Imperium Romanum

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.

roman empire

IMPERIUM ROMANUM

The Roman Republic (Roma) dated from 509 BC to 27 BC after which the Roman Empire was established.  It had a government headed by emperors and held large territorial holdings around the Mediterranean Sea in Europe, North Africa and West Asia.  Until 285 AD the empire was ruled from Rome when it split into the Western Roman Empire based in Milan and later Ravenna and the Eastern Roman Empire based in Nicodemia and later Constantinople.  The West fell to Germanic Herullians in 476 AD, the East fell to Ottoman Turks in 1453.

In 380 AD Emperor Theodosius made Nicene Christianity the state religion of the West.  Earlier, in 313, Emperor Constantine convened councils of bishops to define the orthodoxy of the Christian faith.  Ecumenical councils were convened at the direction of the ruling emperor to assemble ecclesiastical dignitaries and theological experts to discuss and settle matters of Church doctrine and practice.  The 1st seven ecumenical councils of the Church were: 1) First Council of Nicaea in 325, 2) First Council of Constantinople in 381, 3) Council of Ephesus in 431, 4) Council of Chalcedon in 451, 5) Second Council of Constantinople in 553, 6) Third Council of Constantinople from 680-681, and 7) Second Council of Nicaea in 787.

 “Did you know that the first seven Councils of the Church, agreed upon by both East and West, were all either convened or formally presided over by emperors? This is no small point. Emperors and governments do not tend to be interested in an ethic of love, service, or nonviolence (God forbid!), and surely not forgiveness unless it somehow helps them stay in power.” cac.org

Fr. Richard Rohr, a follower of the Franciscan order, does not mince words when describing the formative years of Christianity as a time when Roman emperors exerted power and control over the population through religion.  Our liturgy in contemporary Christian worship services recites the Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds which define what Christians should believe, but leaves the implementation of that belief unexplored.

“The Christ of the creeds is not tethered to earth – to the real , historical, flesh-and-blood Jesus of Nazareth.  Instead, this image is mostly mental abstraction with little heart, all spirit, and almost no flesh or soul.  Sometimes it seems like Christianity’s only mission is to keep announcing its vision and philosophy. This is what happens when power and empire take over the message.”  cac.org  (underlined emphasis is mine)

In my mind, the urgency for a renewal of Christianity according to the early writings of the followers of Jesus of Nazareth becomes ever more pressing when religious leaders endorse a government policy which clearly defies the teachings of Scriptures by stating those same teachings of love and compassion, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” do not apply to our interaction with people of a differing creed, nationality, or culture.  Furthering the incredulity is when those same church leaders dismiss government leaders from any obligation to moral discernment when dispensing their official duties. This coalition of church and state, both without a moral compass, foretells a broken American Empire. Washington Post – Jerry Falwell, Jr.

Thanks to Fr. Richard Rohr at cac.org for the quotes and inspiration for this post.  He ends with the following words:

“Humanity now needs a Jesus who is historical, relevant for real life….a Jesus whose life can save us even more than his death does….a Jesus we can imitate in practical ways….” cac.org

fear not

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 overflows.

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How many times as children during an electrical storm have we run to hide in a room without windows or pulled bed covers up over our heads?  We felt we were safe because we could not see the lightning flashing outside.  And then, when the thunder cracked in the heavens, we plugged our ears with little fingers.

As an adult I thoroughly enjoy an electrical storm, smelling the air, feeling the energy in my body, hearing the claps of thunder and seeing the spectacular display of lightning in the skies.  I no longer hide as I did as a child, but that doesn’t mean I will stand outside in an electrical storm under a tall tree, or on a golf course with putter in hand, or on the water in a boat.  Why?  Because I know today not to tempt the power of nature and I don’t believe God protects foolish men on golf courses or fishers on the lake.

