November 09, 2018

Every Day, We Get To Choose


If we choose to be compassionate, kind, sympathetic, considerate, friendly, civil, loyal, moral, responsible, pleasant, virtuous, respectable, independent, and upright;  we are able to experience the joy of living, the self-confidence of freedom, and the companionship of our God who loves us and brings us peace.

If we choose to be callous, nasty, malicious, inconsiderate, cold, abusive, treasonous, corrupt, irresponsible, obnoxious, evil, disreputable, dependent, and wicked;  we are likely to experience the agony of perpetual unhappiness, the slavery of constant animosity, and the rejection of Satan who detests us and is amused by our suffering.

Every day we get to choose. 
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October 15, 2018

Where Is The Garden of Eden?


It has been frequently speculated there was a real physical Garden of Eden somewhere within the Fertile Crescent. It was watered by a river flowing from Eden. From there it separated into four other rivers: the Pishon, Gihon, Tigris, and Euphrates. The garden provides the setting for the story of Adam and Eve, the first man and woman on earth. When Eve yields to temptation, disobeys God, and encourages Adam to share her sin, they are both banished from the Garden of Eden.

It’s a story with a message. If we disobey God’s instructions - the spiritual rules of the Cosmos - we will be punished. For Adam and Eve, their idyllic life was over. Henceforth they would have to work the soil in order to have enough to eat; and they would suffer the anguish of knowing both good and evil.

Of course it is just a story. The Garden of Eden never existed and the idea humanity started with a single couple has several biological, archeological, and historical problems.

But should we dismiss the story as a piece of fiction? Does it prove the Bible was not created by God, word for word? Or as an alternative, does it prove God did not at least influence the theology of the Bible?

No, no and no. Think about what God is trying to accomplish. Think of the primitive cultural setting within which the early stories of the Bible were first told; then passed on from generation to generation by word of mouth by story tellers, teachers, and priests; and finally converted to text after man invented the written word. The story had to be easy to remember. It had to be told within the context of familiar cultural references. And it had to convey a message of lasting value.

Which it has.  So.  Critics miss the point... The Garden of Eden may not exist... the story of Adam and Eve may not be credible to a 21st century audience... but the message lives on. Did God achieve his objective?

If God wanted to tell this ancient story to a 21st century audience, he would probably describe this earth of ours, this remarkable planet among millions of planets in the Cosmos, the only one we know that supports abundant forms of life...  as being our garden of Eden. But the message would be the same.

We have the means and intelligence to make our earth a paradise. We also have the unfortunate potential of moral failure. If we yield to the temptation of excess and ignore the spiritual rules of the Cosmos, we risk bringing about our own demise through disease, conflict and famine.

Thus we may ponder: Is this unique planet meant to be our garden of Eden? Will moral failure lead to eviction? Will we be the cause of our own demise?

God’s message has not changed.


Ron

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October 03, 2018

Who was Jesus?

The Challenge


One cannot write a novel about the life of Jesus without treading on very sacred ground:  the Gospels. This potential conflict presents us with a conundrum.  Should we try to follow the story line and text found in the Gospels? Or is it better to write a contemporary story for a 21st century audience? Do we confine ourselves to the limitations of first century knowledge? Or is it better to update the story with currently available technical, historical and archeological information?

While 25 percent of the American audience is adamant we cannot dispute what has been written in the Biblical Gospels in any way, the other 75 percent of the American population either prefers a compelling and credible story, or rejects Christianity.

What would Christ do?

Would he abandon the 75 percent? Would he ignore the accumulation of human knowledge? Or would he seek to deliver God’s message in terms that are harmonious with the spiritual yearning of a 21st century population? The answer is easy. He would reach out to the 75 percent. He set the example during his ministry.

We are being challenged. If we wish to increase the positive and constructive influence of Jesus Christ among the majority of western populations, we must present our readers with a sensitive and credible portrayal of his life. Let us use 21st century language and human knowledge to bring him to the reader.


