JESUS TAUGHT IN PARABLES

REFLECTIONS ON PARABLES

Greek Lexicon says, “parable” – “paraboleh in Greek” is the story to compare with reality.

In 1968, I went to Africa with a newly acquired graduate degree in theology. So I was sure of the quality of my theology. However, when I delivered my first sermon in Sesotho, my language teacher James Tente said, “Your sermon may be a good theology but I didn’t understand anything. Tell us stories like Jesus.” James, school principal, the best educated man in the village, did not understand anything I said! I was crushed; I thought I had solid theological education. However, I heard James and began to tell stories to preach. People began to appreciate the message though my grammar and pronunciation were atrocious. That was how I learned to preach in stories. Sermon is milk and honey of nourishment, not acid test of correct doctrine.

We are people of stories. Legends, myths, and parables shape our identity and create community: like the Baby Jesus, wise men from the East and shepherds. We sing “Silent Night.” Scientific research denies historicity of Christmas story as myth. But it establishes our identity as Christians as we share it. Our identity comes from the shared stories that have been told in churches for millennia, like a story told repeatedly in the family. They are mixture of facts and fading memories, even some exaggerated brags. Mark Twain said, “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.” A bunch of individuals become a community of people when they share and own the same story. Jesus taught in parables. (Mark 4) His intention was not to lecture in history or science. He was telling us who we are, so we become one people who share the same story.

Of course science is important. It tells us objective facts. Let the scientists tell us the truth in biology, chemistry, history, mathematics, and physics; or textual analysis. But let us speak about our spiritual life in stories that are preserved in legends and myths, in dreams and visions. Language of empiricism is too restricted and shallow to describe profound human reality.

I did my seven year course designed for candidates for ministry at a theological seminary. There were 36 students in my class. By the time I finished Bachelor of Divinity (B.D.), after seven years, there were only six of us left. Rigorous theological examination of your faith does not stand if it is not grounded emotionally on the level deeper than mere reason. Theology is not fertilizer for faith; it is a critical scientific analytical test the authenticity of your spirituality. Myths and stories strengthen faith and let us withstand rigorous scrutiny of theology.

You can analyse parables and stories scientifically. But when you do, you must realize that you are not exactly dealing with the living faith; you are reading the written record of the past faith journey. If you want to look at life, do not cut it up to look inside while it is alive. It will die if you do. When I was a child, I got a biology tool set and dissected a live frog. Of course, the poor thing died on the table. Don’t let scientific truth kill a beautiful living faith: you can kill life sustained by myths and stories with science. Faith is different reality from empirical phenomena.

In Biblical Theology, you examine letters and texts, that have been dead and expired. When you kill myths you grew up with, you kill your soul. Take the case of the story of the birth of Jesus Christ. Though it is a myth and you know it might not have happened that way as you read in the Bible, don’t abolish Christmas and don’t stop singing “Silent Night.” It’s part of us. Primarily, spiritualty is not nurtured by scientific analysis and research. Spirituality belongs to the world of deep consciousness, emotion, imagination, inspiration, passion, and soul. Do not dismiss them because they are without historically and scientifically demonstrable evidence. They belong to the realm of art, music, and poetry; felt in emotion, seen in dreams and visions.

When it comes to your sense of yourself and self-esteem, you more often than not find them in legends and myths of your community, family, and nation than historical and scientific facts. None of the drop-outs from my seminary class gave up the career in ministry because of theological challenge. They left because of lack of emotional community support. Never let theologians tell you that your faith is inferior to theirs because you have not read theology. Faith is maintained by community support. Community support comes from the group of people who share same stories.

Jesus told stories and taught in enigmatic parables, intentionally to confuse scholarly Pharisees, because his message is the matter of faith not of reason. This explains his mysterious comments. Jesus said to Pharisees (lawyers) and scribes (scholars), “Only those with ears can hear it.” In other words, he told them: “You may know dead letters well, but don’t have ear to hear the voice of the living faith.”

