Friday, July 31, 2009

Sacred Images

Could we? Should we? Must we?

Are we not butchering truth by slicing up the mainstream view of Christ? The phrase "historical Jesus" assumes that the Jesus we knew as children was make believe. So how historically accurate is the Lord Jesus Christ as portrayed in the Bible? 80%? 60%? It can't be lower than 50%, can it? When it comes to matters of the spirit I don't believe we are asking the right questions by asking if the Jesus of the Bible is historically accurate. True, it would help us in understanding the man and his message but there are only two possibilities concerning the accuracy of his biblical portrayal: either it's historically true or it's not.

[Modern 3D rendering of how Jesus might have appeared, Illustration by BBC Photo Library.]

It seems too polarizing to say that the Biblical Jesus is either
historically true or not true, but stating that the historical accuracy of the Biblical Jesus varies by degrees doesn't help much either. What we must understand is that one Christian group among many won the rights to rewrite history in the early years of the church. The Bible didn't descend from heaven nor was it preserved from error. It is through the lens of history that we may find the historical Jesus, but if we find something different, what then do we do?

In Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, Marcus Borg attempts to clear the confusion by separating the sacred image of Jesus into two: the Pre Easter Jesus and Post Easter Jesus. The Pre-Easter Jesus was the real historical flesh and blood Jesus reconstructed by historians based on the best possible evidence available of how he walked, talked, and lived in Roman occupied, 1st century Palestine. Some people would stop here and say that the Jesus of the New Testament is historically accurate because his followers (and God) made sure of it by writing it down in the Gospels. As I stated earlier one group, the proto-orthodox group, among the many other Christian groups (Read Bart Ehrman's Lost Christianities) won the battle of orthodoxy and went on to select which books were accepted into the Bible. They decided how the story of Jesus would be told based on their beliefs and how they experienced a resurrected Christ, the Post Easter Jesus.
I define the Post Easter Jesus as the Jesus of Christian tradition and experience. That is the Post Easter Jesus is not just the product of early Christian belief and tradition, but an element of experience....After Easter, his followers experienced him as a spiritual reality, no longer as a person of flesh and blood, limited in time and space, as Jesus of Nazareth had been. Rather, Jesus as the risen living Christ could be experienced anywhere and everywhere. Increasingly he was spoken of as having all of the qualities of God. Prayers were addressed to Jesus as God, and praise was offered to Jesus as God in Christian worship. In short, his early followers experienced the risen Christ and addressed the risen Christ as the functional equivalent of God, as "one with God."(Borg, pg. 16)
The purely historical Jesus can be found by sifting through the church's beliefs, tradition, and experience of the post-Easter Jesus. This is what historians do to find out who Jesus was, what he taught, and how his final days might have actually played out.

The quest for the historical Jesus should not lessen our personal sacred image of Jesus but in fact enhance it just as the stories about Jesus should also enhance our spirituality. All we have of Jesus are stories left on bits of paper and parchment. We must each as ourselves which has more significance and meaning to YOU: Stories on fragments of parchment, a historical reconstruction of the life of Christ, or the message of compassion and love that Jesus brought, taught, and lived throughout his short life on Earth? I believe they are all important but the message itself is what I hold closest to my heart.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

imitatio dei - An Imitation of God

Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate. Luke 6:36 SV

There have been so many different views on Jesus that the one characteristic common between all of them is his compassion. There was one line in Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time by Marcus Borg on Jesus' message of compassion that caught my attention:
"This crystallization of Jesus' message speaks of a way of life grounded in an imitatio dei - an imitation of God." (Borg, pg, 46.)
Borg goes on to describe the differences between the common translation of Luke 6:36 as merciful rather than compassionate. The Hebrew and Aramaic word for compassion translates as the plural for a noun that means "womb" in the singular. This is used to describe how a mother feels compassion for her unborn child and how a man also feels compassion for his brother, who comes from the same womb (Borg, 47). But the "aha" moment for me was when Borg described the difference between being merciful and being compassionate.
In English mercy and merciful most commonly imply a superior in relationship to a subordinate, and also a situation of wrongdoing: one is merciful toward somebody to whom one has the right (or power) to act otherwise. Compassion suggests something else. To paraphrase William Blake, mercy wears a human face, and compassion a human heart. (Borg, 47-48)
To others this might be a no brainer, but I was completely dumbfounded! All my life, whenever I read mercy or compassion in the Bible the two were interchangeable. But why would Jesus tell his followers to be merciful to others when the very people he was addressing were most probably the bottom rung of society? Lepers, peasants, prostitutes, liars, and thieves followed Jesus, there was no other social group that was inferior to them which is why I agree with Borg that compassionate is a much better translation than merciful, or even Matthew's translation as Perfect.

