Friday, June 28, 2013

Nowhere to Lay Our Heads: On the Road with Jesus (Luke 9:51-62)

On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But he turned and rebuked them, and said, “You do not know what spirit you are of, for the Son of Man has not come to destroy the lives of human beings but to save them.” Then they went on to another village (Luke 9:52b-56, New Revised Standard Version, here and following).

Sometimes people do not act as we expect or even like. Here some people have actually refused hospitality to Jesus Christ Son of the Living God. How rude is that? Evil enough, James and John believe, to justify their sudden death and perhaps even their eternal damnation.

Happily, a different spirit animates Jesus. He embodies the one odd god of truth, freedom, love, and vitality. He came to give live and not to take it.

Benedict of Nursia (ca 480-543)

Benedict was born around 480 into an upper-middle-class family living in Nursia (today’s Norcia), Latinia, about 150 miles (180 km) northeast of Rome.

By the time he was 20, he had received a good education in Rome and had met a woman who had fallen in love with him.  Even so he tired of the devotion of his friends to Venus goddess of sex and Bacchus god of consumption. He left them in Rome to develop a more meaningful way of living.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Collapse of Our World and Our Creative Response to It

Throughout history, we find four types of social movements: progressive, conservative, restorative, and preservative. Progressives believe the golden age lies in the future; conservatives, in the present; and restoratives, in the past. Preservatives seek to save the best of every age from destruction.

For all of us in Olympia—for all of our societies, all of our cultures, and all of us as individuals—the most significant reality since 1750 has been the growth of the Global Technological System (GTS). It has now reached the point in intensity, extensity, and complexity that all of our societies, cultures, and selves are thoroughly integrated into it with no discernible method of escape.

Social Movements: Progressive, Conservative, Restorative, Preservative

At any given moment in our Olympian society, there are always four movements afoot: progressive, conservative, restorative, and preservative. They vary in relative strength. Sometimes one is more popular, sometimes another. They also vary in relative creativity. At times each is creative and sometimes each is destructive.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Sappho (ca 630-ca 570 BC)

Little biographical information about Sappho survives. We know she was born in Mytilene on the island of Lesbos into a wealthy family. With her family she was temporarily exiled to Sicily around 600. Later she returned to Lesbos and remained there until her death. She wrote poetry and sang these poems while playing the lyre.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Pindar (ca 522-443 BC)

Pindar was born around 522 BC near Thebes into a wealthy family that traced its roots back to Cadmus. His permanent address always remained Thebes even though he traveled widely.

As a young adult he lived in Athens for awhile to study poetry. In 500, and for the rest of Pindar’s life and beyond, Athens was by far the most important center of culture in all Hellenia. Pindar loved Athens and never spoke a bad word about it. This was difficult because, during his lifetime, leaders in Athens and Thebes were often bitter political enemies. Once leaders of his hometown of Thebes fined him 5000 drachmas for praising Athens in a poem. Athenians countered with a gift of 10,000 drachmas.

Jerusalem, Jupiter, Judas, and Jesus

Tradition tells us that Jesus entered Jerusalem in a highly meaningful way. [T]he whole multitude of his disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice…, saying “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Luke 19:37a, 38a, New Revised Standard Version, here and following). Let us imagine the day. A great number of Jesus' supporters publicly cheered for him as the long-awaited ruler sent by God to save his people from their enemies.

Then Jesus got even more provocative. [H]e entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling things there; and he said, ‘It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer’; but you have made it a den of robbers” (19:45-46).

Monday, June 24, 2013

A Sociology of Olympianity

Olympianity is the world's oldest, most popular, yet least recognized religion. Examining it from a sociological point of view will help us to understand, more clearly, how Olympian societies, cultures, and personalities function in everyday life.

Olympianity: the religion
There are six gods that rule our world. They are (1) Jupiter, god of politics; (2) Mars, god of war; (3) Vulcan, god of technology; (4) Venus, goddess of sex; (5) Pluto, god of money; and (6) Bacchus, god of consumption.

Why Bother with Tales from History?

