From the Desk of Mr. Zissman

The musings of an over-stimulated mind

Archive for April 2011

Jesus loves the little children…

with 10 comments

Jesus loves the little children,
All the children of the world.
Red and yellow, black and white,
All are precious in His sight,
Jesus loves the little children of the world.

I remember sitting in Sunday School as a young child, singing this exact song. It served as a musical foundation for my early faith. I remember sitting in brightly colored plastic chairs, sipping fruit “juice” (Seriously, was there ever actually any real juice in those large 3 gallon jugs?) and coloring Xeroxed pictures of a smiling, cartoony looking Jesus. We learned about Jesus, Mary, Moses, The Disciples and Heaven and Hell.

For Young Stephen, the stark contrast between Heaven and Hell made perfect sense to me. You either loved Jesus and went to Heaven or you didn’t and went to Hell where all the bad people go. There was nothing else, just one or the other.

This stayed with me till I grew older and some things began to linger in the back of my mind. The fact that a loving, just God would cast someone into a “lake of fire” because they didn’t believe the right thing bothered me. I never admitted it to anyone because I felt guilty about it, as if I had somehow blasphemed God by having this struggle. “The Lord works in mysterious ways.” I would tell myself.

Even though it was drilled into my head every Sunday morning that if someone hadn’t “accepted” Jesus that they would burn in Hell forever regardless of what they did, the confusion never went away.

This really left me feeling disoriented, because I firmly believe that Christ stands for truth, justice and peace and I had seen works of people whom I felt represented these same ideals. For example, take the late Princess Diana. Here is a woman who, during her short time on this earth, dedicated herself to funding AIDS research and spending time with AIDS patients, even during a period where little was known about it and people thought you could catch it via skin contact. She also dedicated herself to the eradication of land mines, a horrible device if there was one, all the while battling her own personal demons of bulimia, self-harm (cutting) and more.

And yet, I had heard it preached straight from the pulpit that because she had never made a public profession of faith in Jesus, she died “unsaved” to spend an eternity in Hell.

Wait, what?

She’s in Hell?

We know this for sure?

It bothered me greatly to hear all that she had done in her life so easily dismissed. And that’s not to simply single out Princess Di, but other people who have spread peace and love, only to be told they died “unsaved” and went to Hell.

Does anyone else see something wrong with this?

Have we, as Christians, gotten to the point where we look at God’s redemptive, powerful, healing love like a Beverly Hills Polo Club where only the elite can get in? But doesn’t that contrast with Christ’s message of inclusion and not exclusion?

If God is the one who decides if we make into Heaven or Hell and faith in Jesus “saves” us into Heaven, is Jesus then protecting us from God? Why would we need protecting from someone who loves us as much as him? Indeed, God carries such a powerful love for us, that he allowed his only son to die an excruciating death usually reserved for the most hardcore of criminals.

And God allowed it, so that we would no longer be held prisoners of sin.

He loves us that much.

So if he loves us that much, how could he possibly send someone to Hell and still claim he’s a loving God?

Questions, questions, questions.

Let’s look at this from another angle: the basic understanding of Christian behavior is to ‘be good.’ Paul writes in Galatians 5:22 that one of the “fruits of the (Holy) spirit” is goodness.

So goodness is a fruit of the Holy Spirit.

But then the writer of Psalms 1 states that “all good things” come from God.

All good things.

Come from God.

So goodness is a fruit of the Holy Spirit and all good things come from God, right? So by doing a ‘good thing’ you are, in fact, a fulfilling a fruit of the Holy Spirit, a fruit that originally came from God.

Whether you realize it or not, by doing something good you are fulfilling God’s will and doing what is pleasing in God’s eyes.

“…’I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” ~ Matthew 25:40

If how we treat others is how we treat Jesus and if we treat Jesus via other people with love, affection and kindness, then why would God decide this person should experience eternal pain, suffering and torture?

