Good Friday Revisited: The Cult of Christianity

Going into Good Friday 2011, I decided to repost the past two Good Friday entries, as that seems to be the one day in a year where I KNOW I will write something for this site. This is last year’s entry. If you’ve already seen it, maybe you need to re-read it? If you haven’t, give it a shot. It was written much in the style of Jesus’ own model of standing and speaking at the Feast of Tabernacles…

Christianity was founded roughly 2,000 years ago on the shores of a big lake in the Near East that still exists today – the Sea of Galilee. It has its roots in a small town that still exists today in present-day Israel – Bethlehem. Its foundation was made permanent a city of much strife for thousands of years both before and after – Jerusalem.

It started out as a small sect of Judaism that most in its day found humorous at best, blasphemous at worst. A small group of fishermen, tax collectors, whores, and other assorted scum of the earth claimed to have met the Messiah, and that he taught that to live, you must die. He claimed he was God, a claim that makes him (paraphrasing CS Lewis here) either a liar, a lunatic, or LORD.

The Messiah had already drawn large crowds during during his life, but that was nothing new for the era. “Messiah”s of various forms had been rising up for hundreds of years before this one, gaining large crowds during their lives, only to die (usually by execution) and have their names be forgotten in the annals of history.

No, two things made this Messiah different: 1) After his extremely brutal -so brutal that he was no longer recognizable as human- and extremely public -so public that people from thousands of miles away saw it first hand- execution, he was seen by thousands living and breathing, with barely a scar on his body. 2) Because of this resurrection, this Messiah continued to draw large crowds after his death.

But 2,000 years later, his followers have devolved to where many of them – perhaps even most of them – have lost sight of the true Jesus Christ of Nazareth and what he did.

Christianity has become a cult.

You see, Christianity today worships itself over the reason it exists – Jesus Christ of Nazareth.

We Christians willingly accept bondage Christ never meant us to have. We get wrapped up in our multi-BILLION dollar per year subculture, and we put blinders on as to what is going on with our next door neighbor, with the guy across the street, with the people down in Cat’s Alley. I’m as guilty as anyone here, don’t think I’m not preaching to myself as well.

We get wrapped up in what Casting Crowns appropriately calls the “Stained Glass Masquerade“. We go to church because we’re expected to go to church. We wear what we are expected to wear – no tshirts and shorts in OUR Sunday morning services, thank you very much! We stand up/sit down/stand up/sit down and dutifully sing and listen to the speaker, as expected. We shake hands with 2.5 of our pewmates and exchange pleasant hellos, as expected – even though we MIGHT see these people once a week, and that is in this very pew, where both we and they have sat all our lives on for 1.5 hours on Sunday morning.

We create our own rules – no mowing your grass on Sunday, no sandals in church, drinking alcohol or smoking anything at all is forbidden, no dancing, only “Christian” music at weddings. We pride ourselves in following our insane rules, and we berate those who don’t obey them – ESPECIALLY if they don’t believe them!

We have become EXACTLY what the Pharisees of Christ’s day were – the religious Judge, Jury, and Executioner. WE are the pious, and anyone who is not one of us is a heathen, to be spat upon and mocked.

Here’s the problem for us: Christ didn’t exactly hang out with the Pharisees in his day. No, he went directly to the fishermen, the tax collectors, the whores, and the other scum of the earth, and he made those people his best friends, his closest confidants, his most trusted disciples. He didn’t reach out to the religious leaders – they already had their religion. Instead, He reached out to the down and out, and he brought them up. Fishermen – a dirty, stinky profession – became Fishers of Men – men tasked with spreading Christ’s teachings throughout the world. Tax collectors became social workers, taking in the voluntary contributions of those who had extra and giving it to those who genuinely most needed the extra help. Prostitutes became models of propriety in how to live as a woman for Christ.

The Pharisees had their religion, their cult. They didn’t need Christ, he didn’t fit into their system – and by and large most of them are burning in a literal burning Hell right now because of that rejection.

Christians today face a similar choice. We can choose to be part of the Cult of Christianity and revel in our Stained Glass Masquerade. Doing so rejects Christ, and in my opinion is exactly what Christ spoke of when he spoke of separating the good wheat from the bad. If you remember, the bad wheat was burned in the fire – in the Cult of Christianity’s case, just as in the Pharisees’, it will be the literal burning fires of an everlasting Hell.

Or we can choose to embrace Christ and Christ Alone. We can embrace the Change. Traditions do not matter – Christ does. Appearances do not matter – Christ does. We follow Christ and Christ alone, and we leave tradition and worrying about appearances in the dust.

