Thursday, February 08, 2007
Interesting point. I agree with you because clearly the Archbishop of Canterbury does not believe Jesus is the only path to God. Click here. And he believes in the resurrection.
Note, though, that the doctrine of the resurrection only adds to the confusion a bit... ie, whether you believe in the physical, bodily resurrection or the metaphorical interpretation or symbolism of the resurrection. Read the debate between N.T. Wright and Marcus Borg.
My understanding was that the death and bodily resurrection were tied directly to the doctrine of atonement, sacrifice for the sins of the world. Maybe this is inaccurate.
Lastly on this point, you say that the "resurrection stands as a powerful testament to the truth of Christ's divinity, and therefore of the notion of Incarnation." Thus, you believe that Jesus is God incarnate... as do most Christians. What I do not understand is how one can believe this and still be inclusive of people of other faiths.
If indeed the God who created the millions (perhaps billions) of planets and stars in the universe chose one day to be born of a virgin (on a tiny planet named Earth in a relatively small solar system) and become a Jewish man from Galilee named Jesus, who would inspire the creation of a religion called Christianity... then I can certainly understand how that particular religion would have a unique claim to being the "ONLY WAY". I don't agree with this conclusion because I do not believe in the doctrines that lead to it. But if I did, then I would certainly understand and probably agree with the logic of the conclusion.
<< I don't know scientifically what happened at the resurrection (resuscitation or some other phenomena); but the fact that Jesus' followers turned from a band of dispirited followers of another messiah wannabe into the most spirit filled group of leaders is proof that Something Amazing happened. >>
I disagree with you here. N.T. Wright has made this point repeatedly. It has become one of his hallmark arguments. But I think it's an extremely weak and narrow one. Neither Dominic Crossan nor his friend Marcus Borg accept it.
I do not believe the growth of Christianity is "proof" that just ONE amazing thing happened. There are many specific historical and political reasons to which Christianity can attribute its growth. One could teach a university course on why Christianity grew as it did... I suspect there are several being offered somewhere.
If you want to give credit for the growth or even survival of Christianity, then give the credit to our friend Constantine. Without the fusion of Church and State in the 4th century on his watch, who knows what would've happpened. Or give credit to the tremendous missionary skills of Paul, who traveled widely and spread the teachings of Jesus to the Greek-speaking world.
Give credit to the fact that the early Christians were never seen as a military or political threat by the Romans, as were the Jews, and thus they were not exterminated by the most powerful and brutal Empire the world had ever known. Remember, the early Christians didn't fight back because that was what Jesus taught them, and thus they were not perceived as a threat by the Romans.
Remember, Christianity was co-opted by Constantine. Christianity became a part of "the system". That's probably the one main reason it was allowed to flourish.
But my gosh, you just have to give some credit to the most incredible 3-year social and spiritual ministry the world has ever seen... that of Jesus (plus his Apostles that he sent out into the world). Sometimes I think we downplay the INCREDIBLE LIFE CHANGING POWER of Jesus' radical teachings. History has always been changed by individuals and their IDEAS (look at Mandela, Ghandi, King). That is the way countries and empires have been born. Note the ideas of freedom and equality... pretty powerful. That is the way religions have been created and grown. Christianity is no different.
<< I agree that living out Jesus' teaching is a powerful tool of evangelism. There are others, too, I believe. One is learn to tell our story - how being a follower of Jesus changes our own life. How we are transformed, how it gives us the courage and strength and energy to do Jesus' work in the world. >>
I agree. I would emphasize telling the story of how being a follower of Jesus' teaching changes our life and the potential to change the world, rather than "worshipping" Jesus. Jesus never asked us to idolize him. He asked us to follow what he taught us, to emulate him.
One of my favorite verses is from Matthew 19:17...
Responding to the young wealthy man who came to him saying, "Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?" ... Jesus said...
"Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God"
This at least suggests to me that Jesus was ego-less, uninterested in being praised, opting instead to redirect that praise to God. All Jesus wanted was for his followers to "LISTEN to what he was SAYING", as would be the wish of any great teacher.
Tuesday, January 30, 2007
So what does it mean to stand up for Jesus? What does it mean to jump up and down for Jesus? What does it mean to take him seriously? What does it mean to follow him?
