Monthly Archives: November 2013

Elysium Review

I know I’m behind the times but I finally saw this Elysium thing.  This movie should really be called Hypocritium.  Holy cow what a hatchet job of reality.   So the main character is a Christ figure who is a combination of Jesus and the thieves on the cross.  Turning Damon into a daemon perhaps.  Ok people can change, I’ll give them that.  But we are supposed to allow a world full of the most amazing technology and yet sometimes a pallet gets stuck in  future robot machine—thing.  They can rewire your brain but sometimes people get mistaken for a cart full of pigs.  But don’t worry Hollywood is not done rewiring your brain.

This thing is tapped right into your brain, just like Hollywood. It makes it easier for you to absorb all the Marxism.

This thing is tapped right into your brain, just like Hollywood. It makes it easier for you to absorb all the Marxism.

Strangely this world does not take much imagination, and it certainly doesn’t require an elitist space station.  This is currently an apt description of Southern California  You literally have the greatest wealth of the world in Hollywood, surrounded by the third world city of LA.  Matt Daemon and the makers of this movie literally live on Elysium.  They literally depend on a servant class to wait on them, while making a movie about America keeping out the poor of the world.  This is a common scenario with the Elite Left. They don’t want to interact with or pay for middle class workers, so they maintain an underground third world class to wait on them.  Which is why the NY and DC suburbs are second only to California in percentage of illegal immigrants.  But this is not the first time Hollywood or the Left tell the story wrong.  That is their job.  Daemon’s film Promised Land gets it just as backwards.  Supposedly big oil companies move into a small town to destroy it, but Daemon is there to save the day.  Well this actually happened too, it’s called Williston North Dakota.  And an oil boom there has created thousands of jobs and new millionaires every day.  Meanwhile Daemon and Hollywood are the ones destroying middle America with his constant mockery of ‘hicks from the south’, ‘religious Bible thumpers’,  small business, strong father figures and everything else that is the Marxist agenda.

Though it goes down as easy as soma, or whatever they were dispensing, the biggest pill to swallow is the absurd scenario that we find at the beginning of the movie.  Supposedly the wealthy of the world exploited the masses of humanity to create a floating space station with advanced technology that can heal every person, yet they have killed every animal and basically destroyed the planet.  That’s what capitalist do, don’t cha know?  Despite the fact that these people have their pie, or that thing,  in the sky, they still want to believe the economic pie is fixed.  If someone gets a piece of pie that means someone else goes without.  Get a new schtick people.  This is just marxist revisionist history set in the future.

The Vision of Aeneas in the Elysian Fields, Sebastiano Conca, c.1740

The Vision of Aeneas in the Elysian Fields, Sebastiano Conca, c.1740

The movie portrays a bunch of aid ships waiting in the wings and only withheld because the wealthy are evil. They like to portray their Romans as reserving their roads and aqueducts just for the special people. Even the opulent Ancient Greeks didn’t have audacity to suggest that Elysium was without it’s Fields, a place of fruitful labor.  The reality is not that America or the west hordes the wealth of the world, earned on the backs of the poor, but that they created this unprecedented wealth by unbound human labor.  We made the pie bigger, a lot bigger and we share more of that wealth than any nation in history, well except for the elitist leftists.  I believe Obama/Biden’s total contribution to charity are like $400 bucks a year.  The problem has been our inability to lift up the third world from what was always the norm on this planet.  The problem is sin.  We could feed the world, there is enough food on the planet, but evil warlords empowered by evil people prevent it from going where it needs to go. Evil politicians elected by evil people stop it before it’s even produced.  Corrupt people who will not govern themselves force strict governments ,like the tyranny portrayed on earth in the movie, to rule them.  The dictator comes after the rebellion not before.  Think Napoleon and the French Revolution.  Think Hitler and the godless Germans. It’s a timeless story, God blesses us, prosperity ensues, we leave God, sin becomes rampant, God cracks down.  There was an empire which reserved it’s roads for the elite it was called the Soviet Union, which is the real future of Hollywood theory.

This movie really has it all—all wrong.  The hero is trying to be a good person but society and poverty force him back to a a life of crime.  Occasionally we, in the real world, are joined by members of Hollywood.  Robert Downey Jr. found out the hard way that  this is not what causes crime. “I have a really interesting political point of view, and it’s not always something I say too loud at dinner tables here, but you can’t go from a $2,000-a-night suite at La Mirage to a penitentiary and really understand it and come out a liberal. You can’t.”

Pie in the Sky

Pie in the Sky.   Part of it is missing because the evil Capitalists took it.

