Friday, November 11, 2016

The 2016 Election and the Media

It’s Election Day at Unity High School. Students will vote today at 1 PM for Student Council President. Two candidates are running, Hillary and Donald. The teachers are not supposed to be involved or have a preference. But, most of the teachers prefer Hillary. Actually only 2 teachers like Donald: Sean and Kelly.

The students have to report to the auditorium at 12. They have to take their seats. They can eat their lunch while waiting for the stage to get prepared for voting.

Teacher #1(Whispering): I know we are not supposed to get involved but I hate that Donald kid. I can’t help myself. I have to do something.
Teacher#2: Me too. If we start talking to each other the students might hear us and we can convince them to vote for Hillary.
#1: But they are all wearing headphones!
#2: Maybe if we talk loud enough some might hear.
#1 (now louder): Have you heard about Donald’s latest scandal?
#2: Of Course. It’s been all over the news.
#1: Do you think the students know about it?
#2: I think most of them know.

Now louder

Gradually all the other teachers join in the yelling except for Sean and Kelly who like Donald.

But now they also try to yell louder over the other teachers. They also have to pretend that they are having a teachers’ discussion not a campaign event.



Their voices are drowned by the other teachers. The yelling is now so loud you can’t hear anything.
The students on the other hand have noise cancelling headphones. None of them seems phased by the discussion. Watching them you would think that they either don’t care about these scandals or can’t hear a thing.
All the teachers agree on one thing. It is going to be a difficult decision for every student. They will have to weigh all the scandals. They will hesitate. It will be a very slow election. It will take all afternoon.

At 1 PM the students take off their headphones and vote. The voting is done in minutes. Students seem to know so well who they want to vote for.
The winner is Donald!

Post-election analysis in the teachers’ lounge.
There is consensus among the teachers. The students are telling us something! It is so obvious! It is obvious to all the teachers that the students were swayed by Sean and Kelly talking about Hillary’s scandals more than they were swayed by all the other teachers.

Monday, September 19, 2016

The Parable of the Dishonest Steward is not about Honesty

Many People are caught up on the idea of the dishonest steward being dishonest that they miss the purpose of the parable altogether. So here is my version of the parable. Not that I can improve on Jesus’ version. I think some was lost in translation. In Arabic (which is close to Aramaic it’s a little easier).

Jesus said many times that if you use your money here in this world to build mansions they will be no use for you later. If you use this money to build a treasure in heaven (by giving it to Jesus) it will be far more valuable. So it is the wise thing to do. The exact same principle restated is to use this money (which will soon be worth nothing) to make friends (like Jesus) in the afterlife (again by giving it now to Jesus).

It’s like being the IT guy in charge of the website of a very large bank. If he knew he was being fired tomorrow (for whatever reason. Let’s say he was accused by the FCC and the bank would not spend money to defend him. He might even be guilty. It’s not the issue here). But he figured I will never get another job. I will have a criminal record. I will be on welfare for the rest of my life. Today I control millions of dollars. Tomorrow I will have nothing. I can’t transfer money into my own account. That will get caught. I can only adjust other balances. If the computer has a glitch, takes away a couple of zero’s from someone’s account, I fix that. It’s my job. So if you have $ 1,000,000 and the computer messes up and makes it $10,000 I fix that. All adjustments made by me being the IT guy are strictly “legal” and irreversible.  Here’s what I will do I will add money to these 2 guys accounts. They will each find an extra $ 5 million in their accounts and they will know who did it. The first guy owns hotels. I am sure he will let me stay at one of his hotels in Mexico for the rest of my life. The other is the Mexican version of Sam Walton. He will let me shop at his stores for free for food, clothes, and everything else. I will have zero cash, but, I will live happily ever after. I cannot be prosecuted. I will have zero assets so they can’t come after my assets.

The plan was so brilliant. When the board of the bank heard about it they had a good chuckle. One of them said “I wish I was so smart when I was his age”. Another said “It seems that these shady characters are smarter than the more honest ones in their generation”.

So honesty and all that aside (We will talk about honesty later because I do care about it) I just wanted to show you how giving your money to Jesus is just simply the most brilliant financial planning.

