Posts Tagged ‘Christianity’

Vienna

July 8, 2017

My mama raised me to be a Catholic. Daddy wasn’t into religion much.

After I grew up, and became a man who could/would relate to the world on my own terms–after I had reached the age of reason and I had decided for myself what this life was all about. . . after I had lived life to the full, and managed to do a few things right and many a thing wrong–after I had made a grand mess of my life, then allowed the Lord of the Universe, our Creator, to take hold of me at the ripe old age of 27 and turn me around and plant my wayward feet firmly in the ground of the gospel of Jesus Christ–after all that. . .

I met my wonderful little women, Pat from New Jersey. We got married in 1980 and by n’ by she presented three lovely children to me. Eventually the kids grew up, became responsible adults, etc and, long story short, we have followed each one of them to various points of interest all over the world.

Our current adventure in following progeny has brought us to the wonderful city of Vienna, Austria.

Now I have to say that this is an amazing place. Walking around this city for just one evening has already taught me some profundities about what life is all about and where things came from, long before I was born. Previously unexplained elements of my childhood, my heritage as a Catholic kid who later turned born-again Christian, can now be contemplated from the perspectives of history itself, and the movement of certain people groups at various periods of time from the Old World to the New, which is to say, America.

I mean, we grow up and we see things and we don’t really have a clue where all this stuff came from or how it got here and how we came to be in the midst of it all. In my case, I was a kid in the middle of the Deep South, in Mississippi in the 1950’s. Growing up, snotty-nosed and clueless as I was, now I’m wondering how likely it could have been that I grew up Catholic instead of Southern Baptist.

Well, my mama was a French-American Catholic from Louisiana, and my daddy’s people were from Scotch-Irish stock from up in the piney wood of Mississippi and before that they had come through Pennsylvania and before that from the old country, Ireland or Scotland or somewhere over there on the other side of the Pond.

So now, at this particular moment in time, it just so happens that I wake up this morning on the other side of the Pond, which is to say: now we are in Europe, the Old World, because yesterday (or maybe it was the day before that) we flew from America– formerly the New World– to this Old World, and one plane led to another and now I find myself in Vienna on a sunny morning and thanking God for such a wonderful life a the one we now find ourselves in.

As we strolled along the Karntnerstrasse last evening, we encountered this very impressive big cathedral structure, so I snapped a pic:

Steph-z

The immensity of history–what has gone before–is what I’m feeling as I pondered this structure. The erection of this church building took lifetimes of work and toil and sweat, and devotion, back in the days of the Holy Roman Empire, whatever that was, and its long tails of historical development through Peter and Paul and later Constantine and then all the Popes in Rome and eventually the Austro-Hungarian empire and the Hapsburgs and their hunky-dory relationship to the Catholic Church. . .

Until that fateful day in 1914 when the Archduke Franz Ferdinand got shot in Sarajevo by an angry young Serb and the Empire ended and the Old World ended and World War I dealt the final death blows to the ancient reins of power and the reigns of the royal houses that had ruled Europe for a couple a thousand years or so.

As I was pondering all this, we did stroll inside, into the Church at Stephensplatz. We found there a group of devoted Catholics celebrating Mass. This kind of thing has been going on here for a long time. And I don’t care what you think or say about it . . . This was a good thing.

Steph-in

That devotional setting took me back to childhood memories of being Catholic because that’s the way Mama raised me, even though Daddy wasn’t into it.

So as I contemplated, and in some sense, entered into. . . the devotion of these congregants to their belief in the Lord Jesus Christ, and their expression of that devotion in the sacrifice of the Mass,  and as I reconciled in my mind between those ancient strains of high-church faith and the Protestant Reformation that later changed everything . . . right down to the johnny-come-lately tides of Charismata that had drawn me into my experience of the Christian faith in 1978, and my present appreciation for all that God has done for me and Pat and our grown-up children and their spouses. . . as I stood there in the quiet reverence of a tourist who just happened into a cathedral while other believers worshipped in their strange high-church way . . .

I could relate. I could relate to what they were feeling.

This morning, I can still feel it, devotion.

Devotion goes way back. This is a good thing.

King of Soul 

Let us prove him wrong.

March 16, 2017

God does not need any favors from the likes of us mere humans. Nevertheless, if you are like me–that is, if you call yourself a Christian–you can do us all a favor–you can do this nation a favor–  by proving this man wrong.

