Monday, November 30, 2009

Christmas/Hanukkah idea-4

This idea needs some advance planning unless you work really quick, ha. It's based on the traditional "Advent Calendar." Advent is the four week lead up to Christmas Day. An Advent Calendar is a picture of a Christmas scene with a closed "window" for each day in December. On December 1 the first window "1" is opened. If it's a paper calendar it reveals a scene. If it is a three dimensional Advent Calendar, of paper/cardboard, wood, etc. it is often shaped like a drawer and a small toy or candy can be found inside.

I always enjoyed one as a child and still do. It's a devotional item because traditionally the scene is of the Nativity and each door simply reveals more of the picture until the December 24 door shows the Baby Jesus and Holy Family around the manger. They are also nicely done traditional holiday scenes, such as Santa, or winter scenes and so forth. They are especially great for children to give them an enjoyable treat each day leading up to Christmas, helping them to wait for the big day, but also a way to remind them of "the reason for the season."

Well, I've always thought that making one's own Advent Calendar as an advance Christmas present would be a fun and terrific thing to do. All you need is one of those organizers with lots of drawers, such as found in art supply or home improvement stores. For example you can use a standing type with drawers as found in hardware section or flat organizers such as in arts and crafts (like what beading hobbyists use). It really depends on the number and size of drawers needed.

Suppose you have a friend who is an artist. Imagine what fun it would be to give him or her one of these Advent Calendars (you glue a picture on the front and number the drawers) and in each drawer you have a tube of paint or other small art supply. So your friend opens drawer "1" on Dec 1 and already gets a gift. Save the best gift for drawer "24" ha. You can see what I mean that this requires some thought and organizing to make it by Dec 1, but hey, whenever they receive it they can open all the doors up to that date :-)

What if you have a friend who collects, especially small items, like buttons, coins, badges? Again, you put an item that adds to their collection in each drawer.

You could give someone a charm bracelet by putting a charm in each drawer and the bracelet in the Dec 24 door. Likewise you can put friendship bracelets, wrist bands, backpack accessories, and so forth, one in each door.

Obviously this is great for children. They can have a small piece of age appropriate candy in each drawer for an inexpensive but exciting month long experience for them.

You can do this for Advent leading up to Christmas or the Days of Hanukkah!

The Catholic Bishops have an online Advent Calendar at their website where you click on each door and have faith based ideas for activities, plus the Bible readings for the day. If you do a secular one with your child you might also want to have a printout of the religious Advent Calendar so you can remind your child why the holiday exists and the love of God.

Hallmark and other greeting card stores carry a few designs of the traditional Advent Calendars so do pick one up for yourself. They used to sell out rapidly but every year I see fewer people buying these and even knowing about them. It's such a small thing (having the paper calendar for one's self) but such a great treat each day.

Have fun with this, whatever level you are able to take it to!

Christmas/Hanukkah idea - 3

Do this right as you are thinking of it (!) If you keep a grocery shopping list, put a note to get double of one of your favorite items and give the second to a food bank. If you don't use a shopping list, especially you young people who don't do a regular housekeeping type shop, put a reminder on your mobile device, or hand written in your wallet with your money or your charge card, to remind yourself to buy double of what you are buying and give the second to a local food bank or pantry.

Here's what you need to remember: it's a favorite thing, a "special" thing for the holidays, but still a routine usable item. Too many people think of just buying canned goods like beans and soup for pantries. Those are great and don't stop doing them, but raise it up a notch recognizing the poor and disadvantaged like and miss the same items you do. The example I most use is coffee. Instead of a can of beans think how much a can of coffee would bring joy and help a poor family's budget (and watch for the sales, Wal Mart recently had a great price for large coffee and if I'd had money I'd have bought some for pantries). Check with your local pantry if you want to be sure of what they need (everything) and if they can take refrigerated items too but remember they tend to "ask down" also, afraid to ask for too many more costly or "frivolous" items.

Nothing is frivolous during Christmas and Hanukkah. For example, buy bagged candy that you like and get a second one for the pantry, cuz remember that kids in poor families or those who have lost their jobs etc will still love candy for the holidays that their parents can give them via these pantries.

This is a great way to keep pantries better stocked year around, if every time a person shops they buy two of one of their own items. But my focus is really on the holidays now where as those with funds are able to buy nice things for themselves, buy a second one of something you love and give it to a pantry or food bank. Start this week because this is the crunch time as pantries have to build up and dispense supplies throughout the month.

Christmas/Hanukkah ideas -2

Hi again, and this idea is also especially for you young people out there (hey! :-)

It's time to purchase, if you are using traditional mail, which you should in addition to ecards, your Christmas or Hanukkah greeting cards.

This year be sure to purchase or create at least one set of religious theme cards. Resist buying neutral arty or "season" cards alone, no matter how beautiful they are or how cute, or what worthy cause they support. Trust me, I understand and have bought many sets of "happy holidays" or other neutral cards because 1) they are pretty or artistic or support a good cause or 2) in politically correct times I've not wanted to "impose" a religious theme on some recipients.

Young people, these are urgent critical times and we must swing the pendulum back to the side of expressing the faith first and being safe or neutral second.

Here's the problem. Media, marketers, secularists and others with "agenda" have created an atmosphere where many are ashamed and abashed to actually send what would have been the most ordinary of cards (Merry Christmas and Nativity scenes, or a serious Hanukkah card) not that long ago (but seems like another eon). It's a lie to celebrate Christmas and deny the reality that it celebrates, which is the birth of Jesus Christ. If you believe then the time has come that you really have to make what would have been an ordinary action a few decades and now requires some boldness and thought, which is to send a religious theme card among your set of purchases.

It promotes, rather than diminishes, peace and comfort. I can testify that one of my favorite cards to receive each year was a Christmas theme card sent to me by a Muslim friend.

So when you purchase a "snail mail" card, select an ecard, and/or design and create your own cards, please put "the reason for the season" loud and proud in your selection and honor your faith. Don't worry about "offending" anyone; it is far more offensive to not care about genuine spiritual comfort and God based peace in the world.

Part two of this suggestion is to obtain names and addresses of military service men and women and be sure to get them some cards. I believe that a good place to start is finding out who is serving from your community, and/or is based near your community, as that will give them a touch of home. But also find names of those who don't get much mail, I seem to recall there are such sources, at least during the time of the beginning of the Iraq conflict I remember that we could find service people who would like to receive mail, especially if they didn't receive much from home. I personally know how much that means to service people. Also you can send cards to service people in Veterans hospitals and rehab centers. So parcel off a portion of your cards to send to those who just don't receive many cards and greetings and who need to be remembered.

Thanks for your Santa or Hanukkah bush help! ;-)

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Christmas/Hanukkah gift ideas-1

This gift idea is especially for young people (hi gang!) Do gooders and couch potatoes should also take note! :-)

We all know the importance of smoke/fire detectors. One obstacle to having the coverage every residence really needs is affording one (and keeping it in batteries, of course). But I have noticed that like all "should do's" money is not the only obstacle, but the ability and effort to actually take it out of the box and install it is the problem too. So here is my idea.

Young people, you've got inquiring minds and technology orientation. Get a smoke/fire detector and learn how it works and how to install it. Study it and become a smoke/fire detector wonk, ha. You can even find out if you can get free ones through fire departments and so forth or other similar programs. Once you are handy and nimble with knowing how it works, where it should be placed and how to install it, collect your tools and get a smoke/fire detector to install and find someone who needs one.

You can start in your own family, of course, checking on elderly, poorer or lazy relatives, ha. Even if they have one already you'll know after studying it if that's enough (probably not) and if it's in the right placement (maybe, maybe not). So one of your Christmas gifts could be the obtaining of the smoke/fire detector and its actual installation!

One of the biggest problems with safety gear is not only the obtaining of it (like infant car seats) but installing it.... getting the job done. A huge part of your gift is the installation and knowing how it works. So here's the second part of the idea. What if everyone who could afford a smoke/fire detector and had the ability to install it paired up with someone who needed one and gave and installed it for them? It's a good deed for those who need, including people you do not know.

Be safe in finding who needs such help, of course, by working through your church, local community groups, or other contacts who can pair you up with someone who needs it and where your help is welcome. Suppose you drive past a kind of rundown and poor looking house and wonder if they need one. That's a great community minded outreach, but check it out first by getting a referral and finding out, again through church, fire department, agency, boys and girls clubs, etc if anyone knows the person there and can give you a referral if it would be appropriate. I wish that times were not so weird as these where I have to give you this caution, but you know they are.

However, for every dodgy situation you must avoid, remember that there are many widows, single mothers, poor families, elderly who are unable to afford/get around/pay attention to this need, and there will be no shortage of places where good people need your help.

So that's my first idea this holiday season. And another reason I like it is, of course, that it is an active thing to do that builds a skill and is not just staring at the computer or vid screen.

