Is Jesus’ Message Dead?

I can’t believe that Jesus’ message is dead.  I think that, rather, what Christian churches have done with it may be dead.  Churches and church services are not necessarily what Jesus’ message is all about.  I say this as a Christian minister.

I’ve recently been reading carefully the Gospel of Matthew, focusing on Jesus’ words.  Jesus is about looking at the heart.  Jesus is about spiritual values, not materialism.  Jesus is about forgiveness.  Jesus is about opening up to foreigners and outsiders.  Jesus is about helping those less fortunate.  Jesus is about healing.  Jesus is about love.  Jesus is about connection with God.  I can cite chapter and verse for these assertions.

Is our society opposed to these messages?  I don’t think so.  I think that society basically would agree with these ideas.

What kind of world would oppose ideas like this?  It would be, one by one, a society that doesn’t look at the heart, that only looks at outward acts, that wants only more and greater status symbols and material goods, that lives for revenge, that hates foreigners, that only cares about one’s friends and family and no one else, that cares nothing for the poor, weak, and orphaned, that hurts instead of healing, that hates, that disbelieves and cares only about self.  Is this the world we live in?  Maybe.  But I hope not.

It is true that the world sends us messages, largely through TV commercials that run counter to Jesus’ message.  Expensive car commercials show people who are superior to others, or are superior by some standards.  That is a dual message: 1) buy an expensive car; and 2) be better than everyone else.  There are many movies whose plots turn around revenge.  It’s not “good guys versus bad guys.”  Rather it’s more and more, “You killed a loved one so I’m going to get you.”  So there are messages in the world that run counter to Jesus’ message.

But driving around town, I see a lot of Hondas and Fords on the road, so it’s not true that the world is populated by ubermenschen driving expensive cars.  I think most of society is people living with a beloved partner, or a circle of friends, going to work and coming home and trying to do the right thing.  Then there’s the issue of God.

A lot of people, I think, don’t have much room for God.  It’s not that they disbelieve, it’s that they have no time for God, no need for God.  You can’t separate God from Jesus’ message.  Maybe that’s why it may look like Jesus’ message is dead.  It’s certainly true that self-sufficiency is a strong drug.  Making it on your own; self-made man or woman.  Top of the heap.  Number one.

Then there’s the issue of church.  I think about young people clubbing to those insipid songs with pounding rhythm, overpowering bass tones, monotonous melodies.  Then I think about the 17th and 19th century hymns that we typically sing on Sunday.  And the notion of sitting still for an hour listening to me pray, read from the Bible, and preach.  It’s not surprising that some people would have other things to do.  And none of that is a necessary part of the Jesus message.  It is true that Jesus taught in synagogues and read the Scriptures in them.  And I think that Biblical literacy is important.  But that doesn’t mean the traditional church services that have evolved over millennia.  Nor does Christianity mean the vocal, politically-motivated proselytizing, self-righteous right-wing form that seems to get all the attention and would define all Christianity by their own style.  Indeed, all religion.

I think that society has been shaped by Judeo-Christian values.  We think that soup kitchens, Habitat-for Humanity, health care, minimum wage, friendliness, doing a good turn daily are good things.  While there are counter-messages to the Jesus message, I think that a lot of people would be attracted to what Jesus says, if they read His words freshly and without the lens of tradition and church.  While some churches exclude unbelievers, Jesus included everyone He contacted.  He even dined with a Pharisee on at least one occasion.  While churches are dwindling, I still think that Jesus’ message lives.

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SOMEBODY OUGHT TO PAY

Who do I get mad at?

Ordinarily, somebody would pay

What it did to me

What I went through:

Uncontrollable tears

Whole week-ends spent in bed sleeping

Trying to work through sedating meds

Fighting to live, pay the bills

Someone ought to pay

 

But . . .

But did it break my contract with the world?

Point me to other import

Than making it to the top

Making it

Other matters do matter

Did it teach me that?

Break my ego

(Which is always a good thing)

Humility

Something I never knew

Until it happened

Did it teach me?

 

I’m more sound today

And I look back

To how I was

What I went through

How well I feel, now

Someone ought to pay

Or is there another way to see it?

God only knows

Technology and Self-Driving Cars

I am not looking forward to self-driving cars.  Technology is already intruding into my life in unwanted ways.  What would technology do to my self-driving car, if it is already bothering me with my laptop?!!

