John’s Preamble

preambleI’ve decided to dub the first eighteen verses of the Gospel of John the Preamble of John.  They stir up for me a time during grammar school when I had to memorize the Preamble of the Constitution.  I can still remember it, a brief prologue outlining the purpose of the document, each phrase incredibly important and profound.  The Preamble of John is very much like that.

Go ahead and call me complacent.  I have not committed to memory the Preamble of John because it’s just too long.  Meryl Streep I am not.  However, like the introduction to the United States Constitution, these verses lay the groundwork for nearly everything that comes after it.  John the theologian basically gives us what we now know as basic Christian doctrine.

He says:

  • Jesus is God the Creator.
  • Jesus is Light/Life
  • John the Baptist was not the light (God), he reflected the light. He (man) was a witness to the light.
  • The world Jesus created did not recognize him as God.
  • Those who believe Jesus is God have the right to become children of God and receive God’s grace (forgiveness even when it is not deserved).
  • God/Jesus is a Father/Son relationship.

Okay, I think that covers John’s preamble.  What’s the most fundamental question here? The lecturer asked us, “Do you believe in God as creator?”  Leaving the word God out of the question would be considered a sacrilege by my classmates, but I’d like to rephrase it anyway and ask,

“Do you believe creation has a source?”

Let me start by addressing a very big obstacle for people when these kinds of questions come up.  There are many who have trouble with the masculine persona given to God in the Bible and I was one of them.  God (the Word, the Lord, the Almighty, the Creator, the Source, Allah, Jehovah, Collective Consciousness, Life Force Energy, etc. etc. etc.),  is believed by them to be genderless.

Masculine pronouns in the Bible were my pet peeve for a long time.  There are so many other names available to use.  I was, however, able to resolve this inner conflict after incorporating something about the energetic anatomy I learned years ago in a Reiki class.

Jesus addressed God as Father during his sermon on the mount and when he shared The Lord’s Prayer with his followers (here’s a link to my favorite book about The Lord’s Prayer). The population of people Jesus preached to had no frame of reference or vocabulary for the concepts he needed to convey.

Using the word Father to explain who (what) ruled the Kingdom of God was brilliant for two reasons.  First, it was a way to explain God’s love for humanity and Jesus’ love for God.  The loving connection between a father and a son was something his followers could understand.  There was more to it though. Giving God a masculine name validates for me that Jesus was accurately drawing from universal energy principles.

Energy is often expressed as on/off, high/low, positive/negative, light/dark, yin/yang, sun/moon, heaven/earth, right/left, and male/female.  These expressions are used to explain the same concepts within different cultural frameworks.  Energy flows both in to and out of the human body; it is how we receive and send non verbal information. The body sends information from the right side of the body (masculine energy) and receives information on the left (feminine energy).

To address God as Father in The Lord’s Prayer validates Jesus’ understanding that we are asking God to send information from his kingdom (heaven, male energy) to humanity (earth, female energy) so that we can receive it.  The Lord’s Prayer is a list of things we are asking God to give us: faith, an ability to surrender to the will of God, a desire to serve others, abundance, an ability to forgive, an ability to overcome our daily obstacles (sin), love.

Do I believe creation has a source?

Humans are extremely creative.  With the exception of weather, I think it’s a fair statement to say that everything bad in the world is created by troubled people.  What drives them to make bad choices, stress themselves out, wreck havoc with others?

The flip side is that humans have the capacity for magnificent creations of beauty: loving relationships, music, art, literature.  What inspires this creativity?  Where does it come from?

Do I believe in God as creator?  Yes.

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New Class-New Day-New People

newdayI’ve started a new class on a new day with a whole lot of new people.  Who Is That Woman In Bible Study? is the post that kicked it all off two years ago.  Delving into the Pentateuch (first five books of the Bible) with six hundred southern women was quite a paradigm shift.  I then signed up for a second round and learned about the good book’s conclusion, Revelation.  There’s much in between the beginning and the end, so what the hell, I’m doing it again.

This time I’ve decided to change things up and take the class at a different location.  I joined nearly nine hundred women last Thursday morning, ranging in age from nineteen to ninety-six, to study the Gospel of John.  There’s a different vibe in this environment.  Maybe it’s the energy generated by the large crowd or the fact that we are not in a sanctuary or the demeanor of the expository lecturer.  I can’t put my figure on why, but I definitely do think I’ll enjoy it.

My intention in this series is to make blog posts shorter.  That being said, there are a few things I’d like to review before I start to dig in.

The Bible is divided into two sections, the Old Testament written before Jesus came along and the New Testament with content written after Jesus died.   Among other bodies of work, the New Testament contains four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke are called Synoptic Gospels and give us insight into Jesus as an historical figure.  They primarily document what Jesus said, his gospel or “good news” about the kingdom of God, and what he did.

After John was put in prison, Jesus went to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said.  “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” Mark 1:14-15 NIV

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. Matthew 4:23; 9:35 NIV

I found it interesting that each of these men had a target audience. Matthew focused on convincing the Jewish community to believe Jesus; Mark and Luke concentrated on the Romans and the Greeks respectively.

The Gospel of John is theological rather than historical.  The class notes say this Gospel was written twenty to thirty years later (A.D.80-100) than the other three.  A quarter century is a long time for John to contemplate Jesus’ good news.  After so much reflection, John must have been compelled to clarify what it all meant.

The more you know, the more you know you don’t know.

Okay, so we have twelve apostles appointed by Jesus to go off and spread the good news. According to Matthew, their names are Peter, Andrew, James (son of Zebedee), John, Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Matthew, James (son of Alphaeus), Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot.  We know Peter became the head honcho and Judas committed suicide. John and Matthew both wrote gospels that made the cut when the New Testament was compiled.  It must be asked, “The other two thirds had nothing to say?”

