Month: January 2015
The Nature of Jesus, cialis sale part 2: The Jesus Stories
Professor Larry Hurtado, troche an extremely well-respected historian and New testament language scholar, see has referred to the Gospels as “Jesus Books.” This is a great name for the stories written by Mark, Matthew, Luke and John, because it immediately puts them in their proper context: stories. Stories don’t have to be true. They often use fictional characters for dramatic effect or to create meaning. Stories often have a moral attached to them. Stories are parables, and the Gospels are indeed parables explaining a wide range of theological and moral ideas. The gospels even move into the realm of deep spiritual mysticism. All of them are firmly rooted in Jewish theology, culture, and their socioeconomic position within Roman society. The writing style of the Gospels is typical of the Roman biographical style of the era (which rarely had anything to do with actual historical events), and the Jewish practice of recording the teachings of great Rabbis.
The word “gospel” itself simply means “good message.” It wasn’t until nearly 1000 years after Jesus that the word came to be almost exclusively related to the stories in the Second Testament. If you check an American dictionary, you’ll see that the first two entries for “gospel” are about Jesus. The third is about gospel music—which is largely about Jesus. British dictionaries do a better job of properly defining the word.
The gospel stories say many things about Jesus. Much of the Greco-Roman mythology that pervades the stories was used for political purposes (although much of it has unfortunately become creedal for many Christians). Once we get past the supernatural and superstitious aspects of the stories though, we find an important thread that weaves through all of them: Jesus is the supreme theological and spiritual authority. This idea represents a significant change in attitude for his Jewish followers.
For thousands of years, it had been the Jewish tradition to record, and record debates about, the teachings of their religious leaders. This midrash and mishnah was encouraged and expected. Some of the stories about Jesus’ early life (debating other scholars, studying and interpreting scripture) closely resemble stories about famous Rabbis like Hillel or Gamaliel, and certainly developed from within the traditional Jewish storytelling framework. The major difference in the Jesus stories is that his interpretations of scripture, his actions, and his descriptions about human relationship with God, are seen as the final and supremely authoritative word. As far as I can tell, Moses was the last Jewish figure to be exalted in such a manner.
Again, when we understand that the early followers of Jesus were recovering from a deep personal and psychological loss, this exaltation makes sense. In addition, some followers of Jesus believed he was the long-awaited Messiah, while others did not. To make matters even more difficult, people like Saul of Tarsus were evangelizing Jesus to Gentiles. Attracted to his message of God’s forgiveness, this once exclusively Jewish movement now found itself in the midst of a pagan invasion.
Originally, the followers of Jesus worshipped in the synagogues and Temple, just as did the followers of any other Rabbi. While there was disagreement about the nature of Jesus and whether he was or wasn’t the Messiah, the debates were between Jews—people very much used to this sort of discussion. Now though, Gentiles were in their midst, and generally, Gentiles were not allowed in the synagogue unless they first converted to Judaism. This one radical event—the evangelism of Christ to the Gentiles, caused a rift that would, in essence, create a new religion—Christianity, and forever change the way people viewed Jesus. And not necessarily for the better.
Meditation: Make your presence known to me, God who is ever-present. Give me insight and wisdom to see beyond the obvious. Open my mind, my heart, and my very being to Oneness with you, now and always. Amen.
The Nature of Jesus, try part 1
One of the great debates within Christianity is the nature of Jesus Christ. Was he a human? Was he God incarnate? Was he both? Does it make any difference? Is it a question anyone cares about? Followers of and believers in Jesus have wracked their brains with these questions for thousands of years.
Shortly after the Romans murdered Jesus, his followers began thinking of him as more than human. It’s important to recognize just how devastating Jesus’ death was to his followers. Many of them (not all of them) believed Jesus was the promised Messiah of their Bible—the Hebrew Bible, the only Bible in existence at the time. How could the Messiah be killed, and by human hands no less? The psychological trauma caused by Jesus’ crucifixion cannot be underestimated. The disciples’ worldview was shattered. Could the reports of Jesus appearing after death, the empty tomb, all the mythological trappings of his story, have been psychosomatic?
