Category Archives: OUR BEST POSTS

Disembodied speech

Dogma: You are to believe this without question.

My housemate attended Empowerment Temple, and idolized its pastor, Jamal Harrison Bryant.  He told me this exchange he heard in the reception line after a service.

Jamal Harrison Bryant told this man, “God told me to tell you [thus-and-so].”  The man said, “I don’t believe that.”  Bryant answered, “If you don’t believe that, then you don’t believe God.”

Hearing this, I was incensed.  This epitomized what we call “disembodied speech.”

Continue reading Disembodied speech

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Two (or more) views of the Kingdom

The term “kingdom of heaven” or “kingdom of God” meant different things to different people in New Testament times.  What it meant to Jesus appears to me to be different from what it meant to the early church, the Gospel writers, and even the Twelve.

On the one hand, I will set forth below what it meant to everyone but Jesus.  On the other hand, if the reader is content to accept what I just said without proof, the reader may be happiest to skip the rest of this chapter, and the next, and instead go straight to “Jesus’ words about ‘the Kingdom‘”.  Some of this stuff gets really technical.

Continue reading Two (or more) views of the Kingdom

Jesus is not coming soon — or ever

“The end of all things is at hand.”
— 1 Peter 4:7

The first time I was told, “Jesus is coming soon,” I was twelve years old, in seventh grade.  My friends and I had no reason to doubt it.  We thought, “He might come tonight.  Or tomorrow.  But it could be tonight.”  We lived in breathless anticipation.

For me, it all began to unravel seven years later, albeit it hasn’t finished unraveling yet.

Continue reading Jesus is not coming soon — or ever

Jesus’ words about “the Kingdom”

When I first conceived The Way of Peace, I set myself the task of accounting for every time Jesus used the word “Kingdom” in the Synoptics, the end being to demonstrate that what I call “peace of mind” is what Jesus called “the Kingdom.”  This task will remain unfinished.  I decided that only 41 of those sayings were authentic.  Some will be examined more than once, from different angles; others won’t be examined at all, either because I don’t understand them myself or because they’re hard to relate to The Way of Peace.

Here and now

The first difference between what Jesus taught about the Kingdom and what everyone else believed (as set forth in the previous chapters):  Jesus portrayed the Kingdom as not coming, but present.  It’s as if he was telling people, “The kingdom you seek is already present, here and now.”  Emphasis is added in these quotations:

Matthew 5.3: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5.10: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Matthew 13.31: He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field;”

Matthew 13.33: He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”

Matthew 13.44: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, … “

And in direct contrast to the Synoptic Apocalypse’s forecast of “signs” of the Kingdom’s coming (Matthew 24:29, Mark 13:24-25, Luke 21:25-26), we have Luke 17:20-21:

20Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; 21nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.”

There is a question of whether “among you” should properly be translated “within you.”

Bookmarks

No one’s going to read this all at one sitting.  A click on any of the links below will take you to that part of the text.  Then ALT+LEFT will bring you back here.

Proximity — Matthew 4:17, Mark 1:15
Focality: The treasure and the pearl — Matthew 13:44-46
Growth
The mustard seed — Matthew 13:31, Mark 4:30, Luke 13:18
The yeast — Matthew 13:33, Luke 13:20
Children
Greatness — Matthew 18:3-4
To whom the Kingdom belongs — Matthew 19:14, Mark 10:14-15, Luke 18:16-17
The rich man — Matthew 19:23-24, Mark 10:23-25, Luke 18:24-25
Other
Matthew 5:20
Matthew 23:13
Mark 12:34
Luke 6:20
Luke 9:62

Proximity

Jesus speaks to this at Matthew 4:17 and Mark 1:15.  Here I prefer the King James Version; Matthew 4:17:

17From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

The Kingdom is present, not future; and it is available to you.

Focality: The treasure and the pearl

Matthew 13:

44“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

45“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; 46on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.”

An oxymoron: grace is free to anyone who’ll pay the price.

Many people, including almost all the homeless men I know, believe in what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace.”  An easy gateway to that mistaken belief is Romans 6:23:

23For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Those are Paul’s words, not Jesus’.  The Jesus of the Synoptics was nowhere much concerned with sin; nowhere taught that “belief in” him mattered; nowhere taught that he would die for others’ sins.  Those concerns are all Paul’s, not Jesus’.

