Credit (FICO)

26 04 2015

Things to know to boost your credit score.

5 Components of a Credit Score

Payment history: 35%

Debt Ratio (utilization): 30%

Balance on cards vs. credit limit. Try to stay below 50%, but best to stay below 30%.

Average Age of Files: 15%

How long you’ve had your credit accounts. Best not to close accounts. Keep them open even if you’re not using them.

Mix of Credit: 10%

Should have a mortgage loan, auto loan, and at least 3 credit cards. Can have even more accounts if you manage them properly. Not always best to pay off loans early. Good to have credit cards.

Inquires: 10%

The Truth about the Credit Bureaus

They make hundreds of millions of dollars – big business – goal is to make money! How they make money: they collect and sell consumer information – usually to the big banks. Their clients are the banks, not you.

You can opt out of this: (HIGHLY recommend doing this!)

Two Main Ways Your Credit Score Goes Up and Down

Your score is always moving (like a stock).

1) Have negative accounts removed.

2) Have positive accounts added. This is why it’s not always best to pay off loans early – you want positive accounts showing on your credit report.

Keep old accounts alive. Auto loans are good. Focus on adding positive accounts (not removing negative ones) – and have activity in the last 6 months. Keep credit card balances low (30% of your credit score).

Everyone Can Help Their Credit Score With This One Thing

Secured Credit Card: you put up the money that represents your credit limit. When you apply for the card, you submit the money, and the represents your credit limit. You are loaning yourself the money. It’s very low risk for the bank. Gives you ability to build your credit. Low risk for you as well.

Seen as a form of credit insurance. Helps protect your score if you have a few secured credit cards. The more of these you have (positive credit accounts), the less a negative account will affect your credit score. Mr Credit has over 40 secured credit cards! You should get AT LEAST 1-3 secured credit lines. (how to use secured credit cards – see article at the bottom of this post)

How Credit Cards Affect Your Credit Score

Almost as important as your payment history in regards to your credit score.

If you don’t have a credit card you’re basically missing 30% of your credit score.

Your utilization (debt) percentage/ratio: green zone/ideal is 0%-29% of your credit limit.

30%-49% is ok, but will have a bit of a negative effect on your credit score.

Over 70% is when your score really starts to drop.

“The Trick” – statement end date: 4/15/11. Reported to bureaus: 4/16/11. You get bill in the mail 4/20/11. SO MAKE PAYMENTS BEFORE YOUR STATEMENT END DATE

How Leases Affect Your Credit Score

Leases don’t show up on your credit report.

How Long Does it Take to Get a Credit Score

Public Savings Bank secured credit card (PSB Secured Credit Card – almost anyone will be approved for this card).

“The Rule” – Accounts need to have at least 6 months of age to generate a credit score.

“The Trick” – become an authorized user on account of immediate family member (parents or spouse). You can get a credit score immediately if that account is at least 6 months old.

Paying Credit Cards Off Monthly Isn’t Helping Your Credit Score

What they don’t want you to know: once you get your credit card bill, it’s already too late! By the time you get the bill, all the info has already been reported to the credit bureaus.

Example: Statement period 2/16 – 3/15. Statement ending date 3/15 (15th will be the same every month). On 3/16 the bill is sent to you AND the balance owed is sent to the credit bureaus. So it has been reported before you’ve even had a chance to make a payment. In this example he recommends submitting the payment on the 10th. When you get the bill in the mail now it will show you owe $0 and that’s what will be reported to the credit bureaus.


How Student Loans Affect Your Credit Score

Doesn’t help to pay them off early. Start making payments ASAP. Don’t go back to school just so you can delay having to start making payments!

More YouTube videos (student loans, real estate, bankruptcy, credit score, etc.): –


You can get a FREE copy of your credit report every 12 months (

Your Free credit report does NOT include your FICO Score. To get your true FICO Score:

FICO Score (apparently this is the FICO Score that lenders usually use… most of the free sites give you a “FAKO” or “educational” score I guess) –

Equifax credit report (good report to get, it pulls all 3 reports – TransUnion, Equifax, Experian – and your FICO Score from each… Equifax uses their own FICO score model… they say it differs from what lenders might use):

Get your ‘FICO Score 8’ (apparently the score model that is most used by lenders) from Experian:

“FICO® Scores are developed by Fair Isaac Corporation. The FICO Score provided by Experian is based on FICO Score 8. Many but not all lenders use FICO Score 8.

There are many different credit scoring models that can give a different assessment of your credit rating and relative risk (risk of default) for the same credit report. Your lender or insurer may use a different FICO Score than FICO Score 8, or another type of credit score altogether. Just remember that your credit rating is often the same even if the number is not. For some consumers, however, the credit rating of FICO Score 8 could vary from the score used by your lender. The statements that “90% of top lenders use FICO Scores” and “FICO Scores are used in 90% of credit decisions” are based on a third-party study of all versions of FICO Scores sold to lenders, including but not limited to scores based on FICO Score 8.

FICO Score 8 ranges from 300 to 850. Higher scores represent a greater likelihood that you’ll pay back your debts so you are viewed as being a lower credit risk to lenders. A lower FICO Score indicates to lenders that you may be a higher credit risk. There are three different major credit reporting agencies — Experian, TransUnion® and Equifax® — that maintain a record of your credit history known as your credit report. Your FICO Score is based on the information in your credit report at the time it is requested. Your credit report information can vary from agency to agency because some lenders report your credit history to only one or two of the agencies. So your FICO Score can vary if the information they have on file for you is different. Since the information in your report can change over time, your FICO Score may also change.”

How to use a Secured Credit Card

Secured MasterCard from Capital One (no annual fee!)

First Progress Platinum Secured Credit Cards (no minimum FICO requirements for approval)


The Chex Systems, Inc. network is comprised of member financial institutions that regularly contribute information on closed checking and savings accounts. ChexSystems shares this information among its member institutions to help them assess the risk of opening new accounts. ChexSystems does not make account opening decisions for its members. Account opening decisions are made by the member institutions based on their internal policies.


The Christmas Story by Bishop J.S.S.

25 12 2013

The Nativity Story

The birth narrative of Jesus shouldn’t be taken literally. Each year, the symbols are everywhere: on radio and television, in newspapers and magazine ads, in store windows, and eventually in our own homes. Sometimes they depict a jolly old elf dressed in red, sometimes accompanied by reindeer and a sleigh. Sometimes they show a manger, a baby, angels singing to shepherds, or wise men following a star. Some of the symbols rotate around the North Pole, the others around a little town named Bethlehem.

Most people do not literalize the story of Santa Claus. He is a symbol–a powerful symbol, but still just a symbol. I suggest that the birth narratives of Jesus, too, cannot be taken literally. They, too, are symbols, a religious version of Santa Claus. Some religious people will be offended by that suggestion. I invite them to reconsider.

The biblical story of Christmas is probably the best known text in the New Testament. These narratives have been part of our conscious life for as long as most of us can remember. We have seen pageants annually; perhaps we have even starred in one. We think we know this biblical content quite well. But do we? How long has it been since we have actually read the biblical text that tells the story of that first Christmas? And how much of our reading is colored by long-standing traditions, a pious imagination, or even those pageants in which we have participated?


The average person would be quite sure that the mode of transportation employed by the Wise Men was the camel. Yet there are no camels in this biblical story at all, not a single one. They have been placed into Matthew’s story by our imaginations, as a careful reading of the first two chapters of Matthew, the only place the story of the Wise Men is told, will reveal.

Second, if one is asked where in Bethlehem the birth of Jesus occurred, the familiar and traditional answer would be “in a stable surrounded by a variety of animals.” We have seen that picture so often, we are quite sure of it. But we would be wrong again. There are no animals mentioned in the story of Jesus’ birth, primarily because there is no stable present in which to house them. The stable is simply not part of the biblical birth story of Jesus. Check it out. Read the first two chapters of Luke. That is the only place in the Bible where details of his Bethlehem birth are given. There is only one word–crib, or manger–around which the stable has been erected in our imaginations.

Third, these two passages in Matthew and Luke are the only accounts of Jesus’ birth found in the entire Bible. There is no mention of a miraculous birth for Jesus in the writings of Paul, in the gospel of Mark, or in the gospel of John, as a quick scan of these texts will reveal.

Paul, who is the first author of a book in the New Testament (he wrote between 50 and 64 C.E.), appears to have no knowledge of anything being unusual about Jesus’ birth. All Paul says is that Jesus was “born of a woman, born under the law” (Galatians 4:4) and “according to the flesh” he was “descended from the House of David” (Romans 1:3). Paul never mentions the names of Mary or Joseph. The only reference he makes to a member of the family of Jesus was to James, whom he called “the Lord’s brother,” and with whom he did not get along very well (Galatians 1).

