2 men named Jesus?

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The days are many when I question the foundational principles learned in youth, when I retire to bed at night more uncertain than certain, when I, like a child, want to hide under the bed covers to escape from the world.

Those stories I read as a young boy – the miracles, the healings, the parables, the inspiration and hope, the guidance and correction, the ancient shared wisdom – I remember all that.

I think of numerous personal crises endured and conquered, unmentionable forays into darkness, the return from the far land, a prodigal son reunited with his inheritance, testimony of a life resurrected, forgiveness extended – I think of all that.

And yet, tonight, the term Christian confuses me.  Don’t all Christians honor and revere the same Jesus?  Or is it possible there were two homeless vagabonds roaming the lands of 1st century Israel?  Both named Jesus?  Both from Nazareth?

Is there another version of ancient writings telling of a hateful and vengeful Jesus?  Have I somehow not read the Gospel of Exclusion, the one that tells white Americans they are better than the other children of God?

And all the verses that I know by heart, maybe I should not believe that “Love thy neighbor as thyself”  is truth straight from our Lord.  Or maybe “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life” was intended only for white folks, not brown and black skins.

Some of you tell me that white Christians are God’s chosen people, that only those who congregate in certain churches will get to heaven, that it is okay to persecute others who follow a different path or those who name their God differently.

Is it really okay?  Some of you say that caging children is acceptable under Christian principle, that denying those seeking safety, security and hope is biblical, that the man and woman who happen to be brown-skinned are not part of your Kingdom.

Others say that destroying our earth’s ecosystem in the name of profit will be justified in the end times because Jesus will rebuild our earth, that those who know the true God will be saved from annihilation.

Are we reading the same scriptures or do you have a different version?  Did the other Jesus speak privately to you and not to me?  Tell me what verse gives you the right to judge and condemn men who are not exactly like you?  I must know.

My Jesus heals the sick, how about yours?  My Jesus mends the broken, how about yours?  My Jesus feeds the poor and hungry, shelters the homeless, welcomes the refugee, how about yours?

“For many will come in my name….and lead many astray.”  Matthew 24:5

“Watch out for false prophets.  They will come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.” Matthew 7:15

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Being serious about life is hard work and soul-wearying.  Have you ever asked yourself if the entity you name as God truly wants life to be a burden?  Just look at Jesus, the one Christians revere as Savior.  Regardless of his divinity or not, regardless of his virgin birth or not, regardless of his bodily resurrection or not, he was presented as a portrait of compassionate and joyful fulfillment by the ancient writers.  He enjoyed a good wedding celebration with friends, he ate foods forbidden by his Judaic upbringing, he did not wash his hands ceremoniously before breaking bread, he counseled and healed lepers, prostitutes, tax collectors and others considered unclean and immoral by his contemporaries.  He exhorted his friends and disciples to follow his example.

The Book of John, chapter 14, says that Jesus responded to his disciples, who were dismayed by his pending departure, saying, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”  I have never been able to believe that he was telling his disciples to establish a new religious cult or that church fathers centuries later should create a revolutionary theology and call it Christianity.  No, Jesus was teaching them how to live a contented and peaceful life in a cruel and savage 1st century, Roman occupied culture.  Very simply the Way, the Truth, and the Life was his path of spiritual enlightenment shared with fellow Jews within the parameters of Judaism.

Through parables and stories he provided an ageless example for all of us to practice in pursuit of a meaningful existence in this life’s experience.  It has nothing to do with religion or correct theology or a list of “thou shalt and thou shalt not.”  Jesus was Jewish yet he rebelled at the litany of doctrines and laws which Judaism embraced.  He knew the penalty for his heresy would be death yet refused to denounce his truth within his own heart, an indwelling God.  That’s the example passed on to us – know the heart’s truth and live by it even unto death. 

“Come to me, all of you who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke and put it on you, and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in spirit; and you will find rest.  For the yoke I will give you is easy, and the load I put upon you is light.”  MATTHEW 11:28-30

I have been struggling recently – with personal issues, with faith, with the horrific injustices of government and institutions.  My answers were not forthcoming because I had chosen to take my own yoke upon me.  It’s a yoke of concern and worry, of control and judgement. I failed to remember that there is only one who can fix my crazy world.  His yoke is easy, his load is light.  He showed me how to do this with the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Lord, here’s my yoke; I want yours instead.  Lay it on me.

