….and my neighbor is ?

Refer to the good Samaritan parable from the book of Luke 10:25-37namaste rainbow

“25 And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?

26 He (Jesus) said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou?                                

2And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.

28 And he (Jesus) said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.

29 But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour?

30 And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side. 33 But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, 34 And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee.

36 Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?

37 And he said, He that shewed mercy on him.

Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.”

King James Version (KJV)Public Domain

“Go, and do thou likewise.”

From the first time I heard this story in Sunday School and VBS about the good Samaritan, I have been intrigued by the characters and the roles they played in Jesus’ lesson on Christian behavior.  In it Jesus defines the meaning of “neighbor”.  Obviously it is not limited to what we in contemporary society would consider a neighbor, i.e., the couple next door or the man down the street.

In Biblical Jewish culture, the Samaritans were a race to be ostracized and avoided at all costs.  At the well, the Samaritan woman drawing water was shocked and probably miffed that a Jewish teacher (Jesus) would ask her to draw water for him. John 4:7-26 In all probability, the Samaritans hated the Jews just as much as the Jews despised them.

So when Jesus uses a Samaritan traveler as the pivotal character in his parable, those hearing his message were undoubtedly shocked.  And when Jesus takes this heresy further to cast a favorable light upon the Samaritan, we should not be surprised that the ruling hierarchy of Pharisees desired to be rid of him and his teachings.  Their hatred and intolerance was justified by centuries-old racism supported by an archaic system of religious righteousness.

Jesus reckons with this racism by first stating that a priest and then a Levite came upon the traveler (we are not told anything about his background) and kept to the side of the road in order to avoid contact with him.  Perhaps they feared for their own safety should the robbers still be nearby.  Or perhaps they did not want to contaminate themselves by touching a corpse.  The priest and the Levite, although holy men of the Jewish faith, lacked the compassion to lend assistance to the dying traveler.  The Samaritan, however, even though a despised citizen of a neighboring country, felt compassion for the wounded man and gave immediate assistance to the point of ensuring his safe passage to care and recovery at a nearby inn.

“And who is my neighbor,” asked the lawyer of Jesus in the scripture, verse 29?

Jesus tells his story and then the lawyer in verse 37 answers his own question, “He that shewed mercy.”

Which character of this parable do I play?  Am I the priest or Levite, men unwilling to be involved in saving another’s life?  Am I the good Samaritan who cares enough to risk his own life for that of a stranger?  Or perhaps I am the traveler, wounded and left to die on the highway of life, saved only by the grace of a compassionate savior.

Who is my neighbor?  Certainly John next door, my tax accountant at the mall, the restaurant owner at my favorite Italian place, even the Muslim couple who smile to me whenever they walk by my house.  I consider my pastor my neighbor, my car salesman, my insurance agent, and my local sheriff.

OK.  What about the strident atheist at school, the repugnant Republican congressman, the white supremacist in Georgia, the drug dealer in the city, and the redneck who flies a Confederate flag on his pickup truck?  Are they my neighbors?

Jesus was not categorizing anyone when instructing us to love our neighbor as ourselves.  Jesus does not see anything but a person’s heart and the innate love and compassion within that heart.  Jesus wants us to do the same.

Who, then, is my neighbor?  The Nazi who would kill a gay man?  The racist who would lynch a black man?  The Jew who would harm a Palestinian?

If I were to come upon an injured man on the highway and that man was Trump, would I stop to assist or pass by on the other side of the road?  Yeah, it gets really funky now, doesn’t it?

I am supposed to love my neighbor.  Love is not always a warm, fuzzy feeling that tingles all over.  It is also a willingness to be actively compassionate toward every creature of God’s creation.