Hedges

He opines that we Christians are working ourselves into a fascist movement.

  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TP5gjrh-3Ew

I have respect for this man and his opinion. Chris Hedges is a smart man, a doctor of divinity; he was a good reporter for the New York Times, and a Pulitzer prize recipient. But his assessment about Christians is incorrect. Or at least I hope it is incorrect.

Let us therefore prove him wrong in his analysis of us.

We are not fascists; nor do we want to be.

Let us remind Chris what it means to be Christian. Let us do unto others as we would have them do unto us.

Let us not do to others what we would not want them to do to us.

Let us demonstrate to Mr. Hedges, and to whomever it may concern, that we live and we act on behalf of the man from Galilee who came to bring good news to the afflicted.

Let us fulfill the command of that prophet who admonished us to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, and to give shelter to the those who need it.

Let us visit the widow, the orphan, the stranger, the prisoners.

Let us act on behalf of the healer who was sent to bind up the broken-hearted.

Let us be advocates for  the the one who was taken prisoner, the one who came to proclaim liberty to the captives, and freedom to the prisoners.

Let us proclaim the favorable year of the Lord, and of his judgement on all of us.

Let us comfort all who mourn.

Let us hunger and thirst for righteousness (not right-wingedness).

Let us be merciful.

Let us love mercy, and do justice, and walk humbly with our God.

Let us proclaim the message of the one who exhorted us to love one another.

Let us heal, if we can, as he healed the sick, the lame, the blind.

Let us speak truthfully, because we shall be made free by the truth.

Let us act honorably, as Jesus himself did on the night he was arrested, when he told Peter to put down the sword.

Let us be bold in our kindness, as he was.

Let us speak confidently about the power of love, compassion and mercy, as he did when he preached on the Mount.

Let us be brave, as Jesus was when he went to the cross rather than betray the redemptive, resurrective mission that had been laid upon his shoulders.

Let us not be haters, nor slanderers, nor liars, nor killers, nor maimers, no adulterers, nor thieves.

Let us love those who see themselves as our enemies.

Let us love those who make themselves our enemies.

Let us not be enemies.

Let us love those who despitefully use us.

Let us love those who abuse us.

Let us love those who accuse us.

Let us not become fascists.

Let us not be deceived by the fascists.

Let us not be used by the fascists.

Let us not be despised by the socialists, nor the communists, nor the jihadists.

Deliver us, Lord, from the jihadists.

Let us project calm on the political waters as you invoked calm on the sea of Galilee.

Let us be Christians who love the Lord and who strive to love all people whom the Lord has brought forth.

Let us conquer death, as you have done, Lord, and then live eternally with you in peace and love.

Let us pray.

Forgive us our trespasses, Lord, as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil

And Let us not be agents of evil.

We do have a message of mercy for all men and women. We do have a song to sing.

Glass half-Full

The Nutcase

February 8, 2017

Recently I discovered this empty shell of walnut.

NutSquirl

I saved it, because I wanted you to see it. Looking into its vast crevice provides a poignant glimpse into the world of a squirrel.

SqrlEat

Even more significantly, however, it affords us a view into nature itself. Furthemore, this empty nutcase gives us a profound view into life itself, the meaning of it.

Peer into that void and ye shall see the truth, and the truth shall make you free.

When I was a young man, I make some poor choices, some mistakes. At one juncture, when I was about 27 years of age, my life went into a skid. I hit bottom, was in a bad spot, between a nut and a hard place and I was at a loss as to what to do, so I turned to God; Jesus pulled me out of the pit of my own errant ways.

Everything got better after that, although it has certainly been no bed of roses in the 38 years since I the Lord of the Universe saved me.

Shortly after that salvation turnaround, I met a loverly girl and married her. By n’ by, she presented a son and two daughters to me and since that time we’ve been in squirrel heaven, insofar as we abide in a woodsy area, happy as a squirrel in sugar maples.

In the first year of our marriage, we did an exodus from the rat race and relocated ourselves to a remote mountain town where we have lived ever since. A big part of that move was our involvement with a group of Christian believers, good people who are saved and sanctified by the blood of the Lamb.

