Reconstruction Practice: Meditation and the Racing Mind

I had not meditated for weeks so I decided to sit down and do a 15 minute session.

Sitting down and meditating after weeks of not practicing is kind of like sitting down and going through weeks and weeks of bills and facing what you owe and what is past due. It is like pulling open your underwear drawer and finding it empty and having to face the Mt. Everest of Laundry that you have been pretending not to see.

I sat in my chair at my desk, put in my ear buds, set my meditation timer for 15 minutes, took a couple mindful deep breaths and “BANG!”. My mind was off and running.

How should I arrange my classroom? Where should I put the alphabet? I really need to put together a new alphabet for my phonics curriculum. The old one is very faded. The colors don’t match the room. They are too big so when I put them on the wall the kids can’t reach the top rows. But it will take so long to create those and laminate those. Maybe I can get one more year out of…..”

Then I came back to the present moment. Took a couple deep breaths. I am a teacher and I start back next Monday, but will start to go in this week to organize and plan. My mind kept returning to that overwhelming list of things I need to do for school. I was able to gain some separation and witness the racing of my mind. I remembered I am not my thoughts. I observed that my mind was very stressed about being ready for the beginning of school. As I recognized my mind’s stress about school my mind was able to calm down for a few moments.

“What should I have for lunch? Why don’t I have an eating plan? How bad does my health need to get before I will do something? I have been thinking about this for years yet I still don’t do it! What is wrong with…”

Then I gained some separation as my mind continued to race. I observed that my mind was very worried about my health and my lack of consistency and planning regarding my eating. My mind went on and on. Fearful. Hyper. Ranting. But as I listened to what my mind had to say and acknowledged it my mind started to calm down and put down the microphone.

One goal of meditation for me is to achieve a quiet state inside. There are times when that happens and it is very sweet. Another important goal is to become aware. First I must find my center….my conscious self. I experience my consciousness as being located in my cerebellum. At the back, bottom of my head.  I experience what might be called my ‘ego’, that constantly chattering, every vigilant, constantly evaluating and assessing part of my internal self, as being located in the cerebrum. Behind my forehead and in the middle top of my head. (I am referencing a side view of the brain to map out these locations). My emotions generally emanate from my heart, the center of my chest, although some emotions seem to come from the stomach area. Intense emotions like fear or anger seem to travel and expand and have the ability to hijack my thinking process if I am not mindful. Intense fear or anger can fill my entire body.

Michael Singer, in his book The Surrender Experiment, gifted me with the understanding that I am not my thoughts and feelings. I am the witness to my thoughts and feelings. Meditation helps me find my place as the witness and gain space to allow for observation of my thoughts and feelings and helps me to respond compassionately to myself and to thoughtfully act (or not act) on the thoughts and feelings.

The racing thoughts and the volatile feelings are not the problem. Allowing them to hijack your consciousness is when they become a problem. Some people call the racing mind the “Monkey Mind”. I don’t care for this pejorative term. Our thoughts and feelings are a vital function of our brain and being.  They simply need to be guided to their proper place within me. In meditation I find my center. My conscious self. When I take the seat of my soul I can now witness myself, become aware, respond to myself with compassionate wisdom, and then act with compassionate wisdom in the world around me.

Deconstructing Jesus: Jesus the Racist, Sexist, Jerk

Jesus can be a real racist, sexist jerk.

Remember when Jesus was a racist and a sexist in Matthew Chapter 15? Let me allow Matthew to tell you the story:

“Just then a Canaanite woman from that region…”

Let me stop you there, Matthew. The first thing the author points out is that the woman is a Canaanite woman. She’s not Jewish. We will see Jesus “other” her. Canaanites are out. Jews are in.

OK. Continue Matthew…

“…came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” But (Jesus) did not answer her at all.”

What parent cannot relate to this woman pleading for healing for her child? But Jesus gives her the silent treatment. It is interesting that the writer added the phrase “at all”. The writer is making it clear that Jesus’ completely ignored her. Not even a flinch, a grimace, or a dismissive fake smile to acknowledge her presence, much less compassion for the woman’s pain and desperation. The woman and her daughter are Canaanites.

