because they are so much more fully alive, awakened now to a heightened state of being in the universe; a more intimate awareness of God in and through all things. They are more conscious beings, more highly spiritually developed
That’s a powerful reset. A change in consciousness. That’s as big a reset as there is. And it’s delivered through the Holy Spirit, the term our ancestors used when they had an overwhelmingly emotional experience with God.
Admittedly, that sort of awakened wholeness with God is a lofty life goal. Ascension. Even the word sounds lofty and full of itself. But, doesn’t life deserve a lofty goal? Don’t we all sense there is a deeper purpose to our lives?
We are living, breathing beings. Yes, we absolutely owe ourselves a more complicated life goal. I think living in step with, in tune with, as close to perfect alignment with God as possible is a much better goal than mere survival. I see harmonic alignment with God as Jesus’ goal. He is and teaches us how to be in complete harmony with the being of God, the will of God, Christ Consciousness, Oneness. He is aware of our perfection from, through and to God, the perfection of the universe.
Ascension shows us the goal of this life game is to be so tuned into God that God’s actions and our own are indistinguishable.
Pentecost shows us that we accomplish ascension through the Holy Spirit (the essence of God that resets our being) that ultimately changes the entire world.
The events at the first Pentecost after Jesus’ ascension are about being reset by God so we can live ascended lives and be examples to others, inspiring them to reset as well. The Holy Spirit that overtakes the crowd and fills them with so much energy that people think they’re drunk at 9am is resetting their life’s purpose, and through them, the social, political, and economic structures of the entire world.
Now, nothing these faithful people did in their lives before coming to Pentecost and receiving the Holy Spirit has changed. If they spilled their wine on the way to the traders or overcooked the bread for Sabbath; if they cheated someone out of a few shekels or committed an unspeakable crime, those events will never be forgotten, nor should they be. However, once the Holy Spirit descends upon them, their lives going forward are reset, and their perception of everything past, present, and future changes forever.
What happens at Pentecost is similar to changing the time on a watch. We can move the hands backward or forward, but we’re not actually changing time itself. That’s impossible. What we’re doing is changing our perception of time. That’s Pentecost. It changes our perception of why we exist and our expectations about the state of the world.
The Holy Spirit possessing us is a parable about God resetting us so we can get back to the goal of the game of life: To emulate Jesus spiritually, mentally, and physically. When we veer off course, the Holy Spirit leads us back on track by changing our perception and giving us even a few, brief glimpses of the world through God’s eyes.
Reset. If we meditate on the idea of resetting, I think we quickly start to realize how natural resetting is. What are the seasons but nature’s reset? The cycle of birth, life, and death is a reset. Stars going supernova turning into new galaxies, planets, plant, and animals is a reset. And if we believe in eternal life, death is the ultimate reset.
What we must try to remember is that Every reset—past, present, and future; the resets we perceive and those we have yet to discover, inevitably lead us toward an ascended, more Christlike state of being, and then to a much more enlightened, awakened, loving and compassionate world.
May God make it so.
Prisoners to Our Nature
There’s a terrific show on AMC called “Into The Badlands.” It takes place in a post-apocalyptic world, and although the exact date is unknown, it’s obvious from the skeletons of interstate highway overpasses and the presence of cars that the show is based sometime after our current era—or perhaps in a parallel reality. The idea of before and after seems archaic to me lately.
At any rate, guns are outlawed and territories divided into a series of fiefdoms run by Barons who control different natural resources. There’s a Baron who controls oil and gas, a Baron for river passage and transport, one who controls most of the grain supply.
It’s an interesting scenario that allows the writers to explore some surprisingly existential questions. The philosophical and at times overtly religious nature of the show has surprised me because I initially tuned in for the terrific, sweeping, panoramic cinematography and jaw-dropping martial arts sequences (some of which are exhausting to watch at nearly 10 minutes long).
There are several powerful lead characters in the show, but by far the most captivating and intriguing is Quinn, the Baron who controls the Poppy supply—and so the opiate trade. He’s ruthless and bloodthirsty, yet he speaks with a slow, calculated, genteel southern drawl that coats his evil intentions with fake empathy and understanding. He is the show’s embodiment of evil; the devil, ha-Satan.
And he is suffering from a brain tumor—a sly commentary on human nature. The tumor is a clever plot device that always reminds us Quinn has something lethal growing inside him—and that Quinn himself is lethal.
An interwoven storyline is about a female doctor who is attending to Quinn’s tumor. She’s doing so because the Baron, in a fit of madness that might or might not have been caused by the brain tumor, slaughtered the only other doctors in town–her parents.
She is a marvelous character with the best name ever: Veil.
It took me awhile to see the underlying and deeply theological themes of the show, but once I started watching it philosophically, I realized it paralleled biblical themes of seeing the world anew, sacrifice, and our struggle to be decent humans so closely, it must have been intentional. I mean, a character named Veil, really?
The interplay between Veil and the other characters, especially Quinn the Baron, is a brilliant plot device. When Veil is in a scene, she always reveals a deeper truth to another character. It’s not preachy. In fact, it’s extremely subtle. There’s so much action in this show and at times incredible amounts of blood, that it would be easy to write it off as just another entertaining, post-apocalyptic action series.
But that would be as big a mistake as trusting Baron Quinn.
When the Baron’s tumor causes a massive seizure, Veil convinces him to try a procedure that will poison him, but possibly cure him as well–something akin to chemotherapy, but with the primitive tools she has available (Victorian-era centrifuges, for example).
While Veil is performing the procedure—and possibly saving the life of the monster who she knows killed her family, she asks Quinn why he killed her parents.