Mark, who wrote his gospel in the early years of the eighth decade of the Christian era (70-75 C.E.), also tells us no story of Jesus’ birth. He does, however, have two references to Jesus’ family (Mark 3:31-35, 6:1-6), neither of which is flattering. Mark writes that Jesus’ family consists of his mother, four brothers (Simon, Judas, Joses and James), and more than one sister, all left unnamed because of the status of women in that time.

This family, led by Jesus’ mother, believed Jesus was out of his mind and wanted to take him away. That is hardly the response one would expect from a woman to whom an angel had appeared to tell her that she would be the virgin mother of the Son of God.

Joseph makes no appearance in Mark’s gospel, and Mary as the name of Jesus’ mother appears only once–and that on the lips of a critic, who asks of Jesus, “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary?” (Mark 6:3). Please note that in the earliest gospel, Jesus is a carpenter, Joseph is unmentioned, and Jesus is called the son of Mary. To call a Jewish man the son of a woman had a mildly pejorative quality about it. It was a hint that perhaps his paternity was questionable. But that is all we have in written form from any early Christian source until at least 50 years have passed since the end of Jesus’ earthly life.

Mark clearly did not know about the virgin birth tradition. It had not yet developed.

Skipping over to John, written some time between 95 and 100 C.E., we discover that this writer also does not mention the Virgin Birth. It would be difficult to argue that by this late date, the author had not heard of that tradition. Instead, he opens his story with an even more powerful God claim: Jesus was the pre-existent word of God present at the creation. This word of God was simply enfleshed, said the fourth gospel. But that was not achieved by way of a miraculous birth. Indeed, on two occasions this evangelist refers to Jesus as “the son of Joseph” (John 1:45, 6:42).

So in the five major sources of New Testament materials–Paul, Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John–only two, Luke and Matthew, mention the Virgin Birth. It is neither the majority nor the universal understanding of Jesus’ origins even in the Bible.

When we turn to the actual text in Matthew and Luke, the questions and problems indicating that these stories are not literal history multiply. Matthew, who wrote between 80 and 85 C.E., wrote the first stories of Jesus’ birth. He was also the gospel writer most appreciative of and anchored in his Jewish background. Matthew introduced this birth story with a genealogy that grounds Jesus in a thoroughly Jewish past, describing his lineage from Abraham, through David and the kings of Judah, to the exile and finally to Joseph, whom he identified as “the husband of Mary of whom was born Jesus who is called Christ” (Matthew 1:16). Provocatively enough, and quite rare in the ancient world, Matthew adds four women to this lengthy genealogy– all of whom are sexually tainted in the stories about them in the Hebrew Scriptures.

First there is Tamar, the daughter-in-law of Judah who became pregnant by her father-in-law in an incestuous relationship (Matthew 2:1, Genesis 38). Yet Matthew says the line of Jesus came through this woman.

Next, there is Rahab, who was called “the harlot,” who assisted with Joshua’s invasion of the promised land (Matthew 1:5, Joshua 2). Matthew also says the line of Jesus came through this woman.

Then there is Ruth, the great-grandmother of King David who in her time was said to have seduced her future husband, Boaz, with the aid of much wine. When Boaz woke up to discover Ruth in his bed, he covered her with his blanket and proceeded to do the honorable thing by marrying her (Matthew 1:5, Ruth 3). The hereditary background of Jesus includes Ruth, according to Matthew.

Finally, there was “Uriah’s Wife,” Bathsheba, who was first King David’s adulterous lover and eventually, after David arranged for the death of her husband, his wife (one among many). She was also the mother of the heirs of David’s throne, including King Solomon. Bathsheba, an adulterer, is thus a major player in the line of Judah’s kings and Jesus’ ancestry (Matthew 1:6, II Samuel 11).

One wonders what he means to imply about Mary, who is the fifth woman mentioned in his genealogy.

Over and over again, Matthew grounds his story of Jesus’ birth in the presumed expectation of the Hebrew Scriptures. When he comes to the story of Jesus’ miraculous birth, his proof text appears to be Isaiah 7:14. It is a familiar text that reads, “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son and shall call his name Immanuel.” Clearly, Matthew developed his story under the influence of that text.

This text, however, has two problems. First, Matthew did not apparently read Hebrew, so he quoted this text from a Greek translation. If he had gone to the Hebrew original, he would have discovered that the word “virgin” is not in the book of Isaiah. Isaiah used the Hebrew word almah, which simply means “young woman.” He did not use the word betulah, which means virgin. Isaiah’s text announces that the woman is with child, which hardly qualifies her to be a virgin. When Isaiah was translated into Greek, the translators rendered almah with the Greek word parthenos. Only in that Greek word does the hint of virginity enter the text.

The second problem with this text is that when Isaiah wrote it, the city of Jerusalem was under siege from the combined armies of the Northern Kingdom and Syria. Isaiah suggested that the birth of this child would be a sign to the king of Judah that his nation would not fall to these enemies whom Isaiah described as “the tails of two smoking firebrands.” A reference to a child born 800 years later would hardly have been relevant to that crisis.

Clearly, the prophet was not referring to either Jesus’ birth or to some future messiah’s birth.

There are still other problems connected with the stories of Jesus’ birth, but these are sufficient to raise significant questions about their historicity–an issue I believe Christians must face. When one adds to that the fact that virgin birth stories were common in the Mediterranean world as part of the mythology of the first century, other concerns surface. A second-century Christian critic named Celsus articulated this concern when he wrote: “Do you think all the other stories are legends, but that your story of Jesus alone is noble and convincing?”

If the biblical stories we identify with Christmas are not history, then what are they? And what do they mean? Why did these stories become so powerful in shaping the Christian world? What are the story writers trying to communicate about God, about Jesus, about human life itself? Those will be the questions I intend to address in this column as the Christmas season unfolds.

Matthew and Luke’s Nativity Accounts: Symbolism or Fact?
Part II in a series about the Nativity.

Both Matthew and Luke, the gospel writers who brought the story of Jesus’ miraculous birth into the Christmas tradition, wrote no earlier than the ninth or perhaps even the 10th decade of the Christian era.

This means that Christianity lived and flourished for 50 to 60 years before the virgin birth became part of its theology. This fact serves to demonstrate that the virgin birth is neither original nor essential to Christianity. It is also a story filled with obvious inaccuracies.

Matthew tells us that Jesus was born when Herod was king in Judea (Matthew 2:1). From other historical records, we know that Herod died in 4 B.C.E. To complicate the dating process, Luke’s gospel repeats the Herod tradition (Luke 1:5) but adds that Jesus was also born when Quirinius was governor of Syria (Luke 2:1). From other historical records, we know that Quirinius did not become governor of Syria until the winter of 6/7 C.E., by which time Jesus would have been at least 10 years old. The stories do not add up.

There are still other discrepancies in the two biblical birth stories of Jesus. Matthew appears to believes that Mary and Joseph live in Bethlehem in a house over which a star can stop to bathe it in light. So he has to develop a story that will enable Jesus to move from Bethlehem, into Nazareth in Galilee–since Matthew had to deal with the fact that Jesus was known both as a Nazarene and a Galilean. So Matthew tells us that when the holy family returned from Egypt, God in a dream directed them to flee to Galilee, since Herod’s brother was now on the throne and was regarded as a threat to Jesus’ life.

Luke, on the other hand, believes that Mary and Joseph live in Nazareth. But in view of the fact that tradition suggested that the messiah had to be born in the city of David–Bethlehem–he had to develop a story that enabled Mary and Joseph to be in Bethlehem at the time of Jesus’ birth. The proposed census ordered by Quirinius served his purpose.

The literalness of this story is also called into question by the fact that there are no indications anywhere in Roman, Syrian, or Jewish records that there ever was an enrollment that required people to return to their ancestral homes. Luke is clearly stretching his story in several directions, and once more history is not well represented in these stories.

There is one other problem with Luke’s narrative. Mary was said to have accompanied Joseph on this journey, even though women in that society were not allowed to participate in the civic activities for which the enrollment was said to be required. Luke describes Mary as being “great with child.” I assume that means she was in the last month to six weeks of her pregnancy. Bethlehem was a 94-mile journey from Nazareth. Under normal circumstances, it would take seven to 10 days to navigate that distance. One could not walk except in the twilight hours or in the early hours of the morning. Both the heat of the day and the darkness of the night drove people to cover. There were no hotels, restaurants, or toilet facilities along the way. You slept on the side of the road. You carried water, perhaps some figs, olives, and a loaf of bread. It was a hard, dangerous, and grueling journey. You would hardly set off on such a trip with a woman that far along in her pregnancy. One female New Testament scholar suggested that this story, far from being history, could only have come out of the imagination of a man who had never had a baby!

From every angle, the facts suggest that these stories are not history. Virgin births, singing angels, and guiding stars occur only in mythology. The story of Jesus’ virgin birth is no more literally true than is the story of Santa Claus.

