Saturday, October 26, 2013

Real Humility and the Pharisee

Inspired by JMT's video blog

Lk 18:9-14

The tax collector, not the Pharisee, went home justified

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke
Jesus addressed this parable
to those who were convinced of their own righteousness
and despised everyone else.
“Two people went up to the temple area to pray;
one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector.
The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself,
‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity—
greedy, dishonest, adulterous—or even like this tax collector.
I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.’
But the tax collector stood off at a distance
and would not even raise his eyes to heaven
but beat his breast and prayed,
‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’
I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former;
for whoever exalts himself will be humbled,
and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Some proud people believe that 'humbling' themselves before God is good enough, but are like this Pharisee.  This scene shows the Pharisee bragging on all the works he has done to express his devotion.  Jesus’ statement that the lowly sinner was more justified would have been a shock to at least some of his listeners. How could God like a blatant sinner more than a highly respected religious official? This was pretty close to saying that a convicted conman who was sincerely penitent meant more to God than leader of a super-sized church or cathedral who was prideful to poor sinners – even when he faithfully fulfilled his usual duties and was genial in his dealings with his preferred circle of society.  Even today, such a plain assessment from Heaven would shock people. In general, I would expect them to resist this Word as being the real deal, even if God freshly sent a prophet to them to say exactly that.

After all, not everything the Pharisee did here is wrong. He was reminding God of all the ways he acknowledged the most High and God’s laws.  He made a public confession of his faith and his testimony.  This kind of statement may have played well with the local priesthood, but the government of Israel as a satellite state of Rome was far more pagan/secular. He knew his stance would have limited his upwards progression within the Roman Empire. The Pharisee has sacrificed all higher ambitions to stand for God. That’s praiseworthy.

 So what was messed up?

# 1 Well the testimony itself sounds a bit egotistical doesn’t it?  The Pharisee sounds like he is demanding God recognize how special his service to heaven has been (or else?) Even then, Godlessness was so prevalent in Israel (thanks to the occupying Romans) that the Jews often figured God ought to especially appreciate that they still live in a way that ‘officially’ honored His name.  Many had been persecuted to varying degrees for remaining Jews. That Pharisee could have aimed for a state career if he hadn’t valued serving God more, so choosing to honor the Faith of the Fathers in such a detailed exacting way ought to be worth extra credit. God should be impressed!

Go ahead and laugh, but people still feel that way. 

Today Christianity is mocked and marginalized in many places, and rather than realize that this means that whole world really is leaning towards hellish attitudes, people think they are doing God a favor for even considering worshipping Him when His stock has slipped so much in society, TV shows, movies, and the news media. He doesn’t seem as great to a population propagandized against him since their earliest school years.  Some of that dismissive attitude bleeds over into church living. Even though most believers had a sense of their own sinfulness and extreme unworthiness once, probably when they seriously converted and accepted Jesus as their savior, this sense is easily lost.

Every now and then, it hits me hard that the whole Earth is incredibly messed up, hate-filled, ignorant, selfish, and just plain sinful by God’s standards. THAT is when I freshly appreciate how amazing, how strong, how HUGE a deal is God’s Love and Grace. I figure these moments of clarity are a gift of the Holy Spirit, because it doesn’t take long for that awareness of the filth to fade away. I reacclimatize to my current world, and then society doesn’t seem to be so bad. Time goes by and I start to feel pretty good about my ethics and progress compared with others. That’s when God’s judgments and requirements seem a little extreme.  Seriously, everyone is prone to this. As long as we look around us more than we look at God, we will overvalue ourselves and undervalue God’s patience with our flaws and our horrendous situation. We forget how miserable we were. We forget that we needed saved from the very world that says God’s opinion doesn’t matter, and the Hell that the world is headed toward. We even forget how much He loves us.