Do the disciples plead with Jesus on behalf of the desperate woman and her tormented daughter?

“And (Jesus) disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.”

Jesus’ disciples share Jesus’ contempt for the Canaanite woman.

Jesus responds to the intercessions of the disciples on behalf of the woman and her daughter.

“(Jesus) answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

Jesus declares that he was sent by God only for the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Not for the lost sheep of Canaan. Jesus has a ‘race-based’ ministry.

The woman continues to plead and beg:

“But she came and knelt before (Jesus), saying, “Lord, help me.” 

Is Jesus moved by this woman on her knees pleading for the life of her child?

“(Jesus) answered, “It is not fair to to take the children’s food and throw it to the dog’s.”

Wow! So many things wrong with Jesus’ response. First, how would Jesus healing this woman’s daughter take anything away from anyone else? Does Jesus’ only have a limited amount of healing power? Second, Jesus says that the house of Israel are his children and the Canaanites are dogs. Jesus distinguishes between people based solely on their race. Explicit racism. Third, Jesus has no empathy or compassion for the woman and her daughter. Annoyed Jesus dismisses the woman and her daughter with contempt.

I have to wonder at this point if there is some sexism in play. When a Roman centurion pleaded with Jesus to heal his servant Jesus’ immediate response in Matthew 8:7 was, “I will come and cure him.” But the Canaanite woman does not get that response.

“Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”

For the sake of her daughter the woman was willing to play Jesus’ game and accommodate his misogyny and racism.

“Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.” 

Wouldn’t it have been reasonable and much more compassionate for Jesus to respond to the Canaanite woman’s first humble request? Why is Jesus only moved by an extraordinary and clever expression of faith? Why isn’t a desperate  mother and a dying daughter enough to move Jesus to action?

Those who defend Jesus’ behavior often contend Jesus was “testing” the woman. Isn’t having a tormented daughter on the brink of death a big enough test for any person? What kind of jerk needs to “test” a grieving and terrified mother!

In my opinion, the writer of Matthew was trying to demonstrate how righteous and compassionate Jesus was. Matthew was writing to a largely racist, sexist audience. Jesus was so righteous and compassionate he would even heal the DAUGHTER of a WOMAN who was a CANAANITE!

And, in fact, Jesus may have been rising above, to a degree, the racism and sexism of his culture. Maybe there is something commendable in that. But there isn’t anything Divine about that.

Is Jesus a racist, sexist, jerk? At times. Yes.

And Jesus is also very much a human being of his time and place in history.

 

 

 

 

Deconstructing Jesus: The Ecumenical Demon Slayer!

Jesus the Ecumenical Demon Slayer dominates the narrative of the Gospel of Mark. The words demon, unclean spirit, and Satan appear at least 35 times in the Gospel of Mark.  Jesus performs at least 10 specific exorcisms in the book of Mark. Mark also tells us that Jesus performed countless other exorcisms in normal course of Jesus’ ministry:

“And (Jesus) went throughout Galilee, proclaiming, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.” Mark 1:39

Jesus gave his 12 disciples authority to perform exorcisms:

“He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits….(The 12 disciples) cast out many demons and annoited withoil many who were sick and cured them.” Mark 6:7&13

Jesus was ecumenical when it came to casting out demons.  When people who were not following Jesus were effectively casting out demons in Jesus’ name, Jesus told the disciples not to stop them:

“John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us.” Mark 9:38-39

Are demons simply a metaphor for mental illness? Is Jesus simply accommodating the beliefs of 0 AD?

