The Benedictine Option

st-benedict2

On February 17, 2017 the Wall Street Journal printed a story by Ian Lovelett entitled:  “Wary of Modern Society, Some Christians Choose a Life Apart.”[i]  There is a movement here in the United States that mirrors monastic communities of early Christian times.  The actual rules of a Benedictine Monastery are quite exhaustive.  However, these families are choosing to set up Christian communities near Monasteries and model life on Christian values absent the temptations of secular life found in American communities.

What are these families seeking in pursuing the Benedictine Option?  St. Gregory described St. Benedict this way:

“the model of a saint who flees temptation to pursue a life of attention to God. Through a balanced pattern of living and praying Benedict reached the point where he glimpsed the glory of God.”[ii]

If you have never escaped to a spiritual retreat that provides solitude and prayer I recommend you read and consider an Ignatian retreat center.  An excellent book I have recommended (link below) prior can provide an at home retreat for 8 weeks.[iii]  How many of us can pick up, purchase land near a monastery, and find it possible to live the agrarian lifestyle successfully?

We do not need to flee from the United States, from our communities, from other Christian denominations, from Muslims, Jews, Atheist, Progressives, Liberals, and Conservatives.  Living in a secular society, if you have not been called to the priesthood or monastic lifestyle, is a calling in and of itself.  We live amongst non-believers and fellow believers to perform our calling while simultaneously living our faith as witnesses to Christ.

How do we do that as today’s gospel (February 19, 2017) calls for us to “reprove your fellow-countryman firmly and thus avoid burdening yourself with a sin.”[iv]  We have been far from flawless in this regard.  We have stepped way past reprove to being judge, jury, and hangman on many occasion – thus committing countless sins in the name of Jesus Christ.

ingnorant-reprove

Globalization trends, extreme politics, and scarcity of resources are leading people to make superficial decisions.  Today a segment of our society driven by Christian evangelization is attempting to codify via civil law our beliefs and to impose them on others rather than “reproving” sinners by preaching our beliefs (our churches and leaders) and living our beliefs as witnesses thru “a balanced pattern of living and praying.”  At a high level our policies are not supporting our beliefs and our trust in faith and God’s intimate knowledge of each one of us.  If we did we would not have our current President in chief be able to retain the modest popularity he has based on his “wall plans,” anti-immigration plans, lifestyle, and a host of other issues best left unmentioned here.

If we were confident in our faith we would be able to humbly reprove without the insecure need to demonize and attack non-believers.   As we have seen time and time again, when we are living the true faith non-believers will rise in insecurity to demonize our actions.  We must be prepared to not fall into the trap of committing the same sin.

reprove

We do need to reprove our politicians and fellow citizens.  I reprove abortion in general (not women) though I do not pretend to know the circumstances (medical, spiritual, psychological, economic, rape) or the depth of God’s mercy and intentions.  I reprove our nation’s decision to dismantle health care that helps the poor, to apply indiscriminate and harmful immigration actions for votes, to build a wall when we can be building humanity, and many other systemic injustices.   I reprove policy and presidential actions and words that through either active collusion or incompetence continue to promote racism, sexism, and religious intolerance.  I reprove our highest public servant directing his energies at serving the wealthy and his associates despite campaigning to do the opposite to help the poor and middle class.

However, at a deeper level, spiritual pursuit starts with me – not with the elected class.  Do I know that I am God’s temple and that God’s spirit dwells in me?[v]   How many times have I poisoned by body with alcohol or other acts of gluttony?  How many times have I filled my mind with other sins of the spirit (pride, greed, lust, glutton, wrath, and sloth)?

Take a look at Dante’s Inferno archetype descriptions art for each of these trap doors.  Or better yet take this fictional test:  http://www.4degreez.com/misc/dante-inferno-test.mv

dante

Now, Dante’s work is one of literary imagination- not spiritual or religious dogma.  But if you dared take that test – did it get you thinking a little more objectively about your balanced living and pray life?

How many of us put our own desire for status, financial security, power above the needs of people less fortunate than us through the arms of our nation’s wealth and might?  To be honest, in the short-term, Donald’s plan may benefit me financially in net pay.  However, it is devastating my spiritual beliefs in protecting the vulnerable in our society and the immigrants seeking refuge or already here.  Perhaps a 30 day Benedictine Monastic Month would be good for our nation!  That not being possible – all change starts with the smallest unit.  Me.