How you answer that question says a lot about your Christology (the nature of Jesus). There is no doubt in my mind that Jesus was a human being, and that the stories of the resurrection and his appearances after death are stories intended to convey a powerful message about humanity in general, not Jesus specifically. They are not historical facts. They are parables. I believe God was intensely present in the person of Jesus, but I also think Jesus was trying to tell us that God is just as intensely present in every single one of us. So in a way, Christ was God in the flesh, but God in the flesh just like you and me.
This idea became heresy a couple hundred years after Jesus’ death (and even today progressives like I take flack for it), when the organizing church came up with the idea of the Trinity to explain that Jesus was fully human, fully divine, and also an ethereal, indefinable spirit. We can still use the idea of the Trinity to convey different aspects of God, but I think we have better language to use in our postmodern, scientifically enlightened world.
The way we think about the nature of Jesus affects the way we think about our relationship to God. For too long, Christians have exalted Jesus to the right hand of God. This is idolatry, and it gets in the way of us truly connecting with the divine in the manner portrayed by the Jesus stories. By exalting Jesus, we have destroyed the power of his stories. Exalting Jesus above humanity and equating him with God makes it impossible for us regular folk to connect with God directly. The exalted Jesus of a high Christology means only Jesus is, was, or ever will be God in the flesh.
So now, Christians pray through Jesus, we pray to Jesus, and we place all the burdens and sins of our world on Jesus’ shoulders. He is, in every way, our scapegoat. We are conveniently absolved of any sort of responsibility for our own spiritual progress, because Jesus has done all the work and taken all the blame, once and for all. Worse, we have been led to believe that we cannot have a direct relationship with God. This high Christological view has stunted our spiritual growth, and I believe is completely disingenuous to the real power and intent of the Jesus stories—stories intended to make us more responsible, caring, loving, Christ-centered, God-connected human beings.
Meditation: Give me the courage to take responsibility for my own actions, to apologize to those I have wronged, to forgive those who have wronged me, and to take the steps necessary to ensure I always act from a place of love and compassion—just like Jesus. Amen.
What is Consciousness and why does it exist? This question is what scientists and philosophers refer to as “The Hard Problem.”
Humans have been pondering what it means “to be” seemingly since we developed written language—which means we likely started asking the question long before. Does consciousness set us apart from other animals? From plants? A famous question posed by David Chalmers, sovaldi sale one of the leaders in the field of neuroscience is, sickness “Why are we aware that we are aware?” In other words, why did we evolve into conscious beings, rather than robots or mindless zombies? Why do we consider what it means to be human, rather than simply going about our business eating and procreating, the way other animals do? And importantly, if we are more than automatons—fleshy machines, can a machine become conscious? Humans have certainly evolved consciousness, yet we too were once simply self-replicating machines.
Modern philosophers began seriously chewing on this question in the 1600s, when Rene Descartes concluded that humans are undeniably conscious. Yet, this fact is different from other scientific facts, which rely on physical proofs. Consciousness is not physical, yet we are indeed conscious. This led Descartes to the dualistic conclusion that our minds, where he decided consciousness resides, must be made of something other than physical matter. Therefore, consciousness for Descartes was a gift from God. The mistake Descartes made, and that many philosophers continue to make, is separating physicality from consciousness. Although scientists disagree (for now), I believe that consciousness is the creative force of all physicality. Consciousness is our postmodern, post-religious name for God.
There are subtle differences between the ancient idea of a meddling God and our modern idea of consciousness. Yet, the idea that there is a universal force of awareness that somehow creates the physical world aligns with ideas we find everywhere from the oldest books of the Bible, through ancient Greek philosophy (before it became completely dualistic in nature), and to the most modern work of neuroscientists. If God is consciousness, and consciousness is the underlying ground of all physical reality, then we too are consciousness. Humans aren’t simply conscious—the question of why we are conscious when nothing else seemingly is might be the wrong question. The deeper issue is what it means to be if in fact everything that is, is consciousness—is God.