Jesus interactions in the Book of Mark are not presented as metaphors or as Jesus simply pretending to cast out demons to accommodate his audience. Jesus has a theology, a belief system, related to demons:

  • The demons speak to Jesus. One example in Mark 1:23-24 “Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, .”What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.”,
  • The demons always bowed before Jesus. In Mark 3:11 says, “Whenever  the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and shouted, “You are the Son of God.”
  • Demons have names. Demons have complicated feelings about Swine. In a particularly bizarre encounter with the demon named Legion we learn that demons prefer swine. But then Legion kills the pigs. Not exactly sure what is going on here: “Then Jesus asked him,”What is your name?” He replied, “Come out “My name is Legion; for we are many.” He begged (Jesus) earnestly not to send them out of the country. Now there on the hillside a great herd of swine was feeding; and the unclean spirits begged (Jesus), “Send us into the swine; let us enter them.” So (Jesus) gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the swine, and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea, and were drowned in the sea. 
  • Children can be possessed by demons. (I am a parent. Based on my experiences this may be the most credible evidence for demons. 🙂 ) Mark 7:25: :…but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately hear about (Jesus), and she came and bowed down at his feet.” As the woman begs at Jesus’ feet for her daughter’s life Jesus dismisses her without empathy because she is a different race than Jesus. When the mother perseveres, comparing herself to a dog under the table looking for scraps, Jesus heals her daughter.
  • Some demons are harder to cast out than others. Jesus gets very frustrated with his disciples when they cannot cast a demon out of a boy who has been afflicted with seizures from birth. “You faithless generation, how much longer must I be among you? How much longer Must I put up with you? Bring him to me.” (Mark 9:19) Then the heartbroken father appeals to Jesus, “…if you are able to do anything, have pity on us and help us.” Jesus is offended, “If you are able! All things can be done for the one who believes.” The father, terrified that he doesn’t “believe enough” to meet Jesus standards for casting out a demons, begs Jesus, “I believe; help my unbelief.” Jesus relents and casts the demon out of the boy. Not one of Jesus’ best moments in my view.
  • Both Jesus and Satan have authority over demons. Jesus has more. In Mark 3:22 the scribes accuse Jesus of being able to cast out demons because “He has Beelzebul”. Jesus replies in verse 27, “But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.”  

What are my conclusion regarding Jesus the Ecumenical Demon Slayer?

  1. Demons are a version of “God of the Gaps”

If I lived around 0 AD and I saw a child having a seizure, a demon would have been a reasonable explanation. I am a Elementary Special Education Teacher. I have had several students who have seizures. They are sudden and scary. Often the body stiffens and the child falls on the floor writhing. The eyes glaze and the child appears absent.  Then after a few moments or minutes the students usually’comes to’ and the seizure stops. I can see how 2,000 years ago a demon might be a reasonable explanation for a physical, medical condition.

We have all had some encounters with people who have a serious mental illness. There behaviors and words can be irrational and upsetting to the people around them. Often people with mental illnesses seem to be experiencing a different reality than the people around them. Again, I can understand why someone 2,000 years ago explain what is now a treatable mental illness with demonic possession.

2. Satan & Demons a Useful Metaphor. Until they’re not. 

We all have voices in our heads. Some are paranoid “Are they talking about me?” “I think my boss is out to get me?” Some are indulgent: “A donut will make you feel better.” “One more episode of “Stranger Things” is as good as an hour of sleep.” Angry and Impulsive. “I quit!” “Go away!”

When I followed the teaching of the Bible in a literal way I would sometimes think, “Is that the voice of Satan or the voice of the Holy Spirit?”

I think there is some value to demons and satan as a metaphor for the thoughts and feelings we have. Possibly to achieve some distance and separate them from yourself and deal with them. But ultimately it produces paranoia, self-doubt, and self-hatred.

I have found it much more effective and healthy to take a neutral stance towards even my worst thoughts and feelings. I observe them. Become curious. Without defense or fear. I find if I can listen to them and accept them I can learn and grow. When I try to repress them or “cast them out” they become more powerful. They go find 7 demons who are worse and come back.