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in the Image

Loving self begins with reverence for life.
diversity“We are not just humans having a God experience…..in some mysterious way, we are God having a human experience.” (1)

The writings of the ancient Judaic wisdom masters have said that creation is made in the image of God.  Man, in his/her need to satisfy personal ego, seems to have narrowed this down through the ages to apply only to the homo-sapiens species.  Even further stroking personal ego, some have excluded various races as the image of God to the point where I see images of a white, Aryan, brown-haired, handsome male in flowing white robes hanging on the walls where I worship.  Sheer arrogance tells me that only those of us who fit that description have been made in the image of God.

Have I seen God?  How do I then know that I look like God? or that God looks like me?  In some mysterious way the lions, the bears, the birds, the flowers, the trees, the waters, the stars, the skies….and yes, Larry Brown, were created for God so that God could experience the joys of this creation and carry forward the creative works.  Can I wrap my brain around that?

The Christian faith enters the season of Lent today.  It defines Christ as the union of divine and human in one singular form.  When Jesus was crucified, those who follow and profess Jesus the Christ as Lord were commissioned  to continue God’s creative work on earth.  I identify today with Christianity, not because I am Christian, but because I am also part of that creative work.

Christ has no body now, but yours.
No hands, no feet on earth, but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which
Christ looks compassion into the world.
Yours are the feet 
with which Christs walks to do good.
Yours are the hands
with which Christ blesses the world. (1)

I am not here merely to enjoy life, to leave my mark, to accumulate possessions, to procreate, to eat, drink and be merry.  No!  I am here to extend to all creation the blessings of the image in which I have been created honoring the validity of all mankind, not just those who look and speak as I do.  I am here to protect the environment and cherish the beauty of nature.  I am here to extend compassion and reverence to life in all its forms.

The image set forth in Genesis is not a picture nor a manifestation which I can fathom.  It is not a look which I can aspire to attain.  It is not a presence which I can capture and enjoy.  The image is indescribable and indefinable.  But, I can live it and experience it through acts of understanding, compassion, love, and tolerance.  When I revere all of Creation and the life forms within it, I can then appreciate and love myself because I am an integral part of God’s world.  I have true purpose and direction.  I have a compass to guide me and comfort me.  I am one with the One.

(1) cac.org

 

I love you !

Just another traveler on life’s highway hanging out in the slow lane.  It’s quiet.  It’s peaceful.  Beyond the horizon is rest calling my name.  Green pastures, still waters, my cup is overflowing.

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When was the last time you arose in the morning, went into the bathroom, stared at your reflection in the mirror, and looked into your eyes saying, “I love you; you are worthy of joy, peace, contentment, happiness, prosperity, and fulfillment?”

Whaaat? You have never said that?  Aw, c’mon, surely you look at those big, beautiful eyes and say, “Hey there, good-looking, I love you.”  Must I also assume that you don’t believe you are going to do great things and become the man/woman whom you have always wanted to be?

So, let me understand the start of your day.  You just stumble out of bed, throw the spouse out the door, kiss the cat and pour a cup of go-go juice, sit down and read the newspaper, get pissed off and stagger into the bathroom hating the world.  You do your morning nature call, slather on some smell-good stuff and turn on the TV.  Your favorite morning hosts are interviewing the latest sex pervert, forecasting a 3 day torrential rain, and predicting the stock market is about to crash.  Your sister calls and screams you are a nitwit because you forgot her dog’s birthday and little Johnny across the street has just pulled your prized begonia to take to school for show and tell.  Wow, have a great day!

Now, back up.  Climb into bed, pull the covers up over your shoulders, and set the snooze alarm for 8:30.