Be cool and safe and have fun with this idea.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Misplaced awe

This reflection and spiritual direction is particularly directed at the young people (hi there!) One reason is that I know you have many questions and have only gotten from the previous generations for the most part crap. The other reason is that while of course I hope the oldsters are reading what I blog too, and benefiting from it, so many of them are so brain damaged that I really wonder if they will ever get it and repent.

We have a problem. We have many problems but one of the fundamental problems with these modern times is misplaced awe. We (and I'm speaking in fellowship so you understand that I totally get the problem and the blockages people have) want to be awed and need to be awed. There's two types of legitimate awe. Well, really three, but let's look at the really solid forms of legitimate awe first. The top and ultimately only awe that one should feel is with God. One should totally be in awe of God, in totality, in awe with his All Knowingness, in awe of him as Creator, awe of him as the source of all that is truly Good, in awe of his mercy and his love, and in awe of his total power of Judgment and Reckoning. Being in awe of God is not only legit and understandable, but it is the smart thing to do because being in awe of God means that you are in touch with reality. If you are in awe of God and only God, in general that means you have a firm grasp on reality and how the cosmos is ordered and the place of humanity within it. This does not mean you are looking down on humans at all because genuine awe of God raises up humans due to God's awesome gifts (listed above), particularly as Creator and source of all Love and Mercy. Being reality based does not mean that you have to have self loathing of the human race and in fact that is part of the problem because self loathing of one's self or humanity is not reality based, since God did not create anything, including humans, that are inherently low and loathsome. Sin and unrighteousness and injustice are loathsome, not human beings.

The second form of legitimate awe is awe in God's creation. There is absolutely no problem and in fact it is Biblically founded (and alluded to in the Qur'an) as being scripturally correct. Before we go further here is the Big Caution. It is fine to be in awe of God's creation, but NOT to worship or attempt to sanctify any components of God's creation. In other words you can marvel and be in awe of a beautiful sunset, but must not worship the sun, as it is simply a creation of God's. You can marvel and be in awe of beautiful mountain ranges and love their mystery and perhaps even succumb to their challenge of being climbed, but you must not worship the mountains nor consider them a tool in achieving spirituality. That is idolatry. Again, one can have one's breath taken away in awesomeness by mountains and even feel a closeness to God in a symbolic way, but one absolutely must not have a relationship with the mountains that infuses them with any supposed power, for that is idolatry. You can be a scientist and marvel and be in awe as you study DNA and genetics, and admire God's creation, but you absolutely cannot be in awe of how you can play God and manipulate life. That is the path to hell that is guaranteed to take a lot of people with you.

You can fly in spaceships and photograph distant stars and wonder about as yet undiscovered planets and wonder, and this is the key, wonder if God created life on any other planets. All of the universe, seen and unseen, is God's creation, just as the Book of Genesis explains. One of my first career interests was astronomy (the science) not astrology (the occult practice), as a youngster, so I have spent many hours admiring and researching and just marveling about the cosmos... but any awe that I have is 1) rooted in the awe of God's creation, and not imagined powers or capacities of either material or energy beings and 2) dwarfed by the awe that I have of God, and that I never spend even one minute of my life being unaware of.

The third kind of awe that is OK, but a slippery slope, is to be in awe of the actions of a merciful and/or loving person. Every once in a while we read or hear about or even know someone who does something truly awesome. But only God knows the genuine circumstances and what is in the heart of that person, and so one can safely admire an awesome moment, but must stop short of being in awe of the total person. There are two reasons for this caution. The first is that unfortunately in this very ego centric and self conscious society, there are few genuinely real and awesome people but, rather, people who sculpt themselves to have a list of, well, "awesomeness" that is of the world and not of God. These are the people who just seem like, as their handlers put them, (and yes, of course, their genuine family members), "saints on earth" or "angels." Um, remember the Good Samaritan in the Bible? Notice when Jesus told the story to his disciples he did not say that the Good Samaritan was "like an angel," or "like a saint on earth," or "generous" or anything else. He was simply "good," and from Jesus that was the highest praise for it meant that the Samaritan naturally utilized God's, not his own, goodness. The best of "heroes" and other "awesome" people of today are infused with God, not a list of heroic talents and deeds. Just about everyone today is over produced and I must admit I know very few genuinely awesome people (I could probably count them on one or two hands). So the first reason to avoid placing a person on your "awe" list is that few people today are genuinely awe worthy (yep, those bubbles bursting everywhere) and second, awe directed at people inevitably becomes a stumbling block to your having genuine awe of God. If you have awe of God you can recognize the few people that do come along who do something awesome, but the reverse is NEVER true. If you are in awe of people you will never have genuine awe of God because you misdirect yourself as a result in your awe expectations.

This is why I, like most of you, probably roll your eyes when you hear someone described as a "Good Christian." There was a time when that meant a very good thing, which was when it denoted, as I described above, a person who was naturally infused with awe of God and thus lived their life accordingly. But now the "Good Christian" seal of approval is passed around from self praising Christian to other self praising Christian because they attend the right congregation and they follow all the right rules. God may or may not have anything to do with that person supposedly being a "Good Christian." You know what it is like? It's like when being a "lady" or a "gentleman" meant something genuine, and then it became a class thing, a matter of wealth, or even of irony. Perfectly good labels of admiration become something foolish in modern context. Being a "Good Christian" has become a foolish label, because a truly godly person does not seek or need that label as he or she is focused only on God, in awe of him and sanctifying themselves to his will.

Now I am not the spoiler of the party, young people, so don't worry, I'm not saying to drop using "awesome" in slang, as I do it myself! I am speaking of the genuine feeling of awe here :-)

Here is how I can explain to you the collective societal problem that has developed due to misplaced awe. People have fallen into idolatry by being "awe junkies" and "awe seekers." And the reason they do so is that they avoid having awe for God because deep down inside they do not want to obey God and stop sinning, stop being warlike, stop being violence junkies, stop abusing substance, stop being evil, stop being unjust and stop being dishonorable and stop being unrighteous. People think if they tear down and criticize the institutions of God that they have an excuse for not being awed at God himself. Wrong. Oh, how deadly wrong that is.

If anything one must only be in increased awe of God at his forbearance and giving of many (but not infinite) second chances. You could destroy every church, mosque, or synagogue that you feel is too "orthodox" off the face of the earth, and kill or humiliate every person who is genuinely a servant of God and you would not diminish God's awesomeness one speck. It only underscores how God will, at the end of each person's life, and at the Final Judgment, hold each person accountable and there will be nothing anyone can say in their defense, since as we know, God is awesome in his All Knowingness, and knows all that happened, what would have happened, and was in each person's heart. God knows when you deny him his due as the only one to be in awe of, to worship, and the only Deity to exist because you want to keep on having some sort of sin or presumed power/control over others in your life. No matter how much you tear down the religious edifices, no matter what their presumed "quality" in your mind, where you think you can critique how others worship in orthodox settings, God is always God and he knows not only what you do but your motivations at all times.

So, young people, this is what I most worry about for you, which is that the sinful generations who have raised and taught you desire to keep sinning, lying, being unjust, being vicious, being on power trips and lost in a fantasy world, is that they have dangled so much of the real or the imaginary world and universe in front of you as being "awesome," while trying to diminish God and thus they blind you to the truth and hide it from you. Awesome robots and "aliens" might exist, every day in cartoons and other entertainment, but a mention of the legit awesomeness of God is not only lacking but forbidden. Parents and teachers and the whoremongers of commerce fear that if you, oh consumers and spenders of dollars, realize how awesome God is and how pale everything else is in comparison, that they will lose their presumed power over you, over earthly events (such as politics) and most of all through commerce and the almighty buck.

How do you steer through this mess? By recognizing misplaced awe and putting it where it should be instead, as I described above. It's fine to call something awesome (like a great room styling) or even a person awesome (like if they did a really fabulous good deed) and to be in awe of sunsets or tornado chasing or mountain climbing K2, or the beauty of outer space, wondering what's in those other galaxies over there IF one reserves genuine AWE for God. If you remember that God not only created all that exists but remains and always will be in control of it, you can marvel alongside of God at the beauty of life and of the material world while never being in danger of idolizing it and putting pieces of it over God in your priorities. You can call it "guilt free awe," ha. If you reserve genuine awe for God by remembering God as he really is at all times (as I listed in the beginning of this), you need not fear being swept away into sin and neglect because people dangle inappropriate awe in front of you. Who wants to work on world peace if they secretly think there are imaginary forces more powerful than God and that "they" "control" them? Earth has become like an abandoned house full of neglect and ruin with grass that is unmowed and vagrants that sit around waiting for something to happen instead of maintaining their residence. They want to be "awed" by something other than God and they want to watch cartoons of themselves with their presumable "step in" "awesome" powers rather than be in awe of the one true God AND be able to enjoy the awesomeness of his creation.

I hope that you understand what I am saying. Until next time, remember, seek only God and all else will fall into place and be given to you that is good for you.

When someone's stuck with bad advice...

