Sunday, November 7, 2010

Secularism, Sadducees, Age to Come

I am using a Year C lectionary for the twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost and the Gospel passage Luke 20:27-38 to scribble a few thoughts.

If anything, the historic Jesus did not like all the rules, the written rules of the old Judaism. It is not surprising that he gets into conversation with members of the Sadducee sect that some say was more a political party than a true branch of religious belief. They only believed in Mosaic Law and did not believe in what they could not see.

You might say that the Sadducees were the prime Secularists of Jesus’ time and place.

Anyway, this sect did not believe in resurrection of the soul after death. To make a point, they pose a question to Jesus about seven men married to the same women over time, dying and having no children. The question is which husband will have the woman at his side in the next life if resurrection is real.

Jesus replies that there is no marriage in the next life. The resurrected are “like the angels” meaning they have no sex or permanent body in the “age to come”. The spirit or the soul is without exact matching human or earthly qualities. We become “children of the resurrection” to God the Father.

This is where Jesus is the real deal. He does not write things down. He responds with the insight of the divine side of his nature and seeing a different way of looking at the great beyond is born. This is a paradigm shift in western thought.

Those of Islam will say “the Koran teaches us that…”. No Angel Gabriel is needed to deliver a written message to Jesus’ crowd from the Almighty over and beyond what is already written through the generations since Moses. Jesus is the word made flesh.

Jesus is the real deal and discloses, reveals, looks through the veil that separates us from our ultimate nature in close proximity and union with God.

So too, the nature of a timeless eternal God is revealed in that we may view history through the lens of our mortality - As for God:
37 But in the account of the burning bush, even Moses showed that the dead rise, for he calls the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’  38 He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.”
Luke 20:27-38 (New International Version)

The Resurrection and Marriage

27 Some of the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus with a question. 28 “Teacher,” they said, “Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. 29 Now there were seven brothers. The first one married a woman and died childless. 30 The second 31 and then the third married her, and in the same way the seven died, leaving no children. 32 Finally, the woman died too. 33 Now then, at the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?”

34 Jesus replied, “The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. 35 But those who are considered worthy of taking part in the age to come and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, 36 and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection. 37 But in the account of the burning bush, even Moses showed that the dead rise, for he calls the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ 38 He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.”

Monday, November 1, 2010

Sabbath Tales

I have met and know of some remarkable men in my life.

The man who baptized me or more accurately the man who was founder and pastor of my parish in Philly was a fanatic of sorts. He started out life as an Episcopalian, changed Christian registration to R.C. when in the seminary and went on to start a new R.C. parish. The parish was sort of in between a lot of other established parishes and the land in between those other churches began to be developed, houses built, and there was a need for a new church, school etc. in the first decades of the twentieth century in that part of Philly.

Let me call this man Father Ed. He was of the old “God is to be feared” school of beliefs. He was an Old Testament kind of guy.

He was dead by the time I reached first grade. I have heard stories about him. One from a home inspector who related the story about being an altar boy in my parish and being five minutes late for mass. Father Ed ranted into him at the end of service about how you can’t be late for God. The priest also made the boy serve everyday for a year at 6:00 a.m. mass as punishment. That priest made an impression on that guy but I don’t think that Father Ed made a friend.

Then, as it happens sometimes in life, a lady knocked on the door and said that she had been raised in our house and asked if she might get a quick nostalgic view inside. She then got into some stories about the neighborhood. The one story I remember most was about Father Ed.

There was a Russian tailor in our neighborhood. He also did dry cleaning and his store was a block away from our house. We did business with the man. In the story of the visiting lady we finally understood why some of our neighbors took their dry cleaning three blocks away and not use the local guy. The Russian was also a Jew and a good tailor I might add. My parents, for working class, were flaming liberals. Being Jewish did not matter to them. That and my father liked to haggle.

The lady went on to say that as a child, she and her friends used to taunt the man. Let me say anti-Semitism was rampant in America back then in the 1930's, at least in this neighborhood. Well Father Ed got wind of the fact that some of his parishioners and children were harassing the man and boycotting his business. Father Ed made it a point to visit the tailor and bring his dry cleaning four blocks from the rectory. In good weather, Father Ed sat on the store stoop and smoked a cigar together with the tailor as a means to make a statement of sorts to the neighborhood. Apparently Father Ed and the tailor became good friends as the result of this local anti-Semitism.

Which leads me to the story of my next door neighbor in Arizona. Perry had a remarkable life. Left home and dairy farm in Minnesota when he was fifteen in the middle of the depression and headed west. He wanted to be a cowboy and that he became for some years. Then when World War II broke out he went up to Canada and joined the fight. He hit Juno beach on D-Day as a lieutenant in the Canadian army. He married a Brit, brought his war bride home and settled into life in Arizona B.A.C. (before air conditioning).