Myths and stories bind people emotionally and spiritually together and give them “(spiritual) ear to hear.” Some myths are fantastic stories of dragons, gods and heroes; wizards and witches. But Jesus told parables from ordinary life experience like bread, lost coins, robbers, lost sheep, seeds, father and son, vineyard owners and workers, and yeast.

Jesus’ parables appear only in three books in the New Testament: Matthew, Mark, and Luke: mainly in Matthew and Luke. Mark, which provides the source material for the Matthew and Luke, is primarily interested in deeds of Jesus, while Matthew and Luke added another source material that provides Jesus’ words. Even in reporting the same Jesus’ parables, there are differences. It is no use to try to define the authentic original words of Jesus. The Gospels are not too interested in historical facts.

Also, though the first three Gospels are using the same source material, each of them has a specific message. Mark was targeting none-Jewish Christians, Matthew the Jewish Christians, and Luke for the people of the whole world. The writers freely interpreted the original source material and reported differently on purpose to suite their audience, like the notion of “poor” Matthew and Luke. Gospels are different because their readers were different, and the writers’ messages were different accordingly. Variation was intentional not mistake. Stories vary not by mistake but by design, because the situations where readers lived were different.

Exercise: PARABLE AS ALLEGORY : Take each character in the parable of “Good Samaritan” Luke 10 : 25-37, and ask, “When was I like a robber or a Levite (etc.) and how?”

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder

FASD

Alcohol and drug abuse is neither recent nor is the monopoly of a particular class or race. Opium use, for example, was quite common in high society in Victorian England: Browning, Byron, Dickens, Keats all took opium. My grandfather was a horse veterinarian in the Russia-Japan War of 1900’s. When he came back he was a heroin addict. Probably he had PTSD in today’s terms, exacerbated by easy access to the drug. He failed in everything he tried in civilian life, and remained a proud but bitter man.

At the SACPA on April 19th, Sabrina Hacker confirmed something I had long suspected. She said, “The problem of Fetal Alcoholic Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is much greater than previously thought.” It is not limited to one racial group or a class. When I volunteered in a program for handicapped children, I met children with FASD from white middle class families. However, its omnipresence has been hidden from the public.

The speaker informed us that the tragic consequence of parents’ foolhardiness was ubiquitous. They are called in different names like “attention deficit disorder” or something similar. In Alberta , she said, 40% of pregnancies are reportedly unplanned, and among them as many as 11% may have FASD. Two major risk groups are post-secondary students enjoying newly-found freedom, and those who live in farming communities who go out after hard day’s work where alcohol is often the only entertainment. ( Herald, April 20, p.A4)

Furthermore, racism lets us ignore the problem, and makes us delusional : “Not our problem.” The whole society is in denial consequently exposing all of us to risk. If we need to eradicate a tragedy like FASD, we must get out of the misconception based on racial stereotype and own the problem as our own and educate ourselves. The First Nations acknowledge the problem and are speaking out.

Harm from substance abuse had been around but was ignored. It was only when it became apparent among working class and Chinese immigrants affecting productivity and social order, it became illegal. Still the better-off class gets away free. Attempts to hide the problem as something found only among a certain race or class, and by criminalizing it, expose the general public to danger; such as today’s opioid crisis. We should treat it as a public health issue without stigma attached; like we do with alcohol and tobacco use. Class-ism and Racism harm all of us.

Better to give than to receive

BETTER TO GIVE THAN RECEIVE

The sage I adore very much said a long time ago, “It is better to give than to receive.” He was not trying to be funny, because it is true. I know it because I was once on a receiving end of charity and my pride was in tatters. I was envious of people who were rich enough to give to the needy. My idea of paradise is the place where nobody is an object of charity.

It was soon after the end of the WWII in Tokyo in 1945. I was hungry. Everybody was hungry. Infrastructure was totally broken down and food could not reach the cities. People who refused to go to black market starved. The story was the same in Europe, I am told. Then Americans came to the rescue with emergency relief. Were we grateful? Of course we were. But we were also ashamed having to depend on charity. We were proud, as all of us should be. It is a human nature. In an ideal world, we all should be proudly able to keep dignity of independence.