“Go, and do thou likewise.”  I know that if I just carry the willingness, God will honor my efforts.smiley 3

 

my cross

The oppressed and the hated members of civilization have always been around.  The oppressors and the haters have also been always a historical fact.  They could not exist without each other, could they?  A number of religions advocate violence to achieve the Kingdom, some followers are committed to conducting a murderous rampage on earth in attempts to eradicate evil.  But, this cannot be God’s plan for humanity.  God’s plan forCANDLE his children is to evolve to a state of enlightenment in which violence is non-existent, where brotherly love and compassion reign, where each man serves his neighbor but no man is a slave.

How dare I say this with authority?  Simple.  Our God does not contradict God.  I know without question that Jesus, the premier endorser of active non-violent protest against a corrupt world system, gathered his disciples, taught love and compassion, healed the sick, cleansed the demon-possessed, and then died on his cross because the message from God  to be shared and carried across earth said, “love thy neighbor as thyself.”  Jesus was crucified for loving his neighbors and teaching peaceful co-existence.  Likewise, we also are exhorted to crucify ourselves, carry our crosses for the benefit of mankind.

But, we also know that Jesus did not die.  Jesus, his life and the message, live on eternally because God will not contradict the love and compassion of God by allowing the message to die.  Jesus came to us, a desperate and broken humanity, as the example to follow to enlightenment, not just another divinity to be worshipped.  Christianity, in its historical commitment to worship and adoration, has sometimes missed the Jesus boat.  Jesus is an example for us to emulate, not just an image hanging on the wall to which we bow heads and recite fervent prayers.  Jesus on earth was a man of social action giving himself in namaste rainbowtotality to the needs of the less fortunate and teaching the established religious orders of his day the truth of a loving, compassionate God.  Jesus is no less than that today and we, as followers, must live by his Way or die by the ways of a world driven by corruption, oppression, and hatred.

St. Augustine

             “Jesus Christ is not valued at all until He is valued above all.”  St. AugustineCANDLE

The world does not understand nor wish to understand these few simple words.  My personal choice to name Jesus as Lord of my life, my Higher Power, directs me to place everything else whether it is employment, friends, family, spouse, achievement, money, desires, lust, as sub-topics under the primary heading of Jesus, the Christ.  I am nowhere near a state of perfection, but, when I place the one who is Perfection at the top of my list in my lifestyle and my devotion then my life becomes g.o.d. – Good Orderly Direction.  That is the most I can expect in this lifetime and I am OK with it because g.o.d brings bliss, a state of peace and serenity.

We are freedom fighters!  I believe I have been forgiven by the same almighty power which freed me from the bondage of my former self and replaced ego-driven lust, greed, anger, pride, and desire with a devotion to a new way of living with living waters and daily bread to sustain me in this earthly journey.  I am no longer imprisoned.  Jesus fought and died for my freedom and he has won the battle.

But, it is not free.  I must daily pay the price of the world’s derision, hatred, and scourge for the Way of life which God has chosen for me.  You and I, as followers, understand this and accept the necessary payment.  Friends who are amused by devotion to a church fellowship, neighbors who ridicule tithing, family members who question a loved one’s sanity, a boss who mocks Jesus equating that belief to the Santa Claus myth are all part of the price to be paid for following the greatest freedom fighter of all time.

And I am OK with that.  I regret that a majority of people refuse such a simple answer to the world’s problems, but, each person must find his own personal path to freedom if indeed freedom is what they pursue.  For them, sometimes dedication to power and riches at the expense of liberty and contentment are the main pursuit in a life filled with like-minded pursuers.   Jesus and God do not make the top 10 on their lists of priorities.

I know this because that was me many years ago.  I prayed only in times of desperate need, in times of absolute loneliness, in times of crushing personal defeat.  I advocated a Jesus who gave people nice cars, fancy homes, and steaks for dinner every night.  When times were good God did not make the top ten.  In all other times, Jesus was  a convenient Santa Claus who bore gifts, a big sugar daddy in the sky.  There was no dedication nor devotion and, as a result, life was chaotic and tumultuous.  In my life there was no peace because I did not know the Lord of peace.

