Month: March 2016
Jesus has died and been resurrected, help so now what? As his followers, ambulance how are we supposed to react? In Mark, viagra the oldest of the four Gospels, we see that Jesus’ original followers react with horror (Mark 16:1-8). They run away from the empty tomb and don’t say a word to anyone about what they saw—or in this case, what they didn’t see, namely, Jesus’ body.
Obviously, though, the two Marys eventually told someone, as here we are today, about 2000 years later, still talking about Jesus and the resurrection.
To discover the answer, we have to remember the context in which the Jesus resurrection stories were written: 1st Century Judea under Roman occupation. These stories were written in occupied territory. Unhappily occupied territory.
It was the occupied territory of a people—the Jewish people—with a history that was thousands of years old, with traditions and culture and literature and a very defined sense of self as a people—specifically, as God’s people.
Over the thousands of years of development of Jewish culture up to the First Century CE, when Jesus lived in this occupied territory, the Jews created a deep and complex spiritual identity.
EVERYTHING we read in the Bible draws from this identity, and the problem we have today with stories that seem impossible to believe—like resurrection—is that we are not people of that same identity. We have no inherent knowledge of the background and subtleties of the biblical stories the way the original audience did. The authors of the literature in the Bible were Jews writing to Jews who all had the same many-thousand-year history. They could say things without setting up the background, and expect the audience would get it.
It would be like any of us expecting George Washington to come to 21st Century America and understand anything we have to say. How do you think ol’ George would react if we told him he was on fleek or rad or even cool? He’d think we’re talking about temperature, or possessed by demons, and then everything would escalate… well, you get the picture.
You see what I’m getting at here? Context.
So when we read about the resurrection of Jesus, we have to do our best to understand the context—not only of First Century Palestine, but also of the thousands of years of Jewish culture leading to that time and the subtleties of the resurrection story the authors presumed their audience would understand.
That takes a lot of work, otherwise we end up reading the resurrection story literally, and while that might or might not be true, it doesn’t really make any difference, because the point of the story is in the meaning of the event, not the event itself.
The resurrection story is meant to stimulate our thinking and make us ask, as it was intended to make Jesus’ earliest followers ask, “Now what? What am I called to do, as a follower of Jesus, if I understand that Jesus died on the cross in utter faith to God, dedication to his people, and protest against the status quo? What am I called to do in response to this revolutionary, subversive act?”
Make no mistake: Jesus’ death on the cross is an act of subversion. It is perhaps the ultimate subversive act. And also take note: If we are to understand the crucifixion and resurrection as a call to action, we have a personal responsibility to be active participants in the story. It’s not and cannot be all about Jesus dying to save the world cosmically, as some, like Paul, conclude (although I think that’s a misinterpretation of Paul, but that’s a different discussion).
When we think about Jesus’ journey, it almost had to end in resurrection—not for some sort of sacrificial atonement, but because Jesus subverted the status quo his entire life. He calls out the establishment for not practicing what they preach. He calls out the upper class for hoarding rather than sharing. He calls out normal people for thinking that normal means helpless.
And in resurrection Jesus subverts the idea that the empire has the last word. The resurrection—a story written by people who understood God as a part of their essence, not far away and indifferent but always their loving partner, Jesus’ resurrection reaffirms their millennial-old belief that God always has the last word.
And for people in an occupied territory, the resurrection story conveys hope that death at the hands of Empire, no matter how cruel or violent, can never undermine God’s love.
Empires come and empires go, but the love of God—shown by Jesus to be manifest in every single one of us, is eternal.
At the deepest spiritual level, I think that the resurrection story about Jesus is meant to call us to remain hopeful even when the empire is beating us to death. It reminds us to have the faith of Jesus and the deep, intrinsic connection to God of his Jewish people.
In Jesus’ resurrection we find the courage, the wisdom, and the love to defeat all the ways empires find to occupy the homeland of our souls. Yet, remaining empowered by God’s infinite, unconditional, loving energy, we get up—over and over again.