Heaven is counting on us making the right choice. There is a world out there begging for the Freedom that can only be found in Christ – not just in China, India, or some other far off place. It is in our nation, in our State, in our Counties, in our Cities, on our streets – and in our homes. In our own hearts.

Twelve men, scum of the earth when Jesus met them, once changed the world. There are millions that claim Christianity now in the US alone. Just think of what they could do if they actually embraced Christ and all that He is.

Choose. This. Day. Whom. You. Shall. Serve.

Christ?

or The Cult of Christianity?

Good Friday Revisited: Thoughts on ‘Good’ Friday

Going into Good Friday 2011, I decided to repost the past two Good Friday entries, as that seems to be the one day in a year where I KNOW I will write something for this site. This is the 2009 entry, where I discuss the original ‘Good’ (really anything BUT!) Friday.

As we enter into one of the most holy days of Christianity, I wanted to share my thoughts on the concept of ‘Good’ Friday.

You see, to me, most people get lost in either the genuine holiness that is Easter Sunday – which is a good thing, so far as it goes – or they get lost in the traditions and celebrations that are only marginally connected to the day itself, such as the Easter Bunny and all of its trappings.

But by and large, ‘Good’ Friday is largely ignored. Sure, there are cross walks in many towns across this country where local dignitaries carry a large cross from some point to another, with the typical destination being the town courthouse. But these are rituals, nothing more, and are largely ignored by the public at large. Indeed, I can’t even tell you whether or not such events are happening in either Albany or Leesburg, and I’ve lived here for nearly three years!

To me, ‘Good’ Friday being ignored is perhaps one of the single greatest tragedies to ever occur. YES, the celebration day is undoubtedly Easter Sunday. But without a deep reflection on the events of ‘Good’ Friday, there is no deep understanding of the true power of Easter Sunday. You cannot fully appreciate a perfectly sunny, cloudless day without also having experienced the darkest of dark nights, and the same holds true here.

You see, there was nothing ‘good’ about the original Good Friday. I may have my timeline slightly off, but I believe the Last Supper happened on Thursday night/evening. Towards the end of it, Christ calls out Judas Iscariot as his traitor, and basically tells him to go do what he is destined to do. He then retires to the Mount of Olives with the disciples to pray, and even at this point – even as Iscariot is leading the men who are about to arrest Jesus to him – Jesus of Nazareth begs his Father to find some other way to redeem mankind. This is a man who knows he is about to die but wants to live. He KNOWS his death is the only way to redeem mankind, but he is still BEGGING for another way. And he knows all of this even as he KNOWS that his human death only releases him back to his full glory as God the Son, one third of the Trinity yet fully God. Even knowing this, he still doesn’t want to face the full pain he knows is coming, but he readily accepts it anyway. Could you say you would do the same? Don’t answer that blindly. Deeply consider it. Knowing everything that would happen – and Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, for all of its brutality, probably STILL doesn’t come close to what actually happened – could you WILLINGLY endure that to save a single life? Christ did.

But I get ahead of myself. Once at the Mount of Olives, the disciples are tired. They’ve traveled a long way, and they’ve just had a very emotional meal with the man they deeply love and consider the Messiah, the man who will overthrow Rome – and he says he is about to die. So they get to the Mount of Olives, and they fall asleep. I dare any of you to say you would have actually done any differently, knowing only what they knew at the time. Jesus comes to wake them a couple of times, urging them to prayer and telling them that his time has nearly expired. Yet they still fall asleep, even while their Messiah begs for his life.

Finally, around midnight – against Jewish law, by the way – the Jewish leaders, led by Judas Iscariot, come to the Mount of Olives to arrest Jesus. Peter is so alarmed (and so belligerent by nature), that he draws his sword – but he is so tired that while aiming to cut a guy’s head off, only gets his ear. Jesus heals the ear and allows himself to be arrested. I can’t help but think of how Frank Peretti would probably describe the scene, with hoards of demons ready for all out war and relishing in their victory over the Son of God readily submitting to them, all the while as the entire Host of Heaven stands by, their weapons sheathed at the command of the Father. If an angel cries at the sins of one man, how much more sorrow must they have felt watching the Son of God submit himself to the full fury of Lucifer.

The next 18 hours or so fly by as the disciples are scared out of their minds. The Messiah has been illegally arrested on false charges, and yet he is being sentenced to die, and the Romans are playing along with the Jewish leaders. They’ve been seen as Jesus’ closest friends for the past 3 years, and they could be next! They are afraid for their lives, yet at least two of them hang back in the crowds as Jesus is tried, tortured, and executed.

