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On Facebook, I have many friends who are religious and friends who are completely irreligious. I have noticed that the irreligious ones are far more prone to posting religious rants than the religious ones. For not believing in a higher power, they sure can be preachy sometimes.


But that’s not what I want to talk about today.


I do have some Christian friends that like to post pictures or articles countering a particular viewpoint about Jesus in the New Testament and how he isn’t like Personality Trait A, B, or C. Instead, we should believe in Jesus as he really is. This isn’t just something on Facebook, though. There are numerous books and videos that make the same points – the modern church interprets Jesus that best fits our current lifestyles, and not what he really taught which would make us much less comfortable.


I think that everybody has their own particular interpretation of religion, and consequently, who Jesus is and what he stood for. When people hear a particular religious belief, they articulate it in their own words when they repeat it to others, but also when they repeat it to themselves. Thus, I don’t hold it against anyone when they interpret the message of Jesus in the light of their own personal experience.

But there is one thing I do take issue with – when my Facebook friends or other Christians post articles claiming that Jesus wasn’t a political revolutionary and that he was more interested in matters of the “heart” (i.e., how people relate to one another and how we relate to God) rather than matters of politics.


To support this view, people often quote Mark 12:17 (and its parallel passage in Matthew 22:21 and Luke 20:25). If you’re a Christian, you know the story. Jesus is in Jerusalem and a group of Pharisees try to trap him by asking him “Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar?”


If Jesus answers yes, then the religious leaders can say he’s perfectly okay with the foreign occupiers of Rome occupying the Holy Land. But if he says no, then the religious leaders can say that Jesus is advocating not paying taxes to Rome which they can take to the Romans so they can arrest Jesus as a revolutionary.


Instead, Jesus asks for a Roman coin and asks whose sigil is on it. Why, it’s Caesar’s. Jesus then replies “Give back to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.”


Many people take this as clear evidence that Jesus was okay with the government of the day. Furthermore, my Facebook friends use it as further evidence that Christians should not get involved as politics. Just as Jesus advocated that it was right to pay taxes to Caesar (by giving him that which is his, i.e., taxes decreed by legislation), we should give to God the things that are his since those are more important. After all, if Jesus wanted to say we should rise up against the government, that was his chance to do so!

Ergo, Jesus was not a political revolutionary in any sense. And neither should we be.


Except that I think that interpretation is completely wrong. Indeed, I think that this verse does show that Jesus was a political revolutionary, the exact opposite of what some (most?) think it does.


The gospels are pretty clear that Jesus taught about the coming kingdom of God, its arrival was imminent, and the foreign powers would be booted out. For example:

  • John the Baptist was a fiery preacher that preached that the Kingdom of God was at hand, and Jesus was a follower of John the Baptist for a time. The Jews believed this Kingdom was a literal kingdom on earth.

  • Jesus tells his disciples that they would sit on 12 thrones judging the 12 tribes of Israel (Matt 19:28).

  • Jesus tells his disciples that some of them would not taste death until they saw the Kingdom of God come with power (Mark 9:1).

  • During his trial, Pilate asks Jesus if he is the king of the Jews, and Jesus answers in the affirmative (Mark 15:2).

  • Jesus entered Jerusalem the week before his crucifixion while the crowds proclaimed him the Messiah (Matt 21:1-11).

It is while Jesus was in Jerusalem (after bullet point 5) that he cleanses the Temple by overturning tables, and then has the Caesar/taxes showdown with the religious leaders.

These verses above, and many of the rest of the passages in Matthew, Mark and Luke, show that Jesus taught a literal kingdom of God on earth, not “merely” in heaven (just like in the Lord’s prayer, as it is on earth in heaven). A literal kingdom of God on earth meant that there was no room for Rome. Indeed, Rome would be booted out when God meted out justice.

So where does this leave Matthew 22:21?

According to the Greek, the words “render unto” means to give back because it’s theirs. They are entitled to receive because they are the rightful owner of the thing being paid. In other words, Caesar is entitled to receive back his coin because it’s his picture on the coin. He can have it.