In contrast, Bonhoeffer’s treatise, The Cost of Discipleship, is based on Luke 14:25-33, which concludes that, in the end, the cost of discipleship is everything one has.

My testimony: it’s worth it.

I experience what I call peace of mind as far and away the most desirable thing — state or condition — in the cosmos.  It is well worth giving up all one’s possessions.  But “possessions” aren’t confined to material things.  Spiritual “possessions” one may have to give up include these:

– self-aggrandizement(*)
– regrets(**)
– victim mentality
– contempt — for anyone
– ideologies
– self-loathing
– guilt
– scars
– pain
– ethnocentrism
– resentments(**)
– righteous indignation
– malice
– powerlessness
– fear

(*)See “Greatness,” below.
(**)
The sacrifice of resentments and regrets is what Steps 4 through 9 of The Twelve Steps are all about.

Again, it’s worth it.

Growth

The mustard seed. This parable occurs at Matthew 13:31-32, Mark 4:30-32, and Luke 13:18-19.  From Matthew:

31 He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; 32it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.’

Every commentary I know of says the tree here is a symbol of empire, based on its similarity to Daniel 4 and Ezekiel 31; and provides no elaboration.  I don’t buy it.

The commentators may think Jesus spoke of the worldwide messianic Jewish empire that the Pharisees expected.  In that case, the “birds of the air” who “make nests” are the client states, puppet regimes or satellite nations over which the empire had established domination.  The empire calls itself their benefactor and protector, but in fact they are its servants, and pay tribute.  It’s all a great protection racket.

Tribute.  Supposedly: Presents you give your neighbor because she or he is so nice.  Actually: Shakedown money you give a bully and hope he or she don’t kick your ass.

I see no reason why Jesus would ever intend any such thing.

It seems to me more likely that Jesus spoke of the “empire” each person can become unto oneself.  With peace of mind (the mustard seed) as one’s foundation, one can build upon that foundation, structures within one’s being — feelings, thoughts and actions — to support the “birds of the air” that are one’s goals, one’s dreams, one’s projects, one’s relationships, one’s love for God and family and neighbor.

The yeast.  This parable occurs at Matthew 13:33 and Luke 13:20-21.  From Matthew:

He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”

This may be my favorite parable.

Note that three measures is roughly eight gallons, or a cubic foot.  Now, I don’t know what “leavened” (ἐζυμώθη) means.  If it means “doughy,” then one has a big honkin’ mass of bread dough.  If it means “yeast,” then one has a big honkin’ mass of stuff putting out a funk no woman would ever tolerate in her home.

The yeast in use in Jesus’ day was not like the yeast we use today.  Wild yeasts are already present in all wheat flour, and if the flour becomes moist, the yeasts begin to grow.  The yeasts we use today have gone through many generations of “cultivation” and “refinement” and are fully assimilated to the ways of polite society.  The wild ones, in contrast, are like boorish backwoodsmen who come to the table with dirty fingernails and unwashed hair.  They stink.

Jesus tells us how the cosmos operates: not what should be, but what is; not what should happen, but what does happen.

An upside and a downside, whichever way you choose.

So in Jesus’ day, yeast was actually associated with spoilage, rottenness and decay.  So Jews diligently clean it all from their homes in the weeks before Passover.  When Jesus told the Twelve to beware the yeast of the Pharisees (Matthew 16:6, Mark 8:15, Luke 12:1), he was saying beware of their nonsense, their garbage, their poop.

Acting in ways consistent with lower serum serotonin, lowers one’s serum serotonin, and makes one more prone to continue to act in those same ways — lowering one’s serotonin further, and taking one farther away from peace of mind and from prosperity and from the life of joy that Jesus taught.

So it is not necessarily a parable of growth; it can also be one of decay.  You can choose for yourself which one it is for you.

A lump of yeast hidden in a mass of flour: when nthe flour gets moist, the yeast will send out enzymes from its surface into the flour, that break down the starches into materials the yeast can consume.  It consumes them, and grows.  Now more yeast, a larger lump, from its larger surface area continues to send out those enzymes, and the yeast continues to grow — exponentially.

The Kingdom within any person, which I call peace of mind, acts on one’s body, soul and mind to make it more and more like itself, potentially eventually becoming the whole.  In particular, peace of mind induces one to act in ways consistent with higher serum serotonin — the results of which are prone to have the effect of raising one’s serotonin, making one prone to continue to act those ways — drawing one ever closer to greater peace of mind, greater prosperity and joy.  See “Serotonin and the individual.”

