Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Beginning of the End...

Yup.  I'm still here.  The new year has brought on a heavy work load.  Given that I (mostly) enjoy my career, and being gainfully employed, this blog in particular has been put on the back burner, but it's far from over...

My other blog, on the other hand, is coming to an end of sorts. When I started The Wise Fool blog, I had three writing goals in mind: 
  • Write studies through the Pentateuch/Law/First five books of the Bible.
  • Write studies through the four Gospels.
  • Write summaries of all the books of the Bible (except Psalms and Proverbs).
As that blog enters its fifth year, at the current pace I think I'll be able to knock out studies on the remainders of the Gospels before Christmas.  The rest of the summaries should also be done by then, or, if not, they will take up a higher priority once the study posts are done.

I've got to tell you, I am really looking forward to that end.  I may have stopped long ago if it was just for me, but I'm trying to help other people out.  I don't know what they will be searching for, but I figured that when I set my goals that the Law and the Gospels would cover most of what people were trying to find out:  how did God start things off and what did Jesus really do?

Anyway, I'm working on another comic for this blog, and about 2-4 other articles are conceptually started as well, so I'll see you back here in February.  :-)

Monday, January 7, 2013

Good Guilt

I am what I will do, not what I have done.

A Christian friend of mine recently asked me if I feel guilt.  It was such an odd question to me because it's not like I had just kicked a little girl's puppy and laughed about it.  We were just having a debate about the mechanics of God's forgiveness, but we hadn't hinted at guilt in the preceding discussion.

Guilt is BIG in Christianity, and there is no need to rehash that here, but I did want to share thoughts about how I process guilt, because I think most people do it all wrong!  ;-)

Guilt is a mental pain which should be used to teach you a lesson.  Just like the physical pain you would get if you touched a hot stove teaches you not to do touch hot things and helps preserve your health, guilt should be processed the same way.

Guilt teaches you not to do particular actions (or to do other actions), which ultimately helps preserve your health, the health of your relationships, and the health of the community at large.

And here's the key: Once you learn your lesson, there's no point to clinging on to that guilt.  Let it go.

Just like in our physical analogy of burning yourself, if you keep touching the burnt skin, it will not properly heal.  If you keep recycling though your guilt causing memories, that guilt will not properly heal either.

That's not to say you will not think of those memories and have some guilt from time to time, just like your burnt skin will still be painful when you accidentally bump it in its healing process.  But there is a big difference between bumping a burn blister and rubbing it on a cheese grater, just like there is a difference between passively thinking of the guilty memories and actively looping and focusing on them.

The point is this:  We were not born knowing everything.  We will make mistakes.  Learn from them, and move on.  Do not define yourself by what you have done.  Define yourself by what you will do.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Getting Started

Happy New Year!  Each new year brings with it its share of beginnings and endings as the natural courses of progress and life continue on.  May your beginnings be enriching, and your endings be bitter-sweet at worst this year!

While I was meditating about beginnings, my mind wandered to wondering about the early beginnings of Christianity.  What was the character of the earliest evangelists?  How did it get to the point of snowballing into a major world religion?

It's often hard to partition cynicism from skepticism, so at least some of the Christians I've openly chatted with likely have the impression that I think there was some grand conspiracy behind all of this; that the "Apostles" all knew that it this was a false religion from the start, and that they kicked off the new faith for selfish reasons.  (That's a bit of a straw-man argument, but just for illustration.)  The truth is that I do not have a strong sense of what happened exactly, but I am less inclined to favor a purely cynical theory.

I suspect that there was a real person named Jesus who attracted a subgroup of truly loyal followers who followed him around.  Were there actually twelve of these loyalists?  Were there less?  Were there more?  Who knows?  But there is some certainty that there were loyal followers, because they had to be the ones to spread the word after their teacher was gone.

What exactly Jesus said and did is highly debatable, and worthy of a separate post itself, but he was at least impressive enough to captivate these followers.  Yet the fact that there were not more loyalists suggests that Jesus' alleged miracles are unlikely to be entirely true, because I suspect that the embodiment of that kind of power combined with alleged divine authority and wisdom, combined with a message that the world would soon end, would have been difficult to resist, as John 6:68 phrases that sentiment so well:
Simon Peter answered [Jesus], "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life." NIV
There were believers.  What exactly they believed is also debatable, but we should not deny that these loyal followers, in part or in whole, believed some message that Jesus was preaching.  If not, if it was just for the angle of selfish gain of power, respect, and/or wealth, these non-devoted followers could have easily plagiarized the story and wisdom once they learned it, and broken off on their own long before Jesus died.

So, to me, it is quite likely that the early evangelism was done by sincere believers.  But the problem with many movements, especially those spread orally, is that they can morph and change easily over time.  And as belief spread, new regional faith leaders would have to emerge.  These leaders, being a factor removed from the original eyewitnesses, would naturally have less loyalty to the original message.  They could add on interpretations or hearsay into the story.  Some of them, with their faith weakened by time, could become corrupted by the respect and wealth which was so willingly offered by new believers, just as we see preachers today ensnared in the same situation.

I suspect that by the time the Gospel stories became fully similar to what we know them today, they had been shaped and altered by those who had never had direct access to Jesus.  The original intents and messages had been tweaked or, in some cases, overwritten.  The neat thing is that you can study some of this evolution within the Synoptic Gospels when you compare them side-by-side.

So my guess is that within a decade or so after the evangelism-sans-Jesus began, you had a rather diverse Christian faith.  Some regional leaders were genuinely pious, trying to get the word out, while others had begun to drift due to the trappings of their appointed positions.  Still other leaders who had more worldly knowledge of religions, or astrology, or numerology, or Gnosticism, would put their own spin on the meaning of the "messiah."

But whether or not the leaders had pure piety, they had motivation to be persuasive.  The pious were dealing with an impending, imminent return of their Savior.  The corrupt were figuring out how to better fill their pockets.  And the mystics with their own take on the message were working to bring people into enlightenment of this new revelation.

Those are my thoughts.  That and $5 may get you a cup of coffee at Starbucks.  :-)  What do you think happened?