Why bother with tales from history? Strangely enough, writing, reading, thinking about, and discussing them can be an act of piety. It can be one way we honor our ancestors. By appreciating tales from history together, we may rightly celebrate anew all the truth, goodness, and beauty to which our illustrious ancestors witnessed.

Limitations on Truth: Power

Two of our great privileges in life are to learn the truth and to share it with others. Learning and sharing happen only by grace. They happen only when Jesus freely speaks to us in love and the Holy Spirit freely enables us in love to discern and affirm those words. Then we are able to think, speak, and act in ways which increase our strength of soul, edify (build up) others, and glorify Abba (God the Father).

Given the tremendous goodness and beauty of witnessing to the truth, one might think that our society would actively encourage us to do it. Our society would if it were unconventional. Sadly, it is wholly committed to the dreary gods of power.

Limitations on Truth: Delirium

We humans face limitations as we seek to understand the truth. We bother with the truth because knowing and affirming the truth frees us to love and leads us into fullness of life.

The first limitation confronts us through no fault of our own. It is the limitation to understanding imposed by the inescapable simplicity of our thinking. Our thinking can never be complex enough to comprehend society, creation, or even ourselves, let alone God.

Limitations on Truth: Desperate Conformity

We may define society as all the organized social groups that exist in any given area. Examples of common organized social groups include families, churches, schools, offices, and factories.

We may define culture as all the meanings and means shared by members of a given society. Meanings are all the ideas we carry in our minds. Important meanings include beliefs, values, and norms. Beliefs are our ideas about the nature of things. Values are our ideas about what is important. Norms are our ideas about right and wrong. The beliefs, values, and norms of a culture are all interrelated.

Limitations on Truth: Bias for Ourselves and against Others

Knowing the truth is hard to do. One reason: reality is far more complex than we can comprehend. This is a limitation that confronts all of us even at our very best.

Sadly, we are rarely at our very best. Not only is our thinking unavoidably limited. It is also inescapably flawed. Our thinking is corrupted by sin. It remains flawed because of the break in our relationship with God. It remains flawed because of the corruption of our thinking made possible by evil powers that persist in that break.

Jesus emphasized one flaw from which our thinking suffers because of sin:

Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor's eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor's eye (Matthew 7:1-5, New Revised Standard Version).

So one flaw in our thinking, caused by sin, is this: our bias. Our thinking is biased in favor of ourselves and against others. It is also biased in favor of our group against other groups.

Because of this bias, we exaggerate our own virtues and strengths. Typically we even imagine ourselves having virtues and strengths that we lack. In other words, our biased interpretation of reality even constructs facts to fit it.

Conversely, because of this bias, we also exaggerate the vices and weaknesses of others. Typically, we even imagine others to have vices and weaknesses that they lack. In other words, again, our biased interpretation of reality even constructs facts to fit it.

As human beings, we all have this bias against truth almost all the time. Those of us who are committed to living as radiant witnesses to Jesus will experience this as a constant challenge. As Christians, we want to share the light, love, and vitality of Jesus with others. This bias limits that.

Happily, Jesus is the truth who frees us from this bias. He doesn’t do this automatically, or all the time, or permanently. But he does do it. And when he does it, he enables us to love others. He enables us to express that love by affirming the virtues and strengths in others. He also enables us to express that love by acknowledging our own vices and weaknesses.

Copyright © 2013 by Steven Farsaci.
All rights reserved. Fair use encouraged.

Limitations on Truth: Complexity of Reality

Knowing the truth is hard to do. To begin with, reality is far more complex than we can understand. Even at our rare best, our minds are too simple to comprehend the complexity of reality.

Four Levels of Democracy

Jacques Ellul identified these four levels of democracy in his book entitled The Political Illusion. First published in French and English editions in the 1960s, the book remains a powerful cure for illusions still plaguing us today.

1. Political. This first level of democracy is the one we are most familiar with. Primarily it’s the level of candidates, issues, and voting.

2. Social. This is the second level of democracy. For political democracy to work well, social democracy must be reasonably well established. In a healthy social democracy, wealth is distributed between citizens in a relatively equitable way.

