EINSTEIN, THE IKON (A Spenserian Sonnet)

Einstein’s face: the universal ikon

The single signifier signing brilliance

We know how Einstein looks, but not Newton

Who has Bach or Swedenborg’s appearance

And all are equal in intelligence

But it is Einstein’s face we see as genius

Leibnitz or Descartes don’t stand a chance

For smarts, it’s only Einstein’s face for us

His smile, mustache, and wild hair all a fuss

Two Narratives about English Literature

My Ph.D. is an interdisciplinary degree in Religion and Literature.  When I was in school, there were only two Religion and Literature departments in universities: U Chicago, and U Virginia.  Religion and Literature is a strange major that neither discipline wants.  Religion departments don’t understand why one of their students would study literature.  And I have been called an “interloper” by a professor in the English department.  The reason I wanted to study Religion and Literature is due to my conviction that literature conveys meaning.  Most sacred literature, including the Bible, is written in literary forms (also the Rig Veda, the Koran, and the Songs of Milarepa).  Many of the prophets use poetry and metaphor, the Psalms are lyric poems, and much of the other books are stories.  It was, and is, my belief that Hemingway says something about life, about reality, and about meaning or the lack thereof in existence.  So did T.  S. Eliot.  So did Samuel Taylor Coleridge–especially in his famous poem, THE EOLIAN HARP.  And Coleridge certainly said something about existence and thinly disguised religion in THE RHYME OF THE ANCIENT MARINER.  But I need to be clear, I was not interested in religious literature.  Rather, I sought statements about life in all literature.  I suppose I was making a Swedenborgian connection not everybody would make.  Swedenborg writes, “All religion relates to life, and the religious life is to do good.”  So for me, statements about life are religious statements.

Unfortunately for me then, and now, the keepers of English literature do not think that literary art is about meaning-making.  I’m not at all sure what English literature does or is for them.  But two narratives point to what literature does or is, today.

In Charlottesville, Virginia, where the University of Virginia is located, I ran into a fellow student from the English department in a bar.  I asked him what he was writing about in his dissertation.  He said he was writing about the process by which the Mona Lisa became thought of as the greatest painting.  He alluded to T.S. Eliot’s remark that Hamlet “is the Mona Lisa of literature.”  He said that in his dissertation he makes a lot of that remark by Eliot.  We were on friendly terms, and I was interested in his doctoral work.  But I wondered why someone in the English department was writing about how the Mona Lisa became thought of as the greatest painting.  I think that my colleague was writing critical theory.  Making judgments about the value of art is something critics do.  But I thought that what he was writing on would be more appropriate in the art department than in the English department.  This was due to my presuppositions about English literature.  You see how out of sync I was, and am still?

My second narrative isn’t direct personal experience.  It is a conversation I had with an English professor at a charming coffee shop where I live now.  She has a friend who won an award, she thought, for a poem her friend wrote.  My acquaintance at the coffee shop related her recollection of the process her friend went through in writing the poem.  She said that her friend wrote out in prose a narrative about her parents’ murder-suicide.  She may have also included the guilt she felt as their child.  Then, the poet either physically or conceptually cut up the narrative into phrases and segments.  Then she rearranged the parts out of sequence, out of grammatical order, and the final product is unintelligible.  The final product is called a poem.  My acquaintance at the coffee shop said she was unable to read the poem.  And she believes that her friend won an award.

I think that these two narratives show what is going on in humane letters.  Criticism plays a prominent role in English literature.  That’s what my first narrative says.  Although criticism didn’t really come of age until the 17th Century, it seems to be alive and well, today.  Deconstruction, which I thought was a passe brand of philosophy, dominates contemporary literature.  That’s what my second narrative says–I think.  For I think that disassembling and reassembling a story is a form of deconstruction.  I’m guessing here, I I may be wrong.  But what I do think, is that the poem in question is a lie.  If a narrative is first written out in prose, that is the truth being expressed.  Cutting it up and rearranging the parts into an incomprehensible word salad is a lie.  Why rearrange the sentence fragments?  Or, more importantly, why write out the story in plain English first?  Isn’t the plain English story the reality and the cut-up poem a falsification of the story?  And I don’t think that rearranging words into salad is art at all.