Ahhhh! What a wonderful night’s sleep I had.  Thank you Lord for giving me another day in your perfect world.  Streeeeetch those legs and arms.  Ahhhh, deep breaths, fill those lungs with the glorious scent of the gardenia outside the bedroom window.  Look around the room.  The beautiful family photos on the dresser.  The lovely quilt which Grandma crafted 80 years ago.  The old wooden rocking chair in the corner.  Now, off to the bathroom to splash some cold water in my sleepy eyes.  Rinse my mouth with refreshing minty mouthwash.  Look into the mirror at the Lord’s perfect example of me.  Those beautiful eyes.  Stare into them, they are amazing, are they not?

“I love you.  You are worthy.  You are wonderful.  You are perfect.”

God says that to you every minute of every day.  So, who are you to dispute and disagree?  Oprah starts her day with that routine and we all know that Oprah has all her bases covered.  So, pleeeease, you have lost the argument.  God and Oprah cannot both be wrong.  You are worthy of love, especially from yourself.  And when you love yourself, others will find you interesting, attractive, and…..worthy.

There’s that word ‘worthy’ again.  For the first 35 years of my life I was the lowest scum on earth, the dirtiest of the filthy, the most sinful of the sinners, the vilest of the vile, the most unworthy of the unworthy.  And that was just my personal opinion of myself.  I didn’t dare venture out into the brotherhood of decent folks living happy, fulfilled lives.  Only the Lord knows what they thought of me.

Today, I am claiming the parables of the lost coin, the prodigal son, and the lost sheep.  (LUKE 15:1-24) The Lord of my life never gave up on me.  Patiently he swept the floors looking for his lost coin, he searched the fields for his errant sheep and when multiple addictions had beaten me to a pulp, God ran down the highway to meet me, threw his arms around my neck, kissed me and said, “Welcome home, son.  I have always loved you and I have been looking for you.”

“But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet.  And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’  And they began to be merry.”  LUKE 15: 22-24

Loved – just as I am.  Worthy – just as I am.  Perfect – just as I am.  Today, the reflection in my mirror has kind, loving eyes looking back at me with optimism and hope.
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Why are you surprised?

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The Good News of the Gospels is usually relegated to back page stories in this newspaper called life.  Every new day brings increasingly savage and violent news of mankind’s failure to understand our purpose during our visit to this life.  Perhaps people are unaware of the necessary path we must take to ensure our species is existent a few millennia from now.  Deadly armaments and unbridled displays of man’s inhumanity to man foretell a fiery demise.  Is there any hope?

Days like yesterday and today leave me questioning.  The salient media story has been about one man intent on killing as many other men and women as possible with his accumulated stash of weaponry and ammo.  Disgruntled about political differences and incited by racial hatred this one person had a desire to destroy the world.  Can you fathom a crazed mind that intent on having his will let loose on mankind?  I cannot.

Several books of our Scriptures prophesied the “end times.”  Some of us believe the writers could indeed foresee the future of man as related in their writings.  Some of us who are less inclined to agree with prophesy call today’s world circumstances a coincidence.  I certainly don’t know the answers.

However, I do believe those ancient men of scripture knew instinctively the nature of man.  They knew and experienced the violence and hatred inherent in humanity since the beginnings of time.  We do not descend from peaceful stock.  Our genes do not comprehend the words love and compassion and tolerance.  Our primal tribal nature teaches us to kill that which is different from us.  We have millions of years of DNA driving us to be killing machines.  So, why should we be surprised when one man sets out to destroy as much as possible of God’s creation?

Understanding the aggressive, violent nature of mankind does not excuse the task set before me which is to evolve to the highest levels of peaceful coexistence with all races, creeds, nationalities and lifestyles possible within my broken, human condition.  I can never do this perfectly, but I can make progress.  How about you?  Together, maybe we can modify those genes and change our world.

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I claimed my miracle, have you?

Just another traveler on life’s highway hanging out in the slow lane.  It’s quiet.  It’s peaceful.  Beyond the horizon is rest calling my name.  Green pastures, still waters, my cup is overflowing.

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“I’m sorry, we are out of wine.  Would you like a cup of water or perhaps fermented goat’s milk?”

“Noooooooooooooooo.”  Undoubtedly, the scream echoed through the hills and valleys of Galilee as the feast master in charge of the wine supply realized his calculations for the wedding’s needs were misjudged.  His reputation throughout Israel would be ruined.  Nobody would hire him to cater their wedding after this fiasco at Cana.

