Saturday, March 5, 2011

Jesus, a man of true heart and spirit

I have written before about the Jesus Seminar which has made a scholarly attempt to decipher the New Testament. Long story made short, this decades long project has produced a body of scholarly opinion about the origins of the gospels and the writings in them. Bottom line. The gospels are not eyewitness accounts, play by play, blow by blow, of the holy man aka Jesus of Nazareth.

The Jesus Seminar among most things states that less than twenty percent of the sayings attributed to Jesus were actually said by him directly or indirectly.

The first time I heard something like this in I believe a New York Times article more than a decade or so ago I was completed dumbfounded. The New York Times had a stellar reputation then of printing all the news worth printing.

The Jesus Seminar has more than its share of critics regarding methodology, qualifications of scholarship etc.

Jesus Seminar

The bottom line however is that this niche of historic research, scholarship and educated opinion puts the story of Jesus being resurrected into an allegorical mode and style consistent with Jewish studies and teachings of the time.

A recent online article about J.D. Crossan, co-founder of the Jesus Seminar appeared in CNN. The article was insightful into the background of the man who helped start a pathway to truth about the real Jesus and perhaps too the real message of Jesus.

John Dominic Crossan's 'blasphemous' portrait of Jesus
Crossan believes the public should be exposed to even the most divisive debates that scholars have had about Jesus and the Bible. He co-founded the Jesus Seminar, a controversial group of scholars who hold public forums that cast doubt on the authenticity of many sayings and deeds attributed to Jesus...

Crossan's overarching message is that you don't have to accept the Jesus of dogma. There's another Jesus hidden in Scripture and history who has been ignored...
My own search for the real Jesus started many years ago in reading the New Testament several times. As time progressed I noticed the flaws and differences between the gospels. No big deal to a Roman Catholic as I had been raised and never read the bible as a one piece of literature. The gospels doled out in the Roman mass ritual were more like what they describe as soundbites in the media. Short readings and short homilies too as I remember from my youth. In the RC church it is all in the traditions and rituals and not in the writing styles or intent of the original “four evangelists”.

The modern world discounts the ancient world. Jesus and religion and or “Christ”ianity compete with mankind's attention along with media commercials for hamburgers and car insurance.

All this stuff on the side of scholarship by a Jesus Seminar also competes for the tradtional fundamentalist Christianity that in recent decades here in America has seemed to graft itself onto one of the major political parties.

So it is not surprising that people were not aware of all this scholarship and research stuff going on not in secret but off the main media stage. Perhaps too another generation is only getting first wind of this ongoing religious research. The CNN article has something in excess of eleven thousand comments as I am writing this several days after the article first appeared.

In any case I use the Jesus Seminar to reinforce my own historic and religious research. Alas I nevered studied Latin or Greek and cannot do what someone like Crossan and others can do with reading the oldest documents available to scholars regarding the New Testament.

Never the less I find that my own Irish Catholic American upbringing parallels Crossans when he comments on the usage of accepting Jesus to a evangelical Protestant.
Some critics say he's trying to debunk Christianity. Some question his personal faith. At a college lecture, Crossan says an audience member stood up and asked him if he had "received the Lord Jesus" as his savior.

Crossan said he had, but refused to repeat his questioner's evangelical language to describe his conversion.

"I wasn't going to give him the language; it's not my language," Crossan says. "I wasn't trying to denigrate him, but don't think you have the monopoly on the language of Christianity."

When asked if he is a Christian, Crossan doesn't hesitate.

I know where Brother John is coming from. Once the Roman religion is engrained in you, phrases like receiving “the Lord Jesus” as your savior is language you never heard as a child or in the style of Roman Christianity as I experienced it. Five centuries after the Reformation there is still a linguistic and cultural devide perpetuated by both sides of the “Kristos” aisle that only helps to splinter understanding regarding concepts of Christian faith, salvation, purpose and ideals. And then again it might be the non-verbal cultural thing of the Irish.
After spending much of his life in the Roman Catholic Church, Crossan is now an outsider.

He hasn't joined a church because he says a priest might deny him the sacraments because of his run-ins with church leaders.