Another "Aha moment" followed shortly after on the central quality of God: Compassion. Borg states that Jesus' message was a reflection of God's central characteristic. The first verse I thought of was Genesis 1: 27:
So God created human beings in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1: 27 NIV)
Maybe the Old Testament authors meant that God created us as beings capable of enormous potential of Love and Compassion? We then are walking, talking examples of the life giving (think womb!) Source that created us, our Father, our Mother. Believing in God is not a prerequisite to being compassionate. Now, in the 21st century more than any other time in history, we need to remember, embody, and BE the compassionate beings we are capable of being.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Built to Question

"Precritical naivete is an early childhood state in which we take it for granted that whatever the significant authority figures in our lives tell us to be true is indeed true. In this state(if we grow up in a Christian setting), we simply hear the stories of the Bible as true stories." Marcus Borg, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, p6.

Although I have yet to read Marcus Borg's, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time I couldn't help myself from taking a peek when I stumbled upon this interesting concept. I always wondered what would happen if I taught my kids that the sky was actually green instead of blue? I would probably get a few phone calls from their teacher when they reach kindergarten but I never realized how trusting we are as children until I had a couple of my own. Our kids look to us for guidance, support, and love. We scare away the snakes in the toilet (my son won't potty train because he thinks there are snakes in the potty), we feed them when they're hungry, and we kiss away their boo boos. Whatever we teach them they take as completely true, that is until they grow up.

Then the the doubting and questioning begins, but this varies from person to person and topic to topic. We reach an age where we question certain things taught to us at a young age: tooth fairies, Santa, and Jesus. Yet doubt doesn't necessarily mean that the object in question is untrue, it just means that we are designed to question. So my big question is why would God create man with the ability to doubt and question reality? Raised in a Christian home I was taught that man was given free will because God could not be a loving God if he created a bunch of pre-programmed robots. So then we are given a choice to love or not to love God along with the destiny tied to our choice. But would questioning and doubt, which seems like a natural mechanism in man, actually be perceived as a non-loving act? How can something as natural as doubting the existence of a silent God who chose to only communicate to men thousands of years ago and passed that communication through texts riddled with errors be seen as sinful, erroneous, or even non-loving? Why should God punish us for growing up and questioning his existence?

This is why I can't imagine Atheist being sent to Hell for simply questioning the unseen. If we are built to question and doubt our reality why should we be held to higher standards in transcending our original design by a God who built us broken in the first place?

Should we seek to improve ourselves? Absolutely yes! Should we be held accountable for what is only natural to the human experience? Absolutely not, because that would be unjust for a Just God, but hopefully God is more of a God of Love than a God of Justice. If not then we're all pretty much left in the hands of chance. Yet, questioning our beliefs should not be perceieved as a weakened state of faith but a healthy, maturing, and strong faith. If we can not openly question the beliefs set in stone by man we will be forever chained to man's will and never have a chance to fully explore every minute detail on God's intricate tapestry of love.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Time Enough At Last...

Unlike most other college students, I poke around the religion section of our four story library on campus in between class and afternoon labs to pass the time. I think the proper response would be, "NERD!" Which fits me perfectly since I get more excited over discovering a new book that I HAVE TO read immediately than I would watching sports.
[What's a line of scrimmage?]

Rows upon rows, shelves upon shelves, pages upon pages of words and ideas patiently waiting to be read. I guess I feel a bit like poor Henry Bemis in The Twilight Zone episode "Time Enough at Last", who only wished for time to read but was constantly harassed by those who consider reading a waste of time. My wife and I are serious bookworms although she consumes books much faster than I ever could. So IF we had enough time to read and understand our neighbor's faith, would that make a dent in the religious warfare we have experienced throughout history?

[Screenshot of Burgess Meredith as Henry Bemis in "Time Enough at Last", The Twilight Zone.]

