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Atonement

When the Hebrew scriptures around 200 BC were translated into Greek – the difference between, the power of a translator verses an interpreter – the word “hades” (underworld) was substituted for “Sheol,” and this also is reflected now in the New Testament. Here, writes Richard N. Longenecker in The Westminster Theological Wordbook of the Bible, Hades is “both the underworld of the dead and the personification of the evil it represents.” And that translation might have misinterpreted a lot for the evolving Abrahamic religions.

So in the account of the origin of the universe, from where had this concept of Sheol come? Is it heard in the Book of Genesis? “In the beginning of God’s creating the skies and the heaven – when the skies had been shapeless and formless, and darkness had been on the face of the deep, and God‘s spirit was hovering on the face of the water…” Without hell, there is a greater need for Atonement. In my life. The theology of Christianity evolves with the matter of the existence of hell, with the story of the Messiah. As one theologian asked: “Who needs a Messiah unless there is a hell?” Sheol, as described by Wikipedia, is “a place of darkness to which all the dead go, both the righteous and the unrighteous, regardless of the moral choices made in life, a place of stillness and darkness cut off from God,” per what David Aune writes in The Westminster Dictionary of the New Testament and Early Christian Literature.

This concept of hell seemed so much like my fear of the unfinished basement in the home I lived at the age of five. Was God just some kind of Bogey Man? So as an adult, is your motivation for God still just a child-like fear, or does you motivation come from out of an authentically developed – have I ever said that while growing up my father had been the director of player development – love?

The doubt in this man-made story. Would it not have been too easy to create both just a heaven and a hell, in a simplistic solution to the cosmogony? Rather the idea of hell as a place seems to be the human concept of a cosmology. A cop out, for thoughtless women and thoughtless men who never distinguished cosmology from cosmogony, and spoke about forgiveness but did nothing?

Was the doubt in the man-made stories about goodness? About crime and punishment? In the need for, if not hell, at least for prisons? And what to do with people who have served time? When mandatory sentences, even for life in prisons sentences now could not exceed thirty years (in Minnesota). And thus, my attorney tells me, the reason for the list of sex offenders who live in the neighborhood. But there is no list for the murders who lived near by? It was the state of the union.

When you had to live door next to murders, without a listing of the offenders. When there was so little Atonement in the world. When your relatives spread through the world had sacrificed money to empower you to have a land of your own. When you identified with the land. When your institutions had an identity. And hell was next door, when it was inhabited by people professing a desire to annihilate you again and again. Like your real living relatives that you had known had once been annihilated not so long ago.

In a world that could no longer judge right from wrong, what happened to goodness? When we were all looking into the abyss, in the age of nuclear proliferation. When nuclear weapons proliferated, so many people no longer procreated. It was the state of the union. When goodness had always been the goal? The moment in the story had been about goodness -not niceness as depicted by some spin doctor. There was in the real world a fear of true goodness by so many nice people who ascribed to a dominant theology of Christianity. Or if you were reading this in Egypt, the theology of Islam.

“God made every kind of wild animal, every kind of tame animal, and every kind of thing that crawls on the ground. God saw that it was good. And then God said: ‘Let US make human beings in OUR image and likeness. Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, the tame animals, all the wild animals, and all the creatures that crawl on the earth.’ ”

“If guilt is proved, we will welcome it, because it will show that corruption in the public sector does not pay,” a Czech government official said. So would there be punishment? And would banishment simply suffice? Or was there a need for prisons, with systems of justice?

When the issues of guilt or innocence had been decided, then you had to decide on the damages. Not monetary punishment, not banishment. Had that been the focus on Rosh Hashanah, when Abraham took Isaac to the mountaintop seemingly for the last time? In a story about ending, was there doubt in the man-made stories about goodness? About fathers and sons, about crime and punishment? In the need for, if not hell, some kind of ending.

Note the generational purpose, in the stories in the Book of Genesis. Nomads, contending with the outside world contrasted on the issue of power against the role of women. The power of women in the inside world, the power of men in the outside world. The role in the story of so long ago of power. At an age when you did not understand power. Why does it take so long to learn how to use power? If you ever learned how. And what kind of damages would be assessed against the guilty, over man’s inhumanity to man?

