Psalm 73 – A Parable for Our Time, 3 – Strange Time, This Time

(Photo credit -Quotefancy)

This short series on “A Parable for Our Time” based on Psalm 73 of the Hebrew Scriptures will conclude in unorthodox fashion with a rather lengthy original poem. Although using poetry to convey complexity and perplexity may be a bit of a hurdle, I hope this will not put off the reader.

Given the maelstrom of complex issues and influences swirling around humanity and our role and place on Planet Earth, and the parallel perplexity many of us are experiencing in our souls about it all, perhaps poetry can be a more effective way in reflecting all this than the regular sort of narrative composition blog.

At any rate, should you choose to peruse this venture in poetic license, thank you for you indulgence and patience.

I leave readers to formulate their own interpretations. Each one will hopefully find soul-food somewhere along the way.

Shalom!

Strange time, this time

© V.J. Marquis, July 2022

Strange time, this time

we sojourn in

strange time, this time

of endless din

and silent noise

of ether sky

consumed with waves

particles fly

uncaptured ghosts

shooting through me

swirling ‘round me

photonic beams

in endless streams

screaming voices

I cannot hear

unless I use

the proper gear.

Strange times, these times

restless masses

seething classes

seen through glasses

darkened lenses

barely capture

fleeting senses

what might be seen

what might be heard

sublime, absurd

folly, wisdom

panic, boredom

everything from

wonders to slime

beauty to crime

chaotic brew

one may construe

just as you please

as lonely truth

goes to its knees.

Strange time, this time

rumors of war

lurk at the door

dire projections

dark shadows loom

rage breath of doom

heartless, soulless

glitzy nabobs

shun starving mobs

no qualms or guilt

can stick to them

rake it in now

choked with splendor

“let them eat cake”

we remember

a great queen said

then lost her head.

Strange time, this time

though not the first

there was Noah

of long ago

the story goes

that in his time

imaginations

of multitudes

teemed with evil

all the day long

to hell with good

just bring it on

power, pleasure

makes us all strong

just do as we like

no God to see

no God to hear

no God to care

or make us fear

robbers, killers

and all the rest

top of the heap

short-term bit-king

live by the sword

die by the sword

God may be slow

yet all will see

his dreadful wrath

bring them to dust.

Strange time, this time

hypocrisy reigns

mocking disdain

for any to claim

to yet sustain

moral virtues

old-time values

perhaps abstain

from urgent lusts

consider e’er

you put your trust

in brand-new fads

stranger theories

fresh-concocted

to ease the road

into unproved

notions of who

and what we are

why wait for proof

just go and do

and ridicule

the dinosaurs

who will not see

just shout them down.

Strange time, this time

the great divide

a chasm wide

from left to right

so far apart

with seething rage

a deadly stew

can it be true

conspiracy

that other side

no eyes to see

no ears to hear

no willingness

to listen or

to move aside

receive a word

let it be heard

that comes across

from those people

your truth, my truth

just what is truth

Pilate-Jesus

once exchanged

all truth, no truth

just yours or mine

with no God there

just who’s to say

all truths can change

from day to day.

Strange time, this time

no certainty

it has been said

except we all

will end up dead

“gotta serve somebody”

as we all know

deep in our gut

some rights and wrongs

some truths and lies

fake excuses

for ourselves

lay the blame game

the other guy

made me do it

but underneath

the still small voice

whispers “you know!”

you had a choice

persistent cuss

that little voice

leave me in peace

and if it won’t

I can kill it

I can still it

ignoring it

neglecting it

till I grow deaf

or it goes dead.

Strange time, this time

the deaf and blind

have taken charge

a rumor comes

and panic reigns

a storm streaks by

the ship is blown

now right now left

the course unknown.

Strange time, this time

the sages sitting

upon the heights

of their wisdom

can tell us all

we need to do

to claim our rights

to save ourselves

to practice what

has been approved

how next to move

to reach the goal

justice for all

a few freedoms

checked, withdrawn

more right for some

than other ones

trust us we know

we balance fair

flexible law

in swivel chair.

Strange times, these times

poor blessed ones

meek heirs of earth

pure-heart seekers

given small worth

grieving mourners

shoved to the side

collateral costs

of progress y’all

mercy is mocked

in victims’ case

villains pitied

while families weep

peacemakers called

God’s own blood kin

run to and fro

seeking that one

mucho peace-talk

running here, there

no reality

found anywhere

not in one heart

nor multitude

a rare jewel

so hard to find

sell all to get

no one knows how

it’s really found

hunger and thirst

for God abound

no one dares name

what’s really sought

no one dares kneel

dares breathe the Name.

Strange time, this time

beginning, end

the great trial

to weigh the soul

mene-tekel

moment-finger

Babylon-feast

orgy-garden

drunken stupor

steaming cauldron

drink it down dregs

consequences

consequences

always come home

all know deep down

all debts come due.

Psalm 73 – A Parable for Our Time, 2

Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth savin’
And you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’

The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is rapidly fadin’
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’

Bob Dylan, 1964

Bob Dylan – The Times They Are A-Changin’ (Official Audio) https://www.youtube.com › watch

As much as it did in the day of King David and its author, Asaf, a worship leader in ancient Israel 3000 years ago, Psalm 73 speaks to how masses of ordinary folk see the world in this age. As such, it is true prophecy with a timeless message, as well as a poignant warning to all the arrogant who think they will never have to pay for their crimes against the poor, the downtrodden, the abused, and the oppressed of every kind and degree.

As Asaf observes, it seems as if the rich and evil just get richer and compound their evil depredations at the expense of people who just want to live a quiet normal life with a modicum of comfort and perhaps a measure of social recognition for themselves and their family. While the elites devise more and more methods of extracting everything they can take from them and their toil, the “folks” want reasonable security for their families and opportunities for their children to enjoy the good things they have worked for.

More and more regular citizens become aware that much of their work does not contribute to their own modest hopes and aspirations but is siphoned off by unscrupulous oligarchs, aristocrats, plutocrats, and downright criminals scheming to exploit every means possible to maximize profits and gain more wealth for themselves and their coterie. The plutocrats are seen as manipulating and even controlling the political oligarchs by giving them both a financial cut of the loot and a path to continued future power and influence once they have played out their political credit.

In our day in almost every state, the horrendous actions of the criminal sector are becoming more and more brazen and bold in directly challenging the “legitimate” sector for direct control of whole regions and sectors of the economy and society. They are often so deeply intertwined with the political authorities that their actions are almost indistinguishable. When the populace awakens to this reality, it becomes a mere matter of time until the exploited become so enraged and angry that they begin to rebel.  

What Psalm 73 and other Psalms and prophetic parts of the Bible, both Jewish and Christian, declare is, whatever may appear to be happening, the Creator is always aware and keeping tabs on all of this. Sooner or later, everything is paid for. Evil always reaps its own destruction if it is not ended by “repentance” – a true and sincere turning away from it with restoration and restitution.

“Those who live by the sword die by the sword.” When you drive people into the last corner where no hope is left, the courage of despair rises up with rage and fury to attack the oppressors, even if it seems hopeless. “Those who sow the wind will reap the whirlwind.” “Be sure that your sins will find you out.” “God cannot be mocked [with impunity].”

These are hopeful, sobering sayings, but the difficulty for the victims of the accumulating mountain of injustices and oppressions is in not readily seeing anything being done right now to put an end to them. Ordinary folks still want and hope for that quiet life for themselves and their children and grandchildren. Sometimes it takes generations for the oppression to become so unbearable that the explosion of wrath can no longer by prevented.

History has shown that what may happen is the emergence of someone even more subtle and ruthless than the brutal and callous coteries who have ensconced themselves in the castles with their garrisons of men-at-arms – the “forces of order. The castles of the 21st Century are the bastions of the socio-political-economic Powers of our day.

When the people’s apparent “great hope” emerges, they will usually be seen as “a man [woman if you prefer] of the long-suffering people”, “one of us”, with the power to articulate the spoken and half-understood grievances and outrage of those who have been, or see themselves as having been, disentitled, disenfranchised, used, fobbed off with hollow promises and empty rhetoric, etc.

There is no shortage of examples from history to demonstrate this phenomenon and what can happen when the oratorical, inspirational, motivational, and organizational genius emerges to give voice to and stimulate action from within “the masses”. Here are a few: Alcibiades in ancient Athens; the Gracchi brothers, Spartacus, and Julius Caesar in ancient Rome; “Jacques” and the Jacquerie in Medieval France, Watt Tyler in Medieval England, William Wallace in Medieval Scotland, Thomas Muntzer in Reformation Germany, The Jacobins (Murat and Robespierre, et. al.) in Revolutionary France, Lenin and the Soviets in Russia, the Taipei and Mao in China, Mussolini and Fascism in Italy, and, perhaps the “greatest” populist revolutionary exemplar, Hitler. There have been many smaller-scale models of this phenomenon as well.

As we survey human societies around the world in the 21st Century, we cannot avoid the question, “How close are we to such uprisings?” If such were to break out in this day, can they take on the scale of one of the massive events listed above?