Gospel Traditions


The Gospels were not intended to be historical texts. Mark, Matthew, Luke and John were written to present a narrative of personalities, events and doctrine from the viewpoint of the respective authors.

Mark
There was a young man named Mark who was a relative of the Apostles Peter and Andrew. Peter’s wife was Mark’s sister. After Mark’s father died, Peter became a surrogate father, and would always regard the youngster as his son. Mark’s mother was destined to become a prominent member of the first Christian congregation in Jerusalem. Mark would have known the Apostles, and was a witness to the passion and crucifixion of Jesus.

Mark accompanied Peter on his early travels to spread the word of Christ. He later became the faithful companion of the apostle Paul, and was a witness to the execution of both St. Paul and St. Peter (64 – 67 AD?) in Rome.

By tradition, Mark wrote down the notes and passages of the book that would bear his name from ~ 45 to ~ 60 A.D. He characterizes Jesus as a powerful and earnestly suffering servant of God. We see Christ as a human being. He reacts to the crowds that gather to hear him. He has both intellect and emotions. Mark wants to give Roman Christians a book of faith and so he focuses on what he had witnessed or learned from Peter – the Galilean ministry and last week of Christ.

Initial versions of the Book of Mark were completed by 70 AD. The final version of the Book of Mark was compiled and edited after his death. It includes some new text (most notably to ensure Jesus is seen as a prophet), and adds verses 9 – 20 which describe the message and revelation of Jesus.

Matthew
Matthew tried to prove Jesus was the (Jewish) Messiah. Not only did he fail, in his narrative we meet a Jesus who has attributes found in the Old Testament. Although I love Matthew’s story, and the music and words it has inspired, his reliance on fiction and mythology is a disappointment.

Under contract with the Romans to collect taxes in Capernaum, Matthew was also known as Levi the publican (tax collector). Relatively wealthy, he was summoned by Jesus to be one of the 12 apostles. With the exception of the gospel that bears his name, we know little about Matthew. Tax collectors were held in low regard by other Jews. His identity and activity are not mentioned in Mark, Luke or Acts. His name does not appear in John.

The initial version of Matthew was completed by ~ 85 A.D. It was written by a second generation Jewish Christian. He used his knowledge of Matthew, along with material from the book of Mark, text identified as written by Q, and oral tradition, to carry the message of Jesus to the Jews. The author of Matthew is on a mission. He wants to convince the Jews that Jesus is actually the Messiah described in the Old Testament. In order to do this, the life of Jesus must fulfill all the Biblical prophecies about the coming of a Messiah.

Luke
Using material from earlier versions of Mark, the works of an author called Q by historians, and other sources, Luke completed his initial text by ~85 A.D. Luke was a Greek doctor and a close friend of the Apostle Paul. He knew Peter and was able to interview witnesses to the ministry of Jesus. Luke was inspired by what he experienced. He wants to bring the story of Jesus to a Greek audience. Luke portrays a very spiritual Jesus. The savior of mankind is wise, compassionate, and a good teacher. Women play a more prominent role in Luke’s portrayal of the events surrounding the life of Christ. He is careful with the sequence of events. Luke often explains Jewish customs. After writing the Book of Luke about the life of Christ, Luke characterized the first 30 years of Church history in the Book of Acts.

John
Matthew was intent on portraying Jesus as the Messiah foretold by Jewish prophets. Mark wanted to record the ministry and passion of Christ for Greek speaking Romans. Luke addressed his efforts to a Greek population. The Book of John, by contrast, is a book of faith for gentile Christians. It was written by three authors who made their contributions from ~ 90 – ~ 110 A.D. (or as early as 70 – 90 A.D.) They emphasize that Jesus is the Son of God, an eternal deity, who has been sent by God to deliver a message: “If you believe in me, you shall have eternal life.” The Book of John presents this message within the context of a series of conversations Jesus has with others.