Purpose opposed by Obstacle yields Conflict. Like in Russia, whether before or after the fall of communism. Or in my country then with high-flying capitalism, or now with all these currencies on the brink. When there was a need for great change. By everyone. If we were all going to survive. This year.

It was a good weekend for all the believers of Abrahamic religions to think about change and Atonement. To take it all so personally and beg for forgiveness. Over Israel and Palestine; over Germany and Holocausts; over Spain and inquisitions; over famine and gulags, over slavery in Old Worlds and liberty in New ones. Over crimes and punishment, and all the crusades over holy land. On trying to come to grips with the issue of all of the damages. And trying to understand the personal love involved in these relationships. Because to even ask the question “Who needs a Messiah unless there is a hell?” is to miss the love in all of the stories of the Abrahamic religions which began in the Hebrew Bible.

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The Evolutionary Process of Religion

To ask on another Rosh Hashanah, what did it mean to be a Jew? The harnessing of energy for a people, not for a nation based upon boundaries.

Love. The electives. The compulsaries. How to attract the next generation to an elective class?

Rosh Hashanah is either the end of one or a start of yet another year. Again asking what did it mean this year to be a wandering Jew, spread throughout the world, born into something? But in this evolutionary process, everyone was not the very same, because of the movement in the story of breakups and fragmentation, even involving prayer.

And so the story of Abraham, for a nomadic people. The movement in the story, to a mountain, with decisions about sacrifice and the method of prayer. What did it mean in this Akedah story for Abraham, an old man late in life in a totally pagan world, given finally a child, a son, but asked to kill Isaac? Facing the end of his line – or at least the end of Sarah’s line – what was the point of view of the participants? Again and again, the progression of the same theme of fragmentation. When you were judged to a large extent by your children.

What did it mean when prophets climbed mountains, hoping to elevate a people or a nation while sacrificing Sarah’s only child – if this was the start of the story of birthright and inheritance? So what exactly would Abraham leave behind?

Nomadic people as the outsider. Perhaps the unattached part that Abraham did not like to see in his sons — born in his image and formed in his likeness? When he has had enough. When the hope in the story was about his sons becoming more attached, less nomadic? But his sons do not just seem to get it. When whatever is the most important thing about his life has not come through to Ishmael, and later to Isaac.

The movement in the story, the unstated conflict, which came from an anger over the changing systems in a changing world – in this evolutionary process, even involving prayer. Amidst a people who never who have relied on evangelism but concentrated, at least for males, on circumcision – and on blood.

Love. The electives of relative love. With the compulsaries. The deepness response to the deepness within. Limited to what he could leave behind, why this mysterious story about the deepest part of your being, if you were a Jew? Mammals in the evolutionary process, when everyone was not the very same. The breakup, the fragmentations – like with the continents. To identify, after fragmentation, the wonder of all the differences. To feel the love of the world you were born into, as long as you were not sons/daughters of slaves, with all of the impositions. In the world to come, if you kept reading.

The emotions which came living in the world with the evolutionary process of change, note the intense fear if not at some point anger. And at every age doubt and uncertainty, for a new generation. In a story taking all of this so personally about meaning while facing death, what does it really mean for a people to be bound, for a son to be bound to these stories hundreds of years old? When the past collided with the future, to be so personally touched by sacrifice? To write deeply, from within, where did this deepness come from? Like the deep anger directed at Abraham, never really comprehended unless you had been there.

Time in the story. The pace. The restlessnes. The seen and the unseen in the story: with all the ignorance in the world, the imposition in the story. The human concepts of sacrifice to God, when people were considered things? Like in the days of arranged marriages – fathers did make all of the arrangements – Isaac constituted the fatted calf, like the best calf of the flock. The ritual, and Word and Isaac. Noble Abraham offering the best of all that he had. In a sacrifice from the perspective of Isaac, who was not freely given. Because the underlying theme in this story was that Abraham was better than Isaac.

When Judaism was based not on any evangelical door to door knocking but based on bloodlines, sacrifice, suffering. Chosen people, dealing with what it means to be chosen. The personal suffering when you were chosen, better than anyone else? Note the underlying theology of caste systems to come — in slavery — just because you were chosen. With all of the impositions, like in the story of the Akedah. If you were better than others, why couldn’t you kill, even your son? Note the mix of arrogance with pride in the story, in this foundation of faith story, with all of the impositions.

