In My Element

 

How could I forget the passing of my father and mother? My father had become terribly sick. My mother cared for him day and night and soon became sick herself. I cared for both until they died days apart. How could I forget those days of loss and the burden put on me at that time? I am Martha and the oldest of three children.

As was our custom, the three of us – my brother Lazarus, my sister Mary and I – mourned for seven days. We did no work; we did no cleaning or cooking. Friends and relatives brought us food and sat with us and mourned with us as we sat barefoot on the floor. When that time was over, I felt isolated and overwhelmed. I felt the weight of the world suddenly on my shoulders. I was only 13 years old.

Before all this happened, I felt carefree. Life was an uncomplicated joy. When our family went to the synagogue, mother, Mary, and I would sit with the women. Father and Lazarus would sit with the men. Everything was as it should be. We were together in our element. But since, the remaining three of us have felt out of place, as if we were illegitimate children. It didn’t help that older women whispered between themselves when they saw us.

And, celebrating Passover was not the same without father and mother. Father would say, “Mary, ask the question”. Mary would respond “Why is this night different from all the other nights?” Then, we each had to give our answer as she asked it four times. I miss them most during these times.

Without father I felt cut off from the community and the events of the day. Father would come home and tell us all that was going on as we ate our evening meal. In his circle of friends there was much talk of the Romans and their taxes and about Caesar’s image on the denarius. (Father told us that he paid the temple tax in Tyrian shekels because those coins didn’t contain any earthly ruler’s image. This meant he had to deal with greedy money changers.)

Father became especially animated when he talked of a Messiah, one anointed by God who would smash the enemies of God and reign over the earth. Everyone he spoke with thought his appearing was imminent. When father talked about the Messiah he would recite the synagogue reading of the prophet Isaiah:

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
     and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.

 

As the oldest I took charge of caring for my younger brother and sister. Who else would do this? I fed them, cleaned their clothes and taught them the ways of our people as I had been taught by father and mother. Thankfully, father left his affairs in good order. We lacked for nothing and lived in a spacious home in Bethany.

At our home I tried to maintain order, as my mother had done. She watched over the affairs of the household and did not eat the bread of idleness. She was a woman of noble character and I wanted to be like her. So, I did what was needed.

As I busied myself at home, Lazarus and Mary would go to the marketplace to buy food for our daily meal – fish, vegetables, fresh herbs and the like. At the market they also gathered up the recent gossip and news from travelers about the events of the day. One day it happened that they came home and could talk of nothing else except Jesus.

Mary couldn’t contain herself. She swirled as she spoke in her lilting voice: “He healed … a man … of a terrible skin disease! He healed … a Centurion’s … servant! He raised … a widow’s son … from the dead! Unclean spirits … are cast out! The daughter of Jairus … the ruler of the synagogue … healed! A woman … sick for twelve years … healed! A lame man … made to walk…on the Sabbath! Jesus fed thousands … with a few … fishes and loaves! A storm … was calmed … on the sea of Galilee … “

As Mary spoke, Lazarus paced back and forth. When he finally stopped, he said that Jesus had been in the synagogue in Nazareth … that he had been handed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah … that he had read the same words that father recited to us so often!

“His words are the words of life!” Mary exclaimed half-twirl. Lazarus wondered out loud: “Could this be the Messiah that father talked about?”

They both tugged on me. “Come and hear what people are saying!” But I had to remind them of the hour.

“It is almost sundown and the beginning of the Sabbath. We must prepare for this. Help me do this. Mary, sweep the house. Lazarus, take these fish bones out to the refuse pile.” After the sabbath, I told them, we will go and hear what is being said about him.

 

 

Soon after, it happened that Jesus came to where we were. He arrived with twelve men who followed him intently and some seventy others. The three of us overheard many of their conversations as they gathered in our village. There was excited talk of Jesus being the long-awaited Messiah. “But what good is a dead Messiah?”, was a response we heard over and over. Many were questioning the direction Jesus was taking – going up to Jerusalem. The rumors were that the authorities there were wanting to do away with him.

The disciples discussed and puzzled over what Jesus had said when they were alone: “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life”. “What could this possible mean?” they asked each other, “Why must he be killed? And “Isn’t the resurrection on the last day?”

Several spoke of Jesus sending them out in his name. They had the authority to cast out unclean spirits in his name! They were sent to proclaim the kingdom of God. There were villages where they were welcomed and were given food and drink. And there were places where they were not welcomed. In response to these places they wiped that town’s dust from their feet and said “Gods’ kingdom has come close to you! It will be more tolerable for Sodom than this town”.

When I heard this, I immediately welcomed the Master and his followers – all of them – to our home. Who else could do this with all of these? And, of course, the house was clean and empty and ready for guests.

The courtyards were soon overflowing – men gathered on the upper courtyard and women gathered on the lower courtyard. I loved the commotion after so many quiet days – days since father and mother passed away. Like my mother, who had received and served many guests, I was in my element. I took charge.

I sent Mary and Lazarus to the market for cured fish, cumin and coriander, vegetables, figs, grapes and almonds. With seventy plus mouths to feed I needed plenty of provisions and plenty of help.

While they were gone I set about baking bread on the hearth, making lentil stew, and roasting a goat on a spit. I went about offering my guests wine, water and goat’s milk to drink. After a time, Mary and Lazarus came back with everything I asked. They said that the whole town was outside waiting for Jesus and they gave us what we needed!

And Jesus was in my home at the center of a group of men. I set down bowls of figs, dates and almonds before them where they sat and talked. At this point, I was coming and going, from kitchen to room to kitchen to courtyard to kitchen. With so many, there was such a din. But I did hear one ask Jesus to tell them a story.

Jesus affirmed that he would. “Hush!” rippled through the gathering. The courtyards grew quiet. Lifting the sound of his voice so that many could hear, he began:

“Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.

“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

While Jesus spoke, I went back to cooking and preparing and wondering what happened to Mary. She was not helping me feed all these people. I needed her help. I was shorthanded and getting more flustered by the minute.

I returned the room where Jesus was with more bread and lentil stew. And, there she was! I was shocked! Not only was Mary sitting around distracted from her duties, but she was sitting with the men …and right at Jesus’ feet! O, the impudence!

Right then and there I wanted to say, “Mary, that is not your place. Come and help me.” But I had a better idea – invoke someone with authority to deal with her. There is someone in this room that she will listen to and who will sympathize with me. He will put her in her place. I stood before Jesus.

“Master, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work all by myself? Tell her to give me a hand!”

Jesus looked at me and must have seen the distressed look on my face. Certainly, I thought, he must know all that us women do, especially when we are hosting. He has a mother.

“Martha, Martha, you are fretting and fussing about so many things. Only one thing matters. Mary has chosen the best part, and it’s not going to be taken away from her.”

Well, that wasn’t the response I was expecting. I stood there looking at him and then at Mary who hadn’t moved and then at a room full of faces. Was the kingdom of God staring back at me waiting for my reaction? There was nothing left for me to do but to sit down, eat and join the conversation.

 

 

In the days following, Lazarus and Mary invited many into our home. I’ve hosted hundreds of people! Those who came were eager to hear about Jesus. I fed them. I sat with them. And, I taught them – men and women alike – about the words and ways of Jesus. I serve the kingdom of God and that is all that matters. I wish father and mother were here to see me in my element.

 

 

 

Adapted from the Gospel According to Luke, chapter 10

Same Road. New Vista.

 

What’s that you say? You’ve just arrived from Cyprus and you are new to the area? And, you’ve heard some incredible things? You want me to tell you all that’s happened? Come in for some water and …some bread.

Where should I begin, stranger? There is so much that has happened the last three days – the last three years, in fact! And long before now! Since you are a visitor from Cyprus, I will start with some necessary background so you will understand why my husband and I are so giddy.

My husband Cleopas and I – I am Mary – settled many years ago in this fertile valley below Jerusalem This area is known as Emmaus. We call this place Motza. Our village is about 30 stadia from our beloved Jerusalem.

As you have seen, it is a well-watered area with rich soil and an abundance of willow trees. During the Feast of Tabernacles celebration many come to our valley and gather willow branches. They take the willow branches and stand them up on the sides of the altar with their tops bowed over the altar.

Our valley has many springs watering it. Our people come down to one of Motza’s springs to get water for baking their matzo for the Feast of Unleavened Bread.

I’m sure you noticed the Roman Centurions stationed here. My husband says it is a strategic position for them as they can protect the ascent to Jerusalem on the road leading from Jaffa. And, it is strategic in the ways I know of. Cleopas has overheard some of them saying that they would like to retire here because of the many springs and because north of our village the valley widens offering them plenty of room for settlement and for growing food.

My husband and I are simple farmers. But life for us and our people has not been so simple. Many of us have long desired to be freed from the rule of those who do not worship the One true God. When the Babylonians overtook Jerusalem and carried our people away into exile it was the Isaiah the prophet who spoke for us …

O Lord our God,

other lords besides you have ruled over us

but we acknowledge your name alone.

Now, we are back in our land and still the pagans lord over us. So, we wondered: Would our God act again to bring us out of this exile as he took us out of Egypt? And, when will God resurrect Israel and restore her as a nation? When will the messiah, the Anointed One and Son of the Most High from the line of David, restore the house of David? When, when, when …when would God redeem his people and set up his everlasting kingdom on earth?

On many Sabbaths, as we gather in the synagogue, words from the Torah are read. And then the words of the prophets – the haftarah. We all felt the hopelessness and despair in the words of the prophet Ezekiel: “our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.” Our leader would then pray these words:

Vindicate me, my God,
    and plead my cause
    against an unfaithful nation.
Rescue me from those who are
    deceitful and wicked.
 You are God my stronghold.
    Why have you rejected me?
Why must I go about mourning,
    oppressed by the enemy?
 Send me your light and your faithful care,
    let them lead me;
let them bring me to your holy mountain,
    to the place where you dwell.
 Then I will go to the altar of God,
    to God, my joy and my delight.
I will praise you with the lyre,
    O God, my God.