The Apostle John had been a follower of John the Baptist before becoming a follower of Christ. John stayed in Judea until the Apostles were forced to flee to the various provinces of the Roman Empire during the persecution of Herod Agrippa in 43 A.D. By tradition, the Apostle John provided a theological foundation for the book that bears his name.


What Can We Add?


There is More to the Story
The Gospels have been a rich source of inspiration, comfort and instruction for more than 1600 years. They tell the story and describe the message of a remarkable man. But we can enhance the story found in the Gospels. It is possible to create a credible and historically accurate portrayal of his occupation and teaching that includes cultural context; descriptions of the geography, towns, and temples he would have known; narratives about real events; information about his family and family life; and a plausible image of his persona. We can develop a likely story about the life of Jesus before he is ready to start his ministry, including his marriage. We can present an internally consistent story with a credible sequence of events. One can add these elements to our narrative of his life by reviewing 1st century historical and archaeological information, gleaning relevant material from the Gospels, and doing a little deductive reasoning. What emerges is a powerful story about a man we can identify as God’s son, the mission God gave to him, and his incredible devotion to the Father he wants us to love.


Flavius Josephus
The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus gives us a very unflattering description of Jesus in his "Testimonium Flavianum". Allied with the Romans, Flavius Josephus wants to downgrade the importance of Jesus whom he regarded as a Jewish rebel. Robert Eisler (27 April 1882 – 17 December 1949), an Austrian Jewish historian and Biblical scholar, was able to reconstruct an unaltered Old Russian translation that preserved the original Greek text.

“At that time also there appeared a certain man of magic power … if we can call him a man, [whose name is Jesus], whom [certain] Greeks call a son of [a] God, but his disciples [call] the true prophet … he was a man of simple appearance, mature age, black-skinned, short growth, three cubits tall (54 - 56 inches), hunchbacked, a long nose, eyebrows meeting above the nose … with scanty [curly] hair, but having a line in the middle of the head after the fashion of the Nazoreans, with an undeveloped beard.”

This awful description was later censored and altered by various Christian authors. For Josephus, the words “simple appearance” demotes Jesus to the status of an ordinary peasant. “Mature age” means he is an old man whose babble can be disregarded.

Flavius Josephus describes Jesus in ugly terms. It is interesting to note, however, that according to him the disciples apparently looked upon Jesus as a Prophet, while after his death the Gospels clearly look upon Jesus as the son of God.


A Credible Physical Description
Our middle eastern ancestors were not very tall by modern standards. Malnutrition, frequent famine, debilitating disease, a grain based diet, and a lack of protein impeded early human growth. It is likely Jesus was between 5’4” and 5’7”tall (for some reason 5’6” seems appropriate). Although he could have been muscular like many Roman soldiers (about 170 pounds), it is more likely he had a medium build of about 155 pounds. It is likely Jesus had a thick beard (not very long) and thinning hair (diet again?). Given the geographic latitude within which his family lived, it is likely Jesus had brown eyes, brown hair, and his skin was the color of almond shells. Mary his mother, by the way, was probably between 5’1” and 5’3” tall.

Although as a practical matter Jesus typically dressed like most of his peasant and fisherman friends, he could afford the more refined textiles of upper class Jews. This is one of the reasons he could move so easily among them whenever the occasion arose. Tradition tells us he was also reasonably well dressed when he spoke to the multitude. In the strict class conscious social structure of the Roman era, proper dress was expected.