Perry joined the post office and then worked his way up to postmaster before retirement. I got to talk to him over the fence as a neighbor. Good stories. Went into his house a few times and vice versa. All in all, he was a great neighbor.

Then one day his wife came to us to tell us that Perry had skin cancer, that they did some necessary surgery but that the disease may have spread. I am not sure how all this got started. Perhaps my neighbor’s wife was talking to my wife and then the topic came up about me being an elder in a local church. Apparently Perry had no religious ties. I would have assumed that he might have attended church in his youth in Minnesota. His wife asked if I would talk to him.

I went over to the man in his house and tried to give comfort. I don’t think he wanted me there. Perhaps he was in denial of his own mortality. No doubt he sensed how green I was in giving comfort. I admit it. I couldn’t do him any good. Between his resistance and my inexperience, I did not serve his needs very well sad to say. Perry died suddenly about two weeks later while working in the garden. We went to give comfort to the wife next door that night and then we attended a graveside service a few days later.

This is where I get some reality checks put into my little bubble world of beliefs. I met Episcopal nuns at the graveside. I never knew such an animal existed. They had educated Perry’s children. There were lots of neighbors, relatives and co-workers from the post office. The most interesting person I met was a female Rabbi. Perry was Jewish?

I was a bit taken aback. I had heard the story about how Perry and his war bride had built the second house in this desert housing community in 1948. When I closed on the house next door, I got my deed of title or whatever and included in the paperwork was a covenant of restrictions set on the property when it was built.

That covenant was of course stamped with a label “Null and Void under Federal Civil Rights Act of...” The nasty thing about that covenant was the few pages that made it quite clear in a long range of specifics that no ...”Jews, negroes or dogs...” were allowed in this housing development etc.

As it turned out, Perry had no religious affiliation. His wife was Jewish. I chuckled about how a man like Perry, this cowboy, this war hero, this postmaster must have laughed at the WASP covenant of restrictions. Here was a real individual. Here was an old fashioned American. Here was a man.

Perry had made arrangements with the rabbi to be buried in solidarity with his wife’s belief system. Was Perry a believer, an atheist, an agnostic? I don’t know. In retrospect I don’t care. I knew the man. He was good ethical man. I prayed for him.

Part of being a cultural Christian is that you can embrace people of other beliefs, respect them and still retain you basic feel for yourself and not compromise your basic faith.

America’s greatest strength is and has always been its diversity.

Amidst this eclectic graveside audience, I had an epiphany. I also think that that paradigm shift thing happened.

It was fascinating to hear the twenty third psalm read in Hebrew. I am not certain that the Kaddish was said there but I realized something about my own belief systems. Christianity is wrapped up in a lot of layers of traditions, sacred tradition, faith, grace, propaganda, love, hate and on an on.

There under a blistering Arizona sun, prayers for a Jew were said in the desert. Were these the similar prayers that Joseph of Aramathea read over Jesus’ broken and lifeless body on Good Friday at twilight, eve of Sabbath?

You could be surrounded with stone cathedrals, and stained glass and the gospels could be read from a Gutenberg bible and the minister could be wrapped in gold cloth. But could you get any more from prayers at the end of your life than my neighbor got that day or when Jesus was interred and they rolled the stone in front of the tomb?

It makes you think. It made me think.

June 13, 2008

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Wealth of People

While the Americans were plotting a revolution with England in 1776, a Brit, Adam Smith was publishing his book The Wealth of Nations. That book is a first of sorts and the basis of all economics since. It dealt with forces of free enterprise, supply, demand and production.

Little has changed in economics since then except that the forces of a market can be manipulated by the juggernaut of computers and their undue influence on markets by a handful of market hedge fund speculators. Only numbers matter and not people.

The point of this is to point out that fact and to remark that Mr. Smith did not seem to value humanity in his equations because the book should have been called The Wealth of People – taking into account the true value of human life within nations.

People are not commodities. But …

People produce wealth. People have talent. People have experience. People work creating wealth. That is, when they are allowed to work. The formula these days is for big banks to make big loans to big companies and for big paper profits reported on big electronic spreadsheets. And the big media reports the big economic news. Smoke and mirrors.

More than the value of wealth produced by labor is the wealth of the individual soul that will live passed this grubby economic state of affairs called life.

There seems to be a great dividing line in the media these days between perceived PowerPoint reality and the everyday reality of us the people – and our economic and spiritual well being.

Valuing people is Christian. Not valuing people is anti-people, anti-Christian or at least as some post modern definitions of Christianity go.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Secularism and the Tea Party

Christianity and the Tea Party = zero.

It does not take rocket science to notice the underlying unchristian message of the so called Tea Party political movement.