One will find gobs of information available about the Gnostic Gospels uncovered during archeological digs. I’d like to point out that the Gospel of Thomas (the apostle who went to India),  the Gospel of Philip  and the Gospel of Mary (Magdalene)  are included in this collection.  I’m of the opinion that these three gospels are authentic and give us perspective from three additional individuals who were close to Jesus while he was living.

It’s a new day and we are contemporary people.

Let the games begin!

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Better Late Than Never

Late-NeverThis is my last post on Revelation; better late than never.  The study ended months ago and my resistance to wrapping the whole thing up is perplexing.  It’s unlike me to leave things unfinished.  I suppose I needed time to ponder.

As I reread the final verses of Revelation (22:6-21) to refresh my memory, I hear my inner voice saying, “Warning! Warning! Danger, Will Robinson!” A reference to Lost in Space dates me, I know, but I’m just being honest.  Am I a heathen?

To be fair, there are blessings in these verses as well. Warnings! Blessings! Danger Will Robinson.  Perhaps what I’m picking up on is the danger in putting people into categories: believers and nonbelievers, winners and losers, haves and have-nots, etc.  Revelation is very often interpreted that way.  After several weeks of reflection, my personal interpretation is surprisingly simple.

NEVER MISS AN OPPORTUNITY TO TIE UP LOOSE ENDS.

With all the heavy subject matter I’ve written about in the last twenty odd posts, that’s the universal truth?  For me, yes it is.  Revelation taught me that to secure happiness in this world and the next, one’s spiritual house needs to be in order.  We must have a sense of urgency about things like forgiveness, mending relationships, being of service, doing right instead of being right, and loving one another.   This is hard work, but now may be the only opportunity.  Prepare for what’s coming next; death can be unexpected.  Unfinished business is messy and sometimes very ugly.

The consequence of this sense of urgency is good, clean, and joyful living (and according to Revelation, eternal life). Those who let relationships fester, wallow in greed, feed their egos, perpetuate violence, judge, and justify bad behavior suffer a living hell in this world and quite possibly the next.  In my opinion, this is the underlying and uncomplicated message of Revelation.

A secular example of this principle is how we get our children ready for the new school year.  We purge what’s broken and ill fitting and replace what’s discarded with new pens and notebooks, clothes and shoes.  These activities renew and prepare students for smooth sailing on their eagerly anticipated academic adventures.  As an empty nester, I find myself buying my husband new socks and underwear this time of year. Old habits die hard.

My Dad used to counsel, “Prior planning prevents poor performance.”  This is a valid and widely accepted statement for physical, intellectual, and emotional endeavors.  Preparation sets one up for success.  Revelation teaches us that preparation also solidifies spiritual success; the goal is to be happy, bursting with light (holy spirit, joyful energy).  Please note that spontaneity has a place in this equation.  It is an important variable; joy is non-negotiable!

Revelation was a grueling study, but I’m very glad I stayed with it.  Now I’ll understand the ubiquitous references to Revelation in nearly every art form.  If you have never read Revelation and feel compelled to do so in the future, it is my hope that you’ll remember this blog series and find it useful.

That’s it, my shortest post to date.  Another loose end tied up!

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Do You Believe?

BelieveDo you believe? I started writing this entry three months ago and was seven paragraphs in before I simply put it down.  Today I read my last post and laughed at how synchronistic things always are. The New Jerusalem-Part 2 could have been an introduction to the Democratic National Convention. Do you believe in moving forward?  Do you believe in equality for all people?

The BSF lesson I’ve been sitting on since the end of April posed the question, “Do you believe?”  This is the ubiquitous question in the 1994 remake of Miracle on 34th Street (1947).  In the movie, Kris Kringle says, “If you can’t believe, if you can’t accept anything on faith, then you’re doomed for a life dominated by doubt.”  Do you believe?  It’s the kind of question children whisper to each other on the school bus.  When was the last time you were asked straight out, “Do you believe in God?”

Does this question make you feel uncomfortable?  Perhaps the uneasiness is anxiety about a follow-up question like, “What is God?” or “Would you explain God to me?” or “Are you serious?”  Articulating a response with our limited language is difficult.  Add to that how little some of us learned in monotonous church services and boring religious classes and it’s easy to just avoid the subject altogether.

Polite people following the rules of etiquette never talk about politics or religion.  It’s safe to assume Emily Post passes on my blog.   Does that make me impolite?

Then there are people who will respond to these inquiries with something about a bad experience, no childhood exposure, or insufficient scientific proof.  Atheism is a lack of belief in gods and supernatural beings.  An agnostic just doesn’t commit either way, believing it’s impossible to know for sure.  I’ve always had some trouble differentiating between atheists (lack belief) and agnostics (lack knowledge).  In these cases, I guess the big question is, “Are you willing to take another look and re-examine past experiences?”

I don’t bring all this up to evangelize; it’s not up to me to judge another’s belief system.  I’m just curious.  How often, I wonder, does the average person contemplate God?  Are their thoughts riddled with myths and misconceptions imposed by others?  Balancing our spirits with our emotional, intellectual, and physical selves is tricky and prompts another question.  What is spirit?

Where is heaven?  Is it a physical place?  Is it something we experience?  To believe the Kingdom of God is within implies a little of both don’t you think?  Revelation reveals a new heaven and a new earth, the New Jerusalem.  I learned that when translated from Greek, new connotes new in quality or fresh.  Does this mean heaven and earth will undergo a renovation, a restructuring, a revolution?

