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Saturday, May 20, 2017

How The Meaning of "Christ" Evolved

        The word “Christ” comes from the Greek word, “Christos” which means “anointed one” and it is derived from the Greek word, “chrio,” which means to “smear or anoint.”  All of the original New Testament texts were written in Greek so "Christos" was used when translating the Hebrew word, “mashia”  also meaning “anointed one” into Greek. “Messiah” is the English equivalent of the Hebrew “mashia.”

     Ancient civilizations made no differentiations between civic or religious duties, and every city-state or empire had its pantheon of gods protecting it. The kings or emperors in power were considered chosen or “anointed” by their respective gods and it was assumed that if everyone worshipped their gods properly, the kingdom would be protected from its enemies and it would prosper.

       Ancient Israel was no different, except it started more as a monolatry, the worship of one god (Yahweh) that was believed to be superior to all other gods who were also thought to exist. When you hear phrases such as “lord of lords”, or “king of kings”, that’s a vestige of that early Jewish monolatry. Still, the early Hebrew kings, (e.g. Saul, then David, then David’s son, Solomon) were considered anointed by Yahweh, and therefore were messiahs or divine saviors and protectors of Israel.

          However, Judaism following the Babylonian exile became strictly monotheistic, and Yahweh was then considered the one and only God with power over all people and all things. Many of the Jewish leaders were weak and ineffective which led to the Jews being a conquered people time and again. This created a longing for a return of a messiah, or anointed leader, that was as powerful and majestic as David, thus, the interest in the “line of David.”

      This longing and expectation by Jews for a conquering messiah while living under the harsh rule of the Roman Empire was the reality of the Middle East into which Jesus was born and raised. As a Jew, he, too, probably expected a messiah, a ruler, anointed by the God of the Jews to establish this new kingdom on earth. This was the message of John the Baptist which Jesus supported and which he continued teaching after John the Baptist was executed. 

      The belief was that God’s kingdom would overthrow all the evil kingdoms of human domination and suffering, particularly, the Roman Empire. Jesus’ teachings on the coming Kingdom of God had to do with this kind of expected, all powerful kingdom, here on earth, under the direct rule of God. 

       It is possible that Jesus saw himself as God's anointed earthly ruler (messiah). He taught that human expectations would be reversed upon the arrival of the Kingdom of God, so that the last would be first and the first, last. The strongest evidence that this could have been true was the fact that Jesus was crucified. The Romans used crucifixion almost exclusively as punishment for sedition or rebellion against the empire.

        The apostle Paul never met Jesus and only directly interacted with Peter and Jesus’ brother, James, for brief periods of time. In fact, Paul had serious disagreements with both Peter and James because his teachings were significantly different from what Peter, James, and the Jerusalem Fellowship believed and taught. The Jerusalem Fellowship was the central leadership of the group of devout Jews known as Followers of The Way whose teachings were most directly tied to the actual teachings of Jesus, so the disconnect between the teachings of Paul and the Jerusalem Fellowship is an interesting contradiction. Needless to say, historically, Paul's teachings had greater impact on evolving Christian theology than did the teachings of the Jerusalem Fellowship following Jesus' crucifixion.

            They believed Jesus was the Messiah (or Christ) and expected him to return very soon to establish God’s kingdom on earth. They expected new members, whether Jews or gentiles, to conform to Jewish teachings and practices, such as circumcision, as well as the expectation of Jesus’ return as part of their faith commitment.

      Paul had a related, but significantly different vision. He taught that the Kingdom of God was in heaven, not on earth, where rewards were granted after one’s life on earth ended. Paul focused his evangelism on gentiles and did not require them to follow any Jewish practices. After all, if the end was near for everyone, why would anything of earthly origin be important? Paul never referred to any of Jesus' earthly teachings. Paul always stated that his communications were not with Jesus, but were visionary, with the risen Christ, whose spiritual resurrection indicated to Paul that Jesus had been chosen by God to be the first of a new kind of spiritual being into which all selected followers of the Christ could expect, themselves, to become.

