Ancient history revisited (Part One)…

Ancient history revisited (Part One)…

On a separate blog, a very VERY long time ago, I posted this exploration into the foundation of Christianity and Jesus.

As I have no desire whatsoever to link this blog to that one, I will occasionally reproduce the content from one into the other.

Link to this? Dandy. Steal it? I will come after you. Ask questions? By all means. Rant? You can’t imagine how fast I will block you.

We begin…


January 7 & 8, 2006: I was just thinking about this…

In the middle of the funeral this morning (yes, I went, alone), I had an epiphany of my own, thanks to the references of the priest to the old testament and the Jewish thoughts on death.

How on earth did we go so far away from the original concept, that we had to be *led* by someone, deified or otherwise, to the right place? At what point did Hell get introduced and why? Is it a Greek thing? Roman? How odd… I’m open to discussion on this one.

Meanwhile, here’s the results of the latest quiz. I’m not shocked at all. And I’m actually looking forward to the visit to the UU congregation tomorrow. Spoke to another mother at my kid’s nursery school, and she’s been attending their services on and off for a while. Really likes them, too.

Anyway, I digress…

Mahavira
You two would probably really get along!
Founder of Jainism
“Non-violence and kindness to living beings is kindness to oneself. For
thereby one’s own self is saved from various kinds of sins and
resultant sufferings and is able to secure his own welfare.”
My test tracked 4 variables How you compared to other people your age and gender:

You scored higher than 38% on Intuitive
You scored higher than 66% on Structured
You scored higher than 84% on Mildness
You scored higher than 33% on Traditional
Link: The Religion Founder You Resemble Test written by Stinkbot

Major religion musings here. You’ve been warned…

The UU service was definitely the right choice.

I’ve already determined a couple of things: First, the minister seems to share my recent enlightenment in regards to the Bible. I could be wrong – it will likely take more than a single sermon to know for sure – but it is interesting that right after yesterday’s disturbing experience with the funeral (and right on the heels of the one I endured in November), I can finally put a solid finger on the disturbing elements of taking Jesus as a personal Savior.

I talked with DH about this last night on the way home from the party. It took me pretty much all night to unwind from the experience. I almost didn’t go – digestive system out of whack (and going to a real food party there was a real chance I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the feast), sleep way off, out of sorts and very shaky in emotional stability. The sheer volume of loss this last six months finally settled in. It wasn’t just Ms. M. It was: BG, KT, MW, LC’s mom, assorted loved pets, and…and… That isn’t all. Thursday, one of the moms I’ve been seeing at the bus stop told me her 38 year old brother was on life support because he let pneumonia get out of hand. I hope she got to Florida in time.

I always watch the memorial segment of the Oscars, too. We lost a bunch of people then as well.

But the key feature of the list above is that with the exception of BG and LC’s mom, none of the rest were older than 48, and all of them left with little or no warning at all.

And what bugged me ever so much at the funeral yesterday, which bothered me at the prior service, and at the one for DH’s “cousin” S, wasn’t just the whole hell thing. It’s this, and it’s a lot more inflammatory for those who believe in Christianity: Jesus, whether or not he intended to be, has become an undying cult leader. It wasn’t enough to think that last night, but I’m not the only one who thinks this is the case. It’s amazing. Well over a billion followers.

How presumptuous: Nobody can make it to heaven except by following Jesus – literally – he has taken the role of the leader from this world to the next. Believing in God isn’t enough.

Obviously I need to pick up a Bible. I’ve needed to read the old testament for a very long time, because it is literature and it’s important, since so many people are guided by it. But I need to figure out if I’m just imagining this or I really am seeing it. And then I need to figure out how to reconcile this so that the next time I have to go to a funeral at a Christian church, I can sit through the service and not simply steam in my own digestive juices.