The reality of immigration in this country is not one rogue ship crashing into a mansion.  It’s an entire rogue nation looking for the easy way out by attacking another nation.  It’s rogue politicians seeking an uninformed underclass, whose votes they can buy with middle class money.  This is not theory, this is what actually happened to conservative, productive, California.  The last round of immigration reform in 1986 created the current mess.  Uninformed illegal immigrants were given free stuff in exchange for voting Democrat.  In exchange the Democrats created an unsustainable bloated government  to suck on the wealth of California.  And the destruction is evident before our very eyes, as municipality after municipality fails.  Funny you can’t pay unproductive people forever.  America welcomes more immigrants than the rest of the world. But you can’t have everyone on top going to college and pushing paper  and everyone on the bottom living on welfare.  Someone has to make things.  Someone has to produce.

This type of advanced healthcare system does not happen in the face of rampant evil elite rule.  Look around  Obama is elite rule and he has gotten his way.  His healthcare plan is working great. He has hired thousands of busy body bureauracrats at the top, to reduce production in the name of safety or the environment or reparations.  He has created thousands of dependents on the bottom who siphon off of the labor of others, via food stamps, and welfare programs.  They produce nothing but they line their pockets on the backs of the middle class.  Innovation is stifled by red tape, legal risk and shakedowns.  Elysium is never built, there is no one to build it. It is Obama offering you a pain bill rather than the surgery.

But Hollywood spins a great yarn.  They have wrapped their Marxism in romantic emotional appeals.  Which can be difficult for us to sort out, we are creatures of story. And, the Left has figured that out, while Christians twiddle their thumbs and look for verses in the New Testament that talk about culture.  The gospel was meant to be good news, but the world has heard another story.  Our story has become old and boring, we have stopped practicing the art of telling it.  They rewrite the past on the silver screen and manufacture candidates in the present.  All the while they are like a tragic Greek prophecy. Everything they do to prevent the problem actually creates it.  That’s what happens when you set your sights on fallen man rather than the living God. The best the world has to look forward to is perfect healthcare, but we look forward to a world without sin. You become like what you worship, so don’t worship hypocrites.

Future Reading: The Fiction of G. K. Chesterton, Phantastes George MacDonald

The Waters of Lethe and the Plain of Elysium, by John Stanhope (1829-1908)

The Waters of Lethe and the Plain of Elysium, by John Stanhope (1829-1908)

The For Granted Gospel

Labours of the Months: March, stained glass c. 1450-1475

Labours of the Months: March, stained glass c. 1450-1475

There is a forgotten truth that what made land valuable was human labor.  It’s all there in the ground, food, airplanes, computers, mansions, it just requires human effort. The same concept applies to every area of our lives, human labor creates value.  In America we mostly depend on others to provide this value.  Mexicans labor on our land and we have appointed others to think for us.  This might seem humble, I think it’s just fear. Christians have become so timid we are afraid to be creative.  It starts with pastors so fearful of ‘getting in the way of the ‘gospel’ ‘ and progresses to milquetoast fathers afraid to lead their families.  But without labor, what good is the land? What good is a sermon?  What good is a life?

Labours of the Months: June, stained glass c. 1450

Labours of the Months: June, stained glass c. 1450

This is the way God made it.  He put us on this earth with two hands and one mouth and told us not to steal.  The hands need to work so the mouth may eat.  And we all work differently, we are a reflection of the variety of God’s diversity, three and also one.  We are created in his image, an image of creativity.  From the very first when God set Adam to the task of naming the animals, man was putting his stamp on this earth.  And God loved it.  You can see him watching his child with excitement wondering what he would come up with next.  But recently, we have gone a different way.  Our culture is saturated with ‘equality’ and multiculturalism and a fear of ‘judging’, to the point that asserting an opinion is considered abuse.  And if you assert an opinion more than once you are probably a ‘bully’ with a list of ‘victims’ a mile long.  Christians seem to have the worst of it, living under a soft tyranny, lest anyone suggest that we are forcing their religion on someone.  But this is all crazy.  Having a culture and doing it the best you can is not a crime, it’s humanity.

Labours of the Months: July, stained glass c. 1450

Labours of the Months: July, stained glass c. 1450

Just because you create a culture with ideas, styles, language, music, art etc and fight for it, does not make you some sort of ‘ist’.  Just because you do something does not mean you are rejecting they way everyone else on the planet does it, or that you hate them.  I know this is horrible, and even worse than having a culture is borrowing your culture from the past.  ”OMG I know, like how could anyone want anything from the past?  Gross!”

