Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Jesus, as I See Him

I have a certain image of Jesus that undergoes changes as would be expected. I am much more interested and attracted to Jesus of the dusty roads of Galilee than I am to the Christ fashioned by early leaders like Paul and John of the Fourth Gospel.

It seems to me that Jesus never intended to found a new church. He was a Jew--a man filled with divine power, grace and wisdom. He was a radical egalitarian as pointed out by Crossan. He was a healer, whose healing gifts, even more than his spiritual message drew many to him. Probably only a few were capable then and now of absorbing his teaching and his spirit. It may be a "way" better imparted on a one to one. I think he had special followers that he was able to reach. The core message and most profound -- as well as most difficult to accept -- is found in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus's declaration of the two commandments: love God and love your neighbor as yourself were already part of Jewish tradition in Leviticus and Deuteronomy.

Although I consider myself no longer a Catholic, and basically, no longer a Christian in the sense that it is my spiritual path---I am still interested in Jesus, who I do not consider the Son of God. If there is a God, then the Muslims state it well: There is no God --but God.

The reason I like the writings of the Franciscan priest, Fr. Rohr, so much is that he cuts through the hypocrisy of the majority of Christians by pointing out what Jesus really asks of his followers.

Jesus said something like: Not the one who calls out "Father, Father" but he who does the will of my Father.

It is not sufficient, IMO, to have faith in Jesus as a unique and powerful manifestation of the Divine, but do as he says; live as he did. Take the Beatitudes as a rule of life. Swallow them whole.

If we come to believe, to have faith---then our lives begin to be shaped by the example of Jesus. This transformation is propelled by gratitude.

I dislike the bumper sticker: Christians aren't Perfect. We are just Saved.

There are SO MANY Christians who feel good inside, who feel that they are justified because they assent to the Divinely Inspired book , The Bible, and because they have declared their faith in Jesus, as God Himself! However, I have real doubts whether Jesus or God considers many of these people "saved" by what is called "being born again".

Faith is more than assent. Real living, transformational Faith must be radical trust. Faith is a way of seeing what is. Faith is affirmation --- total and heart felt. Faith is surrender. (I give credit for these ideas to Marcus Borg, Jesus scholar.)

Being born again is a big deal. It turns one inside out.

Jesus's way is truly as the Catholic Church teaches: The Way of the Cross. Being a Christian is not easy. It means sacrifice, not being accepted by many. Having to pass up financial opportunities. Being willing to accept everyone in the sense of asking them over to your house for dinner.

Well, I am carried away. But these are my feelings. I know I cannot accept Christianity. I think, essentially, it is a distortion of Jesus's life and message.

However, I have a genuine respect and love for Jesus. I asked respected Tibetan Lama once: “Is it possible for me to start attending a Christian church, and, become a practicing Christian?”

He told me, through a translator, that there would be no problem with that. That there was no need to cease being a Buddhist if I became a Christian. He added: “As for me, Jesus is always in my heart.”

As for me --I am not strong enough, self-less enough to follow Jesus as he requires.

Jesus said that a person had to lose his life to gain eternal life. I believe he meant that this person must become Self-Less. He must not attach himself to his EGO which is only a relative "self". Meister Eckhardt said that the end of the Christian path is to reach the point in which you have emptied your heart and mind of everything. Then, one more step: Empty your heart and mind of God!

Because “our” God is not the true God. If we empty ourselves of our notions/ ideas of God ---we give the Divine an opportunity to flow into ourselves; heart, mind, spirit soul and body.

This reminds me of an often related old story of the important Chinese government official he came to a Ch'an (Zen) master and asked for enlightenment, liberation, the meaning of life, the secret of Zen.

The master said, "Let's have tea."

However, when the master poured tea into the cup of this important civil servant --- he continued pouring and pouring until the tea flowed over the table.

"Master, what are you doing? What is the meaning of this?"

"I can no more pour tea into a cup that is full than I can pour wisdom into a mind --that is NOT empty." the master replied.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Random Rambling (and occasional rants) 04-26-06

RANDOM RAMBLINGS (and occasional rants)
April, 25, 2006

I remember seeing an article in the newspaper several months ago concerning the Katrina disaster and especially about different suggestions as to what our government should have done or should still do. The author commented that when making these recommendations---those making them should remember that the American people -- in general -- don’t like morality to be used as a basis for these government actions.

This “morality” aversion, if correct, seemed strange.

85% of Americans claim to be Christian according to one survey, and 97% say they believe in God.

