Saturday, January 26, 2013

Breaking Through The Haze

      Jesus lived in a country which was occupied by a foreign power – a brutal foreign power. If you want to know what a stern, cruel, authoritative government looks like, check out the Roman Empire. Sure, the Romans advanced civilization in a myriad of ways, but; by and large, they weren't very nice.
      It seems strange then that Jesus, who was in a sense the ultimate revolutionary, never spoke out against the Roman occupation of Israel. Stranger still that Jesus never spoke out against slavery or the prejudice that was prevalent in Israel at the time.
      It isn't until we look at Jesus' message that we understand why so many wrongs went unmentioned. Jesus, in the end, focused on two basic things: loving God and loving one's neighbor as oneself. Once we understand that Jesus saw everyone as everyone else's neighbor, it becomes clear that all else was periphery.
      Today, the Roman Empire is remembered in the worlds of history, entertainment, tourism...and little else. Jesus, however, is prevalent everywhere – even in our own very secular culture. Just a cursory glance at some of the people we most admire today can give us some indication.
      Martin Luther King, for instance, was not only influenced by Jesus' teachings, he was a Christian cleric. Mother Teresa, hero of the poor and suffering, gave up a life of ease because she believed Jesus wanted her to serve others. Need more proof that Jesus is still relevant? Just imagine the US economy without the yearly Christmas rush
      Still, it's safe to say that Christianity is on the wane in Western Society. The power and popularity of Christianity has ebbed and flowed throughout the ages, of course, but this most recent state of affairs is worth noting. Simply put, people are now putting their faith in other things besides Jesus. An obvious question is, why?
      I would argue that we live in a culture which is completely consumed by current events. We may not be all that into the news, or even the world around us, but we are all painfully beholden to hot topics. And Jesus simply isn't a hot topic deity.
      If we study Jesus' teachings, we realize the focus is on the individual, not the culture of that individual. His teachings didn't address military occupation or slavery two thousand years ago. And they certainly don't speak to things like budget cuts and health insurance today. To me, this is all for the better, for the only way to improve the world is to do it one person at a time, not through sweeping legislation or a summer long concert series.
      Unfortunately, people are letting hot topics keep them away from a positive thing. The Catholic Church is against gay marriage, so the Church in its entirety is ignored. Evangelical ministers are charged with lewd behavior so the entire Evangelical movement is pushed by the wayside. Sometimes we need to ask if we ourselves are guilty of over-reacting.
      In truth, many, many crimes have been perpetrated by Christians. History is loaded with examples. Yet, as anyone who has studied the life of Stalin can attest, atheists, non-believers and those of other faiths have been, and continue to be, just as brutal.
      In the end, each of us is human, no matter what our individual belief system is. We're capable of good as well as evil. I myself like to think I at least try to be one of the good guys. And I think Jesus can help me be one.
      You think that's crazy? Fair enough, but it's what I believe. When things like church scandals and current events cloud my thoughts, I find that the heart of Jesus' teachings have a way of breaking though the haze.
      I'm not writing any of this down to beat my readers to a pulp with my beliefs, however. I simply feel the need to explain those beliefs in a world where cynicism and confusion seem to rule supreme. The nice thing about having your own blog is it offers you such opportunities.       

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