About one million Ethiopians died of starvation during the great African famine of the 1980’s. I worked in Geneva as a member of the team coordinating the relief work. We found that many who died of starvation were farmers. Despite plenty of the available emergency food they starved. Farmers are proud people: they did not want to go for free food until it was too late after eating seeds and selling all farm animals and implements. Then they were too weak to walk to relief centres. They were ashamed that they could not feed themselves.

Christmas is coming. It’s tine to give. We feel good when we give. But what about those who are on the receiving end? Of course they are grateful to receive. But have you ever stop to think that those who have to receive prefer to be on the giving side? It is better to give than to receive. We should work for the world where no one is needy and everybody knows the joy of giving.

Translating one language into another perfectly is impossible

LANGUAGE

Having lived in four different cultures, I am a person without perfect command of any language, even my mother tongue. Mastering a language is difficult not only because of grammar and pronunciation but because of baggage it carries. Language is a product of culture, history, time, and tradition, therefore almost impossible to find the perfect match of the words from different languages with exactly the same meaning.

Japanese hospitals don’t have fourth floor. In Japanese, the sound of ‘four’ is same as the sound of the word ‘death’ – “shi.” I came to a conclusion that perfect translation of any language into another is impossible. Most of us read the Bible in translations, few read it in original Aramaic or Hebrew. So, taking its every word as absolute truth does not make sense.

There are many other examples. When Pearson Government launched “CUSO – Canadian University Service Overseas” during the 1960’s, Japanese students at the UBC laughed so hard falling off chair. It’s sounded the ‘s’ word in Japanese. In order not offend anybody in any language in their new brand, a big oil company had to spend millions of dollars in search of a name that would not offend anybody in any language. The result: “Exxon.”

You will be surprised at Christian churches in the Arabic speaking countries, and hear God is invoked with the name “Allah.” In Arabic, God is the same word among Christians as among Muslims. But in the American and European countries the word “Allah” gives a different image. Confucius called on “heaven” in stead of God.

This is why translating a language into another is tricky, almost impossible and easily manipulated. The Church adopted the word “virgin” in Greek translation for the Hebrew word “young woman” to conform to the divine birth stories of other religions. In the Lord’s Prayer, the original Greek word “debt” was changed to “trespass” in my lifetime. The reason; for capitalism “debt or credit” is essential element of economy. So the total prohibition of interest in the Book of Leviticus has been modified and “debt” was banished.

Language is an important tool for us to communicate each other, yet admittedly is imperfect. Therefore, hearing other persons’ thoughts only through words is fraught with misunderstanding. We must not pass judgment on people only by hearing their words. Deeds speak louder. Never claim you are absolutely right, because you aren’t.

We lament the demise of truth

DEMISE OF TRUTH

Whenever I see “fake news” or false advertisements, I am annoyed. Then I find some people believing such garbage and I despair. Doesn’t truth matter any more ? It seems truth is conditional; it depends what your tribe (Fox News, Republicans, or UCP) says it is. If the other tribe (CNN, Democrats, or NDP) says it, it’s fake. Or vise versa.

Napoleon Bonaparte said, “History is a pack of lies agreed upon.” Karl Marx says, truth is what the owner of the means of production says it is: “What’s good for General Motors is good for the country.” When the World War II ended in 1945, we the Japanese school kids had to cleanse text books of “falsehood.” We blacked out lines and cut out pages as dictated by the Allied Occupation Forces. So people were desperate to redefine “who we are.” They flocked to the churches and the temples to repair badly damaged self-esteem and find new identity. Esoteric religious sects appeared and disappeared.

Nobody can survive loathing oneself too long. But today we have no place to go to feel good about ourselves, because we have not created the institution to replace discredited legends and myths. Kenan Malik in the Weekly Guardian, April 18, expresses fear that “We have lost faith in God as well as in reason.” Churches are in decline in Europe and North America. Many people say they are “spiritual not religious” and are suspicious of institutions; quite rightly probably.