Once we arrive at this conclusion, then we are free to search for the real meaning of these stories. They were written not to describe the details of his birth but to reveal who they believed the adult Jesus was. To Matthew, Jesus was “a God presence,” a life through which the holy God could be experienced. That had been the conviction of Jewish people about other heroes, such as Moses, Samuel, Elijah, and Isaiah. But this Jesus was a more total “God presence” than any of those, Matthew asserts–and when he writes his gospel he wants to spell that out in a typical Jewish manner. He starts with a tale of his miraculous birth.

When Jesus is born, a star appeared in the sky, he writes. The star was a common Jewish symbol. In the commentaries on their scriptures, the rabbis suggested that a star appeared in the sky to announce the birth of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Moses. The birth of Jesus is to be marked with nothing less.

Matthew wants his readers to know that Jesus is a Jew, but one who breaks the boundaries that separate Jews from gentiles. A star, a heavenly sign, would do that, since it would be seen all over the world and not just in the land of the Jews. Hence, a star would draw everyone, even gentiles, to its meaning.

That is exactly what Matthew says happens–for under the symbol of the wise men, the whole world is portrayed as being drawn to this Christ. The fact that no star travels through the sky at a pace slow enough for magi to follow is one more hint that this is not a literal history.

And yet another text from Isaiah that gives Matthew the framework in which to build his magi story: Kings “shall come” to the brightness of God’s rising, the prophet said (Isaiah 60). They shall come on camels. (It is in this Isaiah passage alone that camels are mentioned.)

He adds that they will come from Sheba, and they will bring gold and frankincense.

Does that sound just a bit familiar? But “where’s the myrrh?” someone will always ask. The myrrh is there, but one has to know how to read the scriptures with Jewish eyes to find it. The Sheba reference in Isaiah triggered the Jewish Matthew to recall another story of another royal visitor who came to pay homage to another king of the Jews. So back into the sacred text he roamed until he arrived at the story of the Queen of Sheba coming to visit King Solomon. What were her gifts? Truckloads of spices, according to the text (I Kings 10:10). The only spice familiar to the Middle East was myrrh, a sweet smelling resin plentiful in the area and used by the Jews as a substance with which to wrap a deceased body prior to burial.

So from the Jewish tradition, Matthew has borrowed the star, the kings journeying to the brightness of God’s rising, and the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Into this developing narrative, Matthew also introduces a Moses story. When God’s promised deliverer, Moses, was born, a wicked king named Pharaoh sought to destroy this life by killing all the Jewish male children in Egypt. So Matthew says that at the birth of Jesus, a wicked king named Herod moved to destroy this life by killing all the Jewish male babies in Bethlehem. Every Jew reading Matthew would know that this deliberate comparison was not history.

When the virgin birth entered the Christian tradition, someone had to play the role of the earthly father of this special child. So Matthew created and introduced into his story the person we know as Joseph. Why did he call this person Joseph? Because the two great patriarchs in Jewish history were Judah, the father of the Southern Kingdom, and Joseph, the father of the Northern Kingdom. Matthew had already traced the line of Jesus through Judah; now, by making the earthly father of Jesus bear the name Joseph, he could present Jesus as uniting the expectations of all the Jewish people.

Why Joseph? Because whenever the name Jesus (Joshua) is mentioned in the Hebrew scriptures, that Joshua (Jesus) has a connection with an ancestor named Joseph.

With the name of Joseph now chosen, Matthew had to develop his character. From where would that content come? When reading Matthew’s story, we learn three things about Joseph. First, we learn that he had a father named Jacob. Second, we are told that God only spoke to Joseph in dreams. Third, Joseph’s role in salvation history was to save the child of promise from death by taking him down to Egypt.

Does that sound familiar? It would if you read the story of Joseph, the Joseph of the coat of many colors found in the book of Genesis (37-50). There you learn three things about the patriarch Joseph. First, you learn that he has a father named Jacob. Second, he was constantly identified with dreams, even rising to power in Egypt on his ability to interpret the dreams of the Pharaoh. Third, his role in salvation history was to save the people of promise from death by taking them down to Egypt. That is where Matthew borrowed his material to create the story of Joseph.

The birth story of Jesus in Matthew was designed to introduce the adult Jesus of Nazareth as the one who fulfills the expectations of the Jews, the one whose birth was announced by a heavenly sign that drew all the world in the persons of the magi to worship him. These magi brought gold, the gift for a king, because he was seen to be the King of the Universe. They brought frankincense, the gift for a deity, because they perceived him to be one with God. They brought myrrh, the spice associated with death, because it was his destiny to suffer and to die.

He was portrayed in Matthew’s gospel as a new and greater Moses, so his birth was attended by the signs that marked Moses’ birth.

For people raised on biblical literalism, this is a new way to read the birth story of Matthew–but it is the way that Matthew intended his story to be read. In my next column, I will examine Luke’s story of Jesus’ birth where the literal problems are equally as acute.

Not How He Was Born, But Who Was Born
Part III in a series about the Nativity

The gospel we call Luke came into the life of the Christian community between 85 and 95 C.E.; or 55 to 65 years after Jesus’ earthly life came to an end. Luke’s birth story is not history. It is not a literal account of what happened when Jesus was born. It is rather Luke’s attempt to capture the essence of who he thinks Jesus is, namely, the one through whom God can be met.

The author, identified in the tradition as Luke the Physician, appears to have been a gentile convert to Judaism who then became a Christian. Luke clearly had the gospel of Mark in front of him as he wrote. He also seems to have had a second source, which some call Q (for Quelle, which means “source” in German). Other scholars, though a minority, suggest that instead Luke had Matthew as his second source. At least we know that Luke employed the Virgin Birth tradition, which Matthew had introduced. (Never, however, does Luke quote the text from Isaiah on which Matthew built his virgin story. Perhaps the problems to which I have previously referred (see Part One of this series of articles) were already known to him). But Luke does develop the story in his own unique way.

Luke opens his story not with the birth of Jesus but with the birth of John the Baptist. He clearly knows the tradition that the Baptist’s role was that of preparing the way for Jesus. As a fact of history, it seems obvious that Jesus began his public career as a member of the John the Baptist movement. The scriptures are clear that Jesus was not only baptized by John but also that he did not emerge as a leader in his own right until John the Baptist had been arrested and perhaps even executed.

There are bits of biblical evidence that some competition existed between the followers of Jesus and the followers of John in the earliest years of the Christian movement. By the time the gospels were written (70-100 C.E.), John had been incorporated into the Christian story but in the secondary role of the forerunner, the one “who prepared the way for the Lord.” John was even said to have validated Jesus’ claim to superiority in his reticence to baptize Jesus, suggesting that he, John, had a need to be baptized by Jesus. So Luke began his gospel by telling a story that suggested that even in the births of these two figures, the pre-eminence of Jesus had been established.

By the time Luke wrote, the birth of Jesus was some 90 years in the past, the birth of John the Baptist still longer ago. In Luke’s world, there was no place to go to verify historical facts like names. There were no birth records, no newspaper stories, and, by this time, no eyewitnesses. In Luke’s community of dispersed Jews and gentile converts, there would have been no knowledge of or interest in the parents of John the Baptist. He was for them a minor figure in Judea. So when Luke decided to interpret the life of John the Baptist solely in terms of his relationship with Jesus, he had a clear field to let his literary imagination run free. He did not have to be bothered with history.

He therefore chose names for John’s parents that added greatly to the significance of the story he was determined to tell. He also created the character of John the Baptist by lifting content directly out of the Hebrew scriptures. For Luke, John’s identity was best seen not as the new Elijah, but as the nameless voice from the book of Malachi whose task it was to prepare the way for the coming of “the day of the Lord.”

In a part of the Hebrew Scriptures called “The Book of the Twelve,” Malachi was listed as the last of the Jewish prophets. Malachi’s immediate predecessor in those Jewish Scriptures was Zechariah. So Luke used Zechariah as the name of John’s father, the Baptist’s immediate predecessor. (That choice required an explanation, which Luke added to his story, of why the name John was chosen when none of Zechariah’s kinsmen bore that name.)

The choice of the name Zechariah also helped Luke to assert how deeply the book of Zechariah had shaped the early Christian message. Zechariah 9:9-11 gives the embryonic story of the Palm Sunday procession, and elsewhere the book contains a story about the shepherd king of Israel, who was betrayed for 30 pieces of silver by those who bought and sold animals in the Temple. All of these themes show up in the Jesus story. In Zechariah is also found the familiar verse, used by Jesus in almost all the gospels, about the shepherd being struck and the sheep being scattered. So the choice of the name of Zechariah opened a rich vein that Luke could mine as he told his story.

Luke identified the mother of John the Baptist as a member of the priestly family of Aaron and gave her the name Elizabeth. This name, Elisheba in Hebrew, appears only once in the Jewish scriptures. There she is the wife of Aaron and thus the sister-in-law of both Moses and Miriam (which is, of course, the Hebrew spelling of Mary). Playing on that theme, Luke suggests that since Mary and Elizabeth are sisters-in-law, John and Jesus are perhaps cousins.

