Month: August 2015
Moving From Worship to Relationship
A real experience with God—a real relationship with God, prescription often fills us with complete and utter awe. Still, order this sense of awe comes from an experiential relationship with God—a relationship that may indeed be worshipful, but not one that requires us as loyal subjects to worship our Eternal Lord. A friend reminded me that believing God is the being of all being fills us with respect and makes us feel worshipful—not out of fear of punishment, but simply out of respect for what God means for everyone. While I understand and agree with the sentiment, I still think the word “worship” itself implies an unhealthy relationship.
I believe that a large part of the problem the church in general faces today has to do with language. The language we use in the church is often still steeped in the language that was used in a world of Kings and servants, Emperors and slaves. In the 1st Century, when Jesus’ teachings were first spreading, society was extremely stratified. The people Jesus preached to were, for the most part, subjugated to an aristocrat of one kind or another, and that aristocrat was called “Lord,” or “King,” or “Emperor,” or any other number of terms to indicate an unequal relationship. God was considered the ultimate Lord, and people were considered God’s subjects. The same loyalty a human master expected—and often meted out with cruelty if one dared disobey, was imprinted on God and our relationship with God.
My argument is that people who believe in God—whether Jewish, Christian, Muslim or anything else, have yet to break out of that unhealthy mentality. The word worship isn’t doing us any favors. Nor is calling Jesus or God “Lord.” For us to move forward in faith, for us to take a necessary theological step out of spiritual subjugation and into spiritual Oneness, I suggest we might carefully and intentionally reconsider the language we use when we speak about God and when we “do church.”
Changing our Sunday services—or any “church” that we do, from teaching and preaching subjugation, to a more interactive experience of relationship with God energizing us from within, is difficult. Getting people out of the mindset of Jesus dying for our sins is nearly impossible, it’s become so ingrained within Christianity—even though it has nothing to do with Jesus or his message. If we’re going to make spiritual progress, it means most of the old hymns we’ve been using have to be rewritten or trashed (if you happen to have any hymnal around, just randomly open it, and you’ll immediately see what I mean—Nothing but the blood of Jesus? I don’t think so).
Forming a more healthy relationship with God means we need to pay extra attention to the lyrics of hymns or pop songs, to the meaning of prayers and pictures. It means even something like having a “praise and worship” experience is a non-starter because we don’t want to teach people to praise and worship—those are ancient concepts about subjugation. We want to teach people how to relate and connect. Because, as Jesus taught and showed, relating and connecting to God motivates us from within to relate and connect to each other. These are exceptionally different concepts. Relationship creates a movement of non-violence filled with people who have peaceful hearts. Jesus related to people and never subjugated them. In fact, he worked to free people from the spiritual and physical chains that were binding them.
Postmodern Christians need to rethink completely our religious language in the same way we are rethinking the way we understand the nature and person of Jesus and the Christian religion of Paul. For millennia, both have been divested from their Jewish roots. The very language of the Bible is misinterpreted because most people no longer understand those words in their original Jewish context. If progressive Christians understand that Jesus was not a substitutionary atonement for our sinful nature (something never intended by Paul), why do we continue to use language and music that emphasize those very ideas?
My understanding of Jesus, and the gospels written about him, is one of intense, intimate relationship with God, achievable by all of us because we are all made from the same stuff: the very material of God’s being. We’re not fallen beasts; we’re evolving spiritually into the very Oneness from which we were birthed in the first place. We are undergoing a very serious shift in consciousness. Thinking about this sort of relationship with God may indeed fill us with awe—in fact, it will fill us with awe, and perhaps even cause us to think of God in a respectfully worshipful manner. But, we must also be cautious when we speak of worshipping God. Think about your relationship with someone you love deeply. Do you worship them? I hope not, because that’s a huge sign of codependency. Why is it any different if we claim to worship God?