Perhaps of some comfort to the entrenched powers of 21st Century society, most of the outbreaks of popular rage in history have failed in their ultimate aim of overthrowing the oligarchs, plutocrats, aristocratic oppressors, etc. The “forces of order” are often too strong for the poorly armed, amateurishly-led populace to uproot the “Establishment” without some inside help, perhaps some opportunistic or idealistic and repentant person or group from the ruling set who can swing some of his own sort, or at least some part of the military and police forces, to assist the rebels. We see this at the Fall of the Bastille in Paris in 1789, and in St. Petersburg in 1917 with the sailors’ revolt.

If we consider all of this from the perspective of Asaf, the ancient Israelite poet-prophet (in ancient societies poets often had the role of “prophet”), he does not seem to condone bloody revolution as a good solution to the massive injustices suffered by the underclasses. Instead, he seems to advise patience and trust in God, who sees and will, in his Providence, bring retribution upon the oppressors and exploiters.

From the perspective of an ordinary citizen of any age, this is a hard pill to swallow. Asaf is very aware of that. Read (again?) a good translation of the actual Biblical text or, if preferred, refer to my paraphrase in the post previous to this. Perhaps this “counsel of patience in the face of injustice and adversity” just seems too unrealistic to practice, especially to Westerners of the 21st Century CE. It is much more satisfying to take action, even violent action if things get too desperate. What can Asaf be thinking as he tells us to wait for God to settle with our abusers and oppressors?

“They wear their pride brazenly and move along openly using violence and intimidation when it suits them. They grow fat with ease in their rich lifestyle, while their minds always devise new evil which infests their hearts and oozes out into their actions. They speak with malice and scoffing while they spew out threats. They even mock God and heaven while they strut and swagger boastfully here on earth.

“Many people are taken in by them and their “success” and turn to them, swallowing their “how-to-get-rich” story whole and acting like them. Those arrogant swaggerers sneer, “I don’t see any evidence that there’s a God watching! Does he even exist?”

“There they are, those evil scourges of humanity, always at ease, getting rich, swelled with self-importance and power. It seems to me these days as if I’ve remained good and innocent of wrongdoing for nothing. I know nothing but trouble every day, as if I’m being punished the minute I get up in the morning.”

Psalm 73 paraphrase

How can I/you/we find the patience to go on enduring the burdens they heap on us so callously? What about the crushed, much-worse-off victims in so many other afflicted states in Africa, Asia, Latin America? Is it at all reasonable to suggest, “If you just wait patiently, God will give those despicable evil people their just desserts in due time?” How can that be seen as any kind of solution for people watching their children die and their humble hopes crushed as so much dung under the boots of ruthless semi-human killers?

The very earth calls out for redress and for just consequences for the very worst of these beings who look like humans but act like incarnate devils.

Here in Canada, perhaps more than in any other Western nation, we move as in a dream far removed from most of the turmoil. We are deceived, just as our leaders seem to be. They but reflect the somnolence of the people as we imagine that we shall escape what is happening far offshore. Our mighty southern neighbour is deep in internal turmoil, and its waves are lapping at our doorstep, even spilling over, although so far we have felt but ripples.

The point is that, far and wide, the world stage is set for some great emergence, some sort of great upheaval in human order and society. Nature itself seems to mirror this.

To borrow more Biblical imagery, we might say the “the whole earth is groaning in distress felt right in the gut [the old translations say “travail”] as it awaits the glorious revelation of the sons (children) of the Creator.” (St. Paul in Romans, chapter 8.)

It seems an appropriate time to be describing where things have come to in apocalyptic language. Read again the opening citation from Bob Dylan who might, with considerable justice, be called the “poet laureate” and greatest minstrel of this time in human history. For those who miss the allusions in the last verse of that great classic song of almost 60 years ago, they are firmly anchored in the teachings of Yeshua/Jesus who was referring to the elite of the society he was living in two thousand years ago.

“The times they are a-changin'” but, “plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose”!

TO BE CONTINUED

Psalm 73 – A Parable for Our Time, 1

(Photo credit – wikipedia – shofar)

(The following is my rather liberal paraphrase of a literary gem from the Hebrew Bible. It is based on David Stern’s translation in The Complete Jewish Bible.I have eliminated the verse separations to facilitate the flow of this shockingly relevant 3000-year-old discourse on the nature of human society in the eyes of a citizen who also happens to still believe in God and His ultimate justice.)

God is very good to Israel, to those whose hearts are pure before Him.

But I lost my balance and my feet almost slipped away when I became jealous of arrogant rich and powerful people and saw how much evildoers prosper. For when their death comes it’s painless, and they stay healthy all their lives, never having the troubles of ordinary people and cruising along untouched by sickness and pain.

They wear their pride brazenly and move along openly using violence and intimidation when it suits them. They grow fat with ease in their rich lifestyle, while their minds always devise new evil which infests their hearts and oozes out into their actions. They speak with malice and scoffing while they spew out threats. They even mock God and heaven while they strut and swagger boastfully here on earth.

Many people are taken in by them and their “success” and turn to them, swallowing their “how-to-get-rich” story whole and acting like them. Those arrogant swaggerers sneer, “I don’t see any evidence that there’s a God watching! Does he even exist?”

There they are, those evil scourges of humanity, always at ease, getting rich, swelled with self-importance and power. It seems to me these days as if I’ve remained good and innocent of wrongdoing for nothing. I know nothing but trouble every day, as if I’m being punished the minute I get up in the morning.

But when I talk like this, I’m betraying my children and grandchildren. Nevertheless, it’s very troubling to think about.

Then, as I come before God to worship and stay in His presence, I see the truth about their fate. You, God, have put them on a slippery slope sliding straight into the pit of destruction. In an instant they are destroyed and swept away by sudden terrors. There is nothing left of them but dream-mist when an aroused God shows how He despises the way they live.

For a while I was angry and bitter and deeply wounded. In my anguish, I became an utterly ignorant fool myself, like one of the brute beasts you’ve made. But you did not leave me or forget me. You took me aside by the right hand and counseled and guided me. You showed me that when I die, you will receive me into your glorious realm.

So, Lord, whom do I have in heaven but you? And as to here on earth, when all is said and done, I want nothing else but you.

My body will fail and my heart may give out, but God is my real strength and my eternal home.

Those who have already gone too far and those who are even now heading far away from you will perish; the unfaithful to you are as good as destroyed already.

As for me, the nearness of God is my true good and is all that is truly desirable and good. I am making Yahweh-Adonai my refuge so that I can tell everyone who will listen of all your works.

——————————————————————————–

Lately, I feel as if I really connect to Psalm 73. Previously I have experienced trouble with this and other Psalms of similar sentiment because of what seems like God’s harsh attitude in categorically rejecting those who have gone astray from Him. I sometimes find the language of the Psalms towards rebels against God brutal and vengeful in my 21st Century years.

But there is a real dilemma for anyone who gets caught up in that semantic trap – for that is what it is, a semantic trap. It springs from our post-modern, enlightened, progressivist reinterpretation of what God should be like according to us rather than the reality of who God really is. We have remade God to suit our touchy-feely ideas.

Here is the internal dialogue we postmoderns typically recite along that route: “I want everyone who claims to be good to be nice and sensitive and forgiving of everything I do. Hmm – but that means we all need to be forgiving and non-judgmental of whatever anyone does. If I want that for me from everyone else, I guess I should be that way too. (But there are limits of course, especially when people mistreat me!)

“So, if God really exists, he/she/it/they would automatically have to be all-forgiving, no matter what!. (S)he would not harshly and brutally condemn people to hell, even if they do horrible things. In fact, hell shouldn’t exist at all – so let’s just declare it can’t, it doesn’t. If God is love, and hell is full of hate, well it just can’t be real! But heaven is a great place, or would be if we didn’t have to just do everything God says all the time. I mean, how much fun would that be? So, let’s just say that “heaven” will be perfectly adaptable, according to everyone’s idea of what it should be like to be heaven for them.”

The most economical postmodern solution to this disturbing dilemma of people actually doing for-real terrible deeds while we try to make sense of them in a universe that still has a God sitting above it, is to deny there is a God. Then we don’t have to deal with the moral conundrum the inconvenient Deity creates for us poor mortals living in a painfully unjust world. Without the Supreme Being, morality is just a social construct and not a real problem – unless, of course, you happen to be on the receiving end of the injustice. Then, it’s very hard to remember as you suffer that injustice doesn’t have a true reality, just the appearance and feel of it for the recipients. The random-chance universe of inanimate evolution is just a cruel, brutal place, so cruelty and brutality are just human attributions put on something that is not personal. But, oops! All that right and wrong talk still smacks of judgment and morality! So just where does that SO inconvenient apparently innate sense of justice and morality come from anyway if the universe is devoid of it. How moral are atoms and molecules?

