a new social order

“Jesus announced, lived, and inaugurated a new social order, an alternative to violence, exclusion, and separation. It is no fantastical utopia, but a very real and achievable peace—by the grace of God.” cac.org, Richard Rohr

Often I try to put myself back into the times of Jesus.  Sometimes I play the role of a man like Jesus in that chaotic era of history.  My imagination cannot possibly comprehend even the mundane challenges of everyday life trying to survive in a society which was tightly controlled not only by the Romans but also by the Jewish hierarchy.  Earning a living, providing food and shelter for a family, abiding by innumerable laws of government and religion must have driven many men to madness and desperation.

Remembering that Jesus was probably a typical, young man long before he became a local celebrity, I can picture his Jewish mother, Mary, lamenting, “All my other sons have jobs, earn a living, have a nice donkey to ride to work, go on vacation to Jerusalem every year and buy their wives new robes for their birthday.”

Young Jesus is just standing there before Mary with a sheepish grin, “But mother,  you just don’t understand, I have to be about my Father’s work.  I have a Kingdom to establish.”

“Kingdom, smingdom.  Why can’t you be more like your brother James?  He just built on a beautiful sewing room for his wife and rumor has it that they are sending little James to private tutoring next year with the Rabbi.”

“Aw, Mom, I am not like my brothers.  Hey, have you seen my sandals?  I’m leaving tomorrow to spend 40 days in the wilderness.”

Later in Jesus’ ministry to his countrymen, he remembered the days at home in Nazareth.  Then Jesus told them, “A prophet is honored everywhere except in his own hometown and among his relatives and his own family.”Mark 6:4

His hometown people undoubtedly thought Jesus was not only lazy but also crazy.  When he began teaching his outrageous idea that all people were equal in the eyes of God, that the Jewish temple leaders were hypocrites, that women had rights, that prostitutes, tax collectors, and Samaritans were loved by God, his mother Mary must have walked down to the well for water with eyes straight ahead, unable to bear the whispering and gossiping of her village friends along the path.

“That son of hers, Jesus….did you hear what he did over at Galilee?  He said he could move mountains and people say that he walked on water.  Can you imagine?  Poor Mary, she’s such a good woman.”

“Yes, and did you know that he has gathered a group of other men to follow him around the countryside begging for food and teaching something they call the Way.  They say he’s the Messiah.”

“Jesus was a person radically centered in God, empowered by that relationship, and filled with God’s passion for the world—a passion that led to his execution and vindication.” “—Marcus Borg

2000 years later, Jesus of Nazareth creates just as much controversy as he did when he was a young man in Israel.  Some people think he was a radical and a zealot.  Some people say he was and is God’s Son.  Others say he was just another magician supporting his homeless ways as best as he could.

But, it doesn’t matter.  Jesus, by his lifestyle and his teaching, brought to humanity an awareness that mankind is a brotherhood/sisterhood of equally loved and loving children of God and that they all, every one of them, are worthy of a Father’s love and compassion.  Imagine that!  A carpenter’s lazy son from Nazareth turned the world upside down and inside out saying that all men and women are equal, all are loved by God, all are welcome to partake of Earth’s great feast, and all are designed by their Creator to live in peace.

One man – a homeless beggar, a social reject, a charlatan, a simple teacher of brotherly love – did that 2000 years ago.  The new social order he ordained lives vibrantly and grows within the hearts of men and women today.  He was crucified so that we could live abundantly.  Do I have what it takes to be a person radically centered on God?  How about you?

cac.orgCANDLE

….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

 

fundamentalism

“Fundamentalism is a growing phenomenon, not only in Islam and other religions, but within Christianity as well. Fundamentalism refuses to listen to the deep levels of mythic, metaphorical, and mystical meaning. It is obsessed with literalism and exclusion. The egoic need for clarity and certitude leads fundamentalists to use CANDLEsacred writings in a mechanical, closed-ended, and quite authoritarian manner. The ego rarely asks real questions and mostly gives quick answers. This invariably leaves ego-driven, fundamentalist minds and groups utterly trapped in their own cultural moment in history. Thus they miss the Gospel’s liberating message along with the deepest challenges and consolations of Scripture.” cac.org Richard Rohr

Before any of my “fundamentalist” friends light the fires around my stake, allow me to explore this viewpoint.  Those who are able to enter the realm of God, whether it be in reading or worshipping, with a literalist, inerrant mindset and then approach the world in which they live with a peaceful and non-violent perspective….they  are not the folks who give fundamentalism a questionable reputation in world affairs.  Richard Rohr is probably addressing the ones who use their interpretations to bring havoc upon the rest of the world which does not agree with them.  Their concepts about God and spirituality allows an oppressive and violent theology which ends with an “either or” philosophy.  Either believe as I believe or spend your eternity in hell.  The hell referred to is often caused by those very same religionists whose egos have driven them to formulate a God subservient to their brand of righteousness and self-serving intentions.