 

Yes, there were times of renewing hope and rejoicing. This past fall my husband and I and pilgrims from Cyrpus and from faraway lands went up to Jerusalem for the feast of the tabernacle. We carried with us willow branches and olive branches to build to sukkah – our temporary booths. When we all gathered together, we shouted praises to God, sang the songs of Aliyah and waved our fragrant lulavs – our willow branches and palm fronds – before the Lord in a spirit of thankfulness.

After the feast, we walked home with the pilgrims on the Emmaus road, the same road that brought you here. Our hearts were burning with expectation as to what God would do. There was much animated discussion about the events of those seven days. And, it all centered on Jesus. You must know about him, don’t you? How can anyone not know?

That day as we walked along we talked about his feeding the five thousand by the shore of Galilee. We talked about our seeing him healing the blind and the lame. And, Lazarus had been raised from the dead! We marveled that demons were being cast out and at Jesus’ authority over them. And, his words! No one ever spoke like he did about the Moses and the prophets. We discussed how our religious authorities despised him and wanted to do away with him. This made us all fearful, as it would negatively affect our synagogues. Yet, they each said that many were believing in him as the one who was to come.

But Miriam told the group that that even his brothers did not believe in him. She learned this from a young doctor named Luke, whom she met at the feast. He told her that Jesus’ brothers wanted Jesus to show himself publicly so that he could become well-known. “Show yourself to the world!” they said to him. They wanted to put Jesus in a situation which would make him prove he is the Messiah. But Jesus told them “My time is not yet. The world can’t hate you, but it hates me, because I am giving evidence against it, showing that its works are evil”. He told them to go up to the feast. Miriam said that Jesus went up later in secret and now we know why. There was a considerable dispute in the crowds. Some said “He’s a good man and others “He’s deceiving the people!” There were those who hated him and wanted to do away with him.

Ruth told us about the twelve-year old Jesus. His family had gone up to Jerusalem for Passover. When they left to return to Galilee with a caravan of friends, they had traveled a day’s journey before realizing that Jesus wasn’t with the group. He had vanished! So, they went back up to Jerusalem and searched for him for three days. They couldn’t find him anywhere. When they finally did put their eyes on him, he was sitting with the teachers of the law. He was listening to them and asking questions. Those listening to him were amazed at his answers to their questions. But, Mary was neither amazed or happy. She scolded him for disappearing. “Child”, she said to him, “why have done this to your father and me? We have been frantically searching for you”. Jesus told his mother, “Why were you looking for me? Didn’t you know that I would have to be getting involved with my father’s work?” They didn’t understand a word of what he was saying. Wasn’t his father a carpenter?

Oy, there is so much to tell. I will focus on the last few days and on what happened to Cleopas and me this afternoon. What happened the last few days in Jerusalem we learned from the Jesus’ disciples as Cleopas and I were in Jerusalem for Passover. I can tell you that it was a time of weeping and anguish.

As you may have heard, on the night of Passover Jesus was captured by the authorities – ours and Roman. Though he had done nothing wrong he was sentenced to death on a Roman cross. Our authorities pushed for this, shouting “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Jesus was taken to Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judaea and then released by Pilate to the angry crowd. Jesus was crucified like a common criminal. When we learned of this our hearts were broken, our hopes were dashed. “What good is a dead messiah we asked each other? We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” God be praised! There is more to tell you!

We were in Jerusalem this morning. We heard many, many accounts and rumors of visions and of Jesus’ tomb being empty. The disciples were at a loss as what to make of it all. Peter had gone off to see for himself and confirmed that the tomb was indeed empty. But he was as perplexed as the rest of us. We waited for while longer to see what might come of it all and then we decided to head home. Now, this is the part I’ve been waiting to tell you… I can barely …

Cleopas and I headed home to our village. Along the way we discussed all that had happened that morning. We argued, too, about what it meant. As we walked a stranger approached us and began walking with us. He was not at all familiar to us but he must have overheard us. He started the conversation:

Rowan LeCompte and Irene Matz LeCompte, “Third Station of the Resurrection: The Walk to Emmaus” (detail), 1970. Mosaic, Resurrection Chapel, National Cathedral, Washington, DC. Photo: Victoria Emily Jones.

“You’re obviously having a very important discussion on your walk. What’s it all about?”

We stopped walking and turned to him. He must have seen that we were both downcast. Cleopas answered the stranger. “You must be the only person around Jerusalem who doesn’t know what’s been going on there the last few days.”

“What things?” he asked.

“To do with Jesus of Nazareth. He was a prophet. He acted with power and he spoke with power, before God and all the people. Our chief priests and rulers handed him over to be condemned to death, and they crucified him. But we were hoping that he was going to redeem Israel!

And now, what with all this, it’s the third day since it happened. But some women from our group have astonished us. They went to his tomb very early this morning, and didn’t find his body. They came back saying they’d seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Some of the folk with us went off to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they didn’t see him.”

“You are so senseless! So slow in your hearts to believe all the things the prophets said to you! Don’t you see? This is what had to happen: the Messiah had to suffer, and then come into his glory!”

At this point, we were quite perplexed. Who is this stranger and why is taking this so personally? We were both taken aback by the zeal and authority with which the stranger spoke. We searched his face for answers to what we didn’t recognize in all of the Sabbath words. He began walking and we followed.

We listened to the stranger explain Moses and the prophets and all of Scripture in terms of the One who was to come and ransom Israel and bring her and the whole world out of exile. He told us …

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; Do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”

He talked about a kingdom on earth and about creation and new creation. As he spoke, everything we had been taught began to look different. Everything was coming into focus and the focal point was Jesus. Everything was becoming clear except for the stranger. He remained an enigma.

We reached the intersection to our village. We turned down our road. The stranger kept walking down the Emmaus road. We called after him urging him to stay with us. He kept walking. Cleopas finally ran up to him and pleaded with him to stay with us. “Sir”, he said, “the day is almost over. Stay with us.” The stranger agreed to come with us.

We invited him in and gave him a bowl of water and a towel to wash his hands and feet. We gave him water to drink. We sat down to a small meal. The stranger took the bread up into his hands and prayed, giving thanks for the meal. He then broke the bread and gave it to us. It was then …it was then …it was then that we were shocked beyond belief! Our jaws dropped and we looked at each other with wide open eyes. Cleopas and I saw that the stranger was Jesus, the resurrected Jesus! And, as soon as we saw him, he vanished from our sight! Poof!

We were speechless. The Anointed One and Son of the Most High was walking with us and talking with us and sitting down to eat with us! Everything we hoped for had come true in our sight, as Anna the prophetess foretold and Simeon prophesied! … Our eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared in the sight of all people!

Now, our new friend, Cleopas and I have to return to Jerusalem to tell our brothers and sisters all that has happened this afternoon. We must break bread with them. Come with us and you will see him, too!

 

As we walked the 30 stadia back up to Jerusalem, Cleopas and I kept pinching each other. We walked and danced and walked and ran and clapped. We kept asking each other “Do you remember how our hearts were burning inside us, as he talked to us on the road, as he opened up the Scriptures for us? Cleopas, in his booming voice and with a smile on his face, kept repeating “For you will not leave my soul among the dead or allow your holy one to rot in the grave” and the words our Sabbath leader prayed:

Why are you cast down, O my soul

And why are you disquieted within me?

Hope in God; for I shall again praise him.

We both shouted “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

 

The Cypriot, not sure what to make of all this, watched us from a distance. There was an amused and perplexed look on his face.

 

 

 

 

Adapted from the Gospel according to Luke (2:41-50)

 

You’ll Never Be the Same

 

Daybreak. The village of Bethsaida. The air is hot and dry and still. And something is astir. Jesus has come to the “house of fishing”.

You hurry down to the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Your husband and his brother have been fishing long before daybreak. You carry with you a clay jar full of water and a cloth.

Along the shore are baskets of fish. The village women and merchants have come to purchase the salted tilapia. You know that your husband will reserve some for his family and for the widows. And though there over two hundred boats on the water, you spot your husband’s and his brother’s boat.

At the edge of the water you hear “The time is fulfilled! God’s Kingdom is arriving! Turn back and believe the good news!” Jesus, walking along the shore, is coming toward you.

Trying to get your husband’s attention, you wave. He and his brother are busy casting nets. You shout. “Look! Jesus is coming this way!” Your husband finally hears your voice and turns toward you.

Jesus walks up to you. From the same vantage point he calls out to your husband and his brother, “Follow me! I’ll have you fishing for people!”

At once, your husband and his brother let go of their nets and bring the boat to shore. At once, they begin to follow Jesus along the shoreline. You follow them, two steps to their one, with the clay jar of water. You soak the cloth in the water. With it your husband proceeds to wipe his brow and then his beard to remove the crusted salt – sweat from his brow. You hand him the clay jar. Dehydrated, he gulps half the water down and then hands the jar to his brother.

Further down Jesus calls “Follow me!” to two men mending their nets. You know them – James and John, the sons of Zebedee. The brothers leave their boat and their father and the hired servants behind.

At this point, you’ve run out of breath and are not able to keep up. You call to your husband, “I’m going home. My mother is not feeling well.” Your husband acknowledges but goes on, determined to keep his eyes on Jesus.

As you watch him and the fellowship of fishermen continue down the shore, you remember the words of the prophet Isaiah that were read in the synagogue last Shabbat:

The Lord God helps me;
therefore I have not been disgraced;
therefore I have set my face like flint,
and I know that I shall not be put to shame

Zebedee calls to you. “I will have my hired hands take care of your boat. I will sell the fish you husband caught and bring you fish for you and the widows.” You thank him. Carrying the clay jar and the cloth you head home pondering all that has happened. Every woman in Bethsaida knew what Mary had said about Jesus. Something begins to stir in your heart.