The primary underslying message of racism accumulates evidence with birthers who claim that the President was not even born in this country. Obama was born in Hawaii, one of those last two strange states that entered the union in 1959. Hawaii is the one with a bunch of islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Alaska is the large chunk of ice west of Canada.

Alaska has bred a favorite daughter in the form of Sarah Palin, a half term Governor. Palin’s Tea Party appeal of uttering words, verbal clutter onto the media airwaves does not make her a media whore but she is trying. While no direct racist, Palin buddies up to every screwball idea that comes out of the seemingly disenfranchised white middle class movement. In a way, her’s is part of a populist movement that springs up in hard times in America. The times make Sarah Palin. Sarah Palin shapes nothing and just stands there signing American flags for fans.

Together or separately, the Tea Party represents dissent. Big government is a problem if it is mismanaged. It is. But it is mismanaged by the Congress that puts politics first and fiscal responsibility second, third or wherever.

The Tea Party comes at you with more angles than a hand cut diamond. Birthers, anti-large government, get rid of minimum wage and social security, eliminate citizenship for the children born here of illegal immigrants etc. This makes for a stew of many flavors and textures. Nothing but fiscal responsibility and a good economy will get America out of its present economic hole in the ground.

Politics need to change to cooperation, a Christian virtue, on both sides of the aisle if that is the stated goal of a future together and not the future separate and splintered into a thousand petty interests. Chaos. Chaos is definitely a breeding ground of things unchristian.

When I use the word unchristian up front, I am talking about the lack of empathy that the average Tea Party-er has for the other guy in America. Eliminating the minimum wage or social security is kinda anti-human – would you not say?

Social safety nets help keep the big ball of wax together and moving along. Draconian nineteenth century ideas need not apply to the present situation which is what most Tea Party ideas end up sounding like.

So in the midst of entrenched secularism and atheism, the Tea Party sits waging its own agenda using standards surrounding them, namely secular, and definitely not Christian.

The GOP, having been the Christian Party these past twenty odd years now waits for Tea Party dissent to translate into votes for what is now a secular agenda of the moneyed few against the masses it would appear to me.

The media is partly to blame for this. The corporations that own the media are also part of some at present grand conspiracy of everyone having America shooting itself in the foot on real issues rather than cooperate and get back to being a reasonable great country again.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Tastykakes and the Like

Orange candy slices

Dusted in confectioner’s


Call to mind a childhood

Treat sold without

Wrapping and handled

By the candy store

Owner’s bare hands.

The world really was

Unwrapped at one point.

No apology.

Things tasted better too

No time expiration date.

If it was good, it was gone

Before you knew it.

Global does not mean good

It just means bigger –

Not better than before.

Potato chips and pretzels

Were sold by the pound

And dispensed out of tin

Cans with glass and metal lids

At the grocer’s main counter.

Put into plain brown paper bags.

More hand work. No gloves.

You knew the grocer. He was

Your neighbor too in a way.

The world stood flat and small

And secure. Which brings me

Back to Tastykakes in Philly

And the exoticness of eating

Pie without a slice in a pan

But getting the essence of pie

In a paper package. Oh the

Calories of pure sugar.

Pies and chocolate cupcakes.

Mom’s never tasted as good

As packaged heaven in a

Lunchtime snack.

And the soda pops

Frank’s had real flavors

All full 12 ounces

Orange, cherry, grape

Even pineapple (yuk)

Got talked into that one by

The grocer trying to move

An unfavorite flavor.

Can still taste disappointment

On my tongue to this day.

Oh well. Potato salad was

Also sold by the pound.

Bring your own dish

And I brought it home

On my tricycle. Can’t imagine

How I did not break the bowl?

And rye bread on the weekend

No paper package – just a paper

Union made stamp glued onto the

Crust. Consumed on Sunday

For breakfast with bacon, eggs

And home fries. Amazing how

Much memory sings when you

Bite into a Tastykake

Or the like that has

Not changed that much over

Some decades back to your


Raymond Burke - Pope Pius XIII ?

Perrhaps this is all petty on my part. But I have to say something.

Joe the Pope has just named 24 new cardinals, bishops to the red hat. Two Americans, two bureaucratic hacks, Archbishop Wuerl of Washington D.C. and Archbishop Raymond Burke of the equivalent of a Vatican Supreme Court have scored an appointment.

Wuerl’s witch hunt for gay spouses, domestic partners, on healthcare for diocese employees and Burke’s remarks, demands, cold steel in John Kerry’s back during the 2004 Presidential campaign have not gone unrewarded. Burke as “Scalia of God”, possibly changing the outcome of an election.

I called Wuerl’s witch hunt “creative hate” as directed to a minority that has no sanctions with the church. Those are strong words but I felt them at the time of the incident in March.  I still do.

