faith

A Case For Charity

So on the way home from work this afternoon, there were two people on two different corners asking for help.  The first one was your basic down-on-their-luck looking person, with a sign that was basically illegible. The second guy though had a great sign, “I need a beer” was all it said. Now that is a concept I can get behind (although I am currently on day 6 of no beer while I try to get my cholesterol and triglycerides under control, again).

I don’t bring these encounters up lightly. I take the homeless problem seriously. Especially among my fellow veterans. But today, I couldn’t help these folks. I have basically stopped carrying cash.  Not that I’m afraid of getting mugged, but because an ATM card is just too convenient. There really isn’t any reason to carry cash. Or is there?

This reminded me of an encounter Wifey® and I had outside a local store a week or two ago. As we were leaving the store a young man with his family, significant other, and two small children were asking passers-bys for help.  The gentleman was wearing a clean Subway restaurant shirt and hat leaving to believe that he had a job. Of course, Subway, and similar fast food jobs are usually part-time minimum wages deals. And we all know that a single person, let alone a family can’t live off of minimum wage. I guess it’s obvious I support the $15 an hour minimum wage initiative.

As usual, neither of us had any cash and told them we couldn’t help them. But as we were pulling out of the parking lot I realized I did have a credit card for that store. I could have taken them into the store and bought them at least something that would satisfy at least part of their need. I will admit that I was almost in tears because I failed to help another fellow.

And that leads me to another story (yeah I know, shut up already).

Many years ago, when I did call myself a “Christian”, which I no longer do, this happened at the church we attended.

It was while I was setting up for a Wednesday evening Bible study/reflection time (I was on the soundboard as usual) when a down-on-his-luck gentleman approached me asking for money.  Well, this time I did have some cash on me. I gave him all I had, a whopping $5. After the guy left one of the members of the church, a deacon no less, said to me “Why did you give that bum money? You know all he’s going to do is buy beer with it!” My reply and one I still use to this day when I asked the same question was “Well, what the hell did you think I was going to do with the money?” Basically, I gave the guy my beer money, but I knew I had some more beer at home.

And if I had any beer at home today, I would have given the guy with the beer sign a beer or two. Share and share alike!

I’m sure some folks reading this (there is somebody reading this right?) will disagree with my view on helping folks that are not as fortunate as themselves. And while, as I said, do not call myself a Christian, I believe the words attributed to Jesus in the Gospels (and I don’t think they are exact quotes, or if the human Jesus even said anything close to the words) are a good guideline for behavior towards our fellow humanity. Especially in regards to what is usually termed the “least of these”. To me, that means anyone on the fringe or outskirts of society. From what I’ve read of the New Testament, they tend to use the terms widow, orphan, poor, and occasionally refugee. In today’s world that would mean (to me at least) the homeless, the LGBT people who have been rejected, the refugees that have come to live with us (in or from ANY country, of ANY race, creed, color etc.), the indigenous peoples and ALL the other people of color, women, I could go on. But that’s another post.

My dear-ol-mother used to try to stop me from helping folks when I was younger.  Her favorite phrase was “Charity starts at home”. But then the question becomes; “define HOME”.  Going back to the Bible, even Jesus was asked a similar question, “Who is my neighbor?”, his response was the parable of the Good Samaritan. If you don’t know that parable click here to read it.  Of note on that parable is the Jesus Seminar released a book several years ago Sayings of Jesus” where they examine the sayings attributed to Jesus in the four Gospels. This parable was one of the few that all the participants agreed was a very probable saying from Jesus. (OK, I promise no more Bible references. I’m not a Bible scholar.)

No matter your belief system, I bet in some “holy” book you will find a varient of the “Take care of the ‘least of these'” command. I know you will find it in the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the Qu’ran because I’ve read all three.

So what are your thoughts on helping today’s “least of these”? I’m not just talking money. It could be time spent with people in the hospital or an assisted living facility. Or visiting people in jail. Helping at a homeless shelter, a food bank, the list goes on. I admit, that I fall very short in this area. I try but fail. So for me, it’s usually a monetary donation. But when I was underemployed, it was time.