...drop him, her or "it" immediately and turn to God, who will never steer you wrong.

You are never totally "trapped" or "stuck" with wrong advice, taking unwise vows, and promises or courses of action made upon false premises. Drop all of them like a hot potato, do not look back, and look only to God.

God is indeed the only thing humans are, ultimately, "stuck" with, and for that be thankful.

How is the humility business coming along?

I hope people are making progress in realizing that they are not 1) players or involved in "divine" matters in any way and 2) not reincarnated at all. I'm concerned that still too many people are realizing that upon their death and it is exactly too late.

God has promised that the worst punishment will be for the prideful and the false prophets. It's all there in the Bible (and the Qur'an).

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Why incorrect faiths have some merits

It's a provocative sounding title, but not meant to be, just terse in order to fit in the heading space. However, I know that many (though hopefully fewer than there used to be) will not like the implication that there are incorrect faiths. This is because people confuse tolerance with truth. Tolerance means you put up with people who may believe something totally wrong. Truth means it is correct and based on facts. It is not being intolerant to say that certain faiths and "beliefs" lack a truthful and/or factual foundation. It's being brave to say that, ha, but not being intolerant.

Rather than pursue this logic thread I'm going to leap ahead first to the core of what I want to explain, and then return to the first paragraph to further explore tolerance versus truth seeking.

You know the old sayings (usually said about love) regarding how can something so wrong "feel" "so right?" I am going to explain why faiths and "beliefs" that are factually incorrect 1) do have merits of validity and 2) "feel" so right.

No matter what culture one is from, what generation one was born into, raised and lived in, or whether one is young, old, rich, poor, believing or not, the fact is that the same God created the universe and all in it, created and raised humans from the animals by giving each person a soul at conception, and is present everywhere, All Knowing, even if no one is paying any attention to him in a particular place. So the same God is present and has always been present whether he is among believers or non-believers, whether God is overlooking a deserted island or the most crowded city. The same one God always has been and always will be. God's reality does not change at all whether people believe in him or not, or if people even exist.

We know this from the scripture. As God created all things, starting with heaven and the material universe, with the sky and earth, think about it... God's the same God even though people had not even been created yet. God's the same God before creation, on Day One of creation, on Day Two of creation and so forth, and he remains the same God as he creates human beings, as some believe in God and some don't, as many are faithful but some fall away, as many are unfaithful but some remain faithful: throughout all this God remains the same, as he does eternally. This is how to combine faith + logic to understand and draw the same conclusions as I have shown you how to do here, which is that by reading the scripture one learns the obvious that is not spelled out because it is obvious, which is that God's "reality" or "strength" did not grow (or diminish, or change in any way) whether he is overseeing the material things of the universe (rocks, plants, animals) or humans. The scriptures would have obviously pointed this out otherwise. God is understood with the very first words of scripture in the Bible (and the Qur'an) to have always been in existence, to be the source of everything, to be All Knowing, and to be constant and unchanging, regardless of one's vantage point in the universe or one's timeline. The same God created and watches some small piece of rock asteroid millions of miles away as he created and watches a large city of humans with all kinds of genuine faith or bogus "beliefs." The same God created and watches a tribe of indigenous people who may have had no contact with the Gospel, or the God of Abraham. So God is 1) the Creator 2) always aware and 3) always present, no matter what the place or circumstances.

How, then, is God present everywhere, regardless of the presence of people at all, or whether or not they are believers? God's Holy Spirit constantly moves and inspires in all places at all times throughout God's creation. So the Holy Spirit is as present over deserted landscapes as it is among populated areas, and the Holy Spirit is as present among believers as among non-believers, or of those who have genuine faith or those who have bogus beliefs. The presence of the Holy Spirit is the defacto status: it is not a "Good Housekeeping" seal of approval. The Holy Spirit is "there," just as oxygen is always "there," whether people are doing the right thing or not.

So when prehistoric people first started to have self awareness and wonder about the forces of nature and their place within it, the Holy Spirit was there before they started wondering, as they wondered and drew some conclusions, and remains there even if they have drawn false, and even horrifying, conclusions. For example the Holy Spirit obviously was present when indigenous tribes of Central and South America performed bloody human sacrifice because obviously the Holy Spirit does not abandon areas that fall into even the gravest of error. One could argue that the Holy Spirit works even harder to try to bring genuine and not false enlightenment. Likewise in even the most dreadful of enforced atheist countries, such as the USSR under Stalin, it's not like the Holy Spirit was never there or fled, anymore than people's guardian angels take a hike even if their human doesn't believe in them or behaves badly. Even the worst murderers still have their guardian angel to the end of that person's life. (Who wants that job hey? That's one of the differences between angels and humans, which is another reason that people who try to proclaim themselves angels are so pathetic).

But not to get off track with discussing angels, returning then to what I was speaking of, God is present everywhere all the time, regardless if humans are there or not, or whether they have proper belief or not. God's presence is not a reward or a seal of approval, but his being there is the defacto state of all of being, whether heavenly or material realm. The Holy Spirit is, for lack of a better term, the "observable" or "interactive" manifestation of God on earth. God, of course, is always directly approachable by each and every human being through prayer. God, however, tends to carry about individual and group agenda (for lack of a better word) through the Holy Spirit. This is why the Holy Spirit has been compared to and actually seen as the wind, a creature of the wind (the dove), water and fire because this accurately reflects that God is the source of all (the source of wind, doves, water and fire) and his influence that dwells unasked for among people is the Holy Spirit.

Sometimes people read the scriptures and get a little self righteous thinking that they invoke or receive the Holy Spirit due to their faith and goodness. Remember that Jesus sent the Holy Spirit, as he said he would, at Pentecost: the Apostles, Mary and the rest of the disciples did not "summon" the Holy Spirit or "earn" the Holy Spirit through deeds, birthright or other human conceptions of merit. The Holy Spirit is always everywhere on earth, whether it is asked for or not. It is another sign of the faithfulness of God even when humans are either oblivious to him or unfaithful to him in turn. Pentecost was the infusion of those present with the Holy Spirit. That does not mean the Holy Spirit was nowhere to be found in Jerusalem before Pentecost, ha. The Holy Spirit is always there, even where people do not exist, so most assuredly the Holy Spirit is there when people reach out to seek God, either incorrectly or correctly.

This, then, is my point about why even incredibly incorrect and unfactual "beliefs" can have some merits. By merits I mean points of validity and even virtues, but obviously those points of validity by no means guarantees or delivers salvation and eternal life. I am explaining this so that 1) those of you with faith in the one true God experience deepening of faith and understanding of God and 2) those of you with no or questionable beliefs can understand that a sprinkling of good things in a belief system does not salvation make.

The obvious example of what I am speaking about are the faiths and "beliefs" who value and seek peace. It is the influence of the Holy Spirit that draws even those people who do not believe in God, or who believe in false gods or worship principalities (such as natural forces or the supposed power of rites), to believe in peace. The Holy Spirit generates and maintains a yearning for good things-of truly good things-like peace among all humans. The danger is that without understanding the reality of God and the Holy Spirit, the objective and the framework for the structure of yearning, the motivations and the actions, and the desired outcome of the people yearning for peace can be all wrong and lead to the opposite, to destruction. Thus you have people who say things like "Buddhism is so peaceful and tolerant and so good, so it must be true." Well, there are two things true about Buddhism. One is that the Buddha existed and had an encounter with the Holy Spirit, but one that was without the context of belief in the one God. So the second true thing is that much of the goodness of behavior and philosophy advocated by genuine Buddhists is worthy and even inspired by contact with the Holy Spirit, but the objectives and the factual world view is off target due to the lack of recognition of the reality of the one God. Thus one can believe in a faith or a "belief" that has worthy and even inspired components while still faithfully following the wrong path because the facts are missing or incorrect.

While Pope Benedict XVI (writing as Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger) was not specifying Buddhism in this passage in his book "The Spirit of Liturgy" I include it here because it explains some of the problem that I am bringing to your attention in this blog posting.

"...then we can now define the intention of the account of creation as follows: creation exists to be a place for the covenant that God wants to make with man. The goal of creation is the covenant, the love story, of God and man...Only when man is in covenant with God does he become free. Only then are the equality and dignity of all men made manifest. If, then, everything is directed to the covenant, it is important to see that the covenant is a relationship: God's gift of himself to man, but also man's response to God...the fundamental process of salvation history, that is, the election and separation of pure from impure, and therefore the inauguration of the history of God's dealings with man. Thus begins the spiritual creation, the creation of the covenant, without which the created cosmos would be an empty shell...Now if worship, rightly understood, is the soul of the covenant, then it not only saves mankind but is also meant to draw the whole of reality into communion with God...True surrender to the union of man and creation with God. Belonging to God has nothing to do with destruction or non-being: it is rather a way of being" (p. 26-28).

