The Shema Comparison – is Jesus God?

Deut 6:4 – “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!” 

Mark 12:29 – “Jesus answered, “The foremost is, ‘HEAR, O ISRAEL! THE LORD OUR GOD IS ONE LORD” 

I am not sure Jesus would claim such things (to be God) being a firm believer in the Shema (One God idea – Mark 12:29-31 – also in Luke 10 and Matt 22).  

I have a tough time not thinking this was mistakenly interpreted by the people of the time period of Jesus – namely within the Greco-Roman perspective – concerning the idea of ’son of God or Christ’ and what that means. Nowhere in Matthew/Mark/Luke do we see Jesus making this claim to godhood – this is totally factual. With John we get into dicey territory about the idea of Jesus and God being ‘one’ and what that means – but this book seems to be where the idea ‘Jesus is God’ came from (and I’ll even debate people from within that very book that Jesus does not claim god-hood from in it’s pages also – but it is more questionable). 

I think ideas and terms are added to Jesus from a un-Jewish perspective over time – to the point – Jesus no longer even so much as reflects his Jewish roots. If you truly think about it you will know this is true – how does Jesus look in most churches? Usually like the congregants and has the same ideas they do most of the time. Now that’s sad in one way – but also tragic as it means Jesus becomes whoever to whomever (a virtual shape-shifter). Today he is a Republican tomorrow he is a democrat.  

 I might be wrong on my claims that Jesus is not God – but it’s a mistake I can live with (if it is a mistake)…since Jesus in Mark clearly does not disavow the Shema. Also – if we are wrong about the Jesus = God idea this has less consequence than believing it – because by believing it we break the 1st commandment willfully (maybe even boastfully – most do it ignorantly I am guessing). Since I like the 10 commandments I have a tough time brushing aside the 1st one and then having the audacity the next 9 mean something. 

Why does Jesus have to be God?

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Two Men Went To Pray…

Ideas of exclusion/division that seek to both segregate the believer from others and produce feelings of religious superiority” (SVS)

Did you ever the one about two men that went to the temple to pray? It’s a gooder.

“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.

The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’

But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’

I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:10-14)

I have stated that the Christian faith does have this ‘superiority complex’ when dealing with ‘who we are’ and ‘who they are’. ‘We’ are Christians – favored by God – ‘sins’ forgiven – heaven bound; ‘They’ are not – they are stuck in their ‘sins’ – hell bound.

The Pharisee in the parable is (a) very long in speech compared to the tax collecter; (b) uses comparison to others; (c) proud of all his religious acts and seems to use this to bolster his claim of religious standing; and (d) is judgmental. I would ask – if this exists fairly commonplace in Christianity and we have a teaching ‘not to do this’ – how did it get into the faith as normal?

The answer for me is quite simple – exclusivity. Once God becomes exclusive about who is coming in and who is not coming in – then we enter a tricky situation – some people are ‘justified’ and some are ‘not justified’ in the eyes of God. The ones who feel justified will approach the unjustified with some level of ego/high-mindedness since they have the answers apparently. We can actually fool ourselves into thinking we are more accepted by God than someone else – wow!

However, the simple plea of anyone is heard by God in this parable. And true justification in God’s sight is admitting something very simple ‘sometimes we can’t make it on our own’ – to borrow a U2 line – about humility. True faith will always look to be humble in the face of relationships and with someone else’s struggles (ie: loving your neighbor).

So what is justification? Being humble enough to admit your flaws and work with that of the other – as partners in the ‘wrestling with God’ and ‘for another’. I have no time for the egotistical crap that flows like wine out of my own faith – either we learn to start accepting people flaws and all (who are just like us) or we continue to act (hypocrisy) like we have it all figured out in a nice, neat, little package of faith – we pretend to lay at God’s feet. Funny how Gospel Logic 101 needs to be re-written back into our denominational statements.

What is ‘Being a Christian’?

