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wwjd

disclaimer: so this post is going to have some top quality christian propaganda in it; in my opinion that makes it all the better, but you can feel as you will

i hate things that i don’t understand.  i don’t like change.  i’m a horrendously (slightly) obsessive compulsive creature of habit.  basically, when things go from being one way to being another, it scares me.  not in a boogie man scary way or anything like that, but it creates a strange and different unknown.  and fear of the unknown is one of the biggest fears around.

it’s for that reason (amongst others, i suppose) that i’m a really big fan of both my faith and my religion.   both have been around for a long, long time, and for the most part haven’t changed all that much.  the faith part, some might say, has been around since adam and eve.  they were made by this guy named god and listened to what he said.  they did make one little oops by listening to the snake in the garden, but after having god yell at them and getting kicked out of eden, they straightened out and started listening again.  and if you don’t care to go that far back (whether or not you think we’re monkeys who wear socks), belief in jesus has been around for almost two millennia.  in my book, that’s a hefty bit of time.  and then the whole religion thing.  some would say that catholicism started with jesus dying and the apostles going around saying that he was a pretty righteous dude.  others would disagree and say that original christianity was not by any means the same as original catholicism and that those practices were really started as a more strangling form of religion that was placed upon the roman people by the power of the first council of nicaea in 325 (which may or may not have been imposed upon the church of the time by the oh so powerful emperor constantine [the great]).  personally, i’m all about the first option, but regardless, both points of view leave some sort of catholic teaching beginning between 1,700 and 2,000 years ago.  once again, i’d say that’s a hefty bit of time.

and that’s pretty cool.  in my eyes at least.  it seems firm and steady.  the foundation was put down so well way back when that even through a great religious exodus (often called the protestant reformation [and by the way, i’d like to wish you all a belated happy reformation day!  for any and all of you who were not aware, the 31st day in october [though it can be changed around to a different day if desired, making it more like one of those crazy “observed” holidays that never really make a whole lot of sense] is celebrated by many [especially in the lutheran tradition] as what is very formally called “the festival of the reformation”.  it’s a day to celebrate the great work of martin luther and his theses [there were 95 of them] that sparked the protestant reformation way back in 1517.  now, it was on that day [october 31st] that luther posted his theses [which by the way, were a big list of things that he felt the church was messing up on] on the door of castle church in wittenberg, germany.  as our friends at wikipedia[.com] put it “reformation day… coincides with halloween, but there is no direct relation between the two holidays.”  there are some more conservative thinkers in the christian world that aren’t big fans of halloween because of its pagan [and dare i even say just a touch satanic] history and background.  and that’s brought up a bit in a different wikipedia article that states “some christians do not appreciate the resultant de-emphasis of the more spiritual aspects” of the day.  regardless of how you view halloween, be impressed by the fabulous political correctness with which the writers handled the situation.  it’s well played]) and some crazy situations like having three popes at once or having some rather unfortunate sex scandals plastered across the television screens of the world, the catholic church has stood its ground.  the tradition has held, and simply put, it’s not going anywhere.  for me, that’s actually a huge part of what i believe and why i believe it.  it’s just like the bible.  you can’t can’t claim the bible’s a fake.  it just doesn’t work.  there are so many contradictions and bizarre things in there, that it would be the worst fake job in history.  but it’s still around and still gets occasionally read, so you have to figure that it’s not. and the catholic church is similar.  so many stupid and terrible things have happened in the history of the church, that if it wasn’t a legitimate and solid religion with some real spiritual basis behind it, it would have folded a long, long time ago.  but it hasn’t.  and people still occasionally go to church, so you have to figure that it’s not too bad.

and rather interestingly, that’s what so much of my life is.  habit and tradition.  and most of the time, i love that.  it’s a safe way to work with life, and i like safe.  but then i heard something.  well, i was told something actually.  more in conversation than in eavesdropping, so we’ll go with the “told”.  i was in church.  kind of.  here at the university, there is a student center back behind the church, and on sunday mornings at 10:15 am, they have a mass in the big room in there instead of in the normal chapel.  honestly, i don’t know why it’s in there or when they started having it in there, but they do.  and seeing as i often can’t make it to any of the other mass times offered, i go to that one a lot.  so i was in the student center (which by the way, is often just called “the center” when they make announcements about events and activities that will be happening in it.  that, of course, always makes me think of the “boy meets world” episode when shawn starts hanging out at “the centre”, which turns out to be a cult.  it always settles a little weird in my mind, but what can you do), and it just so happened that there was a silent auction going on in the lobby area of the building to support a couple groups that are involved in trying to help out the people of haiti.  those running the silent auction were walking around making sure everything was alright and that people knew how to make bids and things like that, and a wonderful man named bob (who is one of the guys that kind of unofficially run the church.  every church has those people that are just involved in absolutely everything, and at this church, bob is definitely one of those guys) came over and stood next to me.  we stood observing the scene for a moment, and he said “the money changers are in the temple.”  and he smiled at me and walked off to do something else.