Look at this series of verses from Ezekiel…

“I poured out my wrath on them because they had shed blood in the land and because they had defiled it with their idols. I dispersed them among the nations, and they were scattered through the countries; I judged them according to their conduct and their actions. And wherever they went among the nations they profaned my holy name, for it was said of them, ‘These are the LORD’s people, and yet they had to leave his land.’ I had concern for my holy name, which the people of Israel profaned among the nations where they had gone.

“Therefore say to the Israelites, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: It is not for your sake, people of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone.  I will show the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, the name you have profaned among them. Then the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Sovereign LORD, when I am proved holy through you before their eyes.

“‘For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you will be my people, and I will be your God.” ~ Ezekiel 36:16-28

So God became angered at Israel for worshiping false gods and making idols to bow down too, so he punished them and drove them from their own land. Enslaved by foreign leaders who held them captive by people who cared little to nothing about them, their lives were hell.

But then God goes on to say that, due to his grace and mercy, he has forgiven them and allowed them to return to their promised land. But nowhere in the verse does it say they specifically asked for forgiveness.

Interesting.

Let’s look at this from another direction. Let’s say we have an atheist named Jane. Jane  has never went to church, was raised in an atheist household and sees no need for Jesus, or God or any other religion.

Now let’s also say that Jane is a drug addict, or more specifically, heroin. Her arms look like a AAA road map full of bruises, sores and scars. She lost her job due to her addiction, her family has abandoned her due to the pain she has caused them, and with no job and no money to pay for drugs, she has resorted to prostitution. Every night she sells her body to strangers and is abused and violated in the most graphic, horrible ways possible. All so she can have a little extra cash for her next drug fix.

The one night, feeling cold, alone and broken, Jane deliberately over doses and dies a slow, painful death on her filthy couch.

She then meets God.

What happens?

Does Jane go to Heaven or Hell?

Here we have this woman’s life whose life was in shambles: depressed and alone, forgotten and miserable. No one had bothered to show her the tiniest shred of kindness or mercy in her last days and she dies in utter and complete darkness.

But would God, in his eternal compassion and grace, give this woman the peace and serenity she never had while living or would he simply say “Sorry woman, but you didn’t believe in exactly the right thing, so off to Hell you go.”

If God is our Heavenly Father who loves and cares for us much more than our earthly father possibly could (and the love a father has for his child is well documented throughout the pages of history) then why would God cast Jane into a “lake of fire”?

Does God get what God wants?

Jane’s life was already in hell. Her life was a hell on earth.

Before we consider Hell as a cavernous lava chamber in which Satan sits upon a throne of skulls, laughing as he puts backwards messages into Ozzy Osbourne songs, we should understand that hell is here on Earth.

From the elderly shut-in.

To the drug addict looking for another fix.

And the alcoholic passed out, clutching a bottle as they lay face down in a pool of their own vomit.

As well as the sex abuse victim huddled in darkness, clutching their knees to their chest as tears trickle down their innocent faces.

And the homeless using a thin, frail newspaper as their own line of protection form a blistering winter cold.

This is Hell. This weeping and gnashing of teeth.

And what do we do about it?

Burn Korans?

Protest Harry Potter?

Become enraged that our elected officials do not pray and worship in the exact specified way we feel they should?

In Acts 1, Jesus commands us to witness “to the ends of the earth.” and in his letter to the Romans, Paul writes that we should be “slaves to righteousness.”

Peace. Mercy. Justice. This is righteousness. This is Christ.

This is Heaven.

God has shown us incredible mercy by sacrificing his only own son for our sake. The veil in the temple has been torn, the sacrificial goat has been set free.

It is finished.

Heaven doesn’t need to be an ideal of golden gates, mansions and angels sitting on clouds while playing harps. It’s a very real concept, a place, a state of being that lives forever, that darkness will never taint nor corrupt.

Heaven lives in every one of us, being God’s perfect gift to us and it’s our job to show Heaven to as many people as possible by showing love and compassion to all.

The promise is for everyone, allowing eternal joy for all of humanity.