Every time I turn on my computer, I have to wait for a message to pop-up asking me if I want to buy McAfee virus protection.  My computer won’t work until this pop-up fully appears on my screen.  Then, the McAfee pop-up can’t seem to establish an internet connection, so another pop-up tells me to try at another time.  Now I don’t want McAfee, I don’t want the pop-up, and I most certainly don’t want to try again to secure a connection for a product I never wanted in the first place.  No matter what I do, I can’t get rid of this pop-up about a product I don’t want.  Then there are those involuntary updates that my computer does without my permission.  Many times, I’ve had a good idea that I wanted to write right away, but my computer decides it needs an update, so I have to wait up to 15 minutes or so for the computer to update, and recite my idea over and over in my mind to keep from forgetting it.  Then there was that day when Microsoft decided to update the OS on my office computer to a higher version when I was away on holidays.  The upshot was that the printer went offline, and I had to bring in our tech guy to re-install the printer.  Not to mention me learning yet another program when the other one worked just fine.  My email account has decided to remind me after three days if I haven’t responded to an email I know full well about, but didn’t need to reply to.

Now about self-driving cars.  What if I’m late to work, and my self-driving car decides to update its OS and I have to sit in the cold, and wait for my car to update and make me late for work???  I’ve driven cars that started beeping at me because it thought that I was driving too close to another car in the parking lot, or because another car drove too close to me which I clearly saw and the car startled me and almost caused an accident.  How many pop-ups are going to plague me on my dashboard of the self-driving car?  Maybe the car won’t start until I tell it that I don’t want McAfee on my car.  I think that computer programmers have too much idle time and sit around thinking how to take away our own decision-making minds.  I think that they think we need computers to make our decisions for us, and, with AI, maybe ultimately to think for us.  What if my self-driving car decides that I really don’t want to go to the place I do want to go to??

THE SUPPORT YOUR LOVE GIVES ME

With you—your support—I can handle anything

If it feels, and it does at times, like the world is at me

In frustrations, failures, and yes, attacks enemies bring

In it all, your constant support holds me steady

 

As in Tristan and Isolde’s sacred Love Grotto, living on bliss

So our bliss blesses the world which our love weaves of times and dates

And the outside world whirls way away from our kiss

The world into which our love radiates and action penetrates

 

And when I err, and I do, and wander awry

You turn me back and straighten my direction

You move me to what I ought, and to all the projects I love to try

And in weakness and apathy your own will gives power to my motivation

 

In my life, what matters most is us

We are solidity and salvation in a world of change and sin

An anchor in uncertain seas that can turn tempestuous

When I became we, then did my life begin

 

It is a holy gift to have a love like you to care

In a world too often marked by indifference

Having you in my life is an answer to prayer

And having you in my life has made all the difference

Moderating Rage: Trump’s Antics

I am appalled and galled at Trump’s antics.  Lately, I am sad that 800,000 government workers are facing life issues because Trump won’t pay them.  I am worried that the US government is closed for business.  And there’s so much to do.  And, finally, I am troubled at how many people still support Trump, and that those people are fellow Americans, citizens of my own country.  (However, I am somewhat relieved that lately only 34% of Americans support him, meaning that 66% don’t.)

So shall I pass my time galled, appalled, worried, and troubled?  If I do, Trump is getting me.  He’s pushing my buttons from his luxury resort in Florida or in the White House–way, way far away from where I live.  So I have a dilemma.  Shall I go about my business and not care about my home country’s problems?  That kind of callous disregard strikes me as un-Christian, and unbecoming.  I care for my fellows.  Yet, I’m not strong enough to stretch my concern to the whole world.  I have sufficient concerns in my personal life, and in the world I touch.

I’m re-thinking Voltaire’s concluding line from Candide.  “Il faut cultiver notre jardin”–“We must cultivate our garden.”  In Voltaire’s novel, after innumerable calamities which were explained away with a metaphysics that said we live in the best of all possible worlds and all things work out to the best that they can, the small group we follow through the story finally ends up tending a garden they collectively own.  When the metaphysician tries to explain why ending up tending a garden is the best possible outcome in the best of all possible worlds, then we get that line, “We must cultivate our garden.”  What that means, I think, is that we have enough to handle with the immediate problems we tend to in our lives.  Whether we live in the best of times or the worst of times, all that really matters is what we can manage in the life we live in and the lives we touch.  I did act with passion in my 2018 vote, in absentia, reading the instructions, printing up the ballot from the emailed copy sent me, mailing it snail mail to the district in which I vote.  And that is all I can see that I can actually do about the troubling matters in my home country.

