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Tag Archives: Jesus

Self Reliance

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. …

English: Daguerreotype of Ralph Waldo Emerson,...

Ralph Waldo Emerson. Courtesy of the Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Speak what you think now in hard words, and tomorrow speak what tomorrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day.— ‘Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.’ —Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ayn Rand contributed Objectivism to society. I see it as a nice counterpoise to Emerson’s philosophy (Transcendentalism). Atlas Shrugged is similarly counterpoised to prepping, perhaps. I am thankful for the space created by the tension of things set in opposition, the fabric, pegs and pole of a big circus tent where we all get to participate.

Having a sort of anti-realist point of view as I do, it is hard has become impossible for me to insist on matters of fact; I certainly have my own, and you probably have your own, but I don’t expect you to share all of mine nor vice versa. Gridlock ensues when we insist on our personal facts of the matter.

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Love and Suffering

I wrote a short piece a couple years ago that turned into this clip… 

Fuel For Forgiveness from The Work Of The People on Vimeo.

It is an attempt to understand how a “Loving God” can “allow suffering” …

Contemplating Death and Resurrection[1]

copyright 12-Mar-2010

Mark W. Ingalls

Stories We Like, Stories We Don’t

·       Why do we like stories of triumph over adversity?

·       Why don’t we like stories of total mastery– from start to finish?

·       Why don’t we like stories of unmitigated suffering from start to finish?

·       Why don’t we like stories of endless peace and happiness in an innocent and endless Garden of Eden?

·       Why don’t we like stories of perfectly average people to whom nothing overly good or bad happens?

·       At the same time, it is the ‘over’ part of adversity we seem to like more in our personal lives.

·       And at the same time we tend to run from suffering like “we hid our faces from him.”

Is Easter Christianity about ‘Over’ ?

What if Jesus had come to earth, taught, prayed, worked miracles, healed people, suffered, died, and rose from the dead, but did not appear to anybody? The Jesus we ‘know’ – how would he be different?
What if Jesus didn’t die, or even suffer, but had overwhelmed his crucifiers with a bolt of lightning and floored them all with his transfigured glory? The Christianity we ‘know’ – how would it be different?
We believe that he is coming again, but what if he had already come again, and we were born after that? The faith we ‘have’ – how would it be different?
What would it be like if it was all just ‘over’?

Good and Evil

(Looking at my own life…) What if I had always been ‘good’? (There was a time when Tiger Woods had always been ‘good’; when did Good-being Tiger end, exactly?)
What if all (or even most) of us were like:

·       Billy Graham

·       Mother Theresa

·       Albert Einstein

–or–

·       Dylan Klebold

·       Timothy McVeigh

·       Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot…

What if God was like a powerful government: Cross the line far enough and He attacks you? (Incidentally, a religious government is still a government.)
But maybe God doesn’t exist, like some say, and the reason we like the Easter story Christianity is because it gives us relief from all the suffering and doubt.

Three Questions

What if Easter is more than an event in history, more than merely a metaphoric ‘three day story’, but a real glimpse into the unchanging character of God? What if suffering is as much in God’s character as are forgiveness, compassion, love, holiness, righteousness and power?
What if suffering is transcendental, in the same way as “transcendental meditation?”
What if suffering is like fuel that powers forgiveness?
We might boil all this storytelling about God and good down to three questions–

  1. How do we ‘know’ God exists?
  2. To what extent is the Easter story ‘true’?
  3. What is its meaning for us today?

How We ‘Know’

(This line of thinking comes from C.S. Lewis, by way of John Ortberg.)
How we ‘know’ something depends on what we believe ‘know’ means. For example, we might ‘know’ that Billy Graham is good and Timothy McVeigh is evil, while some other person might ‘know’ exactly the opposite.
Still, all of us have concepts of ‘unjust’ and ‘inhumane’, because we all have concepts of ‘just’ and ‘humane’; we recognize ‘good’ by differentiating it from ‘evil’ and can differentiate ‘beauty’ from ‘tawdriness’. So we ‘know’ what we believe we have experienced or felt.
We can also ‘know’ something even when it is not always ‘true’. For example, we ‘know’ we can trust our close friends and loved ones even though we also ‘know’ they have (or will) let us down.
There is another way to ‘know’ something. If someone we trust tells us ‘the truth’ then we ‘know’ their ‘true’ story even though we have not experienced or felt it ourselves.

Historical ‘Truth’

We all know that our beliefs about past events can change– like our beliefs about ‘Good’ Tiger Woods, for example. Even our beliefs about events in the distant past are subject to scrutiny. One example is that we used to believe Christopher Columbus discovered the New World, but now we believe that Leif Ericson did, and some people even think there is evidence that the Phoenicians came here even before the Vikings did.
So, our picture of history is constantly changing as we discover new artifacts and documents from the past. Some artifacts and documents may be viewed with suspicion by historians because they don’t appear to be ‘legitimate’ or because they tend to promote one particular viewpoint over others. Other times, the obvious falsehood, or ’embarrassment’ of a document is what makes it historically ‘true’. For example, the ancient Egyptian Merneptah Stele is inscribed with the words, “Israel is laid waste; its seed is no more,” sometime between 1213 and 1203 BCE (before the Christian era). Now today, we know that it’s not ‘true’ because we know that Israel existed after that time. But what the ‘untrue’ Merneptah Stele proves is that there was a group of people named “Israel” large enough for the King of Egypt to brag about ‘wasting’ in 1200 BCE!

‘Doubting’ Thomas

You could say that the disciple called Thomas was somewhat embarrassing to the Gospel story, because he was a skeptic: “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands…” We don’t hear anything about him is in Acts 1:13, where he is reported to be present with the other disciples. The only other association Western historians make between Thomas and Christianity is that his name was attached to a ‘heretical’ early Christian document, written much later than he would have been alive. Thus does Thomas disappear from the traditions of the Western church.