However, the family unit is a monastic unit of faith.  It is a calling.  Within our communities if the family units are living the faith, we will have a society and market that caters to that faith without the need for coercion or mandate.  By faith and individual and family action of living the word of God within our own walls we can carry the word of God.  And in our communities we can be replenished and supported by the church.  How many house hunters prioritize visiting the church before evaluating the schools, transportation, crime rates, and other factors that make communities important to us?

We know these things.  That our faith is dependent on our individual lives, family lives, and church being in order. Yet we look to our government, education system, and media to make it easy for us.  We expect them to do the hard work while we hypocritically are consuming the very things we rally against.  Fleeing to another land will not eliminate the turmoil within our own souls or within our church.

flight

So we find ourselves in a secularised community here in the United States.  Internationally people are dying today for their beliefs in Jesus Christ.  Our human inclination is fight or flight.

fight-or-flight

Today’s gospel has some advice on this topic:

“You have heard that it was said, `An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if anyone would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you. “You have heard that it was said, `You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.[vi]

The magnitude of seeking perfection in a secular society is the hardest challenge of mankind.  It is what we are called to do with humility and steadfastness.  We may not be able to escape to a hermitage and probably have not been called to do so.  However, nothing wrong with taking refuge for a minute, an hour, a weekend in contemplative prayer when the seven temptations are at the door.

contemplatative

[i] https://www.wsj.com/articles/communities-built-on-faith-1487349471

[ii] http://www.osb.org/gen/benedict.html

[iii] http://www.ignatianspirituality.com/ignatian-prayer/the-spiritual-exercises/an-ignatian-prayer-adventure

[iv] 1 Corinthians 3:16-23

[v] Corinthians 3:16-23

[vi] Matthew 5: 38 to 48

 

Cathedral Basilica, Philadelphia

alter

A minor Basilica located in the heart of Philadelphia, originally built for 75,000 , now is facing a roof repair that cost upwards of 14 million dollars! It is a national historic landmark, a museum, and soon to be home of a shrine for St. Katherine Drexel (http://www.katharinedrexel.org/), and is also an active but aging parish.  
After mass today my wife and I enjoyed a tour of the church.  What a wonderful and instructive tour.  The church, aside from its own splendor, is also a repository of sculptures and artwork from smaller churches that have ceased to be.  As the Catholic church as seen diminishing numbers and the cost of maintaining churches has sky rocketed, valuable and impressive church artifacts are found new homes, including moving saints crypts.   

The mass was classical in style and included beautiful music played on the fourth largest organ in the city:  

organ

Afterwards the artwork and many alcoves tell so many stories of our faith.  Historically art was a way of storytelling and communicating the faith – etched in glass, ceramic, or painted on walls and ceilings.   

ceiling

 

I was also able to sit in the same chair as Pope Francis did when he visited and said Mass on Ben Franklin Parkway.  I think it’s the robes that gives him the air of authority and grace!    
A common theme in my writings always returns to a principal.  A principal I try to teach to up and coming social workers as well.  Often, it is not the words or the glamour of the presenter, the oration or eloquence, the skill level or technique – but genuine compassion, demonstrated empathy, and consistent authenticity.   How are we living today.  Are the American people and our elected leaders practicing genuine compassion, demonstrated empathy, and consistent authenticity?   Pope Francis has challenged us on several fronts as individual Christians and as a nation that we are not living or acting as a Christian nation in the areas of compassion, economic stewardship, social welfare, environment, and many other intrinsic values of Christianity.  Christianity is so much more than Pro-Life – and he has criticized us on that too in many dimensions regarding the value of life on all fronts.  
The church has frequent homeless individuals hiding in the confessionals to get some sleep and un-harassed peace.  The a.m. mass before ours had a homeless person taking one of the contribution baskets and fleeing out with a few dollars in the middle of mass – a common problem in this church that has its share of homeless and impoverished people in the community.   One statue requires a rosary bead to be present – it is replaced daily as it is always taken by visitors to the church. People are desperate and hungry for grace and for food, housing, shelter.  
My thoughts and prayers to the immigrants we are shunning, to the homeless we are ignoring, to the poor who are hungry, and to the spiritually starved who have lost faith in humanity and in God.   I pray with tears in my eyes that we as a nation find humility in our hearts, courage to accept the risk of being true leaders, and strength to demand we treat all people with dignity.   