As Luke’s story develops, other themes from the Jewish scriptures dance across his stage. Elizabeth and Zechariah are like Abraham and Sarah, too old to conceive a child. But again God overcomes that barrier. Zechariah’s vision in the Temple, his speaking with the angel, and his being struck mute echo a similar story in the book of Daniel.

But the major thrust of these stories is Luke’s assertion that as wondrous as John the Baptist’s story is, he pales beside Jesus of Nazareth. For John to be born to aged parents was a wonder but not near so great a wonder as a Virgin Birth. When John is born, the neighbors gather to rejoice. When Jesus is born, the heavenly hosts rejoice. When Zechariah doubts, he is punished with muteness. When Mary doubts, she is assured by the angel. John, while still in the womb of his mother Elizabeth, salutes Jesus, still in Mary’s womb. A salute from one fetus to another is hardly the stuff of actual history.

Then Luke tells the story of Jesus’ birth. He emphasizes two symbols, mentioning one three times, the other twice. First, this special child is to be found in a manger. Second, the Christ is to be wrapped in swaddling cloths.

In Isaiah Chapter 1, the prophet bemoans the fact that while even the donkey knows from whose manger he eats, Israel is not faithful to its God. But for the holy child to be found in the manger at birth suggests that this child will recall the people of Israel to the God who is the source of their life.

In the Wisdom of Solomon, Israel’s greatest and most opulent king observes that when he was born, he was carefully swaddled, for that is the only way a king can come to his people. To have Jesus come to his people in swaddling cloths is Luke’s way of announcing Jesus’ kingship.

There is no star in Luke. He replaces it with the light of an angel and the greater light of the heavenly host. But the purpose is the same. The birth of Jesus is announced from the sky, for beyond the sky is the place from which God reigns. Jesus is the sign of God’s presence coming out of heaven to redeem the sinful world.

There are no wise men in this gospel. Rather, humble shepherds attend the newborn. Luke’s treatment of Simon Magus in the book of Acts indicates that he did not care for magi. And he had little use for royalty–humble shepherds were more to his taste. The shepherds also allowed him to play on the theme of Bethlehem being the birthplace of David, the Shepherd King. Armed only with the clues of manger and swaddling clothes, these shepherds went to seek the Christ child and to worship him. God and human life had come together in Jesus.

Luke has one other feature that is unique to him: His characters regularly break into song. When Mary goes to visit Elizabeth, she sings the “Magnificat”: “My soul doth magnify the Lord.” This song is modeled after a song Hannah sang in the Hebrew scriptures when Samuel was born. Zechariah, who is struck mute when he is told of the promise of the birth of John, later has that muteness lifted. Immediately, he breaks into a song called the “Benedictus”–“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel.” When the angels announce the birth of Jesus, they form a heavenly chorus singing what today we call the “Gloria in Excelsis”–“Glory to God in the highest.” Finally, when Luke tells the story of Jesus being presented in the Temple at 40 days, the old priest Simeon breaks into the song known as the “Nunc Dimittus”: “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace.” It is almost as though Luke has turned his pageant into an operetta. Perhaps what he did was to place into the beginning of his gospel a Christmas play to which he added a musical score.

Luke closes his birth story with the account of Jesus visiting the Temple when he is 12 years old and claiming his “father’s house” as his own. This is patterned after a story of Samuel, and it presages the adult Jesus claiming the Temple as his father’s house the week before his crucifixion.

Luke’s gospel is a beautiful story filled with meaning, deeply steeped in the Jewish storytelling tradition. To see it as myth or parable is to enter it in a new way. It is a religious story not unlike the secular story of Santa Claus. Both stories were created to capture a truth that human words cannot fully contain. But if either story is literalized, and one pretends that this mythology is real history, disillusionment is inevitable. That is the fate of Santa when one reaches the age of 6 or 7. That will be the fate of the birth narratives in the maturity of our emerging consciousness.

I will conclude this analysis of the birth narratives of the New Testament in the final column of this series.

The Christmas Story: What’s Real–and What’s Not
Fact or folklore
: Part IV in a series about the Nativity

Did it really happen? Did the angel Gabriel really appear to Mary to tell her she was to be the virgin mother of the Son of God? Do virgin births really occur anywhere except in mythology and fairy tales? Did Herod really slaughter the innocent children in his attempt to remove the threat of a newborn king? Did a star really appear in the sky when Jesus was born? Did that star really travel at a pace so slow that wise men could follow it from wherever they came from all the way to Bethlehem? Did these magi really offer gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the infant? Did a heavenly host really sing to hillside shepherds when the child was born?

Did it really happen? Or are these narratives a kind of religious Santa Claus story, not meant to be taken literally?

For most of the first 1,700 years of Christian history, the unchallenged answer to each of these inquiries would have been a resounding yes. Human beings lived then in a prescientific world of miracle and magic. The faith story, rooted as it was in the past, wove into its central fabric tales of wonder without either hesitation or embarrassment. But in the last 400 years of Western history, we have experienced an enormous intellectual revolution that has changed dramatically the way we view the world in which we live.

Our world does not admit of heavenly signs that broadcast events on earth, nor do we admit that there is such a thing as a supernatural or miraculous birth. We know that the story of a Santa Claus who travels through the sky is not literal truth, and we have come to suspect that neither is the story of Jesus’ birth.

So, modern people face the “Did it really happen?” question about these Christmas stories and answer it with an increasingly clear No! No, these things did not really happen. No, they are not literal. They did not occur in history, and it is time for the leaders of the church to say so openly. The fact is that no reputable biblical theologian today, Catholic or Protestant, is willing to defend the historical accuracy of the details of the biblical birth stories.

When one goes deeply into these texts, it also becomes obvious that even the original authors of Matthew and Luke never intended their stories to be accounts of something that actually happened. That is something Western believers have imposed on these biblical texts. It was Dr. Jeffrey John, a New Testament scholar in the United Kingdom, who first identified these birth narratives for me as “haggadic midrash,” by which he meant that they are part of the ongoing Jewish storytelling tradition crafted out of the pieces of the Jews’ sacred past. They were designed to introduce Jesus, who in his adult life made people believe that a God presence had appeared in human history, in a unique way into this life. They were not intended to say anything factual about the details of his birth.

That is true of all birth traditions. No one waits outside a delivery room for a great person to be born. People are born with little fanfare outside their immediate families. But when a life becomes critical in the lives of others or in history, then stories develop to indicate that the moment this life was born was a significant moment in the life of the world, and that that moment was marked with presaging signs. That is what the birth stories of Jesus mean.

These stories are the conscious attempts to stretch the boundaries of language so that words could point to a transcendent reality that they normally cannot embrace. They represent first-century attempts to say, “We have met something in this particular life that we do not believe human beings by themselves could ever have produced.” In narrative form, the gospel writers were trying to join in Paul’s assertion that somehow and in some way “God was in this Christ!” So, they wrote that at the moment of the birth of this life, the whole created order took notice.

The fact that the birth stories of Matthew and Luke were literalized was a tragedy, for that literalizing process also succeeded in distorting, warping, and, in a very real way, destroying both the power and the significance of the narratives. When children cease to take the Santa Claus story literally, they can begin the process of discerning what the symbol of Santa Claus means. He is the personification of the spirit and joy of giving.

So, in the task of rediscovering the true meaning of the stories of Jesus’ birth, the first thing that must be faced is that these narratives are not accounts from memory of something that actually happened. Let me be clear, as most religious people like to hedge their language so that they do not offend. There was no annunciation of the angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary. There was no star that shone in the sky to announce Jesus’ birth. There were no wise men who followed that star. There were no gifts of gold, frankincense, or myrrh. There was no murder of innocent male babies by the wicked King Herod. There was no tax enrollment ordered by Quirinius, the governor of Syria, and thus no journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem. There was no manger. There was no heavenly messenger who proclaimed the birth of this Jesus to hillside shepherds, no angelic chorus that sang “Glory to God the highest.” There was no journey to the Temple in Jerusalem at age 12. All of these are storytelling creations of the Jewish mind, seeking to explain in a thoroughly Jewish way the experience that people had with the adult Jesus.

If it is history that we desire, then let me state that the overwhelming probability is that Jesus was not born in Bethlehem but in Nazareth of Galilee. The whole Bethlehem tradition was quite clearly a much later attempt to interpret Jesus as the heir of David and thus the anticipated messianic figure who would arise out of the line of David, and whose prophesied birthplace would be Bethlehem.

There is also no irrefutable body of data about the parents of Jesus that is available for our knowledge, despite the elaborate traditions of Christian history. Mary might loom large in the developing Christian tradition, but she does not loom large in the early Christian writings. Her name appears only once in the biblical narrative before the ninth decade C.E. That sole mention was contained in a critical shout from a nameless person in the crowd and came in the form of a question: “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary?” It was a hostile question designed to insult or to question Jesus’ origins. (People were normally identified with their father’s name–if the father was known.) Certainly there was no suggestion, in this first biblical reference to the mother of Jesus, that she was a virgin or that Jesus’ birth was in any way miraculous.