But soon a fierce storm came up.  High waves were breaking into the boat, and it began to fill with water.  Jesus was sleeping at the back of the boat with his head on a cushion.  The disciples woke him up, shouting,  “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re going to drown?”  Mark 4:37-38

Naturally, the disciples feared for their lives.  This body of water on which they were being tossed about furiously was not some little backyard pond.  But, instead of taking measures to save themselves by bailing water out of the boat, they awakened the sleeping Jesus and questioned his concern for them.  Don’t you think in that situation, one would awaken Jesus and throw a bailing bucket to him yelling,  “Get ready to jump, can you swim?”  How many times in my life have I confronted God, “Don’t you care about me?  Why are you allowing this to happen?”

The passage from Mark goes on to say that Jesus woke up, calmed the waters and told the wind to be still.  In the same manner when I begin to panic, God says to me, “Relax, son.  Be cool.  I’ve got this under control.”

“I sought the Lord, and he heard me, and delivered me from all my fears.”  Psalms 34:4

Seeking the Lord in times of turmoil and surrendering the outcome to his mercy and grace is easy.  In the storms of life I usually have no other options and the resulting relief is welcome.  Conversely, seeking the Lord when life is good, the skies are sunny, and I’m enjoying a great day is a challenge.  I’ve retrieved my white flag of surrender, the crisis is over, and I am once again doing the driving.  “OK, Lord, thanks for the help, but I’ll take it from here.”  It would be wonderful if I could surrender my will and my life just one time and be done.  But my life simply does not work that way.  I am still a work in process and apparently have many future lessons to learn.

This physical existence which we experience gives no guarantees to our survival.  Car wrecks, disease and illness, crazy shooters at our local WalMart – we are not assured that tonight we will return home safely to loved ones.  But, it’s always been that way.  Rocko, the cave man, never knew whom in his neighborhood had a bigger, more deadly club.  The Jews, during Jesus’ time were at the mercy of the Roman conquerors and the religious hierarchy.  Jesus was not the only one crucified.  History tells us that thousands were hung on a cross during the rule of the Roman Empire.

Rational fear in the temporal world is probably a good thing.  It keeps me alive and out of harm’s way.  I have learned not to run around my neighborhood looking for a hairy caveman with a big club and I don’t seek out soldiers wanting to crucify me.  But what about fear in my spiritual world?  As a child I became  an extremely fearful person listening to the stories of a judgmental, white-haired, bearded, vengeful, fire-breathing, old man sitting in the heavens just waiting for an opportunity to BBQ me in hell.  The people telling those stories were not evil; they were merely misinformed.

That childhood fear was irrational, not based on truth.  Today, I have the truth in front of me in the words and teachings of the man whom Jewish countrymen hoped to be the deliverer from Roman and religious oppression.  He was not that messiah.  He died like many other victims ignobly hung from a cross.  Centuries later the Roman church fathers assembled writings about Jesus into a plan for successful living which suggested we could have freedom from fear.

I believe that is what the book of John tells me.

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

It’s not rocket science.  In his lifetime, Jesus spoke to his disciples and his followers in parables.  Analogy and metaphor detailed what he was trying to teach about the spiritual world in which he dwelled.  Essential to delivering those teachings was not only the faith of his followers in who he was, but also Jesus’ faith in an eternal, everlasting presence which he named as God, his Father.

Scriptures tell us that Jesus suffered the human condition just as we do.  He displayed anger, compassion, doubt, disappointment, and fear.  The lowly carpenter from Nazareth probably suffered the same concerns about clothing, housing, and providing food for his family as we do.  He enjoyed the company of his Jewish brothers and sisters, attended weddings, and partied with sinners.  That’s what gives me hope.  Jesus was not a saint when he was alive on earth.  He became divine centuries later only when the fathers of “Christianity” proclaimed him to be so.  But, while alive on this earth, Jesus was just like you and I.

That gives me tons of hope and reason to have faith.  I, too, can be a better version of me.  Temporal fear is a life-preserver, but soul fear is merely an absence of faith in what Jesus can do with me as a child of God.  A Psalmist from long ago told me to not be afraid of walking this earth even when death and darkness surround me because the love and compassion of God will protect my soul, will lead me out of that deep valley into a place of gentleness and kindness where I will dwell forvever in His mercy and grace.  Amen, my cup is overflowing.

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