HERETIC ALERT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Monday, August 14, 2017

Dis-Ease & the Breakdown of Society

Right now, in this nation of ours, arguably the biggest news story is one coming from my home-state of Virginia. Very near to the heart of Virginia, Charlottesville has been rocked of late by the proposed removal of a statue or statures commemorating the venerable but horrifying history of these United States, but the South in particular. I will freely acknowledge that I have not done my research. I do not know the extent of the damage that has been done ( maybe still going on ), nor do I know any particulars. Nor do I really care to know! This is not to say that the deaths ( on either side ) does not concern me, or that the wanton violence does not disturb me in the least. As far as I'm concerned & I will say no more ( about Charlottesville ), it only goes to prove that violence, no matter how 'righteous' the cause, only breeds more violence!

In any society where human beings are involved, 'we're gonna have a problem'; it's inescapable! this one wants that & the other wants this. Recent events bare ample witness to this fact, but it's not only in recent history that we have noted this. Ever since the inception of our beloved nation, there have been battles waged, whether actually or metaphorically, in the bedrooms, boardrooms & on the battlefields of this great country. Some will say that all this fighting & warring was necessary, 'for the greater good', one might say, but was it really? If, rather than armed rebellion against England, the men & women who birthed this nation had decided to peacefully protest, even though they lost their livelihoods, even their lives, in the process, maybe we would not be experiencing the levels of violence we are currently bearing witness to & have witnessed in the past 200+ years!

Fear Factor is the biggest business in this nation of ours! Whether it's politics or religion, it just makes sense; if you want to control a populace, Fear is your greatest weapon. How do you think Hitler was able to trample all over those touted six million Jews with only a ( relatively ) few soldiers? Fear is the root cause of much hatred, anxiety & indecision. In our minds, we might, when faced with a decision, a judgment call, in other words, immediately rehearse all the possible scenarios our decision might engender & so we may end up doing the wrong thing or nothing at all, simply out of fear of the unknown.

Fear controls the masses! Medically speaking, the pharmaceutical industry is one of the biggest in the world. Much dis-ease is caused by this industry; for example, when the doctor says that one has a certain disease/problem, most people, especially when the so-called 'cure' costs more than they have or can afford, will immediately begin stressing about their situation, which only makes it worse ( 'stress is a killer') & their dis-ease actually becomes worse than it was before.

Along with this problem is the food that we eat. It's almost impossible to truly eat healthy anymore, or at least that's what 'they' want you to think! Either ( again ) there's not enough money to eat healthy all the time, or because 'we just don't have the time or resources'. Because many people don't eat as healthily as they should, this problem intermingles with that of the medical industry, which ultimately rests in the lap of the federal government. The federal government, which is in bed with the pharmaceutical industry, through the USDA & related agencies has, by law ( 'fear', again ) dictated what foods are & aren't healthy, or safe, for the general population to consume.

The government of this nation, which is supposed to be 'of the people, by the people, for the people', seems to have become 'of the weak ( poor ), by the strong ( rich ), for the few ( elite )'! Fear of what might happen if we don't follow the letter of the law has caused much dis-ease as well, among the general populace. This dis-ease, on top of what has already been mentioned, makes this a truly dis-ease-ridden society!

One might wonder at this point, whether there is any way out from under this burden: well, as they say, 'there is a balm in Gilead'! Depending on ones background, maybe, this iconic statement might be taken literally, as in the golden oil produced by the pineal & pituatary glands, or metaphorically, as speaking of the help that comes from Above, from the Christian God, from Enlightenment through Buddha or some other Spiritual Guide.

'Know thyself', a Delphic maxim from ancient times, speaks well to this situation. If more people truly knew themselves, we would not be in the predicament in which we find ourselves! However, because people are taught to fear ( death, taxes, 'fear itself' ) from birth, most have not come to the realization of who they truly are. Our dis-eases largely result, first, from the fact that most are ignorant of what is & is not good for their biological body. The second reason there is so much dis-ease in the world is that many have not yet awakened to the fact that we are not our biology, but merely residents of it. Dis-ease ultimately comes from, is manifested by, our innermost being, our True Self, our Spirit. It is almost incomprehensible to think that simply by healing our innermost being, we could manifest a perfectly healthy biological body, but did not Jesus tell many of His patients, 'your faith has made you well' & 'whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive'?