Malik continues, “Our failure to create social movements that fill the space vacated by the church (synagogue or temple) had left people feeling helpless” Is that why people find comfort in fake news, religious fanaticism, far-right nationalism, racism, xenophobia, or even in terrorism? Could it be why some are obsessed in the endless pursuit of pleasure that never quenches the thirst?

An Austrian psychologist and a holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl, noted that those who knew their place in the world hence the meaning of their lives had better chance of survival in hell. “God is dead,” said Frederick Nietzsche, but he added, “Yet his shadow still looms.” The Guardian commentator concludes that God may be dead but “His shadow is in reality our failure to create movements and institutions that can nurture a sense of meaning, belongingness, and dignity.”

Me? I am an optimist: We are not stupid. We muddle but will find it.

End of the world?

Is the Book of Revelation the prediction of the End of the World?
– The answer is “no.” –

Admittedly, the last book of the Bible is very strange. Preachers like me try to avoid it. Fundamentalist Christians take it literally and preach a very dangerous message: “The world will end after a cataclysmic global war at Armageddon ( chapter 15 & 16). When that happens all the Jews will accept Jesus as Messiah and only the chosen few will go to heaven.” During the Cold War, many fundamentalists Christians took such scenario seriously. They predicted the apocalyptic global nuclear war that will end the world, as the Revelation prophesied. They also called natural disasters like earthquakes and tsunamis as God’s punishment on homosexuals.

However, if you read it like you read “The Chronicles of Narnia” by C.S. Lewis or “The Lord of the Rings” by J. R. R. Tolkien, you will find there is nothing strange about the Book of Revelation. They are Christian literatures written about Christian faith by 20th Century Christian professors of Oxford University. John Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress” belongs to the same literally genre. They are written in symbolic language.

Unlike fundamentalist Christians, we must not take its prediction literally as the future fate of our world. The Revelation is an interpretation of the events unfolding in the Mediterranean world under the Roman Empire during the first Century. It suggests how Christians can read the signs of the times from the current affairs. The Revelation gave hope to those early Christians who were suffering terrible hardship.

When you study the history of the first Century Roman Empire, particularly under Emperor Nero, you will understand how the Christians saw the situation and described it in symbolic language, i.e. the empire as an ugly beast with seven heads. You must also be aware that in the Revelation events are not presented in a linear fashion. Events are not written sequentially. They are not necessarily related either. When you read the history of Roman Empire, such as Edward Gibbon’s “The History of the Decline and Fall of Roman Empire” and compare it with the Revelation, it is interesting to see how Christians interpreted the events happening around them.

Also you must recognize the fact that it was written in secret codes. The first three hundred years of the Christianity were dangerous time for the followers of Jesus Christ. Often it meant death when discovered, because Christians were seen as members of the fanatic religious sect founded by a treasonous agitator, a blaspheme, and a heretic; and incredibly an atheist. They were seen like today’s ISIS sympathizers. This is why many church leaders wrote their messages in coded language so that only Christians could decipher it. The one still current even today is the sign of a fish to symbolize “Jesus Christ.” Fish in Greek is ιχθνσ IXTHUS. The Christians saw those characters as the initials for “Jesus Christ Son of God – Iesus Christus Theos Fuios – IXTHUS.”

The Revelation is not the only example of such literal form in the Bible. The Hebrew people had had a long tradition of writing their dreams, messages, and visions in secret code when they lived in dangerous times. The Book of Daniel in the Old Testament was written in the same literal form. The writer of the Book of Daniel lived after Israel was defeated by the Babylonian Empire and the elite and the leadership were taken captive and exiled in a foreign country. Like the Revelation, the latter half of the Book of Daniel is a collection of strange images and visions. It is a coded document passed around among the Israeli prisoners and those who lived in exile.

The literal style of Revelation and Daniel is called “apocalypse” to mean the end of the world. Also some scholars claim that Mark’s Gospel chapter 13 takes the apocalyptic style. It is because it prophecies the end of an era. The Revelation is predicting the end of the Roman Empire, not the end of the world. Be that as it may, it’s supposed to hide the real message in secret language so that only people who know the code would hear its message.