So do you do anything to help? Even if you don’t (no judgment here), leave a comment on your views on this subject. I welcome any open and thoughtful discourse. However, I do reserve the right to delete any derogatory comments.

Peace,
B

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A Bit Of Culture & Some Bad Theology

On Easter Sunday NBC aired “Jesus Christ Superstar Live!”. This past weekend Wifey® and I finally had a chance to watch it (thanks to the modern-day miracle of DVRs). I am quite familiar with this rock opera, having “stolen” the concept album (released in 1970) from my sister. I listened to it constantly. I could sing every part, yes, even Mary Magdalene’s  “I Don’t Know How To Love Him” (I figured if Judas reprises the song I could sing it too).

I have to admit that I am very partial to this version of the opera. With Ian Gillian (lead singer for Deep Purple) as Jesus, Murray Head as Judas, and Yvonne Elliman as Mary (this pre hookup with Eric Clapton), the power of these voices far outshines most the follow-up versions. John Legend did a very nice Jesus in this version and Brandon Victor Dixon as Judas and Sara Bareilles as Mary were exceptional.

The 1973 movie adaptation was terrible. Ted Neely, who was the understudy to Jeff Fenholt as Jesus in the original Broadway cast, just didn’t have the voice to carry the part. The 2000 movie version had cool costumes but still lacked the “power” behind the voices.

The choreography in the “Live” version was exceptional. As was the instrumentation. The blending of the 70’s era rock with the traditional orchestra instruments may be the biggest reason this opera has stayed with me for so long.  I loved the way the electric string instruments came running in with the chorus (they go by the name of Choir! Choir! Choir!), and the violins and either a bass or cello,  were seen in several scenes on stage playing. I can’t imagine the conductor keeping all these musicians spread across the stage in time with each other. A very impressive feat.

Since this opera debuted in the 70’s its theology is a bit dated. One of the most glaring problems is that it casts Mary Magdalene as a “woman of loose morals” to put it politely.  I know there are still some folks who believe that Mary was of a questionable background. But I can’t find anything in the Bible that says she was a prostitute. All I can find is that Jesus cast seven demons out of her (if anyone has any reliable proof of this assertion, please pass it along). My thought (just my opinion), is that folks tend to combine Mary with “the woman caught in adultery” story that’s found ONLY in the gospel of John (and many modern biblical scholars claim that the story is not found in our earliest copies of the gospel. The current thought is that it was added much later by a scribe!).

The other bit of “culture and bad theology” I’d like to talk about is “Godspell”. I believe this would be a musical as opposed to a rock opera as JC Superstar is. I was lucky enough to see Godspell on stage at the Coconut Grove Playhouse way back when 1976. It was very close to the movie version. Wifey® and I have watched this musical several times at some local churches. It’s usually performed by traveling college groups and are usually very good performances.

Godspell is supposed to be based on the gospel of Matthew. And just like “JCS” it takes some liberties with the gospel. Since are both products of the 70’s, taking liberties wasn’t uncommon, especially for anything having to do with the Bible. And that doesn’t bother me at all. I do believe that the Bible is a good thing to read and understand, but then we should also read the Qur’an, and books of other religions, as well, but I do not subscribe the “inerrant” view of the Bible.

One of the major controversies of Godspell is that Jesus is wearing clown makeup. Again, not a problem with me. It doesn’t portray Jesus as a clown, he just has a clown face on. It sets him apart from the rest of the cast, just as Christians have set the historical Jesus apart from the rest of humanity.

Needless to say, both of these shows played a major part of my theology growing up. It wasn’t until much later that I came to realize just how bad their theology was. That doesn’t stop me from enjoying them though. To me, it’s just artistic license. And as long as they keep cranking out quality shows, like the Live show, I’ll keep watching them.

Have you seen either of these shows? Tell me your thoughts if you did!

Peace,
B

P.S. I went looking for a video of both of the shows on YouTube and there were too many to pick from. So it’s up to you to check them out.

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Maybe A Repeat

Pretty sure I’ve posted this video before, but I’m not looking through old posts to see. But this one of my favorite songs of all times. Up there with Van Morrison’s “Into The Mystic”.