The suggestion that Jesus’ paternity was in doubt or was a source of scandal also finds an echo in the Song of Mary in Luke’s gospel, where the mother of Jesus is made to say, “He has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden,” which could easily be a reference to the status of an unmarried but pregnant woman. Further hints of the scandal of his birth occurs in the Fourth Gospel, where a loud debate about Jesus’ origins produces a member of the crowd who accosts Jesus with the words, “We were not born of fornication” (John 8:41). The clear implication of this text was that Jesus was so born.

It is also clear from a study of early Christian documents that early Jewish critics of Jesus and the Jesus movement made similar charges, even suggesting that Jesus was the child of a Roman soldier (whether by rape or by consent is not always clear). Perhaps the virgin-birth tradition was born as a Christian defense against such charges. Those are the facts of history; beyond them, we can say little more.

Christianity moved beyond its Jewish origins toward the end of the first century and began to be known to the people in the broader Mediterranean world, which was deeply shaped by Greek thought. In that context, these stories took quantum leaps in importance. The Greek world was dualistic; that is, it thought of flesh and bodies as something sinful, evil, corrupt, and unworthy of spiritual people. For this reason, celibacy for men and virginity for women began to be thought of as the paths toward holiness. The Virgin Mary became the supreme model of spirituality. Celibate men could adore her safely, because she was the epitome of purity. Virgins could emulate her and thus claim the highest virtue. Sex came to be thought of as dirty, base, and carnal, and to engage in sexual activity was a sign of spiritual weakness. In time, sex and sin were identified with each other, and sexual guilt became the lever by which the church sought to control human behavior. That is why to this day, sex is still the subject about which the fiercest, most rending debates occur inside the Christian church.

The story of the Virgin has not served the world well. More important, that story has not served women well. The fetish about virginity made marriage appear to be a compromise with sin and made sex even inside marriage acceptable only if conception was the desired goal. To impose a barrier between sex and conception became a sign of absolute evil. The condemnation of birth control began in this formulation.

These columns have articulated my conviction that the Christian church must free Christianity from these distorting attitudes toward human sexuality by going back to the origin of the tradition out of which this development arose. We must place those stories into their Jewish context, deliteralize them, and begin to see what the authors intended to say.

Immediately, I have suggested, the miraculous birth tradition disappears as history, but it re-emerges as powerful and shaping narratives that provide a primary insight into the meaning of Jesus. To journey into the heart of these narratives is to journey into the Christian claim that God was present in this man Jesus and that this experience compels us to come and worship. Frankly, this transition from history to poetry is that which will save the meaning of Christmas in our postmodern world.

Books by Bishop John Shelby Spong


Transactional Analysis – ‘I’m OK, You’re OK’ by Dr. Thomas A. Harris

23 01 2013


Transactional Analysis delineates three observable ego-states (Parent, Adult, and Child) as the basis for the content and quality of interpersonal communication. “Happy childhood” notwithstanding, says Harris, most of us are living out the Not ok feelings of a defenseless child, dependent on ok others (parents) for stroking and caring. At some stage early in our lives we adopt a “position” about ourselves and others that determines how we feel about everything we do. And for a huge portion of the population, that position is “I’m Not OK — You’re OK.” This negative “life position,” shared by successful and unsuccessful people alike, contaminates our rational Adult capabilities, leaving us vulnerable to inappropriate emotional reactions of our Child and uncritically learned behavior programmed into our Parent. By exploring the structure of our personalities and understanding old decisions, Harris believes we can find the freedom to change our lives.

The Parent, Adult, Child (P-A-C) Model

After describing the context for his belief of the significance of TA, Harris describes TA, starting from the observation that a person’s psychological state seems to change in response to different situations. The question is, from what and to what does it change? Harris answers this through a simplified introduction to TA, explaining Berne’s proposal that there are three states into which a person can switch: the Parent, the Adult and the Child.

Harris describes the mental state called the Parent by analogy, as a collection of “tape recordings” of external influences that a child observed adults doing and saying. The recording is a long list of rules and admonitions about the way the world is that the child was expected to believe unquestioningly. Many of these rules (for example: “Never run out in front of traffic”) are useful and valid all through life; others (“Premarital sex is wrong”, or “You can never trust a cop”) are opinions that may be less helpful.

In parallel with those Parent recordings, the Child is a simultaneous recording of internal events — how life felt as a child. Harris equates these with the vivid recordings that Wilder Penfield was able to cause his patients to re-live by stimulating their brains. Harris proposes that, as adults, when we feel discouraged, it is as if we are re-living those Child memories yet the stimulus for re-living them may no longer be relevant or helpful in our lives.

According to Harris, humans start developing a third mental state, the Adult, about the time children start to walk and begin to achieve some measure of control over their environment. Instead of learning ideas directly from parents into the Parent, or experiencing simple emotion as the Child, children begin to be able to explore and examine the world and form their own opinions. They test the assertions of the Parent and Child and either update them or learn to suppress them. Thus the Adult inside us all develops over time, but it is very fragile and can be readily overwhelmed by stressful situations. Its strength is also tested through conflict between the simplistic ideas of the Parent and reality. Sometimes, Harris asserts, it is safer for a person to believe a lie than to acknowledge the evidence in front of them. This is called Contamination of the Adult.

Four life positions

The phrase I’m OK, You’re OK is one of four “life positions” that each of us may take. The four positions are:

I’m Not OK, You’re OK
I’m Not OK, You’re Not OK
I’m OK, You’re Not OK
I’m OK, You’re OK

The most common position is I’m Not OK, You’re OK. As children we see that adults are large, strong and competent and that we are little, weak and often make mistakes, so we conclude I’m Not OK, You’re OK. Children who are abused may conclude I’m Not OK, You’re Not OK or I’m OK, You’re Not OK, but this is much less common. The emphasis of the book is helping people understand how their life position affects their communications (transactions) and relationships with practical examples.

I’m OK, You’re OK continues by providing practical advice to begin decoding the physical and verbal clues required to analyze transactions. For example, Harris suggests signs that a person is in a Parent ego state can include the use of evaluative words that imply judgment based on an automatic, axiomatic and archaic value system: words like ‘stupid, naughty, ridiculous, disgusting, should or ought’ (though the latter can also be used in the Adult ego state).

Harris introduces a diagrammatic representation of two classes of communication between individuals: complementary transactions, which can continue indefinitely, and crossed transactions, which cause a cessation of communication (and frequently an argument). Harris suggests that crossed transactions are problematic because they “hook” the Child ego state of one of the participants, resulting in negative feelings. Harris suggests that awareness of this possibility, through TA, can give people a choice about how they react when confronted with an interpersonal situation which makes them feel uncomfortable. Harris provides practical suggestions regarding how to stay in the Adult ego state, despite the provocation.

Having described a generalized model of the ego states inside human beings, and the transactions between them, Harris then describes how individuals differ. He argues that insights can be gained by examining the degree to which an individual’s Adult ego state is contaminated by the other ego states. He summarizes contamination of the Adult by the Parent as “prejudice” and contamination of the Adult by the Child as “delusion”. A healthy individual is able to separate these states. Yet, Harris argues, a functioning person does need all three ego states to be present in their psyche in order for them to be complete. Someone who excludes (i.e. blocks out) their Child completely cannot play and enjoy life; while someone who excludes their Parent ego state can be a danger to society (they may become a manipulative psychopath who does not feel shame, remorse, embarrassment or guilt).

Harris also identifies from his medical practice examples of individuals with blocked out Adult ego states, who were psychotic, terrified and varied between the Parent ego state’s archaic admonitions about the world and the raw emotional state of the Child, making them non-treatable by therapy. For such cases, Harris endorses drug treatments, or electro-convulsive therapy, as a way to temporarily disrupt the disturbing ego states, allowing the “recommissioning” of the Adult ego state by therapy. Harris reports a similar approach to treating Manic Depression.

The second half of the book begins by briefly describing the six ways that TA practitioners recognize individuals use to structure time, to make life seem meaningful. Harris continues by offering practical case studies showing applications of TA to Marriage and the raising of both Children and Adolescents. This section of I’m OK, You’re OK concludes as Harris describes when TA can be relevant to an individual’s life, and how and by whom it might be delivered. He promotes the idea that TA is not just a method for specialists, but can be shared and used by many people.

Having described such a structured method of dealing with the challenges of human psychology, the final two chapters of the book discuss the question of improving morality and society. In particular, he asks, if we are not to succumb to domination by the Parent ego state, how can individuals enlightened through TA know how they should live their lives? Starting from his axiomatic statement I’m OK, You’re OK, he acknowledges that accepting it at face value raises the same philosophical dilemmas as the problem of evil does for believers in a just, omnipotent God. Harris continues to explore aspects of Christianity with reference to TA, together with more generalized questions about the nature of religion.