Occupation
Much is made of his being a simple carpenter who worked in the poor hamlet of Nazareth (population of less than 500) and later in Capernaum (population of perhaps 1500). It is more likely Jesus was a relatively well-off carpenter and a stone mason (most buildings and public works projects were constructed of stone). Assuming he was a reasonably skilled craftsman, he would be able to make more money than 80 percent of his (largely peasant) Jewish peers. The Romans needed thousands of skilled artisans for their perpetual (mostly stone) building projects. Wealthy Jews needed homes and furniture. Fishermen needed boats and oars. Traders needed carts... and so on. Although there would have been little work available to him in the village of Nazareth, there was plenty to do in nearby Sepphoris which the Romans began to rebuild as a provincial capital in 3 A.D.; and (later in his life) in Capernaum which was a way stop on the trading route between Damascus Syria and towns to the west and south. He may also have worked in Tiberius when the Romans established the Capital of Galilee there. It was not unusual for artisans to move from job to job. Jesus had little problem finding lucrative employment. It is likely Jesus could afford to own a modest house, perhaps some land to farm, and the tools of his trade.

Intellect
Although there were some schools for boys in larger cities, it is unlikely there were any formal education opportunities in Nazareth. The local Rabbi would be the community’s only teacher. Thus Jesus would have been (like his remarkable mother) largely self-educated. He spoke Aramaic, the prevailing language in ancient Israel. It is likely he also could speak and understand some Koine Greek, which was the language of commerce and medicine. According to the Gospels, Jesus could read Jewish manuscripts. In order to pursue his trade, Jesus would have been required to perform simple mathematical calculations (addition, subtraction, multiplication and division), and apply the rules of basic geometry.

This means he was more erudite than 85 percent of his peasant peers, who typically could not read or write (more than a few words). Jesus also demonstrated his intelligence by developing a thoughtful philosophy of life and a new theology. Although both are based on prior doctrine, Jesus molded them in new ways. In addition, the depth of his intelligence is revealed by the wisdom of his teaching and his quick responses to those who challenged his teaching.

And of course, we have to ask what would God want? Jesus would need to be very intelligent in order to pursue the mission God gave to him. I chose to believe God gave Jesus the DNA for high intelligence.

Creativity
Jesus was very creative. He brought God’s message to the people of Judea, Samaria, Galilee, Perea, Caesarea, Decapolis, and Syrian Phoenicia through the use of parables, metaphors, proverbs, and sermons. Most of them were his own creations. He taught us to embrace a constructive theology, to have compassion for others, to follow the wisdom of God’s values, and to seek the reward of everlasting life. His words inspire a nobility of purpose, the courage of a positive faith, and the comfort of spiritual peace. His creativity is further illustrated by his quick responses to those who challenged his teaching.

Compassion
God obviously wanted Jesus to live a natural human life in order to prepare him for his ministry. One can acquire an intellectual understanding of theology through study, but in order to value the deeply emotional significance of theological concepts one must live them.

The compassion of God’s son is exemplified by his counterculture love for children (who were typically restricted from contact with a teacher), and his equally counterculture treatment of women (whom he regarded as being equal). During his ministry, Jesus repeatedly demonstrated his compassion for the sick and injured, as well as those suffering from the loss of a loved one. Love and compassion are fundamental concepts in the message Jesus brings to us.

Charisma
Jesus is very charismatic; those who look upon him feel compelled to admire him. When he looks at you, his brown eyes penetrate into the deepest regions of your soul. It is impossible to deny a connection; one spirit with another. In an instant, he knows all about you. His love surges through you. The feeling of joy is unmistakable.

Jesus has the natural energy of a leader we can trust. Quick of step, he walks with the determined purpose of a man on a mission. Serious of demeanor, quick to anger, one dare not challenge him. But this complex man also has a capacity for empathy and compassion that appear to be boundless.

His passionate demeanor holds the attention of those who congregate to hear him speak. Jesus presents his message with clarity, simplicity, and authority. Here is a man who is obviously close to God. We want to be close to him. Sage, charismatic healer, philosopher, teacher, and social reformer, Jesus offers a new conception of humanity. There is, he reveals, a spiritual future for the individual that will be free from the disease, poverty, oppression, hatred, and isolation of this life.

Healing
The Bible relies on the word “miracle” to describe his healing powers. Far too often. For many people, the associated mythology is hard to believe.