Drawing upon my study of the historical Jesus, of the Pre-Easter Jesus, it seems to me that a life that takes Jesus seriously would have two primary focal points, and that is what I want to talk about today.
The first of these focal points of the Christian life is a life deeply centered in God, deeply centered in the Spirit. God or the Spirit was at the very center of Jesus' own life.
In my historical work, I speak of Jesus as a Jewish mystic, and I see this as foundational to everything else that he was. Now, what I mean by the word "mystic" is actually quite simple. Mystics are people, and they are known in every culture that we know anything about; mystics are people who have vivid and typically frequent experiences of God or the sacred or the Spirit--terms, which I use synonymously and interchangeably.
The Jewish tradition before Jesus is full of such people. According to the stories told about them, Abraham, Jacob, Moses, the prophets of Ancient Israel, all of these were people for whom God or the sacred was an experiential reality. These people did not simply believe strongly in God, they knew God. And once one takes seriously that there really are people like this, then it seems clear to me that whatever else we say about Jesus, we need to say that he was one of these--one who knew God in his own experience.
If we take Jesus seriously as a Jewish mystic, it also affects how we think about God or the sacred. It means that we need to think about God not as a person-like being out there separate from the universe, a long ways away, not here. But, it means we need to think of God or the sacred as the encompassing Spirit that is all around us, and that is separated from us only by the membranes of our own consciousness. A mystic like Jesus is one in whom those membranes of consciousness become very thin, and one experiences God or the sacred. Jesus invited his followers to a relationship to the same Spirit, the same God that he knew in his own experience.
How do we become centered in the Spirit of God? How do we actually experience what Jesus experienced? Well, the Gospels of the New Testament have many ways of talking about that, about The Way or The Path. One of the central images for The Way or The Path is what the journey of Lent itself is about.
The journey of Lent is about journeying with Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem-- which is the place of endings as well as beginnings, the place of death and resurrection. It is the place where, to use an old word play, the tomb becomes a womb.
That journey of Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem is at the very center of the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. We see it, perhaps, with greatest clarity in the great central section of Mark's Gospel. Three times in that great central section, which runs from Mark 8:27 through the end of Chapter 10, Jesus speaks of his own impending death and resurrection in Jerusalem. He says, "The Son of Man must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things. The authorities will seize him and mock him and scourge him and put him to death, and on the third day he will rise again." After each of those three predictions of the Passion, as they are called, Jesus speaks of following after him, of following him on that path of death and resurrection.
Lent is about precisely that journey. Lent is about mortality and transformation. We begin the season of Lent on Ash Wednesday with the sign of the cross smeared on our foreheads with ashes as the words are spoken over us, "Dust thou art, and to dust thou wilt return."
We begin this season of Lent not only reminded of our death, but also marked for death. The Lenten journey, with its climax in Holy Week and Good Friday and Easter, is about participating in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Put somewhat abstractly, this means dying to an old identity--the identity conferred by culture, by tradition, by parents, perhaps--and being born into a new identity--an identity centered in the Spirit of God. It means dying to an old way of being, and being born into a new way of being, a way of being centered once again in God.
Put slightly more concretely, this path of death and resurrection, of radical centering in God, may mean for some of us that we need to die to specific things in our lives--perhaps to a behavior or a pattern of behavior that has become destructive or dysfunctional; perhaps to a relationship that has ended or gone bad; perhaps to an unresolved grief that needs to be let go of; perhaps to a career or job that has either been taken from us or that no longer nourishes us; or perhaps even we need to die to a deadness in our lives.
You can even die to deadness, and this dying is also oftentimes a daily rhythm in our lives--that daily occurrence that happens to some of us as we remind ourselves of the reality of God in our relationship to God; that reminder that can take us out of ourselves, lift us out of our confinement, take away our feeling of being burdened and weighed down.
So, that's the first focal point of a life that takes Jesus seriously: that radical centering in the Spirit of God that is at the very center of the Christian life. Now, this radical centering in God does not leave us unchanged. It transforms us, and this leads us to the second focal point of what it means to follow Jesus, what it means to take Jesus seriously.