The class notes had a section describing how heaven is like being home with God.  There was one sentence in that section that I kept thinking and thinking about after I read it.  Loving your neighbor will be as natural and easy as breathing.  Can you imagine a place like that?  I know that personally, I’m very far from that place.

The New Testament defines faith as confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see (Hebrews 11:1).  What do you hope for? Do you have faith?

For many of us, we have been conditioned to answer these kinds of questions in extremely predictable ways, but when one is alone and considering these questions in private, the deeper one goes, the harder they are to sort out.  We are heavily conditioned by our families when it comes to politics and religion, the two taboo topics in polite conversation. We tend to stick with the party and doctrine of our kin.

Why is that?  Is it because we fear abandonment? Is it to maintain the status quo?  Is it because it’s just easier to avoid delving into the things that hold us back and keep us divided?  In my view, Division and his ugly step-brothers Power and Control are at the root of all the world’s problems.

Revelation ends with the next lesson.  I’ll follow-up this post with that final one and wrap up this year’s Bible study.  Better late than never.  The conclusion of the Bible story, Revelation, is basically about who does and who does not get into heaven and live happily ever after.  Do you believe?

John, the author, is a theologian and his description of heaven leaves me with more questions than answers. I do believe heaven is a realm infinitely better than where we are now, a place without poverty, pollution, and passwords for starters.  It seems to me that the more hate and fear we remove from our world now, the closer we get to heaven, whatever and wherever that is.

Recently, I was out on the town with my family celebrating my son’s birthday. Since guns are a hot topic here in the south, I got sucked into a political debate with a bunch of strangers. Clearly, there are people here who like me don’t find Emily Post infallible. I think most people would agree heaven to be a place with no need for weapons, but we’re not yet living in heaven. I’ve no problem with the second amendment but I do have a problem with the gun lobby.  What strikes me the most about that evening is the unwillingness of people to respectfully listen to one another.  Specifically, people who live in fear; it’s like their fear shuts down all their ability to reason.

Do I believe in God? Yes.  Do I believe in heaven? Yes.  What are they?  I still have no idea.  Do I have faith? Yes.  Do I have hope? Yes.  Do I think that together we can move toward a better world? Yes.  Unfortunately, loving my neighbor is not yet like breathing for me.  The good news is that I’m working on it.  Are you?

Peace

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The New Jerusalem-Part 2

RiverThis week we continued to study the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21:9-22:5 and I couldn’t stop humming.

Let the river run.
Let all the dreamers
Wake the nation.
Come, the New Jerusalem.

Do you remember these lyrics?  They were written by Carly Simon for the 1988 romantic comedy Working GirlLet the River Run perfectly captured the city of New York with its reference to the Hudson River and jungle beat.  The hymn-like theme song to this movie became my anthem at a time when I sported big hair, tweed suits and floppy bow ties.

Yes, I was one of those women in the eighties working hard to prove I could be equally as smart and equally as successful as a man.  There’s a line in the movie delivered by the villain (Sigourney Weaver) that cracks me up every time I hear it: Never burn bridges. Today’s junior prick is tomorrow’s senior partner.  I suppose it’s a good thing to find humor in a statement that is still, unfortunately, very relevant.

What made the movie so popular?  The average working woman could identify with the daily challenges experienced by the heroine (Melanie Griffith), specifically, raging sexism and a class system where the privileged had all the power.  In the end, she overcame her challenges, got the job, and moved in with the guy (Harrison Ford).

Sexism has come a long way since the eighties, but the class system is unfortunately alive and well.  It’s exciting for me that current presidential primary platforms are exposing the disproportional and sometimes unethical power practiced in our communities by the wealthy.  In the New Jerusalem, there is no class system; equality is the norm.

My first child was born the year Baby Boom was released, another of my favorite films during that time in my life. The movie depicted through comedy the very real dilemma faced by working mothers.  An Ivy League female yuppie (young urban professional) with a high-powered career and a six figure income experiences a spiritual breakthrough (referred to by some as a nervous breakdown) after inheriting a child.

It’s like a grown up fairy tale when in the end, the heroin (Diane Keaton) gets the job, the baby, the guy (Sam Shepard) and lives happily ever after.  I still cheer when she declines a multi-million dollar offer from her former employer by saying, “I think the rat race is gonna have to survive with one less rat.”

The theme song from Baby Boom often made me weep. Ever Changing Times was written by Burt Bacharach et al.  The soundtrack contained a cut performed by Siedah Garrett  and a few years later, Aretha Franklin released an album containing a soulful rendition as a duet with Michael McDonald.

These, are ever-changing times
Everything is going so much faster
It seems like I’m
Watching my life, and everything I do
Wondering if the dreams that I believed in
Still come true

Caught in between, it comes back to
You and me running out of time, I gotta find me a better understanding
Every day keeps forgetting what’s mine, I gotta find me a way, less-demanding
And we’re holding on so tight, together, all of our lives

As a working mother I was exhausted; there never seemed to be enough hours in the day to please everyone.  My support network of family and friends were lifesavers, literally, and my husband was awesome, but I was too often miserable.  It took me a long time to take a hard look and change things up.  Hindsight is twenty-twenty.

Now I see that I was driven to accumulate degrees and dollars and square footage for all the wrong reasons; I measured my worth by them.  More did not fulfill me.  Now that I am older and wiser, I have found gratitude to be the key to fulfillment.  There’s nothing wrong with any of the above mentioned things (education, wealth, stuff); it’s just that in my case, they were more important to me than being whole.  I sacrificed my spirit to feed my ego.