Wikipedia Definition 

A Christian (meaning: Little Christ) is a person who adheres to Christianity, a monotheistic religion centered on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ as presented in the New Testament and interpreted by Christians to have been prophesied in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament.” 

From this definition – I would say I am a Christian. However, from reading mainline denominational statements and religious blogs – I would say I am an outsider – and from the black n white machine with problems in gray-scale – an unbeliever.  

Am I really a Christian? Who is a Christian? 

I have thought about this for some time now – my focus is not accepted into the mainstream faith, I don’t attend church, I question the culture of the church, I reject a lot in every denominational statement, I don’t believe in the Trinity, the bible does contain errors, I don’t try to cross compare many books from many authors, and I question the history of the church.

However – the church community is not the great moral place it considers itself to be. It is pushing forward ideals about God that are very problematic: 

  • Unconditional loving God whose full love is dependent on your decision
  • Focus on fear as an underlying motivator to remain faithful to God
  • Worship a 3 tier God we also call One (in direct breaking of the Shema) – We cannot break the commandments – excluding the 1st one
  • Faith that moves in a bi-polar fashion – highs of love to extreme lows in judgment (of both fellow believers & non-believers)
  • The rule of thumb is the best talker is the best Christian – taking the focus from a real world application onto better lyrics
  • Defining spirituality in terms of various aspects of the human and not the whole human experience (ie: church as a place of worship)
  • Ideas of exclusion/division that seek to both segregate the believer from others and produce feelings of religious superiority
  • A faith system that rejects the common notions of reason and testing via the human experience – so doctrinally nothing is open to alterations
  • Teachings on forgiveness, mercy, and responsibility that defend it’s limitations more than it’s full capacity
  • The ability to break it’s own teachings with scriptural justification
  • Inherent sin idea that has at it’s focus the repugnance of being human
  • Faith systems that have amalgamated powerfully with Western societies that separating faith and patriotism is becoming unattainable (and revealing cultural biases)

So where does this leave me? As it stands, I view the Christian faith as too conservative and quite ineffective in the maturity of society/communities – I would even say their current interpretations are now working against their growth and success. We need change (no more hypocrisy) and what’s more – we need a faith that is less talk and based off the human experience in interaction with the teachings.

Defining Community, Love, and Good News

Originally posted on Naked Pastor’s ‘What Hold’s Us Together’ blog.  

It can only be love, mutual love, that holds a relationship or a community together” (NP)

I really liked the blog and tackling an issue about what holds community together – and from my experience also – love is the great glue. I have a community of friends I work with at the university – and we are all good friends now. How did we get to this place of commonality? We all started to get to know one another and we genuinely care about one another now (celebrating successes and dealing with issues of concern in mindful ways). Community is strengthened by love and I would say divided by judgment.

As for authentic acceptance – well this is also a piece of love. We all have at our most basic need to idea we want ‘to belong’ and ‘be accepted’…this is an obvious human desire from childhood to seniority. Love starts with acceptance and without it we have, again division.

I think communities need to address the huge problem in our faith of divisivness – which is an idea so prevelant in our theologies we even see it on blog-spaces and over the pulpits. I would say mainstream Christianity has at it’s heart exclusivity that is sometimes used as a reason to not accept certain people or even draw self-righteous lines between groups. I think we need to lose those theologies of divisiveness.

If I treat my community of friends certain ways based on their beliefs – I am not a Christian anymore nor am I truly sharing ‘good news/ideas’ with them. Truth is, my community of friends are from a variety of religious backgrounds with a variety of different thinking patterns – and sometimes those patterns are not helpful to them. If I become exclusive about my faith – I will literally cut my community into fractured pieces and lose friends (and love will dissipate). When the essence of our faith is inclusion and sharing (good news) with one another – then so should our focus be there. Jesus may be the ‘way’ – I am convinced he is not the way to destruction.