But, living our lives is an art and all good art borrows from the past.  Treating our lives as a science is pure evil, we are not machines, we are the individual creations of God.  Going off the other direction does us no good either, pretending that we are hyper individual and that we have to do every thing–totally–uniquely ‘us’.  But somewhere in the middle, where most of humanity has lived throughout all of time, there is a normal view of human culture.  Now we are in this huge mess because modern though was in total rebellion.  Since crazy French philosophers began remaking the world in their own image, humanity has been confused.  We might search the pages of the New Testament for help, and suppose that is says nothing about any of this.  But that’s because rather than undermine the gospel, Satan has undermined humanity.  He didn’t have to lie about our heavenly father, he just destroyed the concept of fathers.  He didn’t have to destroy the idea of a heavenly king, he just taught us that kings are evil.  He didn’t have to ban the bible he just undermined education until we couldn’t read.  I don’t happen to think it’s all that creative, just a by product of his rebellious chaos, but it is very effective.

Labours of the Months: August, stained glass c. 1450

Labours of the Months: August, stained glass c. 1450

But we would be wrong to think that the New Testament has nothing to say about these fundamental building blocks of culture.  Wrong because we forget that the New Testament is mostly the footnotes for the Old Testament.  Why would you retell the way God interacts with the world and his people when the Old Testament lays it out just as God intended?  Why would the New Testament be written for us when we wouldn’t exist for 2000 years?  We might look at the gap in the gospel narrative between Jesus’ birth and his ministry as an oversight.  But what would have been the point?  He was raised the same way as every other Jewish kid of the time.  They knew how to raise kids.  What they needed to hear was what was special about this kid.  But we don’t know how to raise kids.  We need to hear about how to raise kids, how to have a society.  The evidence is all around.  Divorce is rampant.  Children are raised by the government, well the ones that survive abortion.  Parent’s are too interested in fashion and vacations, or drugs and video games to waste time raising their kids.  That’s for the professionals.  Well it’s not working out for us.  And it should be the church leading the way to fix it.

Labours of the Months: October, stained glass c. 1450

Labours of the Months: October, stained glass c. 1450

This mantra that such things ‘get in the way of the gospel’ is pure foolishness .  We are supposed to be the light of the world, we are supposed to have it together.  Don’t you know we will judge the angels?  We are supposed to be the judges, sorting out right from wrong for the world.  We are suppose to lead in marriages, family life, child raising, and all that is humanity on this earth.  We have the answer, we are no longer dead to sin.  We are victors with Christ.  We are no longer under the yoke of sin.  We can move mountains.  We can endure persecution and all that they can throw at us with singing.  We are not to be timid but bold in our faith. We are his people, we are his sons and daughters, we will inherit the new earth.  We have the tradition, in the west and in this country.  We shouldn’t be afraid to practice the art of living as a Christian on this earth.  That great art of taking the past and remaking it into something ours, something new yet old.  This is the blessed state of childlike faith.  We have fallen into a maturity which boasts of what it knows rather than seeing everything in this world as if it were the first time.  This is the power of art.  We can take the gospel story and retell it a thousand ways, as our story.  A story of what Christ did in our lives, but also in our imaginations as we paint, sing, write, dance, cook, decorate, build, garden, parent and politic.  This is the power of fairytales, they can take us to a world we forget is our own and reintroduce us as if it were the first time.  So don’t be afraid Christian.  Put your hand to the plow, you might plow crooked and you might fall, but I’ve seen the end of the story, we win.  Now it’s up to you to make a hell of a story out of it.

Labours of the Months: December, stained glass c. 1450

Labours of the Months: December, stained glass c. 1450  This is a victory celebration.

A Story of Settling for Rules

The more I study the Old Testament the more I find it speaks about the same God as the New Testament.  He is a God of unspeakable grace preserving a remnant for his purposes despite their constant failure and the constant attacks from the enemy.

“ But this is one of the rewards of reading the Old Testament regularly. You keep on discovering more and more what a tissue of quotations from it the New Testament is; how constantly Our Lord repeated, reinforced, continued,refined, and sublimated, the Judaic ethics, how very seldom He introduced a novelty. This of course was perfectly well-known–was indeed axiomatic–to millions of unlearned Christians as long as Bible-reading was habitual. . .” C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms

The problem is we allow the religious leaders the Sadducees and Pharisees, to interpret the Old Testament for us.  This seems odd since they are the most criticized group in scripture and the literal foes of Jesus.  We don’t know the Old Testament so we assume that Jesus’ criticism was of the Old Testament.  It was not, he repeatedly criticized the abuse of the Old Testament by these religious teachers.

The religious leaders took the easy way out.  They created an easy to follow formula rather than comparing the story of scripture with their story.  This happens much the same way today.  It is almost guaranteed in academia and is present in most seminaries.  Truth is boiled down into simple labels and systematic compartments that substitute for actual knowledge or experience.  One’s ability to regurgitate these labels is the mark of true knowledge.  Meanwhile they never apply any of these systemized theories to real life.  They are untested and dangerous.  When they do take hold in the real world millions of people tend to die, like Naziism, Communism, or any of a host of other ‘ism’ with only slightly less obvious consequences.