Social Classes

Olympianity has been the dominant religion of Olympia throughout its history. Olympianity is the religion of power. Consequently, we may identify the social classes of Olympia primarily in terms of power.

Ancient, Medieval, and Modern No More

Our modern Olympian culture conventionally divides the history of Olympia (see Glossary) into three periods: ancient, medieval, and modern. Ancient history is understood to begin with the emergence of cities and writing about 3000 BC. It ends with the collapse of the western Roman empire around AD 400. Modern history begins with the Renaissance of Roman culture in Florence around 1400 and continues to our day. Renaissance thinkers were the first to use the term, “Middle Ages,” to describe the historical period between their own day and the days of Rome which they aspired to relive. So the Middle Ages span the centuries between 400 and 1400.

Different Religions Use Different Calendars

In Olympia, we have four major religions: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Olympianity. Each of these religions has its own calendar. That’s because each religion has its own beliefs, values, and norms and these determine how best to understand time.

Dividing History into Periods: Third to Seventh

We may divide the history of Olympia into different periods using religion as our primary criterion. Previously we talked about the beginning of history and its first two great ages: the Age of Olympianity (4004-1921 BC) and the Age of Yahwism (1921-4 BC). Today we will cover the remaining great periods.

Dividing History into Periods: First and Second

We may divide the last 6,000 years of history into different periods using religion as our primary category. Today we will cover the beginning of history and its first two great periods.

4004 BC Creation
Following the Bible, we learn that Yahweh created Heaven and Earth, as well as Adam and Eve, in 4004 BC. Shortly after their creation, however, Adam and Eve broke their relationship with Yahweh, one another, and the rest of creation. With that fall from grace began our first period of human history: the Age of Olympianity.

Space and Time

Space. I speak of Olympia as a special place. Olympia includes the lands we call Europe, Southwest Asia, and North Africa.

Olympia is a good space for our purposes. Not only did Olympianity enjoy some of its finest moments here. Olympia has also been home to three other historically significant religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. By focusing on Olympia, we may remember and learn from the interactions of people affirming these different religious traditions.

Society, Culture, Religion, and Langugage

Pitirim Sorokin, a sorely underrated sociologist, wrote an insightful book, Society, Culture, and Personality, which was published in 1947. In that book he provides us with an understanding of society and culture which is still helpful.

Society. We may define society as all the organized social groups that exist in the area we are studying. In the days of the pharaohs, for example, the organized social groups of Egyptian society included ordinary families, the state bureaucracy, the priesthood, and stonecutters with their assistants. All of these social groups were organized. They each had members interacting with one another to achieve shared goals.

History: Facts Important But Interpretation More So

We might say that history is the sequence of events, involving various people, happening at a certain time and place. We also use the word history to mean our retelling of those events.

History in the first sense of the word involves a certain number of facts. These facts are the real people, present at a real time and place, who are participating in real events. History in the second sense is our interpretation of those facts. It is the meaning we give to the facts.

These are nice simple distinctions. The truth, however, is more complex.

Jupiter: Justifier of Political Power

Jupiter is one of the six gods of Olympianity. Olympianity is the oldest, most popular, yet least recognized religion in Olympia and the world.

Like any other self-respecting god, Jupiter provides us with the justification we crave. We human beings are weak and fragile creatures. We cannot possibly overcome our sense of guilt ourselves. We must have the help of culturally approved gods, and the shared devotion of others to those gods, to have any sense of justification, forgiveness, and merit. Jupiter does this for us.

Jupiter: Political Power as the Measure of Our Importance

Olympianity is the oldest, most popular, yet least recognized religion in Olympia today. Almost all of us participate in this religion and devote ourselves to its six gods. Using their Roman names, these gods are (1) Jupiter, god of politics; (2) Mars, god of war; (3) Vulcan, god of technology; (4) Venus, goddess of sex; (5) Pluto, god of money; and (6) Bacchus, god of consumption.

One purpose of any god is to tell us who is important. The most important people in any society are those who stand closest to the gods and so are central. The least important are those who stand farthest away and so are marginal.

Olympianity: The Religion of Power

Olympia is the name I give the land of Europe, Southwest Asia, and North Africa. Olympia is important as a world all its own, as a microcosm of our world as a whole, and as the center of a history that now dominates the whole world.