Jesus reminds us not only to continue to changing the world even after we’ve been knocked out, but he shows us how miraculous we can be when we remember that God imbues us with incredible strength—the ability to feed thousands, to heal the wounded, to mend divides between families, and eventually, to overcome the sting of death itself by understanding we are more than our flesh. We are eternal love.
So, what now? We must continue to die to the corrupt thinking and activity of the empire that enslaves us, and continue to convince others that the ways of the world are completely out of phase with the loving nature of God.
Now, we remember we are tasked to be and act just like Jesus: a light of love in a dark world; a voice for the voiceless; unwaveringly committed to God as the ultimate love of the universe; willing to put the needs of the many over the needs of the few—or even the one, as Jesus so breathtakingly showed his willingness to do on the cross.
What do we do now? We remember that we are God’s people, now and always.
And now and always, we love the world as compassionately as the man we claim to follow.
Meditation: God is love, and love is all.
Universal Love, buy
ignite within me
a burning desire
for an ever heightened awareness
of your presence
in my life
and the lives of every soul I meet.
[pause for a heightened awareness of God’s presence]
Help me learn from many sources.
Compel me to recognize that
my next great spiritual revelation
might be from
the person who bags my groceries,
the friendly smile of
a stranger I pass in town,
my neighbor or my mis-perceived enemy.
Love comes from
the most unexpected places,
melting our hearts
and changing our lives,
when we least expect it.
[pause for a heightened awareness of God’s presence]
You, my Holy Inspiration,
expanding my consciousness,
sometimes with a force
it knocks my life
in new and unexpected directions.
But more frequently,
you gently whisper
in my ear:
I am with you,
from now to the end of time.
I have always been with you.
Open your heart
and let me enter.
[pause for a heightened awareness of God’s presence]
Throughout our lives
we will meet
filled with your Holy Spirit,
you work through
to make us all
more like the Christ.
May we always strive
to ascend to Christ’s nature
and become more sensitive,
of each passing day,
to our true,
For it is our birthright
and our duty
to bring a little more light
to our world.
We pray in the names
of the many Christs
who have walked,
and continue to walk,
imperfectly perfect existence.
A Lenten Journey: Epilogue
As Jesus left the desert, he was “in the power of the Spirit” (Luke 4.14). He overcame the temptation to interpret what it means to be Messiah in the traditional ways. At the time, the Jewish people expected a Messiah who would use power and strength to conquer Israel’s foes. Their idea of a Messiah was one that would, unfortunately, come back into prominence later in the development of Christianity: the warrior Jesus astride a great battle stallion, fiery swords in both hands.
The warrior’s way was not the way Jesus understood messiahship. Rather, Jesus believed a true Messiah was a servant. The temptation story is about Jesus’ struggle to accept his true calling, to live fully into his authentic self as a servant of God, and therefore, as a servant of humankind.
Furthermore, the temptation story is an allegory about every human being and our call to service. In fact, the entirety of the Second Testament can be read as an allegory about our true human nature, our divine self, with Jesus as a stand-in for all humans. Jesus as a parable helps us understand the idea of service to God, and through God to each other. I wholeheartedly believe the Gospels were originally intended to show Jesus as an example—an ideal—for everyone who heard or read them. Somehow, that powerful idea has been lost over the years, as Christianity developed into a business and became more and more about the worship of Jesus, rather than about living into our own Christ-like nature. I don’t think Jesus tells us we’ll do even greater things than him (John 14.12), or that the kingdom of heaven is within (Luke 17.21) because he wants us to worship him. No, he tells us these things to teach us how to be like him: completely in tune with God.
Of course, living like Jesus, the self-realized Christ, takes a great deal of work. It requires the sort of constant self-reflection we find Jesus undertaking in the desert. It demands we resist the temptation to wield power and abuse other human beings or the environment. It takes more than believing in a messiah. Living into Christ Consciousness obliges us to undertake the journey toward becoming a messiah—anointed, enlightened, one with God. It’s a trip!