Those were good, productive years, in which we took possession of our promised land–which is to say, our very own lives, instead of life as defined by superfluous externals such as success and keeping up with the Jones’ blahblah. Up here in the Blue Ridge we were living as  a bunch of young bucks and does, with many fawns coming along as a natural outcome. Many of us had been refugees from the destructive influences of countercultural excesses, having slogged, wounded and bleeding through the minefields of a corruptive world.

We were pretty excited about our quasi-communal churchified project, most of us raising our kids together, training them up together in the fear and admonition of the Lord. It was all good for a sufficient time; then things changed and we eventually went our separate ways, although a few of us still hang together, and that collective friendship is as satisfying now as  the old wine that might have been bottled in Napa valley or somewhere  during that era.

Our son recently joined with his wife near Napa Valley. Life is grand.

But back in the day, you see, when we were . . .  as Don McLean sang, “. . .  all in one place, a generation lost in space” (although we were no longer lost because we were all found, in Jesus) . . . back in that day– a primary reason we were of one mind about such things as God and family was this:

We were all reading from the same script, the Bible.

And this was a good thing, although it had its drawbacks.  We were trying to do everything “by the Book” instead of getting bogged down by the religious systems from which we had fled; as time passed, we did have a problem with spiritual pride. Arrogance.

Well, by ‘n by, we–long story short–we paid the price for that pride, which is a very real sin issue for folks who think they know a thing or two about God and spirituality.

But in our born-again zeal we had a tendency toward legalistic judgements toward others who did not share our vision. So doctrine became a real sticking point for us, and  actually, further along in the big picture, it turned out to be quite a stumbling block.

This is nothing new. It’s been going on for thousands of years in the human race. There’s always some person or group around who thinks they’ve got it all figured out better than everybody else.

But it was new to us, being young and wet behind the ears. In some ways. . . although we were living in a woodsy region, we could not see the forest, because of the trees that occluded our immediate vision.

Uncle Remus might have spoken that there is, among all creatures great and small, another minuscule mammal who inhabits our fancified forest: the squirrel.

And somehow or another, back in those old dogmatic days, we maligned that lowly creature’s integrity when we used his identity for purposes of identifying what we considered to be bad doctrine.

If we didn’t agree with the way a person or group interpreted scripture or even life itself, we’d called them “squirrely.”

It was a euphemism, much easier to utter than saying plainly that we judge them to be wrong about something. Because, deep down in ourselves, we knew that we were not right about everything either.

But I’m here to tell ya that we were too hard on the squirrel; heshe is actually blameless, and I appreciate herhis dutiful purpose in the great forest in which we live. HeShe’s actually a pretty good little critter, minding herhis own business and feeding their young’uns. And I greatly appreciate hisher Museship for having inspired this here squirrely stash of nutty musings.

No wise-cracks please. We live in a dangerous world. Remember another nutcase from back in our boomer childhood: Nikita Khrushev stood at the UN and said: We will burrow you!

SqStandg

Glass Chimera

Turkey, oh Turkey

May 30, 2015

Oh Türkey, O Türkey,

wherefore art thou Türkey?

You Osman of old, you

Ottoman so bold, who

rode upon the haunches of destiny,

in six centuries of Caliphate history,

astride the swiftly flowing Bosphoros

riding bright as phosphorous,

across our grand confluence of East and West.

Safe passage through your Dardanelles’, we do request,

if it please you, sir.

Do you concur?

You, oh Sultan of Sogüt,

insistent besieger of Byzantium,

IstanNight

you, Conqueror of Constantinople,

extinguisher of the Caliphate,

you, Ankara anchor of that ancient Anatolian

soul, born and raised up in Konye of old.

You, brash instigator of Young Türks!

What mischief lurks

behind your Izmir eyes,

that glisten now as stars arise

beneath a crescent moon,

to induce some dervish swoon?

Do you even comprehend

the golden-sashéd man who still yet stands,

with lampstands in his angels’ hands,

holding forth your seven stars,

between Patmos’ sands and Akhisar,

strung like bright’ning Pleides pearls,

as His ancient scroll unfurls?

 

Glass half-Full

Prayer for all Nations

April 11, 2015

I hope you will believe in God, if you don’t already. When the Son of God walked upon the earth, he visited the temple of his people, in Jerusalem. Jesus said many things at the temple. One thing he said was:

My house shall be a house of prayer for all people.