Revelation 21 describes the New Jerusalem as the Holy City, the bride, the wife of the Lamb (Jesus).  Again we see marriage imagery used to describe the relationship or union between God and God’s people (also referred to as the Church with a capital “C”).  The New Jerusalem is a place of unconditional love and peace; a place void of ego.

One will find in this chapter a very specific description of the Holy City with streets of gold.  It’s surrounded by a wall encrusted with jasper, sapphire, agate, emerald, onyx, ruby, chrysolite, beryl, topaz, turquoise, jacinth and amethyst.  The wall has twelve pearly gates.  Now I know where all those jokes about Saint Peter monitoring the pearly gates come from.  The New Jerusalem is a place of comfort and safety.

The jewels seen by John have the kinds of metaphysical properties one would expect and are consistent with the adornments on the breastplates of the high priests in the Old Testament.  Love is in the Earth is a great reference to find specifics on each crystal and mineral in John’s vision.

It’s interesting that the city was described as cube shaped with a length, width and height of 12,000 stadia (1400 miles or 2,200 kilometers).   Sacred geometry and numerology enthusiasts have plenty to ponder here in the search for deeper meaning and alternative biblical translations.

On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there.  The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it.  Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. Revelation 21:25-27

Revelation 22 goes on to describe the New Jerusalem as Eden restored by showing John the river of the water of life flowing through the city and the tree of life (Genesis) on each bank.  I envision this to look something like a banyan tree I once saw in Lahaina, Maui (Hawaii) with sixteen trunks and a circumference of one-quarter mile.  The tree in Maui, by the way, is miniscule when compared to the tree of life described by John.

On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month.  And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of all nations. Revelation 22:2

As magnificent as the tree of life sounds, it’s the river of the water of life, I think, that had me humming the Carly Simon song.  In my younger years, a New Jerusalem, or paradise, was a place where women could enjoy high-powered careers, equal pay for equal work, and flexible hours.  Maybe the river in her song is the Hudson, maybe it’s a metaphor for moving forward, but maybe her lyrics are deeper than that? Was my affinity to that song unlocking something deeper in me?

This question wouldn’t have been on my radar if I hadn’t read these verses in Revelation.  So many of our beliefs are influenced by others and keep us from our own awakenings.  I never imagined at the start of this study that Revelation would give me a new perspective when viewing a movie or listening to music.

Messages present themselves in the most unlikely places.  Keep your eyes and ears open; an open mind and heart may follow.

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The New Jerusalem-Part 1

new-jerusalemThe New Jerusalem is a place.  We’ve heard it mentioned in literature and poetry and music, but do we really have any idea what it is and where it is?  Revelation says it’s a holy city coming down from heaven.  Is this to be taken literally or symbolically or both?  The lesson this week (Revelation 20:11-21:8) describes the final judgment and the New Jerusalem.  I’m relieved.  These ongoing lessons about judgment have killed my buzz.

The last four verses in Revelation 20 describe John’s vision of the final judgment, Halleluiah!  He sees the Creator sitting on a great white throne.  The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them (Revelation 20:11).  “You can run but you cannot hide,” I quipped.  Since God’s presence is presumably everywhere, this line implies that heaven and earth have completely vanished.

John then sees the dead; each entity standing before the great white throne holding an open book. When I read this I thought, “Okay, those books represent their Akashic Records.”  An Akashic Record is believed to contain the entire history of a soul since the dawn of creation.  Specifically, who one is and how one lives.  Verse 12 says the dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.  This line sort of supports my understanding that the books and the Akashic Records are one and the same.

Another book is mentioned, the Book of Life, and it is also open.  Death, Hades, and those not found in the Book of Life are thrown into the lake of fire (second death).  I don’t know who or what death is in this context, nor do I understand the concept of Hades, but I do know that death and Hades get the boot because they’re not in the book.

John’s vision delivers a crystal clear message here; it’s a good thing to be in the Book of Life.  I envision the Book of Life to be like a Super Akashic Record containing everyone’s information, a universal super computer.  The Book of Life may represent the force that keeps us interconnected and in God’s hands.   Evil entities are simply not recorded in the book.

One of the homework questions asked, “What are the books that will be opened along with the Book of Life?”

When I piped up with, “the Akashic Records“, my classmates looked around at each other in bewilderment.  A couple of them asked me to spell it.  How do you think they’ll react when they google Akashic and find it’s a Sanskrit word for atmosphere or a place in the ether where past events are recorded?  Personally, I think it’s fascinating how closely the Book of Life from Christianity parallels the Akashic Records from Hinduism.

With the final judgment behind us, we moved on to the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:1-8), another Halleluiah!  John hears a voice from the great white throne saying,

Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them.  They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away… I am making everything new! Revelation 21:3-4

The old order of things has passed away (Revelation 21:4).  I love this.  When writers reference the New Jerusalem, they’re looking to convey a utopia, an ideal place, or a perfect situation.  The New Jerusalem, or Holy City, is everything that Babylon is not.  The cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, and the idolaters (Revelation 21:8) are all consummed by the fiery lake of burning sulfur; they are no more.  This sharply contrasts the spring of the water of life offered by God to the thirsty in the New Jerusalem.

We have the ability to drop the old order of things and embrace the new at any time; the opportunity to start fresh is constantly available.  It begins with an attitude adjustment and a decision to be part of the solution and not part of the problem.  When I think of old energy, I think of hatred and struggle and war, religions that perpetuate separation and putting people in boxes, and judgment.  These kinds of thoughts and actions are part of the old order of things that need to pass away.

I’ve heard it said that what happens to Israel happens to the world.  Peace and harmony in the city of Jerusalem would literally create a New Jerusalem.  An end to conflict there could potentially lead to peace worldwide.  Wouldn’t that be wonderful? Can you imagine world peace?

