March 07, 2019

Do We Really Have Free Will?

What about God?
For the purposes of this discussion, let us first examine the subject of Free Will within the framework of our relationship to God. Within this context, the question of Free Will evokes two possibilities.

There is a God.
There is no God.

From a Christian viewpoint, the discussion of Free Will usually centers on our relationship with God; i.e. are we predestined to a fate determined by God?  Or, does God grant us the freedom to make our own choices?

Historical evidence suggests we have Free Will. God apparently encourages us to make rational choices that conform to the values he has taught us. Because they are based on long standing texts, ideas about right and wrong tend to be stable. If we stray from his values, we risk being ostracized by the community, punished by the police power of the State, or by God in unexpected ways.

From a socialist viewpoint, there is no God. Our perception of Free Will is derived from contemporary secular beliefs. Ideas about right and wrong tend to be unstable, influenced by fluid pop-culture social justice concepts, and often incorporate contentious political ideology. We are forced to exercise our Free Will within these constraints. If we ignore contemporary secular values we risk being ostracized by public media, public contempt, mob hatred, and the police power of the State.

Our moral and physical behavior is unavoidably influenced by the limitations of the real world in which we live, no matter how “free” we think we are to act and think. Our deeds may also lead to self-destruction. Remember this verse?

“We cannot break the natural laws of the Cosmos without exposing ourselves to physical or emotional injury. If we defile our being with drugs or alcohol, if we debilitate ourselves with too much stress, or if we ignore the wisdom of experience, we are doomed to suffer the consequences. In so doing, we create our own self-inflicted Hell.”

Our freedom to make personal choices is influenced, and modified, by our Cultural Ecosystem. The term “Cultural Ecosystem” refers to the cultural, economic and physical environment within which individuals and social groups function, and includes our emotional and intellectual interaction with other people. We may choose, for example, to have expensive tastes, but our ability to consume will be limited by our income. We can break the law, but we know the police power of the State will seek retribution. Free love sounds wonderful until it results in an unwanted pregnancy. And so on.

There is a certain truth to the “obey or be punished” concept. We cannot break the natural laws of the Cosmos, disregard God’s commandments, or ignore contemporary secular beliefs, without exposing ourselves to physical and emotional injury. Thus while we have Free Will, which is the freedom to make our own decisions, our choices are limited by cultural, economic and physical reality.

The concept of Free Will not only means a personal choice, it also requires we accept the consequences of our choices. It is therefore our responsibility, each and every one, to make intelligent choices which elevate our moral character, mental health, emotional stability, intellectual development, and physical health; else we risk the creation of our own self-inflicted Hell.


March 06, 2019

Who Were The Apostles?

There were, apparently, over 100 people who thought of themselves as Disciples of Christ. Less than 20 were Apostles. These men were “sent forth” to teach, preach and administer the affairs of the movement (eventually) called Christianity. They were selected by Jesus or other Apostles, to go forth on a definite mission, with the full authority to act on behalf of the sender, and were held accountable by the sender for their work. They counseled and managed the growing number of congregations, resolved questions of doctrine, and allocated collected funds to missionary work.

But who are the recognized disciples who became the first Apostles? Jesus appointed 12 men to be his Apostles. Most of them knew Jesus as a friend or brother before he called them to be disciples. They were tasked to support his work and to protect him from harm. After the death of Jesus, several of his Apostles became missionaries, teaching his message to people in Judea, India, North Africa, Asia Minor, Rome, and elsewhere.

Andrew was Peter’s brother, a fisherman, and a disciple of John the Baptist before he met Jesus. A gentle man, Andrew at once recognized Jesus was the Messiah when John the Baptist introduced them. He was so impressed by Jesus, he moved from Bethsaida to Capernaum to be with him. Andrew in turn introduced Jesus to his brother, Peter. After the crucifixion of Jesus, Andrew apparently evangelized in Scythia, Epirus, Achaia and Hellas. (See Note 1 about the meaning of Messiah)

Simon Peter (Cephas), known as The Rock, was Andrew’s brother, and also a fisherman in the Sea of Galilee. He also moved from Bethsaida and to Capernaum to be with Jesus. Like his brother, Simon was a follower of John the Baptist before being called by Jesus. Emotional, impulsive, bold and charismatic, Peter was one of the greatest leaders of the early church. He spread the gospel in Rome until he was crucified. The Catholic Church recognizes Peter as the First Roman Pope.

James (the elder) Boanerges; severe of temperament, likely a nationalist, a strong defender of the Jewish nation, and usually carried a sword for protection. He was a fisherman who lived in Bethsaida and moved to Capernaum to be with Jesus. After the death of Jesus, James ministered in Jerusalem with evangelical zeal until martyred by Herod Agrippa I in 44 A.D.