3. Mark Jesus the Ecumenical Demon Slayer is a Legend. Not the True Jesus.

I wish Jesus wrote books. I wish Jesus had a Podcast. But Jesus doesn’t. So we are left to work through the information about Jesus that is available to us. I believe these are legendary accounts intended to enhance Jesus credibility and message. Unfortunately these embellishments actually hurt the message and teaching of Jesus.

But someone said, “The Truth shall set you Free.”

 

 

 

 

 

Deconstructing Jesus: The False Prophet

Calling the Jesus presented in the Gospel of Mark a False Prophet may sound blasphemous and disrespectful. Jesus is not a charlatan. Not a Benny Hinn. Not a Franklin Graham. I consider Jesus a Spiritual Prodigy. A Religious Pioneer. A World Changing Force. But Jesus was also a False Prophet. I am using the definition of False Prophet that can be found in Deuteronomy 18:17-22. It is pretty straight forward:

“The Lord said to me: “What they say is good. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites, and I will put my words in his mouth. He will tell them everything I command him. I myself will call to account anyone who does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name. But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, is to be put to death. You may to yourselves, “How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the Lord? If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously, so do not be alarmed.”

The Gospel of Mark Jesus is stated at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry in Mark 1:14-15: “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” The disciples of Jesus understood this to be a Kingdom that Jesus would rule over after Jesus’ resurrection and glorious return to judge the enemies of God and establish God eternal rule on earth. The disciples even jockeyed for position in Jesus’ imminent Kingdom. In Mark 10:35-36 we find James and John lobbying for plum positions in the Kingdom of God administration:

“James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”  

 Many Christians shake their heads and smile at the disciples naive and simplistic understanding of the Kingdom of God.

But Jesus believed the same thing. 

Mark Jesus refers to himself using the cryptic title “Son of Man” 14 times. Jesus seems to make the meaning explicit in Mark 14:60-62 as he is interrogated by the High Priest: 

“Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you? But he was silent and did not answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One? Jesus said, “I am; and ‘you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power’ and ‘coming with the clouds of heaven.’”

And when will Mark Jesus return to establish the Kingdom of God? Jesus tells us, again referencing Daniel 7, that it will be within his hearers generation in Mark 13:26-33:

“Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven

From the fig tree learn its lesson; as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 

But about this day or hour no one knows, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.”

Jesus is actually quite precise about what he knows and doesn’t know about the timing of his Daniel 7 return to establish the Kingdom of God. Jesus will return before the current generation passes away. But Jesus does not know the day or the hour. There, the current generation ‘keep alert’ and ‘keep awake’ because Jesus could return at any moment. 

And this is why Mark Jesus is a False Prophet. 

There have been over 60 generations since Jesus made this prophecy. 

This False Prophecy was embraced by Jesus’ disciples and taught as a central doctrine to the emerging New Testament Church. For example:

1 Peter 4:7 “The end of all things is near; therefore be serious and discipline yourselves for the sake of your prayers.”

1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 “For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died.”

1 Corinthians 10:11 “These things happened to them to serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us, on whom the ends of the ages have come.”

1 Corinthians 15:51 “Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.”

Jesus has much to offer as a world changing spiritual teacher. But as a prophet Jesus failed.  

 

 

Poem: I hear something…

I hear something…

A Silent Voice.

Wordless Words.

Numinous Vibrations.

Speaking Compassion.

And Wisdom.

Illuminating.

Inspiring.

Knowing.

I feel something…

It is a thick warmth. That resides in the center of my chest.

It is always there but easily ignored.

But when I am still.

When I am quiet.

I recognize it.

If I surrender to it,

sometimes,

the warmth spreads through my body.

Filling my head.

Gently pushing out the racing thoughts until I am completely present.

With It.

I feel something…

Opening me.

Petal by Petal.

Skillfully.

Mysteriously.

As Spring opens her First Rose.

 

Something inside of me that isn’t me.

How do I know it isn’t me?

Because I am the one who hears It.

Because I am the one who feels It.

Because I am the one who witnesses It.

But I am not it.

It knows Me.

But I do not know It.