Interestingly, I’m listening to the story the minister quoted, in a sermon discussing sacrifice, Eid, and Abraham. I know why they’re showing this on PBS – obviously it’s because of Eid on Tuesday. But what I didn’t realize was how closely tied Muslim, Jewish and Christian faith was. And how far the others have been controverted to the purposes of the Bible. And there is nothing more controverted than the conversion of the Jewish belief that there is simply a better place to go after one dies, then the belief that only through Jesus can one actually get there after death.

Yeah. I’m paraphrasing. I don’t have time to go to the book and look it up. (Errands to run and all that.) I want to get this idea out of my head and onto “paper” before I lose the thread. Some time soon, though, I think I’m going to add another actual essay to the “Writings” page on my site.

To those of my friends who have gotten this far, and who believe, I’ve determined that I am not agnostic. There is a description for what I believe, but there is no appropriate label for who I believe in. God is as close as it comes. And by setting anything in the way of God, as a mouthpiece or humanization of that “deep magic”, it somehow cheapens for me the value of the belief itself.

I’m going to spend more time on this over the next year. If this year is any indication, there are going to be a lot more of these ordeals to be survived in the coming years and I need to prepare myself for the onslaught.

Just saw the BE EMPOWERED commercial on PBS – the one about the fish who decides the bowl isn’t enough. It finds a way to swim with the salmon instead. I think that’s me.

Time for bookkeeping. More soon…

Comments:

DF:
You might look at some of the “mystical” Christian writings and the Sufis, who are the mystical sect of Islam. Mystical in this sense means seeking a direct experience with God. (Wikipedia article on Christian mysticism here) The Christians tend not to dwell on the whole “Christ as your personal savior” and “you must be SAVED” put focus on the “God in everyone” aspect, which is one of the central tenants of UU and Quakerism as well.

I tend to be more deist when you get right down to it. I believe that there is a higher power up there and he/she’s done a lot of cool things but we’re really cool too and shouldn’t use said higher power as a crutch. That and @#$! happens.

I’ve got a couple books on Christian mystics and Sufis if you want to borrow them sometime.

Me:
Yeah, maybe… When I have some more time and I’ve done the thing I really need to do – which is read the book itself, so I have a formal footing for my heresy… 😎

SC:
I’ve determined that I am not agnostic. There is a description for what I believe, but there is no appropriate label for who I believe in. God is as close as it comes.

Surely you’ve heard heard of “deism”?

Me:
Nope. Still too formal.

Checked Google under “define: deism”, and got this back (amongst others):

“Deism is a belief in God as revealed by nature and reason, not scripture and faith. Deism is a free-thought philosophy, much like Agnosticism, Atheism or Pantheism in that it rejects the dogmas and superstitions of religion in favor of individual reason and empirical observation of the universe. The Deist sees an order and architecture to the universe that indicates an Intelligent Creator or First Cause. …”

Like I said, God is the wrong term. Deep magic is closer, but still not right. I don’t think any”one” set about making the universe happen, but that force which makes things happen (perpetual motion, lifeforce, whatever) has to have some sort of name in my head, and for that I suppose God is a useful term. Might as well be Doll or Foo or Whatever, except that folks have a clue about the meaning of the word God in relation to the universe.

Just my muddled interpretation. Like I said, I need to think a little more about this before I write something profoundly stupid…

MB:
Donning my Skunk Suit for this Garden Party…
As Alan Moore so succinctly put it:

“Existance[sic] is random. Has no pattern save what we imagine after staring at it for too long. No meaning save what we choose to impose. This rudderless world is not shaped by vague metaphysical forces. It is not God who kills the children. Not fate that butchers them nor destiny that feeds them to the dogs. It’s us. Only us.”

Me:
Re: Donning my Skunk Suit for this Garden Party…
Thank you for that stunning visual of the reality that is what we ourselves do in the name of right.

And lest someone mistake my meaning, I agree with you on this.

Like I said, it isn’t called God. I’m a firm believer in conservation of energy, but that’s tough to describe in the metaphysical sense, when determining how we came to be. That we choose to do what we do with what we have is another, often sadder (though not always), story. And that some people need to be led like sheep is, in a way, sort of sad in and of itself.

