All posts by Steve

What Would Jesus Say?

Sunset over Las Vegas

Not a religious piece, I promise. Instead, I am speculating about how original meanings can be distorted and lost over time. In 2009 one Stephen Mitchell published a book he titled, The Gospel According to Jesus. Yes, he knows that Jesus never wrote a word. The guy was illiterate, a not uncommon condition in his time and place. But it’s a catchy title for a scholarly work.

The story of the book is that the original documents which became the Christian New Testament were subjected to the sort of linguistic analysis that is used when they find what may be a new sonnet form Shakespeare. Word use, spelling, sentence length, style and voice, all are subject to computerized analysis. After doing this, the oldest, and presumably most authentic, bits of the Christian gospel were uncovered. These bits were written probably sometime in the fifties. (Not the nineteen-fifties; the fifties.) The idea being that the authors of these bits may actually have met Jesus, or at least heard him preach. Many parts of the New Testament were written much later, decades, even a century or more. So now we have it: the oldest, presumably most authentic, “Good news about Jesus.”

I’m going to assume you’re familiar with at least some of the story of Jesus’s birth, death, and afterlife. If not, feel free to read a contemporary version of the Christian New Testament after you read this. You’ll be surprised.

This oldest gospel opens with John the Baptist. Then Jesus comes down to the river to be baptized. (This is all in the orthodox bible, of course.) What’s missing is anything preceding baptism. No birth story at all. No magi, no shepherds keeping watch over their flocks, no star, no manger, no Bethlehem. As a matter of fact, the Jesus birth story is amazingly like the story of Buddha’s birth, which precedes Jesus by hundreds of years. The chief difference is that Buddha also rated an earthquake. Somebody saw fit to add that birth story later on. Don’t care why because this isn’t that sort of post. It was done, is my point.

When he hears of John’s arrest, he leaves town. He picks up some posse at Galilee, and proceeds to wander around Judea preaching. He taught at the Synagogue at Capernaum.  Here is an excerpt from his preaching in the villages:

And someone asked him, “When will the kingdom of God come?” And he said, “The kingdom of God will not come if you watch for it. Nor will anyone be able to say, ‘It is here’ or ‘It is there.’ For the kingdom of God is within you.”

He wandered Judea for a while, teaching and healing. The crowds got larger. One day he went up a hill and gave what is known as the Sermon on the Mount. Most of the beatitudes are there, as is most of the rest of the sermon. What isn’t there is the story of the loaves and fishes. Here is an excerpt that is there:

You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor. But I tell you, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who mistreat you, so that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the wicked and on the good, and sends rain to the righteous and to the unrighteous.

I had a friend tell me flat out that Jesus never said to love your enemy. In the gospel, the passage above is part of a quotation from Jesus. Maybe you begin to see my point. Just one more quote, again from Jesus’s sermon on the hill:

Be careful not to do your righteous acts in public, in order to be seen. When you give charity, don’t blow a trumpet to announce it, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that people will praise them. Truly I tell you, they have their reward. But when you give charity, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, and keep your charity a secret; and your Father, who sees what is secret, will reward you.

A couple paragraphs later, he talks about prayer, which he also insists should be a private thing. He offers what the Christians call “The Lord’s Prayer” as an example of what to say to “your father” “in secret.” This is not your grandfather’s Christianity. Nor is it what is mostly heard from today. And there is one more significant thing missing from this oldest, presumably most authentic, gospel. The book ends when, at about three in the afternoon, (Jesus) gave a great cry and died. Full stop. The end. Finito. No burial, no resurrection, no reappearance, nothing. In this, the oldest and presumably most authentic gospel, he, as we all must, died and disappeared from the earth.

I commend the book to your attention. It’s copyrighted, so I can’t just give you a link to read the oldest gospel for yourself. But you can probably find the book at a library if you can’t afford to buy a copy for yourself. My point being that, other than that oldest gospel, the rest of the gospels were written later, by people who had no chance to have ever heard Jesus speak, but who did have various agendas which they were pursuing. Instead of “Love your enemy” and “Pray in private,” we get divisiveness and “thoughts and prayers.” Instead of the liberating “Kingdom is within you,” we get a hierarchy that doles out religious truth as it sees fit. Whether there was an actual Jesus or not is irrelevant. There was certainly an initial book of “Good News About Jesus” that was, over the next few centuries, modified and added on to until the original could barely be seen, although, in truth, it is still in there.