An hour or so later your husband and his brother are at the door. They tell you that they are going to Capernaum with Jesus and are not sure when they will return. You give them some bread to take with. Before your husband takes off, you stop him at the door. “Could he be the one? He’s talking about a kingdom. I don’t want you getting killed. What’s his plan?”

Your husband responds. “Woman, there is only one way to find out.”

Sweat runs down his temples to his beard. The midday sun is blazing. You hand him his mantle, which he throws over his shoulder. He races off with his brother Andrew. He calls to John and James who are already fifty paces ahead of them and Jesus is ten paces ahead of them. He wants them to wait up. Your husband is a big man with a big heart and is impulsive to a fault. He takes strides in all directions. And today, you wonder what will become of him and the fishing business as he takes off in a new direction.

On your way home you stop and give the widows the salted fish and to hear rumors. You learn that many were repenting and were being baptized in the River Jordan by John the Baptist, Jesus among them. And that when he came out of the water there was a dove and a large booming voice that said “You are my son! You are the one I love! You make me very glad!” There is so much more for you to ponder.

At home you prepare for Shabbat which begins just before nightfall. You sweep and clean your home from top to bottom. You cover the sales money so it is out of sight. You make sure there is oil in the two lamps.

The night settles in. You eat food prepared earlier. You care for your mother who now has a fever. As you wipe her head with a damp cloth you talk with her about Jesus until you can’t stop yawning. You go to your bed. You are glad that you and your husband sleep in separate rooms, for when your husband sleeps, he snores – a nightly ritual even on Shabbat. Tonight, there will be the moaning of your delirious mother.

As you fall asleep you imagine your husband walking to Capernaum. He would walk two hours in the hot sun. Did he have water? Maybe the journey would take less time with the strides Jesus takes. When will he return …?

 

Your husband and his brother and James and John return the next day. They are all at the door with Jesus. He had been told about your mother and her illness. Jesus goes in, takes your mother by the hand, and raises her up. At once, her fever is gone and she was well enough to feed them. How is this possible, you ask yourself? But there is no time to wonder as you want to feed them all. Your heart is brimming with thanksgiving.

Outside your home there is large crowd – people from all over Galilee have followed Jesus. Jesus goes out to them. People with all kinds of diseases are brought to him and he heals them. Inside, the four fishermen sit down on the floor. You place bread and fish and water before them. As you do you ask them for details of what happened in Capernaum. They all begin to talk at the same time, but your husband has the loudest voice and so the rest wait their turn:

“We went into the synagogue and Jesus began teaching from the scrolls….’

“None of us had heard anything like this teaching before. He has his own authority, “John interjected. The other three agreed. Your husband continues.

“We are sitting there looking at each other astonished by what he is saying. You see that crowd out there. There was a large crowd around the synagogue. The people were pressing in from all sides trying to hear him. Anyway, we are sitting there when all of a sudden this guy starts shrieking “What business have you got with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are: you’re God’s Holy One!”

“He had an unclean spirit living in him,” James tells you. As he says this they hear another shriek outside. And another. Andrew got up to see what was happening. “Jesus is casting out those spirits right outside our door!” Your husband continues.

“You know what he said to that unclean spirit in the synagogue?” Wide-eyed, you ask, “What?”

“He says, ‘Be quiet! And come out of him! The man jerked and writhed like a snake and then screamed and then the unclean spirit came right out of him!”

“We were all shocked, “John continued. “Jesus not only speaks with authority, he even tells unclean spirits what to do, and they do it! The demons talk like they know who he is. He tells them to shut up.”

“We know who the unclean spirits are, where they come from,” Andrew added. “They are from Belial, the kingdom of Belial.”

Noticing two centurions keeping an eye on the crowd, your husband asks, “Do you think that the coming kingdom Jesus talks about will rid us of the tyranny of the Roman dogs?

James is quick to respond, “I hope so. Right now, he appears to be overthrowing the kingdom of Belial.”

“I’m good with that!” John chimes in. “Look around. Those spirits wreak havoc on everyone and everything. The Essenes at Qumran have been battling them for years.”

Nodding in the direction of the two centurions, James wondered out loud, “If Jesus has power over the kingdom of Belial, shouldn’t the Romans be shaking in their caligae?”

Your mother, upon hearing this, went out and offered the two centurions water from the clay jar, which they guardedly accepted. She then offered Jesus some and invited him in for a meal and a place to sleep for the night. He accepted.

Very early – the middle of the night, actually – Jesus got up and went out. You woke your husband and he roused Andrew and James and John. They went looking for Jesus. When they found him praying, they said, “Everyone is looking for you!”

“Let’s go off to the other towns around here,” Jesus replied, “so that I can tell the news to people there too. That’s why I came out.”

 

The next morning you hurry down to the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Men have been fishing long before daybreak. You carry with you a clay jar full of water and a cloth. You want to do what you can to prepare the way of the Lord.

 

 

 

Adapted from Mark Chapter 1

The Dead Can’t Help (Or Hurt) You Now

Having some time off of work this holiday season, I was able to watch the “ghost” TV programs on the Discovery and Travel channels. In doing so, I wanted to see how the supernatural was being depicted. The fact that there are paranormal themed TV programs with many viewers tells me that the metaphysical is still of great interest to people despite the logical overrides handed down from the Enlightenment. With this post I will present my impressions of these programs and offer my perspective.

Impressions: There are several ghost-hunter programs. The hour-long programs show a group of paranormal investigators using electronic devices to track down ghosts. They assume that the phenomena their clients are experiencing are the dead interacting with the living. They will interview those experiencing paranormal activity and search historical records to make their case and to explain what they capture electronically in terms of the dead. Historical records are used to lend ‘credence’ to their assumption – if dead, then ghosts and the phenomena witnessed.

Another show, The Dead Files, goes a step further than the ghost hunter shows while using the same assumptions. Per the IMDB blurb:

An investigative series that pairs Steve DiSchiavi, a retired Homicide Detective with the New York City Police Department with more than 21 years of active service with psychic communicator Amy Allan who has an established sixth sense and an affinity for channeling the dead. In order to not influence the other, the partners initially explore each case on their own. Steve interviews the residents/employees and investigates the history behind the property (prior ownership, murders or other crimes that occurred at or around the property, etc.) to verify the veracity of the claims, and Amy does a walk-through of the building and expressing any feelings, emotions, or other impressions she feels, with any leading items such as photos, personal items, religious items, etc., having been previously covered or removed, so as not to influence her impressions. She also works with a forensic sketch artist to sketch any entities she claims to witness. They then link up at the end to compare notes with those they are trying to help.[i]

The Dead Files would have the viewer believe that Amy Allan has special knowledge and ability. The show opens with her stating “I see dead people. I talk to dead people”. In the Reveal ending of the show, Amy’s findings are ‘corroborated’ by the detective, whose background findings, of dead people and past events, lead the viewer to accept the reality they have laid out. The detective’s findings are always curiously aligned with Amy’s walk-through physic findings, as are their clients. I have never heard her predict the future other than saying to the clients that the dark force she ‘sees’ will kill if them if they stay in the house.

This show, like the others ‘ghost’ shows, attempts to bring resolution to those experiencing paranormal activity. But, again, The Dead Files goes a step further. The detective will turn to Amy for the resolution. Amy will suggest that the clients move or bring in a medium or a shaman or a reiki master psychic to deal with the dark forces.

My perspective: Despite the use of historical records and despite the use of a former homicide detective and investigators, these shows provide no evidence, no causal link, whatsoever that dead people are interacting with the living. These shows deal in assumptions, in circumstantial evidence: if dead then ghosts; if ghosts then the phenomena witnessed (always negative). Evidentiary support is immaterial – literally.

The noises, voices, objects moving, etc. are presumed to be the activities of dead people making themselves known. Paranormal activity on these shows, as I have said, is attributed to the dead and rarely to demonic activity. The premise of these shows is to solve unexplained paranormal phenomena in haunted locations across America … and attribute it to the “familiar spirits”.

That there is no evidentiary support for the dead interacting with the living, a misleading disclaimer is posted during the show. It says, in effect, that nothing depicted in the show constitutes evidence of a crime that would hold up on court. During my viewings I heard no crimes being discussed. The revealing disclaimer tells us that the bad guys, the dead – the shadow figures – provide no material support for their existence (and their maleficent behavior) that would then allow them to be pinned with a crime. I see the disclaimer as manipulation of the viewer, to get him or her to suspend their reason and to accept that there are deeper and specially divined things going on in each episode. What’s more, Amy has studied psychology.[ii] She would understand manipulation using the fear appeal technique[iii].

Manipulation is what is behind The Dead Files. The viewer is led to assume that the dead interact with the living. The viewer is led to assume that Amy Allan has psychic ability to communicate with the dead. The viewer is led to assume that the involvement of a former homicide detective brings credibility to both of the above even though no bit of credible evidence is provided to substantiate the claims made by Amy Allen. As I watch, I am reminded of a shell game that uses psychological tricks to convince potential players of the legitimacy of the game. The three cups set before the viewer are the client’s experiences and the case work of the detective and Allan’s impressions. The ball, the susceptibility of the viewers, is placed under a cup. The cups are shuffled back and forth for almost the whole hour and then, during the Reveal, the ball is found under the Allen’s cup, as the viewer was ‘convinced’ by closely watching the shells. TV entertainment works only if you feel playing the game is rewarded in the end.

As the title of the show predicates, the dead are making themselves known. So, when people contact the show for help, they already assume (and are setup to go along with the scheme) that dead people are doing just that.

Can’t see the forest for the flimflam. During The Dead Files opening the former homicide detective tells us what he knows: “Every home has a secret … every person has a secret”. And the show has a secret. It Is not inconceivable that the detective is wearing a microphone and is recording the interviews he conducts with the spooked clients. This deception would allow the caveat at the show’s opening – that Amy and the detective never speak before the Reveal – to be true while setting up the viewer with a pretense of legitimacy. The two don’t have to communicate when a tape recording, another type of medium which receives ‘impressions’, is recording the phenomenon experienced by their clients. The Amy Allan sketch by a forensic artist could be easily created via the tape-recording impression. The detective details out loud the locations and experiences of their clients during his interviews.