     That Pharisee wasn’t an idiot. He was just couldn’t imagine how lowly he really was compared with God. The Pharisee didn’t see how loving and gracious God had been in creating the Abrahamic covenant he depended on. God had set terms to show man his own tendency towards lawlessness; God was making a pathway that allowed Him to be officially pleased with a fundamentally flawed lowly creation like him. God didn’t need his tithes or herbs. The Pharisee was more open with that his ‘God had better appreciate my sacrifice or I can find a god I like better’ attitude because he was on the earlier covenant, which didn’t include the inward warning of the Holy Spirit about the inappropriate pride his attitude expressed. The Comforter had not yet come to Earth to abide in the hearts of God’s people. The Holy Spirit makes us aware sometimes of how silly we are, how hard-hearted and prideful we prefer to be, and He does it because He loves us. It’s the abiding comfort, love, and peace that make the remonstrations bearable.  It’s shocking that any Christians could make this mistake, but we do; we just aren’t as blatant about it, because we feel that internal correction.

# 2 -- Today we can see the pride in the Pharisee’s assertions but many still don’t get the whole picture. The Pharisee was trying for higher heavenly status the same way he networked and maneuvered into Earthly status.

In the time this was written, toadying was highly acceptable behavior. It still is, but people are often slightly more discreet with their flattery these days. To gain an influential person’s ear, it helped if presented yourself as a valuable person to the VIP, so working in a certain amount of bragging in between your bouts of flattery and other seductive behaviors is generally a successful tactic.  You want them to see you not only as a loyal supporter, but a valuable one, as close to the leader’s status as you can manage. As part of your claims of fealty you would work in mentions of the many resources you’ve put at their disposal, or otherwise put to work for them. At the very least, you would still sell yourself as an extreme ‘fan’ and remind them of how you supported them publicly. [Celebrities feel entitled to everyone’s adulation, devotion, and affection, so the bit that stands out is your own ‘higher’ status and gifts – which they won’t even recognize as your contribution if you didn’t point it out directly.]  Look again at what the Pharisee is saying. He’s exactly in this format, selling himself as a valuable ‘fan,’ blithely unaware that God already knows all about him. Nor does the Pharisee take in that God doesn’t require a human PR department. God doesn’t really want us to ‘flatter’ Him.** We can’t anyway, because flattery implies that the praise we give is excessive, but no praise is too little for the Almighty, Holy, and True.  If we think we are flattering God, then we are actively failing to recognize how awesome He really is! God will always be the greatest being – beyond our imagining – whether we worship Him or not. God’s main interest in telling us about Himself is so we can development a proper relationship with Our Father, God, the one who made everything we have and who is also the being who has already condescended to meet with us and care for our neediness individually.  Not many worldly celebrities, even really minor ones like a regional boss or a homecoming queen, truly care about their fans. Worldly leaders often see followers as exploitable, expendable resources, and feel little or no loyalty towards those they use and discard. This is probably why God stresses that HIS leaders should consider themselves as shepherds who protect and guide their sheep. God has strong angry words for those leaders who call themselves Christians but view their ‘flocks’ in that heartless carnal way. 

If you - as a influential societal leader/celebrity - figure that you can set your followers to attack a poorer person because you don’t like what he said to you, you are not humble. You are a user and not a shepherd.  If what you didn’t like to hear was a word from God given through a poorer, weaker person (and God LOVES to send brave impecunious believers with a Word) and you tried to ‘get back’ at him or her for it instead of going to God prayerfully to discern what if anything you needed to fix, then you’ve chosen a path that has more in common with the heathen Haman than with Jesus. This you’d-better-kowtow-to-me-or- else attitude was what initiated the crisis in Esther. Mordecai would not worship Haman,  and told Haman what God thought of such practices, so Haman griped to his fans/followers, friends, and family until they came up with a plan to kill Mordecai – and all the Jews with him.

**People still try to manipulate God to gain favor the same way they would an easily flattered foolish fellow human too. Seems crazy to me to try that on with Omniscience, who sees all hearts, but I have seen folks who give it a go!

#3  So far I have talked only about how the Pharisee approached God in pride, holding way too high an opinion of what he was offering God and much too high an opinion of himself generally, but now I think we should talk about the pride the Pharisee displayed toward the other fellow worshiping God in that service.  

The Pharisee’s egotism was obvious, but he was talking mostly to himself/God about how messed up the other guy was, and even thanked God for allowing the Pharisee a higher social status. People still do this, just not out loud.

Here is a simple fact, although the Pharisee acknowledged that God was greater than himself, he still felt he held a much higher slot in the spiritual hierarchy. If he was a dog, you’d say he was an alpha dog, submitting to the Master, but not to other dogs. He is secure in his belief that he holds a much higher place in life. He submits to strength greater than his own, never to dogs weaker than himself. Those who fall to any weakness are beneath him.