It’s easy to sit in our comfortable homes, watch the news, think the situation in the Middle East is terrible, and do nothing.  How about sending some light to the dark places you’ll never go to?  Actively pray for and visualize world peace; be part of the solution.

I know I could do a lot more of these kinds of activities.  It matters not whether the New Jerusalem is a literal city or a sacred dimension, shining light in dark places will quicken our personal journeys.  I’m convinced of it.

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Hypocrites in History

hipocriteHindsight is twenty-twenty and hypocrites throughout history are abundant.  According to Merriam-Webster, a hypocrite is a person who claims or pretends to have certain beliefs about what is right but who behaves in a way that disagrees with those beliefs.  A hypocrite is simply a liar. That may sound harsh since hypocrisy is oftentimes unintentional, but walking the talk is hard.  We sometimes lie to ourselves as a way to rationalize decisions or defend behaviors. Isn’t it interesting how quickly we recognize hypocrisy in others, but fail to uncover it in ourselves?

For some reason this whole concept of hypocrisy is really up for me this week.  Maybe it’s because Revelation 20 is one of the most controversial books in the Bible and translations are all over the place.  Some are literal and others symbolic.  Scholars generally support their translations with scriptural, historical, and cultural resources, but how often do they recognize the influence of personal experience, emotion, and bias?

The last lesson wrapped up with the beast (Antichrist) and the false prophet (Antichrist’s false prophet) being thrown into the fiery lake of burning sulfur by the rider (Christ) on a white horse.  This week, the assault on the triumvirate of evil (unholy trinity) continued; the dragon (Satan) was bound by an angel and held in the Abyss for a thousand years.

John then saw something he called the first resurrection where souls came to life and reigned with Christ during the dragon’s containment.  When the sentence was over (thousand year), the dragon was set free and allowed to deceive nations for a short time. In the end, like his partners in crime the beast and the false prophet, the dragon endured an eternity of torment in the fiery lake of burning sulfur.

Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years. Revelation 20:6

Who’s Satan? Who’s the Antichrist?  Who’s the Antichrist’s false prophet?  Where’s the fiery lake of burning sulfur?  Where’s the Abyss?  Are the one thousand years meant to be symbolic or literal?  When will they occur?  What’s a short time?  Who are the souls that come to life and reign with Christ?  What’s the first resurrection? What’s the second death?  Like one of those machines that pitch balls in a batting cage, after reading the first ten verses of chapter 20, questions shot through my head in rapid fire.

It’s important to take into consideration historical and political perspective.  The writer of Revelation was a Christian elder who had witnessed and experienced extreme suffering. Ongoing violence against Christians throughout the Roman Empire was brutal and included unmerciful torture and murder.  The Christian belief system gave people hope. The opening chapters of Revelation are specific messages to each of seven churches in the Roman province of Asia.

Roman citizens were required to worship the Roman Emperor (the beast) and although Jews enjoyed a protected status, Christians did not.  Punishment for noncompliance was death.  This is evidence to me that all evil imagery in Revelation is meant to specifically represent Rome, her leaders, and the lifestyle of citizens.   Apocalyptic writing (code using imagery) was used to protect the Christians who preached Revelation from prosecution.

As an Apostle, John (author of Revelation) was commissioned to spread the good news.   Politically, Christians were at the bottom of the food chain; they believed Rome, her leaders, and her citizens were evil personified.  I imagine Revelation gave the oppressed comfort, encouragement and inspiration.  A synopsis of Revelation is fairly straight forward and simple; believers (Christians) will be victorious over Rome.

My posts often comment chapter by chapter on the many possible layers of meaning in Revelation. Deeper symbolism is not straight forward; John’s vision manifested in a way readily recognizable to him so that he could articulate what he saw.  For me, the surface layer is all about Rome. Perhaps we’ll fully grasp the depth of Revelation only after passing from this earth to dwell on the other side of the veil.

Revelation 20:1-10 is riddled in mystery. Among the droves of questions, there are two doozies.  What is the binding of Satan all about and when is the millennial (1000 years)? There are three common viewpoints that attempt to answer these questions: AmillennialismPostmillennialism; and Premillennialism.  I’ll spare you all the theology and just say, “Who knows?”  If you’re actually interested in these interpretations, I have included links for personal perusal.

The notes say that the earliest Christians held a Premillennial view prior to the fourth centuryI found this little footnote extremely interesting.  It was in the fourth century that the Roman Emperor Constantine 1 orchestrated the First Council of Nicaea to develop a uniform Christine doctrine.  A Roman emperor (allegedly not baptized) was driving Christian doctrine.  I wonder what John would have thought about that?  Rome now influenced the criteria used to separate authentic from heretical Christian teachings. Does anyone else find this ironic?

The standard answer churchgoing folk give when asked about this is, “Everything is divinely guided when it comes to doctrine and Bible content.”  Here is where I get confused.

Christians believe in a sinful human nature.  Doesn’t it then follow that a spiritual practice developed by men (no women to my knowledge) who consolidated and documented four centuries worth of information could potentially morph meaning into something less than perfect?  Doesn’t it follow that when picking and choosing New Testament material, a Bishop could potentially be influenced with a promise of political gain?  The Bible is a valuable resource in the development of one’s spiritual maturity, but I would be remiss if I did not mention I struggle with these questions.

On the subject of politics, false prophets appear to be sitting among the North Carolina General Assembly.   For a state that is supposedly so steeped in Biblical teachings, it is remarkable how non-Christian the politics are here.  Help me understand how Jesus’ teachings to judge not and love thy neighbor were demonstrated when the state passed a law banning anti-discrimination protections for LGBT citizens?  I’m afraid it was a slick move to satisfy LGBT intolerance; there are many here who believe an LGBT lifestyle is evidence of a fallen world.  Spare me the hypocrisy.  Who are we to judge?