Maybe if we had enough time to educate ourselves we might find that other cultures have creation stories wrapped in myth that also speak on issues dear to the human condition. Or the West might be surprised to find that moderate Muslims are also battling Muslim extremists within Islam. These are just a couple examples of what I found while browsing in our library on campus. The sad part is that the only thing from holding me back from reading IS time. I have school, house work, and my family that take up the majority of my daily activities. Any free time I get I devote to blogging and reading (I am currently reading C.S. Lewis' Space Trilogy). I know we all have busy lives but if we truly want to live peacefully then we at least need to begin by understanding our neighbor's faith. We don't need to believe it, but at least strive to clear away any misconceptions and learn what they truly believe. Is this asking too much? Or are we xenophobic to the point where even reading about foreign beliefs may make our heart skip a beat? All I'm asking is that we try, and if we still hate or mistrust a particular faith well then at least we tried, right?

The ironic part is that there are thousands, if not millions, of people that do try to learn about other faiths from the same technology which interconnects humanity is also used to tear us apart. Like Henry Bemis, we have all the world's knowledge at our fingertips but we are reading with broken glasses. There is a never ending stream of emails, forums, blogs, and websites filled to the brim with pure hated for others. They seek to demonize their target while in the guise of illuminating readers of their target's true intentions. How can less knowledgeable people even tell what they're reading is false? We do not have time to read every article on the topic to validate their claims, so we accept what we read as true. What are we to do?

Do we dare visit our local Hindu temples, Muslim mosques, or churches and interact with the very people we fear? ABSOLUTELY YES! I must confess with all of the articles I write in overcoming the fear of other religions I have yet to visit a foreign place of worship. I know where they're at but I'm too timid to visit. Not because I am afraid they'll sacrifice me to a pagan god but out of fear of rejection. I'm afraid that I'll show up and they'll have a sign up stating "no Christians allowed". I understand this is a petty fear based on protecting the ego and I have more to gain than to lose. If you're like me and you're too scared to visit another faith's place of worship what do you have to lose by visiting your library? As Christians, if we truly want to love our neighbor should we not seek out to understand them? With all the time that God allows us I believe we do have time enough to be as loving as we each seek out to become. The question is then how loving do you want to be?

Monday, July 20, 2009

Jesus: The Living Parable or That's Friggin' Religulous Part 2

Back in May on the very last day of my Judaism, Islam, and Christianity class we watched and discussed Bill Maher's new film, Religulous. If you haven't seen it then I recommend watching it because it might introduce you, the viewer, to new and (maybe) challenging views on religion. I wrote a post describing my thoughts on Religulous back in November before I got a chance to watch it. Bill Maher's point is not to abolish and ridicule religion but to ask serious questions on what we consider sacred, although, to me, it did seem like he was ridiculing the faithful. Should we question the sacred, and if we come up with answers that challenge our current beliefs how do we then live with them?

[Bill Maher talking with Jesus at the Holy Land Experience in Religulous]

Try Googling "Jesus Pagan gods" and you get over 700,000 results on this very controversial topic. Do myths and deities of "pagan" religions share similarities with the unique Son of God? You can get lost quickly in the garbled debates of the unique nature of Jesus but outside of the biased canonical texts,which believers claim have been protected and guided by the hand of God, there are no existing 1st century original copies of ANY manuscript that describes Jesus in detail, divine or not. All we have are stories, and if those stories share similarities then it is because those similarities speak clearer to the human heart than any other elements of storytelling.

Did Jesus actually exist as the Bible portrays him? I believe that he did indeed exist but his portrayal in my protestant Bible was skewed to fit the theology of those who won the bible battle during the history of the early church between warring Christianity sects. Is Jesus then a mishmash of ancient deities and myths? A question like this is only challenging to those who put Christ on a pedestal above the message he brought to humanity. I believe that Jesus the man, Rabbi, and Jewish prophet very well could have existed but we have no contemporary outside sources to verify his existence outside of a brief and questionable reference by Josephus.

We ended class with our professor, Rabbi Rami, asking what we would say to Bill Maher's statement that Jesus is a mythical character made up of deities that predate him. The class was speechless, nobody said a word, including myself. Rabbi Rami's response in a nutshell is that the Jesus story is just one of a long chain of other myths that have spoken to the inner core of the human spirit. There is nothing unique about the Jesus story since elements of it have been told in other religions. This does not mean that Jesus is a fictional creation of the early church but that the story of Jesus should be more important than the historicity of the man the story is based upon.