The inevitable conclusion we are being drawn to is that our physical world, and all the laws we attribute to it, is substantially more intricate than our science is capable of describing at this time. While gravity, magnetism, electricity, planetary movement and biological evolution are undeniable; they ignore the question about what is actually driving those physical laws. Einstein nearly drove himself crazy looking for a unified theory that would tie all the laws of physics together. Modern quantum physicists are having the same issue. I suggest that the missing link is consciousness, which is the universal force, the glue, the God that simply is all physical reality.
Our worldview needs to change, and that will only happen as we begin to become consciously aware of consciousness not only as a force in the universe, but as the force in the universe. It is not something physical, yet it is everything physical. It is an awareness, an awakening to a higher level of being clearly represented by Jesus, even though the people around him—and Jesus himself, really had no way to clearly express this.
Our advantage is our scientific worldview, because we have new language with which to describe and relate to God. Yet our disadvantage is also our scientific worldview. It’s demand that all things are physical holds us back from imagining more. Science has cemented our dual mindset and forced us into a world of illusory conscious thought. We are sidetracked with figuring out why we think, when the question we should really be asking is, can thinking change the world?
Prayer: I think, therefore I AM. Amen.
Becoming One, sovaldi sale part 1
In Jesus’ time, people separated God, in the heavenly realms (such as Mt. Olympus or the more general “heaven”), and humans, down here on earth. For them, God (or the gods) was an extraterrestrial superbeing who blessed or punished us, depending on which side of the bed God awoke any given day. This ancient and limited view of God is still pervasive today. God, the alien scientist, is represented in pop movies like “Prometheus” or the upcoming “Jupiter Ascending.” These and other films riff on the Frankenstein mythos. Now, it’s entirely possible, I suppose, our planet was seeded by an alien civilization, but to me that has nothing to do with the nature of God, which transcends any sort of physical reality—alien or otherwise. Thinking of God as an alien scientist—or any being outside our very own being, is a mistake of the dual mind.
Jesus, like other mystics before him, saw past this dual mindset. It is not that God is a superbeing, and we are something else. For Jesus, the substance of God and the substance of matter are inextricably bound together as one. A couple of hundred years after he taught, this so confused his followers that they came up with the Doctrine of the Trinity to try to explain him. Needless to say, they missed the point. The Trinity separates us from God even more. It’s not three in one, it is simply one. All there is, is God.
There is no “God” and “Humans,” so there can be no “us” and “God.” This was the dualistic mindset of the ancient world. This is the mindset warned against in the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil story (Genesis 3:22). This is the wrestling with our inner sense of self we do on the banks of the river (Genesis 32:22-32), the Jihad we wage against our own spiritual angst in the Qur’an. Duality is our battle against Mara sitting under the Bodhi tree with the Buddha. Duality is always defeated when we transcend the “us” and “God” mentality and realize ultimate Oneness with all creation. We are One, God is within, and sensing that truth changes everything. There is no enemy when we sense all is One with God.
Jesus taught this by showing how differently being human looks when we stop thinking of ourselves as beings controlled by the whims of very human-like gods. For Jesus, and many mystics long before him, God is an intimate part of our very being. So, Jesus would have never proclaimed himself the only son of God because his view was that we are all sons and daughters of God. He did not mean this in the mythological, demigod like way the idea has been applied to him. Jesus was attempting to teach an eternal mystical truth: We are one with God, and the realization of this changes us at our core. Once awakened to this truth, we cannot pick up arms, we cannot fight, or kill, or judge. “We are One” changes the world. It topples empires and dethrones despots, all without every throwing a spear or firing a shot. “We are One” never sacrifices others before we sacrifice ourselves and always puts the needs of the many above the wants of the few.