I suppose it’s a search for ways to cope with existence, and why I’m ever so much less likely than someone who buys the whole “better place to be” thing to take my own life (or anyone else’s). It’s what we have here and now that matters most, not what’s coming afterwards. There’s a lot of folks who would do well to remember that in their daily lives.

SK:
Interestingly enough, there are even some Pentacostals who are having this aspect to their faith – reinterpreting, or perhaps interpreting for the first time, the idea of the sacrifice of Christ Jesus. Would a loving God consign anyone who did not accept Jesus in that way as damned? Not all Christians think so.

Now I do believe in Christ as personal savior – but then, if I do that, I must accept that Christ will have different ways for each person. That’s the “personal” part.

Me:
Would a loving God consign anyone who did not accept Jesus in that way as damned? Not all Christians think so.

Interestingly enough, that’s almost an exact quote from the Reverend, and she came to roughly the same conclusion.

She, by the was, was Methodist before switching to UU.

JH:
the belief that only through Jesus can one actually get there after death.

I am very irked by the accepted translation of this. When Jesus was alive he (reportedly) said, “No one gets to the father except by me.” He then did this thing which supposedly allows sinners to go to Heaven. You’ll note by the weasel words that I don’t actually believe this, BUT…according to this story it sounds to me like what he meant was “I’m going to open that door” not “you have to follow me in order to get through it.” But I’m a baptist-raised ex-pagan Poohist, so what do I know :).

Me:
Ah-yup. All of which just goes to show that this stuff is WAY TOO open to interpretation to be taken as absolute *as written* in the book. Which I think is my biggest beef on the subject (and has been since high school, at least).

CS:
Yes. not only open to interpretation, but some interpretation is unavoidable. If the book says “blue” you may think of the sky on a clear, winter day and I may think of the ocean just before dawn. And we could both be wrong.

In my experience kindred spirits can be found in all faith traditions. One of the things I look for is a kind of openness. Open people admit that there is a lot they don’t know, much they can learn from others. Which leads to a tolerance for diversity.

Fanatics, of any belief system, have an answer for everything. And just one answer, at that.

But here’s a bit of antidote to that my-way-or-the-highway mentality:

“Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.”

That’s St. Paul’s letter to the Romans. Can’t stand by everything the old coot said, but this one can help encourage tolerance.

Hope you find a good place to rest.

LS:
Random thoughts
Lots of thoughts. In the opening words at our service, we say,

“Love is the doctrine of this church; the quest of truth is its sacrament,and service is its prayer. To dwell together in peace, to seek knowledge in freedom, to serve humankind in fellowship, to the end that all souls shall grow into harmony with the Divine. This is our great Covenant, one with another, and with our god.”

When I get caught up in god or goddess or no god or whatever, I really feel those words “the Divine.” Broad enough to be whatever I need it to be, and personal enough to carry me.

Someone else quoted the part about Jesus talking about being the way into his father’s house. I believe (and I’m not going to look it up, I’m too lazy to get off the couch) that right after this, Jesus also says something to the effect that there are many rooms in his father’s house.

There’s a fabulous book written by a UU minister called “Finding Your Religion.” The guy’s name is Scotty McLennan; he was the model for Rev. Scott Sloan in Doonesbury, and is just about as cool as the cartoon character. Rev. Scotty battled with just that question about whether you *have to* accept Jesus as your personal avatar before being saved; the minister with whom he was having a series of soul-searching debates at a crucial time in his life finally, in exasperation, told him, basically, you sound as looney as a UU–why don’t you go check them out? It’s a fun read and I highly recommend it for the soul-searching person. You can get it through amazon or through uua.org’s bookstore.

Glad your UU church worked out for you. Hope it continues to do so.

Ancient history revisited (Part Two)…

Ancient history revisited (Part Two)…

On a separate blog, a very VERY long time ago, I posted this exploration into the foundation of Christianity and Jesus.

