The Distance and The Resistance

arizona asphalt beautiful blue sky
Photo by Nextvoyage on Pexels.com

By Michael W. Raley

Continue to go the distance

In spite of the resistance.

You will encounter your share of pain

Along with equal days of sunshine and rain.

There will be body pains and heartaches

To go along with the negativity and the fakes.

Remain the captain of your ship

And do not allow anyone to recalculate the trip.

Why voluntarily surrender your time

To that which does not rhyme

With your life goals and story,

That which will only bring regret and no glory?

Do not allow your time and power be given away

Like a neatly wrapped present on Christmas day.

This life and this time have been allotted to you,

As the Bard wrote,”To thine own self be true.”

Above all with yourself, be patient, employ perseverance and persistence;

No matter what happens, remain unbroken and resilient.

Advertisements

Jesus Crosses Social Barriers

“Now he had to go through Samaria,” John 4:4 (NIV).

buildings church city clear sky
Photo by Saulo Zayas on Pexels.com

Have you ever tried to avoid driving on a certain stretch of road or try to bypass traffic in a particular city? What if going through said stretch of road or city was the shortest, most direct route to your destination? Would you still avoid it? Is there some long-standing bias or bad memory associated with the road or city?

During biblical times, the average person walked everywhere or they may have rode a donkey, camel, or perhaps a horse. When there are great distances involved, especially while traveling on foot, you would want to walk the shortest route possible. In one instance, Jesus took the shortest route and crossed a major social barrier.

Jesus and his disciples were traveling from Judea to Galilee and went through Samaria, which was the shortest route. “Now he had to go through Samaria,” seems like a pretty innocuous statement for a 21st Century reader, but in Jesus’ time, Samaria was controversial among the Jews of Israel. In fact, many Jews tried to go places by avoiding Samaria all together.

The controversy dates back to the Old Testament. Samaria was the capital of the northern Kingdom of Israel, while Jerusalem remained the capital of the southern Kingdom of Judea.  The Assyrians conquered the northern kingdom in 722 BC and deported many of the Jews. The Assyrians brought in Gentiles (non-Jews) to settle the land. These Gentiles intermarried with the remaining Jews, which created a “mixed race,” which the Jews of Judea did not recognize the Samaritan as “authentic Jews” for lack of a better term. The Samaritan Jews also believed Mount Gerizim was the holy site for sacrifice, not the Temple in Jerusalem, and recognized only the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament) as Scripture.

Understanding the conflict between the Jews and the Samaritans gives a different context to Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, which probably would have angered many in his Jewish audience that a Samaritan would be hero of the story.

I will not go through the entire story of Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well (John 4:4-42), but I want to discuss some of the highlights. We live in such a divisive time, where people only read and listen to what confirms their confirmation bias, from which they do not budge. Let us take a look at the barriers Jesus crosses in this story:

-Jesus goes directly into what many consider “hostile territory.”

-Jesus, a Jew, speaks with people who are Samaritans.

-Jesus, a man, ministers to a woman.

-Jesus does not condemn the Samaritan woman for her past.

-Jesus does not debate doctrine, cast judgment, or threaten anyone with hell.

-Jesus brings a message of hope for all people, regardless of their background.

-Jesus breaks down the barriers of  institutional racism.

After Jesus ministers to the woman, she goes back and brings people of the town to see Jesus. Jesus and the disciples end up staying in Samaria for two days and many Samaritans come to faith in Christ.

I recognize that during my more fundamentalist days, I was a very divisive Christian. I have seen the error of my ways and I am now trying to break down these man made barriers. I believe the church and all of society can benefit from this example of Christ. Just because someone isn’t the same skin color as you, believes a different political philosophy, goes to a different church, or lives a lifestyle you don’t agree with, that doesn’t make them bad people. Everybody is just like you, in search of love and acceptance, which we need to provide. There is no need to condemn anyone for their past, because we all have a past. Let’s quit treating each other like dogs and rubbing our noses in each other’s mess. If we as Christians want to be more like Jesus, we need to be tearing down these superficial barriers instead of building  higher and higher walls.

 

 

Live for the Present, not the End

I used to be fascinated by the end of the world, the apocalypse, the end of days, whatever name you want to call it. I’ve poured over Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 24 (which is also found in Luke 21 and Mark 13); the Book of Revelation, and scoured the prophets as well. I read the first twelve books of the left behind series, anticipated the four blood moons of 2014-2015, sneered at the date setting, and I was an avid watcher of end times teachers. For good measure, I tried to see how current events such as 9/11, the War on Terror, the rise of ISIS and certain world leaders fit into the prophetic timeline.

What I’ve learned: waiting for the end only hampers living in the present. As a Christian I know Jesus and other New Testament writers told us to watch for the signs, but I believe we should be more diligent in teaching and showing God’s grace to the world around us. Don’t let this present moment pass you by as you wait for a heaven that’s a lifetime away.