 

Magdalen at the House of the Pharisees, Jean Béraud, c. 1891 The painter put the scene in his own time and made it so vivid.  You can see the hypocritical judgement in their faces.

Magdalen at the House of the Pharisees, Jean Béraud, c. 1891 The painter put the scene in his own time and made it so vivid. You can see the hypocritical judgement in their faces.

One of these bad ideas was the hyper mono-thesism that the religious leaders practiced.  Many Jews to this day recite the Shema, the first part of which is “Hear, O Israel the LORD our God the LORD is one.”  It comes from Deuteronomy 6:4-9.

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates -ESV

Click for further insanity.

Now God was not telling them to literally take this verse and repeat it over and over, and glue it on their forehead and paint it on everything.  But they did.  He was trying to use metaphors to explain to them the importance of his laws.  This wasn’t a competition to see who could extract 613 rules and then follow them the best.  This wasn’t about hiding systematic theology in a boring book. This is a story, the God of the Universe giving his children instructions to care for them in a world of sin.  But they just saw a system.  God has to be smacking himself in disbelief, which I guess you can’t do if you are wearing one of these crazy things.  And we are the student of these fools when we write the Old Testament off as a system.  We are their students when we do the same thing to the New Testament.  Not sure if this clip is more absurd than the reality. But it makes the point, humans are dumb.

The Old Testament is full of references to the trinity.  Here is a brief list I borrowed from an apologetics site geared towards Islam.

In addition there are many instances of the other parties in the trinity. The word for ‘spirit’ and ‘breath’ or ‘wind’ are the same in Hebrew.  So in Genesis 1:2 the Spirit of God, in Genesis 2:7 you have God breathed into Adam, in Exodus 15:10 your wind, in Job breath Job 26:13, 33:4, 32:8 in Ezekiel 37:4-14 it is breath, in Isaiah 11:2, 61:1 it is Spirit, in Joel 2:28,29 the wording sounds like the New Testament.  In addition the pillar of fire by night and the pillar of cloud that led Israel through the wilderness is the same idea of God’s wind directing them.  Mark and other gospel writers make this connection when they say the Spirit directed Jesus into the wilderness, as he walks through their narrative.

Abraham and the Three Angels, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, 18th century

Abraham and the Three Angels, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, 18th century

There are also many instance of the second person of the trinity or the pre-incarnate Christ.  The phrases ‘angel of the Lord’ or ‘angel of God’ are most likely references to the second person. I won’t recount them here for there are many. But the most vivid instance is probably the story of Abraham told in Genesis 18.  The Lord came to Abraham with two men to discuss Soddom and the promise made to Abraham.  These were real men, Abraham offered them bread and washed their feet.  Oh can you see the imagery as Christ gave his disciples bread and washed their feet in the upper room?  Or there was Jacob wrestling with God Genesis 32:22-32

The point is that these are not rare instances, they are common in the Old Testament. Now it is clear that there were a number of mysteries which were not given to men before Christ Colossians 1:26.  But this didn’t have to be one of them.  The first chapter of Mark is just pregnant with meaning.

Jacob's Fight with the Angel, Andrea Brustolon, c.1710

Jacob’s Fight with the Angel, Andrea Brustolon, c.1710

Every word is an allusion to a whole Old Testament world. Promises of God, passing through water, entering the wilderness, and conquering of the land.  Christ retells the story of Israel.  And the the baptism was further reiteration of Old Testament truth. The three persons of the trinity united on earth in this predicted moment.  All those image are brought together before their faces.  But the religious leaders were willfully ignorant.  Don’t fall into the same trap and turn the New Testament into systematic theology.  Don’t try to see through the story to the real Jesus or the historical Jesus or whatever crackpot idea is going around.  Read the story, and seek others who can help you.  Then let it write the story of your life.  

Saved by Statistics

First of all I just want to say that nothing I say, including this, is important.  Only what God says is important.  But if you disregard this paragraph you might accidentally listen to me.  That might infer that I know something different or more than you, and we simply can’t have that.  We are all equally slime and God is perfect.  So don’t listen to me, except for this.

Praise God for statistics, before humanity had statistics we didn’t really know anything.  Now with a few basic rules and powerful computers we can finally know something.  This includes our use of the Bible.  For almost 2000 years people didn’t hardly know nothing about the Biblical texts.  But now that we can analyze these text using scientific methodology we can finally understand what they are talking about.