Nobody knows who wrote the Revelation. It carries the name of John and follows the style of Greek language resembling that of the Gospel according to John and three letters which also carry the same name. It is impossible that they were written by Apostle John, he should have been more than a hundred years old had he written it. But there is a connection between those Johannine literatures. For one thing, their Greek language has common features; in fact it sounds like childish Greek written by a child in the grade two. As a first year seminary student, I began reading Greek with John’s Gospel: easy to read like baby-talk. Secondly whoever wrote them worked among the Christians who lived in the present day Turkey, Asia Minor. Letters to seven churches indicate the writer was familiar with those churches in present day Turkey. Whoever it was he must have belonged to the group began by Apostle John.

Let me list a few examples of coded words and numbers:

Angels – intermediary. Animal or beast – Roman Empire. Colour white also crown – victory. Eyes – knowledge. Horns – power. Lamb – Jesus Christ.

Often number do not mean mathematical numbers. They have meanings, often representing objects:

One – unity, 2 – union, 3 – completion, 6 – weakness, 7 – spiritual perfection, 8 – new birth, 12 – perfect government, 22 – light, 23 – death, 33 – promise, 200 – insufficiency, 7000 – final judgement, 144,000 – number of Jews.

The Revelation is a document in coded language, secretly passed around among the First Century Christians who lived in the present day Turkey. It is a commentary of the events unfolding around them, often suffering persecution by the Roman authorities. You must not read it literary. You must know the code. You must never try to apply its prediction to our situation. But we can admire the courage of those Christians who lived under such a severe situation without losing hope and were determined to keep their faith.

EVERY COIN HAS TWO SIDES

A COIN HAS TWO SIDES

The recent “Economist” lists a few interesting examples of the positive side of negative trend. One of them: about 1,000 Pubs are closing every year in Britain. In the affluent countries of OECD, 25% of 16 – 24 years olds do not drink alcohol; about 20% decrease since 1998. Not only they consume less alcohol, but they do less drugs, less sex, harm each other less often, and break fewer rules “Young people are behaving differently from previous cohorts.” No longer hedonists. (January 19th, 2018, p. 53)

The above weekly says, one of the reasons for this is the effect of social media: “technology has changed people’s behaviour.” We of the certain age who struggle with new technologies sour-grape about young people wasting too much time on devises, ignoring the real world. However, the article points out the flip side. Young people are busy looking at little screens and have less time to ‘sin’. Also since everyone has a smart-phone, children are more connected with parents. Apparently, 15 years old boys in 28 rich countries have found it easier to talk to fathers; albeit in mere 170 characters. Thanks to smart-phones also, parents know where kids are.

Another trend on the list is the influence of immigration. Young people are ethnically more divers in Western countries. Immigrants come from Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East. British psychologist Ann Hagell says, often “immigrants arrive with strong taboos against drinking, premarital sex…. and think only paupers send their children to work.” They work very hard and sacrifice themselves to educate children. Evangelical Christianity has strong influence on some African and East Asian communities. So their youth take less alcohol and drugs, and follow stricter code of ethics. Against the backdrop of increasing secularization, they retain strong attachment to their faiths, which stirs up suspicion even hatred. However they ally themselves with the churches that oppose abortion and homosexuality.

Every change is like a coin with positive and negative sides. German has a convenient word for it: “Schlimmbesserung” which means the negative side of an improvement. It’s like the fact that invention of letters diminished memory capability. There is also a positive effect of a negative change. Therefore it is important to recognize that the debate should be ‘both.. and…’ not ‘either…or…”

Three ingredients of a successful society are, compromise, co-existence, and respect.

Tadashi (Tad) Mitsui
Lethbridge

Four words for love

FOUR WORDS FOR LOVE
– Luke 15 and 1 Corinthians 13 –

Can you love someone you hate? Yes you can: love is complex. “In the world of four letter words, Care is short of Love, but just beyond Work.” (Anne Boyer, “Canadian Art” – 2018 Winter Issue.) You can not put a dynamic life force like love into the prison of mere one word. Jesus told parables and stories not theology. (Luke 15) Otherwise, he simply acted on it. When Jesus was asked what to do with the adulterous woman who stood in front of him, he just hunkered down, kept doodling on the ground, and did not say a word. (John 8: 1-11) Perhaps for us, art and music are better media to communicate love than mere words.