Apocalyptic teaching, of course is not unique to Christianity, as many religions, cults, sects, and cultures modern and ancient have anticipated some cosmic cataclysm to generate rebirth or to rewrite the wrongs and social ills of their respective societies. In an age of scientific understanding we know that eclipses, meteors, planetary alignments, earthquakes, tsunamis, and so on are all naturally occurring phenomena. In the past ages that had little or no scientific understanding, such events were attributed to the judgment of God or the gods upon society. Since many of our religions are based on these ancient texts and modes of thinking, we as a society still have these thoughts in a technologically advanced Twenty-First Century.

I believe we must take a more reasoned and logical approach in understanding the world around us. I’m not putting down anyone’s beliefs or discounting any sacred teaching, I’m just advocating that while we are “waiting for the end,” we make our current world the best it can be. A prime example is that we cannot trash our planet in the hopes of living on Mars or Jupiter, as those ideas may remain the dreams of science fiction.

As a church, we cannot find ourselves again on the wrong side of history when it comes to such things as civil rights, taking care of the less fortunate, the environment, and being the light of the world as Jesus said we should be. We have real issues that we must address. I have said in many blog posts before, I have no particular political affiliation-I’m not a Republican, Democrat, Libertarian or anything like that. However, within the last forty years or so, many American Evangelical Christians have aligned themselves with political parties  who are against many of Jesus’ teachings- taking care of the sick, giving to the poor, elevating the status of women, recognizing those who have a different perceived social status, and just simply showing compassion to your fellow man, woman, and child. Many oppose how their tax dollars are spent, especially when it comes to social programs such as welfare, Obamacare, and other programs, yet fail to realize that the government has simply stepped in to fill the leadership void because a large majority of the church has been waiting for the imminent end of the world.

Let’s put aside the religious and political hostility and examine what is in our own hearts, casting the judgment on ourselves and not on our neighbors. To paraphrase Jesus, we have to stop picking the sawdust out of everyone’s eyes while we walk around with a two-by-four stuck  in our eyes. Let us love those who are different than us and step outside of our comfort zone. Two thousand years or more have passed since the end time discourses. I know the counter arguments about how the world had to catch up to God’s vision or  God’s measurement of time is different than ours, but we can find reason to rejoice in the present. We still have time to show love to our neighbors and try to have a little heaven on earth.

The Bible and Slavery

“Only the educated are free.”- Epictetus

I am currently reading Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, the first of three autobiographies concerning the former American slave, who escaped to freedom and became an outspoken abolitionist concerning the anti-slavery movement leading up to the American Civil War.

Douglass in heart-wrenching detail describes not only his treatment as a slave, but the horrendous treatment of African-American slaves at the hands of the white, Southern slave owners. How one human being could treat another human in such a vile and despicable manner is beyond me. Moreover, what has drawn my attention was Douglass’ comments concerning how the so-called “Christian” slave owners were much harsher in their treatment of their slaves, using their so-called righteousness as a cloak for maliciousness.

Maybe it’s me getting older or the fact I am taking a more reasoned approach to my beliefs, but I find the hypocrisy of religion to be appalling. Just as these slaveowners used The Bible to justifying owing and degrading another person, this same book has been used to persecute religious minorities, oppress women, and is the basis for the right-wing church to justify their collective homophobia. My politics take no title such as Republican, Democrat, Fundamentalist, Socialist, or anything of the sort. It is difficult for me to write this post, as I know how some will perceive it, but I cannot control your opinions or perceptions. I am not out to “convert” anyone or change your mind, I am simply putting forth what The Bible says concerning slavery. For the sake of space and time, I will list ahandful of scrptures and cite other verses concerning this subject.

The Bible states the Israelites were slaves in Egypt for over 400 years and they cried out to God to deliver them. God sent Moses and the rest, as they say, is history. With all of the harsh treatment the Israelites received at the hands of the Egyptians, one would think they would not want to treat their fellow man as such. However, God, in the Law lays out the treatment of slaves, both Hebrew and Gentile.

“If you buy a Hebrew servant, he is to serve you for six years. But in the seventh year, he shall go free, without paying anything. If he comes alone, he is to go free alone; but if he has a wife when he comes, she is to go with him. If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the woman and her children shall belong to her master, and only the man shall go free.

“But if the servant declares, ‘I love my master and my wife and children and do not want to go free,’then his master must take him before the judges. He shall take him to the door or the doorpost and pierce his ear with an awl. Then he will be his servant for life.