As I have no desire whatsoever to link this blog to that one, I will occasionally reproduce the content from one into the other.

Link to this? Dandy. Steal it? I will come after you. Ask questions? By all means. Rant? You can’t imagine how fast I will block you.

We begin…


March 25, 2008: Ok. So I think I need to further this discussion…

Me:
As I understand it, his basic teaching was that you could find the kingdom of heaven within yourself and to mistreat others was to mistreat yourself. People have misinterpreted what Jesus was saying:”If you believe what I believe, you’ll get there, too.” Instead they heard “Only through me.” Believe in Jesus and you’d be saved. It should have been “Believe in what Jesus is saying and you’ll save yourself.”

DF:
Not to start a major debate but Jesus very clearly said that he was the path to salvation. Now I’d argue that there are many paths but the Bible is pretty clear on the path of Jesus.

See, now, here’s where I have a problem.

Jesus was Jewish. The Jewish belief that you get to heaven on your own, by believing that’s where you’ll go, is something he taught. The trouble with the bible is that it was written hundreds of years after Jesus died. In Greek. Translated any number of times. It’s terribly hard for me to believe that what is written in the book is the exact thing Jesus said. After all, how many games of Telephone lead to an exact retelling of the original phrase.

Couple that with a change in languages (ancient Hebrew, the original Aramaic (not as ancient as the version in the original Old Testament) of the bible and then Greek, Latin, and finally English (King James), plus other modern languages), and you really can’t say for absolutely sure that what is written is exactly what Jesus said.

One version has the onus of a single individual as a representation of the only way to get to heaven, and the other indicates a philosophy that, if followed, will get you there.

I don’t personally think he said that he was the path to salvation. I really believe he said his way was the way to salvation. That’s two very different meanings muddied by millennia of individuals, many of whom had their own personal agendas to carry forward.

Remember: For both the Greeks and the Romans, very few humans made it to Mount Olympus to live with the Gods. The Jewish faith was vastly different: One God and a heaven to which all people had access; where it wasn’t necessary to have Priests intervene on their behalf and where they wouldn’t simply be consigned to the Afterworld (Hades).

It was a radical departure from what the vast majority of people believed then, and put the Priests on such shaky ground (who feared what would happen if enough people believed in Jesus’ version of the truth), that the threat was sufficient to have Jesus executed. They didn’t expect that their execution plan would backfire, but then it’s rare that people in power consider the power of the martyr. Have a look in the general direction of the Middle East (where all this theology developed) and you’ll see exactly what I mean.

My problem all along (and the root of many a debate in high school and beyond with some of my more fundamentalist Christian friends) has been that the Bible is an interpretation of history, much of it verbal and only later written down in a way that could be interpreted by present day speakers. And don’t even get me started on the Old Testament (Hebrew version or otherwise).

Wikipedia (sometimes questionable source that it is) provides an example of what I’m talking about here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aramaic#Late_Old_Western_Aramaic

I note especially this comment about The Passion of the Christ:

“The 2004 film The Passion of the Christ is notable for its use of much dialogue in Aramaic only, specially reconstructed by a scholar, but not an Aramaic specialist, William Fulco. However, rather than basing his reconstruction on what is known of first-century Aramaic, he used the Aramaic of Daniel, fourth-century Syriac and Hebrew as the basis for his work.[10] Modern Aramaic speakers found the language stilted and unfamiliar.”

Just think for a moment: You’re familiar with Shakespeare. It’s written in English, right? But how many of the words and phrases he uses mean the same thing as today? Consider how many footnotes you find in the modern texts, and then think about this: We’re talking about a period of time that’s not even 500 years ago. Think how much language has changed and then think about a period of time 2,008 years ago, and you can get a better idea of my basic problem with the Bible.

Drifting way back to January 7th and 8th, 2006, where this current spiritual wandering of mine started, I see a lot of books that were recommended to me then that I didn’t have time to pull down and read. Most notable amongst these is the Bible itself. But which one? King James? Gideon? T. Jefferson?