We don’t want a codependent relationship with God. We want a covenant relationship—one of mutual respect, admiration, and trust. I think covenant is much more demanding and difficult than worship. Perhaps this is why the language of religion so often devolves into praise and worship, devaluing our role—and oh-so-subtly our responsibility, in our covenant relationship with God, and through God, with each other.
Meditation: I AM in covenant relationship with all being and accept that responsibility.
Is Worship Unhealthy?
One of my continuing struggles with religious institutions is the worship experience itself. Even the term “worship” drives me increasingly crazy. Who or what are we worshipping, decease and why? This ancient, prescription archaic idea that God “demands” worship and unwavering loyalty (and what that loyalty means can often only be interpreted by a specialist) is unhealthy. We’ve been taught to accept and even pursue a codependent relationship with God, buy cialis and I don’t think that is either what God intends (if God even has intentions, which is debatable), nor in any way, shape or form good for our mental and spiritual health.
Most church experiences today—especially Sunday services, remain locked into this very ancient idea that we assemble to worship God. They present us with the misbegotten idea that if we do something wrong, God will punish us—kick us out of the Garden or damn us to eternal Hell. These ideas don’t reflect the covenant relationship that our most ancient stories reflect. Worship out of fear of condemnation and punishment is abusive. We shouldn’t accept that sort of abuse from our significant human others, and we shouldn’t accept it as a healthy paradigm for our relationship with God. The Gospel of John says God is love. Paul says love is the most important element of Christianity. I ask, where is the love when one half of the relationship demands worship?
It seems to me we are presented with two ways to think of God, both of which are represented throughout human history in a variety of works from many different cultures. The Bible also presents us with both ideas. First, there is the idea of God as a being who lives on Mt. Olympus or in Heaven, and who insists we are his (this view of God is almost always patriarchal) subjects, and that we must worship him or be subjected to floods, banishment (both corporeal and spiritual), or other forms of torment for not obeying laws which, eventually, God even admits are impossible to obey. It’s the perfect codependent setup, and the church falls right into it: I’m going to give you a set of rules I know you can’t follow, and I’m also going to give you the only solution to not being able to follow those rules. It would be brilliant if it weren’t so inherently evil.
This second ideology allows us to participate in a relationship with the Universal Consciousness, not be subjugated or threatened by it. It’s a real, healthy relationship in which we share experiences with God, rather than bow down at God’s very human-looking feet.
In this increasingly post-religious world, it’s important to get beyond humanistic and anthropomorphic ideas about God. Quantum physics is giving us new language to use when we talk about God, and helping us think more deeply about how we relate to each other as a variety of emanations from a single energy source. We are, all-in-all, simply energy. So if we are going to believe there is a God, then God is the ultimate energy, and doesn’t demand a thing from us. Energy quite naturally creates and sustains. Our only job as people who believe in God is to have a deep, permanent relationship with this Universal Energy, and the real good news, the real gospel is that we already have this relationship. We were born with it. This isn’t a new idea, either. It’s exactly what Jesus teaches, as did many others before him.
My hope is that the postmodern church will move beyond “worship” and into relationship. Because it’s relationship with God that helps us recognize our relationships with each other. It’s understanding our relationship with God that helps us see friends, brothers and sisters instead of enemies. It’s relationship, not worship, that creates a world of healthy interactions between God’s wonderfully diverse emanations of loving energy.
So let’s begin relating and connecting to God, instead of worshipping.
Meditation: I AM in relationship with God, and every human, plant, and animal that exists.
God who energizes us, malady
who loves us into being
and blesses us with
we thank you.
We humbly accept
and will strive
to use them
for the good of
and our world.
Open our minds
to a new way of thinking;
to a new way of feeling;
to a new way of seeing,
so that all people
will see each other
as a single family,
upon each other.
all those who hunger
in body and spirit.
Make every place
people gather a holy place,
for the intellectually
and spiritually curious;
a place of safety
We know that
we are living into
a new world,
Holy Infinite Presence,
as children born
in the age of science and reason,
faith is often given a bad rap.