“If a man sells his daughter as a servant, she is not to go free as male servants do. If she does not please the master who has selected her for himself, he must let her be redeemed. He has no right to sell her to foreigners, because he has broken faith with her. If he selects her for his son, he must grant her the rights of a daughter. If he marries another woman, he must not deprive the first one of her food, clothing and marital rights. If he does not provide her with these three things, she is to go free, without any payment of money.” (Exodus 21:2-11, NIV). Exodus also gives guidelines concerning the beating of slaves: “Anyone who beats their male or female slave with a rod must be punished if the slave dies as a direct result, but they are not to be punished if the slave recovers after a day or two, since the slave is their property.” (Exodus 21:20-21, NIV).

*See also: Exodus 21:26-27, Exodus 21:31-32, Exodus 23:12, Leviticus 19:20-22, Leviticus 25:44-46, Deuteronomy 23:15-16.

At this point, one may argue, “Well, that’s the Old Testament.”

It is an interesting fact to note that no New Testament writer, the Apostles, or even the Lord Jesus himself never in any way condemn the practice of slavery. Slaves are commanded to obey their masters as they would obey Christ:

“Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free. And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.” (Ephesians 6:5-9, NIV).

*See also: Colossians 3:22, Colossians 4:1, 1 Timothy 6:1-2, Titus 2:9-10, 1 Peter 2:18-19.

At this point there would be some doing what Iwould call “apologetic mental gymnastics” and down play the use of the terms slave and master and apply these Scriptures to the modern day employer/employee relationship, which is not analagous to one human owning another human. Elsewhere in the New Testament, slavery is spoken of in the metaphorical sense in that we are slaves to sin, from which Christ set us free.

The purpose of this post is not to rekindle hard feelings from events that happened centuries ago. Rather, I want to examine what I call “biblical difficulties” and how a non-Christian would respond to the Bible. The Bible’s support of slavery is one of the largest and most justified criticisms of Scripture. More importantly, I want to take deeper look at the book that so many people, including myself, hold dear and find out if it is truly relevant for our day and age. Why didn’t God or Jesus just come out and ban slavery? Why didn’t the early church fathers abolish it? Why did some American churches allow for such atrocities committed against our fellow people? I believe the soul searching question we must answer is “If your faith is not helping you become a better person to all, is it a faith worth having?” If your faith spews hatred and disrespect, should you go along with it? Can you continue to justify belief in any holy book that justifies discrimination or hatred against anyone?

Book Review-The Jefferson Bible

jefferson bibleWhile at my local library earlier this week, I came across a copy of The Jefferson Bible, or as Thomas Jefferson referred to it, The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, which Jefferson created using Greek, Latin, and French manuscripts of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

Going through The Jefferson Bible adds another layer of complexity to the character of Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson is best known as the third President of the United States, author of the Declaration of Independence, and the founder of the University of Virginia. However, Jefferson, like all of us had his moral failures as he was a slave owner who fathered children with one of his slaves. Jefferson also struggled with depression and was nearly bankrupt when he died-due to his overspending.

Thomas Jefferson’s faith was controversial in his lifetime and today. However, Forrest Church, who writes the introduction to this particular edition states that Jefferson has been associated with being a Deist and a Unitarian. Jefferson’s intention was to get to the true words and teachings of Jesus, as he believed Jesus’ teachings had become corrupted over time.

In a letter to John Adams, dated October 13, 1813, Jefferson wrote, “We must reduce our volume to the simple evangelists, select, even from them, the very words only of Jesus. There will be remaining the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man.”

Jefferson began the process in earnest in 1804, but started and stopped along the way, finally completing  The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth in 1819. However, the book was not published until 1895, sixty-nine years after Jefferson’s death. What follows is a heavily redacted blend of the gospels. Perhaps more extraordinary than what Jefferson compiled was what he left out in his manuscript:

-No mention of the Virgin Birth.

-None of Jesus’ 37 recorded miracles are listed.

-No mention of His temptation versus Satan.

-Jesus makes no claims to His divinity.

-No references to fulfilled prophecy concerning Jesus.

-No triumphant entry into Jerusalem.

-No resurrection- Jesus is crucified, dies and is buried that is where Jefferson’s Bible ends.

-No mention of Jesus’ ascension into heaven.

What Jefferson included was also edited. Jesus’ baptism story is included, but there is no mention of God speaking His approval of Jesus nor any mention of the Holy Spirit descending on Jesus. Luke’s story of the twelve-year-old Jesus in the temple with the teachers ends with Mary expressing her worry, but Jesus does not reply about “Being about his Father’s business,” (Luke 2:49-50). Another prime example would be Matthew 24, such an important chapter for those who stress end times teachings, all verses concerning the last days and Jesus’ return are omitted.

In today’s world, it can be a daunting task finding the right Bible for you. Which translation? Do you want a study Bible, a prophecy, Bible, an apologetics Bible, or a Bible geared toward another topic? These Bibles say different things because of the manuscripts the translators use. We have disagreements among believers and churches concerning which translation to use and which parts of the Bible to emphasize. Add to this 2,000 years of Church teaching and multiple layers of interpretation, one can easily see why there is so much confusion concerning God’s word.