Those who heard Jesus tell the parable of the good Samaritan would not have been outraged if Jesus told them that the characters of the story never existed. The moral of the story which speaks to humanity's inner spirit is what should be held sacred and not the characters who take a part in the story. Jesus is more of a symbol, a finger pointing to the moon, who points beyond himself to something greater. Christ's message, which is the heart of Christianity, becomes untouchable, an eternal flame, when divorced from the pointless battle over the historicity of the man. The finger may be broken, bent, replaced, or even cut off but the moon will still remain.

What Maher is saying is that we have the lessons and no longer need to keep anything that keeps humankind from progressing forward. This is not a move away from God but a leap and a stride towards it. His view is that organized religion is detrimental to the progression of man since it's views are static and works to keep men in the dark. All Bill is doing is asking whether or not these symbols still work for man in our enlightened age. Are we able to stand on our own feet and say "I will serve my fellow man for the greater good" without an external source prodding us to do so? Until humanity instills the lessons that Jesus and others have brought we will continue to rely on them for guidance. This is why I like to describe Jesus as a walking, talking, living parable: he is a manifestation of what humanity yearns for more than anything else: Love.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Follow the Signal

I am finally taking my first studio class for my Recording Industry degree, and have found it as overwhelming as I expected: dozens of knobs, faders, and settings each with the ability to manipulate, and guide the audio signal to its destination. The concept of audio signal flow from it's origin (microphones, synths, etc.) to it's destination (the final recorded and mixed product) is actually quite simple when broken down by individual lanes, but when added and layered together one can get in the multiple lanes on the highway of an audio mixer. A single signal from a microphone can be split, multiplied, manipulated and mixed back into the final mixdown in countless of ways. So with all of these inputs and outputs how do we define a good mix? How do we know that the path that we're on will not lead us to a dead end?

Seemingly infinite creative possibilities are at the hands of a recording engineer only limited by the equipment at their disposal. So how can the Source of infinite creativity be defined and corralled into a corner with a single path leading to it? Is diversity of belief due to our erroneous nature or is it a clue in a feeble attempt to explain the infinite? Christopher Seab over at Seekers Spiritual Vision of Truth explains that our diversity of belief is a boon to our existence.
"It is only through such diversity that humankind can integrate the many different parts to forge the greater strength, understanding, and wisdom of the whole." -Christopher Seab
Each religion grants humanity a different window to peer out of into the realm of the unknown, the spiritual, the Divine. This does not mean we must explore other religions to be spiritually satisfied, but I believe we can expand our appreciation and overall earthly experience by peering out multiple windows simultaneously. A recording engineer can use a handful of audio pathways to get a good recording, but she/he has the ability to integrate the musical (and not so musical) parts through various paths which can manipulate the audio signal in seemingly infinite creative possibilities. The overall sound of the recording depends on how you layer and balance all of the musical parts. Likewise, humanity's overall experience throughout history was (and still is) enriched by our diversity of beliefs. If God can use multiple colors to paint a rainbow why should the creative spirit of man be stuck with one way in describing the Infinite, the awe-inspiring, source of all reality? One path can be enough for anyone, but I don't want just enough, I want to swim in and surround myself in infinity.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Plan B is Plan A

I have mentioned my disbelief of the Source of all life and creativity being defined, explained, and contained within any one single book nor even any one single tradition. This above all is too limiting, too narrow to be humanly possible and the theme of duality (in or out, with us or against us, Heaven or Hell, Saved or Lost, etc.) reeks of Divine injustice. For example, if we say that the Mennonites are "Right" then by default every single person on the planet is doomed for having the wrong belief. Those who are doomed because of their difference of culture can be saved by a Plan B: the unsaved being judged by the contents of their heart. But the Christian Plan B only works if you haven't denied Christ, which is a one way ticket to the Hellfire. I wonder if there is a Plan C for Atheist who've outright rejected Christ before ever hearing the Gospel because they thought too much and lacked the proper faith? Could God punish us for using too much Reason with the very brain that he created us with to use?

I used Christianity as my example because out of all the religions that I've read about Christianity seems to be the most tribal and unaccepting of other religious traditions. Without sounding hateful and negative towards Christianity (as a Christian myself), spreading the Gospel in hopes that the story itself will turn people to God is beautiful yet unrealistic. Yes, we should spread the Gospel but the rejection of it should not be equated with the rejection of what it symbolizes: Love for your fellow man. Some WILL reject the story but this does not mean that they are rejecting the principal of loving your fellow man which I believe is the heart of Christ message. Why do I mention love for your fellow man and fail to mention love for God? Because loving your fellow man is more practical than loving an invisible and mute God. What I mean by this is that we can do more good for the world by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and fighting acts of injustice than we can by worshiping God. This DOES NOT mean that God is unimportant and should be swept under the rug but service towards our fellow man IS an act of worship towards the Divine.