This is the kind of semantic game philosophers who deny there is a God or say that God is irrelevant must play to escape the trap they’ve created for themselves and everyone else who ignores or excludes God, especially a Personal God, from their understanding of life and the Cosmos. Therefore, the denial of God, and of real (in)justice and actual good and evil in the Cosmos as it is, is nothing more or less than a semantic trap. It has no exit. Only God provides an exit, but we can no longer admit that exit into public discourse and polite society. As Stephen Hawking said about the best resolution for the enigmas of how evolution could ever have happened, and time come into being, “The simplest and most elegant solution is God. But we do not have need of that hypothesis.”

Hawking was of course dead wrong; we desperately need not only the “God-hypothesis” but the actual living, Personal God, Yahweh-Adonai, the One who identifies as “I AM WHO I AM: I WILL BE WHOM I WILL BE,” “The God Who Is There!” as Francis Schaeffer put it in a book of the same title.

In ancient times, the polytheists understood this when they began to consider the nature of the gods they had fallen into worshipping and appeasing. They realized that the way they attributed frivolous human moral ambivalence and pettiness to them simply would not do. Gods who could whimsically be benevolent one day and downright malicious the next could not be worthy of worship, except out of fear. But no amount of appeasement seemed to make them any more or less benevolent. So why bother?

But few ancients were willing to say that no such thing as morality and justice really existed. They needed to make the gods more just in order to hang onto truth, so gradually they did. There were a few open atheists, like the Roman Lucretius. But he was considered rather blasphemous and certainly impious by his contemporaries. To the chagrin of his great Medieval admirer, Thomas Aquinas, Aristotle, often considered the greatest ancient philosopher, if not the greatest of all time, was ambivalent about the God question. He rejected the Greek pantheon as unworthy of esteem, but, unlike his mentor Plato, was agnostic about there being a single Supreme Being. Plato concluded there must be such a Being.

In the ancient world, most everyone innately understood and accepted that there truly is good and evil at work, and that right and wrong are everyday choices to be made even in the most banal and certainly in the most significant issues in life. If we scratch enough below the surface of the regular John and Jane in the 21st-Century, I suspect the situation is little changed from our ancient progenitors. Such stubborn persistence of moral absolutism related to a belief in God may be the despair of the radical progressive set. They would dearly love to make morality as plastic and redefinable as possible in order to keep everyone moving towards full acceptance of the next crusade’s new value on the ever-morphing WOKE agenda. They can’t understand how, after setting the educational agenda for decades now in the West, ordinary folks still hold onto the “God-hypothesis” as the only logical answer to that most basic of all childhood questions, “WHY?”

This “stubborn persistence” is closely aligned to the deep malaise at work among hundreds of millions of unhappy regular citizens whose anger about fundamental inequalities and moral follies being ignored and even sanctioned as “good” is approaching boil-over temperature. John and Jane Doe see endless demands to stretch their lifestyles and values while removing their hope of economic betterment in order to suit the latest enlightenment revelations about “truth”. Outrage, we are discovering, is a two-way street. In the early 2000s, the left seemed to be the righteous outraged faction. Now the right has their own version of righteous anger. Neither faction likes it when the other takes to the streets and the barricades in wrathful outpourings. Shades of Germany in the early 1930s!

Psalm 73 is actually remarkably close to what we are discussing here, yet it was composed (as a song!) 3000 or so years ago by an Israelite worship leader named Asaf. As King Shlomo (Solomon) (an Israelite ruler close to Asaf in time) observed, “There is nothing new under the sun.”

Before we close this episode, and to prepare for our next one, let us briefly set up the discussion Asaf is embarking on in his 3000-year-old “protest” song (shades of Barry Maguire, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and Neil Young!). He wasn’t a hard-swearing rapper, but he is scathing nonetheless!

Asaph, our ancient Protester (Protestant?) is talking about the conscienceless ultra-rich and powerful oppressors of the underclasses of his time. He asks all the sorts of question which any person with a still functioning conscience and sense of justice and right and wrong would ask today. He might even have been looking at the oppressive rule of Israelite Kings as he wrote this, or at least at some of his oppressive officials who, like the bloatedly opulent Kings, were using their high offices and trade and business connections to grow richer and richer while oppressing, over-taxing, and gouging the poor farmers and laborers.

Sounds like the obscene plutocratic system we see in this age, eh?

TO BE CONTINUED

Outliers, 8– Profile of the Ultimate Outlier, 2

Even if someone [meaning himself] were to rise from the dead, still they would not believe. –

Jesus/Yeshua, in the parable of Lazarus and the rich man in the afterlife. – ca 32 CE

There is no God but Allah, and I am the Prophet of Allah.

Muhammad to the Meccans in 610 CE.

The Buddha is not to be worshipped, nor is he himself the way; the Buddha is but the one who shows the way.

Siddhartha Gautama (the Buddha) to the Sanghya (the order of monks who followed him), ca. 500 BCE

Last time, we concluded that only three persons in human history qualify for the designation “Ultimate Outlier” or “Super-Outlier”: in chronological order, they are Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama – 563-483 BCE), Yeshua ben-Yosef of Nazareth in Israel (Jesus – 4 BCE-33 CE), and Muhammad of Mecca (570 CE – 632 CE). There have been almost innumerable other prominent outliers in human history down through the last five recorded millennia, but previously we rather conclusively demonstrated that none of them approach the caliber of the three named above.

Furthermore, these three are all well-established, documentable historical persons, not vague legendary individuals of whose real lives we know very little or next to nothing. As we found previously, the legacies of these three are so gigantic and durable that they bear no comparison with any other famous personage in any field of achievement we could name. They surpass any temporal empire based on conquest and national ambition, as well as any other great achievements in any category of historical renown.

When considering the issue “Who is the greatest person who has ever lived?” Western materialists are inevitably prone to reduce it to some sort of quantifiable criteria. As tempting as this may be, it simply will not do for these three. What sort of quantifiers could be used? Numbers of followers over time and in the present? A mugs game at best. How about numbers of ethnicities or nations whose populace by-and-large today name each of them as their religious icon or Messiah? Once more, there are so many variables as to render such a comparison mute. Using such crude indices will render no meaningful result.

When answering the burning question, “Who is the greatest of all?” Mohammed Ali (Cassius Clay), the world heavyweight boxing legend, brazenly and unabashedly replied, “I AM THE GREATEST!” Similarly, the adherents of one or the other of the three great faiths named above would doubtless nominate their own founder to the title.

No human, living or dead, is capable of objectively deciding who is THE Ultimate Outlier in human history. I will not pretend to be objective either. For any regular reader of this blog, you will already know that I am an affirmed Christian, so my answer is obvious. Yeshua ben-Yosef/Jesus, son of Joseph, of Nazareth IS THAT ONE.

That does not mean that I cannot admire the other nominees, at least to some degree. For example, Buddha’s teachings are among the most sublime on record, and those who practice them consistently may well succeed in living harmonious lives and doing far less harm to others, their world, and themselves than those who do not. “Good” Buddhists are among the least offensive and aggressive people on Earth.

Muhammad faced and overcame great adversity. He was ready to die for his mission and message and was a great teacher, inspirer of men, organizer, recruiter, and unifier of previously hostile tribes. But the harshness of parts of his message, once he had gained power in Yatrib (Medina), and the thrust of his revelations underwent a profound change. Its application by both himself and subsequent Caliphs towards those who did (and do) not voluntarily accept it has led to enormous injustice against those named “infidels” for their refusal, including wholesale massacres and mass forced conversions. The justification for this kind of “evangelism” counterbalances subsequent attempts to create more equitable conditions. Too often these have failed and continue to fail in the face of stubborn insistence on holding fast to Medieval cruelties and inequalities in the name of “preserving the faith”. For example, by and large in Islamic societies, women are still kept in abject suppression to men at every stage of their lives.

Neither can the reprehensible behavior of people claiming to be sincere followers and adherents of Jesus be excused, either in the past or in the present. Horrors committed on millions in the name of Jesus and “Christian civilization” are an inexcusable blot on the legacy of the Lord of lords and Prince of Peace. Those who condoned and continue to condone such blasphemies will have much to answer for standing before the Judgment Seat of the One they profess to serve. They also have much to answer for right now in the court of human esteem and justice itself.

Diametrically opposite to the above kind of behaviors, and like Buddha, Jesus taught and exampled peace, respect for all regardless of any sort of categorization extant in the prevalent society, forgiveness, and open acceptance of all, male and female, slave and free, regardless of race (there is only the human race, not several) and ethnicities. For him, all can come to him as equal inheritors of God’s offer of a new Kingdom here on earth and in “the age to come”. No evidence can be advanced from any legitimate historically vetted source to show that Jesus ever preached taking power by force, overthrowing established powers and societies by subversive revolution, or advancing the idea of any sort of racial or cultural mastery of one people, tribe, or nation over others. On the country, when on trial for his life before the Roman Superpower’s governor in his homeland of Israel, Jesus told Pontius Pilatus, “My Kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my followers would fight for me, and I could ask my Father [he claimed God as his Father] for ten legions of angels [60 000 angels!] and He would send them.”