"If I attend a local Roman Catholic Church, I would get sucked back into all the debates," he says. "I don't want to spend my life fighting Roman Catholicism."
This is the quote that hit home for me. Any of you who are regular followers of this blog know that that is what I have been doing – fighting Roman Catholicism. I have not been fighting it to attack it but rather to deprogram myself in the many pagan aspects of a Christian belief system merged with Roman paganism in its prime. Whatever.

As a cultural Christian I still consider myself a Christian. I believe in the basic message of love of Jesus to us and all our neighbors. I believe in God and the Holy Spirit and believe that Jesus was in some of those few words recognized by the Jesus Seminar as authentic, a true man of heart and inspired by that holy spirit of the creator.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Jesus and the Parable of the Unions

Got an e-mail from my old friend Jesus, a retired dude in Vegas.

He thinks that union workers are near the bottom rung socially and economically these days.

Jesus tells me that this image of unionized automobile workers in their glory days past of great wages and benefits is the false union image the whining employers are trying to sell to other points on the population spectrum at the moment.

Then Jesus told me a story, a parable or actually a joke. Jesus has a great sense of humor IMHO.

A unionized public employee, a teabagger and a CEO are sitting at a table. In the middle of the table is a plate with a dozen cookies on it. The CEO reaches across and takes 11 cookies, looks at the teabagger and says, "watch out for that union guy, he wants a piece of your cookie."(anonymous)
I got the joke the first time round. Jesus says that a lot of people in America just don't get the joke or see the humor or the injustice of it all.

Oh well. Maybe Jesus can come up with a better joke in his next e-mail to me.

Have a nice day.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Leo Tolstoy - Christian Anarchist

Like the young, I too can learn something about history from the cinema. Ran into a movie about Leo Tolstoy's last days in the film The Last Station. Not high drama, a good soap opera though of everyday life in the life of a very famous man in his day. I am also a Helen Mirren fan.

Well anyway, I never heard of Tolstoy and his Christian Anarchy and non-violence advocacy. Tolstoy's socialist views were more than exceeded and abused after the Russian Revolution. But that is another story.

The Christian anarchy thing sounds areligionist. Tolstoy was no doubt repulsed by the state religion of Russia in those days. In a way his message is the message of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. Tolstoy's book The Kingdom of God is Within You (Luke 17:21) is the basis of a non-violent reaction to business as usual regarding wars, social injustice etc.

Another interesting tangent regarding this book I was wholfully ignorant about is that it inspired a young Mahatma Ghandi to form his own ideas about passive resistance against the British in India. Ghandhi wrote to Tolstoy for permission to translate and reprint Tolstoy's A Letter to a Hindu in which Tolstoy advocates love and non-violence to overthrow the British in India. Tolstoy's last letter was to Ghandhi.

I am a student of history and know that Martin Luther King Jr. based his passive resistance program and efforts on those of Ghandhi. I am not a very good student of history to not know that Ghandhi based much of his political strategy on ideas put forth by the Christan Anarchist Leo Tolstoy.

The ripple effects of the Sermon on the Mount have an energy that seem to go on forever no matter what any official or sanctioned vested religion does to cloud the message of Jesus.

The Kingdom of God can be truly said to be within each one of us!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Eckhart Tolle and the Collapse of World Order

I gave the devil his due in my previous entry proclaiming Eckhart Tolle as a Secular Prophet. I did stop half way through The Power of Now to comment on what I thought was a brilliant rendition of what in all practical purposes was a new version of basic Buddhist philosophy.

Further research on the Internet has not revealed similar exorbitant praise from any Buddhists. Hint. Maybe it is not Buddhism Lite or Buddha Latte after all.

In a nutshell, The Power of Now is to block, discard, get rid of the past because it reaches to the future with expectations that cannot be fulfilled or make you happy. That unhappy future clouds or blocks you life energy in the present – the Now.

So your mental homework is to let go of the past and discard hope for the future and find your bliss in the Now. Wow. Whatever.

This secular prophet’s inner god in the Now is blind and narcissistic to an exponential power and not a reflection of a greater power in the Universe.