The Days of Awe are a journey in this evolutionary process toward forgiveness which begins with the remembrance of the relationships of the father of faith, with his God and his sons — with the suffering in the potential death of Isaac, just as Abraham had suffered with Hagar, and in his not described relationship with Ishmael? In this story of relative love, the conflict is when everyone was not the same – even the son of the father of faith. Isaac is going to die, and Abraham is going to live. With perhaps the unstated word being “forever.” In this story about what it does mean to be CHOSEN. (So what is the theology in Judaism whether there was really a hell, in the connection to this reading today?)

To move from this shameful story focused on Abraham to the rest of the life of Isaac. So what affect did the incident have with Isaac’s perspective about his father? What affect did this episode have both on Isaac’s relationships with his father and his God? That must have been some journey afterwards home for Isaac, to identify still – after fragmentation, in a world with this lost sense of belonging, in a world filled with deep fear – Isaac’s God?

In a relationship story, to so strongly develop a sense of belonging in the world, who was going to have to change and how? Is the dispute over who knows God best, and who is going to live? Is this the argument over punishment, over who is going to survive — in Abraham’s case, seemingly forever, based upon his age?

And was that what moved the focus of the story from one of death to that of atonement, with a form of love present in Abraham that was not quite unconditional? And when it came to relative love, Isaac’s viewpoint was closer to that of unconditional love if he was going to try to survive in this changing world? What had Abraham taught in the remainder of his life, in the way of atonement for what had happened?

Note the intensity, in the process of stirring, with the misconception that orthodox religions were just a set of beliefs, a set of cold rituals. There was fear which came alive when it was left to you, through your progeny, to carry the future, in this form of denial through sacrifice. And so the enforcement of the old ways in the major Abrahamic religions. In a world of breakups and fragmentation of families, of nations, even of religions, so the story from age to age about the harnessing of energy directed at exactly what had been inherited in birthright, for a wandering people – not necessarily for one nation just set apart based upon physical boundaries. When Judaism is a comprehensive way of life filled with contemplation of practices that affect every aspect of life, from morning til night. So personally.

So this intense story involving mostly prayer and its form of worship — about such personal forgiveness. The impositions to always remember. To forgive but not forget. If you gave deep thought to the life of Abraham.

The electives are connected to the freedom of expression, on both sacrificial worship how to pray with the freedom, or to not pray. At either the end of one life or a start of yet another. When it was the understanding which sons came to concerning fathers, in this story about a Living God and about belonging in the world on that day of Abraham’s self-discovery: funerals really are for the living, just as God is and was harnessing energy for a living people, not for a nation based upon boundaries. Through story.

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Days of Awe

An old scout born in Minnesota (Wes Westrum), on worship and baseball, once said: Many go, few understand. It was two years ago when I read a piece in America magazine about the Akedah, the strange story read on Rosh Hashanah about how to somehow keep this God alive, what has been haunting me ever since?

Rosh Hashanah. As Jews hear once again with the start of the High Holy Days, the account of the binding of Isaac. When it has always been tough to be in such an alliance, with the true believers. When the story, like all good stories, was about the future. At what point do you relinquish whatever identity you have inherited or seemed to have helped build yourself – with Abraham, prepared to give everything that was important away. In a sacrifice.

In the story about the interior system of belief, creating something out of nothing, for sons who followed fathers, generation after generation. Abraham, Isaac, and later Jacob, with their torturous relationships, in an under-populated world populated by mostly people living in denial, if not fear, of God. In the approach of fathers to sons, the comparative approach to the real God by fathers to sons, in themes of birthrights, of power and might, on life and death, with that identity commandment. Which started with the knife, at birth, as Abraham had used a knife on Isaac when he was born. And the conflict in this story was over the method that Abraham in the story used for “evangelization.” So again the knife in this story, like he had used on Ishmael when he was twelve or thirteen. And Ishmael could ever forget what his father had done? As some kind of punishment, for what he had done?