That’s very carnal behavior, the inner ape-man bellowing and beating his abs.

The crazy bit is that many believers feel they have been humble enough to satisfy Heaven as long as they acknowledge God – and social equals/superiors- with any kind of deference.  In truth, this isn’t humility at all! That’s just a practical acknowledgement of personal relationships and power bases that can hurt you if you act ugly to them. ANYBODY will do that. Dogs, zebras, and peach-faced lovebirds will do that. The only reason most people don’t defer to God now is because they don’t think He exists!

No, humility means recognizing AS EQUALS OR SUPERIORS people who do not have your advantages in life. Humility is recognizing God in every one of us, to the lowest beggars on the street. It means being willing to love others as God loved your otherwise worthless hide.

The rich and Pharisees ‘believers’ in Jesus’ day had lost any idea of remembering God’s calls to humility in the Old Testament. Some still shared food or clothing with the poor, but very few felt any obligation to spend any time with them.

This is why the Pharisee disrespected the other believer, the repentant taxpayer. The Pharisee saw a worthless lowlife and sneered at the man’s tears before Heaven. He didn’t realize God loved that sinner as much as God loved him. He didn’t see that God was willing to remake both broken lives into something much more beautiful, but this required willingness to change and willingness to take the relationship with God seriously. The Pharisee sure didn’t realize that the taxman was making the right choice and he was not.

Those raised high in Christian hierarchies or in church ministries often feel pretty blessed. Their Moms and Dads often have great standing with God and man. All recognize they have a huge advantage in knowing about Jesus from an early age. All that is actually fine, great even, but they are at risk of developing the idea that their family legacy includes being pretty awesome from birth - compared with the ‘outsiders’ and the ‘little people’ – especially those they see as lower caste sinners.  We have got to watch out for that attitude, as it can lead to the Pharisee’s failing. God can greatly use anyone who truly seeks His Face. Those who have grown up comfortable, in grace, are often not as strong in faith or wisdom as those who have been in the spiritual wars and found Jesus’ support is as faithful as He promised it would be.

Any trial another brother or sister in faith faces could be or could have been our fate. We should see Jesus in their midst. We should identify with and help those we can, as good neighbors, not as Lady Bountiful condescending to drop a few goodies to the starving serfs from our safe proud perch on the high balcony. Fake humility mouths some platitudes, congratulates itself on how much better its own life is, and keeps emotional distance from the losers shoved into its awareness. Real humility looks our fellow humans in the eyes and sees mirror of our own flawed humanity. Real humility loves others as much or more than it loves itself.

God prefers real humility.

We had better be glad of this, because it is in God’s incredible humility that we find His miraculous love, acceptance, interest and concern for us.  God’s not asking us to do anything He isn’t doing Himself for us, every single day.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Humble Pie in an Amish Paradise

Amish Paradise is one of my favorite Weird Al tunes. That may seem odd since some feel this song makes fun of Christians in general & the Amish in particular, but I don't think it's all that bad. Every time I see or hear it, I just remember how much I liked the Amish people I've met. Besides, those who can't take a gentle ribbing generally have ego issues, and we called to be humble Christ-like lovers of mankind. Occasionally that means eating a little humble pie with good grace.

Aside from using the word "fool" - devout believers like the Amish avoid insulting others like that - it's kinda true. I've never been Amish, but I have lived in some very basic rural situations, and some of those weren't but a few miles down the road from real Mennonites. I loved those guys! This is how I relate (at least to some of it.) Back to the land living is indeed plain, simple, peaceful, beautiful, but those not raised with that kind of quiet life often get freaky without all the usual noises and distractions. Yes, the lady is plain, but not ugly. She's just not what 'modern' people are used to seeing. This is the whole point of the song - even when its an Amish Paradise - when all is well, the weather is nice, the animals are healthy, the crops are abundant, and the Amish are actually having a great time, most city folks look at their lifestyle and go "Blech!"