Toward that end, I included this scene/portrait in my 2007 novel, Glass half-Full. From chapter 4:

Beneath a cold, clear, azure sky the city of Jerusalem lay stretched upon the mountains and valleys like a fuzzy glove upon God’s hand. People from all over the world had gathered here to unearth evidence of God at work among the people of the earth. Some sought a temple that no longer exists. Some sought a mosque where a prophet entered heaven. Some trod upon the cobblestones of ancient, holy real estate, pleading for reconciliation, seeking atonement for the human condition.

A man wandered beyond the dome, past the blocked-up eastern gate; curving around northward, he noticed a large open area beside the mosque. Was this where the former temple had stood? What a beautiful mosque.

Could not the owners of this hill sell the adjoining, vacant acre or two to those pilgrims who, standing daily at the wall below, were wailing for their wonderful temple? Why not make a deal? Such a deal. Cousin to Cousin. Temple and Mosque, Mosque and Temple…Mosque Shsmosque, Temple Shmemple. Such a deal. Everybody happy. You pray your way; I pray mine.

A man traveled outside the wall, beyond the ramparts of human religion-building, pushing the envelope of mortally human strife… through the Kidron Valley below, to the vanity-laden valley of struggle, along the groves of Gethsemane; he trod among the graves of the prophets; he ambled along the graftings of the profits. He wept. Mankind, like a flock of fluttering chickens in a barnyard, clucking, headless…why can’t we get it together?

A man walked up the other side of the valley, through Arab neighborhoods, to a Jewish cemetery. Oh wailing trail of human history, why allowest thou such holocaust? Turning around, he looked back across the valley, to the mountain where he just had been, with tears:

Sons of Adam, argue all you want about real estate on your holy hill. “I’ll be over here on the other side,” thought he.

But the walk was over now. It was time to go to work. John Demos, reporter for XYZ, was scheduled to do a live broadcast three hours from now. The American Secretary of State and her entourage were in the ancient city to prevail upon, once again, the ancient brothers and sisters to settle their ancient differences. And John would be covering the event for XYZ.

***

Half a world away, John’s face could be seen on the TV in the Jesse James Gang Grill.

He was reporting to the world about the latest official Middle East peace initiatives. Hilda Hightower interrupted her flower-watering chore for a few minutes to watch his report…

DomeRok

Wailing Wall

JerChSepulc

JerGoPeace

Glass half-Full

Ritual and Renewal in Christendom

February 14, 2015

I was raised in the Catholic Church, and my wife was too. That was a long time ago.

During the 35 years of our marriage, we’ve been intimately connected to a group of Protestant Christian believers. Our group spends a lot of time reading the Bible and discussing the revelation, poetry, prophecy and history that is documented therein.

Our literate emphasis on the Bible, the printed Word of God, has not always been the main thrust of the Christian religion. Widespread reading of the Scriptures only came to the forefront in Christian life during the Protestant Reformation, which was led in the 1500’s by Martin Luther, John Calvin and many other outspoken reformers.

There’s a historical reason why the Reformation, and the Renaissance before it, happened when it did.

About a hundred years before Luther ignited the Protestant Reformation, Johannes Gutenberg’s invention and development of the printing press had begun forging new paths of communication. This new printing technology would greatly proliferate literacy, and the use of the printed word, for centuries to come. The expanded use of printed Scriptures fundamentally changed the Christian religion; it was similar, in a way, to the way digital media has profoundly altered communication during our times.

But before that 16th-century revolution in literate religion came (enabling Christians to sit around discussing the Bible), there was the centuries-old Practice of Religion, and a major part of that religion was Ritual.

Jesus Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection is plainly told, for all to see and read, in the four Gospels of the printed Word. We take this for granted in the 21st century, as we did in the last century when I was growing up.

My Catholic childhood practice of religion was absolutely defined by the Mass, which is a ritual that had originated in the events of Christ’s sacrifice, but was later morphed during 1900 years of time into a prescribed, elaborate ceremony. The original purpose of the Mass was to tell the story of Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary, in Jerusalem. But as that Mass came down through the ages, the cognitive element (understanding what actually happened at Calvary) was draped (rather mysteriously in my young consciousness) in ceremonial robes, and spoken in a language–Latin–that I did not understand. And so the Mass became, for me and for millions of others, something else. It became a Ritual.

