Zen Talk: Buddha Speaks of the Wisdom of Age

“The splendid chariots of kings wear out; so does the body age. Thus do good people teach each other.”

This reminds me of the biblical book, Proverbs, which is designed “for learning about wisdom and instruction…to teach shrewdness to the simple;…let the wise also hear and gain in learning and the discerning acquire skill.”

No, they’re not the same thing but the idea is that we should benefit from the knowledge and experience of others rather than seek to gather all knowledge first hand. “Good people teach each other.” Yes, they do, and thank goodness for that because if I had to figure everything important out on my own, whew would that stink.

I learn from my mistakes very well because they suck so bad I wouldn’t want to make the same mistakes twice. It’s even more beneficial when I learn from the mistakes of others. Not that I want other people making mistakes, of course, but it is great when people mess up, share what they learned with you and then – and here’s the most important part(s) – you internalize what they’ve said, recognize the comparable situation when it arises and avoid making the same mistake.

Bingo! Welcome to Buddha quotes and Proverbs.

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Religion in the News: Exciting New Discovery of Syria’s Largest Ancient Church

In Palyrma, a town in central Syria, what is thought to be the largest church ever discovered in the state has been unearthed. Archaeologists think that it is 1500 years old; they have even discovered other building of significance, including an amphitheater, in the area of the church.

I love new discoveries like this: anything that sheds light on our picture of early Christianity and allows us to understand the religion’s dissemination and early theology better. Plus, it’s an interesting reminder to us all that Christianity was so popular in certain regions of the modern Middle East. In fact, Syria’s Antioch is one of the five patriarchates.

There is no period of Christianity (or history for that matter!) that I don’t find fascinating, but I’m particularly intrigued by the early period, which is often dated between the first and sixth centuries – though I don’t think it would be inappropriate to cut it off earlier. In any case, this church is a really cool find from that period, and I hope that the archaeologists continue to find other things in the area that shed light on the period and religion. After all, the dry dessert heat preserves scrolls really well, so it’s not impossible that some awesome texts stored in ancient jars will be unearthed!….but nothing yet.

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The Late Michael Crichton’s Next, Though Politically Charged, Is Not His Best

I think that Michael Crichton is a spectacular writer. Not only are his stories compelling, his plots engaging and his writing enjoyable, but his ability to incite something entirely different in his reader is remarkable. Why? Because he often writes about topics that are (or should be) important issues of public discourse.

Crichton does not merely pick some outrageous sci-fi notion and run with it to the ends of the earth. He writes science fiction that is well-researched and of practical public interest. He then crafts a story that pushes the boundaries of “what if” while demonstrating the numerous issues that surround the topic at hand, whether nanotechnology, biological experimentation or global warming – one of the largest thorns in his side.

He was an outspoken public critic of complacency and constantly sought to shake up the status-quo. When unethical or damaging tactics were allowed to plague an institute of government, a scientific research facility, or the media, he seized upon them and exposed them in the best way he knew how – creative science fiction grounded in reality.

Next was Crichton’s jab at genetic technology and gene experimentation. This well-researched book ended with a series of recommendations for how American politics, government and people should proceed in regards to these issues. The book itself was fascinating for the issues it exposed but for some reason this time I just couldn’t grab hold of the slightly over the top sci-fi elements.

I certainly feel more educated about genetic research and the state of affairs of politics and science than I did before – thanks to his grounding these books in facts – but the sci-fi elements themselves were just not for me this time. I won’t stop reading Crichton’s books, though, but sadly we won’t be seeing any more of them (that aren’t published posthumously).

Here’s to you, Mr. Crichton. Thanks!

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Stan and Kyle are Guitar Hero Winners on South Park episode 1113, “Guitar Queer-O”

You know, I never got particularly into Guitar Hero. Actually I never played it at all. Played a little real guitar back in the day, but had barely even heard of Guitar Hero when this episode came out (cut me some slack, I was living out of the country for two years at the time).

But this episode really puts Guitar Hero in its place. We’ve seen videogame episodes before (“Make Love, Not Warcraft,” and “Towelie”), but I think this episode was different because it reminded us of how actually lame Guitar Hero is – and, of course, those other episodes weren’t about Guitar Hero. Take the time spent playing that and learn to play the guitar for real for Christ’s sake! (seriously, it’s what Jesus would want).

Like “Make Love, Not Warcraft,” though, this episode attempts to remind us of what’s going on in the real world by making the videogame so supremely important that we can’t see past it. This was the essence of “Towelie.” The boys were so into their videogame that they didn’t realize their lives were providing them with those sensations for real.

But enough ranting about videogames. We all need mental outlets and like anything done with moderation, videogames can be a great way to spend a little time. Like heroine.

What did you think of this episode? Do you play Guitar Hero? What’s your high score?

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Around the World Pic: More Weird, Cool and Funky Pictures (Happy Thanksgiving!!)