I do not claim perfection but I know He who is perfect.  That power has freed a sinner from the prison which sin will impose.  I will stumble often before my earthly time is over because I am still a part of a humanity which is inflicted with character defects.  But, I no longer need to be imprisoned by my character defects.  One by one they will be overcome and defeated by my personal freedom fighter.

“If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” John 8:36smiley 3

 

Meister Eckhart

“Meister Eckhart, the German Dominican mystic (c. 1260-c.1328), said that spirituality has much more to do with subtraction than it does with addition. [1] Yet our culture, both secular and Christian, seems obsessed with addition: getting rich, becoming famous, earning more brownie points with God or our boss, attaining enlightenment, achieving moral behavior. Jesus and the mystics of other traditions tell us that the spiritual path is not about getting more or getting ahead, which only panders to the ego. Authentic spirituality is much more about letting go—letting go of what we don’t need, although we don’t know that at first.” cac.orgCANDLE

When’s the last time you had a yard sale?  For one or two days we dust off all those necessities which have been stored away in the attic or garage and make a decision that we no longer need them.  Many of our cherished keepsakes are simply not worth keeping.  They are not heirlooms, they do not enhance our lives, and they likely will not be the cash cows we had hoped they would be.

It’s a cleansing endeavor which adds a few bucks to the household pantry budget, sweeps out the dark corners of our houses, and declutters prime storage spaces.  For the cost of a few hours of our time we receive the realization that material things are not really all important and we recognize how they can actually clutter our daily routines.

Ahhh, you’re way ahead of me; you see where this is going, don’t you?  Yes, my spiritual life also needs to occasionally have a yard sale.  Meister Eckhart agrees.  Today, I am serious about my Quest to become the man my Higher Power would have me be.  By God’s grace I now have the willingness and sincerity of heart to make a difference in this world.  I have realized my need for a Shepherd.  I took my sorry butt to the altar and begged for renewal and, miraculously, the trash which I had called ‘my life’ became another voice calling out of the darkness.  Sobriety grabbed me off the beach of drunkenness and said, “Follow me.  I will make you a fisher of men.”

But, my humanness continues to have a need to feed the ego which drives me.  I am still broken in many places and I often look to the place within which has served me well in the past.  I continue to accumulate unfounded fears, I harbor resentments, I entertain unhealthy thoughts, and I resort to anger.  These character defects have been a part of me for many years, they have gathered dust in my brain, and they have become the unnecessary yard sale stuff in my attic which regularly needs a housecleaning.

My humanness also leads me to want to gather favor with God, to think I can influence God’s opinion of me, and to believe my works will put me in better standing with God.  My humanness drives me to look upward for enlightenment believing it is a condition to be attained, a place in the heavens where God will love me more than here on earth.  My humanness continues to try to deceive me.

It’s tough to accept that less is more in my spiritual life.  Emptying out one’s self is serious internal work because my ego enjoys the religious traditions, the church doctrines, and the hymns of worship.  But, that’s all icing on the cake, tasty but not necessary.  Emptying out is like a twinkling star on the horizon, a newly discovered truth to be followed,  a way of life to be embraced.  It’s somewhat like the story which tells of the appearance of Jesus in Bethlehem.  He replaced everythingsmiley 3 which the Jewish people thought they needed in life to attain salvation in heaven.  They had a rich tradition, but, it was not necessary and eventually led to stuffed attics and bulging garages.

Advent

Those of us who celebrate Lutheran Christianity are welcoming the season of Advent.  It is a time of joyous anticipation of the Emanuel tradition, “God with us”.  My church affiliation begins special services on Wednesdays up until the Christmas Eve candlelight celebration on December 24th.  It’s all a part of appreciating the rites and traditions of an extended spiritual journey which has been taken with like-minded sojourners seeking sober-minded living within a drunken world system.tannenbaum

There has been much discussion regarding the reason for the season, Jesus, the Christ.  No matter how a person dices it, the Christian depiction of the birth of Jesus in a manger in Bethlehem is Christmas.  Matters not if a man doubts the historical accuracy of the Gospel accounts of this story or if a man shouts “Hallelujah” this is literal truth, the essence of the season is the message shared by the mystical Jesus of Nazareth.  He arrived on the scene amidst a society controlled by a hypocritical religious doctrine and governed by a ruthless Roman Empire.