Is this not what the core of our world religions are pleading with us to do every single day? Be kind to your neighbor, do not lie, do not steal, be honest and patient with one another, etc, etc, etc. Yet it is our tribal nature that has us brutally defend that which defines and shapes our tribe: our beliefs, our traditions, our view of God. We are blind to the fact that our different paths to God are due to our vastly diverse and creative nature and not because there is only one solitary path to God. A tribe may find and shape a path, but God as infinity may be found within all paths, even if it's just a teaspoon of God's spirit. If there is to be any judging by an Almighty triune God, as I was raised with, how can we be judged by anything other than Plan B: the contents of our heart? If God is to be a Just God how can It judge us for wrong belief, wrong faith, misinformation, or even thinking too much? Or maybe we have it all backwards and God is not about justice, but about Love.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Hylian Avatar

I've written in length on the religious symbolism found in Nintendo's Legend of Zelda series, and even though I told myself I would move on I could not help but touch on one more subject: Link as a Hylian avatar. (Even though I say one more subject I may be tempted to continue since there are two new Zelda games coming out this year and possibly next.) In Hinduism,
Avatar or Avatara (Sanskrit: अवतार, IAST Avatāra), often translated into English as incarnation, literally means descent (avatarati) and usually implies a deliberate descent from higher spiritual realms to lower realms of existence for special purposes. (Wikipedia)
I admit I know very little about Hinduism and the following is just my creative view on Link's role as a heroic iconic symbol to Zelda fans everywhere. While Link's main purpose is the role of a hero he also serves the role of an avatar who returns to remind the people of Hyrule the source of their origin and purpose in life.
Note: Plot spoilers ahead.

[A shot of Link's Shield from The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess]

Last week my 11 year old brother-in-law asked me what the bird on the Triforce emblem on my wallet meant as we were discussing Zelda on our way into town. I explained to him that the the emblem (click here to view my nerdy wallet) is the Royal Family crest of Hyrule consisting of a red phoenix-like bird and the Triforce. The phoenix wings also doubles as rays of glory and power emanating from the sacred artifact.

I, as well as most other Zelda fans, have probably wondered why a phoenix (which as I recall the bird does not appear in any of the games) would be used as the Royal Family crest. I believe the phoenix represents Link's spirit as the Hylian Avatar destined to return to the land in times of trouble and except for direct sequel titles, every single Link in the series is a different incarnation of this eternal spirit. They each come into the story, save the day, and then disappear into legend. Their main purpose is that of defeating the current evil but they each serve another specific purpose which only Link can fulfill.

My religious studies professor, Rabbi Rami, explained to us that a role of an avatar is to remind us that we are all character's in God's play which consists of ALL of Reality. In Hinduism, Avatars descend to remind us that even though we are characters in God's cosmic dream we are really much more, and we can shake off this illusion (maya) of duality which states that the Self and the Universe is separate. Avatars act as guides to help awaken our Atman (soul or True Self) to this illusion.

The symbolism of Link as an active force against the illusion found in this dreamlike state is best expressed in the 1993 Gameboy Zelda title, The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening. Link goes on a voyage across the sea and shipwrecks on the island of Koholint. After recovering his sword he is visited by an owl which explain to him that he can only leave after awakening "the guardian of Koholint—the Wind Fish who is dreaming in a giant egg on top of Tal Tal Mountain" (Wikipedia). Link fights his way through dungeons collecting sacred musical instruments to awaken the guardian spirit. The Nightmare, the spirit keeping the Wind Fish asleep, explains during the final battle why it is preventing the Wind Fish from awakening.
"We were born of nightmares... To take over this world, we made the Wind Fish sleep endlessly! If the Wind Fish doesn't wake up, this island will never disappear! We would have been the masters of this place...But you had to come here and disrupt our plans! Heh heh! You can never defeat us!!! Let's rumble!"
— The Nightmare