Belief in God
is often met with a snicker and derision.
Yet, we who sense
Help our message
reach others like us,
others who may have been
hurt by the church,
who may find the church
who may find the church
transform your church
into a place
where we can all
come to meet you,
spirit to spirit,
without being required
to check our minds at the door.
Make the places
where we gather in your name
places of love and understanding,
examples to a world
too filled with
hatred and confusion.
Help us understand that
you are the energy and essence of all being.
we pray, knowing that in prayer,
we do our best work
by simply concentrating
on connecting with
and feeling your presence,
your intense energy
as it stimulates our souls
and makes our bodies
jolt with the electric charge
of your spirit
as you connect us
to those we love and care about.
We pray today
that your presence will be felt
in all the people we love
who are ill,
bringing them comfort and peace.
We pray for
all the people struggling
around the world
due to disease,
and slavery of all kinds.
Holy, Healing One,
not in order to have our wishes granted,
but simply to acknowledge that
that all existence,
comes from your very being.
You are our God,
who sings all things into being,
who sustains us all with lovesongs,
and through whom we strive
to be harmonious notes
in this magnificent symphony
called human life.
The Crucifixion of Jesus, tadalafil part 3
It seems apparent that Jesus caused enough trouble to draw the ire of the Romans, who eventually saw his movement—a movement of peaceful non-compliance, as a threat to the stability of the state. The Romans would have made this decision without consulting the Jewish leadership, and had the Jewish leadership presented any opposition, the Romans would have ignored them anyway. The story about Jesus’ ‘trial’ in the Bible is a complete contrivance in every respect, from the day of the week it was allegedly held, to the manner in which it proceeded. This is just not the way things worked in Roman-occupied Judea.
Rather, the Romans would have simply decided to execute Jesus and done it. No long walk carrying the cross, no tortured journey to Golgotha (Calvary). He would have been taken, most likely, to the nearest Olive tree, a cross-member attached to it, and hung there to die. Crucifixion was reserved for those who had committed crimes against the state. It was a tortuous way to die, and the Romans generally only crucified people to send a message to other rebels: This is what you get if you dare to speak against the might of Rome.
Jesus was crucified not because God required a human blood sacrifice (what sort of God is that, anyway?), but because, being made of and realizing he was of the same substance of God, Jesus saw through the evil veil of this world and did something about it. Jesus called to his people, as he continues to call to us today, to resist and fight against any human system that disenfranchises, that enslaves, that enables a few people to control all the wealth and all the resources. Jesus taught that being human was more than a physical state of being—it is a spiritual state, and that when we begin to understand our spiritual truth, our non-dual, single-minded, God-attuned being, that we change. We become anointed. Jesus understood his true self, and continues to try to teach us about our true selves.
As Christians—people who follow, not worship Jesus, this is what we are called to do. We are called to connect with God so intimately and become so aware that we too are made of the very substance of God, that we also see through the veil of evil encasing the world in distrust, hatred, inequality and despair—and do something about it, even if it means we will be crucified.
The stories about Jesus’ crucifixion aren’t meant to exalt Jesus to a mythological status within the Greco-Roman pantheon. That certainly happened, as Greeks and Romans displaced the original Jewish People of The Way and corrupted Jesus’ ideas with Greco-Roman dualistic thinking. Originally, though, the Jesus stories were meant to compel us to follow him more closely, and to encourage us that a life lived attempting to change the systemic evils of the world is never wasted.
Christianity has become obsessed with the crucifixion as substitutionary atonement for the sins of all human beings. It’s an unhealthy interpretation of Jesus’ life and misses the point, which is that we are all responsible for changing the world. Jesus cannot and should not be our scapegoat if we are going to be his faithful followers.
