Archive for December, 2010

New Year Reflections

December 27, 2010 - 5:05 pm 31 Comments
New Year’s Reflections and Resolutions

Happy H&%#(&@#

 

 

 

:Please accept with no obligation, implied or implicit, my best wishes for an environmentally

conscious, socially responsible, low stress, non-addictive, gender neutral celebration of the

winter solstice holiday, practiced within the most enjoyable traditions of the religious persuasion of your choice, or secular practices of your choice, with respect for the religious/secular persuasions and/or traditions of others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all.

And a fiscally successful, personally fulfilling, and medically uncomplicated recognition of the onset of the generally accepted calendar year 2002, but not without due respect for the

calendars of choice of other cultures whose contributions to society have helped make America great (not to imply that America is necessarily greater than any other country or is the only “AMERICA” in the Western hemisphere), and, of course, this celebration is without regard to the race, creed, color, age, physical ability, religious faith, choice of computer platform, or sexual preference of the wishee.

(By accepting this greeting, you are accepting these terms. This greeting is subject to

clarification or withdrawal. It is freely transferable with no alteration to the original greeting. It implies no promise by the wisher to actually implement any of the wishes for her/himself or others, and is void where prohibited by law, and is revocable at the sole discretion of the wisher. This wish is warranted to perform as expected within the usual application of good tidings for a period of one year, or until the issuance of a subsequent holiday greeting, whichever comes first, and warranty is limited to replacement of this wish or issuance of a new wish at the sole Discretion of the wisher.) 

PEL ( adapted from other sources)

From the Unitarian poet, T.S. Eliot:

Time present, and time past are both perhaps present in time future And time future is contained in time past….

Selected Readings: Of Time

She wondered if he could ever see how often, although silently, she pleaded for a moment of his time.. and she recalled a Danish folk tale about an angel who came down to Earth to plead for a moment of any person’s time. In exchange, the angel would give eternal life.

The angel’s gift was never given, for everyone she encountered had one foot in the past, the other in the future, and no one had a moment to spare, not one, had a moment of time…

She wondered, would there ever be an answer found to life’s questions that is not bound by either yesterday or tomorrow? “Why is it,” she asked, “that life is not being lived in the present tense but a tense present, instead of taking each moment as it is.”

Over and over, she framed her unspoken plea, yet every once in a while an angelic moment in time would occur, which could be our moment, our promise of eternity.

E. B. Devito, adapted

 

 

 The Contented Fisherman
 
One day, a rich industrialist drove up to the edge of the ocean to admire the view… there, under a shady tree, with his fishing pole in his hand, he saw a young fisherman lying lazily beside his boat…

He got out of his limousine, and walked over to the young fisherman and questioned him… in a direct tone of voice, he asked

” Why aren’t you out fishing today???

It is still early, and you should be still hard at work…!

” The fisherman said, ” I have already caught enough fish for the day”

The rich man pushed further” Why aren’t you eager to stay out and catch more?? The fisherman replied, ” What would I do with anymore?”

You could sell it and earn money, was the industrialist’s reply. Then, you could buy a motor, fix up your boat or buy a bigger one, and then be able to go out long distances, into deeper water, and catch even more fish!

Then you would make enough money to buy nylon nets, so you can catch more fish, and make more money. Then you could hire workers and buy another boat… maybe a whole fleet of fishing boats! Then you would become a rich man like me.”

What would I do then? asked the fisherman

Then you could relax and really enjoy life said the rich man.

What do you think I am doing right now??

Question: Which would you rather have: a fortune in your future or the capacity to enjoy life in the here and now?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dreams and The Christmas Story

December 20, 2010 - 12:03 pm 19 Comments

The Dreams of Christmas- A Homily for Christmas Eve

The Reverend Peter Edward Lanzillotta, Ph.D.

How do the phenomena of dreams connect to the Christmas Story? As I see it, the Christmas Story would be a very different story if you excluded the power and influence of dreams upon its outcome. When we delve into the mythic story, and study the experiences of its archetypal characters, we are shown a series of personal lessons for our spiritual development that are based on the wisdom found in following or heeding one’s dreams. 

We find these instructive dreams early in Matthew’s Gospel. There are four important dreams that occupy a central place in this version of the Christmas story. These dreams reveal the soulful lessons that can come from our Deep Self, or if you prefer, that come from God or from a messenger of God, an angel. Dreams, in this context, reveal what needs to appear; what needs to be given attention, what needs to manifest or what changes are now necessary. Dreams beckon us towards transformation or signal what is creatively birthing or being born spiritually within us.

The first of these four dreams comes to Joseph by way of an angel speaking to him, and that tells him to change his mind about Mary, her baby, and his relationship to them! Quietly, he had already made up his mind that Mary was a disgrace; and he was going to send her off to live as an outcast, or to live with distant relatives. However, this adamant dream shook him to his very core- for you see, it changed his heart …

Its message made him more open, loving and trusting so that he could forget about his wounded pride, and to accept that his purpose in life was to be a dedicated step father who would care for a special child- a savior- a child who would grow to become a teacher, and through his compassion and wisdom, save or teach …

As an adult, he would be able to save his people from themselves- to save or release them from their ingrained ignorance, egotism, and sin. When Joseph awakened from this first dream, he knew the answer to “What child was this?” This conviction gave him a strong sense of certainty and clarity about what he was supposed to do. He would act in a way that went beyond common sense, beyond tribal social customs, beyond patriarchal rules. …

He would act on faith; faith as surrender and as acceptance.