Instead, he declared that he had come to bring an end to the dominion of sin on Earth, and that he would do this by voluntarily sacrificing his own life as the price to bring reconciliation between forlorn and lost humanity and our broken-hearted Creator. In turn, that would open the road to mutual reconciliation among the warring peoples of earth, among individuals, and even with the wider creation itself.

Instead of launching a violent revolutionary crusade to overthrow the military Superpowers of the world who crush and oppress the suffering masses, he would send a bunch of ordinary people to teach and live by example God’s message that the way out of the same-old millennial pattern of ambitious, unscrupulous, and downright wicked people taking over and ruling using a lot of helping soldiers and bureaucrats and accomplices who benefit from the system was to turn the value system and heart commitment upside down.

“You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”, but I tell you love your enemies, forgive those who persecute you, do good to those who hate you, and you will be children of your heavenly Father.” Jesus said that real change could only happen when heart-and-soul inner change took place and enough people started living by a whole other set of criteria.

The usual response to this very hard message is that it is all very nice in theory, but can never work in practice in the dog-eat-dog, only-the-fittest-survive universe we have seen extant since human history has been recorded.

Ending war, mutual hatred, and group-to-group animosity and fear has long been recognized as the great quest for bringing peace on earth and true goodwill to all humans. All of us know that this must happen or we are doomed – and perhaps life on Earth itself is doomed if we fail.

But, despite all the understanding of the need for such a great utopian breakthrough, we continue to see that “the beat goes on” as it ever has. Every great Golden Age of every society and civilization has come crashing down in ruins as one kingdom has risen up against another and people beat their ploughshares into swords and their pruning-hooks into spears and shields, and once more the chariots of war rumble out.

Once more we live in a time of wars and rumors or wars. Once more we hear the trumpet blast to rally the armies for another time of slaughter. And we now also sea the seas being turned to wormwood, and the heavens becoming as brass, burning up the very ground. The very skies can now rain down fire and brimstone.

Buddha’s offer of peace is for personal extinction in nirvana. Muhammad’s offer is that everyone submit to Allah or the might of his wrath will smite all the infidels until all who are left bow to him or burn in hell forever. Jesus’ offer is, through confessing your need to God to be forgiven through the sacrifice of Jesus, to receive forgiveness for all your sins and then become an ambassador of peace and God’s love to any who will hear.

In simplified form, these are the three basic choices the three Ultimate Outliers of human history have left for us.

But there are four choices, not just three.

The fourth choice is to refuse all of them and keep hoping we humans can still find a way out of our deepening crisis for ourselves. That is the choice actually at work for a great many, if not most people in the West right now. It is also the choice at work in non-Western nations which have taken on a largely Western approach to living and dealing with socio-economic-political realities.

Making war to end war has never brought an end to war. Karma is as true now as it ever was. “If you live by the sword, you will die by the sword,” another one of those straight-to-the-heart Jesus sayings. Biblically speaking, “The wages of sin is [always] death” – and, “Those who sow the wind reap the whirlwind”.

Outliers, 7 – Profile of the Ultimate Outlier, 1

No one has ever spoken like this man! –

The Temple Guards Captain to the High Priest when he returned without arresting Jesus, ca. 33 CE

It is harder for a rich person to enter God`s family than it is for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.

– Yeshua/Jesus of Nazareth

The typical individualistic Westerner wants to express who “I really am underneath”; to make a statement and stand up for his/her own special uniqueness. The quintessential launching point for this ideal in recent memory was in the 1960s, the era of “Flower Power”, long hair for guys, newly approved birth-control pills, adaptable morality, and Rock Festivals. However, it must be recognized that the genesis of this movement had begun long before, reaching as far back as the Renaissance and Reformation in the 14th-16th centuries. What we saw emerge in the 1960s was the fruit of a long process of shedding traditions based on God and religious institutions.

The Beatniks of the ‘50s and Hippies of the ‘60s spawned millions of wannabe imitators growing long hair, reciting often bad poetry, singing folk- and protest-songs, wearing headbands, talking “cool” new lingo, sporting tie-dye T-shirts and pastel dresses and robes, marching in antiwar and Ban-the-Bomb protests, and flashing the Peace-sign as they jumped on the “All you need is love” bandwagon. They defied their parents and found their validation with their peers, asserting they did not have to conform to the “Man’s” (the System’s/the “Establishment’s”) expectations, while imitating the music, the clothing styles, and the talk of their “Counterculture” idols.

Many of these “cool” and “groovy” “dudes and chicks” were mostly aiming to hop into as many beds as possible while the hopping was hot. They could also sample some other groovy stuff like smoking joints, toking hashish, and trying out the psychedelic fast-track to spiritual enlightenment. But when real disapproval with real consequences began to assert themselves and “the Establishment” began to shut down a lot of their cultural mirages, “giving the Man the finger” went underground and external conformity to the Rat Race set in.

Since then, when the Western individual vaunts his/her dedication to unique individuality and personal expression, Western Capitalism quickly adapts and graphically markets the proper fashions and parameters by which to be your own unique person. Given the now great capacity to micro-market, any trend can be rapidly commercialized. The Counterculture Movement of 1963-75 was eventually massively coopted by smart entrepreneurs and its idols were brought mainstream by slick entertainment and business agents offering deals that could not be refused to people who were addicted seeking personal pleasure. The music idols of that generation all signed on to cash in. Many former real, and most pseudo-, Hippies headed back to school or got jobs to get a rich life once the hangover set in.

The West continues its admiration of everyone’s striving to be an Outlier in their own way while showing and telling via many cultural products what ways are actually acceptable to pursue modest individualistic distinction while advising, “Don’t get too far carried away by it.” After all, aspiration to self-expression via commercial stylism is extremely good for business.

No other culture in recorded history has idolized the appearance of individuality and pseudo-Outliership so avidly. It is no longer just the fashionable “stars” of entertainment and sport who aspire to be noticed. Imitate your preferred petty-gods and you gain a sort of proxy-Outliership. Not so different from the ancients with their domestic deities and ancestor-busts (a Roman custom) set up on little altar-shrines in their homes.

Historically, until the modern and post-modern, post-Christian West emerged, an excess of individuality had always been seen as presumption and even arrogance. It was also a threat to the social equilibrium. Some allowance was made for a few really fringe cases, but too many would eventually bring out the heretic hunters to deal with the order-disturbing elements. This pattern is still seen in many non-Western cultures, particularly among Muslim and Oriental nations. There are remnants of this even in the West.

In honor-and-shame cultures, fulfilling one’s role, keeping traditions, honoring one’s ancestors and relations, and avoiding bringing shame on one’s family and personal reputation weigh too heavily to allow Outliers a lot of leeway. In these cultures, the obsession of Westerners with self-expression, often at the expense of the very values so honored in the Middle East, the Orient, much of Africa, and, to a lesser extent, Latin America, is seen as decadent and irresponsible.

Cultural pendula swing back and forth, like Western clothing and hair styles. The degree of unorthodoxy a culture is willing to sustain without seeking to suppress it usually depends on the elite controllers’ sense of security in holding onto their sway and keeping their ability to maintain compliance among the generality of the populace for the benefit of those at the social, economic, and political summit. Thus, if the arbitrators of the key areas of conformity to orthodoxy feel secure in the mass of the people’s compliance to the “Establishment’s” set forms and rules and standards, they will allow the occasional outrageous manifestation to play itself out as long as it does not become a blatant challenge to fundamental official values or the culture’s general worldview.

In the ancient world, non-violent insanity was often viewed as “an affliction of the gods”, and the insane were not locked up but tolerated lest the god whose work the insanity signaled be offended. The European Medieval world took the view that the devil might be to blame and exorcism might be in order. Some examples needed to be made, and this might mean a few show-trails and heretic-burnings. If the affliction was of only mild effect on the family and community, the afflicted might be cared for in the home or an institution for the “mad”. Dementia was not understood. If the disorder became widespread, out came the heavy hitters of Church and State to root out the heretics, the witches, and the demonized. Perhaps a Crusade might be deemed necessary.

The problem has always been how to deal with anyone whose Outliership is so sane and well-developed that it remains within the boundaries of cultural, theological, and ideological orthodoxy but challenges the abuses of the system and some of its most fundamental interpretations of long-held Truth right to the core.

Enter Buddha, Muhammad, and, most outstanding of all, Yeshua/Jesus of Nazareth.

When someone of this caliber appears, the whole established order and the system itself can and will be challenged. The usual response of killing the interloper cannot erase the effect they have. Of the Big Three, only Jesus was executed, but He then proved His ultra-ultimate Outliership by refusing to stay dead and actually physically resurrecting! At least so say the Christians, and there is pretty solid historical evidence for His really having done this. Pretty hard (actually … IMPOSSIBLE! …) to get rid of Him after that!