Although it is quoted as the “hymn for Love,” oddly the First Corinthians chapter 13 in the King James Version of the Bible does not speak about “love.” It says “charity” in its place. Why? In Greek lexicon, you will find at least four words for love. Three of them are in the New Testament. The Biblical scholars who worked under King James decided that “charity” was closer to the original Greek word “agapeh” meant to convey.

The fact that there are more-than-one word for love is a problem for English speakers, because love is so central to Christian teaching; there should be clear without any confusion. Lack of clarity due to short of the right word is the reason for ambivalence about love in our culture. Inhuman acts are committed in the name of love. I don’t think that the writers of the Bible were confused. They knew exactly what they were writing about; it’s why there are four words for love.

Forgive me writing Greek letters. I wanted to show how the four words looked different representing different concepts, though it is one word in English. They are agapeh – αγαπη, epithumia – επιθυμια, eros – ερwσ, and phileo – φιλεο. It shows the complexity of the most important value of the Christian faith. Perfect goodness is not simple: love is complex. But it is pure and simple in real life. This is why Jesus told parables to teach love. (Luke 15) This challenge is affecting our behaviours often resulting in the abuse of the word and deeds; like making selfish demand in the name of love. Maybe we should stop talking about love but live the life like the stories in the Bible.

English is not the only language with problems of “love” word. Sesotho, an African language for example, has the same problem: “lerato” means desire and love. However, Buddhism clearly distinguishes them with different words, desire is “bon’noh” and self-giving charity is “jihi.” The question is whether those four Greek words present irreconcilable difference or they are related and can grow into perfect goodness. Can selfish desire turn into selfless act of pure love? Can greed become generosity?

This is a challenge of translation. The Bible is the document written in Greek from the oral traditions originally spoken in Aramaic and Hebrew. All Bibles are translations. The Church in Rome translated it into Latin and called it “Vulgata” meaning it is a vulgar version

Every time a word is translated into another language, the scholars of languages have to choose the word closest in meaning to the original. There is none meaning the exactly the same as the original, because languages are the product of different cultures and histories.

So what is “love” according to the Bible? . The word in the Corinthians chapter 13 represents the perfect love, and it is “agapeh – αγαπη.” I suggest that we take the first letter of Paul to the Corinthians as the standard representing the true and godly love and evaluate other love words.

Let me begin with the most popular and yet often abused word. It represents erotic and/or romantic love. Εροσ – eros became so closely connected to sexuality that by the time New Testament was adopted as the authorized holy scriptures (Canon), it was banished from all church vocabulary. It was replaced by another Greek word, epithumia – επιθuμια. Greek philosophy defines ‘spirit’ good, and ‘physical body’ bad. This Greek dualism corrupted the Hebrew view of the body and spirit being one and the same.

I think this is unfortunate because in ancient Greece, circa 500 B.C., thinkers like Plato used the word eros to mean an irresistible impulse for beauty and perfection. Sex was only a tiny part. I think it is a pity that our natural yearning for beauty and perfection was so degraded in common understanding of the word. It is a source of ambivalence about our body and sexuality. All are God’s creation and good. (Genesis 1) Sexuality is godly. Jesus loved – epithumia to eat with disciples. (Luke 22:15) We have to remind ourselves that for Jewish mind there is no separation between mind/spirit and body. A healthy mind dwells in a healthy body. When a body ails, so does spirit.

Natural love in Greek is “phileo” as in “philo-sophy” (love of wisdom). Friendship, brotherly/ sisterly and parental love, all fall into this category. (Matthew 19:37) It is a natural emotional and often passionate love. It is also self-giving love. When you love your child, you would sacrifice yourself for the love of your child. But it is spontaneous and natural; has to be given up for higher purpose. (Matthew 10:37) Love your parents but you may have to stop loving them if such love prevents you to follow a higher goal. This is why you find puzzling sayings of Jesus like Matthew 10:37. John 21: 15-17 is interesting: Jesus asked Peter if he loved (phileo) the master. Peter said, “Yes, of course…” But that was not enough, Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.” In other words,”You have to prove it with deeds.” Phileo must be elevated by action.