The final chapter of I’m OK, You’re OK refers to social issues contemporary at the time of writing, including the Cold War, Vietnam war and the contemporary controversial research of individuals’ response to authority conducted by psychologist Stanley Milgram. Harris applies TA to these issues and concludes his book with the hope that nations will soon gain the maturity to engage in Adult to Adult dialogue, rather than conducting diplomacy in the collective archaic ego states of Parent or Child, which he sees as causing war and disharmony.

TA Made Simple part 1

TA Made Simple part 2

Overview of Transaction Analysis (TA)

“The predominant by-product of the frustrating, civilizing process is negative feelings. On the basis of these feelings the little person early concludes, “I’m not OK.” We call this comprehensive self-estimate the NOT OK, or the NOT OK Child. This conclusion and the continual experiencing of the unhappy feelings which led to it and confirm it are recorded permanently in the brain and cannot be erased. This permanent recording is the residue of having been a child. Any child. Even the child of kind, loving, well-meaning parents. It is the situation of childhood and not the intention of the parents which produces the problem.

… the Child is a state into which a person may be transferred at almost any time in his current transactions. There are many things that can happen to us today which recreate the situation of childhood and bring on the same feelings we felt then. Frequently we may find ourselves in situations where we are faced with impossible alternatives, where we find ourselves in a corner, either actually, or in the way we see it. These “hook the Child,” as we say, and cause a replay of the original feelings of frustration, rejection, or abandonment, and we relive a latter-day version of the small child’s primary depression. Therefore, when a person is in the grip of feelings, we say his Child has taken over. When his anger dominates his reason, we say his Child is in command.

… our observations both of small children and of ourselves as grownups convince us that the NOT OK feelings generally outweigh the good. This is why we believe it is a fair estimate to say that everyone has a NOT OK Child.”

– Ch. 2

“Transactional Analysis constructs the following classification of the four possible life positions held with respect to oneself and others:


Before I elaborate each position I wish to state a few general observations about positions. I believe that by the end of the second year of life, or sometime during the third year, the child has decided on one of the first three positions. The I’M NOT OK—YOU’RE OK is the first tentative decision based on the experiences of the first year of life. By the end of the second year it is either confirmed and settled or it gives way to Position 2 or 3: I’M NOT OK—YOU’RE NOT OK or I’M OK—YOU’RE NOT OK. Once finalized, the child stays in his chosen position and it governs everything he does. It stays with him the rest of his life, unless he later consciously changes it to the fourth position. People do not shift back and forth. The decision as to the first three positions is based totally on stroking and nonstroking. The first three are nonverbal decisions. They are conclusions, not explanations. Yet they are more than conditioned responses. They are what Piaget calls intellectual elaborations in the construction of causality. In other words, they are a product of Adult data processing in the very little person.

I’m Not OK—You’re OK

This is the universal position of early childhood, being the infant’s logical conclusion from the situation of birth and infancy. There is OK-ness in this position, because stroking is present. Every child is stroked in the first year of life simply by the fact that he had to be picked up to be cared for. Without at least minimal handling the infant would not survive. There is also NOT-OK-ness. That is the conclusion about himself. I believe the evidence points to the overwhelming accumulation of NOT OK feelings in the child, making logical (on the basis of the evidence he has) his NOT OK conclusion about himself. In explaining Transactional Analysis to patients and nonpatients I have found a generally that’s it! response to the explanation of the origin and existence of the NOT OK Child. I believe that acknowledging the NOT OK Child in each of us is the only sympathetic, thus curative, way games can be analyzed. Considering the universality of games, the universality of the I’M NOT OK is a reasonable deduction. Adler’s break with Freud was over this point: sex was not at the basis of man’s struggle in life, but rather feelings of inferiority, or NOT OK, which were apparent universally. He claimed that the child, by virtue of his small size and helplessness, inevitably considered himself inferior to the adult figures in his environment. Harry Stack Sullivan was greatly influenced by Adler, and I was greatly influenced by Sullivan, with whom I studied for the five years preceding his death. Sullivan, whose central contribution to psychoanalytic thought was the concept of “interpersonal relationships,” or transactions, claimed that the child built his self-estimate totally on the appraisal of others, what he called “reflected appraisals.” He said:

The child lacks the equipment and experience necessary to form an accurate picture of himself, so his only guide is the reactions of others to him. There is very little cause for him to question these appraisals, and in any case he is far too helpless to challenge them or to rebel against them. He passively accepts the judgments, which are communicated empathetically at first, and by words, gestures, and deeds in this period . . . thus the self-attitudes learned early in life are carried forever by the individual, with some allowance for the influence of extraordinary environmental circumstances and modification through later experiences.

In the first position the person feels at the mercy of others. He feels a great need for stroking, or recognition, which is the psychological version of the early physical stroking. In this position there is hope because there is a source of stroking—YOU’RE OK—even if the stroking is not constant. The Adult has something to work on: What must I do to gain their strokes, or their approval? There are two ways in which people may attempt to live out this position.

The first is to live out a life script [Script Analysis is the method of uncovering the early decisions, made unconsciously, as to how life shall be lived. My reference to script and counterscript is general. Definitive studies of the origins and analysis of scripts are being conducted by a number of Transactional Analysts, notably Berne, Ernst, Groder, Karpman, and Steiner] that confirms the NOT OK. It is written unconsciously by the Child. The script may call for a life of withdrawal, since it is too painful to be around OK people. These people may seek stroking through make-believe and engage in an elaborate wish-life of if I and when I. Another person’s script may call for behavior which is provoking to the point where others turn on him (negative stroking), thus proving once again, I’M NOT OK. This is the case of the “bad little boy.” You say I’m bad so I’ll be bad! He may kick and spit and claw his way through life and thus achieve a fraudulent integrity with at least one constant he can count on: I’M NOT OK—YOU’RE OK. There is a kind of miserable sense in this, in that the integrity of the position is maintained, but it leads to despair. The ultimate resolution of this position is giving up (institutionalization) or suicide.

A more common way to live out this position is by a counter-script (also unconscious) with borrowed lines from the Parent: YOU CAN BE OK, IF. Such a person seeks friends and associates who have a big Parent because he needs big strokes, and the bigger the Parent, the better the strokes. (OK strokes can only come from OK people, and the Parent is OK, as it was in the beginning.) This person is eager, willing, and compliant to the demands of others. “Some of our best people” are where they are because of these efforts to gain approval. However, they are committed to a lifetime of mountain climbing, and when they reach the top of one mountain they are confronted by still another mountain. The NOT OK writes the script; the YOU’RE OK (and I want to be like you) writes the counter-script. Neither works in producing happiness or a sense of lasting worth, however, because the position has not changed. “No matter what I do, I’m still NOT OK.”

Once the position is uncovered and changed, the achievements and skills that have resulted from the counterscript can serve the person well when he builds a new and conscious life plan with the Adult.”

– Ch. 3

“The fact is games are not funny. They are defenses to protect individuals from greater or lesser degrees of pain growing from the NOT OK position. The popularity of Berne’s game book has given rise in many sophisticated circles to a new pastime of game calling. The concept of games can be a useful therapeutic tool when used in combination with a prior applied understanding of P-A-C; but in the absence of such insight the game concept, particularly game calling, can simply be another way to be hostile. People with an understanding of P-A-C can use an academic discussion of games by applying it to themselves; but to be “called” on a game by another person, in the absence of insight or true concern, most often produces anger. It is my firm belief from long observation of this phenomenon that game analysis must always be secondary to Structural and Transactional Analysis. Knowing what game you are playing does not, ipso facto, make it possible for you to change. There is danger in stripping away a defense without first helping a person to understand the position—and the situation in childhood in which it was established—which has made this defense necessary. Another way of stating this is that if only one hour were available to help someone, the method of choice would be a concise teaching of the meaning of P-A-C and the phenomenon of the transaction. This procedure, I believe, holds more promise for change in short-term treatment than game analysis.

Summarily, we see games as time-structuring devices which, like withdrawal, rituals, activities, and pastimes, keep people apart. What then can we do with time in a way which does not keep us apart? George Sarton observed: “I believe one can divide men into two principal categories: those who suffer the tormenting desire for unity and those who do not. Between these two kinds an abyss— the ‘unitary’ is the troubled; the other is the peaceful.”

For many thousands of years man’s existence has been structured preponderantly by withdrawal, ritual, pastimes, activities, and games. Skepticism about this assertion could perhaps best be met by a reminder of the persistent recurrence throughout history of war, the grimmest game of all. The majority of men have helplessly accepted these patterns as human nature, the inevitable course of events, the symptoms of history repeating itself. There has been a certain peace in a resignation of this sort. But, as Sarton suggests, the truly troubled people of history have been those who have refused to resign themselves to the inevitability of apartness and who have been driven on by a tormenting desire for unity. The central dynamic of philosophy has been the impulse to connect. The hope has always been there, but it has not overcome the intrinsic fear of being close, of losing oneself in another, of partaking in the last of our structuring options, intimacy.