Finally, the subject matter of the so-called poem is also telling about the direction in which contemporary art is going.  Of course her art would be about something horrible.  Contemporary art is not allowed to be about happy, pretty, joyful subjects–especially about the glory of God and God’s works.  Only a few years back a movie called No Country for Old Men won several Academy Awards.  That movie is about a serial killer.  The movie narrated him murdering people.  He got away with his killing as Woody Harrelson, the sheriff, was also murdered.  (A generation ago The Sound of Music cleaned up at the Academy Awards.)  Another acquaintance of mine at the same charming coffee shop told me about her experiences in art school.  She said that someone made a painting of an animal torn open.  Then, the artist covered the frame in pig’s blood.  I went to the art gallery in the city I live in now.  There was a display composed of about 20 speakers on stands, with folding chairs set among them.  I sat on a chair, and there was an audio loop of a woman describing a dream of crows dying.  No eagles soaring upward into the sky.  No baby crows hatching into life.  No hummingbirds and flowers.  Crows dying.

I come up with these ideas about art because I still believe that art makes statements about life.  I believe, too, that my view of art is disjunct from how the contemporary keepers of art view it.  I have already expressed my inability to appreciate contemporary art.  And, indeed, my disinclination even to try.  I have made a decision, though, that in my artistic endeavors, I will express my own vision of art.  I will not attempt to assimilate contemporary trends.  And whether there is an audience or receptivity for what I do is not of my concern.  I think that artists who matter, held similar positions about creativity.  Critics debated Frost’s value all his life.  Andrew Wyeth never was considered a real artist.  And Hemingway’s mother never liked his fiction, nor did Gertrude Stein.  Of course, I’m not situating myself in such august company.  I’m just saying.

The Son of This Slave Woman

The Son of This Slave Woman

Rev. Dave Fekete, Ph.D.

June 21, 2020

Genesis 21:8-21                                  Matthew 10:24-39                                           Psalm 86

            The readings from this week’s lectionary are extremely timely.  Well, they were written thousands of years ago.  But they are current, timely.  I write this talk conscious of the upheaval going on in the US.  But I am a Canadian Permanent Resident, and I write also conscious of my Canadian home.  The issue of these readings is privilege.  When Sarah says, “the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac,” she is claiming privilege for her son.  Hagar’s son Ishmael was of a different race from Sarah’s son Isaac.  Ishmael was Arab, Isaac was an Israelite.  Further, Ishmael was the son of a slave.  Isaac was the son of a free Israelite.  Sarah doesn’t want her slave’s son to share in the prosperity of her privileged son.

The parallels with the racial issues surfacing in the US are clear.  Protesters are talking about systemic racism.  And a primary indicator of systemic racism is the wage disparity between white Americans and Americans of color.  Another salient issue is the disparity in policing between white Americans and Americans of color.  The murders of George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks, and Breonna Taylor by police are but three examples of countless cases that people of color know about in their day to day lives.  A newscaster on TV brought up the fact that an African-American senator had been pulled over by the police seven times in the past year.  A US senator!  Then the newscaster looked straight into the camera and asked, “How many times were you pulled over last year?”  I haven’t been pulled over for about seven years.  And that time was because the Canadian police didn’t have a record of my US driver’s license before I got a Canadian license.  But this US senator had been pulled over seven times in one year for no other reason, apparently, than the color of his skin.