Besides, crucifixion is only part of his story—it’s certainly not the end. More important than the crucifixion is the idea of resurrection, and much more important than even resurrection is the idea of ascension. All three concepts were intended by the biblical authors to work together. Over the last 1000 years or so, Christian thinkers like Augustine have taken the stories out of context, and separated them into their own little philosophical files. This is disingenuous to the original authors and editors of the biblical stories who saw crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension as a trilogy. Crucifixion is simply part 1. The story of Jesus—and the story of us—does not end at crucifixion.
Death is symbolic of new beginnings. The resurrection story gives us hope that the evils of the world will never triumph, and the ascension story shows us our true goal—a goal we can and are intended to achieve while we are alive on this earthly plane: Complete and utter Oneness with God, and through that realization of Oneness exemplified by Christ, wholeness and love, peace on earth for all human beings.
The Christian story is a beautiful story of love and hope—once we get past the crucifixion as the end game.
Meditation: I am ascending to wholeness with all being by recognizing all things as the very substance of all being: God.
The Crucifixion of Jesus, pharm part 2
Jesus proclaimed loudly and unabashedly that the laws of Roman society were unjust. He constantly pointed out that both the Romans and the Jewish priestly class were subjugating the people, sildenafil enslaving every single one of them in one way or another—to Caesar or to Moses, and that this was simply not the way people were to live. For Jesus, any caste system was untenable.
Jesus said all this in an an area of the world that had always been tumultuous. Assyrians, Babylonians, and now Romans occupied the land that Jewish tradition said had been given to them by God. To make matters worse, in Jesus’ time the Jewish people (Jesus’ own people) were governed by a cruel, heartless Roman— Pontius Pilate, who had no qualms about randomly killing people in the streets.
The story in The Bible makes Pilate out to be much gentler and forgiving than history shows he truly was. The historical record about Pilate shows a vengeful, hate-filled, ruthless megalomaniac who would stop at nothing to gain Caesar’s favor. Pilate was known for ruthlessly killing his enemies, his friends, his family—anyone he suspected could end his reign and the luxurious lifestyle to which he was accustomed. He would randomly slit people’s throats on busy streets simply to send a message. These stories are recounted in reliable extra-biblical histories by Josephus and Tacitus. Josephus was a Jewish Roman apologist—so for him to paint a very gruesome picture of Pilate means Pilate was indeed heinous.
So, when Jesus starts preaching about a new kingdom—the kingdom of God, and how he has been sent from God to overturn the ways—and leaders—of this world; when Jesus claims that his kingdom is not even of this world (a claim to Godlike status reserved for the Emperor); when Jesus teaches that people should share and redistribute their wealth, that all people should have healthcare (even on the Sabbath), that the world of oppression and war is inherently evil—well, those claims stirred the emotions and nationalism of the Jewish people. And just as it does to our leaders today, an unhappy population made Pilate and the Jewish leadership who were tasked with maintaining this tenuous peace very, very nervous, albeit for quite different reasons. Pilate simply wanted to maintain control, like the proto-Mafioso he was. The Jewish leadership was worried about the continued existence of Judaism and the Jewish people.
The hills and countryside around Jerusalem were filled with armed militias. The Jewish leaders worried that one wrong move by any of these private armies would bring down upon the Jewish population the full might and power of the Roman Army, wiping out Judaism once and for all. Mel Gibson not withstanding, the Jewish leaders of the era weren’t happy about the Roman occupation. They had no religious reason to see Jesus killed. Jesus never taught anything anti-Jewish, and in fact harkened back to Moses with his cry of “Let my people go!” Rather, the Jewish leadership of his time was nervous about a full-scale war, knowing there was no way they could win. So any social instigator—Jesus included, was viewed with caution.
To be continued…
Meditation: I am filled with God’s love, and that is revolutionary.