      Paul interpreted Jesus’ crucifixion as a sacrifice that freed all sinners from their sin, provided they believed in Christ’s redemptive power. He got this idea from the Jewish celebration of Passover which required the sacrifice of the Paschal Lamb in remembrance of the flight of the ancient Hebrews from Egyptian slavery. This idea was supported by the Gospel writers who wrote that Jesus' crucifixion occurred in Jerusalem during the time of Passover.

      Members of the Jerusalem Fellowship were those who historically lived with Jesus, but when the Roman’s conquered and destroyed Jerusalem around 70 CE, the Jerusalem Fellowship ceased to exist. The Followers of The Way outside Jerusalem, however, continued their worship of Jesus as The Christ in synagogues spread throughout areas around the eastern Mediterranian. 

       Many of these assemblies had been established and shepherded by Paul so the vast majority of members were pagan converts who were used to accepting and worshipping new gods who performed miraculous deeds for their chosen people. Even the Roman emperors of that time were considered anointed by gods, sons of gods, saviors of their people, and capable of being resurrected from the dead. There is no reason to expect that these ideas would not then resonate with pagans as they made their conversion to Paul’s form of Judaism, the precursor to what was to become known as Christianity.

     The Christology relating to miraculous events marking stages of Jesus’ earthly life and the view of him as God on earth, are theological evolutions which occurred within the oral traditions after Jesus’ death and preceding the writing of the Gospels. The Synoptic Gospel writers then used these oral traditions as their foundations for producing their stories for their particular community of Jewish believers in Christ. These texts were used in synagogues as weekly lessons. The gospel stories of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection among the Synoptic Gospels, contain contradictions between the different books which clearly reflect the different ways these separate Jewish communities had come to view Jesus, long after he was gone.

      In 80 CE, at a meeting of Rabbi’s and Jewish sages, a new blessing was added to the Shemoneh Esreh, the Eighteen Benedictions (blessings) that observant Jews recited three times a day. This new blessing referred to Jews who still practiced Judaism but believed that Jesus was the Messiah as heretics. In whatever synagogues this blessing was accepted, that effectively ejected Jewish followers of The Way from synagogue membership.  This was one of the events that gradually forced the division of Jews and Christ believers into separate and competing religions.

      By the time the Gospel of John was written, about 90 CE, the Christ of Jesus had been elevated from simply the Jewish expectation of a world leader messiah to the creative, eternal wisdom (Sophia) at the right hand of God, in existence from the beginning of time. In John, eternal wisdom was made humanly manifest in the life and acts of Jesus, the anointed, the Christ. Some scholars also believe that the bitter attitude toward “the Jews” expressed in the Gospel of John was a response to the exclusion of Jewish believers of Jesus as the Messiah from synagogue membership.

      Viewing the Gospels as literally true and as reports of historically accurate facts, reduces them to meaninglessness because of their factual inaccuracies and contradictions. However, viewed as metaphysical teachings, they reveal a history of developing spiritual awakening toward universal inclusion, wholeness, and justice for all. Anyone who unselfishly seeks eternal Truth and expresses unconditional love in all that he or she thinks and does participates in God’s anointing (Christhood), just as Jesus taught and demonstrated. (Matt 5:48)

       Personally, I do not know what will happen to my consciousness, my soul, my being after my body dies and it does not matter because whatever it is, or isn't, I accept completely. I accept it in the same way I have been transformed by everything new that I learned during my lifetime. Living taught me that none of us knows what we do not know, but new experiences and expanded knowledge changed me to the core of my being, time and time again. There is no question that life, like I have had the privilege of experiencing, will always recreate and be exactly what it is, forever. Certainly, for all eternity, I will remain an individualized expression of God's love, principle, and wisdom. And so will you.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Brain, Mind, and Spirituality: Why Fear And Hate Motivate

When you are faced with the possibility of being harmed, either physically or emotionally, and you have no control over the situation, you feel fear. When you are faced with an individual who constantly violates your personal sense of propriety, you grow a feeling of hate. What do you do when these situations occur? You leave or fight back in whatever ways you can, instantly and decisively. In fact, the more abrupt and dramatic your reactions, the better, because second thoughts unnecessarily prolong your feelings of dread, fear, disgust, or anger.