The second dream was given simultaneously to the Wise Men. As you remember, the Wise Men had stopped to see King Herod, and to ask if he had seen the star in the heavens that pointed to the birth of a new, royal child. The Wise men were priests and astrologers who saw, in the revealing patterns of the heavens, signs of special child and the experiences that were to come. Herod was startled. Quickly, he called for his own priests and scribes concerning this event, and they informed him that there was such a prediction in their Scriptures. In Micah 5, there is foretold the birth of a child in the lowly, small city of Bethlehem. There would be born a new kind of leader- a shepherd who would care for and lead his people toward a new way of life. Herod called the astrologers back in, to learn all about the details. He asked them to return to him, and tell him about everything they find out. As the story unfolds, the Wise Men found the child in the manger, there they bestowed their three symbolic gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. That very night, each of them had the same dream; which told them not to trust the motives of the King towards the child, and to returned quickly to their homes by another trade route, avoiding Herod’s henchmen…

Their collective dream was a wisdom dream; they were given insight that discerns and discovers truth from falsehood, sincerity from deceit, and how to delay the King’s actions.

The next two dreams belong to Joseph, and pertain to his role as guardian. Directly after the Wise Men leave, Joseph receives another inspired visitation in his dreams. This time, the angelic instructions declare that he must take his newborn child and Mary to Egypt to escape King Herod’s wrath. Obedient to the dream, Joseph quickly led Mary and the newborn child across Israel, to Egypt. This was a dream where faith becomes protection or deliverance.

In the last dream for Joseph, comes to him after some years of living in Egypt. King Herod dies; Then Joseph receives another angelic visit in his dream that instructs him to return home to Israel. Still fearing for the life of his young son, Joseph balks at this instruction. His desire to protect his child was strong.

So strong that it required another visitation, another dream that assured him of where they could live in safety and security: the small, remote city of Nazareth- away from the new royal threats.

This was a dream of faith expressed as recalling or returning…

Four dreams of faith: Acceptance; Wisdom; Protection; Returning. In the time remaining, I will cover the lessons that could be found in the first two dreams….

Joseph, I believe, is the forgotten, unsung hero of the Christmas Story. He is asked to act in a way no less incredulous than Mary; He was to act confidently in going against all of his cultural training, to follow intently an angelic dream message!

  I  ask: How many of us would or could do this? How many of us would risk a lifetime of social difficulties in order to follow one’s conscience or inner voice?

1 How many of men can go beyond the wounds to our pride, in this case, to care for a woman and her child he knew was not his own? Think about how many serious doubts, and anxieties he had to release so he could let go, “let go and let God,” direct him through his dreams?Excerpts from The Birth Story According to Matthew 

Verse 1:18: Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother, Mary, was engaged to Joseph, and before they lived together, she was found to be with child. (from the Holy Spirit). Her husband, Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just as he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, and said, ” Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him, Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins….

V24: When Joseph awoke from his sleep, he did just as the angel of the Lord commanded; he took Mary as his wife, and the child as his guardian.] 2:1 In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?” For we have observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage. When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of his people, he inquired of them where this Messiah was to be born. They told him, in Bethlehem…

Herod called for the wise men and learned of the exact time when the star appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem, saying search diligently for the child, then report back to me so that I can go and pay my homage.”

 

The wise men left, and traveled until they stopped where the star was rising, over the place where the child was. They were overwhelmed with joy. On entering, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And after having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another route. Now after the wise men had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in another dream, and said, ” Get up, and take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child to destroy him.”

Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod…

When Herod died, an angel of the Lord again appeared to Joseph in a dream, and said, ” Get up, take your child and his mother, and go back into the land of Israel, …but when Joseph heard that Archelaus was on the throne, he feared for his son’s safety. Another dream directed him to live in the province called, Galilee, in a small town called Nazareth.]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In a Whisper and in a Dream

God of our hearts, and the Spirit of our Days:

In the darkness and wonder of this night, we pray that a whisper or a dream will come to our hearts-

A whisper that slips gently past all our harsh skepticism,

And is clothed with the radiance of poetry;

A dream that comes to our hearts, and that plays with our souls, inviting as candlelight, but that upon our awakening to it, contains a insistent glow…

A whisper and a dream that come when we least expect it; where we least expect it; how we least expect it…

A whisper and a dream that attests to hope in a world of uncertainty, to faith in an age of despair, and to love when loving seems too difficult…

A whisper and a dream that is heard and felt in the depths of our being, reaching out to the stars, and warming our souls with its ever-present light…

God of our lives, God of our transformation, and God that waits for us beyond our waking awareness, May our hearts and souls be open despite the season’s darkness, and life’s coldness- open to receive, and to wonder at Your gifts, and to reveal that you are again born in our midst.