I suspect that I may be losing my Canadian friends at this point as I am talking about the US.  For Canada, our reading from Matthew seems more appropriate.  In Canada, we aren’t seeing protests but that doesn’t mean we’re insulated from racial injustice.  I think the line from Matthew 10:26 applies to life here, “for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known.”  We don’t see racism in Canada because we are in the majority, what would be called privileged.  But even here, downstairs in this very church, we had a Muslim woman speaker who said some disturbing words.  She said people here in Edmonton tell her to go home, just because of the color of her skin and her religion.  And she was born in Canada.  Go home means stay in Canada!  She told us that she is scared for the wellbeing of her son, because of the color of his skin and his religion.  Carol’s own hairdresser, a Canadian of East-Indian decent, told her that when he and his friends went into a diner in Red Dear, the whole white crowd of customers were staring at him and his friends.  They left without ordering.

And in Canada, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission began in 2007.  That’s one year after I got here.  The Truth and reconciliation Commission was established to repair the damage from the Residential Schools.  The Residential Schools were set up to systematically destroy the Indigenous culture and spirituality.  To eradicate every vestige of Native life and to replace it with the culture of white Christianity.  Practically every Christian denomination was involved in the systematic obliteration of First Nations.  Children of children of the Residential Schools are still suffering the effects of the schools.  Their parents, who were interred in the schools didn’t grow up in families.  They grew up in huge dormitories with little sanitary facilities.  The Residential Schools largely succeeded.  Many spirits of First Nations individuals have been crushed.  Hence, their parenting skills are often diminished.  Life on reservations is often impoverished, some even lack adequate drinking water.  I’ve heard Canadians tell me that the government sends plenty of money to the reservations but the chiefs keep it all for themselves.  I know a chief who told me he made $30,000 when he was serving his Nation.  When I toured Blue Quills University in Saddle Lake, I noticed a stack of fliers that read, “Do you know anyone who has been murdered, or have you heard of anyone who was murdered?”  Then there was a number to call and an office set up to deal with these murders.  The fliers were just sitting there on the table.  Have you yourself ever in your life seen a flier asking you if you know someone who was murdered?  Then giving you a number to call?  What does that say?

These issues I have been discussing are our symbolic father.  They are the culture we have inherited.  They are the society that has given us birth and these issues are the issues we have been brought up in.  It is for this reason that Jesus says,

Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.

35 For I have come to set a man against his father,
and a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
36 and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.

The voices that are rising up in the US are the sword of truth.  In Swedenborg’s system of symbolism, a sword stands for truth.  Jesus does not bring peace when there are festering wounds infecting society.  Then Jesus calls us to set ourselves against our father, mother, and household when that family is diseased with injustice.

In Canada, we have issues of racial injustice, but no mass protests.  It was a brave teen-aged girl who used her smart phone to record the murder of George Floyd that set off the powder keg in the US.  We don’t have something like that smart phone recording here in Canada.  Though the power of privilege and racial injustices are rampant under the peaceful surface of Canadian society.

“Do not think I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”  That sword of truth is intended to cut through the peaceful surface of unjust social structures.  And we need to be swordsmen and women.  It is our duty to seek out the truth and to become informed.  I think it’s easy to go with what we’ve always heard.  It’s easy to go with opinions about issues that may not be true.  I personally know people in Canada who think that Muslim women like Salima are trying to overturn the Canadian legal system and replace it with Sharia Law.  They think this especially about refugees from war torn middle eastern countries.  It is opinions like this that need to be measured against the sword of truth.  One truth about this very issue is, “Which Sharia Law?”  There are at least four schools of Muslim tradition, much the same way we have Catholics, Lutherans, and Swedenborgians.  Each of the more than four schools of Muslim tradition have their own style of Sharia Law.  So the whole opinion that Muslims are trying to replace the Canadian legal system with Sharia Law falls apart when we ask which Muslim sect is trying to do this with what Sharia Law.

Swedenborg teaches that the religious life is characterized by a love for truth.  In fact, faith itself is called a cohering arrangement of many truths.  An incoherent mash of opinions is not faith.  As Christians, it is incumbent on us to search for truth.  As Christians, it is incumbent on us to measure our opinions against the sharp sword of truth.