I was encouraged by the backlash.  For example, PayPal canceled plans for an expansion in Charlotte and Bruce Springsteen canceled a concert in Greensboro.  In an attempt to stop the mounting loss of jobs and revenue, the governor signed some kind of executive order for damage control, too little too late.

Will politicians ever stop using religious beliefs based on debatable Bible translations to justify agendas and rationalize prejudice?  History really does repeat itself.  Let’s learn from our mistakes and get off the hampster wheel.

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Hallelujah – A White Wedding

White Horse and SwordThe title of this post, Hallelujah-A White Wedding might fool you.  It’s actually a mash up of Revelation 19 where the Apostle John’s vision segues into a series of three subjects: the shouting of Hallelujah from heaven after the fall of Babylon, a wedding announcement and invitation, and a warrior on a white horse.  I’m compelled to comment on all of them.

In the first six verses, Hallelujah!  is shouted out three times and cried out once by a great multitude and when I read it I thought, “Don’t we usually sing Hallelujah!?  Even non Christians know the Hallelujah Chrous!”  The Hebrew word Hallelujah means Praise Yah(weh) and is commonly used in the Old Testament (BC), however, in the New Testament (AD), the word Hallelujah is only found in this chapter.  The inspiration for the famous Hallelijah Chorus is found here.

Since my preference is to use the NIV Bible (New International Version)the following verses are a smidge different from Handel’s Messiah.  The actual lyrics are noted below in parentheses.

The kingdom of the (this) world has(is) become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah (Christ), and he will (shall) reign for ever and ever. Revelation 11:15

Hallelujah!  For our (the) Lord God Almighty (Omnipotent) reigns (reigneth). Revelation 19:6

King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Revelation 19:16

I learned much of Handel’s Messiah for high school Easter concerts which are now referred to as spring concerts.  Anyone who has participated in a concert choir is likely to have learned at least parts of Messiah and the Hallelujah Chorus is probably the section most recognizable.   I’m feeling incredibly motivated right now to brush up on the alto part.

Getting back to Revelation, the prostitute is being consumed by fire and a multitude is shouting, “Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up for ever and ever.” (Revelation 19:3).  They’re praising God for overcoming Babylon, a symbol of evil.

It occurs to me that this may have been a section of the Bible sited during the Inquisition to justify burning people at the stake; not very Christ-like behavior by the supposedly pious.  Biblical scholars have many opinions about the word multitude and who or what the group includes.  I dare say that during the Inquisition, multitude meant violent mob.  Surely, Revelation was not intended to be translated in this way.

The fourth Hallelujah!, is different; we begin to find wedding imagery.  For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given to her to wear.” (Revelation 19:7).  The Lamb is Jesus and the bride is meant to represent God’s people.  This passage predicts a time when God’s people will become one with Jesus.  A bride is very often used to represent the people of God who are pure in thought and action, clean, untouched.  Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of God’s holy people (Revelation 19:8).  Note that the people of God are also referred to in the Bible as the Church with a capital “C” or the Body of Christ.  I love the imagery of a bride and how it sharply contrasts the imagery of a prostitute.

Next we are given an invitation.  Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb! (Revelation 19:9).  As with any invitation, we have free will to accept or decline the offer. I thought of those occations when I enjoyed myself after accepting a dreaded invitation out of obligation.  Has that ever happened to you?  It’s fun to be bad, but accepting a divine invitation to choose loving thought and action may surprise you.

Then John’s vision shifts to a white horse with a rider named Faithful and True wearing a robe dipped in blood.  The rider is also called the Word of God.  He leads an army uniformed in white linen and riding white horses; he judges and wages war.  Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword (the word (s)word often represents the Word of God in the Bible) with which to strike down nations …  On his robe and on his thigh he has his name written: king of king and lord of lords (Revelation 19:16).  Okay, so the King of Kings and Lord of Lords has his name tattooed on his thigh.  How many tats like this do you think there are out there?  Argh!

In anticipation of the carnage of war, an angel proactively calls the birds (meat eaters) to clean up the mess.  Gross!  John says, Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to wage war against the rider on the horse and his army. (Revelation 19:19). Once again, Revelation depicts the destruction of evil; the beast and the false prophet are captured and thrown alive into a fiery lake of burning sulfur.  The rest are overcome by the (s)word in the rider’s mouth; Faithful and True, the Word of God, saves the day.   

It is now very clear to me where all those fairy tales come from about handsome men on white horses rescuing fair maidens from evil witches (Babylon) and dragons (the beast).  If you are among the segment of the population who believe God is genderless, go ahead and put a female rider on the white horse.  In the battle between good and evil, right and wrong, or love and fear, anyone can command the winning side.  Go for it!

What have I learned this week?  Bible content and symbolism seem to be everywhere; the more I read, the more I find.  There are obvious connections throughout history and literature and music and art, but there are instances where the connections are not as obvious.  Without actually reading the Bible, I would never have been able to understand the references.  It’s exciting to uncover meaning at a deeper level.  It’s sad so many people are turned off from this incredible collection of writting simply because of another reader’s translation.

When I started my literary study of this book two years ago, I was one of those turned off people.  The root of my restistance was assumption.  Specifically, assumptions I made about the Bible and its role in manmade doctrine and oppressive religion.  A lot of my time was invested reading books on spirituality written by people who avoid referencing the Bible when their concepts clearly align with biblical content. Some of these books have value, but I’m finding most of what I need to know about life is in this one place.  There’s a reason the Bible is considered the greatest book of all time.