Amen. Blessed Be…. So Be It

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pastoral Prayer: On Being Unprepared for Christmas

On this night of nights, when our hearts are a little more open, and the sentiments of the season are heightened, we have to be aware and honest, that we never can be fully prepared for Christmas… If we were fully prepared:

Then every gift we thought about would be bought and wrapped

If we were fully prepared:

Then every one we love would be there; there would be no losses, no one would be left out, there would be no disputes,

nothing hurtful would be said, and harmony would reign through dinner, and even desserts!

BUT THAT IS NOT THE WAY LIFE IS…

IF IT WERE, WE WOULD NOT NEED CHRISTMAS SO MUCH… .

Holy One, who is the bearer of all good gifts, and who grants to us the grace of presence among us; We recognize that Christmas is often the most necessary of seasons; Its gift is to remind us each year, that love does not depend on perfection, but on the willingness to risk or reveal our connections.

Holy one, love’s reality, represented in a babe, come and be born in the unready manger of our hearts, and give flesh to the promise of our hopes and dreams… Come to us, even though our preparations are incomplete, and bring healing and the gift of peace into our world.

Come Christmas; Come to us in Love; Come with Hope; Healing; and Peace… Be born of needful grace in our unready hearts,

on this very silent and very holy night … AMEN

 

Faith can ask many things of us- not the least of which is that we are to trust that God dwells within each of us, or is the Deep Self, and once recognized, (made conscious or made manifest) it has a mission or a purpose for our lives that goes beyond what is comfortable or secure or what you expected, beyond what you want or desire ….

In the second dream, the Wise Men receive a collective dream of guidance or discernment. They are informed through the wisdom of the dream that they need to avoid Herod and not tell him about the child’s whereabouts, and return home quickly.

From this wisdom dream, I ask these questions: Have you ever felt that you have need to drastically change direction? Have you ever received a message about someone you trusted that reveals that their motives are not what they appear to be?

At different junctures and crossroads of our lives, such dreams or compelling messages manifest from deep within us.

They call out to us to transform our lives and turn our loves upside down so we can make a new start. Similarly, we can also receive disturbing messages about someone such as when they are trying to control you, or that he or she has been insincere, shallow, or even malicious!

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In my experience, we ignore those inner messages at our eventual peril- whatever insecurity or upset heeding these deep messages might create, it pales in contrast to robbing your soul of its freedom, its full and rightful expression.

As I have found it, the necessities for change, while appearing more difficult, risky and uncertain are far more healthy than remaining wounded or stuck in fears, rehearsing our negativity, or remaining in any of our addictive CO-dependencies.

As I approach this Christmas Eve, I know that the next six months are going to require a lot of faith and courage from me. In my search for usefulness and self reliance, and in my desire for a beneficial expression of my gifts and abilities, I know that I will have to rely on my inner resources, God’s grace, and some unexpected blessings to see me through this year and move me beyond my fears. So like Joseph, I will have to dream, and then follow, doing what is necessary and essential for my life and my soul.

These dreams of wisdom we have can be unsettling and scary. They will require great courage, faith and trust in their new directions. Yet, I believe wholeheartedly that each of us has a star we have to find, a star we have to follow, one that leads us to God, or the inner truths we hold within us.

We dream our dreams at all stages of our lives. Briefly, in childhood, we might dream of gifts, toys, pleasure and the excitement of some adventure. In maturity, we dream of another kind of fulfillment- to answer deeper relational needs or to find solutions for our financial insecurities or as a whole, to know how to compassionately, ethically, and effectively satisfy our inner aches and soulful yearnings so that we have or claim an

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Authenticity for our lives- our inner desire for having sufficient faith, and trust so that we can take our next needful steps. We have to make room and time in our lives to dream: We will have to slow down, to be more intentional and allow ourselves to stop and listen, so that we can take the fragments and messages of our dreams and give them power and authenticity in our lives.

As our fearful egos soften, our freeing souls can ripen,..

It becomes our essential task to listen and to commit to these new paths for our lives- paths that lead us towards greater wholeness and integrity, deeper purpose, and lasting peace.

We can learn from Joseph and the Wise Men who listened to their dreams; listened with their hearts to overcome social awkwardness, personal insecurity, and false trust- and then acted faithfully to empower change in themselves and their world.

These dreams of Christmas can be ours, too. May you be blessed and inspired by your angelic visitors within your dreams. May you be graced and impelled to give birth creatively to a holy child that lives within you, so that you will begin to live your lives that allows you to further unfold their deep promise, their truth and their beauty. Amen. So Be It!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Opening Words:

Faith Hope and Love, I offer you this season.

A faith that affirms, a hope that illumines, a love that matters more than anything.

Faith, Hope, and Love, these three… Not as gifts can I offer them, for they are not only mine to give. They are yours and mine to share, humbly, gratefully, with one another.

Fumbling, we hope their promise in our hands,

Faintly, we speak them with trembling words.

Faith, Hope and Love, I offer you this season.

The Rev. Richard Gilbert

Selected Readings:

Messiahs We Need

{… There are Messiahs we want, and there are Messiahs we need: The Messiah we, as humans, most often want is someone who will do it all for us. The ones we need however, are those who will point us towards our own strength– the strength that comes from our sharing, our compassion, our responsible interactions.

The Christmas Story is the story of a God who refused to send us what we wanted, and who opted to send what we needed, instead.