Weird Al points out some of the stupidity the Amish put up with, and how they are likely to be tempted to respond. (You could even consider that part a warning to the English. Quit pushing them. They are human. They do have feelings.) As for those who make fun of the practical, old-fashioned clothes they wear? The Amish have long ago learned that is rarely worthwhile to respond to shallow, silly mockers, but you may as well know that you look just as ridiculous to them.
wink smiley photo: wink wink.gif

My favorite bit is this ~

"Think you're really righteous? Think you're pure in heart? Well, I know I'm a million times as humble as thou art! I'm the pious guy the little Amlettes wanna be like - On my knees day and night scorin' points for the afterlife"


Cracks me up every time because I have seen that one! I've met so many sincere believers who started off making some radical life changes in order to walk before God as perfectly as possible. Initially they knew that what they were doing was not required for salvation or even a close walk with God, (though the dedication and devotion that inspired that choice was beautiful IMO) but then they got to the point where they figured that only those who live just like they do are the 'real' Christians or maybe they recognize that other believers will probably go to heaven but are sure that they are 'scoring far more points for the afterlife' because only their sect is all that serious about following Jesus. IMHO, Weird AL has caught that particular head-trip perfectly. His lines show how pride can trip up even the kindest, most determinedly humble folks. It's not just the Amish, guys! We ALL have to watch out for that trap. Real humble pie shouldn't gas you up like that!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Susan & Other Popular Names

People still think of Susan as being too 'normal' a name to consider. Surely there are tons of Susans, so we'll name our child something modern and relatively Jennifer, Lisa, Ashley, Jessica, or Emily!

The irony, as I have explained to people before, is that everyone continues to believe Susan is a popular name - and for decades it has been becoming relatively rare. Name your child Susan and she may well be the only Susan in any of her classes. This chart shows the last time it was a leading name for girls in any large-ish state in the US - 1960! (A couple of small states held out to '62) I blame those lazy lyricists of the early rock & roll era myself. Too bad Sue/Suzy rhymed with so many words. I can't blame parents of that era for not risking it. At least by the time I was born in the late 60's most of those songs had faded from public memory. Maybe the songs also reminded parents that the name had been popular in their parent's youth too?

So, Susan may have been referenced very often in public culture, but it hasn’t been used as an actual name for most girls for some decades. At least they were right about it being an old-timey wimey name. It’s so old it’s cool!

The name of Susan has survived for thousands of years. Susa/Susan was the name of an ancient city on a trading route where some lovely flowers grew. Those flowers were domesticated, and the seeds were exported many hundreds of miles by lengthy caravans wending their spice-laden way across the ancient world. Girls were named for those flowers and the name stuck around for millennia - because of those flowers.

So if Susans were named for a flower that was named for a place – what did the name really mean? This is not known. One guess was something about a town of inhumanly-skilled masons, and Susa was their leader. One source says that Susa was the name of the earliest civilization in Persia (Iran,) and it’s capital was actually near a wetland where a particularly lovely lily grew. The flower, in this version, named the capital and the civilization (later known as the Elemites or Elamites, who were destroyed by Babylonians in Old Testament times.)

Another legend, which I love, held that original city of Susan was far older even than this. This Susan was a special trading center at the end of a lovely fertile valley that backed up to stone cliffs. The town's leaders especially valued learning, humility, and generosity. That legend says that initially the town had no outer walls and banned anyone holding too many goods in the town, believing that if they were generous with those who met to trade in their streets, and didn't allow an accumulation of goods to tempt a distant army, they would remain at peace. Eventually, however, powerful and wealthy merchants insisted on creating tower strongholds to make their trading more efficient. The town then had to build walls and maintain a military presence. Happily for them, the valley passes were defensible and the city survived many attacks, until the slow desertification processes that changed the Middle East eroded the ability of locals to survive there. The trade routes moved and the trading center relocated to Elam/Persia.