Don’t be like me and resist reading the Bible because of what other people have done with it.  There’s something for everyone in there.

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Babylon – Part 2

tufted titmouseRevelation 17 is where we met the infamous and pretty (on the outside) ugly (on the inside) prostitute Babylon who seduced God’s people into spiritual adultery (idolatry). Her partner in crime, the Beast, betrayed and brutally destroyed her. Revelation 18 goes on to describe the fall of a place called Babylon and how residents responded to the destruction.  In my opinion, this chapter is about what happens when gratitude is missing from the equation; when gratitude is not an integral part of daily living.

While the citizens of Babylon sob over their loss, an angel lays into them:

She (Babylon) has become a dwelling place for demons and a haunt for every impure spirit, a haunt for every unclean bird, a haunt for every unclean and detestable animal.  For all the nations have drunk the maddening wine of her adulteries.  The kings of the earth committed adultery with her, and the merchants of the earth grew rich from her excessive luxuries. Revelation 18:2-3

The imagery in these verses of a haunted place with detestable creatures and demons is creepy and reminds me of the TV show Supernatural.  It describes a kind of hell on earth with corrupt leaders and an economy driven by greed.  The use of the adjective excessive here is important.  It implies that any pattern of behavior driving excess is destructive.

Feeling that one never has enough is incredibly damaging.  Wholehearted gratitude was not demonstrated by the Babylonians and epoch loss was the consequence doled out by God in John’s vision.  A line from Big Yellow Taxi by Joni Mitchell just popped into my head.  Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what we’ve got til it’s gone?

Like the good cop in a good cop-bad cop shake down, another voice interrupts the society’s scolding to encourage people to turn away from Babylon.  With a sense of urgency, it is explained that there’s still time to change and escape judgment.  What goes around comes around describes the message here nicely.

I love Revelation 18:6; pour her a double portion from her own cup.  Do you recall the prostitute in  Babylon – Part 1 holding a golden cup filled with abominable things and the filth of her adulteries?  When the good bartender pours Babs her next double, it definitely does not go down smoothly; it consumes her in fire.

Corrupt kings, ravenous merchants, and money-grubbing seafarers weep and wail over the swift and complete destruction of Babylon.  Her fall terminates the source of their worldly wealth and power.  If the people of Babylon had followed the advice of the good cop, they would have had spiritual fulfilment.  They would have had no need to mourn; they would have understood the worthlessness of their loss.

When our most precious treasures include wellbeing and relationships and when we acknowledge they are more valuable than wealth and power, our fear of loss diminishes significantly.  Feeling and expressing gratitude for what one has is fulfilling.  It diametrically counters the feeling of never having enough: enough time, enough money, enough intelligence, enough respect, enough power, enough success, enough sleep, etc.

Here’s the thing; without gratitude one will never feel they have enough.  One will always want more.  This is why the kings and merchants and seafarers in Revelation 18 were devastated.  They were overwhelmed by loss and lamented their lives of luxury.    If I had been a Babylonian, would I have been grateful or would I have had a complete melt down?

After considering this question, I admit that I would probably have been hysterical.  Clearly, I have work to do.  It’s not that I’m ungrateful; I have tons to be grateful for and recognize how fortunate I am.  It’s not that I want more stuff.  It’s that to some degree, I still fear loss.    There has been progress on my part though and I suspect it comes with age.  Every challenge is an opportunity to be grateful for what really matters.  When life happens, remember to take a few deep breaths and consciously choose peace over panic.

This chapter in Revelation demonstrates how quickly everything can change.  The mighty Babylon is said to have been leveled in one hour.  Although this is not likely to be meant literally, it made me think of the potential life changing events that occur within a few minutes.  It softened my heart.  At once I was compelled to express gratitude for all that I have.  I found myself sending quick text messages to family and friends.  Do you know of anyone who doesn’t need to hear how much they are loved and appreciated?

I find I am grateful now for the tiniest of things.  A few weeks ago my husband and I patched together a bluebird house that had fallen to the ground over the winter and had broken into several pieces.  The result was something sort of unsightly.  In an uncharacteristic move, we hung it on a prominent tree in our front yard.  Recently, we noticed a pair of birds had taken up residence; they were not bluebirds.  After watching them for a while, my husband identified them as tufted titmice.

Apparently, tufted titmice nest in natural tree holes like the ones left by woodpeckers.  Generally, they’ll leave bluebird houses alone.  We learned however, that if a pair of tufted titmice choose a nest box, it’s likely they’ll continue to use it throughout their lives; the oldest known wild titmouse being at least thirteen years and three months.  Wow, what a gift!  We now find ourselves chatting on our front porch swing and watching the titmice nesting.  Perhaps fledglings will fly from the nest one day while we’re watching.  I’m so grateful these noble creatures found that rickety little house.

The last of my chicks has officially left the nest; he’s graduated and navigating the real world.  It’s the natural order of things and the titmice have reminded me of that.  I’m working hard to transition gracefully from parent to consultant.  Whether or not my consulting services will be requested remains to be seen.  I hope so.

As parents, our job is to develop an inner gyroscope in our children to successfully guide them throughout life and maintain their physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual balance. As consultants, we must simply be available when needed.

Of course learning life lessons is an ongoing process and we have a desire to pass our knowledge along.  I heard the word desire defined recently as love waiting to happen.  The hardest thing about empty nesting is that urge to continue parenting in an effort to protect adult sons and daughters from a world of hurt.

Unsolicited sharing, however, generates undesirable responses even when delivered with the purest of intentions.  I know I must resist and trust that my children have developed strong discerning skills.  They have flown the coop with solid intuitive instincts and I am incredibly grateful.