Dead men tell no tales. Why would the dead communicate with Amy or the clients? And what have they been saying? It would appear that the dead are up to no good. In every show I’ve watched, Amy’s repetitive ‘impressions’ from the dead are disturbing and negative – this and that entity wants to unsettle and terrorize the client and may harm them. This show is the New Age version of the Walking Dead.

Based on the words of Jesus, in his story of the rich man and Lazarus[iv], the dead want the living in the heavenly realm to interact with the living in the earthily realm. But that is not going to happen.

In this account, the poor and afflicted man Lazarus died and “was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom”. The rich man also died, was buried and was now being tormented in hell. The rich man wanted Abraham to have pity on him. He asked Abraham to send Lazarus to “dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue! I’m in agony in this fire!”

Abraham makes clear that their situations are now reversed: the poor once-suffering man who was aware of his great need during his earthly life is now being comforted. The rich man who knew all the comforts of the world and was not aware of any need during his earthly existence was now suffering and in great need of relief. The balance sheet of good and evil received by these men had been has reversed. And there was no way the rich man could reconcile the books in his favor, as Abraham tells him:

“Besides that, there is a great chasm standing between us. People who want to cross over from here to you can’t do so, nor can anyone get across from the far side to us.”

The rich man, no longer trying to ply Abraham for mercy for himself, wants his five brothers to be warned so that they will repent and stay away the torture-chamber he is experiencing. Abraham tells the rich man that they have Moses and the prophets. “Let them listen to them.”

Apparently, the rich man, though a Jew and a believer in the God of Abraham, had avoided taking to heart the words of Moses and the prophets during his earthly existence and ended up in torment. So, knowing what he now knows, he thinks a supernatural visitation would do the trick.

“No, Father Abraham” he replied, “but if someone went to them from the dead, they would repent.”

Abraham, again, sets the record straight:

“If they don’t listen to Moses and the prophets neither would they convinced, even if someone rose from the dead.”

Even if the dead were raised and went about issuing warnings nothing would change in the brother’s attitude or with their sense of need. They would only be entertained, like the viewers of ghost hunter shows.

(Let the reader understand: The story of the rich man and and Lazarus is not about God favoring the poor and condemning the rich. It is not about materialism or lack of charity or about assigning the poor to heaven and the rich to hell based on their life situation. Rather, it is about each one, whether rich or poor, understanding what they truly need and what is the fulfillment of that need. A great chasm is created when one chooses the righteousness of God, as revealed in Moses and the prophets and ultimately in Jesus and when another presumes a form of righteousness based on a blessed life. Both the rich and the poor have the same challenges as posed by Jesus: “What use is it to win the whole world and lose your life?”[v] and “Blessings on the poor in spirit! The kingdom of heaven is yours”.[vi])

The dead will have their day to speak before the throne of God. They won’t be speaking on TV.

I don’t doubt that what the client’s experience as related in these ghost shows is real. What is not real and has no supporting evidence is the assumption that the dead interact with living. There is a sense of sentimentality and humanism in assigning the poltergeist phenomena to the dead. And, a sense of dealing with someone your own ‘size’.

If the dead do not communicate with the living, then what does?

Unclean spirits, the Sons of Deceit, have been around since after God called creation good. They know what we know and they have been around to know about the dead. With that knowledge they can play all kinds of mind games with humans. The show’s correct title should be The Demon Files.

The dead are not poltergeists – lost souls caught between this life and the next. The dead do not produce phenomena. Poltergeists are the things that produce the phenomena witnessed by the clients. Poltergeists are the unclean spirits that have existed all around us since the beginning of mankind. They interact with humans, as witnessed by the clients in the shows mentioned above. The Kingdom of the Occult by Dr. Walter Martin provides incite into these unclean spirits:

Poltergeists (demons masquerading as humans) are usually imaginative in creating their manifestations: they slam doors, walk up steps, throw objects around a room, moan, cry, touch people, and materialize as dark clouds, red eyes, figures, or colorful moving orbs of light. If they succeed in catching someone’s attention, they often speak to the targeted individual audibly or through digital recorders, Ouija boards, or automatic writing, crafting tales of tragedy and woe designed to foster sympathy in the hearts of listeners. In some cases, foul smells or ice-cold temperatures manifest along with other phenomena.[vii]

Amy Allan’s impressions and ‘ghost’ phenomena are not from the dead but from demonic spirits. So, Amy Allen’s (and the ghost hunter’s) attribution of poltergeist phenomena to the dead is not helpful. In fact, it is incredibly harmful to the clients and to the viewers as are Allen’s ‘remedies’ to resolve the paranormal activity, discussed at the end of the show.

As mentioned above, Amy’s recommends that members of the psychic community – shamans and reiki masters and the like – be summoned to clear the house of the dark forces. Per Amy, emancipation comes through gnosis – the gnosis of the psychic. Yet, no one should ever invoke those who are in touch with unclean spirits to clear their house. Why would the satan destroy his own work?

Jesus, after casting out a demon from a man, was accused by some in the crowd that day of doing so with the aid of Beelzbul, the prince of demons.[viii] Jesus made it clear that if this was so, if the satan drives out the satan, then the satan’s kingdom would be split down the middle and come to ruin. “But,” Jesus told them, “if I’m casting out demons because I am in league with God’s spirit – well, then, God’s kingdom has arrived on your doorstep!”[ix]

Jesus knew their thoughts. Those who had accused Jesus of working with the satan wanted to rid the house of Israel of him. In this context, Jesus told a parable about the “strong man” – the satan – and the stronger man – Jesus – coming to plunder his kingdom on earth:

“Look at it like this. Suppose you want to break into a strong man’s house and steal his belongings. How are you going to do it unless you first tie up the strong man? Then you can plunder his house to your heart’s content If you’re not with me you are against me. Unless you’re gathering the flock with me, you’re scattering it.”

Why would Satan destroy his own work especially when he can use psychic mediums, shamans and the those who communicate with the ‘dead’ to increase exposure to his kingdom and scatter the flock? And, why use those involved with unclean spirits to clear the house of …unclean spirits? Jesus, in the same Matthew passage above, warns those listening that cleaning their house (the house of Israel) of unclean things and not filling it with God’s spirit will cause them to be worse off.

“When the unclean spirit goes out of a person,” Jesus continued, “it goes wandering through waterless places looking for somewhere to rest, and doesn’t find anywhere. Then it says, ‘I’ll go back to my house, the one I left.’ When it gets there it finds it standing empty, clean and tidy. Then it goes out and collects seven other spirits to join it, spirits worse than itself. They go in and take up residence there. The poor person ends up worse off they were to start with! And that’s what will happen to this wicked generation.”[x]

Satan’s forces may retreat for a time because of some newly found resistance of the owners but repossession comes if the space it left is not filled with Gods’ spirit. What the satan loses one way he may gain another way if we do not react to the situation in the correct way. All hell may break loose.

From a previous post:

“…these spirits are restless and never sleep. These disembodied spirits are able to dwell in humans and animals. We learn that they cause havoc: “the spirits of the giants afflict, oppress, destroy, attack, do battle, and work destruction on the earth, and cause trouble”. They are the ones Jesus casts out (again and again) as he begins His kingdom on earth.[xi]

The unclean spirits – the Sons of Deceit – play tricks. They can appear as angels of the light, making icons weep and troubling the waters. They seek to scatter the flock. They will do anything to keep one’s eyes off of Jesus, the King of the Universe.

Unclean spirits are the demons in democracy, motivating people into wild excesses and having them demand that others be controlled. They revel in taking what is good and perverting it as in the constant and pervasive noise (so-called music) in so many venues today. Read C.S. Lewis’ classic The Screwtape Letters to get a sense of how the demonic spirits work.

From my reading of The Revelation of John, I see demonic activity increasing just before the Lord returns, just as it did in the years before he was incarnated. Anti-Christ forces will increase as they see their day of reckoning coming on. All of the forces of evil, those dark forces in the spiritual world and those who have embraced evil and want nothing to do with God, will do battle against the Lord.

If you are experiencing poltergeists and demonic activity then do not seek paranormal investigators. Don’t play the demonic spirits game. You will only make matters worse. Instead, get a priest and holy water involved. Surround yourself with prayer. And make sure to get rid of Ouija boards, tarot cards and the like that invite in the darkness. The strong man’s armor can be removed but you will have to put on the armor[xii] of the stronger man and be filled with God’s spirit. The dead can’t help you now.

 

[i] https://www.imdb.com/title/tt2012511/?ref_=ttep_ql

[ii] https://puzzups.com/amy-allan-bio-career-childhood-net-worth-body-measurements-boyfriend-marriage-divorce-children/

[iii] https://www.psychologium.com/7-ways-to-manipulate-someone-to-do-anything-you-want/

[iv] Luke 16: 19-31

[v] Mark 8: 34-38

[vi] Matthew 5:3

[vii] Dr. Walter Martin, The Kingdom of the Occult, Psychic Phenomena, (Thomas Nelson), 244.

[viii] Luke 11: 14-15

[ix] Matthew 25-28

[x] Matthew 12: 43-45

[xi] The Serpent’s Apprentice(s)

[xii] Ephesians 6: 10-18

Insider Knowledge

Maybe you’ve encountered me. I like to be noticed. I am that passing shadow and that clipped voice in a box that spooks the ghost hunters on their TV programs. I’m the cold presence they encounter. What did they expect? I have no molecules to bounce around inside of me to keep me warm. I love absolute zero and the limelight doesn’t affect me as does, you know, the searing light. I dwell in the dark recesses of the universe and come around to revel in the revolting. And, more importantly, to tell people what they want to hear. That is my specialty.

