Archive for July, 2009

Matthew 3:13-4:25

Posted: July 13, 2009 in Uncategorized

The gospel narrative takes a time warp jump from Jesus’ birth to him as an adult, bypassing the years we wish we all could have bypassed—the teens. We see him approaching John the Baptist and asking him to baptize him in the Jordan River.

In most Bibles, Jesus’ words are highlighted in red, so the first red ink my eyes come across is: “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.”baptism

Such a lackluster statement on first glance. Why don’t they start with the pow and the bang of his statements? Some of the “You of little faith…” or “ Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened…”?

But this is the Jesus I really loved as a child. There is a strength in the fact that he gives John direct instruction to baptize him, yet the humility to take a submissive roll. He goes right into joining forces with someone—using the “us” instead of “me.” He gets baptized, which I assume he really doesn’t need to do since he is all sinless and stuff. But he is setting a good example.

Most of all I like that he has John the Baptist do it. This is the kind of guy I always hated. Sort of still do. He is that radical Christian with all the charisma, but who is slightly bent and totally untrustworthy when it comes to practical matters like holding down a job or brushing his hair. He makes a scene in his clothes and shouting much like the modern day guys with their big Bibles and necklace crosses made out of rusted nails. He is the guy who was a radical non-Christian before he saw the light, but is confounded by societal rules. He slips back into his old ways occasionally, flagellating himself for his weakness of will. These are not the sins of I haven’t been reading my Bible lately, but more like I snorted coke off a hooker’s stomach last night.stephen baldwin

The radical Christian is who many want to be. But, much like liquor is known to bring out the true self, a Christian conversion rides the path of his/her existing personality. We are left with the same “me,” only a “saved” one. So the quiet, studious non-believer converts into the…quiet, studious Christian–even if he does sport the rusty nail necklace in hopes of being seen as “radical.” And, the kid who never wore shoes, ate glue and talked back to the teacher, becomes the radical.

I love that Jesus picks this guy. 2,000 years later he is still that dangerous-type of person few want in their church.

During the baptism, it says the heavens opened and the “Spirit of God descended LIKE a dove,” saying “This is my son, with whom I am well-pleased.”

No manger, no actual dove in this version. Take back your Precious Moments figurines.

Right after the baptism, there is a long passage where Jesus “was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.” The devil stays around him (I don’t even put up with my kids hanging on me) and tempts him 3 times, trying to get him to prove he is the son of God. But why? Does the devil not know he is God? If so, he never gets him to prove it. Or, does he know and is in the desert just wasting his time? And, as a reader asked me, how does Matthew know what happened in the desert? Did Jesus come back and brag about it? And, why did Jesus fall for it in the first place? Or did he know what was going to happen? These are issues that I have to take “on faith” that they: 1) make sense 2) happened.

I’m not willing to take that jump yet about some of these things. I can see how it is a good lesson about temptation and staying strong in the faith, but having me believe that this actually happened requires me to relinquish the belief that Jesus was any type of powerful being.

Though, you know, Jesus did get it hard because I think I got a party after my baptism.

Among the 5 or 6 who were being baptized with me that night, I was, by far, the youngest (7) and attracted many sweet sighs from the congregation. The male and female baptism candidates each had their own dressing rooms that led down stairs into the water of the baptismal. Again, this was summer, so the service was at the outdoor church venue. I remember being in the white robe, looking horrified at the bra of the woman who went before me as she rose from the water that soaked though the fine material. I had no boobs then, but I worried I might be wearing bright underwear.armor_of_god+pj

The water signifies the cleansing away of sins. Churches disagree if you need to be sprinkled or fully dunked; I assume you know what the Baptists believe. And although I fully understood what my decision of faith meant, I could not grasp the baptism. Was I standing in a pool of sins that had just washed off the people ahead of me? When I am put under will I raise up with small bits of sin still sticking to me the way my mother’s dissolving Jean Naté bath beads left small dots of oil on me when I got out of the bath? If it is purely symbolic, as they told me, then why must we do it? After Jesus was baptized he went to the desert. Should I have done this too? It might sound like childish questions, but even now it seems that we take the things we feel are important and make them a ritual and ignore the ones that are hard, impractical or will use up our vacation days.

After Jesus returns from the desert, it says John the Baptist was put in prison, though it is not explained why yet. This is when Jesus starts his traveling ministry with the words: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” Now, let’s be clear– it ain’t near. It’s just not, though people can attempt to explain it with God’s time vs. earth’s time, the releasing of Israel, etc., but seriously, 2,000 years is not “near.” However, if we take the interpretation that the “kingdom” refers to Christ himself, then it makes sense ‘cuz he was really, really near. As in “here.”   I like that interpretation, though I don’t like to guess at riddles in something that has to do with something as important as my soul.

Jesus, on his travels, begins to gather his disciples; much like the scene in Forrest Gump where people drop what they are doing and follow (For my classes, I do a lesson on Christ analogies in literature and film, starting centuries before the Bible all the way to Batman). He pulls them from their fishing boats and away from their fathers.  In fact, it says many people followed him. So he had a big circle and the inner circle. I think this is interesting since I always just pictured the twelve of them.