Over time specific actions or events become triggers of your personal fears or hates, for example a tall ladder, or a particular person’s face, respectively. These automatized reactions arise from our human drive to protect the self. This system is hard-wired in our brains and it is always primed and ready for instant action. You could call this neural system your “flash thinker” because it fills your mind with images and feelings to which your body reacts and no conscious attention is required.

You could reasonably ask if there is any way to check the flash thinker system, just in case it happens to be wrong.  The answer would be yes, there is. There is another system also hard-wired in our brains, which could be called your “rethinker.” The rethinker system allows you to examine all your flash thinker reactions of fear, hate, etc. and modify them, if you so desire, in light of your storehouse of knowledge, experiences, and thoughtful considerations. Your rethinker is what can make counseling, prayer, meditation, or discussions with others, successful in calming you down, after you’ve been upset by your flash thinker.

However, your flash thinker is not always bad. In fact, you would have great difficulty living without it. It is actually so important that your rethinker system is a bit lazy and would always prefer to go along with your flash thinker if possible. For example, while your rethinker is mulling over larger questions on your mind, your flash thinker is reflexively keeping your car in your lane while you’re driving down the highway. However, when you want to pull off to fill up with gas, your rethinker interrupts and establishes new boundaries for your flash thinker. They work together quite nicely and we don’t even notice them taking turns in deciding and executing what we do next.

But handling fear and hate is different from staying in your lane or deciding to pull off the highway.  Still our flash thinker and rethinker systems are always on the job. We don’t have to train our brains to fear heights, snakes, charging carnivores, or people who look or act different from what we expect. That is all included as original equipment in our nervous systems. We are fearful, specifically, because we don’t know what to expect next, even if there is actually nothing to fear. It is not knowing, that is the problem.

The only way to change your standardized fear responses is to intentionally activate your rethinker system and construct new perspectives of what is happening when you feel fearful. Think about it. This is precisely what you are doing when listening to inspiring homilies in church. Doing this you can, for example, reduce an abject fear of heights to a reasonable sense of caution, by learning ladder safety practices and using tools and equipment properly. You could learn how to catch and handle any number of reptiles so neither you nor they are harmed. 

         In rethinking your fears you may realize that someone you fear is behaving inappropriately towards you to the point you need to seek help from others (family, friends, minister, law enforcement, etc.) to intervene. In all cases, changing flash thinking reactions of fear requires a conscious decision to rethink what you believe is real so you can change your fear of that unknown into knowledge of what it actually is.

Hate is a bit different because it involves learning from the beginning. As you interact with others your flash thinking may make you wary of some individuals who say or do things that are, from your perspective, painful, degrading, disgusting, perverse, self-serving, or outright threatening. If you never rethink your reactions to understand what’s really happening, these shock and pain images will accumulate and build within you reactions of distrust or hatred toward those individuals.

It doesn’t even have to involve people you know or see personally. For example, if your only knowledge of Muslims comes from your flash thinker’s reactions to the atrocities committed by Muslim extremists, then you will have that same shock reactions to stories about or contacts with other Muslims, even if they are not extremists, which most of them are not.  Your brain needs new information about peaceful Muslims and a rethinking of your flash thinker reactions in order to change. This is difficult to do, because, as stated earlier, your rethinker system is lazy and you have to prod it into action with conscious direction.

In summary, fear and hate motivate because they arise from your automatic flash thinker responses and these initial impressions will dominate your emotions until you deliberately decide they no longer should. To change your flash thinker’s reactions, however, you must engage your rethinker skills to determine what events are yanking your chains and why. In doing this, you will gather new information and build new understandings that reduce your sense of fear or hate. This is the point where you are consciously stepping away from the ways of the world into the ways of the spirit.

When you understand why things happen, or appear as they do, it helps remove your reasons for reflexive fear or hate responses. And, as you may be thinking right now, this sounds a lot easier to say than it might be to do. You’re right, but yet, it works and what is that worth to you as you travel your unique path into higher spiritual awareness? Pause and consider.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Life Is Supernatural

          Life, as we know it, cannot be explained. We don't really know how cells can be made to live, grow, and multiply. We have identified many little pieces, but we don't know a lot about how everything works together to create the synergy which is life itself.  Scientists are not even sure about the electron. Is it a particle or a wave type event?  We sort of know that gravity is real, but what causes it? Haven't figured that out yet.