Children

Greatness

Matthew 18:3-4:

“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

Here comes a situation that is very hard for most Americans today to understand.

Greatness was a big, big deal among Bible people.  The most basic measure of greatness was a man’s (sic) height — literally, how tall he (sic) was.  After all, you just have to look up to anyone who’s taller than yourself, and look down on anyone who’s shorter.  This played a role in the selection of Saul as Israel’s first king (1 Samuel 10:23-24).

Other indicators of greatness included age, wealth (Job 1:3), physical strength, number of offspring, and good looks (1 Samuel 9:2; 1 Samuel 16:12).  These various facets made endless disputes possible, as in our present text and its parallels (Matthew 18:1-4, Mark 9:33-37, Luke 9:46-48).

Women were less.  They literally didn’t count — they weren’t counted.  See Matthew 14:21 and 15:38, and note that Matthew is the exception here: in the corresponding stories in Mark and Luke, the women aren’t even mentioned at all.

Children, being youngest and shortest, were least.

The great were presumed to be right to bully the small.

Social dominance orientation consumed more of Jesus’ energy than any other one issue.  Self-aggrandizement cannot co-exist with peace of mind.

To whom the Kingdom belongs

This saying occurs at Matthew 19:14, Mark 10:14-15, and Luke 18:16-17.

Luke 18:

15People were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them; and when the disciples saw it, they sternly ordered them not to do it. 16But Jesus called for them and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 17Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”

The Twelve regarded children — the least — as unworthy of Jesus’ attention.

Much has been written about this passage.  What features of child-likeness make one fit for the Kingdom?  It may be that children are pure of heart.  See:  Heart and soul.

The rich man

Matthew 19:

23Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven.  24Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

These words also occur at Mark 10:23-25 and Luke 18:24-25.  They won’t be understood apart from the whole story.  From Matthew 19:

16Then someone came to him and said, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?”

17And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.”

18He said to him, “Which ones?”

And Jesus said, “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; 19Honor your father and mother; also, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

20The young man said to him, “I have kept all these; what do I still lack?”

21Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22When the young man heard this word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

23Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

25When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astounded and said, “Then who can be saved?” 26But Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.”

My take:  the problem isn’t having wealth, nor desiring wealth, but making one’s happiness dependent on it.  Peace of mind entails choosing to be happy no matter what one’s circumstances.

The Needle’s Eye is thought to be a particular gate in Jerusalem that was very narrow, so that a camel might have difficulty getting through — especially if fully packed.  To enter the Kingdom, one may need to unpack the camel.  As to sacrificing one’s possessions, see “The treasure and the pearl,” above.

Other

Luke 9:62

Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

See the context, Luke 9:57-62.  Each of these men makes excuses as to why he cannot follow Jesus.  The Kingdom pertains to undivided intention, or purity of heart.  The verb most often translated “doubt” actually means “to waver,” or to be of two or more minds.  The problem with looking back while plowing — being concerned with the past rather than the present — is that one will plow a crooked row.

Matthew 23:13

“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. For you do not go in yourselves, and when others are going in, you stop them.”

I have no eagerness to find fault with anyone’s religion, but we know Jesus had conflicts with some of the Pharisees, and we may as well consider why.

The Pharisees’ spiritual heirs are the Orthodox Jews of today.  I know no small number of such people whose lives revolve around the Great Commandment; for whom no thing is more important than love for God and for one’s neighbor.  Such were many Pharisees also, such as the “teacher of the Law” mentioned in the next passage below.

There were and are others, however, whose lives are constant anxiety over picayune ritual observances.  The Pharisees taught there are 613 mitzvot, or commandments, in Torah that are binding on every Jew.  They did not arrive at that number by counting; no one knows for certain what they all are.  The number seems to me to have been picked out of the air by some authoritative person, such as Ezra, perhaps because it stands for some important word.  (Hebrew numbers are also letters.  חי, “chai,” meaning “life,” for example, corresponds to the number 18.)  The elaborations on the mitzvot are spelled out in the Talmud, a monumental text that, at the customary rate of “a page a day,” takes 7½ years to learn.

It is taught that Jewish faithfulness to these mitzvot is all that allows the cosmos to continue to exist.  Were they to neglect them, the fabric of space-time would soon fall apart.

No self-aggrandizing system can lead one to peace of mind.