I work with psychics and with those who presume to hear from the dead. And with philosophers. I am the lifeline for their game show. And, what a game it is: humans ante up their souls so they can win esoteric knowledge. What a piece of work is man! Little wonder that Hamlet is one of my favorite plays.

Who could ask for more? Murder, revenge, a ghost, hemming and hawing soliloquys, a disloyal mother, friends with secret motives, suicide, poison, madness, carnage, and a morose and grieving Prince. You know Act One. Prince Hamlet’s friend Horatio, along with two sentries, is visited by a specter that resembles the late King Hamlet. Learning of the visitation from Horatio, Hamlet resolves to see it for himself and make his own judgement. He knows that my Master likes to deceive the grieving with familiar forms. When the ghost appears to Hamlet, he tells Hamlet that he was murdered by his brother Claudius. Hamlet must avenge his death. In the moment, Hamlet agrees to avenge his father. After being sworn to secrecy about all he has witnessed, Horatio says the encounter is unbelievably strange. Hamlet tells Horatio to welcome the strange as he would a stranger. How inclusive!

Then, reminded of his time studying in Wittenberg with Horatio, Hamlet tells Horatio that “There are more things in heaven and earth, my friend, Than are dreamt of in our philosophy”. That’s where I come in. The play ends as it should – bodies everywhere. Let the good times Roll! Left to his own devices, man is a piece of work!

Maybe I shouldn’t tell you this. I communicate to the spiritualists and theorists what I know. It is easy. I’ve been around for a long time. I know things that have happened. I’ve heard what everyone else has heard. Someone dies and I can speak to medium about what I know about him or her. I can play dead. What fun! This knowledge works well with the ghost hunters. I toy with them. Ha-ha-ha! There have been many times when humans think that they have felt spiritual forces. But it is just a bunch of emf. But I’ll take credit for it. I like the attention.

Speaking of attention, I’m the one that pushes and scratches those who live with me. I infest house and lives …and ideologies. Some will sweep me out of their lives for a time but I come back with new tricks and new guises. I can take on many forms, or, I should say, personas. History has recorded my work.

Maybe you know me as “The end is what you want and the means is how you get it” Saul Alinsky or as “Show me the man and I’ll find you the crime” Lavrenty Beria. Maybe you know me as the positive materialist who holds that all things, including consciousness and mental state, are the result of material interactions. I am quite involved in those material interactions. The pursuit of happiness, whether by idealism or material necessity, doesn’t happen without immaterial me.

Now, I don’t need to work with atheists. They are already on the right track. They have their reason and no need for the likes of meta-physical me. The conditions of their everyday existence are proof enough that there is no God. So, they resign themselves to the laws of nature and adapt to them and give way to those laws. They end up lonely and pounding their head against the wall. I don’t have to get physical with them. They do it to themselves.

The atheist cannot prove the beauty of a woman, yet, he will demand proof of the Antagonist’s existence from his minions and that is where I come in. How so, you ask? Alinsky said it best: “Make the enemy live up to their own book of rules.” Seeing the Antagonist’s minions foul up with my help, the atheist becomes all the surer that his or her descent into pure reason is where he will find answers. And, once he or she dons implacable autonomous reason (I’m thinking in Halloween terms) they won’t need to get involved with the gooey and merciful Antagonist. I’ve already been there and done that. Things didn’t work out in my favor. But you Atheists, hang with me and before you can snap your fingers three times, you will put on the Imago de Diabolus, the likeness of my High Master. “Will you win his favor?” you ask.

I may be cold-hearted but my Master, his disposition colder than Absolute Zero, warmly welcomes the proud self-assured atheist.

My Master knows that atheists cannot accept mysteries unless they are solved in a movie or at the end of a book, or solved before their very eyes. My Master knows that they refuse to hold in tension any thought which presents itself outside of cold logic. Because of their wonderful quality of unending skepticism, they revere solipsism, science and reason, and the readily explainable. My Master is their lifeline in this game. He explains everything right when they need it. No waiting. The Antagonist draws things out into mystery and keeps you on hold indefinitely.

Some of my best work is done with humanists and social scientists. I use Progressive ideology along with consensus and sentimentality to persuade them into thinking that humans are perfectible, that one day man will reach the pinnacle of human perfection because of their exalted efforts (and if only they were in charge). Their motto: Fortschritt, Fortschritt über alles! (nb: I am working on the chosen people as I pen this.)

The young and inexperienced are the best targets for, ahem, smoke and mirrors. They dream of happiness, regeneration, of utopia. Like moths to a flame, they gather around the prophets of secular humanism. They did so for Lenin, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot. These heroes of the religion of Revolution offered the utopia of uniformity and universality. They delivered on their promises. Humans were uniformly and universally dealt with, just as I had hoped. Healthcare is my newest moth-gathering flame. Control healthcare and you control people. Another Alinsky saying.

And that is how I work the old – with offers of healthcare. But some of the old are already set in their Antagonistic ways. If they refuse my offers of help then I say ‘He that is not with me is against me’. I walk away and shake the dust off of my Ways and Means Handbook.

The Antagonist has many followers in name only. I call them FINOs. They are fine with a religion without evil. Ha-ha-ha! They even believe in universal salvation! I love it! These FINOs love the amorphous and homogeneity above all else. They are not much different than the Progressive humanists and social scientists. And though they congregate differently from them, the FINOs also believe that there are no limits to human perfectibility. Therefore, they do not oppose the forms of culture I offer.

Kudos to the humanists, the social scientists, the FINOs and the central planners who work to fulfill the mission statement of My Master: reduce humanity to a state of uniformity and universality – the brotherhood of man and all that. And that is why I sow seeds of discontent. I stir up the pot, so to speak. How better to create a unity of the disgruntled than to divide humans into “me, good and you, bad” groups. Again, Alinsky best described my ways with the unwilling and obstinate: Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it. And of course, I get them to see that difference means hierarchy and all hierarchy is oppression, especially the hierarchy of that realm of hideous and cruel light.

Lawlessness is the only proper response to hierarchy. So, I want you to banish all law-enforcement, judges, priest and pastors, et al. from existence and to unleash the gates of …prisons. You shall know me and my ways and you shall be free.

Of course, I cannot recommend the Antagonist to you. As the Master’s muse I can only sing the Master’s praises. But I do commend the fact that humans have wills and make choices. This makes my job doable. For with the right choices, one can reach the perfection I have planned for them.

Caveat. I don’t deal in consequences. I don’t have to. Humans let the chips fall where they may. They are inclined to do what they feel and to not pay attention to consequences. I am good with that. In any case, they will end up blaming others or society or the Antagonist for their problems. Ha-ha-ha! What fun!

I’m in my element when I create dilemmas – no escape dilemmas. The only solution being to beat one’s head against the wall or the revolver. Either solution will have you blaming the Antagonist and asking “Why am I here?” I’ll tell you why once you stop beating your head against the wall.

You are here to know the power to control others that is available to you. And, I am not just talking witchcraft and magic arts. You’d be interested to know that I am also talking social-economic-political power. And if you are hungry, I will offer you socialism and the brotherhood of man to feed you. If you fall down and break something, I will offer you universal healthcare. It pleases my Master to give you good things and …to remove the confusing things from your sight.

As a non-binary values adjuster, I alter signs and symbols and any of the inherited forms and distinctions associated with the Antagonist. I offer a new sacred ordering of things. One recent example.

Just last week a transgender cyclist won a woman’s cycling championship. And this was not the first time. Ha! The other women in the race whined of unfairness, saying that science was on their side and that men have a physical advantage over women. But science and reason have nothing to do with it. The ends, a new sacred order of things, justify the means – out-cycling your opponents. And what right do they have in reproaching the champion? None! The champion was right to call them out: “You have an irrational fear of trans women.” Ontology trumps anatomy!

“Deal in lies?” you ask. Of course, one should deal in lies. With lies you don’t cross a line. You move the line that someone else put there. With a lie you create a safe space for yourself. Very utilitarian. You can now do this online.

Social media is a Master-send. So, I try to claim every square inch of screen I can. For one thing, I get women to expose themselves on social-media. And why not. Social mores are oppressive, created by dead white men. And by now you know that self-image is a very important part of being on social media. It is also in my line of work. When you are not showing pictures of the food you are eating or pictures of your bikini-self, you will want to portray your ever-day respectable self as you call out others for their evil ways. Be prepared, though. Some on social-media will want to tear down your self-image. Be in their face to protect your self-image. Demand affirmation of yourself against all hearsay.

Enough about you. It is Halloween. I have to diddle some Ouija Boards and knock on some wood at seances. You know. The usual tricks and treats. “Give the people what they want” my Master says. So, I’m off. I must pick up my costume. Nothing ghoulishness. I will be going door-to-door as an aborted fetus.

 

 

 

 

© Jennifer A. Johnson, 2019, All Rights Reserved

Iran: Sheep Among Wolves

 

“I will magnify Myself, sanctify Myself, and make Myself known in the sight of many nations; and they will know that I am the LORD.”‘ Ezekiel 38:23

 

“The Iranian awakening is a rapidly reproducing a discipleship movement that has grown into the largest church in the world. It owns no property, no buildings, no central leadership, and is predominantly led by women. Hear their stories.” – Dalton Thomas, director of the film.
FAIstudios Announces New Film “Sheep Among Wolves Vol. II”

 

A leader of the Iranian underground church explains their goal is not planting churches but rather making disciples, the majority of whom are women…

“Disciples forsake the world and cling to Jesus ’till he comes. Converts don’t,” the leader said. “Disciples aren’t engaged in a culture war. Converts are. Disciples cherish, obey, and share the word of God. Converts don’t. Disciples choose Jesus over anything and everything else. Converts don’t. Converts run when the fire comes. Disciples don’t.”
Iran has world’s ‘fastest-growing church,’ despite no buildings – and it’s mostly led by women: documentary

 

Hate is In the Air

 

Breath it in. Fill your lungs with a blast of bile, the astringent air of acrimony. The air is electric, charged with rage and resentment all around you. Are you feeling the compulsion to hate “by any means necessary”? If so, there are essentials to perfect your hatred.