Link, the Hylian Avatar, descends into the dreamworld (reality) to battle the illusion that keeps the Wind Fish asleep, but even as Link fights to awaken another he is unaware that he is also asleep. Once he defeats The Nightmare both Link and the Wind Fish awaken revealing that the entire island of Koholint and its inhabitants were all a part of the Wind Fish's dream.
In The Wind Waker, Link manipulates wind direction with a magical baton called the Wind Waker which is also used to awaken the spirit of guardian sages within their descendants revealing their true nature. Centuries have passed since the gods flooded the land of Hyrule to keep evil from creeping over the land and the inhabitatants have forgotten their ancestry. Link arrives to remind them of their lost past and inspires them to never forget their true potential. In the Twilight Princess, Hyrule is covered in a veil of twilight that transforms the inhabitants into formless spirits and creatures into dark and twisted shadow beasts completely unaware of their changed state. With the help of Midna, a member of a race of magic-wielders, Link seeks out and restores Guardian Light spirits which push back the twilight that has twisted and deformed the land.

Link, the Hylian Avatar, is reborn in the land of Hyrule in times of trouble to help those in need and guide them back to their True Selves. Even though heroes may die they will arise from the ashes in a flame of holy fire consuming the veil of illusion keeping us from discovering our True Self. The hero's flame is passed on from generation to generation glowing brighter with each pass. What will you pass on? What courage will you add to the torch passed on to us? Will you seek out your true nature?

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Matters of 'Divine Opinion'

James F. McGrath, Associate Professor of Religion at Butler University, Indianapolis, over at Exploring Our Matrix has written a great post on the issue of morality and God back in June. It touches on the Divine conundrum found in the Bible of "do as I say and not as I do". Professor McGrath makes a lot of "light bulb" remarks that most Christians would gloss over with a "God's ways are mysterious" response. If the Creator can't behave how can he expect us to behave and then punish us for failing?

What is Good?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Codex Sigh-naiticus

Christians must be celebrating everywhere as the world's oldest surviving Bible, the Codex Sinaiticus, has been completely digitized and put together online from surviving pages held by four different countries. You can read the complete story here. So what secrets will the world's oldest surviving Bible reveal to mankind? Will it verify or challenge modern mainstream Christian beliefs? This is a big day for Bible scholars.

[Photograph by Kenneth Garrett/National Geographic]

In 2005 I saw the Codex Sinaiticus on display in the British Library, or at least I thought I did. There were several other beautiful hand-written bibles on display in their exhibit and I couldn't read a single one. It was all Greek to me. Which I guess goes for the majority of Christians out there, why would they care that the world's oldest surviving Bible has made it's way online? It's in Greek, how is the everyday man suppose to read it? Lucky for us portions have been translated into English and is accessible on the Codex Sinaiticus website. Now sit back, relax, and enjoy this piece of Christian history from your home.

What? Omitted passages? Textual variants? The Epistle of Barnabas and The Shepherd of Hermas?? This isn't MY Bible. This can't be my Bible. My Bible was preserved EXACTLY in the same condition for 2000 years by God himself so this Codex Sinaiticus MUST be fraudulent.

So what value does the Codex Sinaiticus have for non-scholars like myself? First and foremost it is a piece of history that we should indeed value, cherish, and preserve for future generations. As the years progress all of those unfound copies of our precious Bible buried somewhere out there are slowly crumbling away. Variants or not, erroneous copies or not, someone spent months, even years hand coping the word of God. Should we not be thankful by perserving their hard work?

A more important question is whether or not Chrisitianity would edit and update (?) their modern Bibles to reflect the hand-written copies they descend from when they are found to be authentic and authoritative? There have been updated (gasp!) versions of the Bible (e.g. The NIV) that have made minor changes but anything as drastic as adding other books or removing Mark's ending is a big emphatic NO. If the Codex Sinaiticus is even mentioned in churches across the U.S. this weekend it would be in mere passing to support God's preservation of His Word. There will be no mention of ommited passages or even of extra books not found in our modern Bibles. Is it too dark to peer into the closet of Christianity's past and begin questing for answers? Are we afraid that we will open Pandora's Box instead of finding buried gems to support our theological stance? I'm sure Bible scholar nerds are estatic with joy, so why is it that I haven't heard any annoucements about church parties in celebration of this incredible news? I guess I'll have to celebrate with a Bible Study/Documentary Movie night by myself. (sigh...)