This was Jesus’ great revelation, and it got him crucified. This is the message not only Christians, but all seekers of a deeper, transcendent truth, need to reclaim and proclaim loudly, over and against the artificial “religions” that espouse war and preach hellfire and damnation to heathens. There are no heathens. A follower of Christ or Buddha, or Mohammed, is non-violent, always. A practitioner on the truly mystical path ultimately comes to realize that we are all connected by the very ground of our being, that perhaps impossible-to-define essence we continue to call God. This realization turns us into messengers of peace and love, not soldiers of violence for the empires of hate and fear.
Prayer: I pray not to ask for wishes to be granted, but simply to sense the presence of the Eternal flowing through my soul, and I meditate for that sensation simply so I might be a useful presence of love and peace in a world torn apart by the myth of separation. Amen.
Follow the leader, no rx part 3
Now that we understand the human propensity to deify great people, rx and we understand the context of Jesus’ ministry within a civilization in which the Emperor was called a son of God (which is the way people referred to the Caesars), we can see how Jesus went from being an enlightened, mystical Rabbi preaching connectedness, to the one and only literal Son of God. I do not think his earliest followers believed this the way many Christians do today, just as most citizens of the Roman Empire didn’t think Julius or Augustus were literally descendants of Venus. But proclaiming Jesus Son of God over and about the Roman Emperor? That would have been an incredible act of courage—and sedition.
There is power in understanding Jesus as Son of God, but it is not the power that has now become “traditional” in the United States. Originally, this was a political statement. It’s quite probable, based on both biblical and extra-biblical sources, that Jesus resisted this label. He may have known it would bring the wrath of the Empire crashing down on him, crushing his fledgling peace movement. The Romans provided tremendous resources to their conquered territories. However, the price for this progress was undying, unwavering, unquestioning loyalty to Rome. For Jesus, and most of his Jewish brothers and sisters, this was an impossible, even reprehensible request. To show loyalty to anyone other than God was to negate the entire Jewish religion.
Jesus’ understanding of humans and their relationship to each other was based on the extremely ancient Judaic idea that everything belongs to God—especially us. Since we have no intrinsic right to any of the planet’s resources, then our duty as people of faith is to be equitable to one another—to be good people, the way God is good to us. An empire in control of the world’s resources, that traded in human beings and kept peace through threat of violence was an affront to Jesus’ core values.
Since he was a peaceful activist, Jesus resisted the call of many people to start an armed resistance movement. These factions already existed all around Judea. Jesus was likely smart enough to realize an armed revolt against the Roman Empire never worked. So instead, he reminded his people—and continues to remind us, that our duty is only to God, who is not on a golden throne in heaven, but is actively part of our very being. Jesus as the son of God reminds us that it is our duty to resist the systemic evils of empire in all its forms. More importantly though, Jesus as the son of God is the example for all of us of our awakened, enlightened state. Jesus, son of God shows us what true humanity looks like when we get over ourselves and remember what we are truly made of—the very stuff of God, lying dormant within, just waiting to be sparked back to life.
Prayer: Show me the world through new eyes. Awaken my inner Christ, so that, like Jesus, I too will become an instrument of love and peace in this tortured world of sleeping souls. Amen.
diagnosis verdana, rx segoe, sans-serif;”>Follow the leader, part 2
Humans have a way of deifying leaders. In the oldest cultures for which we have archaeological records; kings and their families were direct descendants of gods. These ancient gods took many forms, yet within their “heavenly” families we read stories about the sort of issues that face any powerful family—and the struggles facing any growing civilization. How do governments and citizens share responsibility? What is the responsibility of leaders to their constituencies? What are the rights of the people in a society? How do we define ourselves as a society? These are questions we continue to struggle with today.
As time wore on, the idea that leaders were somehow related to gods took firm hold in human imaginations. Pharaohs, then later Roman Emperors, were said to be descendants of gods. Today, we hear this idea and think the people of those eras took the concept of humans descended from gods literally. We read stories about Hercules and Achilles, even about Julius Caesar, and the stories imply that people of the time truly understood their leaders to be somehow divine. However, it’s highly likely that the Egyptians understood this relationship between leaders and gods to be allegorical. The Romans definitely saw the relationships of their leaders to their gods this way.