Here is one of today’s readings.  Read and Reflect if you have time:

Reading 2, First Corinthians 1:26-31
26 Consider, brothers, how you were called; not many of you are wise by human standards, not many influential, not many from noble families.
27 No, God chose those who by human standards are fools to shame the wise; he chose those who by human standards are weak to shame the strong,
28 those who by human standards are common and contemptible — indeed those who count for nothing — to reduce to nothing all those that do count for something,
29 so that no human being might feel boastful before God.
30 It is by him that you exist in Christ Jesus, who for us was made wisdom from God, and saving justice and holiness and redemption.
31 As scripture says: If anyone wants to boast, let him boast of the Lord.

 http://cathedralphila.org/about/about-the-cathedral/

 
http://cathedralphila.org/

 

The Case for Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus by Lee Strobel

Most of us Christians do not have the resources or time to complete a pilgrimage dedicated to exploring our historical faith, visiting holy places close and far, interviewing experts on both our theology and the historical accuracy of the bible.  A majority of us have the luxury of being raised in the faith which provides a solid foundation for belief, hopefully re-enforced by lived actions and a faith driven life-style.  However, sometimes being born and raised in a tradition is a disservice.  The religion of our heritage goes untested, the theology taken for granted, and the believer reduced to being a passive recipient rather than an active and engaged believer testing the word inside and outside the bubble of our community of believers.

Throughout history from the apostolic age to present Christians have faced criticism from Judaism, Secularism, Atheist, other world religions,  philosophers, and others.  Generally educated and ethical critics have not been a threat to our existence of safety.  They have refined and tested our faith.  We continue to develop our believers and message in-line with Jesus Christ while ensuring our institutions are teaching and being held accountable for preserving the word of true Christianity.  If Christ were to return today I am confident that more than a few teachings would be upended and many a tabernacle laid bare and empty.  The many splinters of Christianity today demonstrate the enormity of the task of humans preserving the message and striving to be close to the divine.   I worry more about the safety of our faith and the safety of Christians at the hands of blowhards with shallow understanding, politicians with a political motivation, and mobs instigated by fear and hate.  These are real and ever-present realities.  Having critics and apologist debate sincerely and with intentional benevolence is divine pursuit.   Having an uneducated and fear driven populous acting on mis-informed secular representations or false prophets rhetorical call to violence is our real enemy.

About the author:  Lee Strobel is commonly called a Christian apologist today despite once being atheist.  I see him as a mass market/motivational speaker, not necessarily a theological source.  He has a history in journalism which he utilized to explore his found faith.  At the end are links to his web page and a documentary on this book.

I hate the word “apologist.”  It sounds too much like apology!  “Apologetics is about rationally defending a position or view whose truth is challenged.”

apologist

Strobel does this by interviewing expert Christian Apologist and challenging them on the most common attacks from modern-day critics of Christianity.  In one book he has covered the vast majority of criticisms that you will hear from people who have not had the time to delve deeply into investigating each new age or old age attack on Christian identity and theology.  It is an “inside baseball” book as it is a dialogue of a Christian convert  interviewing Christian apologist.  However, having read many criticisms of Catholicism and christianity, listened to countless uninformed representations of the faith, and having a background in philosophy/psychology/social work – it is refreshing to read an unapologetic, easy to read, defense of the faith.  It is not error free and clearly not exhaustive.  The review I provided on Zealot prior covered many of the same points – in some cases reaching different conclusions.  These are the types of books that everyday people are reading.  Who these days goes and reads comphrehenisve documents from Antiquities in the native language of the day?   However, if you are exploring the faith and the ongoing attacks on the christian faith – every Christian needs to understand the arguments for and against Christianity.  This book is an excellent primer on the subject.  No believer should take their faith for granted.  We are all apologist!

That being said, we have no need to sell one version of the divine, to convince others of our beliefs, or to denigrate others not in the faith.   Faith sharing will not be one by theological arguments  but by lived faith and the grace of God.  We are not here “to win” but to serve the faith and our shared God.