As we participate in this trip (because we are not taking the trip alone, we are with God every step of the way) we start understanding the importance of service, in any way we are called. And perhaps more importantly, we see we are making progress when we stop comparing our talents and gifts to others and see everyone as serving in their unique ways. Some of us are artists, some of us are organizers, some of us are growers and others reapers. We are all motivated by a deeper sense of being one with God (whether we realize it or not), which then creates a more profound sense of being one with each other. “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it” (1 Cor. 12.26).
Jesus’ call was to make peace, not war. He doesn’t violently battle his demons on the riverbank, he simply inwardly reflects and calls his demons out for the fallacies they are. Jesus does this by remembering that Oneness with God calls him to service—through God to his fellow human beings. During his time in the desert, he rejects the notion of earthly kingdoms (which makes the celebration of “the king” into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday all the more bizarre). He resists the temptation to prove God’s strength, knowing that God doesn’t need to prove anything. Through all these temptations, Jesus reminds us it is our task to have faith in God’s agape love—unconditional, spiritual, universal love for all creation. When we find that faith, when that sense of connection overwhelms us, then we begin living into the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and the world is forever changed and filled with love.
Meditation: Fill me with agape love.
Hopefully, we are now at the point on our Lenten journey where we’re starting to learn some new things about our true spiritual identity. There is a much higher state of being buried deep within our psyche. Throughout our lives, that higher state—our true self—claws and scratches its way to the surface, revealing clues to the meaning of life and the nature of identity along the way. Most of the time we fail to notice. We write the revelations of our souls off as dreams (or nightmares). We relegate the quest for meaningful answers to life’s deepest mysteries to philosophers and college students, and sometimes we ridicule both for wasting their time.
But philosophy is a peculiarly human trait, and without asking questions that seem unanswerable, there would be no art, culture, or even science. Working to become a more enlightened being is never a waste of time. From where do we come? Why are we here? Where are we going? Is this all there is? We wrestle with the meaning of life both esoterically and scientifically. Often the two disciplines lead us to similar answers. Where science and philosophy intersect, we find much deeper truths—as in the implications of string theory and quantum physics about the fundamental building blocks of all life and the very nature of self-consciousness.
I also like to compare the messages from different spiritual traditions, particularly Buddhism and Christianity. Jesus and Buddha have very similar stories. Over the years, I have found that where these spiritual traditions present similar ideas, there is profound truth and meaning.
Buddha thought: “When the strings of the lute are loose, its sound won’t carry. When the strings are too tight, it breaks. When the strings are neither too loose nor too tight, the music is beautiful. I’m pulling my strings too tightly. I cannot find the Way to Truth living a life of luxury or with my body so weak.”
This is the same message we see Jesus deliver time and again in the Gospels: If someone is too rich, it tends to make them disconnected and disinterested in the needs of the rest of society. If someone is too impoverished, it is impossible to care about anything other than survival. It is the middle ground that allows us to think deeply and act with concern for society as a whole.
Like the strings of a lute, when we are in perfect spiritual tune, we become the song of God and play more in tune with God consciousness as we approach a more enlightened state of conscious being. It’s also no coincidence that Buddha talks about the Way to Truth and the original followers of Jesus were called, not Christians, but people of The Way.
Buddha’s enlightenment comes when he is 35 years old—about the same age Jesus was when he was crucified. Christians tend to get hung up on the crucifixion, but Jesus’ crucifixion and death are not the points of the story, regardless of what many modern Christians believe. The point of Jesus’ story is not his death, but the resurrection and, even more importantly and more forgotten, the ascension that happens after the resurrection.