What happens next is a miracle. No, actually miracles. In just a few sentences it says that people bring all the ill, severely pained, seizing, devil-possessed and paralyzed and he heals them. Like an episode of ER.  This is where I wish the writer had slowed the story down and painted the picture because, seriously, what mayhem. All the sick, wobbling and groaning, people getting healed and running and jumping. It must have been a mob of sorrow-turned-happy. Of course I think about all the generations before who had to just live with their sicknesses because they were born at the wrong time. Or the crippled person who can’t get up to go see Jesus. Or the deaf person who didn’t even hear he was in town. These are the people who haunted my young thoughts—the ones who would never know of Jesus just because they were born far from where Christianity resided. What about the girl in a Tibetan village with her own Buddhist beliefs which her parents taught her? Did she deserve to go to hell because she did not know the truth? Or…was she thinking the same about me?kenzo4

Advertisements

I have received many emails from readers. I appreciate it more than you know. It goes without saying that everyone has their own opinion and viewpoint on religion. I have not responded personally because I do not want to get involved in a discussion that might cloud my view of what I am reading. Nor can I, at this point, read some of the suggested books. But I have them in my notes to read.Funny-Church-Signs-1
Of course, there might be those who will be offended by my blog. I mean no harm to anyone. However, if you think I sound cynical, you are right. Remember, I am coming from this as someone who is outside “the faith” now. If I wasn’t cynical of it I wouldn’t… um, be writing about it. (Did you see how I was just cynical again?)
I have always written in the gray line between the black and white–about politics, racism, immigration. It is the way to personal truth. I am a seeker. Consider what my friend wrote about Provers vs. Seekers:

Funny-Church-Signs-9Some people go looking to find out what is truth.  Others go looking to find support for what they already believe is the truth.  We’ll call the first group Seekers, and the second group Provers.  The Seekers will consider any resource that seems reasonably credible.  The Provers will typically only consider resources that bolster their beliefs.

There are also those who only want to read my blog if the outcome is going to be what they want it to be. I’d like to say: I am only at the beginning of Matthew! Give me some time.

Though I am reading the text without commentary or direction, I do bring into it 3+ years of academic Biblical studies, plus a few years of informal study. I have also read many writings of the Greek and Romans prior to the writing of the Bible.  I teach writing on the university level at a state college with 24,000 students. So I automatically read:
1) critically–looking at why the writer wrote what s/he did
2) looking for logical fallacy–comparisons that don’t make sense, “facts” that don’t add up
3) support with secondary texts–which we don’t have with the Bible, but is not necessary for this endeavor.

This, of course, does not put me at an advantage or disadvantage for this project, but it shows you what type of glasses I wear as I read.Funny-Church-Signs-12

So you can see, the challenge is in finding out if my logical mind can accommodate the emotions I have regarding my experiences and what is contained in the New Testament. I have not been able to have them coexist, nor have I been able to completely shut one or the other out.

Please continue reading my blog if:

1) You want to. (I thought it would go without saying, but just reiterating)
2) You are undecided, or at a crossroad in your faith.
3) You know nothin’ ’bout no New Testament and want to get a ramshackle summary of it.
4) You are steadfast in your faith but curious to know a) how I got from where I was to where I am now b) if/how my opinions will change as I read.
5) You are steadfast and want to know what makes others leave the church and/or Christianity.
6) You are a voyeur.

Finally, please post your comments to the blog. Not only is it appreciated, but many of you have responses, critiques or insights that others would like to read.Funny-Church-Signs-5

Matthew 1:1-3:12

Posted: July 3, 2009 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

The first 17 verses of the New Testament runs down through the genealogy of Jesus, connecting him to the ol’ names we know from the Old Testament (OT). There’s Abraham and King David and the ever popular Zadok and Shealtiel.

Genealogy is very important in religion, not just to the Mormons who make all the money off of it, but because it goes back to bloodline. I don’t want to give it away, but I think the plot ends in sharing the bloodline with everyone—there’s some spillage at the climax.

What strikes me is verse 17 with its emphasis on the number 14. “Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Christ.”

What up with 14?! The Bible goes crazy with the 3s and 7s, even the occasional 12, but why did 14 not make it to our current sacred numerology? In fact, we totally skipped it. The Jewish boys and girls celebrate 13, the Hispanics–15 and the rest of us–Sweet 16. Hallmark and Party City could be cashing in on 14th birthdays, if only someone (I already claim intellectual property) would market this to the world’s 1,965,993,000 Christians.QuinceaneraMusicL

Next comes Christmas. Yay. The birthing story.

We’ve got Joseph and Mary engaged, but she gets pregnant by the Holy Spirit. Joseph thinks of divorcing her. Stop. “Divorcing?” Didn’t it just say “engaged?” This is where I am just going to go with it, even though it doesn’t make sense to me.