THAT is Jesus loving the little children.

Don’t worry if someone, or even yourself, is “good enough” to get into Heaven. Instead, bring Heaven to earth, just like Christ did.

Written by MrZissman

04/25/2011 at 12:42 AM

I’ve gotta have faith-a-faith-a-faith…

with 3 comments

It’s been a while since I’ve felt the urge to do a theological blog entry, but reading the news lately has inspired me to write one. It all started when I heard about the pastor in Florida who had burned a Koran and still continued to prove it, even after it was directly responsible for deaths of Americans. There were some other motivators too, but that’s neither here nor there. They are private ones that I don’t feel comfortable disclosing at this time.

I’ve expressed my struggles with own faith in the past. It’s been something that swirls around me, like a big stew of confusion. At times I felt like I was lost in a fog, desperately trying to follow a voice in this haze that seemed to be coming from all directions. My experiences as a Protestant, or more specifically, a Free-Will Baptist had at times left me feeling disjointed and disillusioned.

Now that’s not to say I came close to becoming an atheist or agnostic. In fact, it only furthered my hunger for Christ, because I felt like I wasn’t getting enough “spiritual food” at my place of worship. True, the argument could be made that I should “feed myself” spiritually, and I agree. But I felt like I was a contractor on a construction site, who after laying the foundation for a building was repeatedly instructed to continue laying foundation with no real attempt to build on it. I attended a Free Will Baptist church, I told folks I was Free Will  Baptist, but in my heart I just didn’t feel any connection with it.

SIDE NOTE: I do not wish this come across as some sort of scolding, holier-than-thou tear down. There is no doubt in my mind that Free Will Baptist’s are Christians and are living their lives as they feel Christ would want them to. Just because I prefer orange juice to grape juice doesn’t mean that grape juice is a poor excuse for juice. Rather, it just doesn’t taste good to me.

One of my biggest qualms is a “with us or against us” attitude. That is, if things weren’t done in a 100% “do as we do” way, it was projected as being wrong or immoral. But I disagree, as Jesus speaks of this. When the disciples saw people preaching and casting out demons, but weren’t associated with The Twelve, they took objection to this and asked Jesus to tell them to stop.

“Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us. I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward” ~ Mark 9:39-41 (NIV)

So I continued to wander in this fog, unsure of where I was going, but knowing I wanted something deeper. I wanted something that dove head first into the mysteries of faith and explored with awe, respect and amazement the things of God. And I found that in Catholicism.

Now here comes the tricky park, admitting publicly to my friends and family that in a mere 8 days, the Protestant Stephen Allen Harvey will become the Catholic Stephen Allen Paul Harvey. It’s difficult, not because I am ashamed of my decision, but because this is so different and radical from what my family worships. I fully believe we worship the same God, but for me step out and say “Hey, I’m Catholic now.” is like a vegan to tell another group of vegans, “Oh hey guys, I totally love meat now.” It’s just a huge break from generations of Harvey Tradition.

I did not make this decision lightly. Rather, it took months and months of intense soul-searching, praying and quiet meditation. It was not a sudden rush, but instead a quiet walk into something new. When I  made my decision, I knew in my heart it was the right one when I felt at peace about it. I may have concerns about how my decision will be perceived, but I have no doubts that it was right for me.

So now that we know how I came to believe this, what exactly do I believe?

For starters, let us get the basics out-of-the-way: Jesus Christ, the only son of  God, was born to the Virgin Mary. He lived in what is now Israel for 30+ years and was crucified, buried and risen on the third day. He ascended into Heaven and will return again someday to end this world as we know it and bring about the new eternal world full of Heaven glory. Okay, we got that out-of-the-way. Let’s go deeper.