These humans weren’t literally the offspring of a god mating with a human. The stories were meant to convey power and give them an authority higher than that allowed by their human counterparts. A divine lineage allowed Emperors to make decisions without bureaucratic entanglements. When a Julius or Augustus Caesar was leading society, this system worked rather well. Augustus in particular was deeply concerned about the welfare of his people, and transformed Rome’s social services much the way FDR did for the depression era United States.
Unfortunately, our human habit of deifying people has carried over into our spiritual and mystical leaders. I find this particularly detrimental to their messages. You can pick any great spiritual mystic you like—Buddha, Jesus, Mohammed, and see that over time, these messengers of cosmic connection, these teachers of light, become exalted to the point that they are now nearly untouchable. This process makes their important message about transcendental humanity more difficult to comprehend, because they have become not examples to follow but exceptions. We can’t ever be like them because they were descendants of gods–and the only ones. So we miss the point of the stories of their lives and the lessons they taught their pupils, about how we are all more connected with the divine–and more literally, than we have dared to dream.
Prayer: God of light, help me see I am your child. Help me see I AM. Amen.
What is the point of faith if not to participate in changing the world for the better? Once fully cognizant of their connection to the Infinite, what do Moses, Buddha, Jesus, and Mohammed (in chronological order), go about doing? They change the world by standing up to the oppressive rulers and systems of their time. Moses gathers his people and rallies them against Egypt. Once he is awakened to the suffering of the people just outside his palace gates, Siddhartha (eventually Buddha) relinquishes his inheritance and birthright as king.
Jesus also senses this Oneness with God, and it compels him to stand up against the Roman Empire in much the same way Moses rebelled against Egypt. But whereas Moses was a warrior, Jesus pushes for peaceful non-compliance with the systemic evils of Rome. Jesus, in his enlightened Buddha state, sees the foolishness of bloodshed. He understands the ancient Jewish mystical view that violence only begets violence—a lesson Moses learned the hard way. Once enlightened, violence is impossible. Changing the world can only be done by peacefully refusing to comply with systemic evil.
We are the instruments of change. It doesn’t do the world any good to sit and wait for the second coming of Jesus. The second coming is within us. It’s within all the Martin Luther Kings, Mother Theresa’s, and other ordinary folk who do extraordinary things like volunteer for Habitat for Humanity, or buy some extra groceries for a friend in need, or feed the homeless, or fight for new shelters, or help free those incorrectly and unjustly incarcerated.
Faith is and should be a powerful force for change in this world. The people who have had religions created in their names were normal folk like you and I. The power of their stories is not that they were born special, but that they did special things with their lives, because they gained deep spiritual insights that changed them at their core. That’s an incredible example for the rest of us, especially people who claim to be followers of Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed. Because it’s the followers who become the Martin Luther Kings and Gandhis, and it’s the followers who end up changing the world one loving step at a time.
Prayer: I follow not because I expect a reward, not because I think I’m right and others are wrong, but because following fills me with love and compels me to act with compassion and justice. Enlighten my being with awareness of you, my glorious God, through whom I am capable of anything—even changing the world. Amen.
Into the mystic, part 4
My spiritual journey has probably been like many of yours. I was an inquisitive kid with an almost insatiable appetite for reading. I was and remain, skeptical of anything I am told is “absolute truth.” That phrase has me scrambling to do research faster than a firefighter runs to the hook and ladder when the station alarm sounds. After Jesus claims he came to testify to the truth, and that anyone interested in the truth sides with him, Pilate retorts, “What is truth?” (John 18:37-38). This is a deeply philosophical question we must all constantly ask ourselves, especially concerning our spiritual beliefs.