I refer back to that dubious but handy fountain of information:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bible#Bible_versions_and_translations

The recent uncovering of the apocryphal Gospel of Judas calls into even larger question the validity and truth of what people have come to understand: That Judas was the epitome of a traitor and the foundation of all that is wrong with the Jews in history – a fitting example of why they must be exterminated. If, instead, he’s viewed as the key to taking Jesus’ message to the wider population (by sacrificing his leader and himself because he was asked to rather than simply because he’d lost faith in the lessons and the man), how then are we to know that he actually committed suicide. The Priests saw no benefit in a public execution, but would they be above a hanging that would look as though Judas was guilty and repentant? Suppose you consider the possibility that he didn’t hang himself? Can we know for sure, just because the Bible tells us he committed suicide? Who’s really saying that? It couldn’t have been Judas and only Judas would know for sure. The rest is heresay.

The first time I really investigated this topic, I was in my first year of college, taking a cultural anthropology course. Way before I considered theatre as a career, I was convinced that Anthropology was The Thing for me. One of the books we read, Cows, Pigs, Wars and Witches had a different interpretation of Jesus and what he meant to the Jews.

I’m coming to realize, after over 20 years of additional experience since reading the book, that there might have been a grain of truth to the postulation of Jesus as a military figure whose inability to win freedom for the Jews proved that he was not the Messiah and therefore a target for death, but that this doesn’t take into consideration the things Jesus might have taught his followers as a Rabbi. I need to go back and reread this book with my additional experience, but not before I sit down to read the Bible itself. I’m tempted to read the Jefferson Bible, but I suspect that won’t get me an understanding of what the majority of Christians believe. A recommendation about the best version is welcome, though. I’m gathering that King James is the most widely used version today, but I can’t say for sure that it’s the best version.

I find it vastly interesting that at the same time I’m ruminating on this subject, scientists have located a Gamma Ray burst sufficiently bright to be seen by the naked eye. From the NASA web site:

Never before has anything so far away come even close to naked-eye visibility. The explosion was so far away that it took its light 7,500,000,000 (7.5 billion) years to reach Earth! In fact, the explosion took place so long ago that Earth had not yet come into existence.

I can’t reconcile the Bible as absolute truth with these sorts of things. The two don’t make sense to me. Either science is One. Big. Lie. or the Bible has it wrong on some level. It’s in my nature to fall on the side of science.

Now I can believe that a man named Jesus lived, taught people as a Rabbi, and died on the cross 2008 years ago, give or take a day. I simply can’t take as absolute truth most of what the Bible has to say, unless I can take it in context. There are simply too many contradictions to take it as a whole, and if not taken as a whole, then the whole document comes into question. And if you can’t take the gospel as gospel, then the book raises more questions than it answers.

This is what I believe. Your mileage may vary.

I do love, however, that the Gamma burst noted above happened within 24 hours of Arthur C. Clarke’s death. Makes for a neat juxtaposition. At any moment the monolith will visit us and everything will become clear.

Any day now.

Comments from way back then:

Me:
I think Jesus was an extremely wise man, and that he certainly had a deeper spiritual connection to earth and heart and things that matter than most people of his time and place. I also believe that he would be appalled at how many people have suffered and died, and at how many crimes have been committed, in his name.

DF:

The trouble with the bible is that it was written hundreds of years after Jesus died.

Actually, the earliest gospels were written around 65AD, about 30 or so years after Jesus’ death and when a lot of his original followers were still around. The oldest surviving copies are from around 200AD, a big difference between being written 200 years later. I wouldn’t consider it a perfect account of history but the message about Christ being the son of god and being the savior is consistent.

You mentioned the King James version to read. The original is a crap translation but the New King James keeps the original language but cleans up the translation considerably. I prefer the New American Standard myself. A fellow Quaker prefers to read several translations at once. He said that they might differ on little things but where they all agree is where you can be pretty sure that is what the original author intended.