I’m not preaching, nor speculating as to why this is so. Maybe in a later post. For now, I’m just noting how wildly different the meaning of a book can be after enough people add to and reinterpret it. Amazing, isn’t it?

What? Me Worry?

Somewhere Along the Gulf Coast (Alabama or Mississipi.)

Well, I worry some, because, well, after all, what if I’m wrong? But, in general I worry less than many about the current state of the Nation, Politics, and the Effects on My Creativity. As a public service, since I know many writers tend to be sensitive new-age liberal type people, here is why I’m not overly worried.

For more detail, a lot more, check out the book, Generations: The History of America’s Future, 1594 to 2069.  (The link goes to Amazon.) The authors make a reasonably compelling case that in a free society, history proceeds in a cyclical fashion. It might interest you to know that the book predicts that Boomers will be very conservative these days. No one can predict exact events or behaviors, but a pattern of attitudes and behaviors, especially when dealing with millions of individuals, is solidly predictable. It’s basic probability. The number of Americans is large enough that things truly will chug along the regression line of arithmetic average (mean) in terms of general zeitgeist.

As you can imagine from the title of the book, the history covers a number of total cycles. Not to scoop them, but there are four basic types of generation, two dominant, two, um, not dominant. Boomers are Idealists. The other dominant type is represented by Millennials, who are Civic. In between Civic and Idealist are the Reactives (Generation X,) almost always a cynical bunch (which doesn’t help things much.) In between the Idealist and the Civic are the Adaptives. The upcoming “Generation Z” or whatever they’ll be called is an example, but maybe if you consider the “Silent” generation of the 20th century you’ll understand them better. Think of James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause, rebelling, but, in the end, wearing his father’s coat. I pity the non-dominant generations. The “Silent” generation fought for, and gained, civil rights legislation, invented rock and roll, changed the very nature of our society, and who gets the credit? (If you’re screaming at that, you’re part of their problem — a Boomer.)

Every generation, of course, thinks that the world is as it seems to them when they come of age. Sigh. You’re a writer. You know better. The world is a lot of things, but not whatever a cohort of 10-year old kids think it is, and that’s for certain.

Now to the point: Every cycle, roughly every 80 years or so, something happens that makes society question its very existence. Something comes up that threatens the very fabric of society, to the extent that survival of the world as we know it is, frankly, not a certainty. And every time, in a free society, what seems afterwards to be an obvious reorganization and realignment of society results in a world that everyone, especially the Civic generation (who take the credit for what the Reactive generation before them actually accomplished,) thinks is a whole lot better than the world as it was before the crisis. So far at least, every time. Some examples of crises would include (this is not an inclusive list) The American Revolution, the Civil War, World War Two, and what is happening, or about to happen, now.

The new world will need stories from the old, stories from the struggle, and stories from the aftermath, and you and I are the ones to tell those stories. You hear that? Harbingers of a new world! Because we’re humans, and that’s how we roll. Sure, politically there has been some damage, maybe. And the planet needs some quick attention or we’ll be up the well known polluted estuary, (thank you Professor Hurst) but we’ll do what we need to do and things will be so much better when it’s over that nobody in their right mind will want to return to those old, dull days.

And that’s why I don’t worry so much as some people.

But What If He Likes It?

Cabo San Lucas, September 2018.

A quick post this week to let the world know that I am anxious because I am meeting with an agent about my YA romance, I hope this week, and I don’t know if I’m more scared of it being rejected, or of what happens if he likes it. Rejection doesn’t bother me. I used to sell insurance. I used to sell real estate. Most of your interactions result in rejections. I’ve even sent thank-you notes to agents when they sent me a rejection, because that is so much better than the “dropped it down a deep, deep well” response. (That’s no response, if you don’t’ get it.)

But I’ve had very little experience, writing-wise, with acceptance. A few little things, yes, but nothing serious enough to really care about. What if he decides to rep it and nobody wants to buy it? What if I hate what my eventual editor wants to do to it? What if I’m not ready to promote a book the way it needs to be promoted? What if? Huh?

This pitch is different because I already know the agent in other contexts. He’s a good speaker, for instance. It all seems more intense when it involves someone I interact with already. It shouldn’t be. As I said, rejection is no big deal. Which leaves me to worry about acceptance.

So, anyway, I will of course report on the results. Gotta worry about something, huh?