The key in all of this is acceptance and mercy/justice. Fishon raises a good point of the pilfering treasurer (sounds similar to a biblical character who hung himself) and what should be done. This happens to me all the time – currently I have about 5 to 10 people that owe me $50.00 or more in my local community of friends. What should I do fishon – you tell me? Take them before the court? I can judge them – I have the right – they have wronged me. But what has Jesus taught us?

“Blessed are the meek/gentle, for they shall inherit the earth”
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy”
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God”

Maybe there is another ‘way’ of living here that needs to be considered in my personal community – one that is gentle, merciful, and peaceful. People can be judged for the way they have used me (stolen from me) – or I can turn around and change the whole experience they expect – and love them regardless of the condition the relationships are currently are in. They may have stolen from me – but I will be gentle enough to allow the problems to be learned from. I will have mercy on the undeserving – because I also want to see mercy. I will make peace where there is difficulty – since money is just money – but people are truly priceless. This is why the community I am in involved in works – we love one another – even when the chips are slanted against us.

***Side-note – I am not part of a church community – this is a community of friends I have developed over my time of service in the Aboriginal business and student communities throughout my city.

AngerLustThoughtAction (ALTA)

Matthew 5 gives 2 examples that I find very interesting – anger and lust – and they go into some detail about thinking as being the problem – not just the doing aspect.  This usually gets justified as the reason to not do or watch a lot of things – lest one should think something wrongly. I want to go into these ideas and dissect them.  

(1) Anger/Murder You have heard that the ancients were told ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.” (Matthew 5:21-22)  

To me, it seems like there is an amping of the court systems one will deal with in their belligerence or anger. We go from court – to Supreme Court (higher court) – to God’s court (not sure ‘fiery hell’ is the correct interpretation?). To me there are a few things being said: 

(a) We have a few chances to reconcile with the ‘other person’ no matter the grievance before we come to God’s court – responsibility is always on us. However, at some point – we do move from anger to action (murder in this case) – and after that we have no recourse with the ‘other’ – we have literally handed the case to God to judge us.

 (b) The passage also shows us that anger is something that builds from one extreme to another if it goes unchecked (not personally dealt with). A person starts with a feeling – then that emotion progresses to plans – and then plans become action – in this case anger (emotion) is the spring-board for murder (action). They are directly correlated and the key to not murdering is dealing with one’s anger (not letting ideas linger that can become hurtful to another person).  

(c) What also might be happening in this passage is someone is thinking ideas then acting upon them – and they keep getting worse in degree – until they result in murder (anyone ever look into what stalkers do?).  

(2) Lust/Adultery

“You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:27-28)

(a) How can one be judged for adultery (action) that they did not commit? You cannot be judged by law – this one is about judging yourself before you commit this act.

(b) The same argument for anger/murder is also valid here – it starts with feelings – then feelings lead to plans – eventually plans become a reality. You do not cheat on your wife/husband unless you somehow think about it first and then judicate the process in your thoughts whereby this becomes a possibility.

Conclusion

Thoughts, in and of themselves, are not bad but the cultivation of those thoughts – nor dealing with those thoughts – is. I can watch adultery/murder on a TV screen 1000 times in 10 years – but just having the thought pass my mind does not make it a ‘sin’.

What makes something dangerous is the thought being connected to someone else – then that being elaborated upon in my mind – until I have an action plan to commit (ie: meet her at the bar or meet him in the alley). I would say this doesn’t even need to be connected to someone and can exist separately from a specific person – just has to be someone’s basic rationale (ie: kill or be killed).

Moral of story – do not let your darkest thoughts build into actions – or else you are extremely liable for them.