The Crucifixion of Jesus, part 1
While we’re working through the historical context and development of biblical ideas and stories, it’s important to remember that the Bible is multi-layered. Each story and letter has both a historical context (which is usually not a factual history, but rather an historical setting in which the biblical story takes place) and a spiritual context. The spiritual context of the story is really where the meaty stuff is. The spiritual meaning is what the authors of the stories wanted to convey to us about our relationship with God. Every single story in the Bible is an existential human musing about finding what Thomas Merton called our “true selves.” As the world has grown ever more literal (what has happened to our imaginations?), we’ve found it more and more difficult to discover and connect with the spiritual meanings in these ancient texts.
So too the historical context. As the Bible became more and more revered—partially because writing itself was so revered, the words took on a holy meaning in and of themselves. This in spite of the fact that while these stories were part of an oral tradition, the holiness was in the meaning of the stories, not in the stories themselves. The transition from pre-literate to literate cultures was not necessarily for the best. There was a lot of meaning lost in the translation, so to speak. Nevertheless, the historical and spiritual context of bible stories is intertwined like the fibers of a rope: the entire thing is useless if we unravel and pay attention to one strand or the other. Only woven tightly together within the context of history is it possible for us to understand the ancient spiritual meaning of anything in the Bible.
Perhaps one of the most starkly obvious stories we currently mistranslate is the story of Jesus’ crucifixion. Christians today consider the death of Jesus a necessary, pre-planned act of God in order to bring humans back into right relationship with God’s self. This is not what Jesus ever taught, though, and is, in fact, an idea that developed rather late in the history of Christianity—and one could argue didn’t fully take root until the 11th Century.
Jesus’ teachings were not about the afterlife. He never taught that he was the sacrifice for all human pain and suffering, or that he had come to die in order to appease a God that only human sacrifice would satiate. Yuck. None of those ideas originated with Jesus. All of them originated decades, centuries, and even millennia after his death.
Jesus never taught that we must all accept him as the “son of God” or even as the Messiah (in fact, when he refers to himself in scripture, he only refers to himself as “son of man”). He wasn’t concerned with wiping out “original sin,” a concept that doesn’t even enter the Christian vocabulary until Augustine in the 4th Century, CE. The crucifixion of Jesus had nothing to do with the supernatural ideas later superimposed on the event.
Jesus’ teachings were about the here and now—about connecting with God as deeply as Christ (which simply means “anointed” and had been applied to many people throughout Jewish history) himself was connected to God, because Jesus knew that only through this deep God connection could individuals (and thereby the world) truly be changed. Jesus was extremely concerned about the state of the world and saw the flaws in the world not as flaws of human character, but as systemic flaws created by beings who simply had no idea about their true selves. His was a message of social justice achieved through individual spiritual evolution, and I firmly believe his intent was to exemplify that to his followers—who were continually misunderstanding him. That tradition of getting Jesus’ message completely wrong continues to infect Christianity today.
Jesus believed in equality for all God’s children, and importantly, that we are all God’s children, no exceptions—Jew, Gentile, Samaritan, Roman, Greek, king, tax payer, tax collector, prince and prostitute. Jesus makes a point of going to places like Samaria, to show that no person of God has a mortal enemy, and that no child of God should be excluded from society.
Eventually, his ideas would rub the Roman Empire the wrong way, and get him killed in the special way the Empire reserved for insurrectionists: Crucifixion.
To be continued…
Meditation: I am a being of light and love. I was born that way.
Good and loving God, malady
we give thanks
for the many gifts
we have received
today and throughout our lives.
We are thankful for
the many people
who volunteer their time and talent
to the needs of this world, hospital
people striving together
to serve those in need.
It is a great blessing, decease indeed,
to serve with people
from all walks of life,
your children working together
to bring food, light, and love
to a world hungry for spiritual
and physical nourishment.
God of Magnificent Wonder,
we are most thankful
for your eternal presence in our lives.
Join us all together
as one body of love.