…. In his little book, Psychoanalysis and Religion, Eric Fromm wrote, “God is not a symbol of power over [humanity,] but a symbol of humanity’s powers.” That is really the image of God I have in mind when I speculate on the Christmas Story. It is a story of a God who indeed did refuse to play the part or be a symbol of a God who wields power over us, but that becomes a God who is One with you, as the power of love and life among us. As Christmas beckons, may we all tell the story of a God who refused to do anything more than live among us, and to be like us, sharing the power of love with us..] Widely adapted from The Rev. Stephen Edington Rockland, ME 1981

The Immaculate Mis-Conception?

December 8, 2010 - 7:16 pm 9 Comments

The Immaculate Misconception? All Life Has a Holy Promise 

The Reverend Peter Edward Lanzillotta, Ph.D.

December 8th is a special day in the Western religious calendar for the Roman, Greek, and Episcopal churches. It is feast or the day of The Immaculate Conception.

If you were brought up a Roman Catholic or if you knew someone who was or is, chances you have heard of this day as being a unique, if not a curious part of the Advent season.

It is still quite a remarkable claim, and it remains one of the lesser understood but influential doctrines of faith that still exists today. For example, some treat Mary as the Queen of Heaven, (The Angelus and Hail Holy Queen, etc.) while others regard her as the prototype for all women and especially the ideals of motherhood. Others within Christianity simply and respectfully acknowledge her as the young mother who, at first doubted her selection, then accepted her special connection to God and Jesus and her central role in the essential theme of the season: The Christ birth event.  I will try to explain this belief, unpack its meaning, test its accuracy from a religiously inclusive perspective, and then present some startling, and dissenting conclusions.

The recognition of Mary’s special status within Christianity evolved gradually. It was not until her nature and being was declared unique that the larger impact was to affect our society. The proclamation of a binding, official doctrine for The Immaculate Conception became Roman church law in the year 1854, when Pope Pius IX issued a papal Bull… ((Historically, popes have always been known for their bull -I could not resist this pun!)

A Bull is an edict that carries with it the necessity of universal agreement or acceptance. It becomes a foundational belief, an indisputable article of faith. This edict declared that “The Blessed Virgin Mary, was conceived in a particular moment of grace, and preserved immune from every stain of original guilt [or original sin].” I contend that such a pious and unnatural statement served to reinforce prevailing Victorian attitudes and contradictions towards women, and it was a strong contributor to the negative Freudian view of women in society. This is the famous Mary vs. Eve and the Whore/Madonna beliefs…

It was, in my estimation, one of the religious actions that contributed to the wholesale devaluing and even the negation of women long associated with the Roman church…Unfortunately, some of these effects are still with us and acutely undermine women’s equality and freedom at quite a social price: from covertly accepting or tolerating violence against women, the woman’s duty to be passive, etc., to being a contributing block or obstacle to necessary options for birth control and the crisis of overpopulation, to widespread negation of reproductive choice, the need for quality lifelong sex education, and discouraging the funding of effective treatment that combats sexually transmitted diseases.

Contrary to popular beliefs, and a subject of much confusion for traditional Roman Catholics is that the doctrinal statement about The Immaculate Conception states that it was NOT Jesus who had an untainted, pure birth or who was born without sin, but that it was Mary HERSELF who was conceived and born without any stain of sexual sin- that original cursing, or the degrading, normal condition and circumstances of having a human birth. The doctrine further states that during her gestation in her mother’s womb, and before her birth, Mary miraculously received all the powers of baptism that cleanses away original sin, so that she alone could be born pure- different from all other women. This teaching has, as its corollary, that she HAD to be a pure vessel, an unblemished womb, so that she might then be selected and privileged enough to divinely conceive Jesus. (Theotokas)

Now, lets start here to examine these teachings. In the spirit of healthy dissent, and based on accepted scholarship, we can understand the designation of Mary as a virgin in another way. I can conclude that the Greek translation of the word, virgin, can also mean a young girl, not just a pure or undefiled person. (The mistranslation of Isaiah 7) In that way, the idea of a Messiah being born conventionally or normally could be an acceptable religious conviction or in accord with the non-creedal Christian beliefs.

As I understand it, the rationale behind wanting Mary to be immaculate comes from the ancient world notion that a God cannot be conventionally human; while they can and often do look human, that was only their outward appearance! The rival deities in ancient world or during Greek and Roman times- principally the Persian Sun God, named Mithras, was believed to have an immaculate birth- making him above mere humanity.

Looking Eastward, it was widely believed that Buddha, and the Hindu deity, Vishnu, had similar remarkably unique or supernatural origins. Therefore, to the Early Church Fathers who created orthodoxy and creedal beliefs for Christians to follow, they decreed or determined that it would be best to go along with this precedence for Jesus. They decided to write and to editorialize the Scriptures to include a virgin who gave birth miraculously to a Christ-child. In that way, they contended that their God was just as good as any of the other gods in Persia, Israel, or India! So, the idea and the ideal of a virgin and those birth legends about Mary’s sinlessness were created and eventually through uncritical repetition, became declared authoritative beliefs. When looked at it historically, I can empathize with that outlook, and can understand how it evolved, even if I strenuously disagree.