About Jesus being a military figure, I doubt that completely. Rome had a nasty habit of making examples of the opposition. If Jesus was leading an anti-Rome movement, all of his followers would have been rounded up and crucified, not just Jesus.

The Jewish faith was vastly different: One God and a heaven to which all people had access; where it wasn’t necessary to have Priests intervene on their behalf and where they wouldn’t simply be consigned to the Afterworld (Hades).

All Jews had access to that god, not people in general. Despite the popularity of converting to Judiasm today, it wasn’t a religion into which you converted. Jews needed priests, hence the temples and the sacrificing. It wasn’t until after the Jewish rebellion in like 69AD when Rome destroyed all those temples that animal sacrifice and the pharases went away. That was the radical thing about Jesus – he was the one that said, “Hey, I’m the sacrifice. You don’t need the bulls any more.”

As for the comparison with Shakespere, while individual phrases have different meanings or have gone out of use, the overall characterization and plot of the plays is still there. Hamlet is still a prince of Denmark. Romeo and Juliette are still young lovers. MacBeth is still Scottish. Thus I find it hard to believe that even with translations and idioms, the central theme of Jesus being the son of god and a way to salvation is completely wrong.

Again, I don’t think that Jesus is the only way nor did he say that he was the ONLY way. But I think that he definitely is a way and said so himself.

(For the record, while I grew up in a fundamentalist church, I’m more deist these days as I can’t reconcile a “loving a forgiving” God condeming[sic] millions of people to death because they’ve done some honest soul searching and came up with a different answer than mainstream Christianity. I don’t believe that God is that petty about it.)

SC:
Um, all PEOPLE have access to G-d – Jews just have a specific path. You, as a non-Jew, have to find your own, as far as Judaism is concerned. I don’t know who told you what you believe, but s/he is dead wrong.

But if Jesus was Jewish, then he would have known that human sacrifice is one of the biggest non-nos in Judaism. We used to kill entire nations for that one.

CS:
There’s a pithy Dire Straits lyric: “Two men say they’re Jesus. One of them must be wrong.”

Yea. Like that. There’s a cacophany[sic] of voices out there. Who to listen to? There are a variety of Christian groups that would point to me and say that I’ve got it all wrong, and that I’ll likely burn in hell for it. Trouble is, if I sign up with any of them all the others will still condemn me. So you can’t win on those grounds. This is happening more and more even within my own denomination, heaven help us! My own brother-in-law has referred to those with the gall to disagree with him as “the apostate church.” Heh.

No, in the end we’re all left to our own devices. I suspect God wants it that way.

Me:
See, that’s the main reason why I like the folks in my congregation. The guy I was sitting next to on Sunday for the second service is a devout atheist, and he still got something good from the sermon. For us it’s far more about the community than the specific faith. Everyone has views and they might all be right. What I believe isn’t necessarily what you believe. Its that freedom to choose what you feel is right that’s so prized in UU faith.

As for me, I’m thoroughly enjoying this topic. Its rare to find a place where talking about religion is not taboo. I love this forum for just that reason.

JP:
For the best translations of the Bible (as opposed to The New Testament), your best choice would be an Artscroll version. There are some that have intralineal translations, so the translation is directly under the hebrew word(s) that are being translated.

Me:
The problem with that is that I believe the old testament even less than I do the new. Ironic, since I’m presently working on an opera that celebrates Noah’s ark…

JW:
As I’ve always said, the problem with conventional Christianity is that they’ve mistaken the messenger for the message.

I highly recommend the book “Misquoting Jesus” which is a great reference book of all the changes that scholars know got into the Bible along with when and how they got in. Some is translation error, some deliberate, and all of it is fascinating.

Me:
I’ve been meaning to pick that up, along with a copy of the Gospel of Judas. I think I need to make a book list out of this thread and make some real time to read the material.