It’s a lot more difficult to get to the point of the Jesus story than the Buddha story because Jesus’ story is wrapped in ancient Jewish metaphor that has been taken out of context and read too literally for about 1500 years. It’s a pity, because it’s sidetracked the point of Jesus message: We are meant for something more, and we can be something more if we will only take the time to become more enlightened, which then allows us to lead our brothers and sisters in poverty and slavery out of poverty and slavery, to places where they can also find their enlightened state.
Read the end of Buddha’s enlightenment story, and as you do, think about Jesus. Perhaps this meditation will help you—as it continues to help me—find new ways to think about what it means to be a Christian—a follower of the way of Jesus, as we enter these last days in the Lenten desert:
Still seeking a way to understand the meaning of life, Siddhartha set out for Buddhagaya. Near a grove, he sat down under a huge Bodhi tree. Silently he vowed, “Even if my flesh and blood were to dry up, leaving only skin and bones, I will not leave this place until I find a way to end all sorrow.” He sat there for forty-nine days. He was determined to discover the source of all pain and suffering in the world.
Mara, the evil one, tried to scare him into giving up his quest. For instance, he hoped to lure Siddhartha into having selfish thoughts by sending visions of his very beautiful daughters. But the Buddha’s goodness protected him from such attacks.
During this period, Siddhartha was able to see things as they truly were. Now he had finally found the answer to suffering: “The cause of suffering is greed, selfishness, and stupidity. If people get rid of these negative emotions, they will be happy.”
During a full-moon night in May, Siddhartha went into deep meditation. As the morning star appeared in the eastern sky, he became an enlightened one, a Buddha. He was thirty-five years old.
When the Buddha stood up at last, he gazed at the tree in gratitude, to thank it for having given him shelter. From then on, the tree was known as the Bodhi tree, the tree of Enlightenment.*
Now, compare that story with the story of Jesus in the Wilderness found in Luke 4:1-13:
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.
The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘People do not live on bread alone.’” The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. 7If you worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”
The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. 10For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.
After this, Jesus returns to Galilee “in the power of the Spirit,” which is a 1st Century Jewish metaphor for enlightenment.
Both stories are about finding an enlightened state of being. They are about an insightful change that gets us out of the cycle of greed—and stupidity—we so often find in the world—and ourselves, unfortunately.
When we stop to get off the merry-go-round of merely surviving and take some deep breaths under the Bodhi tree, we too become empowered by the Spirit, enlightened, introduced to our higher self. Then, we can begin the very hard yet very necessary work of seeing the world as it truly is, and getting about the business of changing everything by first changing ourselves.
Meditation: Reveal yourself in me, God of all things. Make me gentle, careful, and loving. I am ready to wake up!
*Story taken from http://www.buddhanet.net/e-learning/buddhism/pbs2_unit03.htm
Holy God of homecoming, clinic
we give thanks
for the houses of love
you build within every human being.
We pray for hearts
that always welcome
both friend and stranger.
Create in us,
minds that are open
to new experiences and ideas.
Give us souls
that are filled
with the gentle grace
of Jesus Christ.
[pause for the graceful touch of God]
We live in a confusing world
and an even more confused time.
We are obsessed with
war and terror,
glitz and glamor,
sizzle without substance.
We run away
from your house of love
and instead run recklessly
into the hellish wilderness
created by the inner demons
of our unnecessarily frightened minds.
We act like children
fighting over toys,
afraid to lose some
We think, “This land is my land,
it’s not your land.
This house is my house,
it’s not your house.
This love is my love,
it’s not your love,”
And in so thinking,
we create a reality
that separates us
from each other
and from you.
We fail to understand
that this land is your land,
God whose very existence
creates the land.
This house is your house,
God whose house
has room for us all.
This love is your love,
infinite and unconditional,
regardless of gender,
each an artificial border
created by a fearful mind
lost in the wilderness.