In my young soul, this produced reverence, and a kind of faith–not a faith of understanding, but of. . .ritual, and yes, belief.

I’m not rejecting ritual altogether. I believe it is a profound component of human community, and can be a pathway toward faithful worship. But my turning, in early adulthood, to (what is called Protestantism) the Scriptures, instead of the Catholic (or HighChurch) ceremonial practice, has been quite productive, and beneficial in how I have lived life.

When Pat and I visited Greece and Italy a few of weeks ago, I was enlightened about all this. It was a kind of epiphany.

In Athens, we saw:

OrthxBrite

I snapped the image in a Greek Orthodox church.

A week later in Rome, we saw:

GoldAltar

This image is from a Roman Catholic church.

These two pix cannot portray the meaning, nor the reverential profundity, of worship as it regularly is offered in Orthodox and Catholic churches of the Old World, and still today through the whole world. But they are a visual indicator of the cultural legacy, and the experiential intensity, that accompanies ceremonies in both major strains of Christendom. (Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic parted ways during the 11th century A.D.)

I will cast no judgement about the formal traditions of my Christian brothers and sisters whose faith is framed in the Old way of worship. I suppose what they are doing may reflect more perfectly what we will all be doing in heaven someday.

These reverential musings, which were recently initiated for me in Athens and Rome, have marvelously, perhaps Providentially, landed on this screen just now, for you to see. Now I will bring this ceremonial sojourn to a visual cadence with . . . one more picture I snapped; it expresses my feeling about our colorful Christian faith, which is visible to those who watch attentively, in the midst of a tragic, and dreary, world.

PiazNovnaColr

Glass half-Full

A World in Harmony, or Not

January 29, 2015

AcropVwTheatre

This morning I am watching the sky over Athens, Greece, as a new day brightens this fascinating city.

Yesterday, Pat and I toured the Acropolis, a mountaintop collection of ancient Greek temples. Greeks of 2500 years ago believed in a multiplicity of gods who were contending with each other for power.

I woke up thinking about their pantheon of many gods, and how different that belief is from my Christian faith in One God.

Believing in one God means the world is in divine harmony, because God made the world the way it is supposed to be. This belief enables me to reconcile the obvious contradictions of good and evil in this world.

The pagan religion, it seems to me, does not enable a believer to adequately find true harmony in this world, because all the “gods” or forces of nature or spiritual forces, are contending with each other. Therefore there is no ultimate reconciliation of good vs. evil.

Is the universe in harmony with itself, or not?

So this morning I am considering this idea of harmony, or not-harmony. Is the world humming along in a harmony that was coded into it by a Creator? Or is it just a bunch of god-wannabe forces working against each other?

Just looking around in the world as it presently exists, it seems more like the latter.

Being a musician, I began to consider musical harmony. Think about the perfection that Mozart manifested in his symphonies and sonatas. Lots of harmony and perfect precision there. It’s nice to listen to, and very impressive. But I prefer the dynamic, existential dissonance of Beethoven’s music. Why is that?

Is there something about the dis-harmony, or dissonance, that is more appropriate, or more true, than appreciating a harmony that doesn’t really exist?

But let me go back a little further in musical time that Mozart and Beethoven.

Harmony and dissonance in music go back further than those two geniuses.

A half a century or so before them were Bach and Vivaldi.

Johann Sebastian Bach and Antonio Vivaldi were able to appropriate old modes and melodies that had been floating around since ancient (Greek, Indo-European, etc) times, and weave them into intricately constructed masterpieces of musical construction.

Bach was a pioneer in this; he was a genius. He experimented with the ancient Greek modes, blending them with tuneful elements of his own Germanic heritage to produce new inventions of musical expression that had never been heard, or even dreamed of, before. In fact, a series of his compositions are called “inventions.” They are carefully constructed, in almost the same sense that the later sound-generating machines of Edison, Bell, or Marconi came to be known, in the late 1800s, as “inventions.”

While Bach was the master inventor of the new (what we call baroque) music, Antonio Vivaldi was, during that same period, the grand master of musical passion. His universally popular “Four Seasons” (my all-time favorite) violin concertos express a level of instrumental virtuosity that surpass, by their emotional intensity, Bach’s work, which is more cerebral or scientific.