Move us through the world
so filled with love and grace,
that, like our
Great Teacher Jesus,
we too might
and remind a broken world
of the wholeness found
We ask a special blessing upon
the students and teachers
who return to school
in the coming weeks.
Keep them safe.
Make their environment conducive to learning.
Help our leaders provide
teachers and students
with all they need,
so that future generations
of your people
will be better stewards
of this precious planet
and each other.
For our friends and loved ones
who are ill,
we pray for healing,
we are all intimately connected
and that as we pray,
the people we care about deeply
are comforted by your tender embrace.
We pray also for the people
we mistakenly think of as enemies.
Help us realize that
there are no enemies.
Enemies are created
from the desire to possess and own.
Eternal Holy One,
when our journey toward you
is interrupted by such negativity,
shake us loose from
the shackles that keep us
trapped in the darkly lit cave
of this very unnatural humanity.
over, and over again,
that our natural state,
our true human nature,
is like that of Jesus:
and perfectly filled with grace.
We pray all these things
in the many names
you have been called
throughout the eons:
Light and Life,
The Holy Christ,
God of Infinite Wisdom,
God of Love.
One of the most popular quotes in the entire Second Testament is also one that is most often used improperly and out of context. This phrase comes in the middle of a story about a Pharisee named Nicodemus. The first thing we have to remember about the context of this story is that Pharisees were equal parts political movement, seek social movement, and Jewish school of thought.
After the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, Pharisaic beliefs became the basis for Rabbinical Judaism, which eventually became the mainline Judaism we know today. Since John was written only a couple of generations after the destruction of the temple, keeping the Jewish liturgical and ritual traditions alive was very much on the minds of the Rabbis. So too in Jesus’ time. Nicodemus was a highly educated, intelligent fellow very concerned about the traditions of his people.
As usual, Jesus walks into this setting ready to overturn tables. While Jesus respects his traditions, he could give a hoot about traditional liturgy and ritual. In fact, if we read the Second Testament carefully, we clearly see that Jesus is an itinerant preacher who has no use for ritual whatsoever. Nicodemus is very aware of this when he tells Jesus, “You must be of God, for no person could do the things you do without being of God.” Jesus replies, “No one can see the kin-dom of God without being born again,” a phrase which completely mystifies Nicodemus. “How can someone be born again if they’re old?” He exclaims. “Am I to climb back into my mother’s womb?”
Nicodemus, like so many of us today, misunderstands Jesus because he takes him literally. The word the Fourth Evangelist uses here has an intentional double meaning. We’re not sure what word Jesus may have said in Aramaic, but the Greek word, anothen, can mean both again and anew. In this case, the word anew is probably a better choice, because Jesus is speaking in the metaphor of the ancient Jewish mystic. This language was already largely lost by the Second Temple period. Today, it is a language that is completely lost on Christians separated from their Jewish heritage. Pick up any Bible and almost all of them relegate the translation of anothen as anew to a footnote, indicating to the reader that this is a second choice, and so influencing our spiritual thought negatively. Anew is a much better choice in this case, because the context of this story is Jewish mysticism.
Being born of the Spirit anew is a new way of looking at life by accepting and experiencing a new relationship with God. Remember the context! In the 1st Century CE only priests had a direct connection to God. This idea would continue into the 16th Century until Martin Luther inadvertently started the Reformation. Again, Jesus says “Wrong!” to this idea of priestly privilege. Jesus had a direct connection to God, and knows that every single soul on the planet can—and is by birthright supposed to—have the same connection. When Jesus talks about being born anew, he’s not talking about worshipping the ground he walks on. He’s not talking about literal rebirth. He’s talking about becoming reborn of the spirit of God, just like him.
By this point in the short story, Jesus feigns shock that Nicodemus—a teacher of the Jewish people, doesn’t know these things. Jesus knew full well that the mystical teachings of Judaism had already been forgotten. While Jesus may not have been a fan of the liturgy and rituals of his time, he was a big fan of the mystical heritage of Judaism. Jesus was a Jewish mystic. It’s part of the reason he continues to be so easily misinterpreted.