John Boanerges: brother of James, brave, intense, and full of nationalist zeal. He was, however, softer of temperament than his brother. He was a fisherman who lived in Bethsaida until he moved to Capernaum to be with Jesus. He and James were initially disciples of John the Baptist. Jesus called James and John the Sons of Thunder because their father, Zebedee, was an outspoken critic of the Romans. Like the other Apostles, John was deeply influenced by Jesus and he became known as the Beloved Disciple. He was an Apostle and evangelist in Asia Minor.

James (the younger), was Jesus’s brother. Short in stature, he became (affectionately) known as James the Less and later on as James the Just. He lived in Nazareth, and moved to Bethsaida to be a fisherman. James was present at the crucifixion, became the first Bishop of Jerusalem, and authored of the first Catholic Epistle.

Jude (Thaddeus), was Jesus’s brother. He also moved from Nazareth to be a fisherman in Bethsaida. He was present at the crucifixion. Jude became known as the patron saint of lost causes, and was the author of the epistle of Jude.

Judas Iscariot, son of Simon Iscariot, was from Judah. Judas was a Jewish nationalist, young, impressionable, educated, and intelligent. Judas frequently saw things as amusing and could be sarcastic or deferential. Although Judas frequently challenged Jesus, he became a very close friend. His role in the crucifixion is debated. The idea that he betrayed Jesus is totally illogical.

Matthew (Levi) was a tax collector who lived in Capernaum. He was educated, wealthy, and literate in both Aramaic (the language of Jesus and his Apostles) as well as Greek (the language of commerce). He went on to preach the Gospel to the Jewish community in Judea and elsewhere.

Philip is described as a tall, thin fisherman who lived in Bethsaida. He recognized Jesus as the savior and subsequently brought his friend Bartholomew and many others to meet him. Philip was probably an Apostle in Greece, Phrygia, and Syria.

Bartholomew (Nathaniel) lived in Cana. He may have come from royal blood, being the son of Tolmay. Bartholomew was a friend of Philip, recognized Jesus as "the Son of God" and believed Jesus was "the King of Israel". Known for his honesty and integrity, he is alleged to have been an Apostle in Armenia and India.

Simon Zealotes a cynical, suspicious man who lived in Cana, near Galilee, (also known as a Canaanite). He may have been a fanatical Jewish Nationalist or simply very zealous in his support for Jesus. Inspired by Jesus, Simon Zealotes traveled to N. Africa as an Apostle.

Thomas Didymus a carpenter, stone mason and fisherman who lived in Tarichea by the Sea of Galilee. Sometimes referred to as “the twin” or “doubting Thomas”, he apparently had a sharp intellect and an analytical mind. Thomas traveled as far as India to spread the message of Jesus Christ.


About the term “Messiah”.
By tradition, and Biblical reference, Jesus inspired his Apostles with his character and message. They recognized Jesus was very close to God. By inference, it could also be argued that at least some of them also believed (at first) Jesus would lead a successful rebellion against the Romans. Hence they called him “Messiah” (savior or liberator). Under his political leadership, they hoped the Jewish nation would be able to sweep away the oppressors and establish the Kingdom of God here on earth. But Jesus gave them a very different interpretation of what he meant by the term “The Kingdom of God,” and the term Messiah eventually took on a new meaning: Christ; the Son of God.

Both his disciples and his Apostles were aware of Jewish Nationalists. The desire to be free of oppressive Roman rule was universal among most Jews. The term “zeal” usually meant one was passionate about religion and politics. The term “The Kingdom of God” was a metaphoric reference to establishing Jewish rule over Israel. Since Jesus frequently spoke about the Kingdom of God, it was taken by many Jews as a reference that here at last was their savior and a military leader who could fulfill their dreams of independence. We must remember: in Jewish folklore the Messiah would be both a religious savior and a political leader. Since popular gossip had already confirmed Jesus was very close to God, it was but a short step to imagine he was also a political leader. This explains why the peasants were so excited to welcome Jesus to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. It also tells us why the mob turned against Jesus by Wednesday, when it became obvious he had no intention of being their political savior and liberator.

Although many of his followers are described as fishermen, it should be noted the Jesus and his disciples were also part time farmers. Crops were a source of fresh vegetables and grains were a very important component of their diet. In addition, it is likely some of them had fruit or olive trees.

It is likely that whenever they traveled away from Capernaum, Bartholomew, Simon Peter, Simon Zealotes, James and John Boanerges, and Judas (and possibly the other Apostles) were armed with swords. Because of bandits and errant Roman mercenaries, travel could be dangerous. All twelve Apostles were also responsible for protecting Jesus from overzealous Philistines and Sadducees.