Screen Shot 2013-11-13 at 10.04.28 PM

Take the book of Mark for example.  You might think it is a masterfully written account of the gospel story.  But some statistical analysis shows us that in fact it is just a list of simple words put into a confusing order that can mean almost anything.  In fact the most common word in the book is ‘the’.  That’s right the word is used 867 times.  I think God is trying to tell us something here.  According to the random dictionary that came on my computer ‘the’ means:

denoting one or more people or things already mentioned or assumed to be common knowledge: what’s the matter? | call the doctor | the phone rang. Compare with a1.• used to refer to a person, place, or thing that is unique: the Queen | the Mona Lisa | the Nile.• informal denoting a disease or affliction: I’ve got the flu.• (with a unit of time) the present; the current: dish of the day | man of the moment.• informal used instead of a possessive to refer to someone with whom the speaker or person addressed is associated: I’m meeting the boss | how’s the family?• used with a surname to refer to a family or married couple: the Johnsons were not wealthy.• used before the surname of the chief of a Scottish or Irish clan: the O’Donoghue.

used to point forward to a following qualifying or defining clause or phrase: the fuss that he made of her | the top of a bus | I have done the best I could.• (chiefly with rulers and family members with the same name) used after a name to qualify it: George the Sixth | Edward the Confessor | Jack the Ripper.

used to make a generalized reference to something rather than identifying a particular instance: he taught himself to play the violin | worry about the future.• used with a singular noun to indicate that it represents a whole species or class: they placed the African elephant on their endangered list.• used with an adjective to refer to those people who are of the type described: the unemployed.• used with an adjective to refer to something of the class or quality described: they are trying to accomplish the impossible.• used with the name of a unit to state a rate: they can do 120 miles to thegallon.

enough of (a particular thing): he hoped to publish monthly, if only he could find the money.

5 (pronounced stressing “the”) used to indicate that someone or something is the best known or most important of that name or type: he was thehot young piano prospect in jazz.

6 used adverbially with comparatives to indicate how one amount or degree of something varies in relation to another: the moreshe thought about it, the moredevastating it became.• (usu. all the ——) used to emphasize the amount or degree to which something is affected: commodities made all the more desirable by their rarity.

So, God is trying to tell us something that we already know.  It’s right there in front of us.  God assumes that this is all common knowledge, he is just repeating himself for fun.  Second, this book is all about pointing forward.  People like to think that only the Book of Revalation is about the future but Mark is mostly about the future of clauses.  Like santa clause.  So he is saying we already know the future.  It is within us.  Third, God is not into particulars.  Whichever way you find to god is the right way.  Remember the future is within every one of you.  You already have the power to have your best life now, it’s Friday everyday.  Fourth God has had enough of all this arguing and struggling.  The inner utopia of the future is in you now, you have enough.  I don’t really understand the rest of this definition, but I am really excited about it.  It’s a god thing.

The second most popular word in Mark is the word ‘and’.  This should be no surprise.  God is a God of unity and ‘and’ is all about putting things together.  God want’s everything to be together, that’s what Mark is saying. The lion and the lamb together.  Catholic and Muslim and Protestant and Buddhist and Hindu all together in heaven forever.  That is the real message here.

The third most popular word in Mark is ‘he’.  This is mainly because the book was written by men for men.  Women were not allowed.  They were not allowed to talk in church, because everyone born before 1960 was a sexist cave-man misogynist.  In Biblical times women were routinely dragged through the streets just for the fun of it.  When they were not being beaten at home they were forced to walk around on special woman streets wearing large sacks made of reeds that covered every inch of their bodies.  Except for the weekends when they were paraded before the lions in their underwear for sport.  Today we have risen above this, our women parade about in their underwear whenever they want, which seems to be most of the time.  They make their own decisions which includes leaving their husbands most of the time.  We are so much better than them, just breath in the superiority. 

So if you are not saved, get plugged into one of these religions.  Remember you can’t go wrong because it’s all inside of you.  Everything you need for the future is one within you.  So don’t leave here today without letting one of our salesmen put you in a new religion.  For a limited time we are selling them for the small price of putting up with our warm fuzzy welcoming committee.  They will force feed you cookies and coffee ’til supper time.  And then take you back to their little house on the prairie to show you how holy they are and possibly hook you up with a sweet pyramid scheme.

Herald of the King

St. John the Baptist, Leonardo da Vinci. Perhaps the most famous depiction, includes a cross made of reeds to reflect the words of Jesus, and camel’s hair garment, pointing to Jesus. Depictions often include a lamb, or the latin “Ecce Agnus dei “, “behold the lamb of God, who takes aways the sins of men”.