Of course Bach had his emotions going hard-at-it too, but in a very different–what we might call a “German”–way. While Vivaldi was. . . from Venice.  And. . . well, you know how Italians are, very expressive. (This all goes back, metaphorically, to the Greeks and Romans.)

Bach and Vivaldi were analogous to the Bill Gates and  Steve Jobs of their age.

Just as Bach had propelled the world into totally new forms of music in the 1700s, Bill Gates, working in the late 1900s, wove computer software into a whole new world of innovative technology.

Just as Vivaldi had propelled the violin, oboe and other instruments into unprecedented explorations of emotional catharsis, so did Steve Jobs, by his unpredictable innovations make computers “sing.”

While Bach was carefully constructing, on his keyboards, inventions of technical music wonder, Vivaldi was making the world ring, and sing, with creative passion.

There were others, of course, of that age: Telemann, Corelli, Pachelbel. Many great musicians during the baroque.

Then along came a prodigy: Mozart. He cranked out one masterpiece after another, and made it seem as simple as breathing. In Amadeus, music found its highest possible level of precise perfection.

Even so, listening to a meticulously perfect Mozart symphony or sonata does not pack the dynamic crescendo that would soon arrive under the masterful musical poetry of Ludwig von Beethoven.

What Bach did with the keyboard was raw creative genius, honed into exquisite constructions of sound. It is similar to what Gates did with software.

What Vivaldi did with instruments–violin, oboe–was pure passionate profundity, similar to what Jobs did with (what used to be called the computer) Apple.

Now, how did I, watching the day dawn in Athens,  arrive at all this rumination about Bach, Vivaldi, Mozart, Beethoven, Gates and Jobs?

I don’t know. How irresponsible of me.

I began this inharmonic quest about two hours ago with intentions that were totally different from what this essay has become. While watching a new day brighten the sky over Athens, I had an idea about the difference between paganism–belief in multiple gods or forces of nature that are contending with each other–and Christianity, which eventually dominated Greek (and European) culture. Having toured the Acropolis yesterday, I was considering all the huge architectural structures that the ancients had constructed here in Athens.

Those Greeks, and later the Romans, of ancient times seem to have been highly motivated with memorializing their devotion to a pantheon of many gods, mostly Athena and Zeus. They did so by building very large structures of architectural precision and grandiosity. I’m quite amazed, but there’s something missing here.

Then a Hebrew teacher named Paul came to Athens. He saw all their temples and memorials devoted to the gods, and promptly proclaimed to them otherwise:

This pantheon, or multiplicity, of forces you are  worshipping– I have to break it to ya– are not

truly gods. Rather, those entities are merely elemental forces in nature, and all of them subservient in power to One God:

YWHW, who sent his son to show us how to live and die.

What an innovator that Paul was. What followed is history, as Christian Europe would attest for the next 1900 years or so.

However, methinks some consequence, yet hanging in the world, shall bitterly begin with this year’s contentions.

Glass Chimera

Turning the World upside qomu in Athens

January 27, 2015

I am 63 years old now.

But a long time ago, when I was 27, my life changed in a big way.

I had made a mess of things, having tasted too freely of the pleasures of this world. My own lusts and weaknesses were dragging me down into a terrible moshpit of overstimulated sensuous confusion.

When I finally hit bottom, I turned to Jesus and he dragged me up out of all that depravity. He set my feet upon a rock,

AeropRoc

and gave me a new start in life.

After a while, a year or so, of getting straightened by God and his ways and means committee, I got some definite direction. Many good things happened during those days. I met Pat, who became my life-mate, and has been so for 35 years, as of yesterday, January 26, 2015.

We gravitated to a small town in the Appalachian mountains of North Carolina, USA; there we joined a little New Testament church and linked up with some other like-minded Christians, many of whom were, like me, refugees from the rat-race world of 1979.

Our little flock was led, New Testament style, by a pastor, Tom.

Tom had read the Scriptures quite a bit, a lot more than I had, and he was teaching us about the message of the gospel proclaimed therein.

We had a little community of believers–all of us young, in our 20s and 30s mostly–and we were determined to do things right to live in Christian community, doing it “by the book.”

The “book” being the Bible.

It was a great life. Still is, but there have been some changes.

Tom taught us quite a bit from a New Testament book called the Acts. In the Bible, Acts is the first book after the four gospels.