There is no one else who matches the overall impact of the Big Three in recorded history. These three individuals stand out as the Ultimate Outliers. They are head and shoulders above other great leaders, teachers, and moral examples – and certainly far above famous military and political “heroes” such as Cyrus of Persia, Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, or more modern figures such as George Washington, Catherine the Great, or Napoleon Bonaparte, to name a few. Neither do scientific “heroes” like Newton, Madame Curie, and Einstein belong in such a discussion, as great and revolutionary as they are for science. And as to entertainment and sports superstars staking a claim to supreme Outliership, the less said the better.

There is an abyss separating the “Big Three” from the rest of the ranks of “Great Outliership”. Here are some similarities among the Super-Outliers: all three taught and established one of great religions of the world, leaving an immense legacy that endures to this day. All three continue to inspire and create disciples in the millions even today. All three did not themselves leave writings and authoritative documents with instructions for successors to follow in establishing institutions and systems to propagate and regulate the work their disciples would carry on in their name. That was all left to the disciples to work out along the road into future. What they left were stories, actions, discourses, examples, and moral authority to carry on and extend their message and example of how to live. The disciples set about collecting and regularizing the accounts of what they said and did so that followers would know how to follow.

All three left an embryonic sort of organization, a living, morphing movement rather than a set-in-stone system and institution. The followers would have to work out how to create a lasting organism to preserve and grow the founder’s message and mission. This sort of legacy was genius, for it left a flexible, organic, adaptable movement able to live and grow in different times, places, and cultures and so become “universal” rather than time-limited, parochial, national, or merely ethnic.

TO BE CONTINUED

Outliers, 6 – Consequences

Whoever undertakes to set himself up in the field of Truth and Knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods.

– Albert Einstein

There is no error so monstrous that it fails to find its defenders among the ablest men [and women].

– John Dalberg (Lord Acton)

Today we set out to explore how choices always create consequences. In the previous episode, we discussed the greatest, most consequential choice we can ever make – that of our dance partner in the “Great Dance” and our individual part in it. We noted that everyone must dance. When we boil it all down, we will dance with one, or perhaps, over the course of our lives, with a succession or combination of the following partners: (1) the gods/idols of our ancestors, (2) the gods/idols of the present time, (3) ourselves as our own god/idol, or (4) Yahweh the Creator, the One, the Ultimate Partner. As Bob Dylan said “You gotta serve somebody.”

There are no doubt some who will argue that the sort of statement made above is based on the false and thoroughly discredited notion of belief in a Divinity, a Creator, and its corollary that there is such a thing as Absolute Truth. [For the remainder of this discussion we will use “Truth”, capital T, to mean Absolute Truth and “truth” for its opposite – relative truth based on personal conviction.]

To say that there is no such thing as Truth is an inherent contradiction. The declarer is in fact saying there is at least one Truth – that there is no Truth. Simply affirming or denying one’s personal conviction about Truth cannot prove or disprove its actual existence. Just as the denier of Truth will doubtless appeal to science and mathematics to “prove” that there is no “Truth” because there is no scientific way to demonstrate its reality, it is equally accurate to say there is no scientific way to disprove its reality. In each case, the affirmer must weigh the evidence and the probabilities, choose to believe, and accept the ensuing consequences based on the life one lives in accordance with one’s “faith” – for both are faith-based decisions about what is ultimately true.

If I cannot or will not live by the truth/Truth I declare to be reality, I am perhaps an unconscious deceiver of myself and others, or a self-deluded hypocrite, or an outright scoundrel who is deliberately misleading others, or a fool who does not even know what my true convictions are.

Perhaps my delusion is based on my desire to impress others, to be seen as someone I am not. Perhaps I think that, if I profess certain convictions, I may gain recognition, acclaim, position as a road to power and influence, wealth and immunity from consequences – with a secret aim of being able to indulge my baser passions without giving an account. Or perhaps this is what happens as a by-product of the underlying quest disguised by the nobler-sounding aims designed to fool oneself and the others I have used along the way. All too often we see this on vivid display among tycoons, states-people, and high-profile big names in all sectors from religion to entertainment.

The old saw about religion and science not mixing and being completely incompatible was never true and is wearing thinner and thinner. We suffer every day from its Goebbelsian (Joseph Goebbels, Nazi Minister or Propaganda) Big-Lie repetition from on high in Academia. In public oratory and decreed public policy about all the new values that must be unquestioningly bought into, we are lectured about all kinds of censure and other opprobrium which will be the consequences upon transgressors of the New Enlightenment discoveries about Nature, Human Nature, and the Cosmos itself. [These are spelled with capitals to designate their status as gods/idols of this age.]

The Truth is that faith and science have always been intimately connected. There is in fact now a very large minority of serious “real” scientists who quietly recognize both their own individual spirituality, and that it is not a contradiction for them to believe that there is deep mystery in the Cosmos – both macro and micro. They understand and see up close that life in all its inexplicable, intricate, and mind-blowing complexity, which hangs on a razor’s edge, bears a profound impression of deliberate purpose and design which no amount of infinite evolutionary regress can erase. One micro-deviation at any number of infinitesimal micro-instants would have aborted and still could abort it all.

This brings us to “probabilities”. In brutally brief clarity, the odds are virtually infinitely against anything being here, let along what actually is with all its mind-blowing wonder. And then we add in the even much less probable emergence of a highly sentient, self-aware entity called humanity, complete with innate moral and ethical sensibilities and a capacity to conceive the infinite and the Ultimate Source of all that is or ever could be.

Admittedly, understanding probabilities does not constitute “Truth”; it only points overwhelmingly towards its probability. The choice whether to accept this gigantic probability remains with the perceiver. Regardless of saying “yes” or “no” to the Great Partner in the dance, we humans are certainly, absolutely the most extreme of Outliers in the great Cosmos.

The absurd paradox of it all is that in the most scientifically advanced society in the history of Earth, most of its denizens are desperately choosing to deny who and what we are and what we were made for, and by Whom. The consequences of this flight from reality are akin to a Berchtold Brecht Theatre of the Absurd drama – Waiting for Godot, Reprise to the nth degree. [Apologies to Brecht fans; this “title” is my invention, not a real play.]

By all rights, the most scientific and mathematically honest perspective should be that there is a virtual certainty that, even if we poor humans can’t fully perceive it, absolute Truth exists because a Creator-Designer exists to give True meaning to the Cosmos and to us. Whether the Creator worked this wonder by fiat decree or gradual, guided processes is not the debate at this point.

As to consequences, for 300 or so years the West’s most influential Intelligentsia have striven with grit, determination, and even some rudimentary design, to deconstruct the “old regime” based on the existence of the Creator to give order and meaning to all things. This work has been carried on with great ingenuity in undermining all the extant influences of tradition and meaning founded on the Creator – whether by discrediting the Scriptures or the Church as institution, or the intellectuals who have opposed their work. Humans have been reduced to sophisticated animals. All in all, this long culture war has brought victory to the Enlightenment ideas of relativistic truth, relativistic morality and ethics, and plastic, every-morphing concepts of human nature – even while “Nature” has been idolized and humanity largely vilified.

In the 2020s, we find ourselves swimming in the social, moral, ethical, environmental, industrial, cultural, and economic swamp which is the consequence of this deconstruction. The swamp is filled with the increasingly murky waters of personalized, politicized “truth” seeking to drown and smother Truth in the muck of “everything is OK, as long as you’re not intolerant (oops! how did that new “Truth” slip in there?), except of those we declare to be intolerant because they tell us there really is Truth and right and wrong and good and bad in the world.”

The Big Lie says that there are no consequences for all the lunacy we can indulge in in the name of Freedom (another modern idol) and Self-Expression. There are always consequences. Science tells us with absolute certainty that “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction; what goes up, will come down; what goes around, comes around.” Karma tells us, “Every action has an outcome; good actions beget good outcomes; bad/foolish/self-deluding/wicked actions beget bad and even disastrous consequences.” We can deny what nature (both Cosmic and human)/the Creator has designed into everything and us only until we reach the limits of what the design can absorb before it and our own beings will suffer brutal and terrible consequences. We are on the cusp of judgment. Whether it be the Last Judgment remains to be seen and is known only to the Creator.

Saying this is not “judgmental”. It is not a personal attack on any individual or group. Take it to heart as appropriate. Ignore it at your peril – individual and collective. It is the judgment of consequences which we largely inflict on ourselves. It is not accusatory to declare what is patent and ought to be totally obvious Truth. Running away from it hiding our eyes and blocking our ears while screaming “You have no right to tell me this! I don’t have to listen to your holier-than-thou diatribe!” will not stop any of the consequences which are coming as ineluctably down the mountainside as an avalanche. It is as sure as Bob Dylan’s “Slow Train Coming’” told us several decades ago.

Choices! We all have them! We can’t avoid them. Small ones lead to big ones. I can avoid and ignore warnings and signs of what’s coming until I become oblivious and even morally comatose.  But I have no one to blame but myself for the consequences.

There is always a choice. Even now, you can choose to be an Outlier willing to give up your other god/gods and turn to the only Dance Partner who can set you free from the ultimate consequences of denying who He/She is and who you are and are really meant to be.

