Sunday, December 25, 2016

Blessed Be

Some two thousand and two squared squared years ago today, a bloke was born a bit outside of Jersalem who would go on to say some quite interesting and powerful things.  The general gist of his instruction had to do with peace and love and favoring kindness over power, which was quite radical at the time ... and, in many ways, is no less so now.  Today is, traditionally, the day that we are supposed to celebrate his life, and his death, and what it meant and continues to mean to quite a large portion of the world’s populace.

And, sure, maybe it wasn’t exactly today, and maybe it wasn’t exactly 2,016 years ago, and maybe he didn’t say exactly the words we have written down in our holy books, and maybe he really was a divine figure or maybe he was just a guy, and, hell: maybe he never lived at all and the whole thing is entirely made up—I certainly don’t fully subscribe to the religion carried forth in his name—but the weird thing is, whether you believe that everything in the Bible is exactly verbatim true or whether you believe that it’s all crap that feeds the zeal of religious nutjobs or whether you hold one of the many positions somewhere in between those two extremes, the one thing you can’t really ignore is the message.  Here are a few of the things that this fellow supposedly uttered:

Whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.

For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Give to everyone who begs from you; and of him who takes away your goods do not ask them again.

If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.

Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to cast a stone.

Judge not, that ye be not judged.

You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.”  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

Even if all this is completely fabricated and there never was a Jesus at all—even if the whole thing is 100% fiction—those are some poweful words right there.  Read through those things again, and really think about them.  Does this sound like the typical philosophy of the times round about two millenia ago? or does it sound revolutionary—practically subversive?  The entire story of Jesus is about a person who threatens those in power by teaching people that riches and authority are meaningless and the only way to get ahead in life is to be nice to each other.  No wonder they nailed him to a piece of wood.  Even today, people who preach messages like that are treated similarly: if they can’t be marginalized or demonized, they can always be persecuted and jailed.  We don’t literally crucify anyone any more, but we have our ways.

So this is still a resounding, powerful message, regardless of its source.  It sort of makes me feel like Jewish detective William Kinderman in William Peter Blatty’s Legion, who addresses a crucifix in a Catholic church thusly:

Who are you? God’s son?  No, you know I don’t believe that. ... I don’t know who you are, but you are Someone. ...  Do you know how I know? From what you said.  When I read, “Love your enemy,” I tingle ...  No one from the earth could ever say what you said.  No one could even make it up.  Who could imagine it?  The words knock you down.

I think we forget just how unlikely those words are.  Perhaps they’ve become dulled through repetition.  But they really are quite remarkable.  This is the main reason I love Legion so much: Kinderman—unassuming, Columbo-like, stereotypically Jewish—is the perfect character to remind us that, no, those words are not ordinary just because you’ve heard them a million times.  Love your enemy?  Think of the over two billion Christians in the world: how many can you name who are practicing that philosophy?  Personally, I got to Mother Teresa and Pope Francis and then I ran out.  (And, honestly, I’m not 100% sure about the latter.)  So, yeah: pretty heady stuff there.

So even if you don’t quite subscribe to all—or any—of the bells and whistles of Christianity, it’s worth taking a few moments today to ponder the words that underlie it all.  It’s worth thinking about the fact that, if you’re supposed to be loving your freaking enemies, you can damn well take some time to love your family, and your friends, and your coworkers, and just random people you see on the street.  Take some time to appreciate what you’ve got, and I’m betting that if you’re reading this blog you’ve got a lot.  Give some thanks for it.  You don’t have to direct those thanks to a divine being if that’s not your thing.  Just direct it to someone in your house, or send it out to the universe at large.  Can’t hurt.

From all of us here that make up this fractured, flawed, fantastic, fortunate family—all five humans, two dogs, three cats, one guinea pig, one bearded dragon, multiple fish, snails, shrimp, and an African dwarf frog named Jeff-O—we wish that everyone reading these words is as blessed as we seem to be, even when we can’t remember that we are.  Even if today is not your flavor of end-of-year celebration, we hope that you’re having (or have had, or will have had) a celebration of some kind, and that it was joyous, and loving, and that it lasted exactly as long as you needed it to.  And that it continues to warm you well into the future.

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