My preference for a religious ideal, be it of a man or a woman, a mother or a child, has to directly inspire and console me and address my human condition. He or she has to be someone I can relate to directly and daily: someone who struggles, changes, grows, and succeeds at gaining sufficient awareness to be able to bless, to help heal, and to lead me to my full humanness by modeling a greater wisdom, standing up for a larger sense of justice and an expanded sense of love. If I were to accept a singular, particular perfect woman giving birth to a unique god-man, I could not hope to be like them. I would always lose in comparison; always feeling inadequate, guilty or because I could not measure up, be a failure.

That does not inspire faith for me… It does serve effectively as an agent of thought, worship and practice that perpetuates negative self image, sin and guilt!  It would create a clear gap between the human and the divine, making only God as Jesus good, and Mary as the only perfect image of holy womanhood. This conclusion or image for what is good or divine can create or serve the attitude that condemns women and men for being normal- that is, having or being sexual and spiritual in the fullest meaning- it concludes in the doctrine of the necessity for cleansing Baptism, that every child born is somehow sinful.

Instead of perpetuating these fearful preoccupation’s with sex, sin, and guilt, religious liberals try to teach about how to best cultivate a healthy and responsible sexual identity, true self esteem, and how we can help each other to become more enlightened, compassionate, and free.

Now, I would like to outline some alternative possibilities concerning Mary and Jesus that I assure you that I did not learn in any seminary. These are new, intriguing and challenging theories that come from Biblical criticism and Gnostic wisdom writings. What they state might startle you. They definitely bring out new dimensions of the Christmas story than what is ordinarily accepted and traditionally condoned.

Depending on how we are willing to look at the birth stories in the two Gospels, we can come to the conclusion that Mary was either especially blessed or that she was possibly promiscuous! While we are all familiar with the former rendition, most of us have not heard about the other scandalous possibility. This other explanation states that Mary was involved with another man, and that Jesus was illegitimate! Even though this is a minority opinion among radical scholars who contend that the original manuscripts infer such a fiasco, they cannot be disproven.

So we can ask: Which approach is more believable, anyway? The more miraculous Gospel accounts have to be accepted with a definite, unflagging certainty. From a less miracle based perspective, an outlook where one affirms that it is Jesus’ life and how he treated others that is far more important than either his birth or his death, it adds an intriguing, and for me, a more inspiring bit of scholarship to seriously consider.

First, let’s consider that Jesus had a normal, physical, human father; supposedly the Roman centurion named Panthera. ( Stephen Mitchell) That would make him a normal human being who later became a divinely inspired example of enlightened living.

Because I accept that there is an ongoing need to develop wisdom, gain insight, and cultivate one’s spiritual and ethical maturity all along and through one’s life, for Jesus to start out human gives me a greater respect for him, and gives me more hope that if I follow his example, I can become more balanced, whole, a truly healing, just, and helpful person. That’s my kind of Jesus; a regular guy who learned his metaphysical and ethical lessons so well, that he became the greatest Western example of embodied truth, wisdom, and love. He deserved the Biblical description that “he spoke with as one who had authority, [authenticity], not like the scribes and Pharisees.”

Now let’s go a little deeper. What about being illegitimate? How could that be considered a valuable way to look at Mary and Jesus? In the culture of the Middle East, and we can probably say, up until the last twenty five years in Western society, to be born out of wedlock or to a single mother, was considered a social liability and even a moral disgrace. In Biblical times, remember, it was not only grounds for divorce, but like adultery for women, it too could carry a death penalty!

Mary, if the supposition holds, was a single mother who discredited her family, and luckily latched on to a kindly older man, Joseph, who would act as a guardian for her and her illegitimate son. She would have to live with the severe embarrassment, but only in her small town and among her immediate family. She was relived to learn that she had to go far away to live in Nazareth, Joseph’s hometown where none of the disgraceful details would be easily known.

Another interesting note: In Matthew’s Gospel we are given the genealogy of Jesus. There only four women appear. They are Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathesheba or in accord with Biblical facts, there was Tamar, who was the mother of her brother’s children; Rahab, the heroic harlot; Ruth, the opportunistic seductress; and Bathesheba the easily or all too willing unfaithful wife. … Do you see any pattern there?? Any reference point for Mary? And What of Jesus in this lineage? The Bible in Luke calls him, “Son of Mary”, which scholars conclude was a derogatory term… not the child of his father which would confer legitimate status; in other words, he was a bastard child, not the son of a Jewish man!

How could we relate to an illegitimate Jesus? How did he relate to his mother? What about the purpose of his mission? While these radical scholars are given to a more modern psychological interpretation, they can make a case by pointing to these facts: first, his rejection or at least his awkwardness in dealing with his mother- remember the Gospel account in Mark or Matthew where his apostles tell Jesus that his mother and brothers and sisters are outside? Do you recall what his response is? “Who is my mother, and who is my brother or my sister? Those who do the will of God are my mother, my brother or my sister.”

