Cartman Wants to Feel Jesus’ Salvation All Over His Face in South Park Episode 709, “Christian Rock Hard”

As an episode about South Park exploiting the Christian music industry in order to win a bet with Kyle, you can only imagine how much I love “Christian Rock Hard.”

So, now you know the premise, and what’s left to enjoy are Cartman’s experiences creating his awesome band. By taking the lyrics from old songs and replacing key words with Jesus, we’re left with a series of sensual, sexual and disturbing song about Cartman and Jesus. The songs also have great names that recall issues like salvation, crucifixion, sin and forgiveness. The names of the other Christian rock bands, like “Trinity,” also speak to South Park‘s amusing understanding of Christianity.

At Christfest, where Cartman hopes his band will perform, there is a stand selling bibles and another selling items with your favorite psalm printed on them. A particularly hilarious scene is when Cartman and the band are in the record company’s president’s office about to have their band signed. Cartman challenges God to strike him with lightening if he is being insincere about his love of Jesus. Butters scoots away.

In the meantime, in addition to mocking Christian rock and Cartman’s exploitation of evangelical Christians everywhere, the show comments on a social issue prevalent at the time: downloading big bands’ music from Napster and the internet. This lambasting of Metallica and others for their self-obsession, greediness, conceit and lack of interest in the music when compared to the money is both blatant and, I’d say, deserved. Sure, musicians have a right to protect their music – it is theirs after all – but to try to stand in the way of what, we can see 6 years later, is an unstoppable progression in the way music is acquired and listened to, is foolish and short-sighted.

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

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Fun with the Bible: Jesus as the Passover Sacrifice in the New Testament Gospel of John

My latest column in the Nashville Free Press is all about Passover and Easter and what that means for Jesus being John’s Lamb of God. Enjoy “Lamb – It’s What’s For Dinner.”

If you liked that then you’ll also enjoy my previous post, The Synoptic Gospels and John Crucify Jesus on Different Days – Want to Know Why?

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Fun with the Bible: The Synoptic Gospels and John Crucify Jesus on Different Days – Want to Know Why?

What!? The gospels have contradictory stories?! Yes, I’m afraid it’s true. Now, I’m not going to do all of the legwork for you – you’ll have to read through the stories (at least the key parts at the end) to see for yourself what’s going on – but I will tell you what’s written and, as briefly as possible, what it means.

The Synoptic Gospels are Matthew, Mark and Luke, which are all telling effectively the same story. In their story, there is a Last Supper (you remember – Jesus gives out the bread…’my body’ … etc.), and that Last Supper is what Jewish holiday meal? Passover. Correct! So, Passover is the same day every year: the night of the 14th of the month of Nissan. That means that the next day, the 15th of Nissan, Jesus is crucified (making the 15th a Friday, right?), and then he is resurrected on Sunday the 17th (three days later – Bible counts each of the days whether it’s whole or not).

You with me?

Now, in John, there is a symbolism different than in the Synoptic Gospels: there is no Last Supper (well, at least not an important one that’s mentioned and thought to be Passover), and Jesus is actually crucified on the 14th of Nissan (which is thus, in this story, a Friday) and resurrected on Sunday, which in this story is the 16th of Nissan. But why different dates?

Well, on the 14th of Nissan, during the day, Jews would sacrifice the lamb that was then eaten that night during Passover (an important ritual we won’t get into here). The lamb was always sacrificed on that day, the 14th of Nissan, and the Passover meal eaten that night. For John, Jesus was the Lamb of God (no other gospel uses this language) and John wanted Jesus to be the Passover sacrifice – the ultimate sacrifice that atoned for our sins (which is mostly the purpose of sacrifice – atoning).

John felt this symbolism stood above all else in importance – making Jesus the ultimate passover sacrifice – and so he crucifies Jesus on Friday, the 14th of Nissan. However, considering the Last Supper, as the Passover meal that had the symbolism of the bread and wine as Jesus’ body and blood, to be of utmost importance, the writers of Matthew, Mark and Luke made Jesus’ crucifixion the following day, Friday the 15th of Nissan (since the Passover meal is always the night of the 14th).