Book rating:  10

http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/the-case-for-christ/

http://leestrobel.com/

resurrection

A Monk In The World: Cultivating A Spiritual Life by Wayne Teasdale

“The homeless live in virtually every city and town around the globe, representing a sixth of humanity — or about a billion souls.  Like ghost, they haunt the busy thoroughfares of the world.”

If you read nothing else in this post except this quote that is okay.  Please contemplate and pray for these billion souls in whatever spiritual tongue you possess and cherish.

homeless

Teasdale doesn’t get to the homeless until chapter six:  “Light in the streets:  The urgent call of the homeless.”  The first five chapters he spends on spirituality, mystical experience, the church, friendship, world order, preciousness of time, sacredness of work, and the value of money.  A decent read on challenges of everyday life to the spiritual life.   But most of us are not called to the monastic life and have to “make due” in an environment that is sometimes outright hostile to your beliefs.

Homelessness is only a small portion of the book that is examining how to live a contemplative and spiritual life amidst the chaos of living in the real world (as opposed to a monastery or a hermit in the desert.  However, the epic issue of homelessness and our aversion to the problem is an epitome of the failure of globalization and extreme capitalism.

Teasdale explains through his own life experience the labor of belief, both vertical and horizontal life challenges, internal and external challenges, mortality, and earthly limitations.  He goes a step further to address the commonalities of religious and the calling to unite ecumenical movements to address poverty in our times.

In the U.S our current administration is focused on recovering a perceived lost edge in the global economy and focus on removing protections that may hinder capitalism’s acceleration while also instituting protectionism for corporations in the U.S, reducing oversight that protects the safety and fair wages of the working class, while targeting immigrants and other countries as villains to support a political message and a rallying call to desperate Americans.   At the same time, the administration itself is at war with the free press and unapologetically creating alternative facts without regard for truth in the slightest.  The irony is the leadership had or has (I don’t know which) the support of bible belt believers, if not,publicly, than secretly.

Nowhere in our administration’s current platform is a call for social justice, a call to help the poor of this nation and/or other nations, responsible stewardship of the planet, and other callings that Christians worldwide, including the Pope of the Catholic church, hold as core values.  Instead we have a militant and protectionist mantra of “America First.” And a minority of the population is okay with the absence of compassion and outright villainizing of anything or anyone that opposes the administration’s viewpoint.  I do not know how this adheres to our Christian heritage in the manner in which America’s voice is being heard today in the world.  Our current political establishment is putting profits of the super elite above community and pitting the community against each other internally and externally through inflammatory language and almost messianic message about doom and gloom.

It is and has been my life’s calling to work with the impoverished and under-represented “sentient beings.”  I use this phrase to bring to life that the poor, the disenfranchised, the homeless, the immigrants, the LGBTQ individuals are not labels but real, spiritual beings with a consciousness and share of our collective resources and our God.

It is possible to be this horrific in the political sphere when the public is distanced from spiritual grounding and meaningful caring of thy neighbor and all sentient beings regardless of race, color, creed, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, or nationality.

If our nation was as spiritual and committed to Christianity as many report – our politicians would not have the license they do today to lie outright time and time again without repercussion.

The book aptly ducks the big questions and focuses on individual tools and pray for cultivating the spirit in the face of such adversity and calls on religious institutions to show more courage in standing up for moral convictions.  The church has failed in this area before — in Germany and in other places and times.  I pray we do not fail again.

The immensity of the issues often give way to powerlessness and despair for believers. That is why an interior pray life and mindfully living in a spiritual manner is so critical for believers today now more than ever.

One believer at a time.  

One good deed at a time.  

One letter of advocacy.  

One voice in the crowd.

You decide where you can make a difference.

 “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:26

Book Review:  7 of 10 (not one of my favorites but a decent read)

monk-in-the-world

 

 

October 31, 1517:  Martin Luther and The Day That Changed the World by Martin E. Marty

Five Hundred Years ago Martin Luther nailed his 95 Thesis to a Chapel Door in Wittenberg, Germany.  The Catholic Church and Lutheran church have Reconciled a battle that ignited the reformation, divided the Catholic Church including the 30 years war between Protestants and Catholics (1618-48), and contributed to fractures within the Catholic Church and a splintering of the Christian faith into many denominations.  