One of them, Peter, denies three times knowing Jesus, even going so far as to curse and swear that he does not know the man – just as the rooster cries. You see, 12 hrs earlier Peter had said that such would NEVER happen, and Jesus told him it would. He hangs his head in shame and we don’t hear from him again until Sunday. My bet is that he went into hiding somewhere where much alcohol was available, but no one on this side of Heaven knows exactly what he was doing in this period.

The other, John, follows the crowd even to Golgotha. There, Jesus tells him to watch over Mary, Jesus’ mother. What love must he have had, and what strength, to watch someone he so deeply loved tortured and executed in such a brutal fashion. And the same goes for Mary, who we haven’t heard much from since the Christmas story 33 years earlier. She knew from the beginning that her first son was God’s Only Son, yet he was STILL her first born. And she was having to watch him be beaten beyond all recognition as human, only to then be crucified along side common thiefs.

Finally, we come back to the view from Christ himself. Up until he goes up on the cross, he has enjoyed constant communion with he real dad, God the Father. But once Jesus is on the cross, all of humanity’s sins from Adam until the very end of time are placed on Jesus. Everything the worst people in history have ever done, God considered Jesus to have done it. Every lie we tell today, every affair we have, and any other sin we to today in our every day lives, God considered Jesus to have done it. And he was so incredibly repulsed by it that even He had to turn his back on such vileness. When Jesus was on the cross, in his hour of most desparate need, he was so despicable to his own father that he could not look at him. No one else in all of history has been so despicable to God as to warrant such an action, and because of Easter Sunday no one ever will be.

The next days are again a blur, we know nothing about them. The disciples, presumably, are in hiding at best, drunk and/or suicidal at worst. The man they love most, who they genuinly believed would overthrow Rome, has been arrested by the Jewish leaders and executed by Rome, and they could be next.

Finally, the very darkest hour arrives. After all of the weekend’s prior events, some of the ladies go to where they laid Jesus’ body in a borrowed tomb, only to find the tomb unsealed and the body missing.

Not only has everything else happened, now someone has stolen the body! This is rock bottom, things can absolutely get no worse.

And they are right. For there in the garden with them is a lowly gardener. They probably saw him as they walked in. The ladies run to Peter and John with the news, and Peter and John come to investigate – because they don’t believe the ladies that such a terrible compounding of their situation has happened-, only to see exactly what the ladies saw.

Finally, Mary comes back. She encounters a couple of angels who tell her that was Christ had said would happen has happened. Puzzled and still in the deepest of sorrows, she walks back into the garden, where she encounters the gardener. He asks her what she is looking for, and she basically says that if he has taken the body, PLEASE tell her where she can find it, and she’ll put it back in the tomb. She is DESPARATE at this point, and she is begging just for the body. She knows the Christ is dead, but she still wants to at least give his body a proper burial.

But the gardener says one single word instead:

‘Mary’.

He calls her by her name, and she instantly recognizes him. HE’S ALIVE!!!!!!!!!! JESUS CHRIST OF NAZARETH IS ALIVE!!!!!!!! WE SAW HIM TORTURED AND EXECUTED, BUT HE IS ALIVE STANDING HERE WITH NOT A SCRATCH ON HIS BODY!!!!!!! HE’S ALIVE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

That, my friends, is how you get the full impact of the story of Easter Sunday, and it is why the song ‘He’s Alive’ is one of my all time favorites. Growing up, I heard it sung by Mike Lemming live in concert several times, and it truly sums up Easter. I leave you with the lyrics:

The gates and doors were barred and all the windows fastened down;
I spent the night in sleeplessness and rose at every sound
Half in hopeless sorrow and half in fear the day
Would find the soldiers breakin’ thru to drag us all away

And just before the sunrise I heard something at the wall
The gate began to rattle and a voice began to call;
I hurried to the window and looked down into the street
Expecting swords and torches and the sounds of soldier’s feet

There was no one there but Mary so I went down to let her in;
John stood there beside me as she’d told us where she’d been.
She said “They moved Him in the night and none of us knows where;
The stone’s been rolled away and now His body isn’t there!”

We both ran t’ward the garden, then John ran on ahead;
We found the stone and empty tomb just the way that Mary said.
But the winding sheet they wrapped Him in was just an empty shell;
And who or where they’d taken Him was more than I could tell.

Well, something strange had happened there,
but just what I didn’t know;
John believed a miracle but I just turned to go.
Circumstance and speculation couldn’t lift me very high
‘Cause I’d seen them crucify Him, then I saw Him die.