March 03, 2019

Life is precious.

Birthing creates a sacred obligation.
To protect and cherish the miracle of life.

Birthing is a loving spiritual gift,
from God the Mother.
It is our responsibility,
to obey Her commandment.

“Do not create human life,
Unless you are ready, willing and able,
To love, support, and protect,
The new life you have created.”

Infants are precious in the eyes of the Lord,
From conception through childhood.
And no matter how difficult the challenges of life,
We are expected to be loving and responsible parents.



March 02, 2019

Abraham : Patriarch to Islam, Judaism, and Christianity

Judaism, Christianity and Islam are called Abrahamic faiths because all three religions trace their roots back to Abraham (a father of many nations).  Abraham is recognized as the first person to believe in a single powerful God (monotheism).

In Jewish tradition, Abraham (Abram) was born about 1800 BC and is regarded as the patriarch who established the Covenant (contract) between the Jewish people and God.  He is regarded as both the biological progenitor of the Jews (the first Jew), and the father of Judaism.

Abraham is often mentioned in the Qur’an. He is called a monotheist (believes there is only one God), a Muslim (one who submits to God), a patriarch, and a prophet. Mohammad depicts Abraham as the perfect Muslim.

The story of Abraham includes his two sons Ishmael and Isaac, who also play important roles in the founding of these three Faiths:

According to Jews, Christians and Muslims, Ishmael was Abraham's first son. Ishmael was born to Abraham and Sarah's handmaiden Hagar. The Book of Genesis and Islamic traditions consider Ishmael to be the ancestor of the Ishmaelites. Ishmael is recognized by Muslims as the ancestor of several prominent Arab tribes and the forefather of Muhammad.

According to the Book of Genesis, Isaac was the son of Abraham and Sarah. Isaac links Abraham to Christian tradition through the Israelites. In Islamic tradition, Isaac is revered as a prophet of Islam, and the father of the Israelites.

Isaac was the father of Jacob. In Christianity, Judaism, and Islam Jacob had twelve sons, each of which would go on to father one of the Twelve Tribes of Israel.

Because Islam draws much of its tradition from the Old Testament, many of its beliefs are similar to those found in Jewish literature. The Qur'an commands Muslims to believe in the revelations given to "Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob and the Patriarchs".

Judaism holds that one becomes a descendant of Abraham through birth. Christians theoretically believe one becomes a descendant of Abraham through faith. Islam holds that one becomes a descendant of Abraham through both birth and faith.

A final note: It is likely Abraham’s narrative is a literary construct that does not relate to any period in actual history.


Now I have a question.

If all three religious theologies have the same roots...

why are we fighting each other?        

Just asking.


February 27, 2019

Sam Taught Me About God’s Love

A true story about a big dog named Sam

I was in my late 40s. Busy with work and the challenges of daily life. I wore the suit, five days a week. Proper tie, matching socks, formal shirt, carefully pressed pants, vested coat, and wingtip shoes. The weekend dress code was more likely to be a pair of worn jeans, an old t-shirt, and dusty boots.

I confess I didn’t like dogs. Terrorized by a dog at age 4, I used to have nightmares about this huge corker spaniel. In my dream, there would be a parade on the street in front of our house. People and cars lined both sides of the street to watch the parade. There were marching bands with majorettes, big floats, and row upon row of marching soldiers. Then I would always see the dog; marching in the parade. He was huge, maybe 100 feet tall. He was so big he brushed the tops of the elm trees that lined our street. He was so big he could pick up a car and eat it. Chomp crunch... and it was gone.  And he would always munch on a few spectators. Gobble them up like ribbons of spaghetti. Then in my dream he would see me. I was always paralyzed with fear. The dog would walk slowly toward me, big evil eyes, huge mouth wide open to swallow my small frame whole... slowly he bent down.... and then ... I would wake up – screaming.


My son wanted to be a cook. He decided to work for Harrah’s Casino in South Lake Tahoe. We thought it was a good idea, a job that paid real money, with real responsibility, and a chance to learn about cooking in a hotel kitchen. And so he left one morning for the Sierras.

Several weeks later he again showed up at our door. The job was boring so he came home. But he was not alone. He brought a dog with him: a very large huge dog. He had a chest like a barrel, a big head, and a humongous nose. His dog weighed over 100 ponds and stood 34 inches tall at the shoulder. His name was Sam.