And finally, Swedenborg teaches that the sword of truth must be wielded by a loving hand.  It was Gandhi who said, “When you have a truth to tell, it must be given with love, or the message and the messenger will be rejected.”  The riots and looting in the US got the attention of the world several weeks ago.  But I suspect that the subsequent weeks of peaceful protests will do more to make lasting structural change in the US.

Well, this is supposed to be a Fathers’ Day sermon.  I’ve gone all-in Swedenborgian, though, and spoken about father as our inherited evils.  Not personal evils, but collective social evils.  We Swedenborgians have an advantage in all this.  Repentance, reformation, and regeneration are central doctrines in our theology.  And never in my lifetime, has the call for repentance been louder.  And our world is in dire need of reformation.  And regeneration means re-birth.  If we are zealous about our repentance, and dedicated to reformation, we will see a rebirth in society.  We need to be aware of our privilege.  And being of the privileged race, it is especially important for us to educate ourselves.  And some of us may even be moved to wield the sword of truth to cut through centuries of oppression and social injustice.  And the children of enslaved persons will finally find their rightful share in the prosperity we take for granted.

 

THE EYES OF ALL NEED NOT WAIT UPON ME

He turned toward me

As if for comment, or what didn’t need to be said

To indict Borofsky’s words painted black on a white canvass

I want to be great

I, a Swedenborgian divinity student; he, a photographer married to a conceptual artist

 

The lust to be great is quite a thing different from what is

Great in se

Not likely to produce what is great

 

–What is great–

Greatness is a gift

Vibrational resonance on the sound-board heartstrings thrilling the ode

That is what is human

A gift to us all—co-cooperation—collective consciousness all-soul

That is we human solidarity together

It is great to share all together collected around

A Prime Mover of soul

As is to me Borofsky’s Hammering Man and Picasso’s Untitled in Chicago’s Daley Plaza

Condense what is human freely among the affairs of daily life

These are not what humans commonly thought are metrics of greatness

A publication, a work alive 100 years after the artist’s demise, to be a class in a university, a

critic’s nod, mass appeal

 

Peace breathes in the spirit attendant relaxation of the choke-hold that is

The lust for greatness

And insignificance be not a curse;

The eyes of all need not wait not upon me

The satisfactions of being a good man among our common men are great enough to sustain

To be happy with the faces that you meet

And perhaps to touch a soul or two or two or three among the faces that you meet

And to touch the sky in private

For you don’t have to be tall to see the moon

And to walk humbly with a soul or two or two or three

And to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God

AMBITION’S AMBIGUITY IN AGE

I’m not sure I know

 

How to about whether I can

Assert this point’s possible ambiguity

 

Things upon aging looking back

 

Ambitions to attain a name

Good job be important get ahead all the way to the top

 

Mystical experiences recast matters

 

I recall the litany I told the cabbie

Of failed attainments I felt entitled to by cheated life

 

Myself a failure disappointment and life half done things undone

 

Is it mysticism?  Workplace satisfaction?  Found love?

Olding?  That fuels my contentment

 

The whole question of ambition

 

Where’d that come from?!  How widespread in humanity

Nascent?  Acquired?  Self-imposed?  My grandmother?

 

My recasting of what I thought were failed attainments

 

In my age I realize that Swedenborg’s values were inscribed in maturity

For maturity?  And where would the world be without ambition in the younger

 

In my mind I distill a modicum of peak importances

 

And my failed ambitions fade into a fractured joke

And in my age I now understand Swedenborg’s values as mine

Some Swedenborgian Truths in a Time of Crisis

Some Swedenborgian Truths in a Time of Crisis

Religious people may have mixed feelings about the Covid-19 virus.  In addition to the strange new restrictions on our social life, the growing numbers of sick, and the death toll, religious people may want to force meaning onto this pandemic.  I think that we are in a kind of state of shock as we try to understand what is going on.  Religious people may ask why this is going on.  But asking theological questions while in a state of shock, or panic, is not wise.