Notice the part that I was thinking of when Pope Benedict writes that belonging to God (substitute "being spiritual" for those who deny God as he really is) consists of neither destruction nor non-being. In other words even peaceful detachment as a philosophy and a belief is damaging and erroneous, just as, obviously, destruction is an error. If one does not believe in God as he actually is one is not participating in creation the way God intended and as it factually is, which is the stage of an ongoing covenant with God, but one that does have a beginning and an end with each person's life and death:

"For Christian thinkers, the circle is seen as the great movement of the cosmos. The nature religions adn many non-Christian philosophies think of it as a movement of unceasing the Christian view of the world, the many small circles of the lives of individuals are inscribed within the one great circle of history as it moves from exitus [departure] to reditus [return]...In these circles, the mystery of beginning is repeated again and again, but they are also the scene of the end of time, of a final collapse, which may in its own way prepare the ground for a new beginning...Cult, then, has to do with the movement turning around. It is the sudden awareness that one has fallen, like the prodigal son's remorse, when he looks back to where he has come from...The fascination with such views is very great; they seem so easily identifiable with the Christian message...The religions of the Far East have teh same basic pattern. That is why the various kinds of teaching on redemption that they offer seem highly plausible. Exercises for relaxing the body and emptying the mind are seen as the path to redemption. They aim at liberation at finitude, indeed, they momentarily anticipate that liberation and so have salvific power...[in contrast] Christian thought distinguishes the two movements [exitus [departure] reditus [return]] from one another. Exitus is not a fall from the infinite, the rupture of being adn thus the cause of all sorrow in the world. No, exitus is first and foremost something thoroughly positive. It is the Creator's free act of creation. It is his positive will that the created order should exist as something good in relation to himself, from which a response of freedom and love can be given back to him...It accepts a creation from God as his offer of love, and thus ensues a dialogue of love, that wholly new kind of unity that love alone can create. The being of the other is not absorbed or abolished, but rather, in giving itself, it becomes full itself. Here is a unity that is higher than the unity of indivisible elementary particles..." (p. 31-33).

Here is an analogy to help you to understand, though I think that Pope Benedict is so remarkably brilliant in his explanation here that few will miss his point. His focus, though, is on explaining the history of the relationship between God and his people in order to comment on the development of the liturgy, thus he was not authoring a description of the problem of "good ideas" in factually insufficient faiths and beliefs, as I am writing here. Thus the analogy will help.

God created Creation, the cosmos and all in it, including human beings, in order to have a loving relationship in covenant with human beings as a whole, and individually. This relationship has a beginning (the birth of the person) and an end, which is initiated by the death of the person and then their judgment of where he or she will spend their eternal life, in heaven, or not. As a whole there is also going to be an ending to the entire covenant at the end of time, when the world passes away, the living and the dead are judged, and the heavenly Jerusalem is brought into being. So my analogy is that each person's life is like a single telephone conversation between two persons, in this case the human person and God. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end. The end is not really an end because at the end of the conversation the person gets up, leaves their home, walks to God's home and knocks on the door. The person will either be let in or not, and if not will be exiled for eternity in a godless and tormented place.

Now, the conversation can going in many directions and different people have different conversations. It may start out nice but develop into a quarrel. People might hang up the phone on God but then call him back. People might say unworthy things on the phone, or they may only say nice things. Think of it as a play where there may be many scenes and events, but ultimately the play, ie. the conversation, does come to an end.

Christians, Jews and Muslims have this worldview, this true understanding of God, that creation and life is the stage for this one conversation with God, one that has a beginning and an end, and the result of it will be that when one knocks on God's door in person, God will either bring him or her into eternal life in his presence and bliss, or due to their own rejection, sin, injustice or faithlessness, cast them eternally out of his presence.

Faiths and "beliefs" that do not understand this essential try to control the conversation's content for "goodness" or "peacefulness," without understanding that one is in a conversation with God and that this conversation will be followed up by a one-way encounter at death when one knocks at God's door. Thus practices like being peaceful, non-violent, not stepping on little bugs when one walks, detaching from interest in the material things of the world, working through a list of activities that presumably gives advantage in a theoretical, but bogus, future life and incarnation all sound "good" and their spirit may be wholesome in original intent, but they miss the entire point of life, miss the realization that it is all a one-on-one phone call with God, and miss that there is only one door out of life and it leads to God's reality and his front steps.

This is the futility of incorrect beliefs that have good merits. One can talk endlessly about peacefulness and love, but have no idea that God is on the other end of the line and thus waste the entire conversation. Instead of talking about peace in the abstract one should have been paying attention to God in the reality. It's like if you had a conversation with the President of the United States about the health care bill and all you talked about with him is what you saw on the soap opera yesterday. Good use of time? Practical pursuit of worthy goals? Not really. Again, I'm using simple analogies to help understand why something that may "feel" logical and "good" can be so misguided and futile.

Worse, when one is focused on detaching from the world and not believing in the one way street to God, that is like you are constantly trying to hang up the phone. As Pope Benedict explains so well, creation is not the result of the fall, or a futile recycling (my words there); creation is the place that God established in order to have a loving relationship based on a covenant with humankind. It has a purpose and an exit point, even though much of life overall feels iterative as each generation faces the same joys and sorrows, ease or difficulties, as previous ones, but here is the point: It feels iterative but it is not because it is one covenant between one God and all humans, and each human being has their own "phone conversation" with God, the end of which consists of going to God's door and being allowed in or cast down into the netherworld eternally.

I really don't know what to make of the recent generations fascination with tools and techniques that detach themselves from God and his goodness rather than as they believe genuinely increase their presumed "spirituality." One reason I have not criticized my ersatz supposed friends in the past who had these beliefs (including my own niece and others) is that I trust the Holy Spirit who constantly moves among people to bring them to the truth, painful as it may be when one has been so mislead and misleading others. But in private I have been sad to see many people hang up the phone to God or blather their own self focused rubbish on the line, knowing that in the end God will have to say to them "I did not know you."

Sadly, God has generations of experience at of course having to say that to people who believe they mouthed all the right words during life, they were "tolerant," they were "peaceful," they "gave to good causes," they "detached themselves from the evils of the material world..." and then, ooops, you see, that is the problem. The world is not evil, it is the loving home that God created for his loving relationship and covenant with humans. And further, they wasted their entire lives not once acknowledging God on the other end of the line.

So that is why incorrect faiths and "beliefs" can have some merits as in valid thinking, valid philosophies, and even inspired goodness, yet still be factually incorrect. The faith or belief fathers or mothers felt the presence and inspiration of the Holy Spirit but rather than taking it all the way to recognizing God and his covenant, they tried to imitate traits of what they perceived the Holy Spirit to be. At best it is well meaning people who totally miss the point of creation which is to be in loving covenant with a real and active God. At worst it becomes cult where ritual, tech and even abhorrent practices (human sacrifice, blood drinking, etc) are viewed as acceptable and even admirable means to some sort of "greater purpose," but that purpose and that play and that conversation are all made up and bogus self delusion.

You know how many people have dreams where they are back in school again but they have missed showing up for a school exam? It's a classic anxiety dream. Well, people who do not believe in God as he actually is, no matter how nice and "well meaning" they are have missed the entire conversation, the entire classroom, even showing up for school, say nothing of missing the school exam. The Holy Spirit worked to keep yearning for God alive in even the most soul deadening places such as Stalin's Soviet Union. How baffling is it that many faiths and "beliefs" try to deaden awareness of God and his covenant in places where there is absolutely no excuse for doing so.

That is why traditional faiths must be respected, such as Buddhism, because the Buddha and his followers did with good intention seek if not the face of God then the influence of the Holy Spirit, who was always present, even if they did not realize so. But modern variations on these faiths and synthesized "beliefs" are totally bogus and dangerous because they are not at all working within the piece, however small, of the valid Holy Spirit that the faith ancestors did but rather since they do not recognize God as he actually is, yet they have access to knowledge (it's not like they were raised under a rock and never heard of the Bible, Torah or the Qur'an), they create self serving delusion models of a mechanized cosmos, not matter how many loving, peaceful and tolerant, benevolent vocabulary they hide behind. They do not do credit to their faith ancestors who were either of the mainstream believing faiths or those who, like Buddhism, with good intentions, created worldviews based on legitimate input from the Holy Spirit, even though they lacked the context.

I hope this helps. I have to wrap it here because I'm a housekeeper and my boss is wondering where to best display on the living roomwall his blowgun while waving it around and telling me to bend over. *sigh* Kind a distraction from thinking about God and giving spiritual direction.

God does not "work" through ESP

Hi everyone. I hope that all who celebrated Thanksgiving Day today had a good and peaceful one. Am spending the day doing little chores and projects, and re-reading Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger's (Pope Benedict XVI) wonderful book, "The Spirit of the Liturgy."

I have been taking a little break from continuing the topic I started regarding why God seems, and most probably is indeed, responding to fewer prayers for miraculous and other graced cures of physical or mental illness and/or for longer lifetimes. I know what needs to be explained, of course, but weary of having to cover these topics since it of course all comes back to the same thing, which is truthful faith in the truthful one God while living in a sane and truthful world that was created as such by God.