A relationship of intimacy between two people may be thought of as existing independent of the first five ways of time structuring: withdrawal, pastimes, activities, rituals, and games. It is based on the acceptance by both people of the I’M OK—YOU’RE OK position. It rests, literally, in an accepting love where defensive time structuring is made unnecessary. Giving and sharing are spontaneous expressions of joy rather than responses to socially programed rituals. Intimacy is a game-free relationship, since goals are not ulterior. Intimacy is made possible in a situation where the absence of fear makes possible the fullness of perception, where beauty can be seen apart from utility, where possessiveness is made unnecessary by the reality of possession.

It is a relationship in which the Adult in both persons is in charge and allows for the emergence of the Natural Child. In this regard the Child may be thought of as having two natures: the Natural Child (creative, spontaneous, curious, aware, free of fear) and the Adaptive Child (adapted to the original civilizing demands of the Parent). The emancipation of the Adult can enable the Natural Child to emerge once more. The Adult can identify the demands of the Parent for what they are—archaic—and give permission to the Natural Child to emerge again, unafraid of the early civilizing process, which turned off not only his aggressive antisocial behavior but his joy and creativity as well. This is the truth that makes him free—free to be aware again and free to hear and feel and see in his own way. This is a part of the phenomenon of intimacy. Thus the gift of a handful of primroses may more readily be a spontaneous expression of love and joy than the expensive perfume from I. Magnin on the socially important anniversary date. The forgotten anniversary date is not a catastrophe for the intimate husband and wife, but it very often is for those whose relationship exists by virtue of ritual.

The question is frequently asked: Are withdrawal, pastimes, rituals, activities, and games always bad in a relationship? It is safe to say that games nearly always are destructive, inasmuch as their dynamic is ulterior, and the ulterior quality is the antithesis of intimacy. The first four are not necessarily destructive unless they become a predominant form of time structuring. Withdrawal can be a relaxed, restorative form of solitary contemplation. Pastimes can be a pleasant way of idling the social motor. Rituals can be fun—birthday parties, holiday tradition, running to meet Dad when he’s home from work—in that they repeat again and again joyous moments which can be anticipated, counted on, and remembered. Activities, which include work, not only are necessities of life but are rewarding in and of themselves, as they allow for mastery, excellence, and craftsmanship and the expression of a great variety of skills and talents. However, if there is discomfort in a relationship between two people when these modes of time structuring cease, it is safe to say there is little intimacy. Some couples program their entire time together with frantic activity. The activity itself is not destructive unless the compulsion to keep busy is one and the same as the compulsion to keep apart.

The question now arises: If we strip ourselves of the first five ways of time structuring, do we automatically have intimacy? Or do we have nothing? There seems to be no simple way to define intimacy, yet it is possible to point to those conditions which are most favorable for its appearance: the absence of games, the emancipation of the Adult, and the commitment to the position I’M OK—YOU’RE OK. It is through the emancipated Adult that we can reach out to the vast areas of knowledge about our universe and about each other, explore the depths of philosophy and religion, perceive what is new, unrefracted by the old, and perhaps find answers, one at a time, to the great perplexity, “What’s the good of it all?””

– Ch. 7

Transactional Analysis – ‘Games People Play’ by Dr. Eric Berne

22 01 2013


We think we’re relating to other people–but actually we’re all playing games.

Forty years ago, Games People Play revolutionized our understanding of what really goes on during our most basic social interactions. More than five million copies later, Dr. Eric Berne’s classic is as astonishing–and revealing–as it was on the day it was first published. This anniversary edition features a new introduction by Dr. James R. Allen, president of the International Transactional Analysis Association, and Kurt Vonnegut’s brilliant Life magazine review from 1965.

We play games all the time–sexual games, marital games, power games with our bosses, and competitive games with our friends. Detailing status contests like “Martini” (I know a better way), to lethal couples combat like “If It Weren’t For You” and “Uproar,” to flirtation favorites like “The Stocking Game” and “Let’s You and Him Fight,” Dr. Berne exposes the secret ploys and unconscious maneuvers that rule our intimate lives.

Explosive when it first appeared, Games People Play is now widely recognized as the most original and influential popular psychology book of our time. It’s as powerful and eye-opening as ever.

What are the games in Games People Play?

Berne defined games as:

“A game is an ongoing series of complementary ulterior transactions progressing to a well-defined, predictable outcome. Descriptively, it is a recurring set of transactions… with a concealed motivation… or gimmick.”

To re-state Berne’s definition, one can think of a game as a series of interactions (words, body language, facial expressions, etc.) between two or more people that follow a predictable pattern. The interactions ultimately progress to an outcome in which one individual obtains a “payoff” or “goal.” In most cases, the participants of the games are unaware that they are “playing.”

The first game that Berne introduces in Games People Play is “If It Weren’t For You” or IWFY. Berne uses this game as an example to explain all types of games. Berne writes:

Mrs. White complained that her husband severely restricted her social activities, so that she had never learned to dance. Due to changes in her attitude brought about psychiatric treatment, her husband became less sure of himself and more indulgent. Mrs. White was then free to enlarge the scope of her activities. She signed up for dancing classes, and then discovered to her despair that she had a morbid hear of dance floors and had to abandon this project.

This unfortunate adventure, along with similar ones, laid out some important aspects of her marriage. Out of her many suitors, she had picked a domineering man for a husband. She was then in a position to complain that she could do all sorts of things “it if weren’t for you.” Many of her woman friends had domineering husbands, and when they met for their morning coffee, they spent a good deal of time playing “If It Weren’t For Him.”

As it turned out, however, contrary to her complaints, her husband was performing a very real service for her by forbidding her to do something she was deeply afraid of, and by preventing her, in fact, from even becoming aware of her fears. This was one reason… [she] had chosen such a husband.

His prohibitions and her complaints frequently led to quarrels, so that their sex life was seriously impaired. She and her husband had little in common besides their household worries and the children, so that their quarrels stood out as important events.

Berne goes on to devote nearly ten more pages to IWFY in Games People Play. For the sake of brevity, only the most relevant points will be discussed here. Berne’s complete analysis of IWFY and many other games can be found in Games People Play.

Both Mr. and Mrs. White are participating in a game; they are not consciously aware of their active participation. As with any game, at least one party must achieve a “payoff” for the game to proceed. In this game, Mrs. White, and to a lesser degree Mr. White achieve their respective payoffs. In Mr. White’s case, by restricting Mrs. White’s activities, he can retain the role of domineering husband, which provides him comfort when things do not necessarily go his way.

Mrs. White obtains her payoff at many levels. On the psychological level, the restrictions imposed by Mr. White prevent Mrs. White from experiencing neurotic fears or being placed in phobic situations. By having Mr. White prevent her from being placed in these situations, Mrs. White does not have to acknowledge (or even be aware of) her fears. On the social level, Mrs. White’s payoff is that she can say “if it weren’t for you.” This helps to structure the time she must spend with her husband, as well as the time spent without him. In addition, it allows her to say “if it weren’t for him” with friends.

As with any game, it comes to an abrupt end when one player decides (usually unconsciously) to stop playing. If instead, Mr. White said “Go ahead” instead of “Don’t you dare”, Mrs. White loses her payoff. She can no longer say “if it weren’t for you” and then must go out and confront her fears. By continuing to play this game, each participant receives his or her payoff, but the price is a marriage with serious problems.

IWFY, like most other games, when perpetuated, can lead to adverse effects. Identification of the game is the first step. Once the player(s) recognize they are playing a game, efforts can be made to improve upon the problem. This is the basis of Transactional Analysis Therapy.



Thesaurus of Games

Kick Me
Now I’ve Got You, You Son of a Bitch
See What You Made Me Do

Frigid Woman
If It Weren’t for You
Look How Hard I’ve Tried

Ain’t It Awful
Why Don’t You–Yes But

Let’s You and Him Fight
The Stocking Game

Cops and Robbers
How Do You Get Out of Here
Let’s Pull a Fast One on Joey

I’m Only Trying to Help You
Wooden Leg

Busman’s Holiday
Happy to Help
Homely Sage
They’ll Be Glad They Knew Me

Dr. Eric Berne (1910-1970) was a prominent psychiatrist and bestselling author. He grew up in Montreal, Canada, and received his MD degree from McGill University in 1935. He completed his psychiatry training in the United States and then entered the US Army as a psychiatrist.

After the war, Berne moved to Carmel, California. He continued his work as a psychiatrist, but felt increasingly frustrated with the psychoanalytic approaches at the time. As a result, he began developing a new and revolutionary theory, which he called Transactional Analysis. In 1958, he published the paper “Transactional Analysis: A New and Effective Method of Group Therapy” where he outlined this new approach.

After creating Transactional Analysis, Berne continued to develop and apply this new methodology. This led him to publish Games People Play and to found the International Transactional Analysis Association. He led an active life and continued his psychotherapist and writing duties up until his death in 1970. He left a remarkable legacy, including the creation of Transactional Analysis, Games People Play and 30+ other books and articles, and the founding of the International Transactional Analysis Association.