The first thing that Swedenborgians would assert is that this is not punishment from God.  God doesn’t punish.  From one way of looking at it, you could say that God can’t punish.  God is good and can do only good.  God can do only loving things.  God does only loving things.  God does only good to us.  Consider this quote from Swedenborg,

as He wills only what is good he can do nothing but what is good. . . . From these few statements it can be seen how deluded those are who think, and still more those who believe, and still more those who teach, that God can damn any one, curse any one, send any one to hell, predestine any soul to eternal death, avenge wrongs, be angry, or punish.  He cannot even turn Himself away from humanity, nor look upon anyone with a stern countenance (True Christianity n. 56).

So Swedenborgians would say that the pandemic is not punishment from God.

The pandemic is not a sign of the Last Days.  The Book of Revelation talks about a plague coming in the Last Days.  Swedenborgians say that the Book of Revelation is about what goes on inside us.  The battles and plagues and earthquakes are symbolic of our spiritual struggles.  After all, Jesus said, “The kingdom of God does not come visibly.  Neither will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is.’  For the kingdom of God is inside.”  There have been several “plagues” in my lifetime.  There was h1n1, swine flu, and the sars virus.  Either one of these could have been called the plagues pointing to the end times.  Then there was the Black Plague of the middle ages.  That happened in the 14th century.  People then thought that they were in the end times.  But we got through all these plagues and forgot about them and the end times.  And we will get through this.

In these hard times, more than ever, we need to think about our neighbor.  We need to practice social distancing to protect ourselves and our neighbors.  Many of us will experience financial hardships.  Those of us who are fortunate financially are in a position to wisely help out when they can and as they are able.  I don’t mean to minimize the difficulties we will go through in the months ahead.  But we will get through it.  Now, more than in times of prosperity, neighbor love is needed.  As we all struggle through the uncertainty, fear, and hardships, love will get us through.  And though we practice social distancing, we are not alone. God is going through this with us.  “Behold I am with you always.”  Let’s be with one another, too, always.

 

 

 

Confucius and Laundry

While my clothes were in the dryer at the laundromat I continued reading the Analects of Confucius.  I have been reading Confucius over the past few weeks.  Much of his sayings I can’t understand.  But I do understand a portion of them.  However, pondering each saying–or should I say wrestling with each saying–puts my mind in a sacred space.  Confucius is emphatically about virtue.  His sayings make a person think about virtue.  Reading Confucius and wrestling with the meaning of his sayings disposes a person’s heart toward virtue.  I didn’t expect my psyche, my mood, to enter a sacred space when I read Confucius.  I was surprised when I put the book down.  I looked at the dryers, and I felt good about doing my laundry.  “This is a pleasant way to spend my time.  It is a useful and good activity for me to do,” I thought.  This feeling was remarkable.  Previously, laundry had been a drudgery.  So, I was surprised to find myself feeling good about doing my laundry today.  Reading Confucius elevated my spirit.

Generally, I find that sacred scriptures of world religions have that effect on me.  My Swedenborgian background taught me to pay attention to my psyche when I read the Bible.  Swedenborg writes that reading the Bible, “Enlightens the mind and warms the heart.”  He’s right.  The Bible also makes me feel spiritual and spiritual peace.  Other sacred scriptures have an analogous effect on me.  When I read the Koran, which I have to ponder deeply at times, I am uplifted.  Also,  the Tao Te Ching transports me, difficult as it is.  Even the Rig Veda, with the catalog of Gods and Goddesses it lists, and its vocative verses seems to lift me.

Sacred scriptures are records of humanity’s interactions with the Divine.  My interactions with sacred scriptures give me a personal experience of spirituality.  I feel different when I read sacred scriptures.  This is a kind of evidence for me.  I am not a Muslim, a Taoist, a Hindu, or a Confucian.  So why would I respond to their sacred texts?  But I do.  These texts point toward the Divine.  And I think that there is something there.  Why else would they affect me as they do?