Absolutely!

TO BE CONTINUED

Outliers, 5 – Choices

The key to good decision-making is not knowledge. It is understanding. We are swimming in the former. We are desperately lacking in the latter.

– Malcolm Gladwell

… the man [woman] of firm decisions fashions the universe.

– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Life puts no greater burden upon a man [woman] than the necessity of making decisions.

Frank Yerby

Choose today whom you are going to serve; if Adonai (the One Creator-God) is God, serve Him. Or if the gods of your ancestors from centuries past are gods, or the idols of the people among whom you live today are gods, serve them. But as for me and mine, we will serve Adonai. –

Y’hoshua/Joshua – Book of Joshua in the Bible, chapter 24: 15,16 (my partial paraphrase)

You gotta serve somebody.

– Bob Dylan

(Photo credit FUMC Allen)

From infancy to the grave, life is choice. Almost everything we do and experience involves choice in one form or another.

There are a few exceptions: we don’t get to choose our parents; or our siblings; or when and where we are born. We don’t get to design our basic anatomical specifications, or even many of the details such as hair and eye and skin colour, or how tall we can grow. And as young children, we don’t get any (direct) say in major decisions within our families, or much of our early life. Our parents or some other adult authorities make those choices.

The question of choice always raises the issue of predestination, determinism, fate, heredity versus nurture, etc., versus freedom. Perhaps freedom is mostly an illusion, but I doubt that my choice to wear blue socks today has been predestined in any meaningful way, and will likely have no significant effect on the course of my or anyone else’s existence. The Big Bang 14 billion years ago did not ordain me to wear blue socks on a particular day in May 2022.

Did God? Setting aside the most abstruse, obscure, divisive, and ultimately sterile kind of theological debate about God’s interventions (if any) in time and space, let alone my or anyone’s private affairs, the practical answer remains, “No! God does not weigh the fate of the universe, or even my personal well-being or that of anyone else, on my choice of which socks to wear on a particular day.” Does this exclude the possibility that God may choose to intervene directly on rare occasions in the realm of time-space? As the Creator, that is His/Her prerogative and He/She is answerable to no one else for such sovereign action. Your liking or disliking the Creator’s decision to change the course of an event every so often will have no bearing on His/Her action or inaction. Your disbelief in His/Her existence affects nothing as to its reality, it simply blinds you from seeing what is sometimes staring you in the face!

Our wise opening commentators concur with this. We have to choose day by day in big and small things, philosophy and theology aside. Believe what you want about God’s final sovereignty and predestination, but you must still live day by day as if you have real choices to make with real consequences ensuing – from blue socks to “popping the Question” to the love of your life. And in answer, she/he will also have to make a real choice with lifelong consequences.

Choice is real for other sentient life-forms as well. Instinct does not govern every decision your dog or cat or horse, or the wild creature nearby, makes. A little aside: in French you “take”, not “make” a decision – an interesting little twist in cultural perspective among different peoples.

Some decisions, like the question of wearing socks, are frivolous. Some, like choosing a mate, a fraught with serious repercussions. All are made with both micro and macro contexts leading us to them – hence the argument about ultimate predestination or determinism. After all is said and done, could we make any other choices than the ones we make? But we return once more to the practicality of our lives. No psychological analysis can “deterministically” tell me if I was compelled to marry this one person and no other.

When we look at choosing to believe in a personal Creator, we face the same questions. Theology is of little real help even here. Whether God “sovereignly chooses and draws to Him-Her-self whom He/She will” or not, doesn’t release me from, to all appearances and in personal application, making/taking the Yes-No choice. What is for certain is that your answer to this central question will have a profound impact on the rest of your life-journey.

Which brings us back to Dylan’s famous and excellent song, “Gotta Serve Somebody”. This “gotta” is one more for our list of things we don’t get to choose. You get to choose whom you will serve, but not whether you have to choose. The choice of words is not that we ultimately get to choose “what” we will serve – regardless of making a commitment to some noble or ignoble cause, some selfless or quite selfish goal and ambition, — but, ultimately, that we “gotta”, HAVE TO, serve somebody, a personal being.

This is the point at which most of we Westerners consciously tune out. Serving the Creator-God is not very much on the radar for a huge majority of 21st-Century Westerners. Let alone the idea that if we don’t choose the Creator, we are actually choosing to serve another personal being in place of Him/Her.

Why does Dylan use this language; is it all poetic license? He is saying something profound, as any great artist does at her/his best. The universe is not dead. It is not an impersonal, accidental kaleidoscope which has totally improbably emerged from nothing into the big Something. It has come from the choice of SomeOne! The Ultimate Someone. The Alpha and Omega Someone. The Beginner and Final Destination of all beings and things that ever have been and can be and will be.

Only the blind, whether from ignorance or from willful, deliberate decision, can fail to see that the choice not to serve the SOMEONE is a choice to serve someone else – not something else, but someone else. For when we get deep down inside it all, at its most profound depth, beyond all possible sub-atomic particles, whether known or not-yet-known, beyond great galaxies dancing with one another in almost infinite space, the signature of THE PERSON is everywhere, in and on everything and everyone and every possible thing and being.

We are all in the dance, and we must all choose a partner. If I will not choose THE PARTNER, I still cannot avoid the dance. I must dance. If not with HIM/HER, then with another I put in HIS/HER place, even if it is, to my mind, a choice to dance alone to my own tune according to my own rules – or what I believe to be my own rules.

But, underneath that chimera, my rules, or those of anyone else than THE ONE’s rules, do not exist except in my arrogant hubris substitute for the real thing. Thus, in the final analysis, I can do the dance (Evan Almighty anyone?) with the ONE AND ONLY PARTNER Who matters, or as a shadow-dance, or with a substitute other partner (shudder at what some of those choices can be and have been in history) I set in the ONE’s place.

By this point, the reader may be wondering what this rabbit-trail has to do with the whole subject of “Outliers”. Simply that to choose to dance with the ONE as your partner in life, will make you an Outlier, especially now in the West in 2022 and henceforward. And, whether you think so or not, your choice about partnership with the ONE, matters even more than the one who has answered or will answer “Yes” to “the Question” and with whom you will also dance for a long time.

Therefore, be warned before you say that even bigger “Yes” to Adonai, the One Creator. A yes to Him/Her is an eternal decision. He/She does not take it lightly, nor will He/She ever let you take it lightly from this day forward, or from whatever other day it was or will be when you answer Y’hoshua’s momentous question, “Choose today whom you will serve – Adonai, the idols of your ancestors, or the idols of the world you live in now.”

Among the idols of today, put yourself. For, believe it or not, a refusal to serve any of the three choices Y’hoshua laid out is the choice to be my own sovereign god.

NEXT TIME: CONSEQUENCES

Outliers, 4 – Losing Our Salt

If the salt loses its savor, what good is it except to be thrown out on the trash heap?

Jesus – Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 5, verse 13a

(Photo credit – aero)

How does salt lose its potency? If you leave it alone in its natural state, it is almost impossible for that to happen. The only way to disarm salt is to dilute it, wash it away, or combine it with another substance that neutralizes it by another chemical reaction that breaks its bond.

While the ancients may not have known the specific chemistry involved in making and destroying salt, they knew the practical method of rendering it ineffective. Dump it into water, or wash it away with water. Pollute it and dilute it by mixing with something else. Some of their more knowledgeable scientists even understood about using another substance to wipe it out.

Salt was a valuable commodity. It had to be mined. We still have to mine it. Effective, large-scale evaporation techniques had not been developed to render it from sea-water in enough quantity to make that a practical alternative.

Salt-mining was a deadly and dirty business performed by criminals and recalcitrant slaves condemned to a slow death. The Roman state kept a tight control on who could operate salt-mines. The average life-span of a slave or criminal in the salt-mines was three years. Salt was an imperial monopoly, although its mining was contracted to entrepreneurs willing to foot the production bill and pay hefty annual fees to the Imperial treasury. Profits margins were high, as were the risks of losing shipments by shipwreck, or to pirates, raiders, and bandits.

Salt was used in preserving food, cooking, cleaning, and medicine. The ancients understood quite well that it was essential for good health. As did Jesus, which is why he referred to it in his teaching. To run out of salt was a serious issue.

Therefore, when Jesus told his disciples and listeners, “You are the salt of the earth,” they understood implicitly what he meant. It wasn’t just that they added some zest to life or helped a bit in making the world a better, more interesting, and healthier (tastier) place. It included those nuances, but it also meant that they were essential to the world’s preservation, cleansing, and healing. It was a commission to become world-changers, difference-makers, genuine Outliers who challenge the status quo and bring metanoia (see previous post) and shalom (true peace).

Two thousand years in, we’ve lost most of the urgency and immediacy of what Jesus was saying. Here in the West, the old heartland of Christendom, we’ve also lost our way, living for generations now as we do in so much abundance and wealth and inherited power. To us, salt is a condiment in our diet. It’s incorporated in our prepared foods and restaurant servings to the point we are incapable of understanding Jesus’ metaphor about salt. With rare exceptions, we don’t use it to clean or even very much in medical applications.