This little book is an easy quick read on the this day in history and the aftermath. Today we have the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification.  My take is Martin Luther, a gregarious and loud fellow, possessed a charismatic personality and a wonderfully flawed character that led him to challenge the authority of the time on an issue that he was justifiably accurate with his position (abuse and questioning the theological basis of indulgences).  However, he lacked the power and influence to engage the church from within and had the zeal and arrogance to attack the faith from the outside.  The times were ready for change and he lit the match on the priestly culture of the period that left believers scorched by a spiritual drought that was ready to burn.  The church and the unity of the Christian faith was never the same again (for better or worse).  

I grossly over simplified the 95 Thesis – but the heart of the matter is to what extent can man atone for his sins and God’s grace and mercy is primary.  The ecumenical healing and unification of Christianity, understanding our human limitations at defining divine absolute truths throughout history, calls for us to have rich dialogue, religious tolerance, and an abundance of compassion and mercy.

There is a legitimate question as to whether or not he ever literally nailed the 95 Thesis to the church door.  I have it fixed in my mind that he penned the Thesis in a tavern, marched to the chapel with the prodding of some mates and the disapproval of others, and nailed the Thesis with a hammer borrowed from the bartender who had listened to his fury on many a night.  No one thought much would come of it, just something that needed to be done and Luther was up to the challenge.  We all should have a little bit of Luther in us!


Recent News Story on Reconciliation:

 http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/01/world/europe/pope-francis-in-sweden-urges-catholic-lutheran-reconciliation.html?smprod=nytcore-ipad&smid=nytcore-ipad-share

Zealot THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JESUS OF NAZARETH by Rena Aslan

Two thousand plus years and Jesus the man (revolutionary, rebel, bandit) and Jesus “The Son of Man” (The Jesus Christ of Christian believers, the son of God, sent to save mankind from eternal damnation, died on the cross for our sins than and now) live in a historical reality much as we do today.  Aslan delves into the historical Jesus Christ and the context of how and by whom the New Testament came to be.  Regardless of how you define Jesus Christ, both the man and the Jesus Christ our savior, challenged government and priestly authorities to stop abusing privilege and care for the poor, reform and create a just society that is reflected in the Sermon on the Mount. Do we believe in that message today?

The destruction of Jerasulem in 70 C.E. is marked by Aslan as the true birth of Christianity separating from Judaism and fully accepting Paul’s theological framework that sees the Torah and the rules of Judaism as a “ministry of death, chiseled in letters on a stone tablet” that must be superseded by a “ministry of the spirit come in glory.” (2 Cor 3: 7-8) Very strong words.  Indeed Christianity did rid itself of many rituals – but not of its theological roots and scripture of the Torah.

A key critism of this book is Aslam attributes authorship of Gospels to be penned after 70 A.D. whereas many scholars date Gospels “no later than 59 AD” which is only 29 years after Jesus’s death.  This is a major blow to Aslan’s carefully built assertion that Jesus was more a political rebel or revolutionary than Prophet and Divine son of God.  It is not affirmative who is right on timelines.  Here is another source:  http://catholic-resources.org/Bible/Four_Gospel_Chart.htm

The oral and written traditions that superseded the New Testament we have today, the influence Jewish Authorities, competing Messianic movements, and divisions within the Christian community had a profound impact on the narratives and literary devices used to capture the life of Jesus Christ.  Aslan takes a look at contrast between the earliest written gospel (Mark) versus gospels written later (Matthew, Mark, John, and Q sources) and other historical references that bring to light the distinctions between the historical Jesus and the theological Jesus that evolved over time by his apostles preaching the word and the word enventualky taking form under Emperor Constantine in 325 C.E.

Imagine if Christians did not blame the Jews for the Crucifiction, but the Romans? Perhaps two thousand years of antisemitism could have been avoided. The early Christians though, may have chosen to avoid that fight with the Romans.  Look where it got the Jews of Jerusalem in 70 C.E.

The relationships amongst the 3 original apostles (James, Peter, and John) and Paul (Saul, convert self-proclaimed apostle who had an a vision of Jesus Christ while encounter to persecute Christians) who never met Jesus Christ and outreached to gentiles and Jews a message quite different than the apostles (casting off Jewish law).  This is somewhat contentious as Aslan is basically saying Christianity represents Paul’s vision – not the thinking and vision of Jesus Christ the man.  He has a kernel of truth here.  Paul championed Christianity for gentiles and liberal Jews.  He was not preaching in the land of Jerusalem, the heart of Orthodox Judaism.