 

First things first. Internalize everything. This step is important in order to consolidate your truth. Of what use are other’s thoughts and feelings if they don’t affirm you? Love is that which affirms you. Hate is to be directed at those who don’t love you as you require.

See handed-down truth as demoralizing and not affirming. Reject such truth for your facts. Your truth is all that matters anyway. Then, you will see everything as out of order with regard to yourself. This will allow you to feel righteous and justified in hating the past and presenting your narrative. History is just a record of power in the wrong hands.

Then, in no particular order…

Never be content. Why should you be content when you can have it all? You were born to crave. Would any god deny you anything you deem good? Pursue the rainbow’s end. See others as keeping you from that end. Life is a zero-sum game. You must grab all you can. Find your satisfaction in tearing down what others have built. How can anyone justify what they have when you are lacking?

Begin to dehumanize those you feel responsible for your misery. They must be unhuman to not affirm your values. Make them into objects of your disfavor. Other them. Hold them in contempt. And be sure to judge them based on your values. They are judging you right now.

Exclude others who do not share your values and tune into others who do. Seek out your tribe’s mouthpieces and emotional surrogates, those who can elicit hatred more vocally. They will authenticate your hatred.  Listen to news programs. Listen to the commentators to get your cues: “Nazi!” “Hitler!” “Racist!” “Facist!” Name calling is an effective means to denigrate those you hate.

Choose politicians who market materialism as “social justice”. Soulishness, found in tales and myths, is for fools. If you can’t touch and hold the object of your desires of what use is that to you? The same politicians must advocate for diversity and inclusion. Both diversity and inclusion determine who’s in and who’s out. Then you will know who your enemies are.

Make sure to talk about others without their knowledge. The purpose of gossip is to convey your disapproval of others and to set yourself apart from them. If someone betrays your values with their words, then return the reproach. Is that not justice?

To feed your contempt and to vicariously ‘deal with’ your enemies watch movies that contain revenge justice. Watch The Hunt. Use your imagination and see your enemy ham-strung, taken down and taken out. The El Paso and Dayton shootings reveal the full realization of hatred.

Use social media to exercise your hatred. What better vehicle to vent the air of acrimony? One should not hold that air in for long. Rather, breathe it out. Use your pride as a self-defense mechanism. Knock your opponent down to size with name-calling. Their pride is keeping them from accepting your values. 4chan is a good place to chat about what you hate.

Reject consequences of your actions as unfair. The law and its personifications, law enforcement and the judges, make victims. Throw your bath water on them.

Whatever you do, do not sit around in silence. Fill the air around you with the voices and music that will sustain hatred. The Enemy of your hatred is not silent. And His words are weaponized and sharper than any double-edged sword. Defend yourself against violence done to your truth with a sound barrier.

Use your fears to leverage your hate. You fear because you do not have. Others have what you want. Hatred works to bring about equality and fairness by calling out others about their unfairness.

Be warned. There are those who walk the boundary of heaven and earth. They seek to mitigate hatred with their version of love. Resist them. Harden your heart against them. For they do not know you. Show your true face to them – the face of the god within.

You have heard it said “love your enemies and do good to those who despise you”. I say to you, know your enemies and let them know what you hate about them. Stiffen your will against all competing interests that are against you. Loving your enemies is weakness. Hatred is the power to control and compensate for any weakness on your part. And, of what use to you are those who do not share your values? There is no room in the same world for you and them. Give them no quarter.

Finally, never forgive. If a person wants reconciliation then make them grovel and accept your judgment of them. Tell them “I do what I do because of you”. If they do not respond adequately then revenge is the only option. The offender must feel the weight of the offense taken. Forgiveness is weakness and meant for those who suffer from a God-like complex. Pity is what you deserve from them for having to hate them.

If you can fill your unforgiving minutes
With sixty plus year’s worth of hate,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be self-actualized, my child!

 

–Shadowbrute

Words That Never Pass Away Except in Some Forums

 

Imagine a chemist or an engineer or doctor thinking that what came before in his field, the accumulated wealth of knowledge and of best practices, is no longer of value and foundational for what he does now…

 

One major modern-day theological misconception comes from assuming that the Pharisees, one Jewish sect of many in Jesus’ day, represented the opposite of Jesus’s teachings.  Assumptive preaching, directly or indirectly, seeks to make a contrast between the Law keepers and Jesus. The Law, presented as antiquated, and the Jews, presented as Law fixated, are projected in a negative light. Jesus and his followers, presented in humanistic fashion, in a positive light. In so doing, the Pharisees and the Law have become stereotyped in the minds of many and with it, Jesus has become stereotyped. With mischaracterization comes misapplication of the gospel.

What is juxtaposed in the gospel are the encounters Jesus has with those of his day and the prevailing opinions about the Law and about the Messiah. Jesus speaks to Pharisees, scribes, religious leaders, prostitutes, tax collectors, Samaritans, fishermen, the blind, the lame, the sick, the rich, the poor and to political power – Pontius Pilate – and to a massive crowd. These occurrences reveal Jesus’ dealing with misunderstandings of the Torah. Jesus’ countering their perceptions of the Law caught many off guard and troubled the righteous who lived by the Law. To ward off their concerns and not willing to destroy one iota of the Law, Jesus says to the Sermon on the Mount crowd “Don’t suppose that I came to destroy the law or the prophets. I didn’t come to destroy them; I came to fulfill them!” Not one iota of the Torah will pass away until all is fulfilled with the New Creation (Matt. 24:35).

With his Sermon on the Mount Jesus offered the big picture truth – the Law of Love should be the arbiter of our intents and actions as the fulfillment of the Law. This is God’s intentions for his created beings (Matt. 7:12). The Law basically said “Don’t do this and if you do…” Jesus, in the his sermon, explains his interpretation of the Torah to the Jewish crowd (Matt: 5:17-20). He counters each of their “You heard it said…” understandings by telling them to look at the Torah his way. He summarizes the Torah and the Jewish understanding of the righteous being admitted into the New Creation with “Well, then: you must be perfect, just as your heavenly father is perfect.” (Matt. 5:48)

One important consideration to keep in mind with regard to framing a picture of the law is that the gospel writers did not intend to paint an across-the-board history of the time of Jesus. This context was provided by the intertestamental scribes. The Jewish community and the gospel writers knew their writings. The gospel writers stated purpose (John 20:31) was to write an account of the One they called the Messiah. This is the focus of the gospels, not “Law bad, Jesus good”. None of their accounts diminish or denigrate the Law or the Law keepers. Their accounts tell us of Jesus’ juxtaposed encounters and ways of thinking about the Law and life in a Jewish contemporary context. Matthew’s gospel account in particular addresses issues of concern for second temple Jews including matters of the Torah and righteousness which is mentioned over and over again in his account.

Another basis for the assumption that the Law had been negated and done away with is the fact that Christians are not obligated to follow the Law. For one thing, animal sacrifices were no longer required. Jesus – the Lamb of God – sacrificed himself for us. The righteous were to do the same. The assumption that the law, with its instructions and blessings and curses was done away with is a misunderstanding of the sending of the spirit at Pentecost upon those who believed in Jesus as Messiah. In fact, Pentecost confirms the words of the Law and the prophets: “the “word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it.” (Deut. 30:14)

And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh ,… Ezekiel 11:19

 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. Ezekiel 36:26

For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Jeremiah 31;33

There are some who draw many parallels between the giving of the Torah and the giving of the spirit at Pentecost: The Many Parallels of Sinai and Pentecost. Others line up the dates: The Giving of The Ten Commandments was on Pentecost.

The Torah, the instructions, never went away. In fact, it is right in front of you. Here’s Moses telling the children of Israel this very thing:

For this commandment which I command you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach. “It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ “Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross the sea for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ “But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it. Deut. 30: 11-14 (emphasis mine)

The English word “law” is a translation of the Greek word nomos. And, nomos is a translation of the Hebrew word “Torah”. Deuteronomy, as quoted from above, is a restating of the nomos – the law, the Torah. And, as stated above, one cannot presume that a Moses needs to be dragged off mountain top to restate the law. The law is a by-your-side tutor. So, one is without excuse regarding the knowledge of God and his Torah (restated by Paul in Romans1:18-32).

The Torah is teaching, instruction, and “best practices” to point the Jews the way to walk, to learn to be holy as God is holy. The Torah contains blessings for those who obey the Torah and curses for the those who choose not to obey. The Torah life is not a life of bondage. Rather, it is a life with boundaries. (Boundaries are conflated with bondage these days). The Torah for the Jews and especially for the Qumran community was not a religion but a way of life.

The wisdom literature of the Scripture speaks about observing the law – the Torah – to become wise. This includes home schooling one’s children in the Torah.

Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching (torah). Prov. 1:8

The Apostle Paul, the chosen emissary of Jesus to the Gentiles, would speak also speak to the Messianic Jews regarding how to understand Jesus in relation to the Torah, especially in light of the fact that Paul did not require the Gentiles to follow the Torah. Many today assume that meant Paul disposed of the law for Christians. The trained as a Pharisee and law observant Paul taught a different approach to the Torah in accordance with the resurrection of Jesus and his kingdom on earth (Gal. 3: 19-20). The thinking that the law was made irrelevant by Jesus was countered early on by Paul as he taught that the Messiah delivered on his covenant faithfulness:

The Messiah, you see, is the goal of the law, so that covenant membership may be available for all who believe. Rom. 10:4

Like Jesus, Paul didn’t dismiss the law. And, like Jesus Paul made it known that obeying specific laws was secondary to one’s intent and love for the One who redeemed them to walk in love. Perspective, God’s perspective is what mattered most and not man’s attempt to practice the Law.