I think anyone with a “mental illness” ( I am bipolar type II), can relate to. As the song says;

“No matter how fast I run I can never seem to get away from myself. No matter where I am I can’t help thinking I’m just a day away from where I need to be.”

We can never match what we expect. Some of us are fucked up, and will never be whole, no matter what your belief system is. We will not be raised in “new incorruptible” bodies, nor will we be reincarnated into a new body to try again. All that happens, is we get dispersed into the cosmos and maybe, MAYBE, parts of us come back co-mingled with parts of others… “We came from stardust, and to stardust, we return”.

Peace,
B

Some Resources

If you read my post yesterday, I’ve Been Tagged, (If you didn’t why not? Go read it now dammit!) One of the questions I was asked was “If you could befriend any author in real life, who would it be?”. I had several on my list, but number one with a bullet (sorry a throwback to my DJ days), is Dr. Bart D. Ehrman.

Dr. Ehrman is a professor at UNC-Chapel Hill, the college I wanted to go to when I graduated High School way back when. My SAT score was even #1 for the school that year, so I feel that despite my mediocre grades (I’m sure my grades would have been much better if I had only shown up for more classes than band – yes I was, and still am a band geek), I would have been accepted. No financial assistance or anything, but I could have gone. But my mom said it was out of the question since it was a “party school”. How the hell did she know? Did she read the Playboy Party School articles? I know that’s how I learned which were the biggest party schools (it was always some little college in San Diego that took top honors, I forget the name). My reason for going there was at the time, the Dean of the medical school was a Dr. Issac Taylor. Probably better known as the father of musical genius James Taylor. I was just hoping that James would make a spontaneous appearance or two while I was there. I didn’t know he and his father were not exactly on speaking terms.  So I joined the military instead.  That’ll show ’em I thought. Screw college.

So that was a long paragraph with very little about Dr. Ehrman.  This is a link to his Amazon Author Page. I tend to buy Kindle books, simply because I don’t like killing trees. Although I admit, I do sometimes miss being able to just flip back to a section to quote something online. But you can highlight in the Kindle app, and that works for me.

Dr. Ehrman’s books are simply amazing. As a preeminent professor of the New Testament, despite not being a Christian, his views will quite often fall outside the “accepted norm”.  But, many times his writings have become the “accepted norm”.

He has a blog.  It’s not free, which at first disappointed me. I was like, “I’m already paying for your books, why do I need to pay to read your blog too?”.  But after reading a little deeper, I found that all proceeds from the blog go straight to several charities in and around where he lives. That made all the difference to me. I immediately signed up and paid my “dues”.

One of the benefits of this blog is his almost daily postings on various biblical topics.  They have covered topics such as “Paul’s View On Women”, “Were Cut & Paste Jobs Common In Antiquity” (which was actually a guest post). Along with “Is Paul Given Too Much Credit”, which is today’s post, asks some great questions about why the early church fathers don’t use Paul’s teachings. His series on “Was Jesus Given Special Treatment” (a series on whether or not Jesus was allowed to be taken down from the cross the day he was crucified or not). Is especially interesting (and I agree with Dr. Ehrman). It also has a quote that sums my belief in the person we call Jesus Christ;

He is important to us.  For Christians, he is their Savior.  For those of us who are not Christian – at least for me – he is the most important figure in the history of civilization.  I spend my life thinking about him, reading about him, researching about him, teaching about him, and writing about him.  I *do* give him special treatment.  Did PILATE give him special treatment?  I just can’t believe he did.

Another resource I’d like to pass along is called “The Great Courses“.  They have courses in just about anything you can think of, from cooking to religion to photography to languages. They are currently running an 80% off special through February 8th, so check them out soon. I bought the combo set of the “Old Testament” taught by Dr. Amy-Jill Levine and the “New Testament” taught by none other than Dr. Ehrman. You can get DVD’s, video downloads (my choice – don’t even own a DVD player anymore). Also available are complete transcripts (in paperback dead tree versions) of the videos so you can follow along while watching the videos or for later reference, but there is an extra cost for these. I plan on watching the first Old Testament video today during lunch.

I realize this isn’t living up to my “goal of having a humorous blog” as I said yesterday, but I wanted to pass this along before I forgot about it.

Go check these resources out and let me know what you think!

Peace,
B