A major theme in Aslams book is how commonplace healers, magicians, and messiahs were in Jesus time.  He does note that Jesus was remarkably different in several ways – but his intent is a revisionist attempt to make Jesus more human.  I did find his information on other rebels and bandits fascinating:  

The Fourth Philosophy led by Judah’s the Galilian and later chef Hazekiah were famous bandits that espoused freeing Israel from foreign rule and serving no one but one God.  A legendary group named the Sicarri by the Romans (or daggerman) had a “penchant for small, easy to conceal daggers, called sicae, with which they assassinated the enemies of God (Romans or more likely wealthy priestly aristocracy who did Romes bidding).  In 56 C.E the Sicarri managed to kill the Jewish high priest in the temple, in broad day light, slit his throat with a dagger and slipped back into the crowd. Some depict the group as equivalent to modern day terrorist.  Murder justified under religious edict and fervor….or Zeal. There were many Jewish messiahs before and after Jesus Christ prophesying.  Other claimants of messiah included Simon of Perea, Athronges the Shepard, Menahem (also a Sicarri), Simon son of Giorgio,  and Theodas the wonder worker.  John the Baptist himself proclaimed a messianic message but did not claim himself a messiah.  Jesus refrained from calling himself messiah, he befuddled the Romans and Jews by using the term “the son of Man.”

Getting back to Jesus Christ, he did not accept money or titles.  He had a message and a direction that differed from previous messiahs.  The Beatitudes (Luke 6: 20 to 24) capture the messianic message of the day, a vision that promotes both an internal transformation of Judaism but also a promise of deliverance from sub-servience and foreign rule.  The evaluation of Jesus Christ on previous expected messiahs failed by measures of re-establishing Kingship or Kingship line, liberating the Jews from Roman rule, or bringing the end of days.  These three themes of messianic beliefs and preachers who espoused them were commonplace as were their deaths for threatening sedition from Rome as well as attacking the power of the priestly elite.

Jesus understood the risk of preaching any of the above and avoided naming himself the messiah.  He let others do that until the end.  The author refers this to the messianic secret, a strategy employed most likely by Jesus, to use  parables and ambiguity until the very end.  However, Jesus also knew, as countless messiahs and others who challenged Rome, were crucified at Golgotha.

In the end, I have to agree with the critics that Aslan has created a biography that leans towards historical imagination (some would say fiction) and personal beliefs.  Nonetheless the book was very enjoyable and the politics of the time bought to life.

The messy evolution of Christianity as a theology and its massive break from Jewish tradition in a time of great political turmoil invites believers, atheist, and skeptics to explore and express intriguing questions.  As Christianity today forwarns, beware of assertions made in this book.  

In fact, I say beware of anyone asserting their interpretation of the logos (or the eternal being, the Godhead, and all the other nomenclature we use as humans to capture the unknowable, unimaginable, existence of a supreme being) is right and yours is (fill in adjective).  If they have to sell or attack they are probably not in line with divinity.  A divine soul need not pretend to be divine or to sell – they just do.  They do not have to assure themselves or others nor deminish others beliefs.  Pure divine souls humbly attract believers to them by their actions and words of love, compassion, and mercy.

Christianity Today criticism of book captures a few errors and potential exaggerations.  Little provided on the substance of the historical and theological mix of the times:

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2013/august-web-only/zealot-reza-aslan-tells-same-old-story-about-jesus.html?share=

The National Catholic Register also hammered it’s oversimplification, errors, and timelines.  It is a good idea to read what others write outside the bubble of your own political or religious perspective. It not only challenges and refines the “kool aid” you drink, but enables you to grasp why others may find your beliefs incredulous to the rationale eye!  

Rating:  9 of 10 for religious imagination and exploration.  6 if treated as historically or theologically accurate.

Advent Adventure

we-interrupt-this-broadcast-2

“We interrupt this broadcast to report unprecedented dramatic events.  World leaders have closed communication with the press and have unexpectedly cancelled events.  The White House, Bellevue Place, Kirribilli House, Elysee Palace, Zongnaihai, Buckingham Palace, the Kremlin, and the Vatican have been confirmed by our News Agencies to have shuttered their doors and key staff retreated to interior corridors of powers.”