The Ekklesia, the God-family Jesus founded two thousand years ago and told to be “the salt of the earth”, the God-family which once upon a time wielded immense influence and power in the West, and, by imperial extension, the world, has largely lost its preservative power, its cleansing and healing power. These days, it certainly appears to have lost its ability to add “savor” – joy and happiness to life.

We cannot say such things about the Church (non-denominational sense) without applying them to ourselves as individuals and local expressions of God’s family on earth. When people look at us – at me – do they see anything that looks like metanoia, joy, and a healing presence? Do they see and hear the voice of a comforter, an Outlier pointing beyond my personal goals and desires and towards the presence of the Creator among us and within me?

Do my neighbors, near and far, known and strangers, only hear a wrathful message of “You’re all damned!” even while they watch me/us play out the old hunger and thirst for lost political power and social control manifesting as self-righteousness? Do they ever hear about the mercy and grace of God brought by the Prince of Peace and the sacrificial lamb instead of a proclamation of Jesus’ coming wrath and his warrior return as the arm of God’s avenging justice? Far too often this generation sees and hears a militant crusade to take back the lost levers of power and access to the top echelons of decision-making over society, rather than the servant-way of reaching out past the great rift through our culture and society to offer a road to reconciliation and mutual forgiveness,

Jesus did not give the example of the truly humble, suffering servant to His disciples so they (and we) could shrug it off as some sort of time-limited one-off performance so we could all move into triumphalist militant preparation for the Second Coming. To those who wanted to outdo the Romans by overthrowing the Empire and taking over the reins of power as His right- and left-hand wielders of justice and vengeance on all the infidels, He said things like the following (a little paraphrased): “Those who live by the sword, die by the sword. Do good to those who persecute you. Rejoice if you are persecuted and killed for bearing My name. Your reward will be great in My Father’s Kingdom. The servant is not above the Master. It is enough that the servant be like (Greek implies “just like/the same as”) the Master.”

The kind of deeply militant representation of the Gospel we have seen and continue to see in some North American manifestations as “real-man Christianity” is an aberration bordering on a heresy. It is dangerously close to blasphemy in refashioning Jesus as the “ultimate manly Man” inspiring an imperial state which operates with an acute sense of being God’s anointed nation in the earth with its own special “Manifest Destiny”. Into this theologically justified ideology have been grafted all kinds of special doctrines (some of which are used to soft-peddle the continuation of repression of racial minorities and the definite subordination of women) in a kind of blind, or even deliberate, syncretism justified as the true will of Jesus for today. Forget the original sense of the “Great Commission” and the methodology of love and compassion and inclusion passed from the Master to His Messengers [Apostles] in carrying it out.

The analysis presented here may be offensive to some readers of this episode of this series. If so, I would ask them to seriously ask themselves why they are offended. I would suggest that they honestly review the Gospel Jesus preached and the way He treated people as the living, breathing, human (as He still is even as the resurrected One) Messiah, including minorities and women, and instructed His first disciples to treat them and serve them and be light and salt in the world. That is the standard, not the ideological reinterpretation of cherry-picked aspects of things Jesus and the Apostles said, did, and taught to fit an extra-Biblical ideology needing baptism or holy-water sprinkling.

Recovering our salt means recovering our true calling and doing a reset to once more become the heart, soul, and hands and feet of our Master for the world of today, rather than shouting at the darkness and launching imprecations at the things we find ugly and reprehensible.

TO BE CONTINUED

Outliers, 3 – Metanoia

The usual English translation of the Greek word which is this episode’s title is “repentance”. As is often the case in translating ancient words, and as with the art of translation at all times, the English (or other modern languages of your choice) does not do it full justice.

The first problem with automatically translating it as “repentance” whenever this word shows up in the original language is that the English (French, Spanish, German, etc.) term now carries such enormous cultural and religious baggage that most secular people simply tune it out as “Uh-oh! Here comes a self-righteous Christian to rant about sin and everyone needing to get saved by Jesus!”

The Greek word is much more descriptive and much less compartmentalized. It was perfectly acceptable 2000 years ago in the eastern regions of the Roman Empire where Greek was the universal language (it was Latin in the West) to use the term in a completely non-religious way. For example, you are going somewhere and get lost. You stop to ask directions. The local villager tells you, “Whoa, friend! You’re way off track! You’ve got to turn around (metanoeō)and head back to _______ and take a different route.”

The English word is from penitire, poenitere, via Old (and modern) French (se) repentir (cf. Concise Oxford Dictionary), which was the Latin translation from the Greek New Testament in the late 4th Century by St. Jerome. The emphasis in the Latin is more specifically moralistic and punitive. In the English and Romance-language translations, we are using a sort of derivative which has conceptually robbed us of the interpretive possibilities found in the original Greek New Testament. Latin is the major root language of Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and French – and through French has contributed heavily to the evolution of English. Thus the narrow moral sense of metanoia is heavily biased in a secondary transference of meaning.

One level of interpretation can be applied to morality and ethics – taking the wrong road in life, doing bad stuff to other people and deciding to stop and turn over a new leaf. However, the holistic concept is about radically changing the road your life is on, seeing it as a bad one, and making a new start. It is much richer than having a momentary revelation of remorse and regret, making a few apologies and some gestures of recompense and moving on feeling better about yourself.

Real metanoia is not primarily about a religious exercise or experience, although it is profoundly spiritual. It is about restoration, correcting and re-forming as in forming anew, not just revamping something obsolete to make it work better. Metanoia-change is a total life commitment, a radical (axe-to-the-root) turn-about and dedication to set wrongs right, bring justice as far as possible, restore broken things, remake relationships on a new foundation of love, respect, and real equality within the Creator’s intention.

Want to be different? To be a real world-changer? To become a true radical and Outlier? It starts with metanoia, not just religious-formula repentance. Metanoia takes us outside religion, turns us off that old highway of “do the right stuff and God will love you and reward you; do the wrong stuff and you’ll be rejected and sent to hell.”

Metanoia turns us away from the fixation and need to be esteemed and approved and judged as “righteous” by the people by whom we want to be accepted. Instead, we turn off the old road that leads to more servitude and condemnation and needing to be seen and even raised up by our superiors before our peers.

Metanoia turns us directly to Jesus/Yeshua the Messiah, the only one who can bring us to and take us down the true way; He said, “I am the way/road, the truth and the life. You can only come to the Father/learn to know the Creator/ by/through Me.” Every other road, however religiously appealing it may seem, is the wrong road, a road to metanoeō.

In the end, the only Outliership that will amount to anything really new, true and everlasting is one based on metanoia. Here is how Jesus described the paradox of being a big-time Outlier according to our general cultural worldview and being a metanoia Outlier (liberally paraphrased): “The road to destruction is a wide highway which multitudes take. The road to eternal life is a narrow track which few find.”

The most radical, greatest Outlier who ever lived is Jesus. He is the only human being who died but rose from death and is still alive today. Even if He had not done this, He would still rank at the top of the list in terms of his impact on history, culture, and society over the last two thousand years. To conform all He claimed we have His real resurrection. It is both a faith and historical fact.

It is easy to be cynical as we consider the West’s rejection of so much of what its history and cultural and social development have owed to this man. Before the West’s intellectual and socio-cultural engineers could dismantle so much of that heritage, they had to dismantle the main faith that underlies all of that. The originators of this centuries-long campaign knew full well what they were about. It was deliberate, although not orchestrated by any sort of central authority. This is not conspiracy theory. It is documented and documentable, wide-open to verification.

The great underlying mystery is how a relative few anti-Christian radicals, often disingenuously disclaiming their real intentions, could succeed against what appeared to be a deeply rooted, monolithic system called Christendom, a system dominated by various manifestations of its primary social and cultural institution, the Christian Church. It was a process that took centuries. The tale of that deconstruction is a long one which we will not embark on here. Much of it was self-inflicted by the very people holding authority and influence within Christianity.

The seeds of decay were sown early in the history of the West’s emergence as a distinct society. The first major step was a leadership choice to turn off the path of metanoia in order to access the levers of power and centralized social and political control. It was the sin of hubris.

The Ekklesia’s leaders began thinking and believing that the Servant-Messiah who commanded that leaders be servants and practice humility and self-sacrifice would accept the Ekklesia’s (His metanoia community on the road back to a healed relationship with the Father-Creator) stepping into a partnership with the Imperial broad-highway power to hasten the process of cajoling the mass of recalcitrant unbelievers and Christian heretics to join up and “accept the truth”. Having more than a few of the perks of power and prestige as rewards to the hard-working, ambitious, and long-persecuted leaders of the Church didn’t hurt the decision to take the “high” road either.