Americans have come to an almost cult like worship of freedom.  Due to the misleading history of our founding we have set up rebellion as a national tradition.  No one will tell us what to do.  Though many today want only the freedom and glory without the responsibility.   They want to make their own decisions and then have someone else to blame for all the problems. This will soon lead to a despot. as is usually the case.  But for the time being we have very little respect for authority, and certainly not a king.  We like to think of our President as something entirely different than a king.  But this is mostly foolish.  Most kings of the past would never dare to control the private lives of it’s people as our modern presidents do.  Many Americans do view their President as the people viewed the kings of old.  They look to him as a provider and protector.

We tend to look at the Old Testament king as a judgement to Israel, because of our dislike for kings.  Saul was a problem only because the people wanted a king like the other nations I Samuel 8:20, the problem was not the office.  God made provision for a king in the law long before Saul Deuteronomy 17:14-20.  A king was always God’s plan.  So, God comes to his people as a king and tells them he has the right to rule them because he has provided for them, he has protected them.  God wanted to be their king, and he had a legitimate claim to rule because he had earned it by taking responsibility for them.  This is how humble leadership works, it takes responsibility and thereby earns authority.  God does not ask for blind faith.  He first proves himself by mighty works and then asks us to trust him because he has proven faithful.  There are many examples of this in Scripture. All throughout the Old Testament law God reiterates that “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery”.  Then he goes on to give them law.   He is basically saying ‘you can trust that my law will be a blessing, because I have blessed you in the past’.  Exodus 20:2, Leviticus 22:33, Numbers 15:41 This is why we are continually told to remember the works of God.

It is really not that much different today.  We elect politicians who we think will do good things for us.  Unfortunately they are often just sophists who have no past accomplishments to point to, other than getting elected.  We stupidly take their word for it and get fooled time and again.  In the last election Romney came to the people and told how he fixed many broken companies, he cleaned up the 1998 Olympics, and so he though he had earned the right to rule.  But we chose the person with no history of success.  We chose a worse president than many peoples who chose kings of old.  The king must serve.

Birth of St. John the Baptist, Luca Giordano c. 1680

Now a man’s testimony about his past acomplishments is valid.  But what is more powerful is testimony from a third party.  And so our politicians have many people who speak on their behalf, telling of their past deeds or more commonly how they will make the oceans calm and bring peace and unity to all.  These are like the heralds of old, this is John the Baptist.  This over the top clip illustrates the duty of a herald in medieval England, but it is not much different from all times and places.  Great kings have others speak for them, running ahead to tell of their glorious deeds and virtue.  And God did not shy away from the occasion, he sent a herald, chosen before he was born.  A herald that was so special he had his own herald, an angel of the Lord. Luke 1:11-25  And he had his own miraculous birth, not the birth from a virgin but a birth from a woman probably in menopaus. This would immediately invoke the promise made to Abraham and Sarah.  This was a big deal, the biggest deal on the planet, ever.

So it might take a little imagination to prepare out minds for the message this herald delivered.  The Jewish people had been almost 400 years without a word from God.  Then this man appears in the wilderness and people start flocking to him. John 1 tells us the religious leaders noticed and sent messengers to question him.  His message is simple repent and be baptized, for the Messiah is coming.  The king is coming, get ready.  Then shortly there after another man, Jesus, goes about performing miracles, which had not been done for 800 years.  Then the two come together and then there is a voice from heaven and the Holy Spirit descending.  Then Jesus goes about providing healthcare and food for everyone who walks around with him.  He takes responsibility for them, without asking anything of them.  He has power over even the demons.  The religious leaders aren’t even able to stand up to him much less stop him.  Who wouldn’t want to make this man king?  Sadly many of the Jews did not.

Preaching of John the Baptist, Bartholomeus Breenbergh c. 1634

Mark begins his gospel connecting the 40th chapter of Isaiah with John the Baptist.  This is not just a convenient phrase adapted for this situation.  This should bring the whole force of Isaiah to bear on this situation.  This chapter is a major turing point in the book.  In the previous 39 chapter the prophet Isaiah has detailed the impending destruction of Israel.  They will be carried off to Babylon.  Babylon had special connotation for the people of Israel.  This became the typological name for the wicked city of Man.  We see this immagery first in the tower of Bable Genesis 10, 11 and finally in Revelation 14:8, 18:1-21  At the time of John the Baptist’s ministry, Israel was under another Babylon, the Roman Empire.  The Jewish people longed to be free of their opressor.  Then in Chapter 40 Isaiah details the promises of future restoration.   God’s people will be freed from Babylon and restored to the land.  It all begins in the wilderness, which also had special meaning for the people of Israel.  But by including Malachi 3 Mark shows us they type of restoration, it will be a refinement by fire.