Oh my, I can see the torch bearers coming now.  If your theology, which like mine is just another philosophy set forth by man, advocates acts of violence, exclusion, intolerance, and hatred, then perhaps that theology is not based on the One all of us in the Christian world name as Lord.  Jesus, the Christ, unequivocally directed in just one verse, Matthew 22:39, to love our neighbor as ourself.  Those few words are all this world needs to live in harmonious co-existence.  Practice verse 39 in all our affairs and we will know peace

34But when the Pharisees had heard that he had put the Sadducees to silence, they were gathered together. 35Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, 36Master, which is the great commandment in the law? 37Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. 38This is the first and great commandment. 39And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. 40On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

I am just a common man, not scholarly and certainly not a Biblical expert.  But, when the crux of God’s directive for man is given to us in simple words by a savior who came to earth as a common messenger, there is no need to complicate the message with “thou shalts and thou shalt nots”.  Jesus said:

13Then were there brought unto him little children, that he should put his hands on them, and pray: and the disciples rebuked them. 14But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven. 15And he laid his hands on them, and departed thence.” Matthew 19:13-15

Children have a wonderful trust and innocence in the world around them.  They do not hate for hatred is learned.  They do not judge according to skin color for that also is learned.  They love unconditionally and faithfully using the inherent goodness they brought into the world at birth.  Oh, fellow children of God, how much we could learn from the little ones.  Picture1.pngFAMILY11

 

“Father, forgive them…”

Would anyone refuse to accept the forgiveness of  a lover, a parent, a teacher, a spouse, or a best friend?  Of course not.  If  I have transgressed against you and you offer me CANDLEyour forgiveness, then our friendship cannot continue until I reciprocate with a sincere ‘thank you for understanding’.  Only then, after cleaning house,  can we pursue our relationship.

Forgive and forget is a cliché which sounds cool but is rarely practiced in our society.  Although most of us are ready to forgive, the act of forgetting is difficult because none of us wants to be transgressed again by the same person and, if we are honest about ourselves, we enjoy the grudges which we hold.  One of my friends says he will forgive but, the transgressing person will not get a second opportunity to harm or injure.  Another holds a lifetime of grudges which fester and negate any potential good will with his transgressor.   Others say that forgiveness is an act which benefits the forgiver more than the forgiven.  I can understand that but, I don’t believe the purpose of forgiveness is to make me feel better about myself.

So, what then is forgiveness all about?  Is it just a religious thing, a few spoken words that are meant to repair a relationship?  Does sincerity enter the picture?  How about compassion?  Maybe a touch of empathy?  Spirituality?

The Jewish faith in Psalm 46:10 believes that the psalmist wrote, “Cease striving and know that I am God.”  We cease striving and know God when we enter the spaces between our thoughts, relinquish those before and after thoughts to the now moment and realize the power of a God which is omnipotent and omnipresent.  That “now moment” is our God space.  Living consciously in the now moment is where we will find God.

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

We are exhorted to give up grudges, to forgive transgressions against us, to receive forgiveness for our wrongs because only then are we ready to enter the realm of “Be still and know.”  Our minds, when cleared of human earthly affairs, will then be receptive to God’s presence and God’s power in the stillness of meditation, contemplation, and prayer.  It’s a great exercise in spiritual discipline which I certainly have not mastered although I continually try.

Perhaps forgiveness is all about doing what Jesus did on the cross.  He wasn’t concerned about feeling better as he hung there dying.  He probably did not care if his forgiveness was accepted by the Roman soldiers or the Pharisees.  What if, at that moment of physical death on his cross,  Jesus wanted to purge humanity of it’s transgressions through forgiveness, (“Forgive them Father for they know not what they are doing”)?  With this act of forgiveness mankind could resume a relationship with God released from the intolerance and hatred which nailed Jesus to his cross.