[pause for the graceful touch of God]
Call us home, God,
for we long for a deeper truth:
The realization that
we are all one people,
one collective state of consciousness
who will finally feel
when we awaken
to the realization that
home is found in your loving arms—
arms that are always reaching out
to welcome us back
as we all find our way home.
A Lenten Journey, case part 4: Discovering Our At-One-Ment With God
The words “tempt” and “temptation” appear over 100 times in the Bible. They are most often used to portray something that entices us away from our Oneness with God. This can be an addiction, selfishness, greed, envy, petulance—any behavior that creates negative energy.
Negative energy, which is created by negative thought patterns and behaviors, causes a chasm between God and us. For the vast majority of humans, this is our modus operandi—we plod through life without giving a thought to anything other than survival. This unconscious trekking is the key to understanding the temptation stories about Jesus.
In the wilderness stories we’ve been meditating on this Lenten season, the devil in the wilderness represents our human desires: our fear of lack and limitation (Matthew 4:3-4), our hubris (5-7), and our lust for power (8-10). When our lives are guided by negative thought patterns, all we concentrate on is power and survival (and typically, survival by abusing power). These stories are meant to show us how subconsciously we live into and create negative energy.
Jesus can resist these earthly temptations and overcome these very human tests because he is perfectly attuned to God. Moreover, Jesus understands this connection. Jesus is motivated by positive thought, which creates positive energy all around and through him. He is consciously aware of his inherent God connection, and always allows God to work through him. There is no chasm between Jesus and God. They are at one with each other. This is the deeper meaning of atonement when we talk about Jesus.
The life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus represent at-one-ment (Oneness) with God. It’s a much more powerful and appropriate analogy than the substitutionary atonement theology that would have us loathe ourselves as unworthy creatures that need the blood of God’s son (who is, in fact, God, so it’s suicide AND filicide) being spilled for God to love us. That’s negative thought, and it has no place in our relationship with God—or each other, for that matter.
We are not unworthy. We are perfect and perfectly created. Jesus understood this and wanted everyone he met to understand this too. God loves us so much that God incarnates in the flesh as every single one of us. That’s positive thought, and it obliterates the disease most religions have forced us to believe we have for the last 1000 years.
Jesus had a conscious realization of God’s love, and, therefore, could resist the temptations of human conceit and negativity. He could perform what many people thought of as miracles. Jesus is clear, however, that all his followers should be able to do the same things as he, “and even greater things” (John 14.12). Jesus understood—and tried to teach—the power and freedom of being consciously One with God. Many of us today use the term “Christ Consciousness” to convey this deep, powerful, and natural connection to the One Consciousness of the universe.
In order to more closely experience Christ Consciousness, it’s important to shift our thinking about God. Rather than an angry, demanding, extremely human-emotion-filled entity akin to a superhuman, God must become an energetic, conscious force of unconditional love. God is more than electricity or gravity, but God is also electricity and gravity. God is not an alien being, but God is all being and all beings. God is so we too might be.
Jesus could see God in everyone he met. He saw beyond blindness, beyond earthly powers, and beyond death. This is a very freeing state of existence! Once convinced of our unity with the Infinite Oneness of God, our fear, our doubt, our uncertainty, our need to control—it all just melts away into nothingness, because all those emotions are nothing in the first place. There is no power in negative thinking other than what we allow.
The truth is very simple: We are spiritually one with God. We all have the consciousness of the Christ within us. We will all experience this consciousness at various times throughout our lives, and that experience will help us transcend the worst of times. It will probably not surprise you to learn that the easiest and most profound way to experience Oneness with God is to love. Love ourselves, and love every single person we meet as God–the same God we pray to for peace and justice. We create the beauty we want to see in the world by understanding that the beauty is already there, in every mountain, river, stream, and human being.
There is a way out of the wilderness of constant trial and temptation. The path lies within. All we have to do is look, and it will appear. Don’t be afraid to follow the paths that open for you, because all paths lead to God.
Meditation: Show me my spiritual path and enlighten our world.