Lastly, agapeh. It is the godly love as in “Love your enemy.” It can be against natural instinct. (Matthew 5:43 – 48 and Luke 15) This is why Jesus uttered impossible to understand words like, “You can not be my disciple if you love your father, mother, brother, or sister.” (Matthew 10:37) Agapeh love and phileo love are two different things. You must love (agapeh) ones you don’t love (phileo). Jesus from the cross asked forgiveness of those mocking him, torturing him, and killing him?

The most chilling words I heard recently were victim impact statements in the trials of a murder and of a perpetrator of multiple rapes: “I hate you.” I totally understand that sentiment. I have such a problem with one man who murdered several friends in South Africa. Can you demand forgiveness from the families of victims of the Holocaust or from “Indian Residential School” survivors? We don’t quite understand the distinctions between different loves therefore can not agree to love enemies. The important question is: “Can one kind of love grow into another kind of love?” Can Eros become self-giving Phileo such as parental love? I suppose it is possible. From time to time, one hears of incredible grace of forgiveness – an example of true Agaphe: such as Nelson Mandela.

.

Idol worship: a big mistake

NOBODY IS PERFECT
When you admire a person, you make him/her an idol; a bad mistake. You should know nobody is perfect. We must not make anyone a god. Saints are not gods. Heroes make mistakes.

Recently, some of us are having difficult time understanding the leader of Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi. We admired her so much that we gave her Nobel Peace Prize and Honorary Canadian citizenship. Why doesn’t she stop violence against the Muslim minority Rohingya? Should she be stripped of all those honours?

I can list many examples of the same mistakes: Ugandan President Yoweri Moseveni who saved his country from the butcher Idi Amin; Rwandan President Paul Kagame who brought order after the genocide of Tsusis. Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe who ended the minority white rule in Rhodesia in 1980.

When Mugabe brought in the North Korean 5th Brigade and bombarded and slaughtered the minority Matebele people, we did not condemned him. We said nothing because Mugabe was a hero. We in the west praised those African leaders then, but now they are embarrassment. They were heros, but now they are power hungry dictators. They must not stay on the pedestal. But why didn’t we condemn them, then? We haven’t admitted our mistakes.

When I was a part of the team tackling famine in Ethiopia during the 1980’s, we were criticized by many “progressive” people in the West who supported the independent movement of Eritrea called “EPLA.” It’s now one of the most brutal regimes that produces many refugees who are trying to cross the Mediterranean sea.

We in the western countries do not have all that clean record either. Are we not lucky that King Edward, the Queen’s uncle, abdicated? He loved Nazi Germany and admired Hitler. What if he hadn’t? The controversies about names and statues abound: Father of Confederation John A. MacDonald, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, etc. Now some Oxford University students demand the change of the name “Rhode Scholar” because what Cecil Rhodes did in Africa.

Historian Margaret MacMillan raises an interesting question in her book, “The Uses and abuses of history.” She mentions the Pope apologizing for the Crusade and admitting that Galileo was right; Bill Clinton apologizing for slavery; and Tony Blair for the Irish Famine. And she argues that learning from history is dangerous, but we must learn from it, because no human is perfect.

Ten Commandments

ETHICS ARE BASED ON RESPECT – Exodus 20: 12 – 17

Christians believe that the most important rule that should govern the relationship with others is LOVE based on Leviticus 19:18. However, the Ten Commandments suggest it is RESPECT. It is not a contradiction. Respect is a starting point that paves the way to love. “You can take a horse to water, but you can not force the horse to drink water.” Respect is like “taking a horse to water” to create the condition that will lead us to LOVE.

Respect stops you to commit murder, adultery, theft, dishonesty, envy and greed. And it begins with appreciating your parents. Acknowledge that your parents brought you into the world and therefore give them respect. It is not a matter of choice. Without parents, there is no ‘me nor you.’ Respecting your parents, even imperfect ones, means you are affirming your own existence. Not respecting your parents is to deny your own existence. That’s a starting point. The remaining five rules are deeds as the result of respect. They are necessary rules for our own survival in the interdependent world.