Crazy people, having to start all over, with God or without Him. Sons, when this was all over, wrestling with the unrecognized birthright question…and passing it on, with such emotion. To keep something alive with passion — having to choose, on another Rosh Hashanah. This Abraham with a split family who wanted others to have the same powerful experience, as he had had. Except maybe not like between Hagar and Sarah. Abraham who had shown up at the same place at least a generation earlier with Ishmael, if you believed the Qoran, in the reading at the end of Ramadan, of Eid Al Fitr with the same scene played out, only between Abraham and Ishmael. And when it was tough to be in such an alliance, with the true believers over the truth…and what it was you were you going do with it, once you discovered how to pray? In these relationships arranged by your family, the torturous ones over fertility, for the father of faith to his sons and to his God – over God and the inheritance of God. Maybe with a craziness not unlike all the things that happened on September 11th, if you lost the proper perspective — considering how to communicate the ideas all about identity and who Abraham was – if not outright crazy, after circumcising sons and slaves with some kind of fertility vow, as part of the identity commandment which involved power and fertility? How so different than other men, in their day. No wonder the stories of Sarah’s laughter, when she recognized all of Abraham’s craziness.

Born with a pre-existing condition. This story was all about of Isaac as a son of Abraham who must have seemed so crazy. With an overall theme directed at intimations of attachment, like the attachment that I got at home from my parents and grandparents. To share that holiness that often was directed to a home. Or a neighborhood. Or a city. From a distinct sense of place in my life which had always been asserting itself, enfolding over time, staking a claim on a people. Before it was lost or overtaken. Or just taken anyway? When you had come to know something about a place.

That a nomad was supposed to resolve the crisis over belief, oy vey! Over shared belief. In a foreign land, outside the garden. When you wanted to share a heritage or a culture. In a quest to redeem society, and not just himself, to somehow – even when you seemed so old – confer a spirit about the past, in keeping this God alive. How can it be helped if a seed grows where it lands, once it’s been scattered, no matter from where your ancestors came.

Abraham dealing with inheritance, later to be spun as issues of birthright. No matter where you lived, the struggle, the anguish, in the comparative approach of fathers to sons. Sons who followed fathers, generation after generation.

The deepest part of Rosh Hashanah which came from stories about not just transporting a culture to a new place, but then somehow planting the culture. In a new place. People dealing with independence and multiculturalism, along with the changing roles of power.

When you came credentialed by the proper authorities, and you knew something about unrecognized painful sacrifices, and you desired to give your son up, for a brand new institution. Because you had fear over lost belief? Over your realization how much Hagar and Ishmael hated you — or about Sarah, who you had almost an incestuous relationship as your wife— passing on everything that she had planned about your family. And what was the risk that her kid would be crazy? Or already was crazy, as Abraham. Was crazy Abraham, at the end, acting for Sarah, as he considers a honor killing, wondering if a sacrifice would ever be recognized. To be blessed in the name of God, having to choose, when your prayers were so alive, and you wanted others to have the same bigger than life experience. When the French “blesser,” means to wound. So was it Abraham or Isaac, wondering if he had even mattered, begging to have had mattered, begging to be blessed, so that God would never forget, NEVER forget Abraham, just like THE Holocaust. Somehow the movement in the common stories, like the physics in the Akedah, or Eid Al Fitr, creating something out of nothing — like in the beginning. So why not just end it all on Mount Moriah, Noah-like, without the ark? And God, if He let him kill Isaac, then surely understood.

And so another Rosh Hashanah, as the Jewish world considers again how to keep something authentic alive about shared belief, about painful human sacrifice even after anesthesia had been invented. What exactly was Abraham having to choose, in his sacrifice on Mount Moriah? With an intensity of the stories, like the Akedah … to communicate the idea about what Abraham knew. About himself, about his life, and then the risk that God took with Abraham, with his kin and his wife — with his split family, with Ishmael, in his second chance with Isaac, and the quality of all of his relationships. Or not. The movement in this father of faith story, to confer a spirit in the name of God, in relationship — in the end, never feeling worthy through perfect human sacrifice. With an Irish intuitive sense of what was happening, what Germans call fingerspitzengefuhl – the fingertip feel that maybe your baseball coach understood — for me the story was all about the Abraham’s plan. He was never coming back, you know. Home. To Sarah. Not after he killed her son. When neither of them were ever coming back. Originally. These guys after all were nomads, for God sake. Can you imagine the shock of Sarah when she heard the story? Or the neighbors? About Abraham, the allegedly just man of his generation, who with his ego had a concept about only marrying within the tribe, marrying his father’s — but not his mother’s — daughter. Who would ever belief or forget this story? With the shame in the story, until the part about God’s intervention, as the past and the future on Mount Moriah at odds were reflected upon.