Where a herald runs out before the king, a minstrel follows him weaving his great deeds into grand poems sung for generations.  There is a sense in which this is our job as Christians.  We should often sing the praises of our great God and king.  We can recount his works told to us by the testimony of Scripture, as well as the great works he has done in our own life.  And by carrying this good news to the peoples of our neighborhood and our world we become the heralds of our Lord’s return.  For the trumpet will sound and our Lord will return.

 

Silly Minstrels

 

Further listening here.

Past the Prodigal Paradox

According to Google auto-complete the parable of the prodigal son is the 4th most popular behind the sower, talents and lost sheep.  The last of which is basically part of the prodigal son cycle.  But no doubt it is a popular parable inside and outside of the church.  I am not a big fan of attempts to find something new in everything in order to distinguish persons or academic exercises.  But we have created a new problem connected to this parable which needs an common sense solution.  Common sense tends to be less prevalent than it ought in a culture with so much sin and so little toleration for truth.  So here is my attempt.

The Prodigal Son in Modern Life – The Departure, James Tissot c.1880

The popular title of the parable has come to refer to the wayward, wasteful, reckless, lavish son, the prodigal.  Recent attempts seem to be directed towards the point that there was another character involved.   Another character who was in fact more the motive for the parable in the first place.  We are told that parables are told, not to reveal, but often to hide, Matthew 13:10-17.  But those who have spiritual ears of faith are granted understanding.  That is not without it’s diligent work, of course.  So, yes the two characters in the story are important.  But we tend to try categorizing all people as one of the two.

The Prodigal Son in Modern Life In Foreign Climes – James Tissot, c.1882

The Prodigal son is the black sheep, the rebel, the hippie dissenter,  he thinks for himself and is always coming up with seemingly provocative points to challenge the establishment.  He has no toleration for ‘the man’.  But throws off dusty tradition and follows his own organic bohemian path.  I’m not sure we can connect to Jesus’ meaning in understanding this person today.  Because we have made him into a sort of hero.   Since the tradition of rebellion begun in the French Revolution, this type is honored and revered.  If not blatantly then subtly.  He is the only one capable of creativity or invention. Our culture doesn’t really have anyone that we dislike completely.  The closest thing I can come up with is the judgemental old fashioned Christian.  That is about the only type our culture has no use for.  He is the lowest of the low, the one person deserving of ridicule, judgement and hate.   Or perhaps we might call him the faithful son.

This is the second type, he is the son who stayed home.  He diligently put his head down,  shoulder to the plow and gets the work done.  Year after year he does all that his father asks, he is faithful and reliable.  He keeps things running, all the servants report to him just as they would the father.  His father would trust him with anything.  But often simply by his over achieving he makes everyone around him feel inferior.  He meets a standard that most people can’t.  Today we don’t have any use for this person.  We just call him arrogant and discount his discipline and work ethic.  We call him arrogant and prideful.

The Prodigal Son in Modern Life: The Return – James Tissot, 1882

The problem is that we see these as the only two options in life.  Well perhaps we exempt ourselves.  But we like to categorize everyone else as either a bohemian artist or a stuffy arrogant jerk.  As we look at raising our children there is a sense in which we almost want them to leave home and have some rebellion, we want a prodigal story for them.  Then they can come back home have a ‘real’ conversion to Christ, with some dramatic events and lots of tears and hugs.  They just have to sew some wild oats of liberalism, then they can grow up and have a  conservative family.  We certainly don’t want to approach the edge of legalism.  We don’t want to ‘limit’ our kids or stifle their creativity.  And of course heaven forbid we rase a judger.

But there are more than these two options.  Christ was here attacking the religious leaders for their blindness.  They had an external system which was difficult but achievable.  They could do it.  But the point was not to be the best at the system, the point is to populate the kingdom of heaven.  If you really love your fellow man then you rejoice when someone is spared eternal hellfire.  Sure he may not have been towing the mark all these years.  But if he repents and comes back it is a glorious occasion.  On the other hand we shouldn’t discount the importance of the hard work the religious leaders did.  We do need a complex system, because we are wayward children.  We need to be kept on task.  We need liturgy and routine to keep us on the straight and narrow.  But we don’t have to fall into judgemental legalism.  We can raise kids who are creative, artistic and compassionate and also disciplined and purposeful.   Rebellion is not necessary, we can build from generation to generation, as many have done. Raising children who respect our tradition and embellish it with vibrant youth. This is one of the many paradoxes embedded in this world by our creator.  Old and young contending together to the benefit of both.  Artist and engineer both members of one body working it out and creating a result that seems impossible, certainly beyond human logic.