One of the most powerful tools in my quest for truth has been meditation. When this ancient practice was introduced to me, I discovered a connection to the Infinite, the Holy, to God that I didn’t even know was possible. Everything before meditation had been an intellectual quest—which is an extremely important spiritual foundation. Yet, in meditation I felt the presence of God flowing through me, so powerfully that every atom of my body began to vibrate at a different frequency. I sensed my Oneness with everything in existence, and began to discover just how vast, glorious, and loving the universe truly is. Outer space is a cold vacuum. But the stuff that holds outer space together is pure, warm love.
I learned to meditate with some friends who discovered a little book called The Infinite Way. Written by someone many consider a Christian mystic, the influences of that book are part of the reason I still prefer to call union with God “connecting with the Infinite” rather than “Worship.” I remain unconvinced about God’s need for worship. I do believe that, since we are beings of God, connecting with God’s constant presence in a very conscious way is what the ancients were getting at when they discussed worship. Remember though that in their worldview, gods were responsible for things, and gods demanded worship and tribute. Hopefully, our spiritual development over the past several thousand years has helped us grow beyond this idea of petty gods—especially given Jesus’ revelation of God within us (Luke 17:21).
I’d like to share some meditation techniques from The Infinite Way with you. These are techniques I use to this day, in one form or another. They share similarities with other meditative traditions such as Buddhism, Taoism, and the Christian mystical tradition, which, sadly, has been largely lost, crushed under the weight of denominational dogmas and creeds.
Feel free to experiment with these techniques, to tweak them, to adjust them or discard them as you see fit. Meditation is a very personal experience, because it is about personally connecting with God. The methods, tools, and mechanics we each need for meditation are a little different for each of us. Hopefully, these ideas will guide you as you develop your own techniques for constant connection with the Infinite One, whose presence is always around and within us, guiding us ever into more conscious awareness and enlightened ways of being human.
Meditation Techniques (adapted from The Infinite Way by Joel S. Goldsmith)
1. Make yourself comfortable. Sit erect, with your spine straight, your feet firmly planted on the floor, your hands relaxed in your lap, and breath normally. Do not lie down. There is no mystical or occult reason for this, it is very simple: when your body is perfectly comfortable one is not conscious of it (yet lying down makes it very easy to fall asleep). We want to be comfortable, but aware. Take a breath and count to four. Breathe in and out four or five times, counting to quiet your mind. Breathe normally.
2. Next repeat silently or audibly, “I turn within to the Christ of my own being”. If thoughts enter, repeat this phrase. Always go into meditation by yourself. Never let another lead you into meditation.
3. We will never be able to stop the mind completely. If human thoughts or concerns enter, do not fight them. Relax, let the thoughts come and then let them go. As you practice, this interference will subside. Be patient.
4. Now, move to the subject, “What is God?” You are not interested in another’s concept of God; you are interested only in asking “What is God?” and receiving the answer from God. The kingdom of God is within you, so the answer must come from within your own being. Sit quietly and ask, “Speak Lord, your servant is listening,” or “Father, I am here, speak,” or any other conversational phrase that works for you.
5. Assume a listening attitude as if you were waiting to hear the answer. Thoughts may come. Think about God as the source of our being and all that is.
6. Someday, while meditating and pondering the idea, “What is God?” realizing now the nature of prayer, you will suddenly find that you cannot think anymore; you have come to the end of thought about God and prayer. Then you will sit there, quietly, at peace, no more thoughts, no more questions, no more answers, just peace. Thoughts will be quieted, the inner ear will open and a long, deep breath like a sigh of relief or a sense of release will come to you. It is as if you were escaping from something, as if a burden were dropping off your shoulders. It will appear in many different ways, and when that release or relief comes you will be so full of the Spirit that you will get right up and do the work that lies ahead for the day, or perhaps some work that has been neglected. With that release will come divine wisdom, divine guidance, and divine strength, for that deep breath, the click or release, was a God experience, the actual presence or activity of God in your consciousness.
7. We never stay in meditation for more than 10 minutes at a time. It takes a long time to be able to stay in meditation 10 minutes or longer.
Prayer: Quiet my mind and still my thoughts. Make your presence known to me, God who is constantly leading me back to you. Amen.