A second supportive example comes from the well accepted fact that the writers of the Gospel took great pains to editorialize- to find Old Testament references to the Messiah and fit them to Jesus’ coming. They interpreted them as the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecy. Just like taking a reading from first Isaiah for the virgin birth, they also appropriated third Isaiah’s descriptions of the suffering servant. And what are we to make of the powerful words Mary declares in the birth story according to Luke? Are those the words of a meek and spineless woman? (The Magnificat for many reasons!)

No, not by any means! Her words reveal a gratitude for being chosen And the part most Christians seem to ignore, a deep longing for a God whose acts in society will reward humility and reform the world and create greater social justice. What can we deduce from such statements?

First, the Isaiah statement about the suffering servant foretells a man who is harmless, infinitely caring, humble, and of no status in the world. His power is one of moral truth, of righteousness, but it is not worldly, for it is neither regal nor economic. In the phrase, “he is a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief,” with suffering and humiliation. Here we could be receiving a substatantiation for a portrait of a man who could have grown up as a social outcast, a despised or at least a menial person who was well acquainted with misery, social prejudice, and economic, political, and religious power plays.

All one has to do, when reading Jesus’ or Mary’s words, is consider the basis for the worldwide liberation theology movement- a way of understanding Christianity which predicates its understanding of Jesus, Mary and God as having a preference for the poor… and to remember that more than half of all Jesus’s parables center on prohibitions towards riches, landowners, Pharisees, and the corruption’s of upper class power. To my estimation, it not such a far stretch to consider a Messiah – which means someone who comes to save, teach, heal and transform the world- who would look harshly on cultural biases, class-based oppression, and prefer that he and his followers identify with their spiritual birthright as the children of God: Blessed are the poor, the pure in heart, those who mourn, those seeking peace, and those who are reviled and persecuted for continuing his mission, or trying to live by following in his communitiarian and egalitarian example.

How do I welcome this possible, admittedly unconventional way of looking at Jesus? With a strange, warm, empathy and deep feelings of respect. I ask myself: Who deserves more of our admiration and allegiance? A God born as a man with perfect sinless understanding to a pure, undefiled woman? Or a a mortal who through his own devotion and dedication, through sweat and struggle, pain and suffering became someone who the world can gain inspiration and solace from? Because he was acquainted with disgrace and grief, he knew and felt the struggle each of us has to face in becoming a child of God in our own minds and hearts, in every aspect of our daily lives.

Well, that is a lot to chew on today, and I will stop with this last thought … When Jesus asked the apostles. ” Who do you think I am?” The answers he received ranged from you are a reincarnation of the old prophets, to the declaration that he was the Christ, the anointed son of the living God. Maybe, after today’s considerations, we could answer it differently…

If we were gathered at that place and time, if we were to gather in this place and time… Maybe our answer would be something like this:

“You, Jesus, are the poor, the outcast, the suffering hope for all the wounds of our humanity. We follow you because we believe in your promises, your healing reality among us. Because of you, and the way you taught and lived, we can now live with hope.”

So BE IT. AMEN

“The Magnificat” from The Gospel of Luke 1:39-55

And then she asked, why is this happening to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb jumped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.

And Mary said,” My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior

His mercy is for those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.

He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant, Israel, in remembrance of his mercy according to the promise made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his decendants forever.

  

 

 

Jesus and the Five Gospels- An Introduction

December 7, 2010 - 7:25 pm 17 Comments

Looking at Jesus :

Jesus, the Five Gospels, and Liberal Christianity

The Reverend Peter Edward Lanzillotta, Ph.D.

 

It is safe to say that there would be no Christmas season as we have come to know it without the man, Jesus of Nazareth…

Yet, for all the volumes and tomes about him that fill vast libraries like no other theme, person or topic, little is truly known, and even less is taught about the variations in what we know about this remarkable teacher and proposed author of our Western religious traditions called Christianity.

What we can say is this: Physically, he was a Mediterranean man- that is dark haired, bearded, and his skin was heavily tanned as befits anyone who worked out in the sun, and walked extensively around his geographical area… Was he handsome?

We might never know beyond our reverent and often pious pictures- what we can affirm is that he never was that ideal image of an Northern European Christ that decorated so many Sunday School walls…. A blond, blue-eyed Jesus is truly out of the question! Jaroslav Pelikan wrote a book on the many faces of Jesus that describes how Jesus has been depicted in art through the centuries…)

We can conclude from the best sources looking into the sociology and anthropology of his times, that he was born and lived in a culture and an ethos that is similar to ours today- similar, but far from the same… When we exclude the advances of science and technology and focus on the essential facts, needs, and concerns of people, then, as now, human needs and priorities remain the same: the problems of peace and justice, hunger and homelessness, love and family are timeless. Life in Jerusalem, or in the major cities of the Ancient world like Antioch and Alexandria were teeming with a wide diversity of experiences, legalities, and varieties of belief; these places were also the centers for cross cultural trade, language, learning, religion and sociopolitical ideals….

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In other words, similar to New York, Boston, Washington on our Eastern coast, or in the modern film, Jesus of Montreal.

The two eras and societies remain similar in other ways- most notably that both worlds had within them conflicting and contrasting religious views and values, with no one consistent guiding philosophy for their lives. With these facts as our givens, we can ask what in Jesus’s world view remains applicable and valid for us today?