There’s another quote relevant to this issue.  “Turn it over.”  While I have limited power to care about the whole, wide world, there is One who does have the power to care about it.  I do wonder, at times, what that One is up to in this world.  But that One does know what He/She/It is up to.  Where does that leave me?

What I am finding is that I need to come to terms with my own passions.  I didn’t like George W. Bush.  I couldn’t watch him on TV.  I didn’t, however, feel outraged and appalled as I do now.  So am I going to ruin my present getting mad at politicians I don’t agree with?  The real issue is how I come to terms with those things I disagree with.  I have come to a decision.  I will no longer watch MSNBC and wallow in gall, and drive around town perseverating about all the bad things Trump is doing to the US.  My heart and soul matters more than that.

My own heart and soul is the garden I must cultivate.  How I spend my now, my eternity, matters to me.  I have cultivated peace in relation to my personal enemies.  I now need to do that in regard to my disagreement with Trump’s antics.  There were people appalled with Obama, too.  I can remain in the ready in relation to my vote; I can stay informed about the political development in my home country; I can act in my immediate environment for the good of the world I touch; and I can remain personally at peace.  There are heights I can ascend to in my soul–joy, peace and love.  There are broken individuals I can buy a sandwich for at the convenience store near where I live.  And these things matter more to me than going about my business appalled at Trump.  “Il faut cultiver notre jardin.”

Literary Criticism: Tom Wolfe

Tom Wolfe astounds me whenever I read him, and I am reading him again, now.  He is, perhaps, one of the most gifted writers of this generation.  Wolfe writes about the depth and surface of human experience.  People too often, and mistakenly, talk about Wolfe’s interest in status.  That’s there, of course, but Tom Wolfe can write with insight and sensitivity about the soul, about spirituality, and the conflict of spirituality with the contemporary world and its vapid secularity–giving all their own voice.

Sometimes it is difficult to recognize the shining stars in the age in which they live.  For instance, Norman Mailer was a sensation in his day, but I don’t think anyone will be reading him for much longer, if anyone still is.  Tom Wolfe will continue to be read for generations because his novels are engaging, profound, artistic, and bespeak truths about the human condition that are timeless.

Tom Wolfe’s work has received mixed critical response.  Some prominent authors of the generation preceding him panned him.  I don’t know what gets into critics’ heads, sometimes.  You often see hubris and arrogance in them that makes them think that they have an Olympian voice about everything beneath them from their lofty height.  Hemingway once said he thought he should break the jaw of one critic every year.  Wolfe’s works surpass the accepted authors preceding him who panned him.  Wolfe will live on while they are forgotten.

Wolfe delights, engages, paints realistic characters, realistic situations, and comments on the vital issues of human existence.  I am casting this criticism out into the cyber-world as enthusiasm which must find voice, and as a recommendation to anyone who hasn’t yet been touched by this abiding artist.

SEVERAL THREADS OF LIVES

The three fates spin the thread of our life at birth

At times, so it seems with the life I know

Then, there are my choices

The threads I spun for myself:

 

The shock of working at a nursing home

Seeing the incapacitation

Drove me to drive myself in everything

I went all-out, all-in

My endeavor coursed through my ambition to achieve

And so, one thread

 

The intensity driving me drove me

Just to get by

When incapacitation overwhelmed me,

Overmedication disabled my abilities

“I can’t believe you could function,” my psychiatrist said

And so, one thread

 

Early aspiration realized late

Struggling to live out a livelihood dreamed of

In real time, in tension with tendentious intractable relations

Resolute in my own reality realizing my dreams

Despite detractors, determined

And so, one thread

 

Was it the thread spun by the three fates

At my birth?  Or spun by my own making?

In parallel universes I envision

Other roads I could have traveled by

Other doors opened, different possibilities, different choices

Other outcomes, other goals, other achievements

Other selves which could be me

Other lives I could live

Here I am, am who I am

In this life, spun by the three fates, or by me

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