And then Jesus, having been summoned by his mother, saved the day by turning six stone pots each filled with 20 to 30 gallons of water into vessels filled with wine.  When the wine was tested by the ruler of the wedding feast he went to the bridegroom saying, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”  (John 2:10 NIV)

The books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John reveal to us the miracles performed by Jesus as recorded in the ancient manuscripts.  Turning water into wine was the first miracle of Jesus’ ministry occurring three days after Nathaniel became a follower.  John 2:11 tells us that this “was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed him.”

“He did whaaat?”  Had I lived then and one of my neighbors who attended that wedding at Cana told me about some yahoo preacher man turning about 150 gallons of water into wine, I am certain my doubting Thomas nature would have replied, “You’re out of your mind.  What were you smoking up there at Cana?”

Many people today say they don’t believe in miracles.  They also deny Jesus, God, and eternity.  Years ago I was one of those people.  I wanted to be an atheist, tried to be an agnostic and failed miserably at both.  If God did not exist why was I on my knees in a drunken stupor begging God to heal me?  If Jesus was just a myth like Santa Claus why did I talk to him like a friend when I wanted to end my life?

Yes I believed, but I refused to accept my miracle.  It was right there in front of me for years , but I was not done with the pain and self-loathing.  I wanted to beat up on myself for a while longer.  It gave me satisfaction to be a victim.  The floor of my bottom had a trap door that I wanted to explore.  Let’s kick me around and refuse my miracle a little bit longer.

But, you see, the God which I rejected did not give up.  Every night on my knees in a drunken stupor, God held my hand listening to me, comforting me, showing me the way to accept grace and mercy.  I tearfully forgave myself and accepted life, eternal life.  Miracles still happen today.  I claimed mine.  Millions of others like me, addicts and drunks clean and serene, are each and every one the story of a miracle.

“What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed him.” (John 2:11 NIV)

I believe him too.

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the awakening

 

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The ugliness in the world somehow seems much uglier than it did yesterday.  The darkness of a government missing its moral compass is darker.  The inequalities gripping humanity appear more unequal.  What happened to my complacency and my acceptance of this status quo?  I did not ask to be made aware.  I was happy with a world that accepted me.  I was content to just fit in and be unnoticed.  Then he came along.

Then he came along and changed my life forever.  Minding my own business casting my nets, this preacher man walked by and said to my brother Andrew and me, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

Who is this stranger?  Does he really believe I am going to leave my nets and my boat and walk away from my wife, my children?  What does he want?  What does he mean by ‘fishers of men’ and why is my brother abandoning his nets also and turning our boat over onto the beach?  Why are we doing this?  

Look!  There are James and John with their father Zebedee mending nets on their boat.  This stranger is calling to them.  They, too, are dropping their work to slosh through the water to join us.  He says we are going to be his followers, his disciples.  We are going to preach at Capernaum and everywhere in Galilee.  Preach what?  Who is this man who calls himself Jesus?  Just yesterday I was content to simply fish and mend my nets, but now he wants us to be fishers of men.

Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John encountered a dilemma on that day nearly two-thousand years ago working their trade on the Sea of Galilee.  What would you have done?  How about me?  My spouse would definitely not understand and my friends would think I’ve had too much to drink.  And what about the neighbors?  “Yeah,” they would chortle, “Larry just left the mower in the yard, joined Joe and Bobby following some guy who said, ‘Follow me and I will make you fishers of men. He’s bonkers! ‘”

Everyone of us has had our day in the boat just fishing and easing along through life when Jesus appears on the shore beckoning us to follow.  It happens unexpectedly, doesn’t it?  He says our nets will catch something bigger and better than anything our dreams could imagine.

Jesus said in Matthew 4:19, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.”

Folks, that’s not a request.  It’s a command.

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who are you?

Just another traveler on life’s highway hanging out in the slow lane.  It’s quiet.  It’s peaceful.  Beyond the horizon is rest calling my name.  Green pastures, still waters, my cup is overflowing.