Circumcision is nothing; uncircumcision Is nothing: what matters is keeping God’s laws. 1 Cor. 7: 19

This perspective, as taught by Jesus (“Except your righteousness exceed that of…”) and later by Paul to the Jews who wanted to be declared “righteous” to be accepted in the age to come, also made clear that the law brought God’s people only so far.

We are Jews by birth, not Gentile “sinners.” But we know that a person is not declared “righteous” by works of the Jewish law, but through the faithfulness of Jesus the Messiah.

That is why we too believed in the Messiah, Jesus: so that we might be declared “righteous” on the basis of the Messiah’s faithfulness, and not on the basis of works of the Jewish law. On that basis, you see, no creature will be declared “righteous.” Gal. 2: 15-16

It would be hard to imagine a chemist or an engineer or doctor thinking that what came before in his field, what works and what doesn’t work, is no longer of value and foundational and to declare a new way. But, it is easy for social engineers to discard what came before, including the law, to invoke a societal tolerance of all manner of license against perceived authoritarianism.

The gospel as dispensed today in many churches leaves out the historical context of the Law (and of Jesus) and coaxes out stereotypes. The Jews of Jesus’ day are presented as under the heavy yoke of the Law and obsessive about rules and regulations and keeping the law. Jesus is presented as chastising them for bothering with the law and not being more human. Some preaching will go so far as to say that the law was a failed attempt by God to make his people righteous and that Jesus came to discard it and to try a new way.

Jesus is presented as setting people free from the Law and therefore accountability so that they can be their own person. And, erroneously, the Jews are presented as caring about the Law and Jesus caring about people. I have seen Jesus presented as enlightened man of peace and love. Often on social media I have seen Jesus hailed as a Progressive along with Che Guevara and other radicals. Others on social media have stated that Jesus is OK with homosexuality based on the thinking that God made them that way and the law Do not practice homosexuality, having sex with another man as with a woman. It is a detestable sin. is pre-Jesus and therefore invalid (Jesus as social-justice warrior).

Others, including a well-known Jesuit priest on social media, have implied that the Law is authoritarian and “conservative values” and therefore must be vilified as uncaring and Jesus as humanistic “Progressive values” to be embraced. These pagans worship their gods and follow their laws even sacrificing children to them in the name of Jesus the Progressive.

The effects of suppressing the truth about the Law is seen in our culture and individually, as accountability is thrown out the door with the law. Lawlessness abounds, anarchy follows and in-your-face mocking of the righteous. “Law bad, Jesus good”.

Moses and the Ten Commandments – Gustave Doré

Imagine listening to a singer’s performance and the singer and musicians didn’t care about tonality, meter and pitch. Imagine that they didn’t care about what came before musically and what worked to harmonize their performance. The sounds they make are jarring to the ears but you listen because it is promoted as avant-garde, unheard of and en vogue. You leave the performance feeling unsettled because the music didn’t resolve – there were no tonic chords only an establishment mocking dissonance. The ‘music’ was unconstrained and lacked direction and meaning. Yet, you feel proud of yourself that you were involved in something unconventional and iconoclastic. Later, at dinner with your companions, you rave about the performance. You want to come off sounding, liberal, broad-minded and, …Progressive, and not like so many others who are so conventional and lacking your insight. There is preaching today just like that today. “They declare themselves wise, but in fact became foolish.” (Rom. 1: 22)

Finally, there are three Psalms in which the Lord’s instruction is central to understanding life before God: Psalm 1, Psalm 19 and Psalm 119. The writers show a strong desire to know God and His ways. The Psalmists want God’s instruction more than life itself. We would do well to do likewise, since man does not live by bread alone.