The oldest, most popular, yet least recognized religion in Olympia and the world is Olympianity. In Olympianity, people devote themselves to six gods. Using their old Roman names, these six gods are (1) Jupiter, god of politics; (2) Mars, god of war; (3) Vulcan, god of technology; (4) Venus, goddess of sex; (5) Pluto, god of money; and (6) Bacchus, god on consumption.

Olympianity: Today's Most Popular Religion

Olympia is the name I give the land of Europe, Southwest Asia, and North Africa. In that land, people are commonly thought to participate in one of three religions: Judaism, Christianity, or Islam (in order of historical appearance).

There is, however, a fourth religion in that land. It is the oldest of the four. Ancient Greeks and Romans practiced this religion. Because they thought their gods lived on Mount Olympus, we may call their religion Olympianity.

Signs Negative and Positive

In 1 Samuel (4:10-11), we learn that the Philistines captured the ark of the covenant in battle against the Israelites. The ark was a wooden box covered with gold about  4.5 x 1.5 x 1.5 feet (1.5 x 0.5 x 0.5 m) in size. Small. On its lid were statues of two small angels in gold. Inside it were kept the stone tablets upon which God had written the Ten Commandments given to Moses on Mount Sinai.

Hesiod (ca 750 BCE)

Hesiod was born in a small village in Hellenia named Ascra, at the foot of Mount Helicon, about 50 miles (80 km) northwest of Athens. He never cared for the climate of his hometown, complaining it was “cruel in winter, hard in summer, never pleasant.” He lived there his whole life, running a farm and writing poetry. His two most important works are Theogony and Works and Days. Like Homer, he wrote or dictated both around 750 BC. With Homer, he provided ancient Hellenians with their shared understanding of the gods, creation, and human nature.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Homer (ca 750 BC)

Life. We know too little about a person as important to the history of Olympia as Homer. Tradition says he was born in Smyrna on the west coast of Anatolia about 190 miles (300 km) south of the ruins of Troy. Blind as an adult, he lived by celebrating the tales of Troy in song to entertain and educate the courts of the many small kingdoms scattered around the Aegean. Around 750 BC an anonymous scribe used the Greek alphabet, just emerging at that time, to write down Homer’s tales to entertain and educate us.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Classical Athens (508-323): Sublimity and Stupidity

Tradition refers to Cleisthenes (ca 570-ca 508 BC) as the father of democracy because he restored, reformed, and stabilized its practice in Athens beginning in 508. While many Athenians resented this form of government, it was a creative response to existing challenges. The truth, goodness, and beauty of that moment lay in aiding the success of that experiment in an untried but profound method of government. The Athenians that did so established the political context for what would be the most creative period in the history of Athens and as creative a period as any city in Olympia has ever experienced.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Truth and Appearances (Luke 20:45-47)

After his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Jesus warns his listeners against acting like the scribes (Luke 20:45-47). In his day scribes were professional religious leaders and theologians. What distressed Jesus was that these leaders of the people of God were acting like conventional Olympians. Jesus warns his listeners against following their example.

Classical Athens: Twilight (404-323)

Sparta and Athens in Twilight (404-322)
Spartan decline (404-371)
With the Spartan victory over Athens, resentment sprang up against Sparta. Various battles between shifting alliances of municipal states continued. In 387, Spartans agreed to abandon all Hellenian cities in Anatolia in exchange for Persian help against Spartan enemies in Hellenia. In this way the Persians were able to accomplish in 387, through diplomacy, what they had failed to do at the battles of Marathon (490), Salamis (480), and Plataea (479).

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Reflections on Itinerant Paul and Hostility

The years AD 49 to 61 were the twelve most important in the life of the apostle Paul. During those years he shared the good news about an unconventional Jesus with people in the Levant, Anatolia, Hellenia, and Latinia. He started several new congregations of unconventional witnesses. Most importantly, he defended the unconventionality of his witness and theirs in a short series of letters. These letters later gained world-historical significance as part of the New Testament of the Christian Bible. Without them we would witness much less clearly to Jesus: the one odd god/man of freedom, truth, love, and vitality.