But God is entitled to get back the land because it’s His land; the Romans are occupying it (“the land is mine”, says the Lord in Leviticus 25:23).

I paraphrase it this way – Give Caesar his coin back. God gets his land back.

That is the exact opposite of the interpretation that Jesus is perfectly fine with paying taxes to the occupying government. Instead, this passage is saying that it’s not okay to pay taxes to a government that is against God, and instead we should strive to ensure that God’s will is done if it means kicking that government out!

Lest you disagree with this interpretation, the Pharisees used this as evidence to get Jesus arrested, and Rome executed Jesus because they believed he was an insurrectionist – that he was going to lead (or was leading) an uprising that would try to usurp Rome.

That doesn’t mean I agree with my Christian friends who are all about mobilizing voters and pushing through legislation that supports their causes. Modern day America is quite far removed from first-century Palestine.

Instead, I use this story to say that I definitely disagree that Jesus’s message was apolitical in nature as demonstrated by this passage, because it wasn’t.

This past Sunday, we had to take our cat in to the vet. For you see, Sunday morning, I noticed that she threw up. I was eating breakfast and I heard her doing it, and I walked into the living room. I could see that she was re-swallowing a piece of string. I deduced that she must have eaten it earlier, it didn’t sit well, and therefore she was trying to throw it up (yet swallowing it back down completely defeats the purpose of that).

It’s not unusual for the cat to throw up, nor for her to swallow things and then throw it up later. That’s something she does, so we are pretty quick to try to snatch things from her that might cause her to do this.

I had to leave early that morning so I informed the wife and departed. Before I left, the cat threw up once more. While I was gone, she threw up another couple of times.

I returned home to pick up the wife and we left again, returning a couple of hours later after locking the cat in the bathroom to try to contain the potential mess. What can we do but wait for her to pass this thing naturally?

Well, we returned home a couple of hours later and opened the door. There was slobber/saliva/vomit all over the floor. Yuck! I estimated that in total she must have thrown up at least 10 times that day.

We decided to take her to the vet. When we left this morning, the cat was still walking around, jumping on things, generally happy. When we took her to the vet a few hours later, I could see her eyes were starting to glaze over.

We got to the vet where we took her in and they did an x-ray. The thread she ate didn’t show up on the x-ray, but her intestines did and they looked all bunched up. When a cat swallows a thread, if it’s too long it can bunch of the intestines and start to saw through them. They recommended that the cat get prepped for surgery.

Erk.

Well, do it.

We went home that night and cleaned up the rest of the mess. The cat went in for surgery and then we waited for an update.

I went in the next day to visit the cat. She was a little groggy. She hadn’t eaten much all day and was running a fever which is common for cats after surgery. Her eyes looked wet as if she had fallen in water, and so did her tail. She was up and around, but moving slow and lethargic.

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They shaved a large part of her belly, plus parts of her paws. You can see above she was a little hazy, and the bandage where they inserted an IV.

The next day I came back and they retook her temperature. She was running a slight fever but it had come down. We were allowed to take her home, and she was happy to be there. She was still moving slow, but was much happier.

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She continues to recover, and is getting her energy back. She had a lot of incisions in her intestines, the doctor informed me that they had to make five separate ones in order to get all the thread out.

And speaking of the thread, we have no idea what it was that the cat ate. The vet gave us the evidence afterward, and it appears to be a bunch of smaller threads woven together to make one large thread. It’s a big piece of thread, I estimate that unwound it is at least 1 1/2 to 2 feet in length.

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What is that? I have no idea! We looked around the house searching for a candidate. Was it from clothing? Was it from the couch? Something else?

We don’t know.

But we’re happy to have the cat back, even if it did end up costing us $3500.

 

Salt-and-silver

I had a magic performance a couple of weeks ago and I decided to develop a new routine. I have never before performed this trick before. I like it because it is very heavy in sleight-of-hand and misdirection which are some of my specialties.

Enjoy!