It turns out that many of the miracles could have been the result of faith healing or the use of contemporary 1st century medical knowledge, supplemented from time to time with help from God. We can chose to believe an inquisitive and intelligent Jesus knew healing would be fundamental to the success of his ministry, and it is plausible Jesus learned all he could about contemporary 1st century medicine during his years of preparation.

Summary


Jesus did not live in a vacuum, he was not a recluse, and he was certainly influenced by the Jewish culture within which he lived. Women played a significant role in his life. As expected by the people of his community - he was married. Although a rebellious Jesus entertained thoughts of joining the revolt against Roman oppression, he concluded God had given him a far more important mission. His intellectual capability enabled him to be comfortable with all people - whether rich, poor, educated, illiterate, healthy, or sick. It is likely he used his occupational skills to earn just enough money to satisfy his personal needs and to help support his family. A 31 year old Jesus is called to a ministry that will result in his death and resurrection.

Jesus the prophet and rabbi was a mature, culturally aware, intelligent, creative, compassionate, and charismatic man. He reacts to the crowds that gather to hear him. The savior of mankind is a good teacher. He has both intellect and emotions. To his religious peers, Jesus was a blasphemer and a heretic. But with God’s help, he developed a theology and a philosophy of life that was destined to capture the imagination of more than a billion people.
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September 06, 2018

We are connected: all life and energy.

If we understand the basic structure and activity of the brain, we realize how our intellect is able to interact with the conscious energy that exists everywhere in the Cosmos. It is this mechanism that connects us with God through prayer and meditation.

We know energy may dissipate, or it may change in form, but it never ceases to exist. Neurons in our brain generate and receive the energy of consciousness. These “packets” may be positive (projected as loving), neutral (no emotional reaction), or negative (given as hateful). When these packets “arrive”, the recipient may generate a like reaction (loving and united, neutral and passive, or hateful and alienated). Positive thoughts encourage a connection (coming together reaction) through love, peace, generosity, humility, and so on. Negative thoughts include the alienating (repelling) energy of hate, anger, greed, arrogance, and so on. Conscious energy may be generated internally, by our brain, or come from sources that are external to the body.

During periods of calm concentration, the sensitivity of this interaction provides us with the ability to sense transcendent phenomena. We are able to connect to the spiritual with the elusive “sixth sense”, that has been much discussed but whose attributes remain largely incomprehensible. Although human intellect usually filters it out, we may become aware of a greater consciousness; one that surrounds and connects to our psychological state. Elevated unfiltered brain activity, as in prayer or meditation, increases our conscious awareness of the physical and not physical ecosystem within which we exist. If we are sincere in our effort, it is possible to sense, and then share, another person’s conscious spiritual state. Conscious energy flows from one person to the other.

The existence of conscious energy is not an element of faith but rather a matter of fact. It is unfortunate our “rational” cerebral cortex filters out spiritual energy (external consciousness) because it is – apparently – outside our normal experience and is therefore considered as being irrational. Our conscious mind is focused on, and limited by, centuries of conditioned behavior in the way we process information from the five senses of Sight, Sound, Smell, Taste, and Touch. External stimuli are normally filtered because our survival demands we focus on the reality and activity of our immediate physical environment. But thousands of sixth sense examples have been described by participants. A twin sister, though miles from her sibling, senses her sister’s anguish. A mother senses her baby is in trouble, even though he is in the next room. We may sense danger before it happens. We are able to detect the emotional stress of another person, even if we cannot see them. We know someone is calling us before the telephone rings. And so on.

When we accept the existence of a higher level of conscious sensitivity, we enable our ability to experience the spiritual though the mechanisms of prayer and meditation. We discover the energy of the spiritual flows around us. It is everywhere. We are connected to the Cosmos as a whole: all life and energy. And if we let our being go with the flow, we are able to sense the Spiritual. We may not be able to identify where it is located. We don’t know how it works. We don’t what percentage of the approximately 100 billion neurons in our brain sense conscious energy. But we come to understand it exists.