Classical Athens: Stunning Creativity Despite Suicidal War (431-404)

Sparta and Athens against each other (478-404)
Second Peloponnesian War (431-404)
The second Peloponnesian war started in 431. Tradition divides it into three periods: 431-421, with Spartan attacks on Attica and Athenian attacks on coastal Peloponnesian cities; 415-413, with a large Athenian force attacking Syracuse in Sicily and getting completing destroyed; and 411-404, beginning with Spartans and Persians bribing unhappy Athenian allies to rebel and ending with the surrender of Athens.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Classical Athens: Foolishness, Truth, and Beauty (478-431)

Sparta and Athens against Persia (498-478)
After suffering defeats at Salamis (480) and Plataea (479), the second Persian army of invasion left Hellenia just as the first had 11 years before. Following its retreat, the Hellenian cities of Anatolia revolted as they had in 499. This time no Persian army retaliated. In 478, Hellenian soldiers led by Pausanias of Sparta captured the city of Byzantium (later Constantinople) and freed it from Persian control.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Classical Athens: Democracy, Victory, Theater

By 700 BC the municipal state of Athens had become the largest and richest in Hellenia. Just over 100 years later Solon, its most illustrious lawgiver, gave it a meaningfully democratic constitution. Powerful men in the city tested this new reality for some time.

Cleisthenes (born 570?) By 508, however, Cleisthenes had reestablished and reformed the constitution of Solon in ways that allowed Athens to endure as a participatory democracy. For this reason, tradition fondly refers to Cleisthenes as the father of Athenian democracy.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Choose Life! (Deuteronomy 30:15-19)

Moses was born in 1571 BC (Ussher). For the first 40 years of his life he lived in the court of the ruler of Egypt. He later had to run away from Egypt, however, and lived the next 40 years in the wilderness of Sinai tending sheep. Finally, in 1451 BC, the Lord, the one odd god of freedom, truth, love, and vitality, sent him back to command the ruler of Egypt to liberate the people of Israel.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Athens: Beginnings to 479 BC

The two most important municipal states in Hellenia between 800 and 300 BC were Sparta and Athens. Sparta dominated the large peninsula called the Peloponnese while Athens controlled the area known as Attica.

People had settled at the site of Athens before 3000 BC. They first built the city on a hilltop surrounded by a fertile plain about 12 miles (20 km) from the Mediterranean Sea.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Sparta (1200-500 BC)

Dark ages descended upon Hellenia (see Glossary) around 1200 BC. Minoan and Mycenean civilizations were destroyed and nothing creative replaced them. Hellenian societies and cultures only began to shine again after 800 BC.

Reflections on Young Paul and Moral Codes

Paul was born in AD 1 and raised as a Jew. He grew up thinking of himself as one person belonging to the one people chosen by God to live as a unique witness to him.

In AD 27 he even moved to Jerusalem to study with the famous teacher Gamaliel. He committed himself as an adult to learning from the best possible teacher what living in the best possible way might mean.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Paul the Apostle: Painful Years, Liberating Letters (49-61)

In 49, Paul suggested to Barnabas that they return to the congregations they had started on Cyprus and in Anatolia. They had sharp disagreements, though, and decided to stop working together. Barnabas sailed for Cyprus and into obscurity. With a friend named Silas and the blessing of the church in Antioch, Paul left for Anatolia.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Paul the Apostle: Years of Transition (32-49)

Until confronted by Jesus on the road to Damascus, Saul led a thoroughly conventional life. Because he was a Pharisaic Jew, he thought of himself as a faithful witness to God. In truth he was simply an emotionally intense if smart Olympian.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Paul the Apostle: Birth to Conversion (AD 1-32)

A definitive biography of Paul the Apostle is impossible to write. We lack sufficient documentation from his times. In interpreting what documentation we do have, scholars give different dates for his birth, missionary tours, and death, and debate which letters he wrote and when.

We have enough information, however, to write a plausible biography of Paul. By doing so, we may organize what information we do know about Paul into a story that makes his life easier to remember and celebrate.