Matthew 5:23 tells me to be reconciled with my brother, if there are differences, before I come before God to offer my gift of body, mind, and soul at the altar.  In my church service, I present myself in prayer to receive forgiveness for sins and to forgive others who have harmed me.  I do this by reciting the Lord’s Prayer so that when I approach the altar to receive communion I am of clean heart and spirit, ready to receive God’s unending grace through the body and blood of Jesus.  Forgiveness is that  act of soul-namaste rainbowcleansing which is necessary prior to spirit renewal.  It is not a one-time, one and done activity.  It is a continual process which is the centerpiece of any faith walk and recovery program.  Namaste.

many mansions

In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. John 14:2CANDLE

I fill most of my writing with thoughts about my Higher Power.  It’s not always what I want to put forth to you, my readers.  The crazy world of politics, government, society’s ills, intolerance, hatred, crime, (and the list can go on indefinitely), are also topics that fill the space between my ears.  But, when deciding any type of action I take in these areas, it always comes back to Jesus, WWJD, What Would Jesus Do?

In my world Jesus is not always an entity, a historical person whom we celebrate in scriptures and especially during the Christmas season.  Jesus is more often a lifestyle.  He is a path of sober-living which brings peace and joy into my life.  I have learned to avoid theological discourse which claims inerrancy and infallibility because they are always right and I am always going to hell.  The Lord of my life is open to rational and reasonable conversation about eternity and God.  The Lord of my life tells me talking the talk is nice, but ultimately life is all about the walk.  Where am I walking today?  Whose path am I taking?

God is big.  God is so big that trying to pigeon-hole God categorically into a theology, another man-made philosophy, is akin to squeezing a camel through the eye of a needle.  Can’t be done!  The God I know is mysterious and incomprehensible to the human mind.  Therefore, when someone tells me all about God, where HE lives, how He looks, what HE thinks, I can only listen patiently and then respond, “Really, God is a HE?”  That disarms even the most strident of those who have all the answers.  Larry’s going to hell for sure!

God and I enjoy this life.  Jesus is the message inspired by ancient mystics who came before me to spread the good news of a loving and compassionate Spirit which gives  humanity a logical, reasonable way of living.  The ancients during and following the life of the physical Jesus called it “the Way.”  They were not theologians or scholars.  Rather they were just like you and me, people searching for a way to commune with the God of our understanding.

Jesus is not a person merely to be adored and worshipped, although that is a wonderful way to enter the quiet spaces within us.  Jesus is a manner of living which brings God’s Kingdom to me, right here and right now.  I don’t have to wait for a future moment to be with God eternally because I am already there.  And that is the difference which makes life a joyful adventure instead of a tolerably painful existence.

“5“Lord,” said Thomas, “we do not know where You are going, so how can we know the way?” 6Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. 7If you had known Me, you would know My Father as well.”  John 14: 5-7

This verse can be difficult for those who see Jesus exclusively as a God-human rather than a manner of sober-living to be experienced and followed.  It is the verse most often used by exclusionary religionists to proclaim that Christianity is the only path which leads to eternity with God.  My journey tells me that, as with most of the words attributed to Jesus, the meaning of this verse,”I am the way, the truth, and the life”, is better understood when taken in a spiritual sense.   Should we consider that Jesus was not presenting Jesus as an entity to be revered and worshipped, but rather, as an example for all people to follow if they want release from this world’s soul prison?

The authors of Christian scriptures tell me that in his lifetime, Jesus shared his teachings with all people, Jew and Gentile.  I must remember that Jesus and his contemporaries lived under extreme oppression and hardship enforced by the Jewish hierarchy and the Roman conquerors.  The Israelites were concerned with an earthly salvation immediately, in this life, not a distant occurrence in a future life.  However, Jesus was promising relief from the Jews and the Romans not as a physical deliverance, but as a spiritual and mental exercise, a way of living, which would supersede the harshness of their society.  It emphasized release of self-serving behavior and surrender to the indwelling spirit of holiness.  “The Way” in those oppressive times has not changed.  In our personal oppressive times it is a way today to a completeness and unity with the God of our understanding.

“Let go; let God” is a message which I encounter often in my sojourn.   It is often interpreted as “let go of the situation and let God take it over.”  It can also mean “let go of myself and let God come inside.” Works for me.christmas emoji 3

 

 

 

Jesus & Buddha

I have this recurring thought of a meeting and conversation between Jesus and Buddha, both of whom are verifiable historical figures, in which, after offering solutions to the world’s suffering, Jesus bows to Buddha and says, “The Lord be with you.”  Buddha replies, “Namaste, I bow to the divine in you.”