Mar Thoma Church

On the Southwest coast of India is a tiny, ancient sect of Christians, who call themselves, “Mar Thoma.” They started out as Jewish refugees in India who were converted to Christianity by (they claim) Doubting Thomas, the disciple who needed to see the nail marks, in 52 AD.
There are many independent (though obscure) historical verifications of their claims, such as the report by the philosopher, missionary and church father, Pantaenus (died by 200 AD), who wrote that he had personally found pre-existing Christians in India who used the Gospel of Matthew, written in Hebrew, as their only New Testament scriptures. (This is an important ’embarrassing’ detail, because the only manuscript copies of Matthew’s Gospel ever found have been Greek, and Matthew’s Gospel is supposed to have been originally composed in Greek, according to modern biblical scholars.) Another embarrassing fact of history was the Synod of Diamper by Portuguese Catholics. As one result, all religious texts differing from the Catholic Bible were burned.
The fact that these embarrassing ancient ‘Christians’ who were not like us and didn’t have our Bible still celebrated Easter (and communion) goes a long way toward convincing us that the Easter story is ‘true’– at least we know it was a story that truly existed far away from the Western church very long ago.

Suffering

‘Suffering’ used to be the go-to argument in the philosophical debate about the existence of God. I’ve personally never understood what the big deal is, because clearly God suffers. But what good is suffering and why does it matter to God? Let’s try to take a fresh look at suffering by asking what the world would be like if suffering never was.
How would we know we loved somebody (or some thing, even) if suffering never was? No delayed gratification, no emotion attached to being without our love object, how can ‘take-it-or-leave-it’ and ‘love’ coexist? So we see that a world without suffering might also be a world without love. Similarly, we can make a case for each of the following claims:

·       No suffering, no comfort

·       No suffering, no joy

·       No suffering, no forgiveness

·       No suffering, no grace

·       No suffering, no peacemakers

·       No suffering, no patience…

To Everything a Season

We might now come to the point of view that evil and good, suffering and joy, sin and love, are all necessarily balanced in tension, and that is the way it must be. That appears to be the point of view of the writer of Ecclesiastes, after all. But it is also the writer’s point of view that:
“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.”

Ecclesiastes 1:2

This is the pre-Easter state of humanity: everything balanced and meaningless… Twentieth century philosophers called this “Existential Dread”…

Balance, Beauty, Big Bang

The idea that the universe must be in balance runs deep. For example, symmetry has been known to be an important component of aesthetic beauty. Attractiveness studies show that composite (balanced, symmetrical) human faces are deemed more beautiful than any of the individuals’ faces used to create the composites. Mathematics seeks to balance equations. Physics theories strive for balance– “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” Life is about balance… or is it?
The universe we know exists because of a huge imbalance: “matter” far outweighs “antimatter” in our universe. The reason for this bald fact is one of the unsolved questions of theoretical physics, because “The Big Bang” should have created equal amounts of antimatter and matter. To a physicist, there is no mathematical reason that the universe as it is would even exist. Ultimately, then, life as we know it is about a huge imbalance: that of matter over antimatter.

Unbalance Makes Meaning

So, here we are living in a universe where, if you want to study antimatter you have to create it in the laboratory. If we imagine a theoretical physicist who had never witnessed our universe, he might say that this was an absurd idea– “Matter must be balanced by antimatter; symmetry must be preserved!” But I think we can ‘know’ our experience is ‘true’…
In a similar way, the pre-Easter man would say that a universe without suffering and pain is absurd. But what if someone came to us who had been in that universe, someone we could trust? What if there is a universe where, if you want to study suffering, you have to create it in a laboratory?

Necessity for Suffering Only for Awhile

In this universe, God (who is attested to exist by Jesus, who is attested to have risen by Thomas, who is attested to have converted to Christianity the Mar Thoma, who are attested to have used a Hebrew gospel similar to Matthew and to have existed before 200 A.D. by Pantaenus and attested to have been ‘heretics’ by the Portuguese, …) suffers. We don’t have a proper theory for that, we just know it is true, just like the matter/antimatter imbalance.
In this universe, we have no way to understand the meaning of good without evil, because we are somehow wired to perceive beauty in symmetry. Again, we don’t have a good theory for the beauty of averageness, but it’s true nonetheless. At the same time we find composite faces attractive, we find composite lives of composite people boring.
In this suffering, loving universe a suffering, loving being is said to have appeared talking about peacemaking, humility, forgiveness, and joy. This being claimed to be the inventor of everything. This being, this Christ, claimed to have also created another universe, a parallel universe where suffering was like antimatter. This is the meaning of Easter Christianity for us today.


[1] All ‘fact-checking’ can easily be done using http://en.wikipedia.org

The Blind Men and the Elephant, p. 3

Faith or idolatry? Fact or fantasy? Maybe it –everything– depends upon who you ask.

…and by the way he asked his disciples, saying unto them, “Whom do men say that I am?”
And they answered, “John the Baptist; but some say, Elias; and others, One of the prophets.”

And he saith unto them, “But whom say ye that I am?”
And Peter answereth and saith unto him, “Thou art the Christ.”

And he charged them that they should tell no man of him.

Personally, I like the idea of “the master of the universe” being this homely tired little guy with a misshapen face and bad hair. The dude who said, “Consider the lillies…” Looking at the two halves of the painting I see someone who has lived a conflicted life, double-minded, almost…
For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord. A double minded man is unstable in all his ways“, wrote James.

Yeah, a god who doesn’t expect anything from Himself, nobody expects that.

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