Jesus


Ary Scheffer: The Temptation of Christ, 1854

Image via Wikipedia

A friend’s Facebook status reminded me that today is Easter’s infamous vigil. It’s the Christian equvilant of the Jewish tradition of “sitting shiva”, which is the mourning period for the dead. Instead of a person, however, Christians today mourn/anticipatory celebrate Jesus’s death and descent into hell.

I am not versed in how this day goes in any other religion except my natal one, Catholicism. My friend is of the Eastern persuasion, and her recollections on Easter differ from my own as they spin Holy Week in a more positive way than the gore, guilt and unworthiness focus of my Catholic youth.

But as I remember the lesson from my Catholic schoolgirl days, Jesus died on Good Friday and descended into hell. There, he rallied the souls of the faithful departed and led them to heaven. It’s a zombie version of The Rapture. The gates of heaven were locked against humanity after some snit God had in the Old Testament. Christianity, as a whole, makes a lot less sense when the Old Testament is examined too closely, and the nonsensical idea that God is anything other than capricious and scary as … um … hell, can be found all over the bible’s earliest books.

I bring this up because of a conversation I overheard Dee having with a friend who stayed over the other night.

Her little friend is Catholic and Dee herself was baptized in the faith back when I still entertained ideas of leaving her belief system up to the tutelage of others. I didn’t catch the opener but as I walked by her bedroom, I heard an audible gasp and then,

“But you have to believe in Jesus!”

I cracked the door a bit and observed Dee’s friend staring at her as though she was possessed and spewing green bile.

“I don’t believe in Jesus,” Dee assured her with a calm and determination that made me proud and a bit awestruck.

Later as we were driving the friend home, I caught a whispered conversation as the little girl tried to convince Dee of the consequences of not believing.

“If you don’t believe in Jesus, there is this place you go to after you die that’s not nice,” she said, quite earnest and clearly concerned for Dee’s afterlife.

“I don’t believe in this,” Dee said, again with an assurance that seemed a bit too large for her tiny 8 year old self. “I believe that when we die, we go to the underworld and our souls are weighed with the feather of truth.” (she did not add the part about the hippodoodel that eats the wicked who wasted their lives and then try to lie about it – and it’s interesting to note the Egyptian that has crept into her Greek mythology).

“How does she square this with her idea that her grandfather and Daddy Will are in heaven?” Rob asked me as I related the story to him later.

“I have no clue,” I said, “but it’s not any worse spin than most Christians employ trying to reconcile the inconsistencies in their beliefs.”

There is a tiny residual bit of Catholic in me that worries about what I have wrought, but mostly, I was really proud of her. She wasn’t the least bit worried about what her friend would think of her beliefs. They were her beliefs and she held fast.

Rob and I are doing a far more awesome job than I realized with this raising a kid thing.


Jesus resurrected and Mary Magdalene

Image via Wikipedia

Driving Miss Dee home from Brownie’s this evening, she cheerily brought me up to speed on the “culture” badge they’d earned via the meeting’s activities.

“We made an egg holder shaped like a bunny and Browny Owl had some culture bread, which we ate while she talked to us about culture and then we wrote about our own culture in our books, which we got to make up.”

“You ate culture?”

“It was good too,” she chirped.

“Was this about Easter?” I asked, needing to nail down the cultural aspect of the evening.

“Yep,” she replied.

“Well, Mick and her old friend/new boyfriend are coming this Saturday for Easter,” I told her, having only just found out during a conversation I had with Rob before picking her up. She’d called to update him on her new job, confirm for dinner and remind him that Dare is deathly allergic to nuts. He’d recently had an incident at the restaurant where the older girls work because he was too polite to mention it to Mick’s co-workers.

“Easter is Saturday?” she asked.

“No,” I said, “it’s Sunday. Remember? You wanted to call it Easter Eve instead of Holy Saturday.”

“But I thought it was Friday,” she said.

“Friday is Good Friday.”

“According to the Catholics,” she said, using a tone that sounded a lot like her dad’s when he talks about organized religion. A cross between “how quaintly foolish and we must put this evil down – hand me the hammer and sharpen the stakes”.