Finally, we come to the infamous line about Jesus being the son of God, sent by God to “save the world.” Whoever believes in Jesus shall have “eternal life.” Over the past couple of thousand years, this line has been taken completely out of context. It has come to mean that if someone doesn’t “believe in” Jesus (whatever that means), they will be condemned to an eternity in Hell. This is completely wrong, and that it has become one of the foundations of modern Christianity is in large part why modern Christianity is in sharp decline. Modern Christianity looks so little like the loving, accepting, all-inclusive teaching of Jesus, were he to actually come back today, he’d probably think we were all Pharisees—steeped in ritual and traditional liturgy, with little to no understanding of the meaning of his words.
First of all, this line is about God’s love for the world. The first line of 3.16, so often translated as “God gave his only son” is better translated as God sent his only son. Again, there are two Greek verbs here that are often used interchangeably, but they completely change the meaning. While it’s cool to think of Jesus as a gift of God, understanding Jesus as sent from God allows us to move away from the idea that Jesus was given as a human sacrifice, which he was not. God loves the world, so God sends a perfect example of humanity. Jesus is an offering of new life and new relationship—one which, if we accept, changes the world completely. Jesus doesn’t die for our sins, he lives to show us what real humanity looks like. That’s God’s true gift.
Next, the phrase “eternal life” in this context is not about eternal, immortal life after we pass from this mortal coil. It’s not about going to heaven or hell after we die, all dependent on whether or not we accept Jesus Christ as our “Lord and Saviour.” Eternal life in this context is about living our lives in the eternal presence of God. Eternal life is not something dangling over our heads like the sword of Damocles—it is available here and now. It’s not eschatological, it’s about the present. It’s not about imminent and ever-present peril to our souls, it’s about the imminent and ever-present being of God. It is about Oneness with God, as exhibited and lived by Jesus.
God indeed loves the world, and constantly sends sons and daughters as bringers of light, as examples of what it means to be truly human and completely in sync with the loving energy of God. And you know who those people are? They’re the Mother Teresa’s and Gandhis and Martin Luther King, Jrs., sure. But they’re also you and I and everyone we know and love—every human on the planet, all ready to be born anew.
Meditation: God of constant reinvention, touch my heart, touch my mind, touch my soul.
Keeping it in Context, cialis part 1
At one time or another, case we’ve all heard someone say, cheap “Well, that’s what The Bible says, so I believe it, end of story.” For many people, The Bible is a magical book that can be read and understood at face value. This is simply not true. The Bible is an ancient book that is incredibly complex. Understanding the various letters and stories it contains takes an incredible amount of work. Much of this work has to be done exploring the cultural context in which the stories and letters were originally written. This means reading works about the Bible, not just reading the Bible itself.
Written thousands of years ago when societal conventions, laws, political, and economic systems were vastly different from ours today, The Bible “says” a lot of things that have no place in modern society. Furthermore, the modern propensity for taking everything in the Bible literally (few people in the ancient world thought the universe was created in seven literal days), rather than as the metaphor and analogy the original authors intended, creates a completely different understanding for people today than it did for the original hearers of these stories.
And there’s a major difference right there: When they were first being created, most people heard the stories in the Bible. They didn’t read them, because they couldn’t—they were illiterate. Only the extremely wealthy or privileged could read and write—and this includes Jesus, who we often think of as a wandering peasant. Well, once he was an adult, he chose the life of a wandering peasant, but somewhere along the line he was incredibly well-educated as a Rabbi. This was a special class of people who were taught philosophy, critical thinking skills, math, history, reading, writing, and importantly, the stories of their people. It was then their responsibility to save and teach the traditions and traditional stories of their people to successive generations. Why does Jesus often speak in parables? Because this is the way he was taught. Stories are easier to remember than lists. For over a thousand years, the stories of the ancient Hebrew people were carefully memorized and passed along orally. The voice of authority in society was most often the voice of a teacher.