          The entire body of human knowledge that we do understand and use to run our civilizations, is like a small box of sand. By comparison, what we don't know can be represented by all the remaining sand on all the beaches and in all the deserts, worldwide. There is precious little of total reality that we have actually figured out.

          Therefore, if we define "supernatural" as those things that cannot be explained or verified by science, then most of human life is supernatural, because science cannot yet explain it. Despite our scientific ignorance, however, we are capable of having complete faith in all that reality slowly reveals to us. What we know and don't know are inseparably linked in truth and we are the ones who must change our perspectives as science reveals how newly discovered understandings link with what is already known.

          It is my belief that even scientific knowledge does not progress without humans expressing a spiritual sense of the unknown. Faith is a result when spiritual inspiration leads to expected outcomes. This is true for both scientific inquiry as well as spiritual and religious growth. A calm sense of the unknown somehow leads to verifiably new understandings.

          In short, life is a wonderful, supernatural series of evolving natural experiences. Enjoy and celebrate what comes your way, but also, keep searching and reaching for what you haven't yet grasped.





Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Meaning of Easter

        For many Christians, Easter represents a historical event in which the anointed Son of God arose from the dead after being crucified as a sacrifice to atone for the sins of all mankind. It is taught, if you believe this, you will be saved and go to heaven when your life on earth concludes.

        For many other Christians, Easter represents a historical event in which a Jewish teacher/prophet from Nazareth was crucified because of his teachings against the Roman domination system of the time as well as the Jewish Temple authorities that collaborated with those same Roman authorities.

        Synagogue teachings written after Jesus' death, for followers of The Way,  included resurrection stories (i.e. the New Testament gospels) because the impact of Jesus’ teachings and presence was not extinguished by his torture and death. It was also believed, at the time, that only a supernatural intervention by God to establish God’s Kingdom of unconditional love and social justice, could and would completely defeat human imperial domination systems.  Early Christians also believed that this heavenly intervention would be initiated by a second coming of Jesus to earth.

        Even though the expected supernatural intervention did not occur, spiritual understanding inspired by the teachings of Jesus and other inspired religious leaders over the millennium, have slowly nudged human thinking and institutions closer to the demonstration of unconditional love and equality in human justice.

        However you choose to interpret Easter is up to what makes sense to you. Still, despite any differences in historical perspectives among all Christians, we might agree that living our lives consciously, with love, forgiveness, and a passion for justice, is the spiritual foundation and the highest metaphysical intent of the Easter message.

        The English word “repent” as found in the Bible comes from a Greek word "metanoeo" which means something like to rethink or to think in a new way. So, each Easter, we are reminded that whenever we find ourselves thinking in ways that prevent us from loving or being just toward others, we can and are invited to repent. 

         If we humans can increase our spiritual capacity to love, forgive, and to seek out justice for all, doesn't that mean that God's Kingdom is spreading on earth, as it is in heaven?

     Amen and so it is.

Friday, January 13, 2017

A Metaphysical Perspective of Christianity

        Let’s be honest. What does Jesus really represent to Christians? He represents the perfect human expression of God, with God being the unknown power, cause, and relationships underlying all of life and reality. The ideal interaction between mankind and God is demonstrated through Jesus’ life and teachings. Resurrection myths were written early Christian followers after Jesus' death to express the belief that Truth and Love can never be destroyed by anger, oppression, or death. As Christians of today grow in our understanding of Jesus’ life and teachings and demonstrate his principles of love in our lives, we move closer to experiencing the full reality of a God inspired and co-created life of good. 

       Life is an individual spiritual journey for each of us, but even as we grow and learn separately, we find ourselves drawn together, as love is expressed, into an ever-expanding community of spiritual unity. This awareness has no boundaries. This is Christianity as I have always felt it to be. The only miracle I ever need to prove the authority of the Christian message of Love is that when I seek it out and rely upon it, it works. It is also true that the same message of Love forms the foundation of virtually every other major religion. The expression and acceptance of God's love is not a competition.