Wow! How different would our world be today if the major religions could take it upon themselves to honor and respect each other’s faith walk? Not only could we honor and respect, but we could also embrace each other as co-inheritors of the grace and mercy ofrainbow-solidarity our respective Lords.  All of us are children of God who have received different messengers throughout history to teach the truth of one universal entity which we, as Christians, choose to name God.

That, in essence, is the teaching of Jesus which I believe exhorts me to live life inclusively and compassionately.  Man’s created theology is secondary to this nugget of truth revealed by the author of Mark.

30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’[a] 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:30-31

A few scholars of religion have tried to connect the two, Jesus and Buddha, through historical access.  Jesus, in his lifetime, could have easily heard the teachings of Buddha from merchants and Buddhist priests who undoubtedly travelled the trade routes between Israel and the Far East.  It’s an interesting theory which would add a dimension of mystery to the story of Jesus; however, it is not a necessary component to verifying the validity of our messenger.

Marcus Borg in his book “Jesus and Buddha: the Parallel Sayings” attributes the similarity in sayings to the probability that both mystics were inspired by an indwelling Spirit of holiness which enabled them to recognize the unitive presence of a Oneness, a universal energy which transcended human understanding and religious distinctions.  Following is an excerpt from that book:

Jesus says, “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31). The Buddha says, “Consider others as yourself” (Dhammapada 10.1).

Jesus says, “If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also” (Luke 6:29). Buddha says, “If anyone should give you a blow with his hand, with a stick, or CANDLEwith a knife, you should abandon any desires [to hurt him] and utter no evil words” (Majjhima Nikaya 21.6).

Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me” (Matthew 25:45).  Buddha says, “If you do not tend one another, then who is there to tend you? Whoever would tend me, he should tend the sick” (Vinaya, Mahavagga 8.26.3).

The Jewish Kabbalah, Muslim Sufism and the teachings of Tao also reveal this Oneness, the unitive energy of God within.  Contemporary Christianity seems to have become exceedingly concerned with establishing its Jesus story as the only truth to the point that it has lost the Jesus teachings which reveal lessons of detachment, non-violence, simplicity, and anxiety. CAC.ORG

Namaste.

namaste rainbow

 

 

 

 

the Transformer

CANDLE“But what’s even more shocking is that, in the name of this entirely inclusive Jewish man, Jesus, we created an exclusionary religion that ended up repeating what he condemned in his lifetime. It is the non-argumentative, contemplative mind that can easily see this.” cac.org

Sometimes I question within my mind the validity of organized religion.  It seems that all the dominant religions of the world began with the wisdom of a sage, a mystic, whose teachings revealed nuggets of universal Truth but then morphed through a series of man’s contributions and adjustments into institutions of hypocrisy and intolerance.  The foundational message  was lost in interpretations.  Greed, pride, and self-indulgence contributed to the transformation from a creed of compassion and inclusiveness to a creed of exclusiveness and dogmatic ritual.

But, then I ask, “And who are you, Larry Brown, to pass judgement?”

I could be spot on in my assessment and if I am, it is, nevertheless, beyond my role in this world to critique anybody’s faith walk.  I stand behind the verse which tells me that I will know a man’s heart by the fruits of his indwelling spirit.  And that’s all I need to know because even then it is my job to merely share the message.  I am instructed to be the carrier not the enforcer.

“By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?”  Matthew 7:16 

“Enforcer” is a word which goes hand in hand with violence, suppression, and oppression.  History tells us that, yes, organized religious institutions have been guilty of persecution and genocide, they have conducted murderous crusades and jihads against those of a differing culture, creed, and race.  They have missed the mark of their messenger by a wide margin.

I am also guilty as charged.  My interior battle between spirit and self has massacred numerous infidels, it has judged and condemned thousands who held opposing views, it has decimated the non-believers of the world.  My mind knows the truth of a loving and compassionate savior but, my heart doesn’t always agree.  I can be as hypocritical and judgmental as the notorious Pharisees of Jewish culture because my inherent mode of operation is one of  self-preservation, not spiritual progress.

But, I have become acquainted with the one who changes hearts.  We have an intimate relationship.  The Father has pulled me from the pits of an addictive hell and the only requirement for membership in his family is the willingness to share my experience, strength, and hope, the willingness to extend unconditional love to humanity, and the willingness to be transformed.

“and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”  Ephesians 5:2

christmas emoji 3