When you read the Old Testament however, you will find the Ten Commandments demanding observance of those six rules hypocritical. The commandment, “Thou shall not kill, steal, commit adultery, lie, nor be envious,” was required only among the Israelis. They were gratuitously violated otherwise. The God of the Old Testament freely allowed Israelis to not only ignore them but often were encouraged to violate them.

The same is true today. There are many excuses to disobey the six Commandments. In fact, despite the universal acceptance of the Ten Commandments as the fundamental rules for any decent human being, they are shamelessly ignored and violated. War, capital punishment, under-cover police operation, espionage, and competition in the market motivated by envy and greed should be all illegal among all children of Abraham – Christians, Jews and Muslims. The Ten Commandments are the basis of our ethics and legal systems. But that is not the case. Why? Why you must not murder your fellow citizens but can kill your enemies? How can you explain that?

It’s the contradiction stems from the conundrum caused by the juxtaposition of specific and universal. When you say, “Charity begins at home,” you recognize the universal importance of charity, but you have to begin practising it specifically at home. The circle begins small but must expand. When it is not big enough, the contradiction exposes itself. When you say, “I love my country.” your statement is based on your limited experience and specific knowledge of people and communities you know. You do not know whole of Canada and all Canadians. But you can not claim to love Canada if you do not love some Canadians you met and the parts of Canada you know. Your love of the country begins at home. Specific and universal are one undivided continuum . There can not be one without the other. You can not claim to love Canada if you hate your home town.

Jean Paul Sartre said, “Hell is other people.” He does not know life. We are not alone. We exist because of others people. In an African language, there is a saying, “ Motho ke motho ka batho.” It means “ a person can only be a person with people.” That is what Nelson Mandela called, “Um Buntu.” Interdependence is the only viable way for us to survive as a species. This is why welfare of the whole community is vital for us. “A man is not an island.” So when you recognize the importance of interdependence, you know that respect other persons is also critical for our survival. Respect is not only an article of moral ethics, it is an indispensable ingredient of the recipe of life. No one can survive if the community you live in is not functional, where members want to kill and/or deceive each other. Guns do not guarantee your safety.

When a community is small, there must be respect for family, friends, and neighbours. But outsiders must be repelled, therefore the rules that are essential within a community do not apply to outsiders. They can be ignored and other rules must be followed. So do not kill your neighbours but may have to kill the outsiders. But as the size of the community become larger, those rule must be applied to the larger number of people. This is how tribal laws become national, national become international, and international to universal. Same rules that have to be applied to humans will have to be expanded to include animals and plants when interdependence of all creatures are recognized to be essential. The world we live in can continue to exist only when all rules become universal.

Now briefly the specific rules:

Respect your parents: this is not a matter of choice, it is given. You don’t choose your parents, likewise you don’t choose the Creator. You deny God at your expense. The stupidity to deny your origin will lead you to your own ultimate demise.

Do not kill: killing other people is an act of suicide in the interdependent society. When you respect another person, you are exercising an art of survival.

Adultery is an act of disloyalty: when your impulsive pursuit of self-interest takes over, your are not behaving according to respect. A community where there is no loyalty will not live long.

Theft is the result of lack of respect for the boundary between you and other persons. In many societies where sharing is the norm, there is an understanding that sharing is different from theft. Theft is an act as a result of lack of respect for other person’s boundary.

Deception is the result of ignoring truth for selfish interest.

Envy and greed also is the result of selfish pursuit ignoring the need for the interdependent community.

There can be many other examples of the ways to exercise respect, but the author of those rules were restricted to reach and stop at the number “10″ as the number for the perfect laws. Therefore, the number can be altered. In fact, many followers of the ancient Jewish traditions later added and expanded the scope of moral ethics. Christians did the same such as Seven Deadly Sins.

However all rules must be based on love because it is the sum of all laws. (Romans 13:8 – 10)