Still mixing it up:

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Happy Thanksgiving!!

Quran Read-A-Long: The Cow 142-147 Teaches About the Qiblah, the Direction of Prayer

These verses seem to reflect a familiar theme draped in a new guise: the direction of prayer. Muslims are supposed to pray in the direction of the Ka’aba in Mecca, which is indicated by the Qiblah, a mark in the wall of every mask or house of prayer.

What seems to be happening in these verses is that an actual direction is being used as a means of addressing the direction of the straight path towards God – straight to the Ka’aba, if you will. Those who face the direction of the Qiblah believe what they have been given and know it to be true, but we must understand that asking why people turn away is a foolish inquiry, since we know that God possesses all directions.

This is a minimalistic post this week. If there is something you’d like to mention in these verses that I glossed over, please don’t be shy.

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The Cow 142-147

142. The foolish will now ask and say: “What has made the faithful turn away from the Qiblah towards which they used to pray?” Say: “To God belong the East and the West. He guides who so wills to the path that is straight.” 143. We have made you a temperate people that you act as witness over man, and the Prophet as witness over you. We decreed the Qiblah which you faced before that We may know who follow the Apostle and who turn away in haste. And this was a hard (test) except for those who were guided by God. But God will not suffer your faith to go waste, for God is to men full of mercy and grace. 144. We have seen you turn your face to the heavens. We shall turn you to a Qiblah that will please you. So turn towards the Holy Mosque, and turn towards it wherever you be. And those who are recipients of the Book surely know that this is the truth from their Lord; and God is not negligent of all that you do. 145. Even though you bring all the proof to the people of the Book they will not face the direction you turn to, nor you theirs, nor will they follow each other’s direction. And if you follow their whims after all the knowledge that has reached you, then surely you will be among transgressors. 146. Those to whom We have sent down the Book know this even as they know their sons. Yet a section among them conceals the truth knowingly. 147. The truth is from your Lord, so be not among those who are sceptics.

A Thanksgiving Play Extravaganza with Timmy and Turkeys in South Park Episode 414, “Helen Keller the Musical”

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! And South Park is wishing you one, too, with this episode.

To compete with the kindergartners’ play, which Butters confesses is awesome, the fourth graders become determined to put on the best Thanksgiving play of all time.

Unfortunately, all this has to be done with the Helen Keller musical, but somehow they manage to incorporate a turkey that performs feats (not tricks!), Timmy as a sensational Helen Keller, dancing, singing, pyrotechnics and more. But beware the Turkey rivalries that arise between Timmy’s special turkey and the other trained turkey (who’s a stuck-up turkey bitch!).

One notably hilarious part is when Cartman is being trained to write a masterpiece by a veteran of the stage. Cartman is told to close his eyes and write whatever he envisions – if that something is different and inspirational, that is. We see a smattering of some remarkably disturbing images before Cartman says, Nah, just a bunch of the same. How revealing that this is what Cartman sees when he closes his eyes.

What did you think of this episode? What was your favorite part?

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Hilarious Motivational Posters about Invisible Sandwiches, Emergency Exits, Driving and Curiosity

Did you like those? Which was your favorite?

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Tekko Watch, Sally Struthers and Starvin’ Marvin Come to South Park episode 109, “Starvin’ Marvin”

There are two Starvin’ Marvin episodes, and though the other is definitely my favorite (I mean, come on – it’s all about conservative Christianity, the Bible and missionaries. Can you blame me!?), this one is awesome too because it sets up all the greatness that’s sure to come when Marvin returns.

The boys want a Tekko sports watch that’s advertised on TV – and that can only be obtained by adopting a starving African child – but instead of sending the watch the boys are sent Marvin, an African child who is disturbingly malnurished.

They decide they like Marvin, but when the CIA comes to solve the mix-up, Cartman is accidentally returned in his place. In Africa, he wanders around, “starving,” and looking for food, only to fall in the sand and claim, “My God has forsaken me.” Lucky for Cartman, he discovers Sally Struthers hide-away where she is hoarding much of the food meant for the Ethiopians. The drama between Parker-Stone and Struthers erupted in the public sphere later, with Struthers claiming offense at her portrayal. In the next episode (311, “Starvin Marvin in Space), she is portrayed is Jabba the Hut.

In the meantime, back in South Park, Dr. Mephisto has genetically engineered turkeys for Thanksgiving, but when it turns out that they’re violent and crazy turkeys, the town has to team up (with Chef as their leader, Mel Gibsoning it up Braveheart-style) and fight the turkeys. This solves the problem of the starving Ethiopians, too, since the massacred turkeys are taken by Marvin back to his people.

It’s a Thanksgiving miracle and obviously a great week for a Thanksgiving episode.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Fun with the Bible: The Use of the Word Messiah/Christ/Mashiach/Savior in the Bible, Judaism and Christianity

Oh boy is this a loaded term, and once again we get the pleasure of such a fascinating topic thanks to Kay, who was wondering about the various usages, meanings and importance ascribed to this word.