Mitzvot/Commandments (Rabbi Neil Gillman)

“If the task is to transform the social order in the here and now, then the focus of activity has to be the infinitely complex range of relationships between human beings in concrete life situations.  It is true that spirituality, purity of heart, and devotion are important, and many of the mitzvot involve ritual behavior with no obvious or primary interpersonal referent.  But, again, we are dealing with emphases and priorities.  A mere glance at the first chapter of the book of Isaiah establishes that God’s priority is the interpersonal mitzvot, the fate of the widow, the orphan, and the oppressed – not sacrifices and prayer.  To use the distinction that became so central to Christianity, Judaism insists that we are ‘justified’ (i.e. rendered authentic or legitimate in the eyes of God) by our “works,” that is by our behavior and not, as Pauline Christianity would have it, by our “faith:” and among these works, morality is priority.

Judaism is pervaded by a basic confidence in our human ability to do the right thing.  It is dangerous to speak in such broad strokes about a long and complex tradition, but again, it contains relatively little of the pessimism or fatalism about the human being that one senses in other traditions.  The Bible (for example, Genesis 6:5 and 8:21)  preserves remarkably clear-eyed appreciation of our ability to do both good and evil, and it is never naively optimistic that we will inevitably choose the good.  But in no way is the evil outcome predetermined by the fact of our humanness, by our intrinsic character.  We do not believe, for example, that Adam’s sin left its indelible imprint on all future generations, as the Christian doctrine of original sin teaches.  Our freedom is real and unquestioned, as is our ability to repent and, even more striking, God’s readiness to accept genuine repentance (as, in Jonah, God accepts Nineveh’s repentance) so that we may start afresh.

What should be mistrusted, however, is our reliance on our own intuitive human judgment as to what is good and what is evil in any concrete situation.  This, finally, is what, under the traditionalist interpretation of Jewish religion, justifies God’s revelation of mitzvot.  Every moment of our lives can bring us into a complex interpersonal relationship where values are in conflict, and where it is not at all clear how we should act.  Human intuition, the Bible assumes, is far from infallible.  We are easily blinded by self-interest.  The Jew confronts each of these situations with the question:  What does God demand of me now?  The answer is the mitzvah.

To be a member of the covenanted community, then, is to bind ourselves to be partners with God in creating a certain kind of world for ourselves and our progeny.  The mitzvot are the means for bringing this about.  Their formulation in the terminology of law is our tradition’s attempt to lend them a dimension of authority, a binding or structuring quality that flows directly out of the assumptions of biblical theology and anthropology.” (Rabbi Neil Gillman, Sacred Fragments, pg 96-97) – borrowed from Rabbinical Writings (Yael).

***There are more than a few interesting thoughts in there concerning theology – that can impact our studies of God. I find it very interesting that the a Jewish perspective in the Tanakh can help us in out interpretation – and possible errors we are making with biblical interpretation – even up to the point of Paul’s writings. I have highlighted a few of the rabbi’s most intriguing points – what can we learn in these passages?

The New Hatred (Is an Old One)

The New Hatred (is an old one)

The new hatred is an old one; the new noose is made of old rope
The bittersweet taste in the air has the ring of someone’s corpse
I can’t make out the teeth, can you get me the forensics
This new hatred has its feet halfway in your grave

This new hatred is an old one; I’ve heard all those lines before
Watched war machines that cancel you out before you’re born
I see the the idea of carnage, the idea you mean less then me
Treat me just like you or watch this whole thing disappear

You need me, you can’t face that fact
You see me, but you won’t wait for that
I’m kneeling beside your bed, I’m prostrate
I’m asking you the questions you won’t ask

(Dear God, have mercy on my wretched soul)

This new hatred considers none; the video proves it
I seen a person get beheaded for the things they said
They kidnap and commit murder – who’s next on that list?
The idea’s that are now become what we have to live with

This new hatred, new world order; new world of discrimination
Basing ideas upon philosophies we haven’t lived through yet
I saw Marx and I saw Lenin, they made me forget my freedoms
But dear God ‘we don’t exactly know what we are doing yet?’

I hurt I bleed, and I know that you see this
I won’t turn a blind eye to the crook
I’m living on that cross conversing with you
I’m saying the things you won’t learn

(Today you will be with me in paradise)

***A SocietyVs Lyric – from mid 2007