Monday, September 7, 2015

In Defense of John the Baptist

I was disturbed when I heard a preacher on the radio saying that John the Baptist had a crisis of faith when he sent disciples In Luke 7. I had to write this in his defense. Here is the story first.

18 John’s disciples told him about all these things. Calling two of them, 19 he sent them to the Lord to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”

20 When the men came to Jesus, they said, “John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?’”

21 At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. 22 So he replied to the messengers, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. 23 Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”

24 After John’s messengers left, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? 25 If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear expensive clothes and indulge in luxury are in palaces. 26 But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 27 This is the one about whom it is written:

“‘I will send my messenger ahead of you,
    who will prepare your way before you.’

28 I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”

Now the defense.

Mr. Anderson the religion teacher at the mission in Guatemala had to leave town. He told his students that the Pope himself will be teaching them until a new teacher is hired. Many students didn’t know exactly what a “Pope” was. The students were sad. A third grader said “We don’t want you to leave. We like learning religion from you. We don’t know if we can trust this Bishop to teach us the right thing.” Mr. Anderson explained you can totally trust the Pope


Student: Should believe whatever he tells us?

Anderson: Yes

A 6th grader decided to play along. “Suppose he tells us not to listen to the priest?”

Anderson: He won’t do that?

Student: What if he does?

Anderson: Then you would listen to the Pope.

Student: Suppose he says Father Tony is not even a priest anymore?

Anderson: You would listen to the Pope.

Student: So who could tell us that Jesus is not the Messiah?

Mr. Anderson was a bit taken by the question. After thinking for a while he said” No one can. Only God or the Son of God”

Mr. Anderson looked at the back of the church where Father Tony was sitting. Father nodded in approval.

After class Mr. Anderson asked Father Tony, “So when John the Baptist sent his disciples to ask Jesus if He was the Messiah, John must have already known and believed that Jesus is the Messiah the Son of God?”

Fr. Tony: Indeed!

Anderson: So why ask?

Fr. Tony: The first question we should be asking is why did John the Baptist still have disciples after he told all his followers that he is only here to prepare the way for Jesus? Did John do his very best to make his disciples follow Jesus instead?

Anderson: Yes

Fr. Tony: Is it a good thing that there were still disciples that followed John?

Anderson: No

Fr. Tony: Do you think he tried his best to get them to stop following him and turn to Jesus?

Anderson: Yes

Fr. Tony: So why did they continue?

Anderson: Maybe they were emotionally attached to him.

Fr. Tony: I think so. So this was a sort of intervention for those disciples’ emotional problem. Instead of telling them to go follow Jesus which they seem to refuse, he tells them “Go ask him a question for me”. Doing that he puts them in a mind set to listen to Jesus and do as he says. He also makes himself seem unsure (intentionally). He also knows that when they go see Jesus they will witness great miracles.

And Jesus (knowing everything) “plays along” speaking as if John was stumbling.

Did you notice that Jesus has so many good things to say about John? But he only says those things after John’s disciples leave. Jesus always had great things to say about John (some of the greatest testament by one man to another ever). The only time he says something less than flattering about John was when John’s disciples are around. As soon as they leave he goes back to saying great things about him.

Would Jesus, who knows the heart of every man say such things about someone who has a crisis of faith?

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Why did Jesus say so many outrageous things?

Once upon a time there was a conservative candidate for the presidency who was known for being ultra conservative. He was opposed to illegal immigration and probably all immigration. He strongly opposed same sex “marriage” and gay couples adopting children. When he was asked about his view on immigration he said, “I don’t care if it is legal or illegal. I just don’t want this country to become Mexico.” When asked about children of gay couples he said, “Gay and lesbian couples can’t have children.” His responses were immediately picked up by all the news media. Many experts said that this was the most outrageous statement ever by a presidential candidate. “In the era of soundbites this is all you have to do to end your campaign”, the experts said. “He should’ve known that now even conservatives can’t stand by while he says things like that”. When liberals heard of this they were duly outraged. They said that now conservatives will have to abandon him or be viewed as lunatic right wingers. “This is the end of his candidacy.” The big surprise was that most, if not all, conservatives agreed with him. His support among conservatives increased. Even middle of the road conservatives, and some moderates and independents, liked his views.  Conservative media were now replaying his quotes round the clock energizing more conservative voters. There was no way for anybody to avoid hearing those quotes. Almost every person in the country knew about them. Each side claimed that those quotes helped their cause and converted some undecideds to their side. But, one thing was certain, his quotes reached everyone. He became the most well-known politician in recent history. Did he win the election you may ask? No he didn’t. You can say he energized the opposition too much!  He was accused of hate speech and forced to drop out of the race.