I don’t live in the spiritual world now.  Or at least I’m not conscious of it.  So I also read literature from this world.  We are given birth without an instruction manual.  We make our way through this world as best we can figure out.  I think that great literati are sages with suggestions about how to negotiate our way through this world.  We certainly get enough of this world.  Everywhere we turn, we get this world–making a buck, hustling, doing our job, raising a family, watching reality TV.  But part of life in this world is interaction with the Divine.  And though I love to read Hemingway and Thoreau, they don’t do for me what the Analects of Confucius does for me.  I will continue my reading and wrestling with sacred texts and my hustling for virtue.  My contact with the Divine.  That feeling of serenity, peace, and love that spiritual texts give me suggest that they’re onto something.  Someone once told me that he didn’t see enough evidence to make him believe.  I wonder if he’s looking.  I’ll fully admit that there’s no proof I can put before him.  But my personal experience has encountered evidence that makes me believe.

REFLECTIONS ON DEATH

Death, the intangible, mysterious thing

Not only the cessation of life here

A thing

The Mexicans dance

With half their face painted like a skull

On Dia de los Muertos

The Day of the Dead

Some call it Completing the Circle of Life

As in the Mayan prayer

“We come into the world, and we go out of the world

“Remember that every morning”

I used to think only of the afterlife

And so there was no death

We think of those we loved

And go on without their company

Can’t talk to them anymore

Probably around twenty-five or thirty years till

My death.  I can see it, sometimes.

Till I complete the circle of life

This world is all I know

Despite Swedenborg’s visions

Or the five experiences of the Indigenous man I heard

One doesn’t want to let go of what one knows

Let go of what I know

The Indigenous man knew

Things look different if my life continues

If I sit next to my grandfather, next to a flowing river that is all love

Consequences matter more, matter infinitely more

Than if death ends it

Then the world looks different

When death is a palpable thing

The mysterious dance of the Mexicans

That will be for me in twenty-five to thirty or so years

MEDITATION ON THE TWO TRUTHS

I felt my brain change

When I grasped a passage in the Upanishads

 

I see things differently, now

I understand aspects of myself better

Understand aspects of the selves other have

I see faces, now

Faces, which we all share

Aspects of The Self

I understand Christian mysticism better now

Swedenborg better, The Cloud of Unknowing better

 

The Unity of our Source

All Self; all Consciousness

All of Brahman

Unity

 

Then there is apparent multiplicity

The particularities we experience

The differences making faces unique

Different selves, faces, genders

The different notes in a melody

Different melodies in a symphony

The different notes that make a single chord

 

The Unity of our Source

All Self; all Consciousness

All of Brahman

Multiplicity

 

The reality of Unity and Multiplicity

The unity of two truths

Religious Post

Separating Good from Evil

Rev. David J. Fekete, Ph.D.

August 18, 2019

Jeremiah 23:23-29                              Luke 12:49-56                                                 Psalm 82

Our reading from Luke can’t be taken at face value.  It can’t be true as written.  Jesus didn’t come to break up families.  Jesus says,

they will be divided:

father against son
and son against father,
mother against daughter
and daughter against mother,
mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law
and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law (Luke 12:53).

Jesus must mean something other than father and son, mother and daughter, and mother-in-law and daughter-in-law.

Swedenborg teaches that the Bible is written in symbols.  He calls these symbols correspondences.  These symbols speak to human spiritual growth, the history of spirituality, and God’s spiritual development on earth, as the Human Jesus united fully with the Divine God, which was His soul.  The separation of family members refers to God separating different aspects of our personality.  It means a separation between our spiritual self from our worldly self.  Our worldly self is concerned only with what’s in it for me.  It is concerned only with what we can get out of a situation.  It means self-oriented self.  In its worst form, worldly self will rage against anyone who doesn’t favor him or her, serve him or her, or, in fact, worship him or her.  This self-oriented self is called proprium in Swedenborg.

But God teaches us to love God first, and our neighbor as our self.  These loves are opposed to self-oriented loves.  When we learn spiritual truths, we learn that self-oriented self needs to be sacrificed, denied, replaced with God-and-other-oriented self.