While thinking about various things just now, though, I deduced (since no one really asks me to my face) another question/misunderstanding that I'm sure many people have, and this, while a very important topic, I can indeed make short work of and raise and answer here and now.

I've written before that extra-sensory perception (ESP) is a bona fide physical and mental capability that both people and animals have to various degrees. Here is my point, which is twofold:

1. ESP has absolutely nothing to do with spirituality. It is simply an ability, like good eyesight or good hearing, manual dexterity, or ability to learn languages quickly. Everyone has the capacity but there is a wide range of talent and natural ability from person to person, and that variety has absolutely NOTHING to do with spirituality.

2. Therefore, God does NOT use ESP to communicate with human beings AT ALL. In fact, the opposite is true because the stronger a person's talent in ESP the less he or she is in contact with God. This is because a person with ESP is in contact with other ESP sources, not God.

To explain that point, suppose that God is a beam of light, but you have a really good TV set that can pick up lots of channels. Those channels are TV signals that your device is receiving, not a beam of light sent out by God. The better your TV set the better the picture, the more channels you receive, etc, but a better TV set that is designed to pick up more cable, airwaves or satellite TV channels does not make it a device that picks up God's unique beam of light. This is kind of a "duh" moment if you think about it.

The problem is that the "New Age" generation has totally confused ESP with spirituality and that has lead to, well, there is no nice way to put it, much mental insane crap being assigned to communication "from God" AND the supposed "spirituality" and (puke) "giftedness" of the ESP using or receiving person. Again, it's like saying a great TV set makes you the Pope.

The more a person develops or relies on their real (or worse, imagined or faked) ESP ability, the less he or she receives even the most elementary genuine communication or communion with God. That is because all one is doing is working on one's TV antenna or cable or dish and pointing it more and more to other human generated channels, rather than even realizing that God is using a light (to use our analogy) and not a TV channel. All the ESP person is doing is reading other people's bologna stronger and stronger, and thus not even thinking about communicating with the real God. So when a person says that God is "telling" him or her something by "putting it in their heart" or having a vision or whatever, if they are using ESP they are getting that intuition (to use a polite word) from one of three places:

1. Other people's thoughts and impulses, transmitted by ESP.

2. One's own unconsciousness and desires. It is a VERY COMMON situation where a person who is not really in touch with their unconscious in a genuine unvarnished way is susceptible to the unconscious using the ESP ability of the person to communicate with the consciousness of that same person. That is how many false prophets develop and ultimate mislead many people because even though the ideas may seem like "godly" ones ("build a ministry here," or "follow one's heart there," or "I have the real answer and knowledge of God's will") the ESP is simply channeling, to use our TV analogy, information from one's own self fulfillment unconscious desires and projections. It's like your unconscious is a TV channel that you don't even know exists, but wants your attention, so it grabs onto the "ESP" channel that you have and taps in there. So you think (erroneously) that your ESP TV channel is pointing to God (first error) and then the second error is that your own unconscious seeps into that channel and you for sure think you are getting a "personal message" from God (second error).

3. Demonic forces. Satan rarely messes with individual people but demons most certainly do. I don't mean demons such as evil spirits and so forth per se, but I mean the miasma of sin and temptations constantly ooze from hell and many humans just can't seem to resist. The desire for power and control is an example of a principality, a power, that oozes from the gates of hell (placed there, of course, by the sinners who occupy hell) and ESP most certainly can pick that up. The road to hell may be paved with good intentions, as the saying goes, but it is mostly paved by pride and the desire for "specialness," to be a "player" in "divine matters." This is why developing one's "powers" in this arena is a grave sin and usually fatal error.

How does anyone know that God does not use ESP to communicate or "work" through with humans? When I explain this to you it will be another "duh" moment. Because God is everywhere and accessible to everyone, baby or adult, educated or not, rich or poor, black or white, talented or just ordinary, spiritually inclined or everyday Joe. The simplest prayer by the simplest person is just as received by God as the most complex prayer, and likewise no special means is necessary. In fact, Jesus even criticized the self satisfaction of the Pharisee who prayed in the same temple as the humble publican who repeated only one phrase over and over. Prayer and sacrifice have been established by God since he first made himself known to Adam and Eve as the way to communicate with him and receive responses in turn. Neither prayer nor sacrifice have anything to do with any talent, whether it be the ability to have 20/20 vision in one's eyes, one's hearing, or one's ESP. Everyone who prays is heard by God (though that does not mean that unacceptable prayer is going to get the desired answer from God). Again, it has nothing to do with talent.

Further, we see throughout faith history that God makes himself known to those who receive legitimate revelation from him in ways that are totally separate from any talent or arcane ability. The Bible is filled with God giving communication to people separate from any "talent" they have. This is one reason that God will appear as an angel for some people while not for others, as we see in scriptures. God gives the information in the way best suited for the person; not because the person is "best suited" to receive information from God. Another "duh" moment. God is so great that he adjusts his light to the person he chooses to communicate with, not the arrogant and prideful opposite assumption that so many have, that God communes and communicates with those who have the "talent" or the (puke) "giftedness" or "spirituality."

When it is God's will to respond to a prayer or to communicate with a person, he stoops down and adjusts to do so accordingly. God does not "shop around" for the person with the "best ability" to so called "hear him." God selects the person and that's that; God makes himself known through the ways he always has.

For the vast majority of people that means to be in commune, not communicate, with God through prayer. Notice I use both words as they have separate meanings. To be in commune with God means that you are in thoughtful companionship with each other. To communicate means to give information and with God, often it is one sided where the human prays to God to express himself (such as a prayer of intention) and he receives in return the communing with God, God's understanding, love and fellowship, but not usually an answer. That is the proper balance and that is reality.

The object of daily prayer and one's daily devotionals and general awareness of God is to maintain an air of commune with God, to seek his support in general by giving God one's awareness, fearful respect, love and worshipfulness in one's general demeanor in prayer. Then one, against that backdrop of being a person who is close to God, can pray and hope for communication with the proper context and in proper relationship with God. One spends much of one's time in prayer respectfully "hanging out" with God; that is commune with God and that is the purpose of prayer.

I hope that you have found this helpful.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Prayer and topics of illness and death

Yeah, if you have the feeling this is going to be another one of "those" posts, one that is a *thud* back to reality, your instinct is correct. Believe me when I tell you that I wish that all of my posts could be and would be like my series on the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, understanding God, understanding Jesus Christ, prayer, strengthening one's faith, and other affirmative crucial subjects necessary for a joyous believer to understand and embrace. But for every one of those posts that I issue, I know that misinformation and misunderstanding that is out there among both unbelievers and believers drags downward the efficacy of the joy and love that I present. And so it is time to make very clear an urgent problem that more of you have noticed, I would expect, than you would admit to. The problem is the decreasing efficacy of praying to God for support and intervention relating to illness and increased longevity in life.

First of all, remember that there are really two types of prayer. One is general prayer, which can be thought of as conversational, honoring, worshipful and glorifying of God in its purpose and content. The other kind of prayer is intercessory prayer, where one is basically asking God for something. One of the greatest failings among believers globally today is that there is much more of the second type than the first, and it ought to be the other way around. I am not being unkind, and neither is God, because every preacher and Sunday school teacher knows full well that people tend to forget about God day to day, but turn to him when they want something from him. That's human nature, and while "human nature" is a valid excuse for backsliding into that mindset, it is no excuse for remaining in that proportion or total lack of prayer once one is reminded that it is incorrect and showing lack of reverence and commitment in your relationship to God. So I am speaking about the problem of intercessory prayer that is directed to God asking for cures for one's self and/or for others and those that are related to asking for a long or a "longer" lifespan. The problem that I wish to address is that more of you than will admit to it, who are of a certain age and experience, know that God is answering in the affirmative less and less of those prayers now than he did previously. Young people (hi there!) you are not old enough, obviously, to remember when there seemed to be and indeed was a higher proportion of answered prayers relating to illness and lifespan, so just ride along in reading about this because it will give you a lot of useful insight and re-programming, so you can start to repair this problem and avoid the faults of the current generations' mindsets.

We need to start out with a reminder, which I have blogged extensively about, that scripture states very clearly that human lifespan is limited in time, no matter what humans may do regarding medical or technological achievements and advances. It is a generous amount of time that God has stated is the upper limit (one hundred and twenty years), when one considers he made that statement after Adam and Eve had disobeyed him in the Garden of Eden. God did not state that everyone would someday live to be one hundred and twenty (nor that those who died earlier than that are somehow cheated out of their right to a long life). God made clear that because Adam and Eve refused to live in obedience to God's Holy Spirit in Eden that they forfeited the supernatural extension of life on behalf of all of humanity. I recently blogged to explain that the dozen or so patriarchs who lived extraordinary centuries of life did indeed exist, and for several reasons they had this long life in God's service. I remind you of that because another reason a few, only a few, of God's children had this gift is that they bear witness to the overcoming of the flesh (and its eventual decay and demise) if filled with the Holy Spirit, which only God can give and cannot be "summoned" or otherwise gained or manipulated by humans via magic, "all natural living," or other false beliefs. So one has solid scriptural basis for understanding that God states that one hundred and twenty years will be the upper limit for humanity, but he makes no promises regarding any individual or group, and that he "proves" this to humans by having a small group live extraordinary live spans in the days of the great Patriarchs, for they were, for God's purpose, filled with the Holy Spirit to that end.