The most amazing thing about our candidate was he was able to use his opposition to spread his message. The same quotes that the opposition thought were outrageous and absurd and thereby replayed over and over, those same quotes were picked up by his followers and repeated with great pride and affection. Imagine if this happened before there was the internet and news TV. Imagine further that this was before newspapers, when the only news was word of mouth. How amazingly effective was this mechanism of spreading the word? That is why when his history was written by his followers many years later most of what they remembered verbatim was those outrageous quotes. If you read their reports you might think that half of what he said was so outrageous and outlandish. Or as one priest said “Deliberate exaggeration intended to shock for the desired effect”. I think he probably had a lot more “reasonable” things to say. But, it makes sense that if no one wrote any of them down at the time, then they would be more difficult to remember so many years later.

Think about how many outlandish quotes from the gospel were repeated by Christian parents, priests, preachers, and teachers? Quotes about hating your parents and plucking your eye out! They were repeated with great pride, respect, and affection. These are the kind of quotes that non-Christians would say is all they need to show how crazy those Christians are. My thesis is that for a few years, even decades after the ascension, those quotes continued to be repeated by both sides. And that is why those quotes are over represented in the gospels. Jesus basically used his opposition both to spread his word and as a memory aid. The quotes had to be exaggerations to achieve that.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Eleventh Hour Laborers

Matthew 20, 1-16

(The 11th hour is about 5pm. It is based on a 12 hour work day from sunrise to sunset. If you start working at the 11th hour you have only about 1 hour of daylight left to work.)

Mr. Anderson was teaching religion to the 8th grade class. He was explaining the parable of the 11th hour laborers. There was almost a student revolt against the owner of the vineyard. They all insisted that he was unfair. Leading the charge were Peter and Paul, new converts to Catholicism. They both spent years in foster homes and got into a bit of trouble until they were adopted by two wonderful families. Those two kids were a wonderful success story. They were excellent academically and morally. They embraced the faith and were so motivated and curious to understand all about it. Mr. Anderson tried to explain that the “daily wage” they agreed on is actually a “Dinar” in the original scripture and that was a generous pay for a day’s work. That didn’t help much. Also explaining that the Dinar was eternal life, God himself was the reward and there could be nothing more didn’t help. Neither was explaining that the owner fulfilled the contract requirement and that, by definition, would be justice under the law. He went on to explain the personal loving relationship that developed between owner and the 11th hour workers. How they never asked how much will they be paid. They started work at a time when the other workers were starting to slow down, gather their tools, clean up and get ready to go home. They were running around wishing there was more time to work for this wonderful man. They didn’t think about their wages, anything would be generous. They were not expecting to make a single penny that day.

“Fair is fair”, said Peter. “These guys were paid way more per hour than the first ones. I am sure they were paid way more per unit work than the first ones. That is not fair. Should not the judge of all the world act with Justice?” Peter was quoting Abraham from Genesis, knowing that the owner of the vineyard represents God.  Paul asked “Why did he start by paying the 11th hour workers first? Is that to add insult to injury? Maybe it’s the only way the parable would work. But surely Jesus could find a way to teach his point without being more abusive to the first workers.” Mr. Anderson seized on that point. “What is Jesus’ purpose in teaching that parable?” “I don’t know. How you should never work for this owner starting in the morning and under contract?”, said Peter. “These guys got a terrible deal”.