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There was a time in my life when I thought that one day in the future I should be able to  describe and define God.  It was an element of my faith walk which led me to believe spiritual maturity could be captured and confined in a treasure box of heavenly secrets and knowledge.  When I had attained certitude in all things which previously were questioning and unknowing, I would then be a wise and ‘saved’ man of God.

Didn’t work that way, folks.  Today I know less than I did yesterday and there are many more questions than answers.  But, there is also comfort in knowing that the unknown is an integral part of the mystery which we call God.  The ancient writings of Judaism recorded in the book of Exodus tell us that when Moses had a personal encounter with God emanating from a burning bush, Moses asked, “What shall I say is your name?” and the answer was, “I AM Who I AM.”  (Exodus 3:14)

In my mind, that answer always seemed to be such an evasive response to a man as myself who wanted a definitive description or a name to use.  Essentially God said to Moses and to me, “You don’t need to get so familiar with me as to think you have unraveled the mystery which I AM.”  God, in Exodus 3, is a reassuring presence, not an identifiable entity.

I need to be satisfied with that.  That reassuring presence is all I need to know.  Maybe Jesus understood that presence in his life’s journey on earth.  He referred to God as Father while living a life motivated  by spiritual nobility more than absolute knowledge. He shared the essence of his faith in sayings and parables often confusing listeners who were not attuned to God as a spiritually reassuring Presence.   If I were to ask, contrary to contemporary theology, what if Jesus was not on earth to establish a divinity demanding worship and adoration upon his death?   Rather, what if he lived to present to humanity nothing more than an example of life dedicated to service and humility?

Fr. Richard Rohr in his daily blog commented,

“No one owns him (Jesus), and no one ever will.” cac.org

As an American, as a white man, as a Christian I need to be extremely careful what image I impose upon Jesus.  I need to eat some humble pie when thinking that I know everything there is to know.  I will never fully know the beauty of Jesus or the identity of God because I am still a broken vessel struggling to fathom the depths of God’s presence and Jesus’ soul.  All I can do is aspire to a fuller acceptance of and surrender to the universal mystery known as God, my reassuring Presence.

Jesus is attributed with the words of Matthew 7:7 that we should keep on asking, keep on seeking, keep on knocking and we will receive what we are asking and find what we are seeking.  The doors in front of us will open.  Beyond those doors will be more asking, more seeking and more doors to open.  If I should think that I have arrived, that I have the answers, that all the doors have been opened, then I, in my errant theological certitude, shall have strayed from the purpose of my own spiritual quest. Matthew 7:7open door

let’s build barns

Just another traveler on life’s highway hanging out in the slow lane.  It’s quiet.  It’s peaceful.  Beyond the horizon is rest calling my name.  Green pastures, still waters, my cup is overflowing.

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I have seen, in my lifetime, many changes in the roles of men and women within their respective societies.  Most changes are good, many more are needed.  A male friend of mine, old as the hills just as I am, pontificated about the role of women in the household.

“A woman’s duty is in the house taking care of the husband.”

“Hmmmm,” I replied.  “Sounds like old-fashioned chauvinism to me.”  He took offense.

Now folks, I am not the most progressive, liberated man on earth, but in my mind that kind of talk went the way of the horse and buggy decades ago.  Unfortunately, some members of my gender still adhere to it.  Equality for women is a good thing.  Equality for everyone is a better thing.  Argue with me if you must, but I know I am right.

However, some things from the horse and buggy days by far outshine our society today.  I remember, as a young boy, the neighbor’s barn being destroyed by fire.  Within weeks that neighbor had a new barn with a new hex sign on its side erected by his community brethren – labor intensive and cost free.  In the autumn when butchering of livestock needed to be done, the men of the community traveled from one farm to the next assisting each other until all the community’s members had stocked the larders, smoke houses, and shelves with a bounty of meats.  The women also participated by joining their sisters to prepare a dinner table groaning under the weight of meats, vegetables and desserts for the hungry working men.  Even the children escaped from school classes to assist whenever possible.  Some of our greatest lessons in life were learned during those times of shared communal outreach.  They were lessons a class room could never duplicate.