My son told us about Sam. He and his lady friend had been walking near the beach when they found Sam lying by the path. Sam was in really bad shape. He was thirsty, hungry and showed the marks of a beating. Sam had been mistreated – badly mistreated. My son is a compassionate man. They took Sam home and nursed him back to health. From then on, Sam was my son’s best friend.

Sam was part oversized yellow lab and part horse. He seemed friendly enough. So we reluctantly agreed to let Sam and my son stay with us until he found another job (and place to stay). We all settled in for a few weeks of wary togetherness. I generally ignored Sam.

Every parent with age 20 plus children will understand what happened next. One day while I was at work, my son departed. He just disappeared. He was suddenly gone.

However....  he left Sam... with us.

We debated what to do. High on my list was a trip to the animal shelter. My wife vetoed that idea. She has a natural affection for dogs. So we kept Sam, all 100 plus pounds of this great big dog - and his horde of voracious fleas.

Thus began a wonderful experience.

For 25 years we had a routine. I would come home, make a drink, and settle down in my easy chair to relax and unwind. Sam immediately recognized the routine. A few days later, I noticed Sam was sitting a few feet away from me, watching my every move. He didn’t do anything. He just watched me. It was like he expected something to happen. Several days passed. He still had that look of expectation.

Then it happened. I came home from work on a Friday, agitated by the frustrating drive home and very tired from the day’s activity. Sam came over to my chair and nuzzled my hand, actually pushing it up onto his big head. I pulled my hand away. Sam repeated the maneuver. I brushed him off. He went away and again just sat on the floor with that look of expectation. He repeated this routine the next evening, gently and carefully nudging my hand so that it rested on his head. I remember scratching his head, and then his ears. Sam looked very pleased. He was actually happy. At that instant, we bonded. It was an incredible experience.

Over the next few weeks we got to know Sam. He went on walks with us, loved to run (he actually galloped like a horse), was very well behaved, respectful of our house guests, ate copious quantities of dog food, tolerated our veterinarian, and became a happy part of our life.

We tried to convince Sam he should sleep in the garage. But Sam wanted to be with us all the time. After I put him out into the garage, he commenced this mournful moaning song to make sure we felt really guilty about leaving him outside. What to do? Of course we made a place for him. Sam took up his rightful residence next to our bed every night, as close to me as he could, curled up on the floor, - voracious fleas and all.

I never taught Sam anything. He just – somehow – knew what we wanted. For example, he understood that if I came home dressed in a suite, it was OK to come up and lick my hand. But he would avoid any other contact because he somehow knew I did not want “doggy” on my best clothes. However, if I came home in dungarees and an old shirt, he knew he could run to greet me, lean against my legs, rube his huge head on my shirt, and then lick my hand. I never taught him the difference.  I was amazed when I suddenly realized he knew the difference between the suite I wore to work and a pair of dungarees.

The inevitable happened. Months later we began to notice Sam was wasting away. In less than three agonizing weeks, Sam was close to death. We took Sam to the vet. Bad news. The vet just shook his head. We have a rule in our house. Our animals never suffer. I reluctantly took Sam to the SPCA to have him put to sleep. I’ll never forget the experience. A man came to us and put on the SPCA collar. As he was being led away, Sam turned and gave me one last look. The incredible sorrow in his eyes was overwhelming. He understood what was happening.

I walked slowly back to my car. Tears welled up into my eyes. Yes I cried. I had learned to love Sam. He loved me. He was my friend.


Fast forward 20 years. I was writing a novel about a 21st century prophet and our relationship with the spiritual (The Angels Footpath). My thoughts were filled with characters, dialogue, plot events, and the wonderful stimulation of creative inspiration.

My wife and I like to hike and these long treks give me ample time to think and be inspired. On one of these hikes, something marvelous happened. As usual, I was leading a group of friends as we labored upward to a favorite mountain lake. My mind was clear of any thoughts except the enjoyment of the fresh air and beautiful setting.  Walking along, well ahead of the group, a burst of inspiration suddenly swept over me. Thoughts about Sam flooded through my mind. A feeling of pure joy. And then the words,

“Sam loved you. Could God love you any less?”

Of course not. Sam’s love had been positive, infinite and unconditional. There were no reservations. We had a trusting relationship. With a little effort, we made it all work. If I looked for Sam, he was always there. His love was deeply spiritual and ever present.

Standing on a granite ledge, overlooking clear blue waters of the lake, I realized Sam had taught me everything I know about God’s love. Sam never gave up on me. He just wanted me to love him.

I choose to believe God presented himself in the form of this great big dog to teach me a lesson. And what I learned is the essence of my faith:  

God’s love is infinite. God’s optimism is forever. Both are unconditional.

What happens next is up to us.