it was really simple and really quick.  and for most people, it probably would have meant next to nothing.  but for me, it packed quite a wallop.  if you didn’t know, that line was a reference to an episode in the new testament gospel accounts of jesus often simply referred to as “jesus and the money changers”.  it’s found in all four gospels (matthew 21:12-17, mark 11:15-19, luke 19:45-48, and john 2:12-15), so that considered, there’s a decent change it happened.  for the sake of space (and goodness, we all know the internet is running low on space), i’ll just give you one of the four.  and i like matthew (it’s a good name), so we’ll go with that one.  the dandy new american translation states, “jesus entered the temple area and drove out all those engaged in selling and buying there.  he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves.  and he said to them, ‘it is written: “my house shall be a house of prayer,” but you are making it a den of thieves.'”  that only includes verses 12 and 13, but for our little chat that’s really all we’ll need (and on another fun note, john’s version talks about jesus making an impromptu whip to help get people out, which is pretty cool.  though, the fact that the story is given so early in that one gospel [chapter 2] and none of the others gives some scholars the inclination that they may actually be two different events.  my thoughts?  i had no idea about that until i just read it online, so you’ll have to ask someone else for more information in that regard).

there it is.  a lovely tale.  but why bring it up?  why now in the midst of talks of habit and tradition and all that jazz? well basically, because that’s exactly what was going on.  jerusalem was being a big huge creature of habit.  in a nutshell (and a very, very vague and simple one, to say the least), it was close to the jewish festival of passover and all the jews needed to go to the temple and make a sacrifice to god for the festival.  to do that they needed an animal to sacrifice, which they could very conveniently buy in one of the outer courtyardy areas of the temple. however, they had to buy these animals with special money (per the jewish law) that they didn’t normally have on them and had to go to the money changers first to exchange their money.  basically, it was like this:  they had money.  they changed their money to the proper currency.  they bought an animal to sacrifice.  they went and had it sacrificed in the temple.  and now i repeat: very, very vague and simple.  the thing was, jews had been doing this for a long, long time.  jesus and his family had probably done this themselves plenty of times.  plus, the setup was really convenient.  everything these people needed was right there.  in a (really strange) sense, it was the mcdonald’s of passover.

which brings us back to storrs, connecticut.  bob and i were standing there watching this hustle and bustle going on around us with lots of people worrying about making their bids on items and how much money they were willing to spend and all that.  and as bob walked away smiling, i realized that he was so right.  it was exactly the same.  and that confused me so much.  all these people were at church, there to celebrate god, and yet all of the focus was on what was happening outside in the lobby.  instead of being focused on faith and spirituality and listening to the word of god, it was all about bidding and donated items and money.  the thing is, it was all for a great cause.  the money that was being raised was going to end up going (in some way or another) to haiti, which happens to be the poorest country in the western hemisphere.  those people need all the money and support that they can get.  so it was a really good thing.  the catholic church has a list of “corporal works of mercy” that are: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, shelter the homeless, clothe the naked, care for the sick, visit the imprisoned, and bury the dead.  by supporting the auction, those things were going to be able to happen.  but at the same time, i stood there thinking about it, and the one thing that ran through my mind was the overdone and taboo (but if truly thought about and used, oh so perfect) line “what would jesus do?”.

wwjd.  i’ve seen it on posters, necklaces, t-shirts, bracelets, stickers, and a zillion other things.  does it actually make people think about what jesus would do?  maybe.  does it then make people act like jesus would have acted?  maybe.  i really can’t tell you that.  but i can tell you that for once, that line meant something to me because i really had to stand there and contemplate it.  regardless of what kind of swindling and overpricing the money changers and animal sellers were doing around the temple in ancient jerusalem, it was a decent service.  people got what they needed, where they needed it, when they needed it.  money was being spent on the outside, and sacrifice (which i guess could be the equivalent to modern “worship”) was happening on the inside.  it was a tradition of sorts.  a habit, definitely (if not the former).  it was the safe way to do things, so people did it.  and then jesus came in and started knocking over tables and thrashing around his whip.  the obvious question i had to ask myself was whether or not jesus would have done the same in our church.  now there’s the dumb debate over what kind of house of worship jesus would go to if he was around today, seeing as the christians worship him and the jews don’t…but he was jewish…whatever.  that’s not important.  what’s important is what he would have thought and done if he had, for whatever reason, shown up to church that day.  bob was right.  the money changers were definitely in the temple.  they were doing it for a good (even great) cause, but at the same time, the focus on god and worshipping him was totally being averted.  the minds and hearts were being dragged in the wrong direction.  and so i just stood there.  contemplative and downright confused. was what we were doing a bad thing? even though it was in an attempt to help the poorest of the poor? can good things occasionally be not so good? can they even be bad? oh dear. i was perplexed.

and here it comes, the answer.  well, no.  once again, i have no answer for you (it seems like that’s happening more and more often.  either i’m getting more deep or just less intelligent.  i’m definitely going to have to go back to the simple, stupid stuff.  it was a lot easier).  i was perplexed about the issue, and i remain as much so. and yet, i guess the only “answer” i have is to tell you not to worry about answers all the time.  i have books and books of catholic teaching, catholic laws, catholic thought, catholic history and most anything catholic you would ever want to know.  but i can promise you that none of them, even if i did look (which i’ll be honest and admit i didn’t), would have an answer to this question.  in this situation, all of that tradition and all of those teachings still leave us empty-handed.  so when you think about it, the safe way isn’t all that safe.  even with tradition, you can still lose.  for someone who is so big into these long-standing, changeless traditions, that kind of stinks.  but alas.  it happens.  sometimes all we can do is take it in and make our own decisions and opinions.  and sometimes (gasp), that may involve change.  as scary as that can be.

so go grab your wwjd bracelets. put on your jesus t-shirts and wear them proudly. and the next time you do something (anything, really), think about what you’re doing. think about it from all sides and angles. it’s incredible what you can find out when you take a look around the back corner of an issue. and if you find something a little scary, just go with it. it’s the tough things that make us grow and the changes that make us learn. even when we have no idea what jesus would do.

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