Our community lived as if every person mattered regardless of worldly goods and professional achievement.  Each man, woman, and child had a purpose and a unique contribution to the community’s livelihood.  None were denigrated because of poverty or social difficulty.  When the bounty of the land was brought in during fall harvests, none needed to be concerned if their crops were lacking or their larders were not filled.  Neighbors filled whatever the need might have been.  It’s was simply the right way to live and we all knew that it was right.

“Harvest Home” at our church was a special Sunday in October when the best of the harvest was presented at the altar for the pastor and his family.  In later years, when the pastor was  better paid, those offerings were taken to the church-sponsored home for orphans and the destitute.  Our community cared about its brothers and sisters just as they were instructed to do in their church upbringing, just as Jesus taught during his ministry on earth.  The farmers and teachers and artisans and laborers talked the talk and walked the walk.

Times today seem different, more impersonal.  I don’t know my neighbors down the street.  I attended a church of my tradition for 2 years and knew some of the congregants by name but none well enough to get together for coffee after the service.  Everybody seemed hurried to get home, change clothes and watch the game on cable or head to WalMart to buy a new kitchen gadget.  Yes, tithing was important, but that five dollar bill in the plate simply did not hold a candle to the basket of fruit setting at the altar during Harvest Home Sunday.  It’s too impersonal.  And we don’t build barns anymore.

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was the price right?

Just another traveler on life’s highway hanging out in the slow lane.  It’s quiet.  It’s peaceful.  Beyond the horizon is rest calling my name.  Green pastures, still waters, my cup is overflowing.

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Why was Jesus crucified?  Depends on whom you believe, doesn’t it?  The Christian scholars of theology and religion who believe in the fall of Adam and Eve from God’s grace, who believe our progenitors were expelled from the garden for their sin, who thereby believe that all mankind is saddled with a sinful nature will explain that the violent, ignoble, bloody death of his “only begotten son” was a necessary payment to God to attain God’s forgiveness.

Really?  I know I am questioning one of the foundational tenets of modern Christianity, but can we believe that?  Prior to the 11th century Christians did acknowledge that payment (ransom) was due, but it was not due to God, rather it needed to be paid to the devil.  Then Anselm of Canterbury (c. 1033-1109) wrote a paper WHY DID GOD BECOME HUMAN.  In this writing he asserted that yes “a price needed to be paid to restore God’s honor, and it needed to be paid to God the Father.” (1)

With the popularity of this one piece of literature during the 11th century, God was confirmed by the Church not only as a vengeful, condemning, agitator of fire and brimstone, but now a Father who had demanded his only begotten Son’s life.  Instead of a loving and compassionate Father, the Christian world embraced a bloodied, broken body on a cross as the price due for communion with their God.

Think about it.  The death of Jesus of Nazareth was a historical event.  Jesus’ ministry is documented by a multitude of writings by his followers and at least one unbiased historian, Josephus.  Jesus was an insurrectionist who dismayed the powers of the Roman Empire and he made himself a thorn in the side of the established Jewish hierarchy.  Both wanted him gone.

It is up to each of us to decide what we will believe in our faith walks.  But, what about forgiveness?  What does forgiving or being forgiven mean to me, to you?  When was the last time you handed your neighbor a $20 bill and then asked him to forgive you for mowing down his prized petunias?  You may have repaid him for replacement of his flowers, but the money did not buy his forgiveness.  Can forgiveness have a price if it’s an act extended and received by one man/woman to another freely from a mindset of love and compassion?  Would a loving Father demand payment for his forgiveness through crucifixion of his only begotten Son?

We must be concerned that possibly what is accepted as inerrant theology has somehow strayed off course by way of human fallibility.  I refuse to abandon my faith tradition because sometimes what I am told to believe doesn’t make sense to me.  If I am led to read the scriptures of our Christianity as examples of sober-living and paths to spiritual recovery, then I must ask questions.  I must question the scholars and theologians who have established inerrancy and certitude as hallmarks of their interpretations.  My adventure into the mysteries of eternity and God cannot be a trek which ends with definitive answers; rather it has to be a discovery process which only poses more questions.

(1) CAC.ORG

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