In a single sentence, it means compassion in the world of the every day. Slightly more fully, it means a life of compassion and a passion for justice. I need both of these words, compassion and justice, for compassion without justice easily gets individualized or sentimentalized, and justice without compassion easily sounds like politics.
Compassion is utterly central to the teaching of Jesus. As those of you who have read one or more of my books on Jesus know, I see it as the core value, the ethical paradigm of the life of faithfulness to God, as we see it in Jesus. Jesus sums up theology and ethics in a very short saying (six words in English). It is found in Luke 6:36 with a parallel in Matthew 5:48. "Therefore [very early Q material for those of you who like to know things like that], be compassionate as God is compassionate." The word for compassionate in both Hebrew and Aramaic is related to the word for womb. Thus, to be compassionate is to be womb-like, to be like a womb. God is womb-like, Jesus says, therefore, you be womb-like.
What does it mean to be womb-like? Well, it means to be life-giving, nourishing. It means to feel what a mother feels for the children of her womb: tenderness, willing their well-being, finding her children precious and beautiful. It can also mean a fierceness, for a mother can be fierce when she sees the children of her womb being threatened or treated destructively. Compassion is not just a soft, woosy virtue. It can have passion and fierceness to it as well.
To speak of compassion as the core value of the Christian life may seem like old hat to us, like ho-hum. But, contrasted for a moment to what some Christians have thought the Christian life is most centrally about, that it is really about righteousness--keeping your moral shirt-tails clean, avoiding being stained by the world--in that sense, the Christian life is profoundly different from compassion. In many ways, compassion is virtually the opposite of righteousness in that sense. Jesus, as a person, was filled with compassion, and he calls us to compassion.
Jesus was also filled with a passion for justice. This is probably the least understood part of the teaching of Jesus in the modern American church, and maybe throughout most of the church's history. It's because we often misunderstand what the word justice means or we understand it poorly. We sometimes think that justice has to do with punishment, with people getting what is coming to them for what they have done wrong. When we think that way, then we think that the opposite of justice is mercy. But in the Bible, the opposite of justice is not mercy; the opposite of justice is injustice.
Justice and injustice have to do with the way societies are structured, with the way political and economic systems are put together. Like the Hebrew social prophets before him, Jesus' passion for justice set him against the domination system of his world and his time. It set him against a politically oppressive and economically exploitative system that had been designed by wealthy and powerful elites, legitimated by religion, and designed by them in their own narrow self-interests. And the domination system of his time, like the domination systems of all time, had devastating effects on the lives of peasants.
Also, like the Hebrew social prophets, Jesus was a God-intoxicated voice of peasant-religious-social protests, not just protests against the domination system, but an advocate of God's justice. God's justice is about social justice. God's justice is about the equitable distribution of God's earth, and a passion for God's justice sets you against all of those systems designed by people in their own narrow self-interests to benefit the few at the expense of the many.
Indeed, it was Jesus' passion for justice that got him killed. That is why the authorities, the powers that be, executed him. The journey of Lent reminds us of that, too: that Jesus was killed; he didn't simply die.
In the 13th chapter of Luke, some Pharisees come to Jesus to warn him that Herod is planning to kill him. Jesus replies, "Go and tell that fox Herod [fox in the world of the Jewish homeland in the first century did not mean a sly, cunning, wily creature; it had more the connotation of skunk, go and tell that skunk Herod], that it cannot be that a prophet should perish outside of Jerusalem." Then he speaks of Jerusalem. "Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets, and stones those who are sent to you." It is Jerusalem, of course, not as the center of Judaism, but Jerusalem as the center of the native domination system, of that economically exploitative and politically oppressive system that radically impoverished peasants and drove them to an existence of destitution and even desperation. Jesus is killed because of his passionate criticism of that system and his advocacy of the Kingdom of God. Which is what life would be like on Earth if God were King and the domination systems of this world were not. This is the political meaning of Good Friday.
To connect this back to compassion, justice is the social form of compassion. Justice and compassion are not opposites or different things, but justice is the social and political form of caring for the least of these. If we take Jesus seriously, we are called to both compassion and justice.