Now to Jesus. In the Power of Now there are at least a few dozen direct or indirect quotes or thoughts from the bible. All well and good. It falls into my loose definition realm of cultural Christian to mention and take lesson and wisdom from the fragmentary history and teachings of Jesus.

The dozen or so direct or indirect quotes of Jesus are all selectively presented, follow his party line, and are used to prove Tolle’s new makeshift philosophy. Talking about quoting things out of context. These quotes are mere footnotes to selling a new global con$ciou$ne$$ described by this self taught shaman.

I am reminded of Stephen Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and his fancy mumbo jumbo which IMO is an amalgam of Psychology, Sociology, chutzpah and basic old fashioned Dale Carnegie in the pursuit of streamlining business communication and success. Nothing succeeds like success in America or at least the appearance of such. Packaging is just as important as marketing in the American business sense and vision of things.

I started on the first page of A Earth and stopped at the end of the page. The first page tells the story of the first flower 114 million years ago. “…a crucial threshold was reached, and suddenly there would have been an explosion of color and scent all over the planet – if a perceiving consciousness had been there to witness it.”

NO perceiving consciousness??? Has Eckhart Covey-ed Buddhism and cultural Christianity into a new pure science of mind and in reality atheism?

I have read many comments from the fundies about Tolle. While I may sometimes enjoy seeing the fundamentalists upset, I have to give that devil its due.

Agnosticism, atheism, science does not have to masquerade under Tolle’s new world order of things pretending to be Buddhist Lite without the breathing exercises to give you a temporary high of extra oxygen received through your lungs.

Standing back from Tolle’s worldview about how the world would be better to forget the past and live only in the present and not worry about the future, I have this to say. That since The Power of Now was first published in 1999, the macro world of politics, economics and religion has imploded globally. In my opinion this collapse of standard classic practice in government, finance and beliefs has a lot to do with living in the Now and letting the past and future to go to hell for the sake of here and now.

I’ll stick with my yoga breathing exercise and cultural Christianity and pass on Eckhart Tolle’s “new” vision of the world and mankind in this world.

What the world needs now is individuals to love their neighbors. People should be embracing, hugging people locally, globally first, foremost and then secondly hugging a tree or two and not the other way around Eckhart.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Secular Prophet - Eckhart Tolle

I am not certain what to make of The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle.

I question anything especially if it is endorsed by a successful business person and marketing expert like Oprah.

I found the writing in the first part of the book brilliant if not pure genius. Is this “new age” philosophy a clever distillation of ancient eastern philosophies and religions?

For one who has tried to understand Buddhism, I have to agree with the critique below that this is a “re-working and synthesis of traditions” that makes for me, a greater understanding of the subject. I do not know if you have ever tried to understand Buddhism.  Understood it or walked away. I do not know if anything else he is talking about will touch you.

Tolle’s words and writings and ideas are from a “feel” part of ourselves that is beyond words, writing and ideas. He has definitely tapped into that part of me. It is hard to describe why I am reacting this way to his writings in the first chapters of “The Power of Now”.

There is an energy in this work, a hidden energy of the mind – and perhaps too of the soul.

In all fairness to what I have read so far, I have slowed down half way through the book when Tolle puts Jesus under a prism of understanding or perception using his unique way of seeing things. A different perspective of Jesus and the concept of “Now” compared to certain lines of the gospels is interesting. I will comment further in the future if his Jesus measures up to my Cultural Christian view of the Man Jesus.

I do recommend the first part of the book. Too much to explain here in one simple blog. Perhaps ET is just another clever new age hack. Perhaps he is opening a door to understanding that the human race have been trying to fully open for thousands of years.

In the You Tube piece below, the first time around may sound like a lot of mumble jumbo even after having read what he is talking about. I better channeled into Tolle's reading and his ideas on the second view.

Perhaps you can do some Doctor Andrew Weil breathing exercises in between listens as I have done to get into the proper and new sense of the Now.

It makes me think that Jesus may not have communicated well to the average person in the street on the first round of parables to a crowd. Those in the first crowd that came back a second or a third time were perhaps the people he chose as apostles especially when he saw the light of understanding in their eyes.