The Word Messiah as it Was Meant to Be

Let me start by saying that the word messiah did not begin with what today one would call messianic inclinations. That is, the messiah was never about some wonderful, future savior in ancient Judaism (which we should really be calling the ancient Israelite religion, since Judaism would have come from the descendants of Judea and we’re really talking about the entire area’s religion before it was just Judea). In any case, “messiah” literally meant anointed and referred to the king who was anointed into his position with oil.

You may recall such a scene in the New Testament book of Mark (14:3-9) when an old woman comes and pours nice oil on Jesus’ head. Though Jesus speaks of this as a preparation for burial, Mark’s understanding of his quality as Savior was not particularly developed, and a story like this later became prized for its value of equating Jesus with the long-awaited Davidic king. Speaking of this, David himself is anointed by Samuel (I Samuel 16), and other kings are anointed too. It was an important ritual act to signify that someone had been chosen by God.

Cyrus as Messiah

The reference to Cyrus as God’s anointed one is made by Isaiah (45:1), and makes good sense when we think about what Cyrus had done (notably, Cyrus is the ONLY non-Israelite to ever be referred to by this term). After the Babylonians’ destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple and decades of Babylonian captivity, Cyrus, King of Persia, decrees that the people of Judea be allowed to return to Jerusalem and rebuild their Temple to their God. It would certainly seem that a benevolent and wonderful act like that could only come from a person that God himself had wanted anointed as king. (As a side note, my cat’s name is Cyrus, both because of this biblical story and because Herodotus seemed to me to describe this same king Cyrus as a mischievous fellow).

It is in the book of Daniel (9:25-26) that the term mashiach nagid (the great messiah) is used, and it is thought that this is a reference to Cyrus for the wonderful thing he did for the Jews. However, bear in mind that Daniel is not a prophecy. Though it purports to come from a captive in King Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylonian court in the sixth century, Daniel was written in the middle of the Jewish revolt against the Greek king Antichus IV (c. 167). That’s why he is able to so accurately run through the history of the Ancient Middle East’s rulers that affect the Jews, and get increasingly specific as he describes what goes on between the Greek kings that lead up to the war of his day.

Think about Cyrus’ motivation for allowing the Jews to return to their land after he conquered the Babylonian Empire and found so many subject peoples. It wasn’t just the Jews. Cyrus was a wise statesman and realized that if he conquered the Babylonians and let all of the people they had conquered go home, they would love him and do what he says (tribute, baby). Moreover, if they rebuild their temples and pray to their gods they will pray on behalf of him, his health, wealth, and success. And that’s exactly what Cyrus asked everyone to do.

Waiting for the Messiah

So after the use of this word in these various contexts and after the Jews returned to Judea, there was no more Davidic line of kings ruling over the people in the same way that there had always been, but looking back to the time of David filled the Jews with pride and longing because it was when they were strongest, unified and their religion and homeland were the least ‘corrupted’ with outsiders (or so they thought through the lens of their backward gazing). In any case, they looked back and desperately wanted independence and their Davidic king (a king who descended from the line of David, in case that hasn’t been clear), and as this person was always mashiach, anointed, they looked forward to a time when God would give them back their anointed one. And thus begins (in an overly simplistic fashion, mind you) the beginning and longing for a Messiah that would come and free the people.

In the centuries hugging the year zero – particularly after the Romans took over the region – every person and his brother claimed to be the messiah: sent from God to rescue the people. People also claimed to be prophets at this time – in unusual abundance.

And no, to answer a question previously posed, prophets and messiahs are not the same thing. Prophets brought a message from God and the Messiah was not a messenger but a savior – the person sent to do the dirty work. He didn’t have words to deliver but a better life for the people. That idea wasn’t otherworldly in Judaism (too much, at least). It was literally about getting the king back and having independence. Jewish messianic aspirations were not always about ending this world or the world-to-come – that’s the result of two millenia of Christian influence.

Christianity and the Messiah

However, when Jesus came and was believed to be the long-awaited descendant of the Davidic line, jubilation erupted among some. His death, though, put a damper on people’s spirits (no pun intended) because they believed that he would restore the line and rescue them from the Romans. When that didn’t happen, the idea of Jesus as the anointed one was used in different ways, most successfully by Pauline Christianity who made the rest (an insanely complicated) history. Thus, Jesus was the Messiah, and when that saving was not able to be earthly salvation (the Judean kingdom), it was transformed into the other-worldly salvation of Christianity. And now Christians still await the Messiah – Jesus’ return – to bring those end of days and the good times.

Khristos, the Greek word from which we get Christ, is the term used to refer to Jesus in the language that Paul’s Christianity spread through the Greek-speaking world. That’s why that word become the popular one.

Summary

Any questions, comments or thoughts? Please don’t be shy. Leave them below!

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