Mr. Anderson started, “Remember how I explained that many of Jesus’ sayings are deliberate exaggerations meant to shock for the desired effect. The desired effect here is….” Paul interrupted, “And why that tone? He talks to the first workers as if he wants nothing to do with them. Like get out of my face. These guys didn’t do anything wrong. They expected to get paid more and grumbled. But that seems reasonable. If the owner wants to teach them something maybe he should explain whatever he wants in a nicer way.” “You think that would help?”, asked Mr. Anderson. “Sure”, echoed the whole class.

“OK let’s do this. Let’s reproduce the parable and I will be the owner and I will explain to the first workers what Jesus wanted to teach them to their full satisfaction. “I gotta see this”, answered a few students. Taking the bait, or perhaps the challenge, Mr. Anderson said, “I guarantee that by the end of this class all the students playing the role of the first workers will be totally satisfied with my explanation.” “Are we going to work all day in the vineyard?”, joked one of the students.”No, we will just reshoot the last scene of the foreman paying the laborers. I will be the owner and foreman. I will sit down here up front. You guys will stand in line. In the front of the line would be the 11th hour workers. In this group I need people who feel that God has been so generous to them. That they wish they had more time to do good works. That even if they lived another hundred years serving God and laboring in his vineyard they would never deserve the rewards of eternal life.” As expected, Peter and Paul were upfront with a few other students. “Behind these guys I want the laborers who started working in the afternoon. If you feel that God has been very kind to you and that you are undeserving of His gifts get in that point.” A few more students got in. “Now on to the workers who started at noon and late morning. If you feel that you have worked hard serving God in your life but still know that you cannot possibly be deserving of eternal life because of your own merits and being free from sin, then get in that group.”

“Now, for the last row I want students who feel that they have definitely earned the right to Heaven by their hard work and…” Paul interrupted, “ Mr. Anderson, there’s no one left. There are no students in the last row. Do we have to put some students in the last row for the parable to work?” “ The exact opposite”, said Mr. Anderson. “Nobody has to be in the last row. That is the purpose of the parable. Jesus wants everyone who hears this parable to never ever want to be in that row. Perhaps that is why the owner was particularly abusive to them. It is a motivational story about how wrong it is to feel entitled to God’s gifts. Not only are you not entitled, but also if you feel entitled you will be miserable and would be offending God, who purchased the gift of eternal life for you by his own suffering and death. The “day’s heat” doesn’t really account for much. If you appreciate God’s gift you would wish there was more heat and labor to repay him.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A Parable about Transubstantiation