Joseph has a dream and an angel tells him to stick out the relationship. His wife/fiancee is going to have a child and all will know he is “God with us.” Then Joseph wakes up, baby comes out (this is not the manger version) and Joseph takes “Mary home as his wife.” It states he doesn’t “join” with her until after the tyke is born, so I don’t get how marriages were done back then. We don’t see any good wedding story, though I guess they could have married on the sly, assuming she might have gotten stoned if people knew they were having a shotgun wedding. Perhaps they waited until Jesus was born and let him do it.

All is marriage and babies until Bitter-Betty King Herod shows up. The wise men, or Magi, (everyone gets 2-5 names in the Bible, i.e. Jesus, Immanuel, Christ. Harder to keep up with than Tolstoy) ask King Herod where the new King is.

Herod does a fake out and says, I don’t know, but I want to meet him too. Let me know when you find him. But the wise men wise up and when they find Jesus in his “house” (where is that manger??!!) they give him the spices and such and then slip home. Ha on you, Herod.

But Herod will not be had. He decreed all the boys aged 2 and under be killed. He was a thorough ruler. Joseph took his little family and fled to Egypt until Herod died, then returned and settled in Nazareth.

So…can I assume that Jesus sort of had to move so that he could have boys his age to play with? If he stayed near Bethlehem someone might ask how old he was and blow his cover.

“I’m 12.”

“Why, that’s odd. There are no other 12 year olds in the WHOLE CITY.”

I read a recent article that medical scholars think King Herod died of a disease whose symptoms included gangrene of the genitalia. Thank goodness karma predated Christianity by about 1,000 years.

A few times the verses refer back to the Old Testament, saying “this fulfills the prophecy that…” I do like me a circle, so knowing that these things were spoken of in the OT makes me happy, though seeing what all they go through for those fulfillments, I think it would be easier if they just carried the OT around and referred to it like a map. Why all this hiding, moving back and forth, riding donkeys to their death, when Joseph could have just read that Jesus “will be called a Nazarene?”

baptist3One person who was carrying around the OT script in his “leather belt” was John the Baptist (Chapter 3, verse 1). Matthew (though it is pretty highly agreed upon that Matthew didn’t write this book) describes him as a Granola from Seattle. Diet of “honey and locusts”, yelling at the crowd, telling them of a savior who is coming to do all sorts of dangerous stuff with his “winnowing fork” and fire. These images are borrowed from what the people of the day already knew of the Roman and Greek myths of fire and forks, good, evil, saviors and fear. A quiver full of fear.

I know about fear. I grew up a very fearful girl.  In South Florida we had horrendous lightning storms. My bedroom was far from my parents’ room, so I would lie in bed, sheet pulled up around my neck (that was for the sake of the vampires) and have all my shoes placed around my body. I heard rubber soles protected you from lightning. I didn’t know you had to be wearing them.

My fears were simple: noises, ghosts, bugs, people, wind (which basically means I was scared of air); oh and the devil’s hand coming up through the toilet to grab my butt and pull me to hell (that one was courtesy of my brother).karenFBC (2)

Fortunately my church did not preach fear that much. There was rarely a yeller behind the pulpit. And the fear of hell was not as much pronounced as the fear of separation. Separation from God, from your loved ones who will be in heaven and separation from those just sitting around you in church. There were only 2 groups: the saved and the unsaved. From where we sat in our pews, we all knew who was on which team.

jesus friendI, like all others on this planet, felt I didn’t fit in even at a young age. But at church, all I had to do was walk down the aisle and accept Jesus as my Savior and I fit in. Not only that, I would always have a friend—Jesus. For that is the way he is introduced to children. Later you learn about savior, father, redeemer.

It was at night, at the outside venue that was attached to my church. My church was having a Revival. Unlike the orthodox meaning of the word, churches plan and put on Revivals, sort of like the Field of Dreams where you build it (or advertise it) and they will come and, hopefully, true revival will result. Historically, it seems that the opposite is true. Usually revival breaks out unplanned (google Isuzu Street Revival or The Toronto Blessing).

A small, but engaging Hispanic man was the guest preacher the night I was saved. He had the same first name as my grandfather from Cuba, whom I loved, so I already had an innate trust in the speaker. I am not sure what he spoke of, but knowing myself, I am sure it had to do with God’s unwavering love and acceptance.

The setting was awe inspiring. The outside chapel overlooked the intracoastal waterway. Seagulls swooped overhead, the occasional yacht went by. There was a nice breeze. And, if I may brag, my capacity for spiritual understanding was ahead of many adults. My adult reasoning says it is due to my reliance on my right brain (the creative, feelings-based side). But perhaps it was not.

That night I felt God. Yes, like a breeze, but also like strong arms.  I would have a friend who I could talk to when the storms came was a no-brainer.

For the most part, it worked. From my salvation at age 7, I no longer put shoes around my body. I prayed to God to keep me safe. I pictured a force field from Star Trek enveloping my bed, guarded by angels and their swords (to fight off the vampires). Until the demons came.fantastic-four-force-field