But already by the time of King David we see that even those who are blessed by God, but are now as all humans are, subject to natural laws regarding life span, able to "expect" only seventy years. In fact King David only lived to that age himself, and he was mightily blessed by God but again, recognize the difference between being blessed and being given supernatural presence of the Holy Spirit, which only those few Patriarchs had, and no one ever will again. How do we know that? There is extensive scripture regarding the shortness of life and the need to be prepared to suddenly meet God, but listen to what the human who knew God the best of all, since he often spoke with him face to face, said:

Psalm 90:10

The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labor and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.

This is a Psalm that was written by Moses. Moses is the only man to have frequently met with and spoken with God face to face, to have heard God speak his own Holy Name, to see God in passing in his glory, and to have a tent where he could ask God any question he needed, and ask for intercession on behalf of both large religious problems the Israelites faced, and squabbles where God's advice was needed. Last and not least, of course, Moses received the Ten Commandments and the Law from God. Besides Jesus Christ, was there ever anyone who knew God better than Moses? No, indeed. And here Moses writes in his Psalm that the life span of humans is seventy years, and that while some through their strength (health and what we'd call "good genes" today, ha) do live to eighty, that death will come fast nonetheless even for those oldsters, and that they achieve that lifespan often with discomfort and struggle (the sufferings of old age or a life of hardship).

Thus the Bible is filled with much observation, and remember all scripture is divinely inspired, often with direct "quotes" from God, regarding the upper limit (one hundred and twenty years) and likely limit for individuals (seventy to eighty years). It is imprudent and misleading, therefore, for people to expect otherwise.

Remember, as I've blogged before, up until one hundred years ago most humans did not live past forty years old, with men and women of good character and wisdom being eligible for being considered "elders" after the age of thirty! Through advances in medicine, better hygiene, and better food, water, shelter and energy supply, humans have in the past one hundred years added a good thirty years onto their practical expected lifespan: right on the mark what Moses observed and prophesied in his Psalm. One problem is that when through goodness of human charity and endeavor that lifespan was increased to reach its best potential, modern humans think that is an open ended "trend line." What I mean is they ignore the reality of how that progress was achieved, which is that more people are receiving what they previously "lacked," which was good food, shelter, hygiene, clean water and medical care, and it was that lacking that kept them from the natural life span they could expect. It was not a refuting of the fact that humans do have a real limit to their lifespan. In other words, even when what is lacking is provided, this does not open up a "gate" to indefinite length of life. To the contrary, abundance is sometimes a two edged sword where people often find new ways to lose their lives.

But let us stay on the point and not talk about risky behavior or the technical trade offs (such as whether automobiles versus horses or walking give more opportunities for long and safer life or not, which only God knows, of course). Let us stick to the point of 1) the reality of the human body and its frailty and limitation of life 2) God's stated intentions regarding human longevity.

As I've repeatedly advised people, when reading the Bible and thoughtfully trying to understand the events contained in it and God's will, the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John containing the direct teaching of Jesus is the guide to proper discernment. So what did Jesus say about long life? What he said, undoubtedly preached many times, is actually repeated in Luke in two different contexts:

Luke 9:24

For whosoever will save his life, shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same will save it.


Luke 17:32-33

Remember Lot's wife.
Whosoever shall seek to save his life, shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life, shall preserve it.

In Luke 9:24 three of the Apostles had just witnessed Jesus transfigured into his glorified body, accompanied by Moses and Elias, and being enveloped in clouds while hearing the voice of God. Upon descending the mountain where this occurred and joining the other disciples, they are immediately approached by a man seeking a cure for his son, who is wracked by spasms caused by a demon. The disciples had been unable to expel the demon and so Jesus does so and the boy is cured and restored. Having seen all these wonders the disciples start to discuss both out loud and in their own thoughts who of them would someday be the "greatest." It is then, in a longer discourse, that Jesus makes the remark in Luke 9:24. You should read the whole of Luke 9 on your own and study it. But with the context I have given you, you can now understand better what Jesus intends by Luke 9:24.

Jesus is both explaining and rebuking that the amount of miracles and cures that a person is part of is not the measure of greatness but, rather, in how much they serve God through Jesus. In other words, the disciples and others should not think of how great they are relative to each other or anyone else, but how totally they serve Jesus for the sake of God. Now, what does that have to do with lifespan and health? Two things. One, Jesus makes this statement immediately after curing a boy. Remember, one learns by the actions of Jesus in addition to his words. So Jesus is clearly saying that where possible it is God's will to cure illness, but that cure of illness must always be in the context of the glorification of God, whether that cure is miraculous, as only God can provide, or routine through good care and medicine. Remember that the woman who had been cured of bleeding by Jesus had gone for years to many doctors first. So Jesus by example demonstrates that God is all for good health and curing of ailments so long it is done for his glory. I do not mean just praising or thanking God. When someone performs medicine for the glory of God, it means two things: they acknowledge that all goodness comes from God AND they do not accomplish any cure via sinfulness or injustice.

Suppose that father had said, "Please cure my son. I've done everything, including killing some pagan kid and trying to transplant his brain into my son's head." That would be a stark example of someone not glorifying God in their search for a cure for their son.

So the second reason this passage spoken by Jesus has to do with lifespan and by implication medicine is that Jesus equates the disciples' argument and speculation about greatness with lifespan. In a time of great poverty often a person was viewed as "great" simply because he or she had a long lifespan. A long lifespan (again, remember that was being over forty years old for the average person) was viewed as a blessing, one that was often merited due to being in God's good graces. Whether that was true or not (and of course long lifespan can be a great blessing, but not always) Jesus of course spoke using concepts the people could understand. So Jesus is essentially saying that rather than worry about which of you is "greater," understand that even if you are cut dead after a short life, if you lose your life for my sake you will save your life through all eternity... but if you try to cling to a long life (cling to greatness), life will inevitably strip it away from you, especially if you are attempting to be great (live long) without God.

If humans had a hope of living beyond what God had previously stated and demonstrated throughout the Bible, this would have been the time that Jesus would have said so. Instead, Jesus with one very simple and powerful image conveyed much spiritual and worldly information. Jesus let people know that:

1. There is the life that one has as a living being, and then the eternal life afterwards, and the eternal life is obviously the one that a person should look to God for in hope of receiving, not the worldly life;
2. That if a person suffers a curtailment of his or her lifespan for the sake of God through Jesus, then he or she will save their eternal life and not perish in it;
3. That a person who attempts to cling to life shall lose it, one way or the other. Either the forces of natural life and/or the consequences of one's actions (including sin or injustice) will curtail the life that is so eagerly attempted to be preserved and/or the person will lose their chance at eternal life with God simply because they put their earthly life ahead of God and eternal life in importance.

Thus to apply the totality of Luke 9 to the question of praying for good health, cures or long lifespan, you see that Jesus:

1. Demonstrates what the glorified body will look like in eternal life and that two well known prophets, Moses and Elias, are indeed in heaven, so Jesus begins that day with affirming the primacy of one's eternal life and the reality of it, that it is not just an illusion or wishful thinking;
2. Demonstrates that one should, indeed, care about the health of one's loved ones on earth and seek responsible cures, as the father sought the help of Jesus to cast the demon from his little boy;
3. Chides the apostles for vying among themselves in search of a false hierarchy of greatness based on earthly life, even if that earthly life includes receipt of the authority from God to perform miracles;
4. Acknowledges that the greatest currency in the mind of the people of those times as far as measuring "greatness" among poor people was to have a long life or to save one's life from peril;
5. And thus debunks both the idea of relative greatness and the idea of preserving the earthly life as being of foremost importance;
6. Therefore explaining that attempts to save one's life as more important than focusing on God foremost will be futile, resulting in loss of earthly life and possibly eternal life;
7. While, therefore, if one thinks not of one's greatness or life span as of the utmost importance but instead thinks first and foremost of God might retain one's life on earth and definitely will have the promise of eternal life in heaven.

This is such an important concept of not only the spiritual sanctified life of serving God that all faithful believers should pursue that Jesus uses almost the same words but in a different context, both reaffirming and more so broadening their meaning. That is the significance of Luke 17: 32 and here is that context.

