It's funny when you spend a few hours on the freeway watching the cars, how many of the most rude and obnoxious drivers drive around with little fishes, or crosses plastered on their cars. I usually notice the fish just about the same time the driver of the car is greeting me with a gesture that is not usually associated with the Christian religion, and is far from the holy kiss with which the early Christians were advised to greet one another, but then, I guess they don't realize that we're Christians as they cut us off. But then Christians have always been good at messing with other people who didn't happen to be Christians. That is how the pawnshop came to be.

During medieval times, it was against ecclesiastical law (the only law that mattered) for one Christian to loan money to another Christian at interest. John the Baptist had said so. Actually, he said that loaning money at interest was bad in general; he didn't mean just Christians to Christians (since Christians hadn't been invented yet), but I digress (as usual). Later on, after the Romans got tired of killing the Christians and made the church of Jesus into the official law of the land, it was decided that those little things Jesus told us to do for one another only applied to other Christians.

So anyway, Christians couldn't loan other Christians money for interest. They could, however, loan money at interest to Jews. Nobody cared what you did to the Jews; just ask Mel Gibson. Anyway, there was also no law that made it illegal for Jews to loan money to Christians at interest. Of course, the Jews had no money, considering the Christians wouldn't let them buy or sell anything, so what a Christian in need did was to go to a wealthy friend and ask to borrow money. The friend would then loan the money to some poor Jew at interest, who in turn, would then turn around and loan the same money at even more interest to the Christian. That is how pawnshops got the reputation of charging such high interest on their loans. Moreover, if the Christian defaulted on the loan, he (since women didn't matter in those days) would be home free, really. If the Christian failed to repay the loan, then the Jew would fail to repay the loan as well, and then HE would be in big trouble. This is another reason the Jews charged such a high interest rate, since the risk was so great.

But this isn't about how Christians fuck people over. This is about how Christians are SUPPOSED to act. One of the best sources we have for how the early Christians were expected to behave back in the first century comes from the letters of Paul. Remember that back in those days there was no Christian bible. The gospels had not been written yet. The apostles, those twelve guys...well, eleven, anyway, went about passing on the teachings of Jesus. And very soon, Paul, who was Saul of Tarsus, would also go about teaching the message of Jesus. These guys went about converting people and setting up little communities (nobody called them churches yet), And they kept in touch with these communities by writing letters to them. Paul wrote a bunch of letters, probably because he was the only one of the twelve to be highly educated, being a member of the Sanhedrin, that learned council of temple priests and scribes.
Paul wrote most of his letters from prison. It all started in Jerusalem when Paul brought a gentile (non-Jew) into the temple. He was mobbed by the people there, because people get pissed when you fuck with their traditions (just ask a civil rights worker in Mississippi back in 1963). Some Roman soldiers came to Paul's rescue by placing him under arrest. They took Paul to the governor of Caesarea, Felix. Felix threw Paul in jail for a couple of years hoping to get a bribe out of him, but died before he ever saw a dime. The new governor sent Paul back to Jerusalem, and you might have figured Paul was well screwed then, but he pulled the trump card and claimed his Roman citizenship. Paul's father had been a Roman. This entitled him to a hearing in Rome. So the Romans had to schlep Paul across Asia Minor to Rome and he was put under house arrest there. And from his cell, he wrote many letters to the various churches which had been established. In his letter to the Colossians, he mentions, "I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you." In other words, "Hi, this is Paul. Excuse my bad handwriting, but it's a little hard to write with these freaking chains on my wrists, you know."

It is in this letter that Paul outlines how Christians ought to comport themselves. It should be remembered that these guys never expected their letters to be considered some kind of Holy Scripture. There were just letters, and often said the same kind of crap that any letter might say. In the case of the letter to the Colossians, Paul had two reasons to write to them. For one thing, he had heard that the people in that community had started some practices which he considered contrary to the teachings of Jesus. They had started placing ritual above charity and faith, and had started to practice a certain asceticism, denying themselves things in order to suffer deliberately. For another, Paul had met a runaway slave by the name of Onesimus. Onesimus came to Paul to become a Christian. Why he would do this, I don't know, because his owner-master, Philemon, was also a Christian, but for some reason he came to Paul. Paul found Onesimus very handy for running various errands and just useful in general, so he wanted to ask Philemon if he might keep him around for awhile. So, Paul wrote one letter to the church at Collosse, and another to Philemon, and had them both delivered by a guy named Tychicus, who would deliver yet another letter to the church at Ephesus, another important community of believers. So, this is what he said.

"Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection. And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one body. And be thankful." So let's get the message straight. You can tell a Christian because they are compassionate, kind, humble, gentle, patient, and forgiving. And above all else, they are loving and peaceful. Okay. Well, it's awfully hard to find those qualities abounding in people, especially at this time of year. Our wonderful president who prides himself so on being a born again Christian would do well to give this letter another read, if he ever read it at all. But of course, that's the reason why being forgiving is so important, because none of us can be like that all the time. We're bound to fuck up from time to time, like...all the time. And that was Jesus' message, too. You want to be like God? Well this is what being like God takes. Think you can do it? No? Good thing God's forgiving, too. Just do the best you can. Love God, and love one another, and try to have a little faith. Think you can remember that? Good.

But then, it becomes difficult to tell how much of the letter is the teaching of Jesus (which Paul got second hand to begin with), and how much is just the opinion of Paul in general. You know, you start giving people advice, and it's hard to shut up. Paul also says, "Wives, be subordinate to your husbands, as is proper in the Lord." Whenever we hear this reading in church, I always smile at my wife, Becky, and then she hits me. And as much as I would wish that I could find some alternate translation from the Greek, it pretty much says that. But then, that was the custom of the day. Paul could have imagined nothing else, I suppose. Although, in the communities in Jerusalem, the women and men were treated equally. But to be fair to Paul, he also says, "Husbands, love your wives, and avoid any bitterness toward them." And in the Greek there, Paul uses the word, agapao, which means to love unconditionally, without counting the cost. He also tells children to obey their parents, but then he also reminds parents not to constantly anger their children, as it will eventually discourage them. It seems like general good advice, but not necessarily the specific teachings of Jesus.

It seems to me, that if a person calls himself or herself a Christian, then it would do well for that person to act like it. That was the real message of Jesus. We are all the children of God. We are all a part of one big Christ. Paul was right. Following the teachings of Christ isn't about following any certain rituals or denying yourself things, it's about living the message.

When Jesus was about twelve years old, according to the story in Luke's gospel, Jesus became separated from Mary and Joseph, and after a long search, they eventually found him in the temple talking to the learned men there. And when they complained about his running off, he said, "Didn't you know I had to be about my father's business?" Of course, after that they grounded him for eighteen years. But that's really all of us.

We are all about our father's business everyday. And people know us by the way we treat one another, Christian or not. So if you are gonna put a peace symbol on your car, act peacefully, or else you give all us bleeding heart liberals a bad name. And if you're gonna put a fish on your car, well...ask yourself, how would Jesus drive (HWJD)? You know a tree by its fruit. I never met anybody who ever had a problem with what Jesus taught. I have met a lot of people who have problems with his followers.

But you know, you don't judge a church by its followers, or at least you shouldn't. Sometimes they cut you off in traffic. After all, you don't quit your job because some of your coworkers are jerks. If we did that we'd all be unemployed. No, we are all part of the same big family of humankind. It's time we treated each other like family. And like members of a family, we don't have to like each other, but we have to be nice to each other, at least in front of dad.