I do not believe the world was created in a literal six-day, 24 hour period. I’m sorry, but I just can’t ignore the scientific evidence or sweep it under the rug by claiming that fossil records are tests of faith by God or somehow an attempt by Satan to throw Christians a curveball. Could God have created the earth in six 24-hour periods? Absolutely. I even feel God could have done it in less than a second, if He so desired. But as Psalm reads…

“For a thousand years in your sight
are like a day that has just gone by,
or like a watch in the night.” ~ Pslam 90:4 (NIV)

To assume that God follows a 24-hour-7-day work week schedule, I feel, is to severely limit His power. God transcends all concepts of mortal understanding, so things we use to organize and classify the world around us are of no use to Him. We can’t box God in and pretend He follows the same rules we do, because we can’t. Genesis was written by Moses who was trying his best to put down what he interpreted from God. That’s not to say Genesis is wrong or incorrect, but I think we’re missing the point. The point isn’t that God could have created it in six days, but rather that  God created it in the first place. When I look at life and all it’s complexities, I can’t simply believe that life is some random accident as we uselessly float in a big ball of mud in the middle of cold, empty space. Things are organized and done in such a way that I can’t help but feel there is a hidden hand guiding all of this. The Bible is not a text-book, but rather the living, breathing, awe-inspiring, mysterious, powerful, magnificent, life changing Word of God. It is dangerous to take everything written at 100% literal value, as we need to dig deeper and study and find the context in which these words were written.

I also believe that it’s entirely possible for Christians to have wildly different ideas of worship and praise, and yet it still be just as valid as another. I feel it mostly boils down to personal taste. Let me explain a bit more by hopping in the Way Back Machine, Sherman.

Let’s go back 2,000+ years ago to when Jesus walked the earth. Now-a-days, you and I are pretty spoiled because we can get the gospel whenever we want, however we want. As of now, I own three different Bibles, two different translations, as well as having multiple translations loaded as an app on my iPhone. But back then, a majority of the people were poor and illiterate. To even own a written copy of what we now call the Old Testament was the same concept as owning a solid gold yacht today. It was something only the very well off could own. So in order to understand and interpret the gospel, you needed a Rabbi to do it. But just like today, different Rabbis had different ways of interpreting.

For example, it says in the Old Testament to avoid doing any work on the Sabbath. But it never actually goes to on to explain what actually makes up work. So Rabbi Bill might say “On the Sabbath, you can walk up to 5 miles total for the day, but anything past that is work.” but Rabbi Ted would say “Actually, I believe you can walk up to 10 miles on the Sabbath, but no more.” This concept is what was known as “binding and loosening.” You “bind” something by restricting it, but “loosen” it by allowing it. And again, what does Jesus say?

“I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be  bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” ~ Matthew 18:18 (NIV)

That doesn’t mean we can grab a sawed off shotgun and shoot up a daycare and pass it off as “Well, Jesus said I could!” because it doesn’t work that way. But if you feel convicted to not pray with your eyes closed, but your friend does, neither of you are wrong. You are both right, because you both have become a “law on to yourselves”, as Paul writes, and have followed your own personal convictions. How I feel is not the only way to worship, nor is it even the ideal. Rather, it’s my own personal theology developed from my experiences as a Christian and how I perceive the world around me.

I also feel like God does not want us to be some sort of global censorship squad. If Christians were to get into a tizzy over every little objectionable thing out there, it’d be an endless fight till the end of time. And indeed, at times it seems just like that. Book burnings, protests, completely inaccurate anonymous e-mail forwards…it’s pretty bad.

But as much as I talk about peace, love and charity, I hardly follow-up on this, much to my displeasure. I am quick to anger, slow to forgive and am always suspicious of a homeless person asking for change. It’s like what Paul writes in Romans…

“What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?” ~ Romans 7:24 (NIV)

BUT, where I lack, Christ’s grace over flows. If humanity is the brittle, cracked and broken Highway of Life, then Christ is the tar that fills in the gaps and makes it whole, complete and strong. THAT is what the church should focus on. The world is full of hurt, broken and wounded people who may not be “sinners”, but carry with them a lifetime of regrets, sorrows and pain. It is only when we focus our attention on the sick, lonely, shut-in, depressed, suicidal, ill and show the same love and tenderness to them that Christ has shown to us, that the will of God is truly enacted.