Jesus is having a long teaching and discussion session with the disciples. In previous chapters they have already discussed many things, culminating with telling the disciples about the rich man who was sent to hell for not having saved a suffering starving man outside of his gate. Thus Luke 17 is Jesus' summation of the importance that 1) people must avoid sin and offense at all costs and 2) people should be generous in forgiveness.

Then "The apostles said unto the Lord, 'Increase our faith.' Jesus does so by telling them a parable demonstrating that faith is first found through great humility while obeying all that God instructs. After this discourse they traveled through Samaria and Galilee and entered a village where Jesus heals ten lepers who had begged him to do so. Now, this is interesting so make note of it. Jesus healed them by sending them to the local priests. When the lepers went to the priests, without the priests doing anything each leper was cured (by Jesus) but out of the sight of Jesus and in the direct sight of the priest. Only one comes back to thank Jesus and that ends up being the focal point of this miracle, both in the subsequent actions and discourse by Jesus and also by most preachers in modern times. Yes, gratitude is a crucial point, but have you ever thought about why Jesus sent the lepers, uncured, to the priests, and then the cure by Jesus fell upon each of them in the sight of the priests? There are two reasons and these are essential to understanding Jesus and his teaching:

1. Sure, the obvious reason is true that Jesus was forcing the priests to witness the cure of the lepers and thus rubbing their faces in it a bit (the priests would have been shunning the lepers and so you can appreciate the humor if you understand that when Jesus sends ten lepers to the priests and right in front of the priests each leper loses his leprosy while the priests stare in horror and astonishment);
2. But here is the more important point. Even though the priests were of no help to curing the lepers, Jesus was demonstrating, even though some time had passed, what he had just spoken of to the disciples regarding humility and obedience to God. Thus Jesus sends the lepers to the priests of God first, showing all that one is supposed to focus on God first, rather than the "cure."

This event and of course the other events resulted in another confrontation with the Pharisees. Jesus gives a discourse to respond to their question of "When the kingdom of God should come" that Jesus again makes the statement about losing one's life or preserving one's life. Do you see how the context differs, but the truth is constant? In Jesus' discourse, Luke 17:20-37, Jesus first reminds the Pharisees of their history, from creation through the days of Noah and up to the destruction of Sodom and the saving from it of Lot. The reason Jesus mentions this history is to make two points that 1) God's kingdom is already here and always was, as his will is done whatever the circumstances, whether foreseen by humans or not and 2) the cycle of obedience/disobedience/chastisement that humans continually test God's patience with. The form of disobedience that Jesus is focused on explaining here is an excessive focus on material goods and activities and diminished obedience to God. It is in that context that he compares what happened when it rained fire and brimstone from heaven onto Sodom as being, in the future, how it will be when the Son of Man is "revealed." This refers to Jesus returning in the Second Coming as judge.

By the way, pay close attention to not only our theme about holding onto life/health but also I am going to explain one of the most misunderstood passages about the Apocalypse here too, so we have a dual benefit in studying this scripture.

In Luke 17:29 Jesus reminds the Pharisees that the righteous man, Lot, was saved from the destruction. Lot did so by fleeing, following the instructions of the angels, and taking nothing with him. So Jesus compares Lot following the instructions of the angels, running away from his earthly possessions and thus toward God with what righteous men and women will do at the End of Times, the Apocalypse, the Second Coming: they will flee all earthly attachment, follow the instructions of God's angels and look only to God:

Luke 17:31
In that day, he which shall be upon the house-top, and his stuff in the house, let him not come down to take it away: and he that is in the field, let him likewise not return back.

In other words, people (who spent a lot of time on their roofs, as many lived above their animals and other goods) should not go back into the house to get their stuff; they should be ready to go with God as they are. Likewise people who are working in the field should leave the field and not try to harvest some food for the road. This is NOT RAPTURE. Sodom was not "rapture," it was the handful of faithful fleeing on foot while the many unfaithful were burned and destroyed. When Jesus makes a comparison, he means it as it is, literally. Sodom was a bloodbath, not an "out of body" or "rapture" experience. Thus Jesus is saying that at his Second Coming people need to be ready in advance to leave all earthly attachment behind and attend to God.

How do we know this besides the obvious fact that like I said, Jesus makes his comparisons to be exact? That is the heart of the reference to Lot's wife and the problem of clinging to health/cures/lifespan/goods:

Luke 17:32-36
Remember Lot's wife.
Whosoever shall seek to save his life, shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life, shall preserve it.
I tell you, in that night there shall be two men in one bed; and the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left.
Two women shall be grinding together; the one shall be taken and the other left.
Two men shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, the other left.

Now, all Jesus had to say is "remember Lot's wife" without expounding further because everyone indeed knew what he meant. Lot's wife was one of the just who was saved by following the warning of the angels and fleeing Sodom with her husband... except for one problem. She was just, she was saved, but she turned around to look back, whether by morbid curiosity or regret for her possessions, and she lost her life. Everyone would have immediately clicked and understood exactly what Jesus was saying.

Two just people, Lot and his wife, were saved from Sodom, but one at the last minute did not shed her earthly attentions and thus, even though she was just, lost her life. She disobeyed, having been told not to look back. It is a great sadness and reality that many just people do, in a pinch, disobey God, even (often) for the most stupid of reasons. We've seen that often. Remember when Moses was told to strike a rock once for water by God and he struck it twice "just in case," as if the number of times he struck the rock "made" the water come and not God? Likewise Lot's wife, though just, disobeyed in the ultimate "what was she thinking" moment.

Here is where the math comes into it. Lot and his wife were two just people, and both were saved by the angels. One just person obeyed everything God said and saved his life, that being Lot. One just person disobeyed the instructions and lost her life, that would be Lot's wife. So of two just people, one stayed just to the end, while one disobeyed out of weakness at the last minute. That's half and half.

That is why Jesus drives home the point that at the coming of the Kingdom of God, half of the just will obey to the end and be saved, while half will fizzle out and disobey at the last minute because of their attachment to the world.

1) Two men sleeping (no, not "that way," but in those days people shared blankets and mats on the floor), one will be taken (as in the Lot analogy) and one will not (as in Lot's wife analogy).
Half and half.
2) Two women shall be grinding together (no, not "that way," but in those days people had to pulverize their grains to make bread or gruel); the one shall be taken (as in the Lot analogy) and one will not (as in Lot's wife analogy).
Half and half.
3) Two men shall be in the field; the one shall be taken (as in the Lot analogy) and the other left (as in the Lot's wife analogy).
Half and half.

They then go on to ask Jesus where, but really, we need to stick to the topic here or this will turn into too long a single posting bringing in too many topics that need in-depth discussion on their own.

Jesus is once again explaining that life is good and should be lived with goodness and joy, but that even the just humans fall in great numbers to the often last minute weakness of earthly attachment and thus disobey God, often for the most dimwitted and minor of reasons, as Lot's wife demonstrates. That is what Jesus is saying and warning about, and it ought to be very sobering for you because Jesus is talking about two JUST people here, Lot and his wife: one obeys and is saved and the other is saved, but disobeys at the last minute, and is lost. Jesus isn't even talking about believers or non-believers, "sinners" or not: both Lot and his wife were just and were saved by the angels... but Lot's wife disobeyed at the end by looking back with longing on something of worldly possessions and attachment when it was time to let them go.

Jesus is not saying that half of the people will be "raptured" into heaven: he is saying that half of the just people will fail and fall in disobedient weakness at the very end. If you have been believing otherwise, you should be very concerned and worried right about now. (Past due actually!)

This is what you need to understand about prayers for heal, healing, cures, and long lifespan. Too often even well meaning prayers are like Lot's wife... they are just people who at the last minute cling too hard to the world. This does not mean you can't pray or should not pray for yourself or your loved ones health, sicknesses, ailments, or that they should be healed and live, but one MUST do that against an overall background of knowing that:

Whosoever shall seek to save his life, shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life, shall preserve it.

I'm going to wrap up this post and continue in a subsequent one because believe it or not this was the context setting post, ha, for getting to the point I want to make about why God seems to be answering fewer prayers for healings and life savings than he used to, just in these past fifty years or so. In the next post I will explain that sure, I'm not saying to stop praying intercessory prayers regarding life and health, but I am going to explain to you why so many of them are not answered the way that many are hoping. For you to follow my "faith and reasoning" commentary this post's background and context is essential, so do think about it and read the recommended chapters to get the overall context renewed and refreshed.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Thought for the day

How can you tell if God is still angry about something you've done?

Answer: If you are still sinning or being unjust in some area of your life,
he's still angry.

Yeah. Really easy to figure that out...!

Understanding the Catholic priesthood

With recent articles about the Roman Catholic Church accepting religious and laity from the Church of England (Anglican, Episcopal), among the usual hype and accusations arises again a fundamental misunderstanding about the Catholic priesthood being reserved, except in the case of converts, for celibate men. There is some historical perspective that is needed (of course) that I've alluded to before, but I had the idea to condense it to one point, well, OK, maybe two points :-) in this posting to help. I especially hope this helps young people (hi again!) who have been deprived of so much factual history, say nothing of the deprivations of faith history.