The Prodigal Son In Modern Life, The Fatted Calf – James Tissot, c.1882

Fighting Disciples

Our culture has a problem, and since the Church today is very driven by this culture, the Church has a problem too.  We love liberty and democracy so much that we have carried it into every are of our lives.  We want every inequality to be ironed out.  We want everyone to be equally good at everything.  We want men and women to be the same.  We want all our kids to be winners.  We want everyone to go to college and get the same grades and the same job.  Any time anyone rises above the norm we shoot them down with media hit pieces or seek some way to hold them back.  When people fall behind we make excuses and give them passing grades anyway.  Welcome to egalitarian America.

Unfortunately this is not the world God created.  There are very real difference between all of us, that is the blessing of variety.  And there is a sense in which we are all the same, before God each a valuable living soul. That is the character of a trinitarian God and the world he created after that character.  He is both one and three, both unity and diversity.

West Rose (1200s) - The Last Judgement - in the centre, Christ surrounded by 12 apostles

West Rose (1200s) – The Last Judgement – in the centre, Christ surrounded by 12 apostles

So when we encounter the disciples arguing about who was the greatest in the kingdom (Mark 9:33-37) we might easily overlook the fact that he told them how to do it.  As if arguing were not bad enough, they had the audacity to argue about someone being better than someone else, we might think.  But in reality arguing is not an evil, even contentious arguing.  Chesterton said that “people quarrel because they cannon argue”.  Forming arguments and defending and attacking position is iron sharpening iron. That is what makes us stronger, so that we might defeat the difficult enemies that will come.  Similarly in Luke 14:7-11 Jesus told his hearers how to get the place of honor at the next wedding feast.  In this case the standard for earth and heaven touched, they were one and the same.  The same standard that gets you at the head of the table in heaven will also get you to the head of the table at your local wedding hall.  But that is not always the case.

Christ with the Children, Carl Bloch

It is fairly clear that they had no idea what he was talking about when he silenced their arguing by telling them the standard for the kingdom of heaven.  In this case the rules are different for the kingdom of heaven and that of earth.  They were still thinking about an earthly kingdom even when Jesus was crucified.  Luke 22 seems to indicate that another similar argument broke out in the upper room shortly before the crucifixion.  Apparently a discussion of who would betray Jesus turned into a question of who was the greatest. Yet shortly thereafter he told them he was to die and they still couldn’t understand.  This was the messiah, he was to usher in a kingdom and vanquish all of his enemies like the mighty king that he was.  They were arguing who was the greatest by the earthly standard, for earthly kingdoms.   He didn’t criticize their zeal or ambition, but he pulled back the curtain and showed them the way greatness is measured in the kingdom of Heaven.  The real behind the scenes kingdom, the kingdom that will last forever. In this kingdom you must have the humility of a child and die to yourself.  This was one of the many instance where Jesus said things that came to have meaning after the resurrection.

In a sense Judas was the first to understand that Jesus was training them for a heavenly battle that was not always fought by the rules of this earth.  He rejected it, but the other disciples soon got on board.  They realized that Jesus had called them to another battle. Not that warfare with swords was inherently bad, but that was not what they were about.  In the kingdom of heaven if you want to be first, you must sacrifice yourself.  The path to greatness is the path of Jesus, the path of dying to self, giving all that you have for others.  To want the benefits of greatness without the hard work of killing your desires and replacing them with humble service is to only measure by this world.

Third century church ceiling, Ihlara Valley, Turkey. Depicting Jesus surrounded by his 12 apostles.

Third century church ceiling, Ihlara Valley, Turkey. Depicting Jesus surrounded by his 12 apostles. 38.252997º N, 34.309368º E

Sometimes a man can become great in both kingdoms at the same time.  We must be wise in discerning what the scripture teaches and how it applies to our situation.  We can’t automatically conclude that because a man is successful on this earth that he is nothing in the kingdom of heaven and vise versa.

But we all will be equal after death right?  Everyone in heaven will be equally in joy and everyone in hell in pain, right?  Not really.  Jesus’ words in Luke 10:12 seem to indicate that there are levels of judgement.  Matthew 10:42 seems to indicate that there are levels of reward.  I Corinthians 3:10-15 warns about the quality of our work here on earth.  If we mess around and waste our gifts, sure we might make it to heaven, but just barely and with no reward.

So there is a real measuring rod.  Some will  be rewarded higher than others.  Jesus pulled the veil back and showed us by what standard we are to measure.  These 12 men would rule the 12 tribes of Israel on 12 thrones Matthew 19:28. These men would all be the greatest because they gave of themselves and died. There are real works we can do.  We can strive to be the best in the kingdom of heaven. But, this, only by the grace of God and only by dying.

 

Royal Portal, Chartres Cathedral. c. 1215 Depicting Jesus surrounded by the four evangelists, below the 12 apostles, surrounded by many saints who are also greater in the kingdom than we.

More paintings.