An unprecedented notification like the above would create quite apprehension.  Most would suspect we are on the verge of war, a terrorist attack, or an assassination of a world leader has disrupted our world view once again.   Some survivalist would consider stocking up on water, bread, milk, canned goods, generator, ammunition, and cash.  Governments encourage you to be prepared.[i] Conspiracy groups count on people’s fears and market extreme survival strategies.

You should be prepared for at least three days.  Natural and man-made disasters are on the increase.   Help may get to you in hours or days.  What if the disaster was not man-made or a natural disaster?  What if help was not hours or days away – but an eternity for the unprepared?

Everyone will not escape this earth without facing this demon – either individually (alone) or with the great company of the masses at the end of time.  Given that the earth is 4.5 billion years old and we have only inhabited it for a fraction the latter possibility is not without some degree of risk, especially given how ungrateful we are as stewards of the planet.  Check out our Grant Earnhart’s 4.5 billion year review for perspective.[ii]

The demon of our mortality is a given with 100% certainty!  Actuaries calculate your probability of death every day, not because they don’t like you (I believe), but because they can profit by tilting the mortality scales in favor of a getting a few shillings from you.

Are you prepared for either eventuality – facing mortality alone or facing it at the end of time?  Dying is not something you can prepare for when you are at death’s door.   It is something you live for and prepare for all your life.  Our mortality gives our lives meaning.  Every moment is a treasure of untold value as we do not know when no more moments will be afforded us.

The Catholic Season of Advent can be an invitation to “sobriety, to not be dominated by the things of this world” and “an invitation to vigilance, because, not knowing when He will come, we must always be ready to depart.”[iii]

What would we do if the news event that started this post out was announcing a man has descended from the heavens proclaiming the second coming?  Or as Orson Wells did in 1938 predicted the War of the Worlds and potential certain death. Or closer to home, a doctor’s call informs you nothing can be done?  

We need not wait for these eventualities.  Do not wait for the bell to toll for you. Take care to be rid of regrets now.[iv]  You can easily tackle many worldly concerns now or at least attempt to so you can to your final resting place without having tried. 

Preparing to meet God is a higher order task.  Negatively speaking people often slip into existential rubric measurements of past shame and counterpoints of sincere goodness, like the actuary above, tilt the scales in their favor for that final meeting. The Bible reminds us that “it is appointed for men to die once, and after this the judgment.” [v]

Positively speaking practicing living well will do more than rubrics calculation.  The Sermon on the Mount and St. Augustine’s is a good starting point:[vi]

Therefore, whosoever hears these words of mine, and does them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.”

The Sermon on the Mount can be found here from the United States Catholic Conference Bishops website with annotations here:  http://www.usccb.org/bible/matthew/5

After having read this chapter – living “Christian Living” is not about perfection.   Jack Mahoney gives a good review of living the Sermon on the Mount that is not so imposing:[vii]

“Christian morality must be understood as part of an embracing love of God as well as of neighbor. Both the Decalogue and Sermon on the Mount begin with the gift of God and his covenant, and sketch the response of members of the chosen people, the ancient and then the new Israel, as they attempt to live with God’s gift and grace in their lives.”

When read with careful thought and sincere prayer the complexity of the beatitudes and the Ten Commandments melt into a simplicity that is congruent with rational human ethics that include a spiritual mandate of authenticity and authority.   Given that we are bound to be imperfect, the writings are a guide to strive for perfection, while recognizing human infallibility and the grace of God go hand in hand. 

You have a blueprint for preparing for the next “We interrupt this broadcast” regardless of cause:  man-made, natural disaster, or spiritual crisis.    The next 28 days is an advent adventure for me. Thank you for joining me by reading this post.  Advent is perfect for a self-directed retreat adventure.   

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[i] https://www.ready.gov/build-a-kit

[ii] http://www.npr.org/2016/11/22/502920622/watch-earths-history-play-out-on-a-football-field

[iii] Pope Francis, November 27, 2016

[iv] http://thedailypositive.com/top-10-regrets-dying/

[v] http://www.justforcatholics.org/06.01.pdf

[vi] http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/16011.htm

[vii] https://catholicismpure.wordpress.com/2012/02/07/living-the-sermon-of-the-mount/

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