Fear of the unknown ( ourselves ) causes much unnecessary distress. If more men & women truly knew themselves & thus others, there would be much less war & oppression throughout the world! We can only complete this process within ourselves, for, as another well-known maxim states, 'you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him ( or her ) drink'. Self-awareness is something we can only do for ourselves; as Morpheus said in the late 90s movie 'The Matrix', 'I'm trying to free your mind, Neo. But I can only show you the door. You're the one that has to walk through it'. All we can do is be ourselves, educate as we can & BE the Change we wish to see in this world!

Charles Haddon Shank

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

The Fall as the Story of Israel

And out of the ground the Lord God made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Genesis 2:9

This is not, or at least, should not be, unfamiliar territory. The Story of the Fall of Adam, repeated throughout Scripture, in one way or another, is very recognizable as one of the themes of the Story of Israel. The History of Israel is plagued with spots, like leprosy, that became a blot, rather than a blessing to the nations. A blot, I say, though it turned out to be a blessing in disguise, for through it, through Israel's several captivities ( Exile ) the Gospel, the Good News of the Creator's Love for His Creation, was spread throughout the known world. 

Why did the Creator God even plant the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the midst of the Garden, when He should have known, in His omniscience, that Adam & Eve wouldn't be able to keep their hands off of it?' Questions like this have engendered Calvinist & Hyper-Calvinist notions that the Creator God was testing His Creation by placing such a temptation before them. 'Knowing they would disobey Him, the argument might be presented, 'He did this so that He could send His Son to save them from their sin'. This might engender other questions though; questions like, 'why go through all that? Why not just make them perfect in the first place so Jesus didn't have to die? In fact, why not just send Jesus in the first place?'

The fact is, the idea of a talking snake has never set quite right. Sure, there are other stories of animals becoming verbose in Scripture ( well, one other, anyway-Balaam's donkey-Numbers 22 ), but this is not something that is easy for us, especially with our Western mindset, to visualize. With the advent of the Saturday morning cartoon, animals talking with human voices has become a more or less familiar concept, though & so the notion of a snake or donkey talking does not seem so much of a stretch, especially when combined with the constructs that they were, for that time, possessed by a different spirit, whether good or evil. 

The Nature of the Story of Israel, especially when approached from its Ancient Near Eastern context, should be noted as that of literature; a literal history, maybe, relating actual events, but in a way that reveals a deeper spiritual meaning. Take, for instance, the notion that many Christians still cling to; that of a global flood: was the Great Flood of Noah's Day one that covered every square inch of planet earth as a casual reading of certain Scriptures seems to indicate, or was the Author telling the Story in such a way, along with the unbelievable Story of the Ark, to cast forth a Revelation of the Son of God, He who would save the world ( John 3:16 ) from their sin ( ignorance ). The internal & external evidence, when approached with a ready mind, point rather to a localized flood ( if indeed it happened at all, at least as we understand it ), though, at that time, global in its scope!

'If the Great Flood never occurred, to say nothing of Adam's Fall ( complete with the talking snake ), then how can we be sure that the Story of Jesus' Humble Birth was an actual event?' The Virgin Birth might well be subjected to the same kind of scrutiny, for even though we can imagine the mere possibility of a Spirit Being impregnating a human being ( Genesis 6 ), we also know that it usually takes sperm to fertilize an egg. This is not to say that the Story, as we understand it, is complete bunk, but it is safe to say that it is, at least, indicative of something greater.

The Fall of Adam, when viewed with the vision that hindsight affords, is an obvious metaphor for the larger Story of Israel! Though rife with dissonance, the arguments against Adam as the first Israelite have convinced many of their validity. As with the Great Flood & other Scriptural accounts, the notion that these events were anything but literal occurrences seems ridiculous to most Christians. Covenant Creation, along with its forbear, Covenant Eschatology, has been gaining ascendancy in the past few years. The relatively new idea has surfaced within the past decade or so that Adam was not the first human being to inhabit planet earth, but that he was simply the first covenant man, the first Son of God, representative of Israel.

Whether or not the mythical serpent that tempted our first 'parents' in the Garden was possessed by 'Satan',another mythical creature, or whether the Story of the Fall was imagined to put the greater Story of Israel in terms they could better understand, it should be obvious that its not as simple as a talking snake & a forbidden fruit! We may simply understand it as an apocalypse, a revelation if you will, of the Story of Israel. Is it only that? Is it simply a metaphorical re-telling ( or is that 'pre-telling'? ) of a much greater spiritual truth? To focus overmuch on such questions is to miss the point & sadly, wars, both real & metaphorical, have been fought over less!