And with this discovery, it is possible to establish a connection to the conscious energy of God.

extracted from Chapter Two of   “Summa 21”
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August 11, 2018

Six Challenges to Christian Theology

There are six fundamental challenges to the influence of Christian Theology. Christian leaders, theologians, and followers cannot ignore these issues. They will not go away. Failure to address them invites an acceleration of Christianity’s decline in the United States and Europe.

Specious Confusion
Christian religions are frequently confused with Christian Theology. A theology is an organized set of ideas which deal with the astral reality of our existence. Religion is the organized practice of a theology by groups, churches and institutions. Critics of Christianity often fail to distinguish between the perceived moral failures of Christian institutions and the unassailable ethical values of Christian Theology. But such failure must be identified and communicated as a failure of a specific religious institution, rather than a failure of Christian Theology.

Human failure
Human failure exists. When an individual Christian strays from the virtuous behavior of Christian Theology, the lapse must be communicated as a human failure, rather than a failure of Christian Theology. We should always be careful to differentiate the human mistakes of individual Christians, including clergy, from the faultless underlying philosophical doctrines of Christian Theology.

Socialism
Christian Theology is under attack. Christians are openly scorned. Anti-Christian zealots vociferously believe Christian Theology, and Christian institutions, must be abolished. Leftist internet environments routinely spew a toxic swill of irrational hatred for Christian beliefs. Socialist, liberal, far left and autocratic individuals promote the propagation of an amoral, class oriented, tribal pop-culture theology. Let us respond. Christians must proclaim the ethics of Christian Theology with its emphasis on moral behavior, individual freedom, personal responsibility, and the enduring wisdom of God.

Welfare
Christian institutions frequently fail to distinguish the positive, constructive and moral doctrines of Christian Theology from the negative, destructive, and corrupt doctrines of socialist doctrine. This specifically includes the creation of a subservient welfare class. Dependence on the state replaces self-reliance. Insecurity replaces self-confidence. Personal failure is always blamed on someone else. Welfare recipients are being enslaved to the self-serving manipulation of the political elite. Let us never forget, Christian Theology champions the value of moral strength, personal independence, and individual achievement.

Islam
Muslim zealots routinely express hatred for Christian doctrine. This is somewhat incongruous because both theologies trace their roots back to Abraham and the Old Testament. But exposure to western mass media, coupled with the availability of Internet services, has disrupted traditional beliefs and cultural norms. Muslim activity suggests the turbulence of painful cultural change is encouraging anti-Christian and anti-western violence. The Christian community must work on ways to assist Islam with its transition to an enlightened moral philosophy based on love.

Christian Theology
Christian Theology has not kept pace with human knowledge, including the revelations of physics, chemistry, medicine, astronomy, and archeology. Many Christian beliefs are based on the limitations of first century mythology and observations. As a result, Christian doctrine has a credibility problem. 

We are being challenged to establish a reasonable consistency between the doctrines of Christian Theology and our comprehension of the Cosmos. The knowledge content of 21st century Christian Theology must be compatible with well-established human knowledge.

Christians cannot ignore this challenge or pretend it does not exist. It is time for a renaissance of Christian Theology. We must revise ancient beliefs in order to bring Christian doctrine into the 21st century. Although zealots may scream heresy and blasphemy, such anger is detrimental to the preservation of a robust Christian Theology. Repeating ancient dogma over and over again is not helpful.

And by the way, what would Jesus do? By his example, Jesus clearly demonstrated he was willing to teach a message that started with past doctrine and added new concepts to reach his audience. Let us follow his example by bringing together contemporary knowledge, common sense, inspirational theology, and a deeply spiritual sense of the divine. Christian Theology and natural science are compatible. They both come from God.


So. Is the Christian community capable of dealing with these six challenges?

Maybe. Maybe not.



Ron
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