Back inside the house again the guilt and anguish came;
Everything I’d promised Him just added to my shame.
When at last it came to choices, I denied I knew His name;
And even if He was alive, it wouldn’t be the same

But suddenly the air was filled with a strange and sweet perfume;
Light that came from everywhere drove shadows from the room.
Jesus stood before me with His arms held open wide;
And I fell down on my knees, and just clung to Him and cried.

He raised me to my feet and as I looked into His eyes,
Love was shining out from Him like sunlight in the skies
Guilt in my confusion disappeared in sweet release
And every fear I’d ever had just melted into peace

CHORUS
He’s alive! He’s alive, He’s alive and I’m forgiven!
Heaven’s gates are open wide:
He’s alive, He’s alive, oh He’s alive and I’m forgiven
Heaven’s gates are open wide
He’s alive, He’s alive, hallelujah He’s alive

Farewell Leesburg

Since December, I have known I would be leaving Leesburg soon. For a while, I thought I would be going to Macon, where my job was at the time. The job was great, but the city was not.

That changed about a month ago when I decided to look for another job. Within a month, I had found another job with a very cool sounding title – Nuclear Software Engineer – in Aiken, SC. Aiken is a much better town than Macon, and I’m very much looking forward to living in the Central Savannah River Area.

Looking back on my time in Leesburg, I have no regrets. I came to the town because my then fiancee, now wife, was a native of Lee County, having grown up barely a half a mile outside the Leesburg City Limits and was living her dream – teaching at Lee County High.

As with any new environment, I started out quietly, trying to observe more than talk. To this day, I still remember the first time I had a political encounter in Leesburg. It was the summer of 2008, and some guy named Jim Quinn showed up at my door asking for my vote in his run for mayor. I didn’t know anything about the politics of the city at the time, but when it came time to vote, his was the only name I knew and thus he got my vote.

A few months later, I started a blog that came to be known as SWGAPolitics.com, which we just shut down less than a month ago. At first, it was primarily focused on looking at the legislative record of the various SWGA legislators.

In March and April of 2009, I began to use SWGAPolitics.com in a more local role, using it to coordinate news of the brand new (at the time) Tax Day Tea Party events in both Albany and Leesburg. Indeed, I was listed as a co-organizer of the Leesburg event.

In the summer of 2009, I made one of the biggest mistakes I made in SWGAPolitics.com’s history – I added a man as an author on the site who turned out to be a liar and a lunatic. When his lies were brought to my attention, I gave him a chance to come clean. He did not, and I removed him from SWGAPolitics.com, vowing never to affiliate myself with any group which he was a part of – a vow I have kept.

It was due to this situation that I first began talking to Ed Duffy and Rick Muggridge – the Chairman and Vice Chairman of the Lee County Board of Commissioners. In August of 2009, I began attending every meeting of the Board and writing about them, as well as live tweeting them on my twitter account. In September of 2009, I began doing the same with the Leesburg City Council meetings.

Also that September, I learned that the Leesburg City Council was having elections that November, and that there was expected to be no opposition to any of the Councilmen. This was and is completely unacceptable to me, and so I decided within about 24 hrs that I would run. I challenged Richard Bush and ran a campaign centered on being a newer, younger voice that was at the same time more politically knowledgeable than my opponent. That was a great learning experience for me, one I will never forget even though I lost handily 70-20 – out of nearly 1500 registered voters.

As that campaign began, I did something I had never done before – I videotaped the meeting of Lee County leaders and the brand newly-appointed State Transportation Planning Director Todd Long. Not only did I videotape this meeting, but I also put that tape on YouTube so all could see for themselves exactly what was said, absent even my own commentary.

The next meeting I taped was the December 2009 meeting of the Lee County Board of Commissioners. For Christmas that year, I got a tripod for my camera, and with it I began videotaping every meeting I went to.

After the November loss to Mr. Bush, I had intended from the very moment I learned the results to try again. In April 2010, Steve Kitchens – the man I was considering challenging in my next run, though this is the first time I’ve publicly said that – resigned from the Council, setting up a Special Election that turned out to be in September. I hadn’t intended on running again so soon, but neither could I pass up the opportunity. So I ran, and from what I have been told some people began recruiting opposition for me – Rhonda Futch was apparently at least their second choice.