Stories about points of view, in a creator’s desire for perfection, in themes of birthrights, of power and might, in comparative approaches to God by fathers to sons on life and death, with all the eye-popping tension in the story between those who were not good enough with those who seemed to be too good, there is this indescribable pain which creates memory in a culture. To discover in the story somewhat unexpectedly, for sons who followed fathers, a Living God– power without domination – through the unforgettable pain of father and son trying to understand the manner to pray, in the story that transcends boundaries.

To confer a spirit about shared belief, in the name of God, with all the tension in the forgiveness story, with post traumatic stress on issues of trust, for the young, unknowingly dealing with a tragic hero — wondering first about the genetic affect and then about the environmental affect on Isaac, after a father was ready to take a knife to you. How did the wounded, like Isaac, still believe in his father of faith, the tragic hero who had married his father’s daughter? Would he ever accept authority again, or find his own recognized leadership role — in the dénouement of the story? In the age of multi-culturalism, as Isaac moved outside the enclave of Abraham’s home into his own, how did Isaac hold onto such crazy belief? When belief about Abraham’s God had to be so painful, in the remainder of his life. As he clearly needed some direction, after this experience, to find his own personal God.

How did the wounded, like Isaac, still believe afterward not only in the God of Abraham, but in his father of faith — this crazy nomad taking people from the ancient Semitic population, descendants of Noah’s eldest son, to places where they never had been? And now what would you do with the the God of Abraham?

The Akedah.jpg

Abraham, who discovered at the end of the story of his tremendous human longevity, was in the dénouement — in the release of tension in the dénouement — coming back home in his lameduck days, with his great sense of shame after wounding his own fertility. When the most serious of the deadly sins for Chosen People was pride, involving a desire for power, to be more important than others? As the plot becomes untied, dealing with loss of mostly power in old age, and starting over – to recognize the developments after the Akedah story, as Isaac, not Abraham, becomes the protagonist by the time of the dénouement of the story?

When the power of a culture is based upon a shared literature. In stories. “Mostly they are the same lives, the same stories, over and over,” wrote David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker. We endow our lives with stories, if the power in the ideals of a father – the bonds, the identity, and all the belief – is gonna survive. If the identity in a name is going to survive at another level. When you were forced to somehow start over. In new years, hearing the old stories which came out of Abraham-like relationships, and with all the unforgettable stories, in relationship. From our father in faith — the warrior sheik who in battle freed his nephew Lot – comes the story of people shamed by what they had to endure. The physics of blood of Abraham, telling things which a son had no capacity to imagine, with the long after-affects of war, on a surrounding society that celebrated war. Creating a lax atmosphere, around an old way of life. Watching eye-popping torture. Without knowing the details, or the affects on home lives afterwards. And with the need for revival.

To discover in stories an identity — your own identity — that you would one day find you really could not escape. In new beginning, circumcision based upon unconditional love, with the continuing themes of fertility and the Truth. Stories of crazy people — Chosen People — having to start all over. To recognize the shift by the end of the story that is now all about of Isaac, on Rosh Hashanah, if compounded belief is to stay with the descendants of Issac. After all of Abraham’s chances in life passing on that power in bonds, finally, like for Isaac, the return to the same place where he had started out as a young man, to begin again.

To gain access, in stories of discovery climbing mountains like Isaac, with divine intervention at the top of Mount Moriah — in a story about receiving strength and power in a crazy belief in this God today for daughters and sons who followed fathers — connecting with other critical thinkers, passing on in new years the power in bonds which had come out of the collective memory of the journeys of nomads.

Like in a dénouement of the story, passing on the power in bonds between your own people, passing on the Spirit in some kind of Abraham-like Crazy Glue,in a collective memory of forgiveness of others in the name of a forgiving God, on issues of inheritance and birth right. Accepting, like Isaac finally accepted his identity, as the son of the father of faith, as the ethnic enclaves broke apart and he needed a family to carry on the tradition. In another new year leading up to the Day of Atonement, this day was to commemorate a power in passing on the bonds of forgiveness.

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Susannah Bianchi
天主教教堂

 

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