We begin our lives as self-oriented selves.  Spirituality is grafted onto the motives and drives of self-oriented self.  And our motives that are self-oriented need to change.  Our very selves change.  The emotions of self-interest are different than the motives of God and other interest.  The feelings are different.

Self-interest is like an animal instinct.  Self-interest will butt its way ahead in a passion to be first in line, first and foremost, be more important than anyone else.  This is hard to achieve.  So self-oriented people are often frustrated, mad, and vengeful over anyone ahead of them.  Think of a dog running to a food dish.

Spiritually-minded loves are peaceful, content, pacific, delightful, and joyful.  The spiritually-minded are in harmony with others.  They are interested in other people, and join in joyful cooperation with others.  Spiritually-minded people are also driven.  But they are not driven by self-interest.  They are driven by love for the projects they undertake.  They are driven by love for being of service, for being useful, for helping out, for finding ways to make others happy.

Since we start out self-oriented and we end up God and other oriented, we are in process.  There are many different ways in which we are changed from self to God and other orientation.  Sometimes hardships happen to us.  These hardships can break up our self-interest.  When we are prohibited from getting our own way, our ego drives are crushed.  Sometimes, we work on ourselves.  We learn the ways of spirituality.  We implement these teachings in our own life.  But however it happens, our ego-driven, self-oriented self needs to be separated from our spiritual self.  Another image that we find for this in the Bible is in the creation story.  On the second day of creation, the waters are separated.  God separates the waters above the heavens from the waters under the heavens.  Separating self-serving drives from heaven-serving loves.  That’s how we understand Jesus’ words, “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!” (Luke 12:51)

These are the words of true prophets.  Words that say that the members of one’s own household are the enemy.  Words that tell us to take up our cross and follow Jesus.  As we grow spiritually, we will know a new peace and tranquility.  But we will also know turmoil and struggle.  True prophets will tell us that we will know both states of mind.

But this society has false prophets, as we heard about in Jeremiah.  Many are the voices we hear that tell us to favor self, instead of overcoming self.  This is what Jeremiah is talking about, “Will the hearts of the prophets ever turn back—those who prophesy lies, and who prophesy the deceit of their own heart?” (Jeremiah 23:26).  The false prophets of our day massage our ego.  They tell us to get ahead.  Psychologists speak of self-affirmation, self-gratification, self-expression.  “They plan to make my people forget my name by their dreams that they tell one another, just as their ancestors forgot my name for Baal” (Jeremiah 23:27).  I grew up in the “Me-Movement.”  What is meant by this term is that we were taught just that—self-realization, self-expression, self-gratification, self, self, self.  “I me, mine; I me mine; I me mine.”  And the prophets then, and still today, preach that false message.  That would truly be forgetting God’s name for Baal.  God’s name is to deny self, take up your cross, and follow Jesus.  Love God; love others.

Let’s consider Jesus’ life compared with the false prophets of our day.  Jesus’ birth story begins with the Roman Emperor, Caesar Augustus.  Then, with the subject of Jesus’ birth, we are in a barn, then on a hillside with shepherds.  The contrast could hardly be sharper.  Jesus’ life was one of continual service and giving.  He taught, healed, he fed the multitudes.  He never wrote anything down, there is only one historian who mentions Him just once in passing, He lived in the countryside, not the bog cities, He died a common criminal.  Jesus was a loser, not a winner.  While Caesar Augustus was actually worshipped as a god, he isn’t now.  In fact, after his death, the next emperor was the god of the day and no one was worshipping Augustus any more.  His palace is now gone, he himself only one historical figure amid a myriad.  Yet the peasant born in a barn, who never wrote anything down, who died a common criminal is still worshipped and is still God.  Jesus said that the first would be last and the last would be first.  The ultimate winner, the Roman Emperor has been forgotten.  And the loser is remembered and worshipped still.

The true prophets preach the Jesus story.  This is the story of humility, of love, or service, of giving, of self-sacrifice.  The opposition between the Jesus story and the story of our false prophets is stark.  But the only way to be a real winner, is to follow the way of Jesus.

 

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