It has now been 2 1/2 days since I got braces put on my teeth. They are still sensitive and I can’t bite down on anything hard; the toughest thing I can bite are blueberries and tofu. Anything else still causes pain in my teeth. Still, it’s getting better and I have not lost any weight, I just changed what I eat. Soft foods are for me now, I just kind of slide it to the back of my mouth and swallow with a bare minimum of chewing. There’s no braces on my back four molars, so I chew with those.

With braces, you have to give up a lot of food:

  • Hard candy
  • Sugary food
  • Licorice (same as above)
  • Meat on the bone (i.e., ribs)
  • Popcorn
  • Gum
  • Corn on the cob
  • Raw apples without them being first cut up
  • Honey

This didn’t bother me much because I don’t eat those foods much anyhow except for a couple of things:

  1. Gum

    Not chewing gum is a major drawback. I chew it after lunch a lot; I get the sugar-free kind that is approved by the American Dental Association. But now I can’t chew it at all for the next two years.

  2. Honey

    Giving up this is painful. I like honey but according to the Internet, it’s bad for the braces because the high sugar breaks down the brackets. Either I eat it and take the risk of having them break and replaced, or don’t eat it. I’ll take not eating it, thanks.

I don’t really eat a lot of junk food before but now I can’t eat any. As it turns out, this was poorly timed by me. For you see, when we went to Turkey we brought back some Turkish Delight. If you don’t know what this is, the good kind is a gelatin-like candy with pistachios. It’s really good!

We ate some when we came home and brought others for co-workers. Unfortunately, we still have another box we were saving for ourselves.

I can’t eat it. It’ll get stuck in my braces and possibly break off a bracket.

D’oh!

Well, so much for that. Should have thought of that before I got them put on.

 

After years of putting it off (and having the dentist bug me about it every time I visit their office), I finally got braces put on my teeth. I’ve had them on for about 19 hours.

I’ve been putting it off because the procedure they explained to me sounded horrible – they would shave a layer of enamel off some of my molars which would make extra room for my teeth to move. The idea of having someone drill into my mouth like that plus holding my mouth open for hours was unappealing. I can barely hold my jaw open at a normal dental visit. How was I supposed to deal with that?

So I delayed.

But eventually, I knew I was going to have to do it. Yesterday, I went in and got it done.

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It wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be. In fact, a regular dental visit with x-rays is worse. I don’t know what it is about this dentist, but they put stuff in my mouth and then lean against it and it digs into the soft tissue in my mouth which hurts a lot. It happened a few times yesterday but it’s worse during a normal teeth cleaning.

The procedure itself only hurt a little when the orthodontist kept leaning on the blue thing in my mouth. When the put the wire on the braces I felt pressure but it was okay. They didn’t do the enamel-shaving thing, though. That may still come in the future.

After I was done about two hours after we started, I paid-in-full and left the office, making an appointment to come back a month later.

Well, fast forward a few hours to last night and this morning.

Sitting around doing nothing, my teeth feel annoyingly tight but not very painful if I’m doing nothing. But eating hurts. I can put zero pressure on any tooth in my mouth except for the four back ones where they didn’t put braces on. I can’t even chew a blueberry with any other tooth. It took me 5x as long to eat a piece of toast.

Brushing my teeth is painful, too. And flossing is a nightmare. I have to do this for two years?

All I can say is that this had better work. The treatment is estimated to be around two years. That means that as of today, I only have 729 days left.

I’m counting.

The results are in for the 2014 edition of Britain’s Got Talent, and Winnipeg magician Darcy Oake came in 5th. I watched his act online and I liked his finale a lot. In fact, even though I knew it was a trick, it did make me a little antsy because I wondered if he was going to get out of his straitjacket in time. How was he going to get down from where he was hanging? He performed it very well. As Simon Cowell said, I think we are witnessing the birth of a star.

Darcy, however, did not win.

I don’t think that I could ever win ______’s Got Talent, or even get on the show. As I wrote before, I am not good enough. I will go one step further and say that I don’t that any magician could ever win.

Why?

Because magicians cannot beat musicians.

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Long ago when I decided to specialize in magic rather than music, little did I know that if I wanted to become popular that I had bet on the wrong horse.

Why do I say this?