Back in my earlier, more fundamental Christian days, I would have found Jefferson’s Bible to be appalling, but I think Jefferson had the noble intention of trying to get at the truth for himself. However, as Christians, we take the Bible as an “all or nothing proposition.” We believe that either every word is true as it happened or the whole book is wrong. For Christianity as a whole, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the single most important redemptive event in all of human history. If there is no resurrection, then what hope do we have? Conversely, if Jesus was simply a great teacher whom man turned into God, where are we placing our hope? I believe a faith worth having is a faith worth challenging.

I would recommend reading The Jefferson Bible: The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth with a Bible by your side for reference. I also recommend reading The Jefferson Bible for intellectual curiosity and to gain insight into the mind of one of history’s most celebrated and enigmatic people.

Source: Thomas Jefferson, The Jefferson Bible: The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth. Introduction by Forrest Church. Afterword by Jaroslav Pelikan. Boston: Beacon Press, 1989.

Examining Our Foundations

For anything, whether it be a house, building, relationship, belief system, or a civilization, a solid and structurally sound foundation must be in place. If a foundation is broken or weak at any point, further stress and strain will create more damage in the future if the foundation is not fixed. If the foundation goes, then the entire building, relationship, belief system, or society is in danger of collapse.

Throughout the course of human history, our response to faulty foundations has been to simply build something new on top of the previous structure. One civilization falls, simply build another one.  The house falling apart? One option compared to costly repairs is to simply move. Instead of constantly rebuilding or moving, what if we were to exercise due diligence and from time to time examine the foundation before it becomes a problem?

I believe in the importance of having a firm set of beliefs. I believe it is important for everyone to have guiding principles and truths in their life, as these truths and principles will serve as a foundation in everything we do, say, and think.  However, life is about continuous growth, which can come via circumstances or exploring new information. Once we are presented with information, we have the choice to accept it or reject it. We must also understand the importance of self-examination concerning our beliefs. It is perfectly fine for a seven-year-old child to spend Christmas Eve eagerly awaiting the arrival of Santa Claus. However, if that same child grows up to the age of fifty-seven expecting Santa Claus, then that would be an issue.

If we could travel back in time and listen to ourselves five, ten, twenty, maybe thirty years ago, we would probably ask our past selves, “What were you thinking? That’s not how any of this works.” From time to time, we must do a foundational audit of what we believe because what we believed as children or in our youth may not make much sense as an adult.

There is one great obstacle that holds us back from challenging our beliefs and rebuilding the foundations: fear. We fear change. We fear being wrong. We don’t like it when others challenge our core beliefs. When faced with an opposing viewpoint, we often retreat into our mental bunkers or we demonize the opposition as a threat to our way of life. This type of discourse is evident in politics and religion.  Why not simply listen to what someone else says?  Maybe we will learn something new, maybe it will affirm or enhance what we believe. Why not agree to disagree? If we are basing our lives on certain beliefs, don’t you want to be sure you have the right foundation? Think for yourself. Challenge yourself. Stretch yourself beyond the comfort zone. Don’t simply go along with the crowd, but have the courage to ask, Where are we going and Why? 

 

 

A Morning Musing

What happened to the fine art of the civilized conversation? When did eloquence, reason, and logic take a backseat to emotion?

Most people today seem content to stand at the fringe of their ideological extreme, with only the sole intention of either crushing or converting their opposition; No middle ground will be sought. Both sides will declare victory, though nothing will be accomplished. When an event takes place and a “national dialogue” is started, the same rhetoric is heard over and over.

How can anyone listen when everybody is screaming at each other? To quote an old movie line, “What we have here is a failure to communicate.” I believe that we have allowed others to control the conversations and we keep having these same conversations again and again. Rarely do we go beyond the headline, the social media post, or what gets repeated and eventually accepted as truth.

How much longer can we afford to be shamelessly pandered to and patronized by political propaganda? How many times have you heard these same generalized promises with no results? If we continue to allow the same institutions and politicians to stir up the same old prejudices and reopen closing wounds, then how can we truly make progress as men, women, and as society?

If we seek to change society, then we must first change ourselves. We must enlighten and educate ourselves, as we cannot rely on others to do it. If we allow others to be our sole source of education, then we will fall victim to their agenda. Do not simply accept what you hear, search out the truth. Do not allow negative emotions to dictate your position nor go for the low hanging fruit that is being dangled in front of you. Nothing will change the past- it’s over, that’s why it’s called the past. Make the most of the present time you have and make today the best it could be. Be wise and discerning of everything you hear and see. Search out the truth will all of your heart, mind, and soul. God bless you.