At this very moment, we drove by the Separate school in Ardrossan. Separate schools are Catholic but operate under the banner of the public school system and are funded by the province.

“Look, Mom,” she waves her finger at the building. “There it is! What is it?”

We’ve had this conversation and it’s never ended satisfactorily. There is something on the building that catches her eye every time and she describes it in such vague terms that I have never been able to tell her what it was.

But this time, I think I know what it is.

“The cross?” I ask.

“Yes! What does it mean?”

Oh, how to explain this unique symbol of death. Eureka, I decide to use Easter.

“Well, you know Easter? And Jesus?”

Affirmative to both.

“Jesus was nailed to the cross on Good Friday. Died. And then on Easter, he was brought back to life,” no sugar-coating is the best way to split this knot.

And I hear the chirping of crickets from the back seat as Dee tries to make sense of this news.

How to relate it?

“You remember Osirus?” I ask.

Of course she does. She’s an excellent pagan.

“Remember how he was chopped up and Isis pieced him back together? He came back to life as the Lord of the Dead?”

More silence.

“That’s like Jesus,” I am feeling confident about having related a story I can’t even remember being told, that’s how etched it is in my psyche, to my daughter who knows next to nothing about anything that isn’t polytheistic in nature.

“Except, for the chopped up part,” she points out.

“Right, there’s that difference.”

“And Jesus is not the God of the Underworld. He is in heaven.”

Give me points for her knowing his geographical location at least.

“Yes, God raised him up to heaven,” I agreed.

“What’s God’s name?”

I flip quickly back and forth between Yahweh and Jehovah in my mind before offering them both.

“Why is he called that?” her tone clearly indicates that she is not impressed with his moniker.

“He called himself that.”

“And is he the god of?”

“Hmm, well, he’s just God.”

“And what did he do?”

Because Gods “do” things and have “jobs”.

“He created the world, they say, and humans.”

“But Zeus did that,” she said.

“Well, that’s what Catholics believe about him,” I said.

“Catholics,” she said, in that tone. “I’m baptized like a Catholic, right? So I am Catholic.”

Knowing, as I do, that it’s not really that simple – though many of my fellow cradlers aren’t that well-versed – I try to explain the “choice” thing.

“It’s not like being half-German or Irish, sweets,” I tell her. “Being Catholic is a choice.”

“Is Brookie a Catholic?”

Brookie is the neighbor girl who goes to the Christian school in town. I sigh inwardly. I really don’t want to branch off into the schism and confuse her with the splinter groups.

“She’s a Christian, which has many groups and Catholics are one of those groups.”

I can hear her eyes glazing over before she mercifully takes the conversation along another track.

“N2 was baptized like me. Is he a Catholic?”

“Yes, but he and DNOS and Uncle don’t practice it much anymore.”

“Because they are too busy with hockey?” she asks.

“Yes, hockey is time-consuming.”

“Like being Catholic?”

I am not sure that counts as a light-bulb moment, but I take it and steer the conversation away from religion, and it occurs to me that I bit off far more than I realized when I decided to teach her about religion rather than simply handing off to the church via Catholic school and catechism as my parents did.


Students at Wesleyan University in Connecticut have sex and they want Congress, those members ready to throw Planned Parenthood under the budget bus, to know it.

Do you have sex? Congress, the GOP and the religious right appear to think you shouldn’t – especially if you are a woman – and if you do, you should suffer Job-like travails for your audacity.

The truth about Planned Parenthood is that they spend more time providing access to healthcare to young women, underprivileged women and women without health insurance than they do providing access to abortion, which by the way is legal and nobody’s business but a woman’s and her doctor.

Planned Parenthood, at any rate, is not the problem in the debate about abortion. The problem is that some people believe that life begins at conception and some don’t. Just like some people believe in God and some don’t. And just like all things theological, Americans in particular have a really hard time respecting other people’s right to believe or not and to act upon those beliefs where their lives are concerned.

Americans practice the idea of freedom in a random manner. They believe in it for themselves personally and for other people only when it suits them.