Like the similar subject of infant baptism (which I have written a fair amount about here) there is the misunderstanding that the practice, due to either doctrine or tradition, of celibate men setting themselves aside for the worship of God is some sort of invention of the Catholic Church. That simply is not true and here are the facts you need to know.

During the time leading up to the birth of Jesus, and certainly during his childhood and adulthood, many Jewish men remained single and celibate by choice. In fact, these were individual decisions. Thus these were not priests who are following rules to be celibate, it was a grassroots movement of many individuals making that decision. Instead of being among the married Jewish priesthood, these men tended to set up a place for themselves as hermits and itinerant preachers. This is where another "Catholic" "invention," of hermit celibate monks and also "holy women" also derived from, by the way. In the times of Jesus there was a rich tradition and grassroots movement of many men individually deciding to 1) be celibate and have no family or intimate relations and 2) dedicating their lives to contemplation, prayer and preaching of God.

It was from this rich and vibrant large population of men that yes, you guessed it, John the Baptist arose. He is the "where is that in the Bible" source for understanding a man who when he became of age did not marry or have intimate relationships and instead left his family behind to be an itinerant preacher and/or a hermit.

When the Catholic Church explains that its doctrine and tradition of a celibate male priesthood is modeled after Jesus Christ, they are correct. But here is where the listeners of that statement often make the wrong conclusion. They conclude that the Apostles are the "models of the priesthood," not Christ himself. The Apostles and disciples are the models for the celebration and worship of the Christian/Catholic faith and much of the structure, of course, especially through the writings and admonitions of St. Paul. But notice what I am saying carefully because too many people are defensive/attacking on this subject and they miss the point. Jesus Christ is the model of the celibate priest, not the Apostles or the disciples.

So now you can understand there is three "generations" of celibate males who dedicate themselves solely to sanctification and serving God:

First generation: Jewish men who remain single, celibate and become hermits and/or preachers, dedicated entirely to God.

Second generation: John the Baptist, who elects all of the above in that first generation, but he is specifically preparing the way for Jesus Christ.

Third generation: Jesus Christ, who elects all of the above but is also the first priest, since he IS the sacrifice that priests offer to God (that's their "job" description) and he is the third "generation" of the celibate man devoted entirely to God's work.

It is that logic and understanding that the Roman Catholic Church realized in the centuries after Jesus died and resurrected, which is why it "didn't happen right away" and thus is "not in the Bible."

Young people, you in particular need to understand a point about "what's in the Bible" and "not in the Bible" (and the same for the Qur'an, if you are Muslim) since that's what you hear a lot of Christians hurtling accusations against each other (not to their credit or to the faith's honor, by the way). Here's the bottom line. It is essential that God be believed and understood strictly by what is in the Bible (or the Qur'an if you are Muslim). But regarding religious practice and doctrine, Jesus did not spell out everything in A-B-C as if he is the new dictator and future generations are all dummies. Jesus left plenty of room for common sense. So here I will give you an example to use to remind yourself when you must go "by the book" and when it is expected that common sense be used.

Where in the Bible does it say that youth ministries and children's Bible study be established? I can't find it anywhere in my Bible! ;-)

Yet the very people who are often the harshest critics of Catholics for "making up" "stuff" that is "not in the Bible" have "Sunday school" divided not only by adult or children but also by "seniors," "singles," etc. Instead of attending the main Sunday service children go to their "own" Sunday school groups. Um, where's that in the Bible? In fact, that is contrary to how doctrine would have been taught to any Jewish child during the time of Jesus. How do we know that? "That's in the Bible." Children went to the same Temple and watched the same sacrifices, said the same prayers as the adults. They did not go into a separate room where they were shown cartoons, videos, and watched a "pretend" sacrifice of a plush toy "bull."

Jesus did not say "Let the children come to me, but have them attend a watered down 'age appropriate' worship service in a separate room, and be sure to make the Bible 'fun.'" In fact, that is no where in the Bible and it is a fact that children were never kept away from even the most "icky" and difficult of the services, such as the sacrifices of animals on the altar.

But would I not be an annoying prig if I ran around to all the well meaning denominations and chided them for having age and marital status segregated Sunday school classes AND for allowing children to skip the adult or, rather, as is my point, the one and only worship service? Would I not sound a little intolerant?

That is my whole point. When people hurl the same accusation toward the Roman Catholic Church, which has pondered and structured itself based on both scripture and tradition (including common sense) for two thousand years, these people who accuse are ignoring the same "common sense" things that their denominations chose to do that are not in the Bible, such as separate worship service (aka the Bible is fun playtime) for children.

Here is where you have to use faith and reasoning, as I've given you other examples before, young people. If the Bible does not say it is now "OK" to separate children from the main worship service, why do so many churches do so today? And is that the "right" thing to do, even if it sounds "logical?" So to exercise your faith and logic, when you have such a situation, think of why the opposite just might be true. Might God have always intended that just as the Jews in the time of Jesus brought the youngest to observe even the most solemn and difficult of the religious rite that God still, in the time of Christianity (and Islam) still indicate through his silence and "no change in policy" that children are supposed to worship at the same service as the adults, period? Might God not know better than human beings do? Might God not know better that faith is stronger if children have the integrated undiluted weekly worship service as the adults, crying babies and all? Might God never wanted people to dummy down and use cartoons and videos and "fun games" and song and dance for children "praise and worship?"

This is where you have to understand that the Bible states all that there needs to be known about God, about understanding and serving him, but that neither God nor Jesus tells you how to get dressed in the morning and how to tie your own shoes. (The Bible does emphasize modesty). The priesthood is exactly the same situation. People are expected to derive common sense conclusions based on what is in the Scripture AND what is religious tradition.

So far from being a deviation and a veering off, celibate men who devote themselves in a sanctified way to God is a mainstream common practice brought into perfection by first John the Baptist and then bringing forth the perfection of Jesus Christ, first priest. The Roman Catholic celibate priesthood is modeled on Jesus Christ, who is the "descendant" of a vibrant recognized status of holy celibate men who are dedicated to doing only God's work. Thus the evolution of Jesus Christ as first perfected model of the celibate Christian priest is not a sudden idea that popped into someone's head centuries later. It is the recognition that there is a calling, a traditional, God given calling to be 1) a priest and 2) to be celibate and sanctified only to God. They are two branches of tradition (the Jewish priests and the celibate holy hermit/preaching males) that fused in Jesus Christ's personage and person.

I have no problem with charitable questioning, debate and discussion and I understand that some are too committed to their own wisdom to accept the traditions and doctrine of others. But I have always had a real problem with religious or "spiritual" hypocrisy. Believe me, I'm not being hard hearted when I question to myself why in the world do so many denominations have segregated praise and worship when that is most assuredly not in the Bible (except for separate seating in the synagogue for men and women and that is for reason of modesty). Much of the Bible (see especially proverbs) involves the teaching of God to children, but it's not done via song and dance and cartoons and Sunday school, but by direct participation from birth in the mainstream and only worship practices. Notice Jesus did not go to the "kiddies section" when as a twelve year old boy he went to the Temple and Joseph and Mary lost track of him for several days. There was no "kiddies section." So please, do not tell me that the "celibate priesthood" is not in the Bible, and then go down the hall to your properly assigned segregated by age and marital status worship experience!

Young people, I hope you understand what I have written here and think about it because it really is about something near and dear to your hearts, which is truth, choices, freedom and authenticity. How is pressuring the Catholic Church (which they will never do) to eliminate the doctrine of a celibate unmarried priesthood anything but an attempt to eliminate a choice? Can you imagine what John the Baptist would say if he were alive today and were told that? Tell him and the thousands of other celibate hermit/preaching Jewish males who made their own choices that some people think that "priests" can't "really understand" the "problems of the people" unless they are married, or even actively gay? What would John the Baptist say? Something like this: "Priests are not supposed to understand the 'problems of the people,' they are supposed to serve God and help the people to understand God, not themselves."

This is a long and complicated topic, which is why I am not going into all the other points that are necessary to a full understanding (such as the "job description" of the priest who conducts sacrifice to God rather than leads a "praise and worship" experience, and the difference is fundamentally important). The purpose of this particular posting on this subject was to focus on two things:

1. There is a historical and Biblical tradition of celibate holy Jewish men, and Jesus was a continuation of that rather than a "first" and,

2. The hypocrisy of "it's not in the Bible" is almost ridiculously easy to refute, as I did with the example above that no one questions today, so rife has it become as a non-Biblical "common sense" deviation, which is to separate children from adult worship, and/or create based on marital status segregated Sunday school classes, even choirs, etc. LOL, where's that in the Bible?

I hope that you have found this helpful and please pray for the strength, comfort and dedication of the many good Catholic priests, rather than contribute to misunderstanding at best or at worst demonizing and tearing them down. That is certainly not "in the Bible" either.