We have been fooled by the marketing geniuses of retailers like WalMart, Target, Macy’s, and Amazon into believing that spending money is a prerequisite for holiday joy and happiness and that the spiritual path is merely a side story that pleases Christian scrooges.  But scriptures tell us that this story is much more than powerful mega-retailers peddling their wares; it is about the arrival of truth and compassion on the world scene of brutality and intolerance which ruled 1st century Israel.

Many people dismiss that connection.  I did for many years and allowed myself to be drawn into the holiday shopping frenzy, the mindless drive to please people I didn’t really like with nonsensical presents that they didn’t really like, and the partying into oblivion with my friend, alcohol.  New Year’s Eve and January 1st usually found me too hungover emotionally, physically, and spiritually to even think about my soul’s path or the Father’s recently celebrated loving gift of Jesus to my life.

It’s a celebration, a birthday party, for the greatest humanitarian ever to walk the earth, for the greatest story ever told, and for the legendary purveyor of compassion and truth to a broken mankind.  I am broken and I need that savior’s fix.  I am searching and I rely on his message which was given for all of humanity.  I am lost and I need a shepherd’s guiding voice.

I come to the birthday party just as I am, in rags, in turmoil, with shattered dreams and disillusionment.  When I arrive, he puts his arms around me and shouts,

“Welcome to my party.  All are invited and I have gifts for everyone.  Merry Christmas.”smiley-face-2

O Tannenbaum

Ever had an ugly Christmas tree?  I mean, even the prettiest of ornaments could not cover the scraggly, lopsided, double-topped stick that Grandpa dragged home from the woods the year the crops were bad and our household was on a Christmas budget that did not allow for a “bought” blue spruce from the neighbor’s tree farm. Grandma whined, but, the tree went up as usual in the living room’s front window for all ugly treepassersby to see.  The saddest thing about that tree was that no amount of thrown tinsel and no arrangement of the strings of lights could justify calling that smattering of pine branches a Christmas tree.

The lights in those days were the kind that would heat to an unsafe level making it necessary to sit in the room at all times when they were plugged in.  I often wondered what fun it would be to watch that burning bush being scooted out the front door. My imagination envisioned Grandpa, a diminutive man, in the aftermath of the tree fire, being scolded by his 250 pound spouse and being chased with a broom about the house much as I had seen in my favorite cartoons on TV.

We have made great advances in the season’s lighting options.  Neighbors vie to present the most impressive outdoor light show in festive colors and themes.  The lights rock and bounce to the rhythm of the accompanying Christmas tunes much to the delight of young and old merrymakers who wind around the streets in a procession of vehicles.  Bulbs of the led variety shine brightly and safely on artificial trees which are often equipped with those strings of lights at the factory source.  Pre-lit is the tree shopper’s buzz word.

All colors, all shapes, all lengths of lights to choose from and all wonderfully convenient….when they all work.  Yes, every American male knows what I’m saying.  Long, irreverent hours are spent checking each of the 2500 bulbs on the string of lights trying to determine which one is not properly plugged in causing the entire circuit to remain unlit.  We sit on the floor muttering about that smug, smiling, underpaid factory worker in China who assembled this mass of wires and bulbs knowing that somewhere in America  a befuddled man will be sitting teary-eyed on his living room floor holding his string of 2500 unlit lights.  Often, we head to the WalMart for another cheap string of lights rather than endure the frustration of trying to fix the unfixable.