It’s also a matter of not understanding the difference between life and existence.

And it is, sadly, yet another example of the fact that women are not valued, being reduced again and again to little more than a sex object with incubator potential.

If you believe that life begins at conception fine. Live it. Be a good example. God would approve.

What he wouldn’t approve of is forcing your will and views on those who don’t hold the same views. Aside from his tantrum in the temple, not once does Jesus ever impose his will on anyone he interacts with throughout the Gospels.

Jesus, it would seem, was a “choice” kind of guy.

If only his followers could have established such an enlightened attitude once he wasn’t around to physically keep an eye on them anymore. Perhaps the history of the world would have played out differently and perhaps people who have sex would be allowed to take responsibility in a manner that fits with their beliefs.

I don’t believe that life begins at conception. I do believe that Planned Parenthood’s services are important for women who don’t have the money or the access to gynecological services otherwise. I do think that the assault on reproductive health services in the United States is part of a widespread disrespect for female independence and civil rights and an attempt to force us further into second class status.

Oh, and I have sex. So I support your right to have sex also, if you choose, and to make decisions about your body for yourself alone. And I support Planned Parenthood.


Mary Magdalene

Image via Wikipedia

When I was about seven or eight, I had a coloring book that retold stories from the Old Testament.

I know what you are thinking.

Huh?

I am fairly certain it arrived in my Easter basket along with a Skip-It, a new box of Crayolas and some chalk. The Easter Bunny was flush that year.

One of the stories was from the Book of Ruth, and as that is my mother’s name, it caught my eye. The drawings depicted a woman who also reminded me a lot of my mother physically though her obedient behavior and willingness to be a follower was not something I have ever associated with Mom, no matter what she may say about her demeanor back then.

Dad thought the story of Ruth‘s betrothal and marriage to a man named Boaz was a hoot because Boaz essentially seals the engagement by offering one of his sandals to Ruth’s kinsmen. He shared the story with all of his friends and some of them loved it so much that he was forever after known as “Boaz” in particular circles.

But I have told this story before.

What is interesting enough to prompt me to bring it up again springs from a couple of book reviews on two works soon to be published on biblical interpretation.

Fascinating stuff? More than you know.

In the days of the Protestant Reformation, one of the big deals the reformers sought – and the Catholic Church fought against – was printing the Bible in common language instead of Latin. Reformers believed that even the lowest rungs of society would benefit from being able to read the word of God for themselves. Rome cringed and declared that ordinary folk weren’t capable of interpreting scripture correctly. They would inevitably read the Bible wrong and heaven only knew what would come of that.

Ironically, the old school Catholic Church was correct to be concerned. The Bible is probably one of the most poorly understood and badly interpreted texts ever.

The authors of the new books want to set a few language and interpretation issues straight because they feel that the Christian right and the political right in the United States are deliberately promoting non-ideas and values based on faulty knowledge of the Bible.

Which brings me back to feet – Boaz’s – and Ruth.

In the story of Ruth, she pretty much puts the moves on Boaz at the insistence of her mother-in-law, Naomi.  Naomi’s late son was Ruth’s husband and Ruth had left her own tribe to be with him. Upon his death, custom dictated that Ruth could/should return to her own people but Naomi had no one immediate to help her and Ruth felt obligated to stay.

But when Boaz showed up on the scene, the wise Naomi pushed her daughter-in-law to move along. She knew that a second marriage for the childless widow was a better long-term plan for Ruth than staying with her.

My favorite “revelation” from the review talks about how sex is hidden in the Bible.

Basically there is sex on every page, but only if you know where to look for it.

As an eight year old, I had no idea that people had sex beyond kissing, and my Catholic school training certainly never covered Bible porn. Still, I knew there was more to Mommy and Daddy interactions than what was apparent to my eyes, and when I read that Ruth spent her wedding night sleeping at Boaz’s feet, I was puzzled.

“Why did she sleep at his feet when they were married?” I asked my Dad.

“Because in the old days, women were trained better, ” he quipped.

But according to scholars, there are more than a few places in the Bible where a foot is not a foot at all.