Eckhart Tolle
Some critics characterize Tolle's books as unoriginal, or even derivative. A 2009 New York Times article said he is "hardly the first writer to tap into the American longing for meaning and success". Sara Nelson, the editor-in-chief of Publishers Weekly said Tolle's writings have been successful due to surging public interest in books that tell you "how to be happier, how to live the life you want, how to be at peace, how to be a more successful human". In an article in The Observer, James Robinson called Tolle's writings "a mix of pseudo-science, New Age philosophy, and teaching borrowed from established religions".

Others praise his re-working and synthesis of traditions: Professor and author William Bloom wrote that "Tolle is offering a very contemporary synthesis of Eastern spiritual teaching, which is normally so clothed in arcane language that it is incomprehensible" thereby providing "a valuable perspective on Western culture". Publisher Judith Kendra says, "The ideas [that Tolle is] talking about have been in existence for thousands of years in both Eastern texts and with the great Western mystics, but he's able to make them understandable".

Monday, February 7, 2011

Day of Rage in Tucson Arizona

I lived and worked in Tucson Arizona for close to eight years back in the 1990s. I worked for a short time, 100 yards down the road from the recent mass murders there that involved the shooting of U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords of the U.S. Congress.

As stated I worked down the road from the Safeway and its parking lot, the scene of this recent American-style tragedy. I even ate lunch a few times in a food court setting in the front of the supermarket way back when.

I researched this matter of the shootings that took the life of a nine year old girl among others. The date is January 8, 2011. Seems like two months ago instead of one month to me. Time seems to be compressed sometimes concerning memory.

I had written an account of the attack on Rep. Giffords Tucson office at the end of the debate and vote on Health Care Reform last year. The attack in the middle of the night and broken glass brought to mind the terrible tragedy of Kristallnacht in Nazi controlled Germany in November 1938 against Jews in the population. I made reference to that event because Ms. Giffords is Jewish.

Kristallnacht – Tucson - USA

The apparently troubled young man who did the shootings and these murders seems to have bought into a uniquely American style of settling arguments or supplementing mental disorders with guns.

Because I had been in this place in Tucson and knew its layout I did not write anything or comment until now. I felt the tragedy in a personal sense having a shared experience of the geography with the victims. I should also note that it took me five years to finally write down my experiences of the 911 tragedy here in NYC.

No Guarantee of Tomorrow

I also wanted to turn a corner in this blog whereby I did not want to poll parrot the party line coming out of the media. The media turns on cable and cable turns on the middle class who can afford it. The media rightly or wrongly from left or from right seems to feed on the energy of rage both in content and filler. I need to and we all need to as well step back from the edge of that rage that permeates our complex modern society.

Rage is not only a middle class thing but perhaps a middle aged thing. It comes from the disappointment from expectations not fulfilled. It comes from recognizing the disappointment from the perspective of age and or wisdom from life experience.

I do not want to merely echo the media and its sounds of fury.

Now a month later I can look and see how death by random acts of violence is fed by rage and guns.

I do not object to hunters having rifles in their homes with or without permits. I do object to weapons of war with high capacity discharge being sold in America. They are not necessary in a civilized society.

I think that licensing handguns within the confines of city limits is the right of the well being of the population of that densely populated city to assure protection from violence and violent mental illness spilling into the streets and onto the parking lots of America.

I am not advocating repeal of the second amendment’s right to bear arms. I am trying to find common grounds with all parties to seek a solution to too much gun power in America and to too many guns.

The days of the wilderness are long gone. The days of conflict with the native Indian population are long gone. In the twenty first century, a fetish for guns and gun power is a bit outdated and obsessive. It speaks of the breakdown of community and loss of civility in our society.

The gun lobby and the media lobby both seem to be catering to keeping the rage up to sell their products. Whatever.

I am glad that Representative Giffords survived and may well have a normal life returned to her after much therapy.

Prayers for the victims and their families in Tucson. Prayers for the perpetrators, both the lobbyists of hate and rage, as well as for the disturbed young man who committed this crime.