The current translation of Susan as "lily of the valley" or "lily of the fields" came from differing historians’ guesses as to what the ‘Susan’ flowers were. If the original city of Susan was based in the green valley of a mountain rage, the original ‘Susan’ flower could just as easily been some kind of edelweiss as any kind of lily. Some, I read, were grown in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. I read a book that said old records complained that the Susa/Susan flowers preferred elevations to plains, and were delicate and tricky to grow in a flowerbed, but also that an irritated gardener could throw his remaining seeds at a cliff face or stonewall and find it had taken root there without him. That doesn’t sound like a wetland lily to me. lol

Note: the last major city named Susan/Susun/Susa on record, where Esther & Daniel lived, was most definitely a rebuild in another location. The original Susa (whether in a valley or by a wetland) was lost to the deserts. The one in the Bible – the oldest one for which we have clear records - may have been the 3rd city with this name. (The third may or may not have been rebuilt in the same area as the second.) This Susa was later renamed Seleucia. That city stuck around long enough to be destroyed by Muslim forces in 638AD. It was later rebuilt, but destroyed again by Mongols in 1218 AD

Notice that thousands of years of references still don’t offer any alternate meanings for Susan. If it was the name of a lily, then everyone’s been close to right all this time, but if not? I've noted some ancient languages in the fabled region of old Susa used sound clumps similar to Susan/Shushan to reference strongholds or fortified king's vaults. That would make sense for the name of a really early fortified trade town.

Wouldn't it be ironic if one of the ultimate 'girly-girl' names actually meant something like "castle?" How about if it was originally the name of a powerful king? Both are possible, and would have been a real comfort to that “Boy Named Sue.” ;)

IMHO Some variant of Katy/Katie and Ann/Anne/Anna/Annabelle/Annabeth should have been on these charts too. I have never been anywhere that didn't have bunches of both Annes and Katies. I suspect that its the variant spellings that kept them off the chart. Katherine/Catherine/Katerine are recognizable as the same name to a person, but not a computer. When you add in all the Katys/Katies from Kathleen/Cathleen and those just given the short version, you get a lot of Katy/Katies! Since the Susan modern variants are also fairly rare (Suzy, Suzanne, Suzette), I don’t think this affected the Susan name as much.

btw - those names go way back into pre-history too. According to a book I found in the 80's, Anne is the oldest girl's name found in cuneiform records that is still in use. They believe "Anne" implied a delicate, especially feminine child. Now it's translated as "favor, grace." At least there's an association of ideas there.

Ancient names are bow-tie cool! - but probably not as cool as this duck...

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Psychological Assault

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Character Under Pressure

I both agree and disagree with this statement. Character is your integrity (internal values and how well you live them.)

When people are stressed they tend to show more of the internal workings (probably from being spread thin and frayed around the edges.) This is why we think that pressure brings out character.

Our true character is developed in good and bad times with every choice we make. Who you are when most everyone/everything goes your way, and what behaviors you consider acceptable when you think no one is looking, and how long you will stand for doing the right thing when all appears hopeless - reveal a lot about your values.

I believe (personal, financial, relationship) stress pressures us like a mold forms a tool, solidifying the good or bad choices we make into a more resilient form. All choices tend toward building or eroding our character, but the decisions we make under pressure imprint our ideas about who we are very deeply.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Minions of Habit

Another post FB is not sharing with anyone but me. Oddly, I got it from a friend's Timeline so it has gone through already at least once before.

As for the thoughts IN the piccy, it is so very true that we tend to do what we have done before. (Some sociologists/psychologists call that 'self-herding' behavior.) So, we would benefit from being more aware of what choices we are making, and which way we are trending.

Comes to mind that if a person indicates they were 'fooled' into supporting bullying once, but then you find them pushing agenda(s) on behalf of others - with one or more wanna-be 'queens' they seem to be appeasing in the background - you have identified a definite trend that equates to some quite serious flaws in character. Sure, there are some serious differences getting shared on FB about current events. Its understandable that people share their point of view, and reasonable for those who disagree - to say they disagree. However - going on to another's page and commenting at length solely for the purpose of discouraging others from expressing themselves is not cool at all. It stands out like a neon sign when this is the only comment(s) they have made to the person in weeks, months, years likes, no friendliness and then ze jumpingz onze like ze tonz of brickz. (Ya vol!)  Seriously, trying to force everyone you know to share your political views is a form of bullying. Minions are only funny in cartoons (like Girl Genius)...and in Despicable Me movies

I do admit to liking Despicable Me minions... and bananas ...and DM minions with bananas

and both Despicable Me movies.  (So glad the second movie was as fun as the first :)

So - ahem - yes, back to RL (Real Life) where minioning is BAD (tm) and respecting the sincerely held opinions of others is GOOD (tm)

...and now I want a banana