To move to my conclusion, following Jesus--the journey of Lent--means a radical centering in God in which our own well-being resides, re-connecting to a center of meaning and purpose and energy in our lives. It means a passion for compassion and justice in the world of the every day. The Gospel of Jesus is ultimately very simple. There is nothing complicated about this at all. It's taking seriously your relationship to God and taking seriously caring what God cares about in the world.
The Gospel invites us to stand up for Jesus, to take Jesus seriously, even to jump up and down for Jesus. If we are not there yet, if the moving of the Spirit in our hearts is but yet a faint stirring, then we are invited to sing along in silence. Even the songs that we sing in silence shape our lives.
On ministering to those trapped in hell on earth.
I figure anytime you are about to talk about hell it's good to start with a joke, so here we go….It was a busy day in heaven as folks waited in line at the pearly gates. Peter stood as gatekeeper checking each newcomer's name in the Lamb's Book of Life. But there was some confusion, as the numbers were not adding up. Heaven was a little overcrowded, and a bunch of folks were unaccounted for. So some of the angels were sent on a mission to investigate things. And it was not long before two of them returned, "We found the problem," they said. "Jesus is out back, lifting people up over the gate."
I remember as a child hearing all the hellfire and damnation sermons. We had a theater group perform a play called, "Heaven's Gates and Hell's Flames" where actors presented scenes of folks being ripped away from loved ones only to be sent to the fiery pits of hell where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth, and we all went forward to repent of all the evil things we had done over our first decade of life, in paralyzing fear of being "left behind"… the preacher literally scared the "hell" out of us.
But have you ever noticed that Jesus didn't spend much time on hell. In fact there are really only a couple of times he speaks of weeping and gnashing of teeth, of hell and God's judgment. And both of them have to do with the walls we create between ourselves and our suffering neighbors. One is Matthew 25 where the sheep and the goats are separated, and the goats who did not care for the poor, hungry, homeless, and imprisoned are sent off to endure an agony akin to that experienced by the ones that they neglected on this earth. And then there is the story of the rich man and Lazarus, a parable Jesus tells about a rich man who neglected the poor beggar outside his gate.
In the parable we hear of a wealthy man who builds a gate between himself and the poor man, and that chasm becomes an unbridgeable gap not only with Lazarus but with God. He is no doubt a religious man (he calls out "Father" Abraham and knows the prophets), and ndoubtedly he had made a name for himself on earth, but is now a nameless rich man begging the beggar for a drop of water. And Lazarus who lived a nameless life in the shadows of misery is seated next to God, and given a name. Lazarus is the only person named in Jesus' parables, and his name means "the one God rescues." God is in the business of rescuing people from the hells they experience on earth. And God is asking us to love people out of those hells.
Nowadays many of us spend a lot of time pondering and theologizing about heaven on earth and God's Kingdom coming here (and rightly so!), but it seems we would also do well to do a little work with the reality of hell. Hell is not just something that comes after death, but something many are living in this very moment… 1.2 billion people that are groaning for a drop of water each day, over 30,000 kids starving to death each day, 38 million folks dying of AIDS. It seems
ludicrous to think of preaching to them about hell. I see Jesus spending far more energy loving the "hell" out of people, and lifting people out of the hells in which they are trapped, than trying to scare them into heaven. And one of the most beautiful things we get to see in community here in Kensington, is people who have been loved out of the hells that they find themselves in—domestic violence, addiction, sex trafficking, loneliness.
Monday, January 29, 2007
We Episcopalians or Christians pretty much act like everyone else. I see this as a huge problem. We like to think we are special because we a have a "belief system". But of what good is any Christian belief system if we only pay lip service to the teachings of the person whom we proclaim to follow.
The single-most defining quality of an Episcopalian, to me, is our openness, our ability to welcome everyone into our community, regardless of their faith tradition. In my experience, Episcopalians are probably the least judgmental, the least prejudicial, the most thoughtful, the most evolutionary, the most accepting, the most tolerant, and thus the most loving and compassionate of all the Christian denominations. That is why I became an Episcopalian.
I was a Catholic for more than 40 years. I left the Catholic Church because, in my opinion, that institution is in a complete state of denial. I think it is an authoritarian system, where people are by and large brainwashed into believing that a heirarchy of old men dressed in pretty costumes, led by a self-proclaimed infallible guy working in an elegant palace are the only source of God's truth. I'm sorry, but I stopped believing in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy when I was eight years old.