Sunday, July 5, 2009

God is Bigger

God is bigger than the boogie man
He's bigger than Godzilla,
or the monsters on TV

Oh, God is bigger than the boogie man

And He's watching out for you and me.
(Lyrics from VeggieTales-Where's God When I'm S-scared)

God is bigger than our superheroes, our movie stars, and only slightly bigger than Chuck Norris. God transcends gender, and human emotions and characteristics. He(?) does not become jealous, angry, or vengeful for He(??) is bigger. He transcends the need to parcel out eternal punishment in the guise of mercy like a boy with a magnifying glass hovering over an ant hill. He is bigger than our labels, words, and ideas which may not even come close to describing the thoughts, actions, and desires of the Divine.

The Western descriptions of God is more of a Superman: He is a man but super-sized. No Christian, Muslim (definitely), nor Jew would acknowledge that God acts human yet in our holy text he is described with human characteristics, traits, and reacting with human emotions. Monotheists have used words that attempt to override God's Old Testament anthropomorphic descriptions:
omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence, omnibenevolence. And yet these are also mere mortal words used to attempt to describe the indescribable. Forget trying to rationalize what God can be because the picture is too BIG! Forget trying to analyze the words of men (mine included) to figure out the will of God. Forget trying to justify your beliefs based on the unseen. Just sit, listen, and BE.

If God is not a man but something grander that we repeatedly fail too describe then God falls into the category of experience. God can not be described any better than the love between two people. When asked how to describe love we stutter into describing feelings and past experiences. So is that it, God is no more than a feeling? No, I believe God is as real as fire is to the human hand yet must be experienced by different senses on a different level. We only see and hear faint echoes of the Divine in our daily walks whenever we see someone feeding the hungry or clothing the naked. We see this and say, "God is here". But we forget at times that God can also be found within ourselves, not as a localized and exclusive force found only within you but permeating throughout all of Reality. God is (and here I will fail in my description) our internal potential, an inner creative loving force that drives us to become better than we were 2 seconds ago. I believe this can be said by anyone of any faith without sounding like heresy. Is humanity then God? No, that would be like analyzing the atoms of a single grain of sand and declaring this to be the beach.

In the end I acknowledge that I do not KNOW what God is but I can point it out when I see it. I do not believe for a second that this leaves me lost, confused, or morally bankrupt. I am guided and drawn in by the hand of Love. How can this fail me, how can I be lost with Love as my guide?

Friday, July 3, 2009

Know Yourself. Know Life.

Know Yourself. Know Life. The new slogan for Scientology which recently aired on three new beautiful commercials entitled, You; The Search; and Life. I know as much about Scientology as I do on the Greek Orthodox Church, zilch. But these commercials took my breath away! I've seen other religions market on the tele, most notably the LDS, but nothing like what Scientology pulled off in 60 seconds of pure inspiration.

[Scientology's official logo]

You can watch all three of them here. I saw the one entitled Life earlier in June and at first I thought it was another car commercial until they put up their slogan: Scientology. Know Yourself. Know Life. How can you not love that slogan! I'm sure there is a Buddhist group somewhere kicking themselves for not grabbing that slogan first. In fact, I'm not even aware of any other religious groups that have slogans. All three videos share one main theme: by fully understanding who we really are we can enjoy life to the fullest, and Scientology has the answers.

The really interesting thing about these commercials is it's BROAD message. So broad in fact that you can insert the name of just about any religious group and the commercial would still have the same impact. I'm sure many scoff at the end when they see Scientology flash up on the screen, but nevertheless, there is always somebody out there that will take the opportunity to look. And can you blame them? With most religious groups in the U.S. losing members now is the time to do some heavy marketing. Even Atheists are jumping on the advertising bandwagon. And why not? If you can spare the change to advertise your faith, then go for it. In fact it might even help to dispel misconceptions about certain beliefs. Last November the Muslim communities of South Florida launched a bus campaign inviting people to call real live Muslims with questions about Islam. I think it would be a great idea if every religion had some sort of hotline where anyone can call and speak to someone about their faith. Of course there is the issue of funding and hundreds, if not thousands, of crank calls or callers expressing their hatred against a particular faith.

Are any of these methods of advertising effective in anyway? I think it at least gives those who've been curious an avenue to explore other faiths. Sure we have Google, but there's always the risk of landing on a site that completely demonizes the faith you were attempting to research. But without Google we wouldn't be able to find little gems like this one.