In his phenomenal work, How The Bible Became a Book, William Schniedewind, the Kershaw Chair of Ancient Eastern Mediterranean Studies at UCLA writes, “When the Bible became a book, the written word supplanted the living voice of the teacher. Ancient Israelite society was textualized. This textualization marked one of the great turning points in human history, namely the movement from an oral culture towards a written culture.” Once textualized, it was but a small leap toward canonization.
The written words became holy because as writing was developing, the written word was seen as a magical language bestowed on humans by the gods. Only the power elite could read and write. Kings wrote to each other on matters of trade and border security. Priests wrote about the gods. The common people—the majority, did and believed what they were told. One of the problems this created was an even greater divide between the people in power—the people who could read and now write, and those who could not. The written word was for the privileged few, not the masses. The ancient Hebrew stories, passed along from generation to generation, were now written down and took on the magical attributions all writings of the time held.
Schniedewind writes, “We tend to read the Bible from our own viewpoint—that is, we tend to think of the Bible as if it came from a world of texts, books, and authors. But the Bible was written before there were books. As the great French scholar Henri-Jean Martin has observed, the role of writing in society has changed dramatically through history, yet modern analyses of biblical literature often depend on the perspective of the text in modern society.”
In truth, this has been a problem throughout history. Paul sees what he wants in the ancient Hebrew Bible he knew so well, based on a changing socio-economic climate and his personal experiences. Augustine does the same thing, creating a Jesus who atones for the sins of humanity that was never intended by the original Second Testament authors (including, I am convinced, Paul). The British and Spanish empires used the Bible to justify their expansionist greed, and the consequent subjugation and genocide of indigenous peoples. Slave owners in the American Colonies used the Bible to justify their heinous and immoral practices.
Our task as modern readers is to understand the original contextual foundations of the stories in the Bible. Without understanding the context—including why the Bible was written in the first place, we can’t know what does and does not apply to modern society—and there is much in the Bible that is simply irrelevant today. In fact, if we take the time to understand the original intent and context of these stories, we might begin to understand that the stories are still being written, and that the canonization and exaltation of the Bible is a vestige of a past when writing itself was considered a magical gift from the gods.
Meditation: My mind is an open book. Fill me with new stories of knowledge, understanding and love.
God of Infinite light, viagra sale
we give thanks
for the many gifts
we have received
in our lives.
as we use our money, sovaldi sale
and our talents
to show a hurting world
just how powerfully healing
the modern church can truly be.
Compel us to use
and our money
to serve the hurting people
in our world.
[grant yourself a few moments of meditative silence here]
Holy and Loving God,
with bowed heads
and hearts filled
with your loving presence,
we thank you
for your steadfast love and faithfulness,
for your mercy and your grace,
for your guidance and wisdom,
for every moment
of every day.
We acknowledge that
our world is in great need
of your presence right now.
illness and disease
seem to impact
more and more people
all the time.
The effects of our disconnect
become more apparent,
and more harmful
the world seems to be getting worse,
instead of better.
During these stressful times,
help us recognize your presence;
help us feel you with us,
help us know that
no matter how dark it seems,
there is a light of love
shining within us all.
[grant yourself a few moments of meditative silence here]
Urge us to experience
the intimacy of your embrace.
Make us know,
that your spirit guides us
through every moment of our lives,
through every decision.
Help us know that all paths,
if we reflect deeply enough,
if we connect intimately enough,
lead ultimately and always
Your love is the gift
that draws us to serve both you
and one another;
that calls us to live selflessly
rather than selfishly;
that motivates us to live
for the kin-dom of God
rather than for the kingdoms of this earth.
We pray these things
in remembrance of the one
who showed us what
Oneness with God
and the call to serve humanity