We learned a lot. Pat and I like to think we had a lot going for us, raising our three children in a little Christian bubble of the Holy Spirit’s (and our) construction.

Tom was heavy into the book of Acts. Acts of the Apostles.

A very important part of that great narrative in Acts is this:

The eleven men (of the original “twelve apostles”) who walked this earth alongside Jesus stayed in Judea after Jesus’ death by crucifixion, resurrection, and  ascension into heaven. Then the Lord brought forth, from the Pharisee sect of the Jews, a really zealous preacher who spent most of his life traveling in the eastern Mediterranean, delivering the message of Jesus to his fellow Jews, but also to Greeks and Asians and anyone else who would listen.

I must say that, over those first twenty or so years of living in tight Christian community and implementing the gospel as preached by our pastor Tom, then Ben and others, I got a little tired of hearing about Paul all the time.

Paul this, and Paul that. What about the main main, Yeshua haMeschiach, Jesus?

But this is no simple question to answer, although the gospel itself is simple–it had to be, so that all men and women could comprehend it and receive it.

This is what frustrates intelligent people so much about the gospel–that it is so dam simple.

The gospel had to be simple so that it could be accessible to all men and women. The message is: Jesus was crucified by men for our sin (he had no sin of his own) so that we could believe in his resurrection and be rejoined with God.

Now it just so happens that today, as I write this, Pat and I are in Athens, a great city of the world. What a city! Such a city.

I love the place.

And because of what we saw and heard yesterday from Jimmy, who led us through a tour around the Aereopagus and the Acropolis, I have gained a new appreciation for old brother Paul, who traveled through here about 1,950 years ago.

Because, as Jimmy put it, Paul stood at the Aereopagus, the place where seekers gathered on a hillside in Athens, and told all those wise folks that the “unknown” God whose identity and work so were so elusive to them–this unknown God– had indeed been revealed to us through the eternal life of Jesus, the Christ, Messiah.

And, as Jimmy put it, Paul sought to convert these Greeks (who worshipped a multiplicity of gods) into Christians. Good luck with that, Paul!

Here’s the rock from the top of which Paul probably addressed the Athenian seekers:

AereopPlaq

Quite a task that was, that Paul took unto himself.

And so I learned yesterday that Paul wasn’t such a stodgy old religious guy. Rather, he was spiritual revolutionary, trying to turn the religious world upside down. And because of his  trailblazing work, and the work of many others who have followed  him through history, the gospel of Jesus has trickled through history and time to me, an American wandering through the city of Athens in the year 2015. Pretty revolutionary stuff. Paul did indeed “turn the world upside down.”

I hope you can relate. Thanks for stopping by.

Glass Chimera

Surely, He has born our griefs

December 13, 2014

Every now and then in world news, it is reported that Muslims have taken offense because the Prophet Mohammed was insulted by some disrespectful kaffir journalist, speaker, or movie. In such cases, followers of Islam have been known to demonstrate their ire publicly.

This does not generally happen–it should not–among Christians, because our Savior has already suffered just about every insult, torture, or disgrace known to man– when he was nailed to a cross. There is nothing a person can say or do to humiliate Jesus that hasn’t already been spoken or done.

People who do not believe in Christ sometimes say that ours is a weak religion–even pathetic–because we put all our hope and faith in a Messiah who was judged to be a criminal and blasphemer and then publicly humiliated by torture and death on a cross.

The Muslim religion, by contrast, is founded on belief in the spoken word and action of a different person, Mohammed, who was a very successful man. Although he was opposed by many religious people of his day–as Christ also was–Mohammed surmounted the opposition of his enemies. In spite of his contentions against the stubborn Arab old-religionists of Mecca, he became, during his lifetime, a highly respected religious leader, revelator, military leader, judge, and founder of a world religion. Along the way he who took multiple wives, fathered many children and grandchildren, and died a natural death.

Jesus Christ, however, died on a cross after being publicly humiliated and tortured.

People who criticize Christians for following a suffering, crucified Savior think we have been misled or duped to put our faith in such a loser.

Whatever. It doesn’t matter what they think. Whatever abuse, verbal or physical, was heaped upon Jesus, is to be expected in the Christian life, and we must bear that humiliation with the same dignity that Christ bore his.

And that is a major point of Christianity–learning to bear the humiliation and suffering that this life generates, even as he did.