That being said, I’m going to avoid my own counsel and offer some unsolicited advice. Don’t miss the tiny miracles in front of you while in pursuit of great things.  Let’s be grateful for the little things because with nurturing, they grow in magnificence.

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Babylon – Part 1

BabylonBabylon, I call her Babs for short, is a prostitute riding the beast and the main character in Revelation 17.  For those of you jumping onto this blog for the first time, the objective is to document my thoughts about Revelation since I suspect most people have never read it.  I’m reading it for the first time. It’s found at the end of the Bible and is believed to be a collection of visions experienced by John, an apostle of Jesus.  This week we started the third of his four visions.

Let me give you a quick synopsis.  In John’s first vision (Revelation 1-3), he sees Jesus in the clouds and relays information from Jesus to each of seven churches in the province of Asia.  They sound sort of like performance reviews.  If you’re interested in these messages through the mist, check out Peeking Under the Veil, Gems in Revelation, Monica is No Jezebel, and Discomfort and Safety.

The second vision has Jesus and his entourage in the throne room (Revelation 4) where he opens a scroll with seven seals (Revelation 5-8).  These seals are referred to by some as the seal judgments and are the first set of seven in a total of twenty-one cascading judgments throughout Revelation.  When the seventh seal is broken, it unleashes a second set of seven called the trumpet judgments (Revelation 8-11).  It is here that we are introduced to the Red Dragon, aka Satan, who is symbolic of the enemy in a war between good and evil (Revelation 12-15).  This vision wraps up with a final set of seven bowl judgments (Revelation 16).

The Throne Room, Seven Seals, Breaking the Seals, 144,000, Choose Joy, Not Anxiety, Christian Rock, The Beast-Part 1, The Beast-Part-2, What the Hell, and Bowl Judgments are my comments on John’s second vision (Revelation 4-16).

John’s third vision is a detailed look at the punishment released by the seventh bowl judgment at the time when good wins the war against evil.  It begins with a bedazzled prostitute named Babylon sitting on a scarlet beast in the wilderness.  The woman, Babylon, riding the beast, Satan, suggests a partnership.  As I mentioned in What the Hell, Babylon is code (common in apocalyptic writing) for Rome and/or a lifestyle Christians believed to be driven by evil.  Babs the prostitute represents all who are unfaithful to God: intoxicated by wine (unfaithful lifestyle) and committing adultery (idolatry).   The beast is described very much like the sea beast discussed in The Beast-Part 2 and the wilderness is, I believe, a metaphor for earth, the place where we are given the choice between good and evil.  The wilderness sharply contrasts John’s first two visions  of heaven (the kingdom of God).

Babs is dressed in purple and scarlet, glittering in gold, precious stones and pearls, and holding a golden cup. She is an icon of wealth and beauty.  However, her cup is filled with abominable things and the filth of her adulteries.  Likewise, Babylon, the actual place, surpassed in splendor any city in the known world according to the Greek historian Herodotus in 450 BC. In fact, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon were considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.  Sadly, there is nothing left of this city.  Babylon fell because her opulence was not sustainable.

There is a profound difference between internal, spiritual beauty that is able to grow over time and external seductive beauty that expires.   The internal versus external theme appears here on many levels.  The kingdom of God is within and the kingdom of Satan is without.  Anotherwords, a life full of materialism and self gratification leaves one empty.

Look for what can’t be seen; use discernment.  Never take anything at face value; we know so many idioms to express this concept.  Yet, I wonder, “Do I invest enough time on my inner life?  Do you?  How much money do we spend in a futile attempt to preserve our outer selves?”

I saw that the woman was drunk with the blood of God’s holy people, the blood of those who bore testimony to Jesus. Revelation 17: 6

Babs is horrible, violent even, right?  This passage sounds like something right out of an Anne Rice novel.  Is Revelation the origin of vampire folklore?  Is Babs a vampire doomed to eternal death?  It does sort of counter God’s promise of eternal life to the redeemed.

People in metaphysical circles often refer to those who suck the life out of each other energy vampires, the depleted souls who are always miserable and exhausting to be around.  These are the people who need to love more and hate less and benefit greatly when they work on their spiritual selves.

John is astonished by Babs and in the second half of Revelation 17, an angel explains the mystery of the woman and of the beast she rides to him. This would have been great if anyone could understand what the angel is actually communicating.  The seven heads on the beast represent seven hills and apparently Rome was built on seven hills. Okay, well this is nice validation for the people who believe the word Babylon is used as a substitute for Rome, but it is not definitive.  The number seven is ubiquitous throughout Revelation. Maybe the hills are meant to be obstacles or something.  Who knows?

Then the angel says the seven hills are seven kings.  There’s verbage about corrupt kings, some fallen and some yet to come.  Translations are abundant about who these leaders are, but again, who knows?  What does seem pretty clear is that the bad guys destroy each other in the pursuit of wealth and power.  Revelation 17 ends with the demise of Babylon.

After reading this chapter, I’m thinking it’s about perspective.  Matthew Kelly says, “We all think we have twenty-twenty vision in life, but we don’t.  We don’t see things as they really are.”   Fear and bias create blind spots that distort perceptions of self, our neighbors and the challenges of daily living.  Identifying and minimizing blind spots clarifies vision and improves discernment.  Am I skilled at seeing through packaging to uncover truth?  Are you?

I’d prefer to age into a wise, wrinkly old smiling lady than a cranky crone fluffed with Botox.  One woman has a joyful reality and the other does not.  From what perspective are we viewing what’s around us?  Do we have an internal or an external focus?

What’s inside might surprise you!

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