He thinks for a moment, does this little thing where he twists the corner of his mouth and sucks some air through it with a disgusting “Tsst,” and replies with his slow, silky, mesmerizing southern drawl, “It’s just in my nature, I guess.”
As the doctor is preparing to start the chemical flow into the Baron’s bloodstream, he suddenly grabs her arm and says to her, “You could kill me right now, you know. Just turn that valve all the way. Nobody would ever know. I wouldn’t blame you. I probably deserve it.”
And Veil thinks about it. You can see her internal struggle, the clash between doctor’s moral oath to save life and daughter’s broken hearted anger boiling into lustful revenge.
But Veil can’t do it. She can’t avenge the death of her parents by murdering their murderer. After witnessing her inner turmoil, Quinn looks at her and says, “I guess we’re all just prisoners to our nature.”
And I’m like, “WHAT THE?!?!” …Pause. Holy crap!
I guess we’re all just prisoners to our nature.
What a mind-bending thought. Notice that there’s no good or bad implied here. Both Quinn, who we see as bad, and Veil, who we see as good, are prisoners to their nature. In this show, our nature is neither good nor evil. It’s just nature. Some of us will tend toward deeds other people (and perhaps ourselves) view as evil; others will tend toward perceived good. Good or evil, though, it’s often a matter of perception—both of self and from others.
Either way, the implication is that we are born this way, and there’s no changing.
I guess we’re all just prisoners to our nature.
As soon as Quinn said that I thought about Paul and St. Augustine, and all the other early church theologians and many Christians today who would agree with the Baron—he’s the Baron of Opiates, by the way. Did I mention that? Yeah. As I said, brilliant.
We humans are prisoners to our nature, and for Paul and those who follow him, that nature is evil. Paul believed our nature is inescapable, and so Jesus became the salvation for all human beings, who because of Adam and Eve’s transgression, are forevermore cursed to walk the Earth, live a life, and die—because death is bad, according to Paul. And it’s our nature, unchangeable. God may have forgiven us for our nature, but God doesn’t change what we are.
For Paul and those who followed, human nature is so bad we can’t even behave in paradise.
Paul would say our moral struggles—the internal, eternal wrestling over right and wrong we see in both Veil and Quinn, show we are flawed. I say moral wrangling shows we are human. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being human. Especially if we’re doing the hard work of moral wrangling.
I think Paul and Augustine and all the others who think we are a fallen species miss not only the point of Jesus’ teachings, but also the meaning of the stories about him, completely.
The Jesus stories are intended to show us that we are not fallen. Rather, we are ascending.
Our nature, our inescapable essence, doesn’t imprison is. It sets us free.
I don’t think Jesus ever intended to be a scapegoat for all humanity. I believe he was perfectly in tune with the nature of the universe—pure, unadulterated, divine love, and that he wanted to teach us about our true nature.
We are all divine at heart. Imperfect, flawed, too often cruel, without question. But that is not our nature. We are a work in progress. That’s why Jesus’ story doesn’t end with his sacrifice on the cross. It ends with his ascension. I think the ending of a story is pretty important—too important to virtually ignore. It’s the part that proclaims our nature sets us free.
Our nature sets us free.
Why is it that for thousands of years, Christianity has stopped three-quarters of the way through the Jesus story? It’s like reading A Christmas Carol and stopping just after Scrooge fires Bob Cratchit. “Ah well! There’s no hope for Scrooge!” we might mistakenly believe.
Jesus’ story doesn’t end on the cross. It ends with the ascension as he “is taken into the clouds.”
In The Bible, cloud imagery signifies the presence of God. So, when Jesus “ascends” into the clouds, we should understand the author meant to imply Jesus was surrounded by the presence of God. So deeply, perhaps, that he simply ceased to be material.
Our true nature, after all, sets us free. Even from the bonds of the flesh.
We are created from love to be love, just like Jesus. We have the ability to ascend to a much higher state of being, just like Jesus. It’s our nature, in fact, and as Baron Quinn says, “I guess we’re all just prisoners to our nature.”
In my mind, that’s a very, very good thing.
you who are
all the wisdom and grace
you create through
Before we took this form,
we were in perfect relationship with you.
In this form,
we seek perfect relationship with you.
After this form expires,
as all things do,
we will once again unite
in perfect relationship with you.
When the time comes
for you to take physical form,
we are formed and transformed
until the spark of human birth
graduates us to a new sense of being
and a new sense of love for you.
From the moment of our material birth,
we form connections with our parents,
the doctors and nurses caring for us,
and all the aunts, uncles,
and even strangers
who will soon become family.
We are carefully crafted for relationship, Holy One,
to all that exists
both seen and unseen.
all the people you have brought into our lives.
For every story, every lesson,
every shared laugh or tear,
we thank you for the deep,
personal connections and bonds
that transcend time and distance.
We give special thanks today
for all those who have mothered us over the years;
for all those nurturing spirits
who bandaged our cuts and bruises when we fell,
who encouraged us in times of self-doubt,
who picked us up and dusted us off
and loved us unconditionally,
no matter how badly
or how often
we totally screwed up.
Thank you to all our moms,
who simply love us for who we are.
Just like you, our non-judgmental
Lord of Love.
For all those who teach us to love,
we praise you.
For those who inspire us to be generous, just and kind,
we thank you.
For those who nurture our relationship with you,
In all our relationships
may we live the truth of your boundless love for us
by returning that limitless love
to everyone we encounter,
of every day of our lives.
We pray in the name of Jesus the Christ,
who loves us all without condition,
from before birth to beyond death.