The real frustrations and failings of our life, after all, usually center around our defeats, not our victories.

So, by going to the cross, which facilitated his later resurrection on the third day afterward, Jesus showed us how to accomplish the greatest–the most necessary–victory in life. This overcoming is obtained through facing, bearing, and overcoming whatever-the-hell trouble life throws at us, including the worst adversity of all–death itself.

The Jewish prophet Isaiah foreshadowed this exemplary, salvatory role of Messiah when Isaiah presciently spoke:

“Surely, He has borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows!”

Several millenia later, the composer Georg Friedrich Handel included these prophetic words from Isaiah in his great musical oratorio, Messiah:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OT8tR1azaIw

This motivates us to proclaim, as Paul did:

“Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation–giving no cause for offense in anything. . .”

Life is sad, and difficult, but our God has shown us how to get through it victoriously; this does not require taking offense at every little errant word or insult. He was our example in this forebearance. Furthermore, we have better things to do.

Glass half-Full

“Death of a King”, Tavis’ book

November 16, 2014

If ever a man lived who actually wrestled the demons of his era, Dr. Martin Luther King was that man.

Tavis Smiley makes that point absolutely clear in his new book Death of a King: The Real Story of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Final Year.

Dr. King’s steadfast espousal of non-violence, having been firmly founded in his biblical faith, was a burden he bore with dignity his entire working life. What Dietrich Bonhoeffer had earlier called “the cost of discipleship” is a very high price for any Christian disciple to pay, especially one who accepts a mission on the front lines of a never-ending battle. The battle that Dr. King chose to fight–for dignity and wellness among his people, and indeed, among all people–was but one 1950’s-’60’s phase of very long war struggle against injustice and poverty. It is a righteous war that has extended back into the times of Old Testament prophets such as Amos, Moses and Isaiah.

While reading Tavis’ account of Dr. King’s last 365 days, I am convinced that the man stood forthrightly in the line of prophetic anointing that stretched back to those prophets of long ago, especially Amos, and including the Messiah himself, Jesus.

There are some among my Christian brethren who question Dr. King’s authenticity in the high calling of the Christian gospel. Their objections gather around accusations that he was a troublemaker, an upstart, an adulterous sinner, all of which is probably true.

But this  Christian agrees with Dr. King, and with our greatest Book, which teaches that we are all sinners.

We are all sinners on this bus, whether it’s a bus to Montgomery, Birmingham, Atlanta, Washington, wherever. A bus to hell itself can be turned around by the power of a man’s faith.

In the unique case of Dr. King–that one man’s exemplary faith,even sin-tainted as it was– was a rock upon which millions have clung for stability since those heady, raucous days of the 1960’s.

Including the honky who writes this review.

In fact (and Tavis’ book makes this absolutely clear) Dr. King’s unyielding stand on Christian non-violence is the main attribute of that leader’s fortitude that set him apart from most of his comrades during those cataclysmic days of 1967-68.

The preacher’s insistence on non-violent civil disobedience instead of violent confrontation compelled him along a lonely course of isolation, with periods of self-doubt and blatant rejection on all fronts friend and foe.

Those other luminaries who labored with Dr. King during that time–Stokely, Rap, Adam Clayton, and many others, including men in his own SCLC camp, Jesse, Ralph, Stanley–those other movers and shakers, who marked Martin as an Uncle Tom whose relevance was being eclipsed by bloodier strategies– wanted to leave the preacher in the dust.

Which he ultimately was, as we all will be, in the dust.

I haven’t even finished reading Tavis’ book yet. But I just had to let you know. . . there was a man–he lived during my lifetime– whose

 “radical love ethos at the heart of Christianity–is not to change with the times but, through the force of his constant conviction, to change the times.”

Thank you, Dr. King. Your life has been, always will be, an inspiration to me. I look forward to hearing directly from you when we are all together as God’s children, black and white, in that place he has prepared for us.

And also, from this white boy to you, Tavis Smiley: thank you for this timely illumination of Dr. King’s work among us. In spite of all the turbid waters that have passed beneath the bridges of our times, we are still a divided nation. We could stand to revisit the vision of peace that was manifested, not so long ago, in the life and work of this one man’s faithful legacy.

my song about him: Mountaintop

Glass half-Full