SC:
One hole in your (&/or Xian) logic is that Jesus was NOT a threat to the priests. This is proven by the way the story has them disposing of him. If he were truly a threat, they could have simply tried/executed him on those grounds – thus destroying not only him, but his teaching. But he wasn’t, & they didn’t. If the story has any truth to it, it was that he was a threat to the Romans – who would never have executed anyone on behalf of a troublesome subjugated people – especially not Pilate, who had been sent to Jerusalem as a punishment. Rome used crucifixion for specific crimes – such as rebellion. But those writing the story had to throw blame from the Romans because they were the only realistic pool of converts for them, the Jews already having passed on the idea (& the circumstances of his supposed arrest/trial/etc. prove that the writers were completely unfamiliar w/Jewish law. Also, history has shown that we do not execute false messiahs – we’ve had them more times than just once).

On the subject of Easter and some of the things I’ve heard…

On the subject of Easter and some of the things I’ve heard…

It’s been a long time since I waxed philosophical. I guess Spring brings it out of me.

First, before I get to the discussion, I want to repost the UU Principles, because I’m going to come back to them in a bit. If you don’t read them now, you might want to go back and read them after you read the rest.

There are seven principles which Unitarian Universalist congregations affirm and promote:

  • The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
  • Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
  • Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
  • A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
  • The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
  • The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
  • Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

Unitarian Universalism (UU) draws from many sources:

  • Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life;
  • Words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love;
  • Wisdom from the world’s religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life;
  • Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God’s love by loving our neighbors as ourselves;
  • Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit.
  • Spiritual teachings of earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.

These principles and sources of faith are the backbone of our religious community.

Honestly, I don’t know why it took me so long to just say I was UU and get on with it.

Now, here’s what I experienced on Sunday:

I attended two services last Sunday. The first (to which we arrived late because it’s hard to drag small children out of warm beds at 8am) was held outdoors at the home of two of our members. It was cold (near freezing) but there was a bonfire and the sun was gloriously up in a clear, blue sky.

The service was led by both our current minister and our minister emeritus. There was an altar with a chalice which may or may not have stayed lit. The first part had to do with the darkness and light, with the spring and its relationship to our various religious sources. The second had to do with the renewal and rebirth that comes in Spring. An interesting parallel was drawn in the death of Jesus, the symbolic shutting out of the light into darkness (winter) and the subsequent ressurection (spring). This becomes important in the second service, but I’ll get there shortly.

There were additional rituals involved: In the first part, we each took a pen and paper and wrote down the things that weighted us down, and then tossed the paper in the fire to lift the weight of our own stones. You can probably guess what my paper said.

The second part involved taking a small bit of dirt and planting seeds in it, as a sign of renewal. (With my brown thumb these days, I have little hope that the plants will actually thrive, but it was a good thought at least.)

Many of the ancient gods and goddesses were thanked for bringing back the light and then we all went in, got warm and had breakfast.

In an hour and a half we were in the sanctuary, going through the usual rituals of service. Some of the traditions we keep each year (Easter bonnets, new clothes…) come from rites going back millenia.

Then there was the sermon. And in it I put together another piece of the puzzle that, for me, helps to explain what was being taught in 1BC and how it’s transmogrified over time to today’s view.

Rev. S. started the discussion by reading several passages from the bible: The passage about Peter and the denial, and about Judas and his suicide. And then, she moved on to Simon Paul and she shared that some believe he created Easter. That caught my attention.

I know that early Christian leaders often took existing “pagan” rituals and incorporated them as Christian holidays so that those who were not already Christian could relate in some way to the new faith. But somehow I had thought that Easter was somehow different. I don’t know why. The equinoxes certainly have their places in historic religions, though not as high on the list as the solstices. Still, with eggs and rabbits and chicks as universal symbols of Easter, it’s pretty obvious that the whole ancient fertility ritual was incorporated to make a connection to the ressurection of Jesus. I get that.

But what I hadn’t gotten until Sunday was that there was a question about the actual corporeal “rising of Christ” that makes Easter Sunday such a big deal. I didn’t realize how many Christians didn’t believe in the literalness of that event.