Our more conservative sisters and brothers would exclaim “Everything!” But we as more critical and hopefully more discerning appraisers have to ask those cogent questions of our selves in order to reconcile and redeem all the negative past associations and inflictions of theology and nonsense that we were given during our childhood training or religious experience…. That means that we need to go beyond those childhood notions or be willing to discard and disregard those previous negative associations. As responsible and searching adults, our need is to look at the person of Jesus freshly- appraising the writings and the teachings about him in a way that is free of all the lingering anger and resentments you might still feel. We have to be willing to throw out all the old moralisms, trite clichés, or forced and rote cathcetical answers to begin again… (Marcus Borg, Dominic Crossen, Matthew Fox, and Bishop Spong’s Books)

But this time, this time in your adult search, you will fully engage your reason and apply your intelligence as you separate the wheat from the chaff, the gold from the dross in Jesus’ words. Freshly and completely, you can begin to discern the true from the false, the inspirational and the wise from the dubious or incomprehensible.

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Before you react too hastily, that it is neither worth the effort or would reveal nothing new for you, let me remind you that it is an important part of being religious and inclusive means that we acknowledge gratefully all the past contributions, as well as courageously and independently stay open to new interpretations.

As this refers directly to our claims to intelligence, literacy and sophistication, I affirm that if you are Biblically illiterate, you have little chance of considering yourself an educated person- Most of Western art, music and literature contains Biblical allusions and references, so to be familiar with its contents is a mark of a well rounded intellect and refinement. If thus is your situation, maybe you should sign up for my course on a Bible Study for Seekers and Skeptics???!

Today, it is my intention to provide you with a groundwork for your refamilization. By assisting you with the insights from some of the latest research, and what the consensus of current scholarship reveals: Namely, that there is a religion of Jesus- his ideas, principles and the spirit of his teachings as he lived and taught them, from the words collected and given to us as the Gospels and then there is the religion about Jesus that was created by the Early Church through to the Reformation Church that became the standards of acceptable belief that defines orthodoxy or outlines mainline Christianity. First point for you to consider seriously- They are not the same, and often are in conflict in both belief and practice. (formally known as Orthopistis and Orthopraxis)

We find our sources for both points of view in the edited or redacted collection of writings and sayings known to us as the 4 or 5 (?) Accepted canonical Gospels.

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To begin this appraisal, I can forward a guess that states that few of you were ever given a good grounding in Biblical knowledge as a part of your early education- if you received one at all! Few of you were given the insights that each of the four recognized Gospels contain a differing view of Jesus, and that you entirely free and accurate to choose which rendition or which blend of the various renditions that you prefer or that might speak to you or help you to appreciate the teachings in a cogent and useful way… ( the adult process to create a personal Canon of faith…)

This ability to mix and match in order to form your own conclusions about Jesus as the fully enlightened man, or as the Myth, the human ethical role model, or as the Messiah, etc., is a choice and an exploration that I feel is very worthwhile.

Now, quite briefly, I will give you an example of these differing views of the four Gospels and then I will also include one of the banned or Gnostic Gospels for your consideration as well…

The earliest or the first, according to most scholars, (and I happen to be one of the few that holds a dissenting view), is the Gospel according to Mark. Mark was written in approximately 65 CE or AD or 30-35 years after Jesus’s death. This shorter, inspirational biography was ostensibly written by Mark, a youthful follower of the Apostle, Peter. (Remember, disciple means sincere student or avid follower of, whereas the designation Apostle means someone who has had direct experience of a holy person or teacher… Please see sermon of Matthius and discipleship) Mark, as a brief, forceful and cogent account was presumably written for a Roman audience. I state these agreed on conclusions tentatively because even the most mainline scholars are not completely certain of authorship, time or the place and so we have to conclude that information about anything derived

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from antiquity, means that our conclusions are educated guesses, not facts.

In Mark’s account, we are given an adult, almost Gentile Jesus… It is a Gospel of wonder and power, quite well suited to a Roman culture. Here, when Jesus is the baptized or becomes the enchristed one, he is chosen to preach a higher reality and model and higher sense of ethics. He is portrayed as a sharp, concise and demanding leader who can, at times, feel alienated and troubled by what he sees in human nature and human society. He is pictured as a religious teacher who scorns piety and any displays of self-righteousness, and adamantly tries to counter the prevailing attitudes of excessive legalism and hypocrisy.

In the Markan Gospel, we are given a Jesus who suffers on the cross as a result of the accumulated hatred of the powerful for his message of equality, justice and compassion. Here we are also given the time when Jesus was snubbed by his family and peers to the point that is his own disciples fail to understand what he taught them! In Mark, we are given the man Jesus as a prophetic herald whose command was to “watch and beware or be ready”- be ready to put your conscience ahead of your concern for convenience, ethics before expediency, and to place your reasonable understanding alongside your faith…

Originally, Mark’s rendition ends without a resurrection story, and we find a later addition or editorial that inserts it! This Gospel is a declaration that states that doing as I have done, living as I have lived, is enough for your salvation, your integrity, your sense of being, belonging, and for living justly. Because Mark avoids all the piety and projection of the other Gospels and all the difficult questions about Jesus’s birth and resurrection, it has always been the easiest version for religious liberals or those who are inclusive to accept or adopt.