 

~~~~~~

There is so much more that could be said about Jesus and the law, so I commend the following:

Required reading: the chapter Did Jesus Abolish the Law of Moses?  Mind the Gap: How the Jewish Writings Between the Old and New Testament Help Us Understand Jesus by Matthias Henze

 

Rejection and Revenge, A Breath Apart

The Murder of Abel – Gustave Dore

There is a well-known account in Scripture (Gen. 4) that on its face seems simple and straightforward. Yet, the Hebrew writer presents a scenario with enormous ramifications. We must dig deep to understand its meaning for us.

Now Adam had sexual relations with his wife, Eve, and she became pregnant. When she gave birth to Cain, she said, “I have acquired a man with God’s help!”  Later she gave birth to his brother and named him Abel.

When they grew up, Abel became a shepherd, while Cain cultivated the ground.  When it was time for the harvest, Cain presented some of his crops as a gift to the Lord. Abel also brought a gift—the best portions of the firstborn lambs from his flock. The Lord accepted Abel and his gift, but he did not accept Cain and his gift. This made Cain very angry, and he looked dejected.

 “Why are you so angry?” the Lord asked Cain. “Why do you look so dejected?  You will be accepted if you do what is right. But if you refuse to do what is right, then watch out! Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master.”

Early in Hebrew Scripture we learn of pairs and contrast: light and dark, human and animals, Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel. The pairings and contrast are meant to be instructive, as are the names of Cain and Abel.

Although Cain’s name has the primary meaning of “acquire,” the word that his name comes from (קָנָה kanah) also means “to erect, to found,” and “to create.” In Genesis 14:19 we see various translations describe God as either the “Possessor of heaven and earth” (King James Bible, New American Standard Bible, Webster‘s Bible Translation), or “Creator of heaven and earth (New Living Translation, New International Version). Both words “Possessor” and “Creator” are translations of the same word קֹנֵה konay, a cognate of Cain’s name Kayin. What’s In A Name: A Secret About Cain and Abel

In the context of contrasting the brothers Cain and Abel, “Cain!”, an exclamation from mom and the name for her son, connotes “Possessor” and “Creator”. It’s possible that Eve’s new found God-likeness had gone to her head, perhaps claiming co-creation with God. The name signals Eve’s bending in toward self-divination and for her son to project himself in the same way – as self-sufficient creator and possessor of all before him – in contrast to the “Creator and Possessor of heaven and earth”. The pairing of the two names – Cain and Abel – tends toward this interpretation.

Abel as noun הבל (hebel) means vapor, breath, or something very close to nothing. Abel could have been nicknamed Whiff.

I wonder. Did Eve feel exhausted and out of breath chasing after little Cain? Naming her second son Abel implies a here-one-minute-gone-the-next tracking of a little life. Abel’s name is further contexed in Ecclesiastes: Everything is breath (not “vanity”, a current mistranslation). And, in Ps. 39:5, 144:4; Prov. 31:30.

We get the impression from their names that Cain is a rooted of-the-earth man and that Abel is a reed in the winds of heaven. Their vocations tell us more about them..

We learn from the narrative that both brothers are fulfilling the human vocation given earlier in Genesis: dominion and care of animals and the land. They are doing so successfully under God’s blessing and in communion with God. At the end of the year, harvest time, the brothers bring an offering to God. Cain brought only some of the fruits of the soil. Abel brought the fat portions from the firstborn of his flock.

God makes a distinction between the two offerings. God looks with favor on Abel’s offering – the best of what he has. And, God rejects Cain’s token offering. The prophet Malachi gives us some understanding as to what offering the “Possessor of heaven and earth” – the Landowner – desires:

“When you bring injured, lame or diseased animals and offer them as sacrifices, should I accept them from your hands?” says the Lord. “Cursed is the cheat who has an acceptable male in his flock and vows to give it, but then sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord. For I am a great king,” says the Lord Almighty, “and my name is to be feared among the nations.

-Malachi 1:13-14

God’s response does not go over well with Cain. Farmer Cain, “Possessor” and “Creator” of his own domain, grows an attitude. God notices and issues a warning.

 “Why are you so angry?” the Lord asked Cain. “Why do you look so dejected?  You will be accepted if you do what is right. But if you refuse to do what is right, then watch out! Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master.”

God gives Cain a choice. He could repent and do right. Then his fallen countenance would be lifted up. He would know joy. Or, if he refuses to what is right sin will have dominion over him. His fallen countenance will remain. Sin’s chaos will rule his life and the lives of his descendants. We learn that Cain, his own man, chooses pathway number two which takes him away from home and out of God’s sight (does he think this?):

Cain said to Abel his brother, “Let us go out to the field.” And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him. -Gen. 4:8

The advent of civilization (Gen. 4:17-26) is stained by a wrong choice, one made out of anger and of a desire for revenge. The horrific ramifications of the wrong choice are the pollution of the land, blood guilt and curses (as opposed to God’s blessing). The Land Owner had warned the tenant and now asks Cain the same question posed to Adam (Gen. 3: 9):

 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” And the Lord said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you till the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength; you shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.” Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is greater than I can bear. Behold, thou hast driven me this day away from the ground; and from thy face I shall be hidden; and I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will slay me.” Then the Lord said to him, “Not so! If anyone slays Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” And the Lord put a mark on Cain, lest any who came upon him should kill him. Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord, and dwelt in the land of Nod, east of Eden. -Gen. 4:9-16

 Cain lies and evades responsibility for his actions. The sin in his heart is growing rapidly. It is taking dominion over him, the self-made dominionist. Cain’s domain, his farm land, is now working against him and Cain has become more cursed than the land. The once solid self-defined man is to become a wanderer through life– fleeting, ephemeral, mortal, transient, without strength, a passing wind, …a breath.

Cain, beginning to feel the weight of his actions, balks at his punishment. But murder is no small thing. Murder brings about a greater punishment, as we learn in Numbers 35:33:

Do not pollute the land where you are. Bloodshed pollutes the land, and atonement cannot be made for the land on which blood has been shed, except by the blood of the one who shed it.

But in the Cain and Abel account God does not take a life for a life. Rather, as an act of mercy, God exiles Cain from his home, from others and from the land, his source of strength. Cain is removed from out of the context of God’s blessing. Exiled, Cain still has a chance to repent and return to the Land Owner.

As Cain finds out, man’s sin affects the land that we are to have dominion over. Hosea wrote about it (Hos. 4: 2-3):

There is only cursing, lying and murder,
stealing and adultery;
they break all bounds,
and bloodshed follows bloodshed.
Because of this the land dries up,
and all who live in it waste away;
the beasts of the field, the birds in the sky
and the fish in the sea are swept away

 

 This early account in Scripture is a study of contrasts. It reveals two ways of being and two distinct personalities. There are the Abels who acknowledge the transient and dependent nature of their being, as in the words of the Psalmist (39:5)

You have made my days a mere handbreadth;
    the span of my years is as nothing before you.
Everyone is but a breath,
    even those who seem secure.

And, there are the Cains who deem themselves god-like Creators and Possessors and thereby mocking the One True Creator and Possessor, as described in Prov. 21:24:

The proud and arrogant person— “Mocker” is his name—
    behaves with insolent fury.

There is an offering of the best portion and there is an offering of a token. Clearly from this account and from many more, our offerings reveal what we think about God. Do we view God as Creator and Possessor? Do we view God as the Land Owner under Whom we work as faithful stewards and return the best of our stewardship? Or, do we see God as an obligation that needs to be dealt with on our terms?  (See the Parable of the Ten Talents, Matt. 25: 14-30) (See also the account of Ananias’ and Sapphira’s token offering in Acts chapter 5. It doesn’t end well!)

The Cain and Abel account reveals that there is God’s view of things and man’s. God’s warning to Cain makes His view clear beyond a doubt. And though a victim is entitled to revenge in the Old testament God does not take revenge. Rather, God lets Cain live with the consequences of his actions. “You want to live outside my blessing – Go for it!”

 This account reveals that Biblical ethics are not the same as Biblical Law. God does not take a life for a life. God does not seek monetary compensation (2 Sam. 21). The Law should be read in a larger context. Jesus tried to get the Scribes and Pharisees to understand the bigger context, the Big Picture, of His work of Redemption.

One final contrast. Abel – “breath” or “breeze” – dies in accordance with the transient nature of human existence. Cain, who saw himself as the rooted “Creator” and “Possessor” is to wander the earth like a breeze. As a fugitive he has to keep moving. He’s not tied to the land (a symbol of his strength) as he once was. What Cain had refused to accept of God and of his brother Whiff he now has to accept as his existence “east of Eden”.

Revenge and Rumors of Revenge

 

The croaking raven doth bellow for revenge.

Hamlet (3.2.250)

 

The Murder of Abel – Gustave Dore

How would you respond if a group of people became jealous of your influence and they decided to do away with you?

Revenge, retaliation, reprisal and retribution. These are four words with the same connotation: returning an offense taken in back onto the offender; payback.

Escalation, increase, intensification and mushroomed. These four words connote the same thing. Their meaning is made obvious as the media uses them to describe the burgeoning effects of revenge, retaliation, reprisal and retribution. Those effects include estrangement, conflict, lack of closure, segregation, armed conflict, crisis, strife, tension, turmoil, wars and rumors of wars, and exclusion.

Settling scores sets in motion a chain reaction of settling scores. On a personal level, a husband and wife may engage in tit-for-tat sniping and then become increasingly retaliatory and then, later, lawyer-up for a contentious divorce. The effect on them and their children is one or more of the effects mentioned above.

On a global level, a nation may resist détente and instead stir up animus with hawkish rhetoric. Such a nation wants to settle accounts on their terms. So, they prepare nuclear armament for retaliatory strikes. And again, whether as an ongoing hawkish stance or a strike, the effect would be one or more of the effects mentioned above for that nation and its relations with other nations. Settling scores, whether on a personal or national level, becomes an open-ended endless battle of wills and powers. This is also true on the societal level.

A guru of the sixties, French postmodernist philosopher Michel Foucault believed that power is the most important aspect of any societal relationship. In his way of thinking, first comes power, then comes truth. Power produces truth. Institutions such as the legal system, the family, the parent, the teacher, the church, and those that hold the traditions handed down hold sway over others. Such regimes of power were to considered to produce their own realms of truth. And all such power domains were deemed by Foucault to be exclusive, repressive, censorious, concealing, and oppressive. Foucault’s ‘unmasking’ of power and its trappings would involve rebellion and retaliation against them. This, he posited, would be the path to liberation for society. This is the path of the Progressive Element who demand institutions change and they remain unchanged. Philosopher Roger Scruton saw what was happening:

The intellectuals of 1968 hunted through the social world for marks of power, in order to declare their rebellion against it. Every gathering, every institution, every fragment of the old civilization wore for them the badge of enmity. [I]

This Post-modern thinking – power produces truth and power is everywhere and in the wrong hands – produces a context for revenge, retaliation, reprisal and retribution against long-standing institutions and traditions in the name of social justice. Again, Roger Scruton:

“People inoculated by the culture of repudiation, reluctant to acknowledge the search for meaning as a human universal, tend to think that all conflicts are really political, concerning who has power over whom”[ii]

Add nihilism, moral relativism, and ad hoc justice into the inoculation and things turn viral. The culture, as one can witness, is obsessed with anger, hatred and vindictiveness. Theologian Miroslav Volf, in his book Exclusion and Embrace, describes one reason for the spiral of vengeance as “the predicament of partiality” – the inability of the parties locked in conflict to agree on the moral significance of their actions. Put another way, “For me to err is human, to forgive you is weakness”.

While the news media daily presents us with unresolved conflicts and their escalation, the entertainment media offer us conflicts resolved with revenge justice. Its offerings are almost countless, so I’ll name just four current dramas.

John Wick is described as an “Old Testament revenge story”. Wick is a former hitman who returns to the criminal underworld when a Russian gangster steals his car and kills his dog. He searches for those for who did this and for those who act against him. He wants retribution. Revenge is a bloody mess.

In the black comedy Cold Pursuit the main character Nels Coxman, played by Liam Neesom, is a vengeful snowplow driver who starts killing the members of a drug cartel following the murder of his son. Revenge leaves no street unplowed.

Death Wish is described as a vigilante action thriller. Bruce Willis plays the main character, “a Chicago doctor who sets out to get revenge on the men who attacked his family”. Revenge goes pathological.

Unforgiven. Clint Eastwood stars as William Munny, “a notorious outlaw and murderer, but he is now a repentant widower raising two children”. He takes on a revenge job offering reward money to support his family. In the process his partner Ned is tortured and killed by Little Bill, the local sheriff. “Munny heads back to Big Whiskey to take revenge on Little Bill. Revenge downs Big Whiskey.

(Men are particularly drawn into these action revenge dramas. Women are drawn into the relational revenge drama offered on the likes of Bravo.)

Because of the innate human desire for justice, revenge has been plotted (and popularized) in movies, books and plays. Vengeance was a frequent theme of Tudor drama, as dramatized in the work of Shakespeare. The main character has been wronged or has incurred a significant loss and so self-justified revenge becomes the plot to mete out justice. But, beyond invoking a motivation for justice, the story line taps into fallen man’s impetus for vengeance. The story line allows the reader, the viewer and the play goer to vicariously take revenge. (I woke the other day with the MyPillow jingle in my head. I had heard the commercial in the background the night before. I wonder if watching revenge justice in any of the above movies lays in one’s subconscious mind waiting to be acted on.) Pay back is portrayed as the means to a just and redemptive end. But is the end just and redemptive? Credits will role after a revenge justice movie and your hunger for justice may be temporarily sated, but real-life revenge does end that way.

By many accounts, revenge is the ongoing de facto way to deal with social matters. Political wars, tribal wars, cultural wars, local and national conflicts, Jihad, personal vindictiveness, suits and counter suits, hatred, greed, and the dogfights for power over others contain elements of revenge and rumors of revenge. The revenge process is a vicious circle, as theologian Volf writes in Exclusion and Embrace:

Instead of wanting to forgive, we instinctively seek revenge. An evil deed will not be owed for long; it demands repayment in kind. The trouble with revenge, however, is that it enslaves us. As Hannah Arendt pointed out in The Human Condition, vengeance

acts in the form of reacting against an original trespassing, whereby far from putting an end to the consequences of the first misdeed, everybody remains bound to the process, permitting the chain reaction contained in every action to takes its unhindered course; …[vengeance] encloses both doer and sufferer in the relentless automatism of the action process, which by itself need never come to an end. (Arendt, 1959, 216)[iii]

What shall separate us from loving God and others? Revenge. What shall be the way out of the death spiral of revenge? Again, a quote from Exclusion and Embrace:

“…our actions are irreversible. The only way out of the predicament of irreversibility, Arendt insisted, is through forgiveness …A genuinely free act of which ‘does not merely react”, forgiveness breaks the power of the remembered past and transcends the claims of the affirmed justice and so makes the spiral of vengeance grind to a halt. This is the social import of forgiveness.[iv]

 

We both know that even when we forgive and don’t return evil for evil, the other may seek to continue the cycle of revenge. But, when we disengage from the revenge process and only return good towards the other “you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you” (Prov. 25.22, Rom. 12:20). With forgiveness and acts of love we frustrate the other’s attempt to continue in the spiral of revenge. The onus to continue is put on the other’s head. The other may shake off our response and continue to seek revenge (becoming more of a hothead?) or the other may look to get out from under the burning coals and go their way.

To be sure, forgiveness is not a denial of the injustice incurred. Rather, it is placing the injustice in the proper perspective, as Joseph did so long ago: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Gen. 50:20). Joseph forgave his brothers, embraced them and showed them kindness.

How would you respond if a group of people became jealous of your influence and they decided to do away with you?

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

               [i] An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Modern Culture, Roger Scruton, page 130.

               [ii] Forgiveness and Irony, Roger Scruton

               [iii] Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation,   Miroslav Volf, page 120-121

               [iv] Ibid. 121.