If only the Creator God had not planted that damn tree ( the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil ) alongside the Tree of Life! What was He thinking?! If Adam had not sinned, Jesus wouldn't have had to die, right!? The idea of our Heavenly Father as a vindictive, petty sort of God is most likely due in part to ancient pagan myths & thus are the Hebrew Scriptures so colored, but the notion of the Creator God sacrificing His Son, like Abraham almost did-Genesis 22:1-19, has always rankled. 

Like the metaphor of the Shepherd & the Sheep, though, the Ancient Near Eastern Culture with which Scripture is interwoven was a culture ( still is ) of bloodshed. We are all familiar with the apostle's words in Hebrews 9:22, 'without shedding of blood there is no remission': why cannot sin be forgiven WITHOUT taking life? In our culture, especially the modern Western mindset, this may seem strange, but in the culture from which the Scriptures came, there was nothing strange about it; it was a way of life! Long before Israel came on the scene, in fact, sacrificing human beings even, not just animals, was not unheard of, as a way in which to appease the gods.

Israel was the Creator God's Son, His Lamb, who was fattened ( in the beginning ) to serve as a sacrificial offering, for a pleasing aroma ( Genesis 8:21 ). This was a metaphorical sacrifice, but it had & has real-world consequences: look at the apostle's words recorded in Romans 12:1; 'I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, [ which is ] your reasonable service'. The Greater Spiritual Truth to which all the blood-sacrifices of that first covenant pointed was the metaphorical sacrifice of our lives to the Cause of the Christ!

Charles Haddon Shank

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

The Garden as Metaphor

 The Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden, and there He put the man whom He had formed.
Genesis 2:8

I will plant them in their land,
And no longer shall they be pulled up
From the land I have given them,”
Says the Lord your God.

 Amos 9:15 

It is well-known, or should be, anyway, that from Genesis to Revelation, the Bible tells the Story of Israel, along with the downfall of many as well as the exaltation of a few, but what if the creation stories, including the Beginning of what is known as the Garden of Eden, were not so much literal as literary? In other words, they weren't actually places or occurrences, but were simply literary devices, common to that place & time, to convey a certain Story, the Story of Israel!

You may have heard that a better interpretation of the Hebrew phrase 'בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֵת הָאָֽרֶץ׃', or, 'In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth', goes something like this, 'in the summit, Elohim fattened the heavens and the earth'. Why the translators didn't use this translation rather than saying 'created', probably has something to do with historical & or religious bias, but really, the answer is neither here nor there. The Hebrew word translated 'created', according to Gesenius' Hebrew Lexicon, means literally 'to cut, to carve out, to form by cutting'. This fact, in itself, would be enough to point to these words as more of the creation of a covenant rather than the formation of material things.

'If we can't read the Garden Story as actual, literal history, then who's to say that the rest of the Bible Stories are?' Among others, this is one question that might be offered up when someone puts forth the idea that maybe we're not looking at the text from the right angle. Maybe if we read this Ancient Near Eastern text from the point of view of the Ancient Near Eastern culture instead of from our Western point of view & Western culture, we would gain a better understanding of this text & others like it.

The Story of the Great Flood is another narrative that plays tricks with our Western minds! When we read the Story of Noah's Ark from a purely Western perspective, we tend to see the Flood as literally having covered the tallest mountains on earth-a good 30,000 feet-which doesn't really match up with the biblical narrative. One could get into some major disagreements ( arguments ) here, but that's not what this is all about; what it's all about is, as the apostle Peter made clear ( I Peter 3:18-22, II Peter 2:5 ), that the Ark of Noah's day was a picture of the Salvation that the Christ brought.

Geologists & historians, for centuries, have toyed with the notion of an actual, literal place, the location of the fabled Garden of Eden.  The Garden has been placed anywhere from the Tigris-Euphrates River Valley to the Persian Gulf Delta. Answers in Genesis, among others in the same boat, seem to have settled the issue by claiming that we might never know because of Flood Geology, which posits a global flood that changed the course of history. All this is quite interesting, but again, beside the point! Whether the Flood was global or local, it pictured the destruction of the enemies of God & through the Ark, the Salvation of the Israel of God.