The Theory part 1

The Theory part 2

Train Your Body, Don’t Drain It

5 09 2012

Jeff Brion and Wayne Daniels: C.H.E.K Practitioners

Josh Rubin: C.H.E.K Practitioner / Faculty

How to Properly Train Your Abs

Warren Williams: C.H.E.K Practitioner

Olympic athlete Jade Johnson, and pro boxer Fred Turner talk about training w/ Warren

Robert Yang: C.H.E.K Practitioner / Faculty – click here for vid

Paul Chek: founder/owner of the C.H.E.K Institute

Click here for more info about the C.H.E.K Institute.

Christians and Abortion

11 08 2012

In a recent study by the Guttmacher Institute, there is evidence that if Medicaid coverage included contraception for low-income women, as many as 200,000 abortions could be prevented each year. (“Expanding Access to Contraception Through Medicaid Could Prevent Nearly 500,000 Unwanted Pregnancies, Save $1.5 Billon” 8/16/06. ). According to this study, if the government also provided medical coverage for pregnant women who cannot afford doctor or hospital care, as well as daycare assistance for mothers who are gainfully employed to support themselves and their children, the number of abortions per year could be cut even more dramatically. (‘Estimating the Impact of Expanding Medicaid Eligibility for Family Planning Services’ Jennifer Frost, Adam Sonfield and Rachael Benson Gold). Too many low-income women, especially those who might become single mothers, cannot afford the necessities that so many of us take for granted. 

Other proposals to decrease the annual abortion rate include guaranteed maternity leave so that women do not have to choose between job security and motherhood, and raising the minimum wage–studies show that a woman working full-time at the present minimum wage cannot afford the rent of even a low-income apartment. (‘A Just Minimum Wage: Good for Workers, Business and Our Future’ Holly Sklar and Rev. James A. Forbes Jr. –  ). Another proposal deserving consideration is to establish special programs that allow young mothers to stay in school and complete their educations. Without a high school education, an unwed mother is likely to end up living well below the poverty line. Enabling poor women to afford a better life is an obvious way to encourage them to reject abortion as a solution to unplanned pregnancy.

It seems to me morally inconsistent and very unfair for a member of Congress to vote against abortion but then not support those economic measures, which experts say could cut abortions by as many as 500,000 in any given year. (‘Expanding Access to…’).

. . .  I fully realize that a bill like the Pregnant Women Support Act is aimed at lowering the number of abortions among poor women and in no way diminishes the inclination to have abortions among wealthier women, who often have abortions because a baby would disrupt their desired lifestyles. But the hard truth is that poor women are four times more likely to have unplanned pregnancies, five times more likely to have unintended births and three times more likely to have an abortion than their higher-income counterparts. (‘Expanding Access to…’). Money isn’t everything, but it does impact the abortion rate in America.

. . . Some pro-life Red Letter Christians often vote Democratic in spite of the party’s official position. They make the case that abortions cannot significantly be curtailed by making them illegal. They are also convinced that those with enough money to circumvent the law would get abortions anyway, leaving those who can least afford it to either have unwanted babies or seek out dangerous means for aborting them. Furthermore, they suspect that making them illegal would only drive abortions underground. They have heard the stories about how abortions were performed before they were made legal: “back-alley abortions” by non-professionals, who sometimes sterilized or even killed women due to botched procedures or unsanitary conditions.

Click here to continue reading.

Click here to read an article by Dr. / Pastor Greg Boyd regarding Christians and abortion.

Click here to read, How I Lost Faith in the “Pro-Life” Movement

Q & A w/ Pastor Greg Boyd: What is your stance on abortion?

Christians and the new state of Israel

8 05 2012

“Centuries of European anti-Semitism came to their awful climax in the Holocaust (or, in Hebrew, the Shoah), when six million European Jews died. . . The Jews, millions felt, must have a homeland. Uganda was proposed. So was part of Argentina. But most Jews knew that only their ancient homeland, promised by God to Abraham, possessed by Joshua, would do. Many thousands had already emigrated there, often in defiance first of Turkish rule and then of the British mandate. In May 1948 the United Nations set up the new state of Israel.

Many of the early Jewish settlers genuinely believed the land was empty. ‘A land without people for a people without a land’ was their slogan. This, however, was far from the truth. The Palestinians were neither numerous nor strong, but they existed, real people living in real houses on real farms, running real businesses. They were ordered out, often with threats, sometimes with actual violence. In typical instances, they were given half an hour to get ready, and then bussed away, either over the border into Jordan (thereby creating huge new problems for that neighbour) or into specified towns such as Nazareth. They were not allowed back. To this day there are Jews living in those Palestinians’ houses, tilling their fields, sleeping in their beds, eating off their china, and quite likely quoting Deuteronomy to back it all up…

I sense a responsibility to do at the end of this book is to outline what all this means for the Christian pilgrim going to the Holy Land today. There are thousands, perhaps millions of Christians in the world – I regularly meet them, read their writings, and get accosted by them after addressing meetings or services – who passionately believe that the return of the Jews to their ancient homeland, climaxing in 1948 and building on from there, is the God-given fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy. Many such people cherish particular schemes of what are referred to as the ‘end times’. In such scenarios, texts from Ezekiel, Daniel and Revelation are brought together in schematic form and applied to twentieth-century political realities. They are regularly used to indicate that the long exile of the Jewish people, dating back to the destructions of Jerusalem first by the Babylonians and then by the Romans, will finally be undone, and that the new Jewish existence in Palestine, coming into public acceptance in 1948 and growing thereafter, will herald the dawn of the final day when Jesus Christ will return, will fight the great battle at Armageddon, and will set up his kingdom once and for all. The details vary with different interpretations, but the overall scheme is well known. . .

One of the specific things on which the New Testament insists, again and again, is that in the life, death and supremely the resurrection of Jesus the promised new age has dawned. The return from exile has happened. ‘All the promises of God’, says Paul in 2 Corinthians 1.20, ‘find their “yes” in him.’ This is in fact the great Return, even though it doesn’t look like people had thought it would. Instead of Israel as a political entity emerging from political exile, we are invited in the gospel to see Israel-in-person, the true king, emerging from the exile of death itself into God’s new day. That is the underlying rationale for the mission to the Gentiles: God has finally done for Israel what he was going to do for Israel, so now it’s time for the Gentiles to come in. That, too, is the underlying rationale for the abolition of the food laws and the holy status of the land of Israel: a new day has dawned in God’s purposes, and the symbols of the previous day are put aside, not because they were a bad thing, now happily rejected, but because they were the appropriate preparatory stages in God’s plan, and have now done their work. When I became a man, I put away childish things. Lift up your eyes, says Paul in Romans 8, and see how the promises to Abraham are to be fulfilled: not simply by a single race coming eventually to possess a single holy strip of turf, but by the liberation of the whole cosmos, with the beneficiaries, the inheritors of the promise, being a great number from every race and tribe and tongue, baptized and believing in Jesus Christ and indwelt by his Spirit.

To suggest, therefore, that as Christians we should support the state of Israel because it is the fulfilment of prophecy is, in a quite radical way, to cut off the branch on which we are sitting. It is directly analogous to the mistake of the Galatians, who thought that if they were members of Abraham’s family they should go the whole way and get circumcised. It is similar to the mistake of which the Reformers accused the mediaeval Catholics, of supposing that in every Mass they were actually re-crucifying Jesus, when Jesus’ death had been once and for all, never to be repeated, on Calvary. It is a way of saying that in the cross and resurrection God did not actually fulfil his whole saving purpose; that Jesus did not in fact achieve the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy; that his resurrection was not the start of God’s new age; that Acts is wrong, Romans is wrong, Galatians is wrong, the letter to the Hebrews is wrong, Revelation is wrong. Say that if you like, but don’t claim to be Christian in doing so.

In particular, as pilgrims we must take with the utmost seriousness the fact that almost all Christians living in the Holy Land today are Palestinians. Yes, there are some Jewish Christians, some brave souls living their faith openly, and, I have it on good authority, many others who practise their allegiance to Jesus as Messiah behind locked doors, as certain of their forebears did between the first Easter and the first Pentecost. But most of those who worship God in Christ day by day and week by week in the Holy Land today are Palestinian Arabs: people like Elias Chacour, Naim Ateek and Audeh Rantisi, all Anglican priests (which is why I happen to know them), who have had the courage to speak up and speak out for justice and freedom, for justice for Jews and Arabs alike, to speak out against torture, against the building of new settlements, against the systematic brutalization of a whole people which then provokes more of the violence it condemns.

What does it do to Christians like that when they see massive American funding pouring in to the state of Israel, sustaining the regime that is oppressing them? What does it do to them when they hear again and again that many Christians are backing the state that is doing its best to eliminate them? Many Palestinian Christians are now in exile, in America or elsewhere, and do not expect…”

Click here for full article.