When Mr. Anderson who is the director of religious education at St. Mary’s in Metamora teaches catechism he has a saying which he repeats so much that the school children can finish the sentence for him. He says, “English…” and they say, “ a terrible language for theology”. One of his examples is the word substance. He says that its Greek origin stands for, “that which lies under the appearance of”. He says its use in English (mainly in physics) totally obscures what the word really means. So, transubstantiation means changing that which lies under the appearance of bread and wine.
That, together with an episode of “The Suite Life on Deck” and the live size (human size) statues of angels by the altar at St. Mary’s, gave me an idea for a parable on transubstantiation. In the episode of Suite Life, Zack and Cody pretended to be statues of some ancient Roman figures. They dressed up in togas and then sprayed themselves completely with a white dust. I Put all this together and came up with this parable.
I was walking around the art museum the other day with Jesus. We were talking about transubstantiation and the meaning of the word ‘substance’. We passed by a statue of an angel and he asked me, “What is this?” I said, “I am not sure what you mean Jesus. Are you asking what it represents? It’s supposed to represent an angel.”  He said, “OK, so it has the appearance of an angel?” I said, “Yes just the appearance and really only from a distance”. He smiled and said, “That is fine. But, what is its substance?” I said, “Stone”. He said, “Exactly. What lies under the appearance of an angel is stone. How do you know that?” “Well you can feel it.” I said, “It’s hard as a stone.” 
He then walked up to another statue and asked, “Who is this.”  I said, “This represents Julius Caesar. But what lies under the appearance of Julius Caesar is stone.”  He said, “Well this time you are wrong. This is someone pretending to be a statue. So under the appearance of Julius Caesar is a statue but under the appearance of the statue is a human being.”  ‘Wow, he’s doing such a good job standing so still” I said, “and holding his breath. I couldn’t tell.”  Jesus said “squeeze his arm”. I said, “No, Lord I believe you. I don’t need proof”. He said, “I want you to feel his arm”. I squeezed his arm and it was obvious that it was a human arm.
Next, came a statue of King David. Jesus asked, “How about this one?” I said, “I don’t know. It has the appearance of King David, and under that, has the appearance of a statue. But, what is under that?  I can’t tell.  Is it another person pretending to be a statue?”  He said, “Yes. Feel his arm.”  I said, “Jesus I believe you and I trust you. I have faith in you. I don’t need to test what you tell me.” He said, “Good. I need you to have that faith. You will need it here pretty soon. Now, feel his arm.”
I started to squeeze the statue’s arm but it was solid as a rock. I said, “Jesus I can’t squeeze his arm. Why is that?”  He said, ‘It’s because this man has put on such a thick layer of stone that you can’t squeeze through it.  Are you having doubt now?” 
I said, “No, I will never doubt what you say. You said there is a live person underneath. And that is that.  I am sure that a stronger person can squeeze hard enough to crush the stone layer and feel the person underneath. “
Jesus: “No, there is no human being strong enough to do that.”
“How about we just watch or listen for him breathing, or do some kind of x ray or ultrasound or a biological activity scan or something of that sort?”,  I asked.
Jesus: “Actually, there is no human sense or device that could see through that stone and feel the live person underneath.”
“So, Jesus, no human will be able on his own to sense or prove that there is a live person underneath?”
Jesus:  “No, quite the opposite. All your human senses, tests and devices will “prove” that there is nothing but stone.”
“So how would anyone find out?”
Jesus: “They don’t find out. They know.”
“How do they know?”
“I tell them and they believe me. There is no other way. Do you remember what I told you before I asked you to feel that statue’s arm?”
 “That I will need faith?”
Do you still have it?
 I said, “Yes, Lord.”

Goha's Talking Donkey

Goha heard that the Prince is looking for someone who could teach the Prince’s donkey to talk. The Prince had summoned all the teachers and wise men and anyone interested to see who can do the job. When Goha heard of this he headed to the Royal Palace and entered into the Prince’s Court. The Prince said that he noticed how intelligent his own donkey was and that he believes that with good teaching the donkey could be taught to talk. “Who among you can teach my donkey to talk?” No one responded. “It cannot be done”, replied the wise men. Goha got up and walked toward the donkey. He looked at the donkey, examined its ears and mouth, and talked to it for a while. “This is truly a very intelligent and exceptional donkey that you have here your Majesty. I am sure “he” can be taught to talk.” The Price rose up, “You can do it?”
 “Yes your majesty. But, this is going to be a very long and difficult job.”
“How long will it take?”
 “I will need 10 years.”
“Fine,” said the Prince “I’ll see you in ten years.”
“Your majesty I will have to do this job full time, day and night. I will need a salary.”
“How much?” 
“More than all these professors and wise men that could not do the job”
I will need to take the donkey home with me so I can teach him day and night.”
The donkey will need food. Not just regular donkey food but food good enough for a talking donkey, human food. I will also need money to build him a nice room to study, and another one to sleep. And supplies, school supplies, house supplies. And some extra money in case I need some other provisions.”
The Prince’s men loaded up the donkey with all the food and supplies. The donkey could barely walk with the load on its back. Walking out the guard said, “You know what will happen if 10 years from now the donkey is not talking?”
“I know. I’ll be beheaded”, he said without hesitation
Goha arrived home with the donkey loaded with all sorts of goodies and supplies and gold coins. Goha’s wife could not believe her eyes. “How did you get all this?” He told his wife the whole story. She was terrified.
Goha: “Woman we will be rich. Why are you so mad?”
Wife: How are you going to teach this donkey to talk?
Goha: I know it’s a very tough job. But I have 10 years. Ten years is a very long time. Just stop worrying and enjoy our riches.
Wife: So what happens 10 years from now if the donkey is not talking?
Goha: 10 years from now either I will be dead or the Prince will be dead, or the donkey will be dead.