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There are some verses that are only found in Mark and nowhere else-The parable of the seed growing secretly… As the metaphor for how we can experience grace and how we grow in our spiritual understanding?

( One could insert a brief discussion of “Q” and the definitions of being a Synoptic , but I had to edit this into a sermon length…)

The next edited compilation in history was the Gospel according to Matthew, written about 75 CE or AD, and it is regarded to be the most “Jewish” rendition or portrayal. It gives the reader a picture of Jesus as being Lord, a Master, and as a Rabbi.

In Matthew’s version, Jesus represents the embodiment of all the Hebrew or Old Testament teachings concerning the Law and the Prophets. He is the Christ, the Messiah or the Anointed One- we are given that he is the one who was promised to the Israelites since the days of King David, who was also an anointed or chosen leader… He represents a new hope from an old promise. Matthew, then is the Gospel of faith. Matthew gives us a Jesus who is a teacher specially ordained by his unique birth who was to bring forth the Kingdom, not by power, but through service to the souls of others. Here is where we find the parables of the good servant who leads by example. Particular to Matthew are the parables about the Kingdom, Peter as the holder of the keys to heaven, and the most popular rendition of the collected words that form the text of The Lord’s Prayer.

In the next Gospel, the one according to Luke, written in approximately 100 CE or AD, some 75 years after Jesus, we are given another, differing perspective. This account is believed to be written for a more sophisticated audience of Greeks- it is

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written in a polished style and aimed at people who were familiar with the teachings of Hellenism, including the works of Plato and Aristotle. Because of this, we get a less human depiction, but not one as metaphysical as John’s.

Luke’s Gospel begins with a chronology that goes back to Adam and that prepares us for a miraculous birth. Luke is the Gospel that introduces us to Mary most completely, and in general, Luke is the story line that treats women with the most dignity and respect, and where women are often seen in a positive relationship to Jesus. The author, Luke was a Greek physician, who is also the presumed author of the Book of Acts. Because of this, we have more of the healing stories in Luke than in any other Gospel- it is considered to be the Gospel of joy, and the Gospel of forgiveness. Luke shows Jesus teaching through the unique parable of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son to emphasize how we are to care about others unconditionally and to serve one another unselfishly.

The fourth or the last of the accepted or authorized depiction’s of Jesus is given to us in the Gospel according to John. This more metaphysical account was written last- in approximately 125 CE or AD, and teaches more about the nature of Christ or the divinity in the man Jesus, than emphasizing the ethics of the man and his teachings. In John we are given the most Godlike image closer to what Paul had earlier proclaimed in the Epistles that predate John.

This is the cosmic and mystical Gospel; Some would say it is nearly Gnostic in its approach. This Gospel is infused or embodied and then transmitted to us through the man, Jesus. Here Jesus uses the ” I am” statements to represent this unique and particular authoritative and divine connection. (apotheosis)

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In this account, we are given more miracles and some parapyschological considerations. Here the Logos or divine Word suffices for a nativity story and the disciples know, early on,

who and what Jesus is- The Son of God- defined metaphorically as

anyone who lives in a strict accordance with God’s consciousness. This is the Jesus who is confident and exhalted. He is the one who clearly and exclusively provides for our salvation. Here the Greek notions of duality-that the flesh is weak and the spirit is dominant- are emphasized. Of course, John’s account is the one most favored by the high, liturgical and creedal churches.

Now, a little enticement to read more than what is condoned or accepted…. While these four accounts are sufficient to give you a very different and distinct views of Jesus, I feel that the more one reads and knows, the wider and the more inclusive and adaptable will be our understanding and appreciation… With that in mind, I want to introduce the 5th Gospel-the Gospel of Thomas. This previous banned or at least disregarded text has seen a resurgent of interest and authenticity. Here we are given distinct and pithy sayings without a story- sayings whose character and nature are very similar to both Mark and Matthew, and most influentially, are attributed to the same time frame which lends credence to these statements. We have, in Thomas, a Jesus that only speaks in the present tense- in the here and now which becomes timeless source of wisdom for us. Among the better known phrases and most startling ones that were quoted by the Early Church and that now come down to us are these:

“Protect your neighbor like the pupil of your own eye”

Split the wood and I am there, lift you a rock, and I am there”, “When the inside becomes the outside, when the male become the female and the female become the male, then you are

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not far from the Kingdom”…. Interesting, even intriguing, right???

Well, that is enough of a brief introduction for today… Let me conclude by asking: Why is this important? People who are tolerant and accepting of many religious points of view. Since we are willing spirits and searching minds, we too can construct a story of the Good News, a living Gospel that we can appreciate and use for inspiration and understanding. And it just might be that a revitalized look at Jesus is what the whole renewed interest in spirituality is looking for… Who knows?

Today, we can make a fresh start… We can start by appreciating our centuries long struggle to uncover a meaning of Jesus for us today, to find a way of knowing and respect that is more enlightened, that is ever-changing, ever growing so that we can choose for ourselves how best to understand the indelible and permanent impact of this story on Western thought and on our Western civilization. Once we do, we can put all the old memories and insults behind us, and begin in the words of Marcus Borg: “To meet Jesus again, for the first time”…. Amen, So Be it….