Thus, the hybrid society called “Christendom” was born. Outwardly, everyone at the top said, “Jesus is Lord” while the top-dogs’ actions declared, “But we’re really in charge and are taking control in His name.” Many symbolic trappings from the non-Christian culture and world were sprinkled with Holy Water and re-consecrated so that the old ways of doing things and preserving distinctions and power-structures could carry on. Even gods and goddesses could be incorporated by granting them a new identity. Many individuals could and still did find the metanoia-road, and even some local institutional expressions of ekklesia found it from time to time. But on the whole, Lord Acton’s dictum, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” proved as true as ever.

Caution to all: It is always easier and simpler to take the religious highway than to live and travel the metanoia road. Religion allows us to develop, deploy, and pick and choose what sorts of practices, techniques and observances to prefer, and to switch them in and out according to rewards received or recognition for good performance achieved. Religion can be plugged into our lives according to time, place, and context as desired. It allows us to shift our allegiances and preferences according to the standards and precepts of impressive personalities and groups which align with our personal tendencies and character. We are speaking of religion here in its particular influences in our daily life (rites, rituals, ceremonies, strictures and prescriptions, religious imperialism in all its guises, etc.), not in its etymological sense of our overall binding worldview.

Metanoia is primarily relational, based on walking a path with and towards Jesus. It includes essential elements of living and staying on the narrow track that leads to life, such as disciplines and practices, being a servant member of ekklesia, and taking one’s place in Creator’s family. It also keeps us alert to discern the siren-song and allure of seeking the trappings of worldly-style outliership, even in its churchly disguises.

Our next episode in this discussion will focus on how Ekklesia has wandered so far off the path of Metanoia, its true calling to Outliership. We will attempt some reflections on what to do about it.

Pax vobiscum! Kyrie eleison!

Outliers, 2 – Little People

I don’t think I realized that the cost of fame is that it’s open season on every moment of your life. – Julia Roberts

The internet is the first thing that humanity has built that humanity doesn’t understand, the largest experiment in anarchy that we have ever had. – Eric Schmidt

… the little places, where I can more easily be close to God, should be my preference …. Quietness and peace before God are more important than any influence a position may seem to give … – Francis A. Schaeffer, No Little People, 1974, chapter 1.

(Photo image – Yelena Bonner – Quotefancy)

Our three opening citations cover enormous ground, but give insight on the phenomenon of outliers, the present subject of discussion in World.V.You.

Julia Roberts reminds us that stardom and fame make it extremely difficult to live anything approaching a “normal” life. Media and social-media scrutiny to find “stories” to gossip about are unending. Being a “Super-Outlier” puts you on continuous display before all the millions of voyeurs who care to look. We live in a peeping-Tom society because we can. It’s a sort of sneaky compulsion, a “harmless” venial sin we excuse ourselves for indulging in.

Schmidt points out that in the virtual world, anyone can assert and seek just about anything without much accountability, despite the best efforts of public and industry police and regulators to gain some sort of control over the worst elements who are exploiting it for all kinds of malignant purposes. Wannabe and actual negative outliers abound in this “Wild-Wild-West” virtual universe.

Francis Schaeffer, a Christian thinker who wrote well before the Internet took form and computer use was still embryonic in its application to personal uses, offers a perspective that any God/Creator seeker should heed, and all the more if they are hungering and thirsting for recognition and, as he puts it, a position of influence, no matter how modest it may be.

Outliers exist from the humblest to the grandest social settings. Every family has its weird uncle/aunt, its black sheep and wayward son/daughter, its over-achieving acquisitor, its relentless zealot, its hyper-intelligent know-it-all with a chip on her/his shoulder, etc. I’m sure you can put names on these roles right now in your own sphere.

Every level of community has them – the local celebrities whom everyone talks and gossips about, the town troublemakers, the glitzy, trendy set – whether in the local service and social clubs, businesses of any size, churches/religious institutions, political affairs, the cultural influencers who arbitrate what art and literature it’s cool to accept and boost in the area.

You, dear reader, may be one of them.

Then there are the quieter sorts of outliers – people more in tune with the spirit of Schaeffer’s observation. These stand out because they don’t go after the local, or any, version of fame and acclaim. Their priorities are different, and this makes them stand out, “weird”, out of tune with the normal ways of people seeking a voice. The curious, the sceptical, and the cynical mockers find them strangely attractive or repulsive because they are somehow a threat.

Among these idealists, the abilities that lead to outliership are used to walk “the road less traveled”. They do not seek the same sort of recognition most people who want it go after. Idealist outliers choose to keep remote from the mainstream frenzy because of conviction and principle, because their view of the world and its underlying reality is out of step with what the general culture declares is of first importance.

Mostly, power and acquiring it are far down their list of what is really important. It may come to them despite their unconcern for such things, but living in a fashion consistent with their convictions is foremost. To that end they may well choose to forego the pursuit of the wealth, position, and recognition most of our society admires so much. If any of it comes to them, they turn it towards furthering their idealistic goals. (Think Mother Teresa.)

Withdrawing from society altogether is one way to become an outlier. Hermits and recluses still exist, and a few may even become well-known local “characters”. However, short of living a hundred kilometers out in the wilderness with no neighbours except the birds and local fauna, total withdrawal has become a near impossibility.

The life-road based on firm principles and consistently seeking to live by them can be a costly one. Becoming an outlier in this way can lead to just as much outside scrutiny as the road to celebrity and fame which Julia Roberts represents and deliberately chose to withdraw from. The sceptics, critics, and cynics are just as prepared to exploit the failures and inconsistencies of the idealist as those of the deliberate ladder-climber, perhaps even moreso. To the media and other salacious voyeurs who lurk everywhere, it seems more delicious to revel in the fall of the “goody-two-shoes” than the tortured angst of the hoi-polloi. The fall of the pursuers of good and social betterment lets the rest of us off the hook. Then we can all smugly declare, “See! There’s no use in being overzealous about making yourself and the world a better place! Even the saints just fall into sin, and, when they fall, they leave behind a huge mess of disillusionment, broken hopes and shattered dreams!”

However, these humbler, meeker outliers of whom we are speaking now are very often the true world-changers. Most of what leads to peace and hope and joy comes from them. They are almost all “simple folk” who want to raise good kids and do more than fill their lives with glitz and bling and silly pursuits that add little of value to their own or other lives.

It is not the demigods of business, entertainment, politics, and sport who have raised the poor from the slums, ended slavery, fought for workers’ rights, brought in universal healthcare (at least in the nations which have it), fought to end discrimination of every sort, and poured out their blood to defeat the horrors of Nazism, Fascism and other tyrannies. And it will not be the Superstar Outliers who will continue to lead the defense of freedom, liberty, and what is left of morality.

Over the last century, we have been defrauded of much of our heritage. We have been taught that traditional beliefs and values are destructive of our personal freedoms and rights. We have been and are bombarded daily with propaganda about truth being strictly “scientific” and “rational”. We have been instructed that scientific methodology shows us “objectively” that spirituality is largely for chumps and losers when deciding how to create a better tomorrow. Our educational, social, financial, and political institutions have been cajoled and indoctrinated en masse into a worldview where moral values and categories are plastic and entirely transmutable according preference, context and current social needs/wants. Like drugged spectators, we have watched and continue to watch the systematic deconstruction of that heritage of 1500 years which laid the foundations of who and what the West became, and, to a large extent, still is.

We are told that our past and its creations are almost entirely reprehensible, despicable for our oppressions, repressions, persecutions, imperialistic colonialism, and acquisitive greed and exploitation. It is now the established and ensconced ideology in Big Academia to renounce and denounce all of it. Instead, it seems that all the other cultures and heritages of every other origin are superior and, apparently, even innocent of the kinds of terrible crimes against humanity we here in the West have perpetrated on all the other races and peoples of Earth. Lastly, it is we who have devastated this planet’s biome and should pay the price of making all that right.

There is truth in much of what we are accused of. But, there is an enormous paradox in it all, as well as not just a little blind and even deliberate hypocrisy. We are quick to excoriate our own ancestors and look upon their monumental handiwork with dripping disdain. Yet the virulent critics of our life continue to function within and exploit the very structures and institutions created by those same forebears they despise, glad to have the bully-pulpit of learned prestige their foremothers and forefathers earned for them.

And as they paint the West as a terrible blight upon the world, the rest of the world nods in agreement while lusting to adopt and adapt all the West’s major methods and models to surpass the West in its own game and move into the vacuum the West’s self-deconstruction is creating. Racial and ethnic superiority complexes will not disappear from the earth just because the West hates its own manifestations of them. Imperialism and colonialism and ethnic cleansing and genocide have never been the exclusive purview of the West. Honesty about history is as applicable to Asia and Africa as it is to the West.

Somehow, ironically (could it actually be because of the kind of built-in conscience our despised archaic values and morals still saddle us with?), the West has grown an acute case of moral shame and guilt for all its sins, but most of the rest of the world seems not to suffer the same kind of remorse about their equivalent forays into horrific inflictions on their neighbors. Thus, they nod and accuse and point their fingers to push the West’s self-flagellation along while preparing to step in and sweep up the shambles.

Even now, most of the charity and real aid for the world’s most desperate flows generously from the nations once known as Christendom.

Food for thought!

TO BE CONTINUED