I ran a much better campaign the second time. I learned from my mistakes from the first time in relying on newspaper ads, and I made it a point to actively knock on doors and call people. I solicited and received campaign donations, and was able to thus get several dozen yard signs, which I worked to get out at strategic points for visibility. I also made a few mistakes on this campaign, going off message late in the game and not responding in the press as I should have.

As a final note on that campaign, I want to point out a couple of things:

1) I still believe I was by FAR the better choice. (And seriously, why would anyone run any campaign if they didn’t believe that to their very core?) That said, Ms. Futch has managed to surprise me on a couple of occassions, and she may yet turn out to be a force for – if not good, at least not as bad as I had feared.

2) I want to thank all roughly 120 or so voters from that 2010 campaign, as well as the 90 voters from the 2009 campaign. Those that voted for me made the right choice for Leesburg – and those that voted for my opponents unknowingly (even I didn’t realize it at the time) made the right choice for me personally. It was because of those nearly 200 votes against me that I was in the position I was in last month in being able to leave SWGA, and for that you have my sincere gratitude.

While I’m on that particular topic, I want to address one criticism I’ve heard through the grapevine in the past few weeks. It has been said that I somehow do not love Leesburg because I have chosen to leave it. Nothing could be further from the truth. Leesburg will always hold a very dear place in my heart. It is my wife’s hometown, the town we lived in for most of the first four years of our marriage, and the place where I came into my own as a man. Moving changes none of that.

Back to the videotaping: There are those who like it, and those who don’t. By and large the ones who don’t like it feel this way because either a) they can’t control it (as some have said rather directly in meetings I taped) or b) because they didn’t want the public to know what was said – something that fortunately none were brave enough to outright admit to. However, it did have those who at least appreciated it, saying that it made them at least be more careful in how they presented things. In all honesty, that was exactly one of the secondary goals of that project. The primary goal being simply to give those who – for whatever reason – could not make the meetings a chance to at least have a complete and accurate record of exactly what happened gavel to gavel, absent any news media limitations or comments. In that goal, the videotaping was a success the moment I put the first tape on youtube.

Some final thoughts:

First, there are going to be three seats on the Council open for election this November. There needs to be a minimum of 6 candidates. As of the last time I filed, the filing fee itself is only $54 to run. Beyond that, it is possible to win with little money spent – simply knock on every door and call every single person in Leesburg. Money makes things a bit easier, but I’m pretty sure I outspent my opponents in both of my races – and we see where that got me.

Second, Leesburg has 1500 or so registered voters. While I am somewhat pleased that I managed to drive turnout higher for a special election than for a general election, the turnout figures in both of my races was absolutely pathetic. Take pride in your town, Leesburg. Even if you’re not going to go to Council meetings, at least get out there and vote. Letting not even 10% of the voters make your decision for you is not democracy – it is oligarchy, and one you can change!

Third, people need to step up and fill the void I am leaving. I am no one special – anyone can do what I was doing, and probably even more effectively than I was. Videotaping the meetings and putting them on youtube requires only about 4 hrs of your time in any month (for just Leesburg City Council meetings) and is not a difficult process. The software is dirt cheap – the programs I use were $60 and you get a wide range of audio/ video tools combined. All it requires is a dedication to serving your town and working to make it better.

Fourth, my wish for Leesburg and Lee County: Learn to have your own identity. Don’t be content with being the bedroom community for Albany – make Albany the bedroom community for you! Having lived in both Dougherty and Lee, I can say without equivocation that Lee is by FAR superior, so start acting like it! Don’t let businesses such as Kohl’s, Best Buy, and others locate within a mile of the border in Dougherty County – get them to move within a mile of the border in LEE County! The corollary to this to get active in ALL aspects of your community – religion seems to be very active, but community service such as Rivers Alive and the Butterfly Kisses build need your help. Politics needs your involvement – even as simply a concerned citizen. Spread the message of Lee County as an attractive destination for both people and businesses to move far and wide. Take both ownership and pride in your town! Don’t just sit back in anonymous forums such as commenting online, the Soapbox, and the Sqawkbox and bitch – put your name to your work, take a stand, and DO SOMETHING to fix the problems you see!

Finally, I want to thank the friends I’ve made along the way – Jim Quinn (Leesburg Mayor/ publisher of Lee County Ledger), Carlton Fletcher (Lee County reporter/ metro editor for Albany Herald), Jana Barnello (formerly of WFXL), Romney Smith (WFXL), Casey Moore (Leesburg City Manager), and Veronica Johnson (Lee County Elections Supervisor) in particular. These are some of the best reporters/ officials in not just Lee County, but in my experience living all over Georgia, some of the best in the State.

Fare thee well, Leesburg.