I don’t see anything happening for Donny on the Pope scene. I do see a behind the scenes American conservative plot to get Latin mass Burke elected as an ultra-conservative and first American born pope.

Ray and the Vatican hierarchy only represents themselves and not the vast majority of all shades of Christianity, myself included.

Part of the Abuse scandals in the RC church began and ended with Vatican procedures which did or did not exist over recent decades. Where was Donny or Ray? Unity of doctrine is a necessary part of any institution but the church fumbled every step of the way on the abuse issue and is still fumbling.

I fear great damage to or the end of Christianity as we know it if Ray Burke ever gets elected as Pope, a Pius XIII.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Atheism - defining it

Without God. Without Religion. Without sensitivity to human values. A great big ugly me only world. Greed. Progress. Secularism. How do you define atheism?

No easy or simple definition. The civilization that has evolved since the last ice age is strutting somewhat sans many of the ancient belief or superstition operating systems these days.

Cold, mechanical, soulless. The modern age is the modern age. Some of us see the lack of culture everyday related to a lack of respect for centuries old traditions that many times are also the local culture or the local religion.

A burger from a Yankee fast food place is symbolic of the changing face of global culture, capitalism and human values.

The American middle class model, which the whole world seems to desire, will strip the planet of all dignity and resources unless we somehow learn to not only conserve but preserve traditional ways.

Global integration to some godless model or ideal stands side by side with long standing models. Tomorrow is as bleak as we individually choose to make life. That, without outside forces of economics pushing us along an uncharted untraveled road of life.

The message of Jesus in his Gospels is as real and raw as it was two thousand years ago. A man’s soul is perhaps the sum of all the values that a man holds in life. If we serve ourselves, do we serve others as well? How to live in the world and to be free from the outside forces of change that want us to conform to somebody else’s model of living.

Some Christians may fear atheism as a belief system. Some Christians do not practice what they preach or understand the message.

The message is not to sell your soul in this life and to prepare for a kingdom not of this earth after we pass away. Godless, soulless atheism has always existed in the selfish ways of men and women.

The capacity to bring heaven to earth has always been there. Trick is in trying to focus on the goals of Jesus’ message to love your neighbor as yourselves and in equal measure to attachment and love for the Creator God.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Angela Merkel - Racist?

A new round of playing to the paying masses.  Multiculturalism does not work according to the Chanchellor of Germany.  Shades of veiled 1930's German rhetoric???  Racism?

Amidst the politicians catering rhetoric to the xenophobic masses of Merkel’s Germany is a brief article denouncing her opinion.  

Why Angela Merkel is wrong about ‘multiculturalism’
As a religious and cultural atheist that grew up in a Muslim family I admit to being somewhat torn.

Torn between meh, it’s not me they’re targeting and oh crap, it’s my mum they’re targeting. What is clear, however, is that the inflammatory words of craven politicians hoping to exploit fear of another to secure their arthritic grasp on power misses the damn point.

I grew up in a society that allowed the son of an immigrant to turn potential into ability and into achievement. It did so, broadly, free of any prejudice based on my religious upbringing or ethnicity.

The global future demands multiculturalism to work much in the way it has worked in the United States up until this point.  Bad economic times may turn opinions gray but the truth is that there is no going back to the world of the 1970’s and before.

Mary MacKillop, Saint of Oz

There is a certain magic in the RC church when they do the old thing right – proclaim saints of common people. These dead holy saints are supposed to inspire us spiritually and make us more spiritual as well.

In the case of Australia’s first saint, Saint Mary MacKillop, 1842-1909, a lot of the nitty gritty of founding and managing a religious order down under is secondary to her having routed out an abusive priest in the ranks of the faithful.

Nun whose order fought abuse becomes saint
Mary got excommunicated in retaliation for her initiating the courage to speak out against an abusing priest. Politics in the church remains the same then as now. Only later, in retrospect, do we see what a lifetime of prayer and sacrifice can do and what effect it has on the life of Christ’s Church and the life of a nation, Australia.

Indeed, Mary, Saint Mary of the Cross Mackillop today, shows us how hard work and spirituality can make a difference in so many lives.

The RC church as the largest arm of the Christian faith continues to proclaim saints of the deceased as examples of spirituality or how it should work in everyday life.

The pictures of Mary MacKillop show an intense look. One has to wonder sometimes how saintly one was really in life as opposed to looking at the whole matter post mortem.

In any case the life of the RC church goes on despite human nature and the human nature of the church behind the divine founding and reasoning of a large institution that brings spiritual success stories to the forefront of everyday endeavors.

I don’t necessarily pray to saints as much at to God direct. It is interesting however the RC tradition of trying to attract a saint to be your middle man or woman with God.

The Christian faith is diverse and ancient and ever seeking a new way of expressing “thy will be done on earth”.