I have talked at length with and(or) worshipped with Southern Baptists, Pentecostals, Quakers, Jehovah's Witnesses, Universalist/Unitarians, Buddhists, Seventh Day Adventists, Lutherans, Jews, Muslims, and Mormons. I have enjoyed all of these brothers and sisters of mine and have entertaining stories to tell of my experiences with them.
The only ones that I truly related to are the Quakers, the Buddhists, and the Universalist/Unitarians. But they all seemed to be missing that "something" that would pull me way from the Episcopal Church. It may well be that I will one day join one of these faith traditions. My journey isn't close to being complete. At this point, I feel most comfortable in the Episcopal community, particularly as I'm seeing that there are an awful lot of Episcopalians "in the closet" who share many of my views.
The difference between me and many of these in-the-closet Episcopalians and Christians is that I have no fear to state what I believe without mincing words. Trust me, when one escapes from the Catholic Church, there's nothing left to fear! (... I'm kind of kidding).
We Episcopalians have a lot of common ground. We do. We're not going to find it, though, in the doctrines of the Church. We will find it in the teachings of Jesus. I am a follower of Jesus who happens to be a part of an Episcopal community. I would rather that we simply called ourselves Christians or followers of Jesus, rather than dividing ourselves into thousands of different Christian denominations and sects. The reason we've divided (and continue to divide) is based
more on our human inabilities to get along and accept our differences without judgment than the validity or importance of our doctrines and dogma.
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
- excerpted (pages 14-15) from Mark Kurlansky's, Nonviolence: Twenty-five Lessons from the History of a Dangerous Idea
Saturday, January 13, 2007
My friend Tony Campolo tells a true story that also serves as a great parable in this regard. He was in another time zone and oculdn't sleep, so well after midnight he wandered downto a doughnut shope where, it turned out, local hookers also came at the end of a night of turning tricks. There, he overheard a conversation between between two of them. One, named Agnes, said, "You know what? Tomorrow's my birthday. I'm gonna be thirty-nine." Her friend snapped back, "So what d'ya want from me? A birthday party? Huh? You want me to get a cake and sing happy birthday to you? The first woman replied, "Aw, come on, why do you have to be so mean? Why do you have to put me down? I'm just sayin' it's my birthday. i don't want anything from you. I mean, why should I have a birthday party? I've never had a birthday party in my whole life. Why should I have one now?
When they left, Tony got an idea. He asked the shop owner if Agnes came in every night, and when he replied in the affirmative, Tony invited him into a surprise party conspiracy. The shop owner's wife even got involved. Together they arranged for a cake, candles, and typical party decorations for Agnes, who was, to Tony, a complete stranger. The next night when she came in, they shouted, "Surprise!" -- and Agnes couldn't believe her eyes. The doughnut shop patrons
sang, and she began to cry so hard she could barely blow out the candles. When the time came to cut the cake, she asked if they'd mind if she didn't cut it, if she could bring it home -- just to keep it for a while and savor the moment. So she left, carrying her cake like a treasure.
Tony led the guests in a prayer for Agnes, after which the shop owner told Tony he didn't realize Tony was a preacher. He asked what kind of church Tony came from, and Tony replied, "I belong to a church that throws birthday parties for prostitutes at 3:30 in the morning." The shop owner couldn't believe him. "No, you don't There ain't no church like that. If there was, I'd join it. Yep, I'd join a church like that." Sadly, there are too few churches like that, but if more of us understand the secret message of Jesus, there will be lots more.
-- excerpted from Brian McLaren's book, The Secret Message of Jesus
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
Listed as one of America's 25 most influential evangelicals by Time Magazine, Brian D. McLaren is a pastor, author, and sometimes controversial innovator among Christian leaders, thinkers, and activists. He is perhaps best known for his key role in the Emergent Church movement.
In his latest book, "The Secret Message of Jesus" (W Publishing Group), McLaren poses multiple questions at the outset that imply the Church may have distorted Jesus' core message. In other words, what if Jesus was right but we have somehow misinterpreted what He said. McLaren contends that Christians need to take a good hard look for answers to these questions even if they alter our faith.