When biblical authors wanted to talk about genitals, they sometimes talked about “hands,” as in the Song of Solomon, and sometimes about “feet.” Coogan cites one passage in which a baby is born “between a mother’s feet”; and another, in which the prophet Isaiah promises that a punitive God will shave the hair from the Israelites’ heads, chins, and “feet.” When, in the Old Testament, Ruth anoints herself and lies down after dark next to Boaz—the man she hopes to make her husband—she “uncovers his feet.” A startled Boaz awakes. “Who are you?” he asks. Ruth identifies herself and spends the night “at his feet.”

My. My.

Now I wonder what the whole sandal thing was really all about.

Naturally this begs a bit of further exploration in terms of the rather famous New Testament incident involving Mary Magdelene washing Jesus’s feet and drying them with her hair.

As I remember, the disciples were quite scandalized and if the feet in question weren’t feet at all – that makes sense – and really sheds a different light on the Saviour.

But sometimes feet are feet. Like a cigar is just a cigar.

I won’t be telling the real story of Ruth’s foot worshipping to my mother, but it’s too bad Dad isn’t still around to hear the tale. That would set his ears to wiggling and earn me a look for sure.


Philadelphia - Old City: Independence Hall - T...

Image by wallyg via Flickr

Seems like a contradiction given the mythology of the Right that the United States was founded on Christian doctrine, but the Constitution is one of the most religion neutral documents in our history. The Founders’ religious beliefs ranged from very to not at all, but the majority were in agreement on the necessity of separating church (of any ilk) and state. Their handiwork was meant as a framework for a democracy and the idea that it would be used as some sort of stand in biblical text would have appalled them.

Newsweek published a rather good article on the complexity of the Tea Party and their relationship and mostly misunderstanding of the Constitution. Tea Partiers, it seems, are no different from other political folk in their ignorance and willingness to use this in promotion of their pet causes.

These causes are primarily money and power-driven. Tea Party leaders know how to use Americans’ greed in the form of “no taxes” against them as well as Republicans and Democrats. Americans are some of the least taxed people on the face of the earth. They are also – aside from health care for those under 65 or who aren’t disabled – some of the most privileged in terms of government sponsored/maintained amenities. Americans truly get something for next to nothing in ways that astound the rest of the world.

For the record, the Constitution was in fact intended to strengthen the federal government because an earlier stab of pulling together as a country – the Articles of Confederation – allowed the states too much wiggle room. The Articles was a weak document and the Founders purposely gave the Constitution muscle as a result.

The Constitution, for those who weren’t aware, is strident in its secularism. Not once does it mention God or Jesus. Not to invoke them or praise them or ask their blessing. It is a legal document that spells out the rights of the people and the duties of the state.

Literal adherence to the Constitution that Tea Partiers naively pound the drum for would upend most of the last hundred years or so of civil rights, worker’s rights, women’s rights and would give businesses the same kinds of overlord privileged status they had in the Gilded Age. I doubt many Tea Party enthusiasts even realize what they are in for if their wish was granted.

Though many look back at the Founders as sages guided by the Lord’s hand, Thomas Jefferson best summed up the reality in a letter to a friend in 1816,

he mocked “men [who] look at constitutions with sanctimonious reverence, and deem them like the arc of the covenant, too sacred to be touched”; “who ascribe to the men of the preceding age a wisdom more than human, and suppose what they did to be beyond amendment.” “Let us follow no such examples, nor weakly believe that one generation is not as capable as another of taking care of itself, and of ordering its own affairs,” he concluded. “Each generation is as independent as the one preceding, as that was of all which had gone before.”

Good Ole slave-owning Tom was not blind to his, or his peers, shortcomings or human failings.

What I find most interesting in the Constitution worship is that those who champion its place as another book in the Christian Bible aren’t the least bit alarmed by the fact that it’s used to control and limit more than it is to uphold our freedoms.

When you go to the polls in a few weeks, think seriously about your freedom and who is most likely to vote in favor of maintaining that and who is most probably going to throw you, your family and your rights under the bus in the name of their idea of what your freedoms should be.

Just Saying.