Pretty crazy and cool, huh? Today, the symbolism of either gospel is used to create a much larger theology though the dating ultimately makes the two stories irreconcilable with their portrayal of facts. Fascinating theology but impossible factually. Which one is true? We’ll never know, but both are holy canon in Christianity and considered to be 100% accurate.

What do you think? Did you go read for yourself and see? Is anything unclear or would you like to know more? Please just ask – the fascinating literature surrounding these facts in the first few centuries after Jesus (and the simultaneous development of Judaism and its understanding of Passover) is incredible.

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Fun with the Bible: Philippians 4:8 and Paul’s Understanding of What is Right

The Basics

Philippians 4:8 reads: “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

People love to quote this verse of the Bible. I see it all the time on Facebook profiles, but to be fair, it’s a great verse.

The plain sense of this verse in isolation tells us quite simply that we should think about that which is true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable and worthy of praise. Seems simple enough. Don’t turn your mind to evil things – think only of what is right and good. A pure mind leads to a pure heart and a pure body. It’s a simple exhortation about walking the right path and being good people. That’s a wonderful message to send others.

The Context

But, as I’ve been known to say, there’s a lot more to any biblical verse than the line itself – there are all of the lines around it, which we call context. Let’s just read the very next line, which says, “Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.” Now, when we put these two lines together, we’re getting a little bit closer to what Paul meant.

The context for this letter is that Paul, the architect of Christianity, is in jail (we’re unsure where), and the people of Philippi have written sending him a gift and their best wishes. Paul is writing back, and though his letter is generally lighter and spirited, he has a concern: other people preaching the gospel different from his message.

Reading the letter to the Philippians in full – the context, obviously, of verse 4:8 – we learn that these other people have a different concept of righteousness than Paul, one based on law and not, as Paul would have it, on Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection (what Jesus himself wanted we won’t get into now). This conflict between the early followers of Jesus was quite a serious one and wasn’t over until after Paul’s death. What we see, though, is that there is a competition between Jesus’ followers to convert people to their version of belief in him. Paul wants to ensure that the people he converted to Christianity maintain his brand of Christianity. When Paul says in 4:8 to act and think on these things, he knows what true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable and worthy of praise things are: the things he’s taught the Philippians.

A Dual Lesson

So what can we take away from this? In the first place, we learn about the importance of reading in context if we want to understand what a line of the Bible means the way it was originally written. People love this line – as they should – but I imagine that it’s rarely thought about just as Paul thought about it. Though Paul’s theology was still developing at this point, he meant something very specific when he exhorted people to meditate on what was just and good, etc. – he meant, among other things, Pauline Christology.

As luck would have it, no one in the world (or at least no founded church that I’m aware of) follows Pauline Christology exactly. Yes, Christianity today is descended from Pauline Christological conceptions and Paul definitely won his battle with the early Judeo-Christians who favored the law, but there has been significant development since then in Christological thought. If we read all of Paul’s letters start to finish and create a theology precisely on what he said, this becomes rather apparent.

In part, the result of this has been the cherry-picking of certain lines from the Pauline letters, particularly Philippians 4:8, a favorite amongst many. On the one hand, this process ignores what I see as a fascinating history that for me, deeply enriches the original text and this line, but on the other hand, doing this allows Christians – and non-Christians, for that matter – to take the very best gems of Paul’s thought and carry them around in their pockets for use when necessary.

If people walk around telling themselves to think about that which is true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable and worthy of praise – and they don’t have a warped conception of what these terms refer to but just use it as a reminder when they are thinking about doing something they really shouldn’t – then I couldn’t be happier that the Bible is influencing them in positive ways.

What do you think of this verse? What do you think about the context of the verse? Have you been told that the verse means something else? Was this something else explained to you with the verse’s surrounding context or as an individual line? Will you share that with us? If your denomination understands this verse a certain way will you please tell us about that? I would be delighted to learn more.

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Around the World: Jesus’ Crucifixion, Dressing and Burial at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

You best believe that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is absolutely one of the coolest and craziest places on the planet. When I lived in Jerusalem I used to go there all the time, and it was one of my favorite place to take people when they visited me.

The Building

This building, constructed in multiple stages (Byzantine period, Crusader period and repairs until the 1800s – but not since due to a treaty that forbids modifications not agreed upon by all six Christian denominations there) is a series of twists and turns with bizarre, dark outlets, rooms and altars, and the neatest parts of the church can only be discovered if you know what you’re doing in there.