Mark 12:34

When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that no one dared to ask him any question.

The context is a series of disputes between Jesus and other learned Jews in the Temple.  Such disputes were practically a pastime for such people.

The story of Mark 12:27-34 is markedly different from its parallels at Matthew 22:34-40 and Luke 10:25-28, which do not mention the Kingdom.

What about this man’s testimony prompted Jesus to say, “You are not far from the kingdom of God?”  I am impressed with the man’s total focus on love — love for God, love for neighbor.  Maybe such love is focal for peace of mind.

==========================================================================

The authentic Jesus “Kingdom” sayings

Matthew 4.17: From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

Matthew 5.3: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5.10: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 6.10: Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Matthew 6.33: But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Matthew 10.7: As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’

Matthew 13.24: He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field;

Matthew 13.31: He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field;

Matthew 13.33: He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”

Matthew 13.44: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

Matthew 13.45: “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls;

Matthew 18.3: and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 18.4: Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 19.12: For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.”

Matthew 19.14: but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.”

Matthew 19.23: Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 19.24: Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

Matthew 23.13: “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. For you do not go in yourselves, and when others are going in, you stop them.

Mark 1.15: and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

Mark 4.30: He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? [mustard seed]

Mark 10.14: But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.

Mark 10.15: Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”

Mark 10.23: Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”

Mark 10.24: And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!

Mark 10.25: It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

Mark 12.34: When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that no one dared to ask him any question.

Luke 4.43: But he said to them, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose.”

Luke 6.20: Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.

Luke 9.62: Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Luke 11.2: He said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come.

Luke 12.31: Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

Luke 12.32: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.

Luke 13.18: He said therefore, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what should I compare it? [mustard seed]

Luke 13.20: And again he said, “To what should I compare the kingdom of God? [yeast]

Luke 18.16: But Jesus called for them and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.

Luke 18.17: Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”

Luke 18.24: Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!

Luke 18.25: Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

Moltmann: A thumbnail portrait

In coming posts, I must refer to “revealed God” vs. “hidden God” religion. To lay some background now, I reproduce a 2007 post from Messiah Truth, where I am known as Proteus.  The context was a moderator’s insistence that Naziism was a Christian expression.  I refer to the premiere Christian theological response to Naziism, Jürgen Moltmann’s The Crucified God. Continue reading Moltmann: A thumbnail portrait

The path of presence

Thursday, May 1, 2014.  For several days, I’ve sought a sign as to whether presence is, indeed, the way to go.  No answer could be clearer than my experience this afternoon.  I’ve gone through exactly the transition described in “Chaos overwhelms the poor.”  I have power and competence to deal with my current circumstances, with the resources at hand.  I perceive the universe as a well-ordered place.  This cosmic harmony provides the foundation for hope.  I may soon be able to face with confidence the unknown, uncertain future.

That I did all this on my own raises the question of whether there exists, in the end, the unseen world.  I have that answer already; I’ve been in this place before.

———— ♦ ————

From “Chaos overwhelms the poor:”

Jesus and others have taught an approach to life that enables one to learn to care for oneself and begin to establish harmony in one’s immediate situation.
Continue reading The path of presence

The self-loving reptile

This post has been a long time coming.

Many people in my world are fundamentally reptilian.

This largely accounts for their social marginalization.

The question is how to, for want of a better word, humanize them.

ADVISORY: EXPLICIT LANGUAGE.

Continue reading The self-loving reptile

The wandering will

Cartesian space
A vector in a three-dimensional space.

I envision the emotional or spiritual world as a ten-dimensional space, in which a vector (arrow) beginning at the origin (the center of the space) depicts a person’s emotional state at any point in time.  The vector’s length indicates the intensity of one’s emotions at a given moment, while its direction indicates what kinds of feelings those are — equal parts joy and sadness, for example, or some anger and much love.

These are the energies one is emanating at that moment, the kinds of light or darkness one creates.
Continue reading The wandering will

Writing and discipline

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

I don’t write easy things.

Sometimes I can’t tell the story but from a state of emotional upset, and I may balk at allowing myself to get into that state.  Other times, I may balk at other things.  I have gotten next to nowhere with the piece I’ve been working on now for two weeks, and I finally know why.

The problem is, I’m indecisive.  The solution is to resurrect the approach that allowed me to succeed in college (BA, 1977), and become a disciplined writer.
Continue reading Writing and discipline