Ok, so for me (agnostic that I am), egg dyeing and chocolate are far more synonomous with Easter than anything to do with celebrating the rising of Jesus, but that’s because it’s another pagan ritual and, frankly, it’s fun. But I really hadn’t given it so much thought until this year.

Why is it the belief of so many that Jesus walked on earth again and why do people cling to this as a sign of hope in this sometimes bleak world? I just didn’t get it. Sure, there are ghosts. I do believe in that. But ghosts don’t come back in that traditional sense.

So… Here’s what I heard last Sunday.

What Jesus was teaching was mainly the same seven principles UUs believe. These concepts, presented at a time when Jews were kept under the thumbs of the Romans, were detrimental to the Roman priests because without the attention of the populace, their temples would fall and they would lose their hold on the people as a result (and all that nifty income in the form of tribute to the gods). No priest could safely preach that god could be found inside each person – there would be no reason to go to the temple and pay to be saved.

As I understand it, his basic teaching was that you could find the kingdom of heaven within yourself and to mistreat others was to mistreat yourself. People have misinterpreted what Jesus was saying: “If you believe what I believe, you’ll get there, too.” Instead they heard “Only through me.” Believe in Jesus and you’d be saved. It should have been “Believe in what Jesus is saying and you’ll save yourself.”

So, here we are, with the Romans seeing the following Jesus brought with him to Jerusalem for the Passover Seder, and they saw a threat to their cozy existence living off of believers of the gods.

Interestingly, earlier that week I watched a history channel program on “Machines of the Gods” which made the priest’s role that much clearer to me, so when I was listening to the sermon, I had these images of how the priests ensured people would come (and pay) to be protected.

The 13 desciples (including Judas, at least for a while) believed what Jesus did. Whether Judas did what he did because he stopped believing or believed so strongly that he was willing to martyr himself to forward the cause is really irrelevant. Peter stopped believing and was repentant after Jesus was gone, but only after denying he knew the man as predicted. Paul still believed but couldn’t figure out how Jesus’ death could be reconciled with the concepts Jesus taught.

And then, it struck Paul: He didn’t need the physical Jesus there in order to keep believing what he’d been taught. He still had faith in the teaching, though the teacher was gone.

How often do we hear that even though someone has died, that person is still with you?

Got me, hook, line and sinker. I got it.

And I find it terribly interesting that in the face of what Jesus was trying to teach, the medieval Christian priests took a page from the book the Romans wrote hundreds of years earlier, and suddenly people were paying them to be saved, only through miracles and by coming to the church to pray (and by renouncing everything else in the bargain).

So that leaves me with something else: I am donating money to my church because we do things and because upkeep is expensive. What I pay for in exchange is given in part to maintain the building, in part to pay my minister’s salary, in part for charity to other members (as needed), in part to build for activities we partake in as a group. I don’t pay because I fear that if I don’t, I won’t get to heaven.

For us it’s all about community and not about being saved. Perhaps that’s why we’re so much more interested in making sure our planet is protected. We aren’t all convinced that the place we’re going to is better than this one and that we need to be better about caring for ourselves and our future here, rather than treading water until we go to paradise.

Now I know not every Christian feels that way. I know plenty of people who listen to the message and don’t necessarily idolize or even deify the man. But I can’t help wondering what kind of people would pay so much to belong to a church and call themselves Christian, then turn around and throw in the trash bags full of perfectly good clothing and toys because, after all, they have no further use for the objects. (Collected the bags in my car, from a Curb Alert on Freecycle, because I couldn’t stand the thought that these things could go to a dump.)

Maybe if we spent a little less time thinking about where we’re going in the end, and spent a little more time thinking about where we are right now and what it’s going to be like in the coming years, we wouldn’t be pouring our money into a useless war that only benefits the very few with their money invested in oil.

After all, who would Jesus bomb?

Happy Spring!

Theme: Elation by Kaira.