Another time I will include pictures of old tombs in the back, rock quarries in the bottom and all sorts of weird other places, and for now I’ll settle for telling you about the three pictures I’ve attached above.

The Three Stages

The three pictures represent the final three stages in the Stations of the Cross, Jesus’ bearing of his cross from his condemnation to his burial. The first site is on a small mountain, known as Golgotha (and bear in mind that this would have all been outside the first century walls of the city though it is now right inside the Arab quarter). Allegedly, this is where Jesus’ cross was erected (and I’ll tell you why this is exceedingly unlikely below). There is a tasteful statue of Jesus on a cross there now just so you can really get the full idea.

The second picture is where his body was laid when it was taken down from the cross – on that slab with the lamp-like incense-holder looking things above it. Though people come and kiss this slab and rub things on it for good luck, they fail to realize that due to damages and wear, the previous slab was replaced in the 19th century – and it’s unclear how long that one had been there anyway.

The final picture is the structure that houses the tomb (carved out of what was once a rock face) where Jesus’ body was supposedly laid for the three days before his resurrection. The line to go inside is often pretty long but once you get in and look up through the ante-chamber, you see right up to the top of the dome beneath you. The silver picture of the Virgin Mary inside actually looks just like T-1000 from Terminator 2.

The History

In fact, it is exceedingly unlikely – nay, near impossible – that Jesus had anything to do with this spot. That’s not to say that he wasn’t crucified and buried – I’m not here to speak about that at all – but only that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is not where any of these things would have happened.

To keep a few points brief, the Church wasn’t constructed until the reign of Constantine in the fourth century, three hundred years after Jesus’ death and long after anyone had seen anything; what’s more, Jerusalem had changed from a Jewish to a pagan-Roman city (and it’s name to Aelia Capitalina) with literally no Jews left inside who would have known the locations of key things.

Additionally, the actual site of the Church was erected on a pagan temple by Constantine in order to show the pagan inhabitants of Jerusalem that their time in the city was up and because people have a habit of building their holy sites on ground already considered holy (place has validity spiritually – just think the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount which was at our period a Temple of Jupiter which before was the Jewish Temple and way before that a Jebusite altar). So the place had spiritual validity but not connected to Jesus.

Finally (though this isn’t final but I thought I should toss out a few reasons), all stories about how the Church’s spot were discovered date only from the fifth century and can be seen to have been invented based on stories of Constantine’s mother coming to the Holy Land, walking around and literally saying – by the power of God, mind you – that this place is where such and such happened “so erect a church here.” And those stories materialized long after her death!

Oh yeah, and because Protestants don’t buy this as the place, they’ve picked a totally different spot in Jerusalem and say the whole thing happened there. Only Coptics, Armenians, Catholics and a few others believe this was the right place.

Why I Love This Place

Well for one thing, it’s frickin’ cool: weird, dungeony, filled with bizarre characters in crazy outfits believing all sorts of wild stuff – and most of whom hate each other and compete with each other by trying to ring their bells louder than their rivals can ring their own bells. It’s also in the heart of the Arab quarter, has tourists from all over the world in it, Jews walking around outside, Christians inside – you can hear the muezzin call, the Church bells ring and the Jews pray from elsewhere. It’s so vibrant. And historically speaking, I don’t need Jesus to have died there for it to be a fascinating place.

The spot’s history is fascinating anyway considering what it actually was before a Christian Church, the way it was conceived of as a Christian holy place, the development of its history and mythologizing and what has happened to it ever since. Crusaders sometimes didn’t call their quest a crusade but rather, The War to Free the Church of the Holy Sepulchre from the Muslims. And when they arrived they’d carve crosses in the church’s walls so some places are covered in thousand year old cross carvings – one for every crusader that reached the spot and fought for it.

If you ever go to Jerusalem I highly recommend that you make it a priority and if I’m ever there at the same time, I’d be happy to show you around.

Have you ever visited? What did you think? Would you like to visit? For religious purposes or worldly curiousity? What does your religion tell you the importance of this site is?

Want to see more pictures about holy places in Jerusalem? For the Around the World Pic of the Day on the Dome of the Rock, click HERE.

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