This is my opinion, but music “speaks” to people in a way that magic cannot (well, to be fair, that magic does not). For you see, I can listen to a song over and over and over again. But a magic effect is great the first couple of times before it loses its luster. But does a song? Most pop music does, but your favorite songs don’t (there are exceptions to some magic tricks but not that many; that’s why magicians don’t repeat tricks).

I think the reason for this is biological.

Suppose I were to ask you if you like donuts. You’d say “Yes, I do!” I ask why you like them. You’d say “Because they taste good!” I’d ask why you think they taste good. You’d answer “Because they are sweet!” I would then ask why you think sweet things taste good. You’d answer “Because… um… er… they do?”

You’d be hard pressed to explain why sweet things taste good. They just do. Why is that?

The reason is that your body runs on glucose. When our ancestors were evolving for millions of years, food was hard to come by. Our bodies evolved such that when we ate something that contained glucose, or sugar, we burned the sugar and glucose immediately for energy. Our bodies need glucose.

To ensure that we would eat it, our taste receptors that connect to our brains sent signals to the pleasure parts of our brain. When our taste buds register that we are eating sugar, our brains interpret these signals and give us positive reinforcement by releasing chemicals – this tastes good! The reason it tastes good is because our body needs it. Thus, evolution hard wired the liking of sweet things into our brains. That’s why you can’t explain why you like it. It’s a deeply implanted instinct.

Aside: the problem with us liking sweet things is that in the past, sweet things were scarce. Now they are abundant, but unfortunately our brains cannot turn off the signals that say “This tastes good.” We eat too much of it and then get fat.

Switching to music, there is a theory that music is “auditory cheesecake.” Cheesecake tastes good because it contains sugar and fat, two things that were necessary to our development. However, it contains too much of those things. Our brains can’t tell the difference, all it knows is that it contains these ingredients in abundance.

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Similarly, one theory of music is that rhythmic beats was necessary to our evolutionary development and just as liking sugar got hard wired into genes, so did the precursor to music (for evidence, consider that musical preferences are different across cultures, but music itself is universal across all cultures). Some think that the intentional steps of walking together in unison while hunting on the African savannah is a precursor to musical tempo, or perhaps the rain has a rhythmic, deliberate beat to it. In any event, music is not random. It is part of our past but served a different purpose and was necessary to our survival.

However, just as cheesecake is junk food, music today is basically auditory junk food. It sounds good, just like cheesecake tastes good. But just as cheesecake doesn’t really do anything for you other than taste good (and contain far too many calories), music’s “purpose” is that it sounds good but those sounds are triggering very old parts of our brains.

This is an oversimplification and music does more than that, but the point is that it’s an instinct in the brain that can be triggered just like our desire for sugar.

This gives music an advantage over magic. Music triggers something that is very part of the way our brains are constructed. Magic is different. Magic makes you think. You need to apply logic and unless you experience other emotions that are part of our genetic makeup as a result of magic, music will always have an advantage.

Music goes straight from sound to our brains.

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Magic goes from visual (plus sometimes sound) to our brains where our brains have to interpret what we see and then decide what to think.

That’s not the same thing and music has a definite advantage. Magic doesn’t trigger any automatic reflexes (for the most part). Some magic does, but it’s hard to perform and discover. To be sure, magic is entertaining. Many people enjoy it. It can trigger humor, wonder, and amazement. When it does, it is powerful. There are far fewer magicians that musicians, so scarcity works in magicians’ favor. But music has a shorter path to our emotions.

That’s why I think that a magician cannot win _________’s Got Talent. Magic is entertaining and fun to watch and I enjoy performing it. I personally prefer it over music… sometimes. But I am the exception, not the rule. People probably can’t explain why they prefer music over magic.

But I can.

And hopefully now, so can you.

Just a quick picture for your viewing pleasure, here I am at the ancient city of Tlos, part of the Lycian empire which was in southwest Turkey for several centuries before being conquered by the Greeks, and subsequently the Romans, then the Byzantines.

In a few days I’ll post some explanations about the four different types of architecture you can see in a single city.

 

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