Perhaps that is the answer to our dilemma.  None of these ornaments and lights purchased today were ever intended to give long-term enjoyment.  They are not going to become heirlooms for the grandchildren to enjoy as are my beautiful icicles, glass Santas, and stars which my grandmother purchased at the local 5 and 10 cent store almost 100 years ago.  Today’s mass-produced ornaments “Made in China” will probably not find a very special place in the grandkids’ hearts or on their Tannenbaums.  Like many of us, the decorations are seen as conveniently disposable.

I don’t believe that God cares much about lights that don’t work or ornaments that end up in landfills.  But, I know God does not make disposable people.  Each life is a valuable heirloom to be cherished and held dearly in our hearts.  God does not see undocumented visitors/workers as illegal people.  They are his children who have legal status in his kingdom.   God does not make worthless people.  Each has immeasurable worth in his eyes.  God is not about fancy glass ornaments, expensive presents, and bright lights.  God is that small glow within that lights the world.

“This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine this Christmas season.”christmas emoji 3

 

Judas

I am reading a book by Elaine Pagels, “READING JUDAS”.   Ms. Pagels  is an accomplished scholar in the field of religion and has written several works which shed light on the complexities and inconsistencies of Biblical scriptures.  She compares the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John noting that contemporary scholars overwhelmingly agree that Mark was composed first about 40 years after the death of Jesus and that the remaining three were written later based mainly on the writings of Mark with additions and increased references to Old Testament prophesies.  Debate continues over whetherCANDLE the writers of the Gospels, none of whom are logically the namesakes of the books, attempted to show prophecy historicised or history prophesised.  The era of the formulation of the canon which we now know as the Bible was fraught with disagreement, conspiracy, and murder.  Many books, such as the Gospel of Judas, the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Philip and the Gospel of Mary were banned or burned having been labeled as heretical accounts of the events surrounding Jesus and his band of disciples.  Ultimately only one version of these events was authorized by Emperor Constantine in 325 C.E. at the Council of Nicaea, a lakeside village in present day Turkey.  It represented Christianity much as we know it today.  Only recently have the banned writings been discovered hidden in earthen jars buried in caves.  They are the Nag Hammadi and Dead Sea Scrolls.  Those scriptures have reopened debate and speculation regarding the veracity of the accounts of the Nicaean approved writings.

Just as the book and movie “The DaVinci Code” provided intrigue concerning the lineage of Jesus, the Christ, these new discoveries of ancient scriptures contribute another dimension to the mystery of Jesus, the centerpiece of Christianity.  As much as I  would like to have a definitive account of the historical Jesus of Nazareth, it simply is not available to me.  Who he was, how he lived, what he believed cannot be a certainty to those of us who claim him as Lord and Savior while also refuting the inerrant and literal interpretations supported by some Christians.

I have no problem with that.  My faith is based on a God which has blessed humanity with numerous messengers throughout history.  My faith is not dependent on the historical accuracy of those messengers nor the accounts written by their followers.  What those instruments of guidance have provided is a rich and wonderful foundation for living life to the fullest in compassionate communion with all of God’s creation.  I find the deepest inspiration in the verses which ancient mystics have passed on for me to discover and ponder.  I marvel at the wisdom and beauty expressed by both simple shepherds and royal kings.  I find many of the answers to contemporary society’s problems given to me by sages from centuries past.  I find strength in the thoughts and writings of others who have been deeply touched and inspired by their faith in a Higher Power.  I don’t require historical accuracy to follow a manner of living which honors and reveres God, the Higher Power of my understanding.

What I need is heart driven truth.  It is not necessarily historical nor factual by the world’s standards.  The truth which I seek emanates from a sacred place within, it wells up, it flows, it gushes from a spiritual presence which is timeless and eternal.  Jesus knew it, the great mystics knew it, Buddha knew it, Muhammad knew it.  Every one of us can have it and live fully in God’s glory, compassion, and mercy.

“Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” Psalm 46:10smiley 3

The Jewish faith says, “Stop striving and know that I am God.”  Stop striving with religious doctrine, stop striving with translations, stop striving with historical accuracy; go to that quiet place within your personal temple and know the loving kindness of a gracious Father.