I wish I could go on more, but there simply isn’t enough space on all the internet for me to really unleash. If you’re interested in what I’ve had to say, I have a few books you might want to look into…

“Velvet Elvis” by Rob Bell

“The Jesus I Never Knew” by Phillip Yancey

“My Utmost for His Highest” ~ Oswald Chambers

Jesus Wants to Save Christians: A Manifesto for the Church in Exile” ~ Rob Bell

I hope you walk away from this entry with a better understanding of Who I Am and What I Believe. I’m always open for a respectful discussion, so by all means feel free to leave a comment or send me a private message. Remember, we’re all in this together.

Written by MrZissman

04/15/2011 at 5:18 PM

¡Muy Caliente! or I Never Salsa Much Fun

with 2 comments

First off, allow me to do a little blog pimping here and suggest you read the talented, beautiful, smart Hilary Marie and her new blog, “Seeds in the City” In it, she catalogs her attempts at starting up a garden of her own in the unforgiving Concrete Jungle of NYC. So before you do anything, subscribe and tattoo the URL to your inner eye lids so you won’t forget to visit.

Now, onwards with the show….

Hilary has been sporting a major green thumb lately (still need to get some ointment for that) and has been purchasing seeds and tiny plants to grow in some sort of urban Secret Garden. I admit, at first I wasn’t too interested, being I suffer from hay fever and flowers and I get along as well as Glenn Beck and Keith Olberman locked in a room together. But when she started picking up vegetables, I felt my inner Martha Stewart begin to beg for a release. (Trust me, it’s a good thing.)

It started off innocently enough with some German Queen tomatoes. If you’re not familiar with this particular strand, then let me just say they are HUGE. Like HUGE, HUGE. Like bigger than a baseball huge. These tomatoes are so big, you may just need George Clooney to stop them!

Puuuuuuberttttty looovvvveeeeeeeee
Now from the tomatoes, I splurged and picked up cayenne pepper seeds, jalapeño plants, cilantro, chives and oregano without even realizing that I had all the ingredients to make salsa! But instead of just MAKING salsa, I could make my own salsa and then sell it. For money.

As of now, my salsa business is still in the infant stages, with no real direction besides some seeds and a dream. I have done some researching and it doesn’t look too complicated to make it, just a bit of trial and error to find the perfect recipe and the right equipment.  One receipe I found calls for at least 15 lbs of tomatoes to make 8 individual quart jars, so if my initial tomato harvest doesn’t come through, I may have to make a stop at Trader Joe’s for some tomato boosters.

Honestly, the biggest challenge I’m finding is coming up with a name for my salsa brand. Obviously since I’m a one-trick pony, it will inevitably involve zombies in some shape or fashion, but I cannot create the exact formula for a catchy name. One initial idea was “Solanum Salsa” or “Solanum Spice”, but outside of zombie fan-boys like me, I’m not sure if the average consumer would get it. See, that’s my greatest difficulty. I want the name to be a reference to zombies, but not one so obscure that you’d have to be Quentin Tarantino just to decipher it. So if anyone here has a suggestion, please feel free to leave me a comment with your idea. If I like it, I will send you a free jar of my salsa. Oh and I’d need a logo too. I’m thinking a zombie wearing a sombrero.

Catchy name aside, I have decided that the alpha-test launch will contain three varieties: Mild, Medium and Hot. Of course, they’d have clever names, all of which would be zombie related. (I was debating on naming the hot variety as Zom-B-Hurtin’) Then, if these three took off and I managed to get the hang of things, I would gradually expand to more robust flavors.

So that’s where The Great Salsa experiment stands. If all goes according to plan, it’ll be 70+ days before I am ready to harvest my veggies and herbs, so I have time to plan this out. Until then, I follow The Three W’s of Gardening: Water, Watch and Wait. This should be fun. And spicy!

Written by MrZissman

04/11/2011 at 12:29 PM

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