Since the Story of Scripture is the Story of Israel, it only makes sense that all the stories in the Scriptures are ultimately about Israel, both their salvation & destruction. Even the Story of Daniel in the Lion's Den is about Israel & their salvation from the enemies of God. The same could be said of Sampson's interesting encounter with a lion-obvious metaphor there. The Flood Account is simply a metaphor for the destruction of the enemies of God & through the Ark, the salvation of the Israel of God.

The apostle Peter again makes clear in his second letter ( II Peter 3:5-7 ) that the same creation ( 'heavens and earth' ) which perished by a flood in Noah's Day would again be decimated in the New Noah's Day, this time by fire! By 'the New Noah', I of course mean Jesus, who was the Great Antitype of all those Old Covenant types. Jesus, in His Olivet Discourse ( Matthew 24, Luke 21, Mark 13 ) makes some obvious allusions as well, to the Flood. In verse 37 of Matthew 24, we read 'But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be'. Luke 21:35 records Jesus as saying that, like the Flood, 'it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth'. These words of Jesus, when read from our Western point of view, seem to point to both a global flood as well as a global destruction by fire, but it should be noted that, just as the first Moses wrote of the Creation & Weeding-out of Israel in the first book of the Bible, so the New Moses ( the Last Moses ) referred to the Recreation & Final Weeding-out of Israel in His Final Revelation.

The Story of the Fall is echoed numerous times throughout the sordid history of Israel, leading up to the Assyrian Captivity & the final one, under the Romans, the one Jesus was born into. Exile from the Garden, for Adam & Eve, was simply a foreboding of the Exile that Israel found herself in throughout her history. Is this to say that there never was a Garden of God, a Great Flood, that Daniel never spent the night in a lion's den & that Sampson never had that fabled encounter with a lion? No; the Garden, the Flood & these incidents with lions could have all taken place, but it is just as likely that they are literary devices used to tell the tale of Israel in pictures, so to speak!

The location of the Garden of Eden is really a moot point then, as it merely points to the Story of Israel who, from four camps in the wilderness, then into the Promised Land ( also metaphorical, though literal as well ), were to become a River of Living Water to liven all of God's Creation. The Garden of Eden is a metaphor for what the Israel of God would become in the Latter Days, as witnessed by John in the Revelation ( 21:1 & 2 ).

Much time & money has been spent in trying to prove that the Garden actually existed, money that could better have been spent elsewhere, such as doing what Jesus did, in caring for the poor & needy! If they had spent all that time & money in spreading/sharing the True Gospel of Jesus the Christ, maybe we would be living in a more Edenic world! However, since they thought better to 'prove' themselves right, we have warring factions among those who claim to be followers of the Christ! If only people would take note that it IS all about the Christ & not about some fabled Garden with a talking snake; it's not about whether the Cataclysm of Noah's day was local or global & it sure isn't about lions who had just eaten.

What if all those Bible Stories that we loved to hear in Sunday School never really happened ( at least, not like our Western ears hear them )? Would that necessarily make a difference when it comes to the Christ? If the Garden of Eden never really existed, per se, does that mean that Jesus Himself was simply a metaphor? Since it all pointed to Jesus & ultimately, to the Christ Within, we can safely say that Jesus was not 'simply' a metaphor!

If indeed the word 'bara'' might just as well, or better, be translated 'fattened', the picture of Israel as the Christ makes good sense, for was not Jesus 'an offering and a sacrifice' ( Ephesians 5:2 )? As followers of the Christ, in fact, as little Christs ourselves, did not the apostle Paul say we should offer our bodies as a 'living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God' ( Romans 12:1 ). We are, whether one follows the biblical Story or not, on this good earth, not to pursue the American Dream, nor to make as much money for our children's inheritance before this biology fails, even; we are here to live in symbiosis, not as an island unto ourselves, but in covenant, in community with each other, sharing the Life & Love that we have been given, that we in fact ARE!

Again, does it really matter all that much if the Garden really existed, especially as the biblical witness attests to? No, not really! The fact that it's merely metaphor does not detract at all from the Story of Scripture & in actuality, strengthens it, if anything. The Garden is really a metaphor for the human heart, the innermost being, with the choice between two trees. Will we continue to eat of the Tree of Life & live forever, or will we partake of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good & Evil & die? It's your choice; choose wisely!

Charles Haddon Shank