Jesus certainly stressed compassion: feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, give drink to the thirst. He never said: God helps them who help themselves. That was Benjamin Franklin, hardly a shining example of a Christian.

Being a Christian, if, by that you mean one who strives to follow the example and teaching of Jesus---is terribly hard work. I don’t see how we can have so many Christians in the USA. If we did we would have a much more caring, just, less materialistic/commercial/consumptive society. Our government would reflect in its actions Jesus’ teachings too. Would we have attacked Iraq if Bush had actually spoken with Jesus?

IMO ---most of the people who claim to be Christians are really not devotees of the “Lord”. They want to have their cake and eat it.

And here, I may step on some toes, but at 74, “frankly, Mam, I don’t give a damn!” as Clark Gable once said.

Going to church; singing rousing hymns; listening to a powerful sermon; feeling good: Jesus loves me! These are wonderfully moving experiences----however, that’s NOT really, IMO, opinion what Jesus was about. It’s OK. But, it’s nothing if that’s all being a Christian means. And even, if one hates faggots, marches against abortions, even shoots a few abortionists, makes sure the Ten Commandments are in every public building; insists on public prayer during school... Well, you haven’t taken much of a step--in the long spiritual journey led by Jesus.

I have seen bumper stickers: "Christians are not Perfect. They are just Saved."
There are conversions experiences. Some genuine. Many, probably not. They can be dangerous---if one feels able to live any way one wants to---because I have been washed in the blood of the Lamb.

I think it was fortunate that St. James' epistle made it into the NT. However, one epistle of James' does not offset the many Pauline epistles (some of which were actually written by Paul.)

I believe that Christianity could be more properly called Paulism. A man who met Christ or Jesus in a vision, and then introduced much that is not found in the Synoptic or more historical gospels.

Morality stems from compassion and justice. Compassion, more than justice.
If you want to follow some holy person or spiritual leader, especially one like Jesus---it may be difficult to choose one of his genuine teachings and ignore others.

It’s not like a buffet.

And, remember, you can’t have your cake and eat it.

If you think that having an emotional conversion experience and that now you are saved, and that’s that--well, don't fool yourself or The Lord.

Go on with life: nice home, a couple of cars, lots of things, go to church, tithe, make sure you are against those moral taboos that you are supposed to be--according to your preacher or according to your Pope..--that still doesn't make it.

Well, personally, I don’t think Jesus would be much impressed. He never taught or lived an easy way.

I am re-reading the New Testament. I don’t believe that it is totally inspired by God. I certainly don’t think it is the actual words of God, as Muslims, apparently, believe of their Koran.

Each person must strive to find Jesus in the NT, and, btw in the Gospel of Thomas, and some other of the alternative gospels. I don’t accept the Canon of Scripture decided by rather dogmatic church leaders under pressure from the political powers to be.

Sorry, folks, but I don’t believe we have in The Bible a collection of books that we can have as the sole support of our faith. Nice, but it just isn’t so--IMHO.

The exploration of the Absolute or, if you prefer, the revelation of God---was not reserved for certain peoples in certain parts of the world. I can't imagine God being that unfair

Some secular humanists, frankly, as I see things, have more morality than the great multitude of "true" believers.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Religious Values of the Christian Right

I was tremendously interested in Kevin Phillips’ essay in The Nation, “Theocons and Theocrats,” because it sums up most of values of their “Christ”. Their Christ is a radically different person than the prophet, teacher, martyr, and God connected man --- I call Jesus.

Let take a look at some of Kevin’s conclusions:

•“...tendency to oppose regulation and justify wealth and relative laissez-faire, tipping it hat to the upper-income and corporate portions of the Republican coalition.”

>>>Jesus seemed to take a very dim view of wealth, and even less of greed. He spoke of a person needing to choose between God and Mammon. The Christian right lauds choosing Both God and Mammon.
Jesus spoke to the young man recommending that he give away all his possessions and follow Him.

• “...abandoning most economic regulation in order to prepare the moral framework for God’s return.”

>>> I don’t see the connection between the two --- unless the Right believes that by doing so---they will hasten the Day of Judgement.
I imagine God’s frowns upon mortals devising ways to force his hand.

“...issues involving birth, life, death, sex, health, medicine, marriage and the role of the family...”

>>>Abortion: I’m not in favor of abortion as a form of birth control, but it seems to me that the woman has rights in this matter. Again, I cannot remember anything in the four gospels of Jesus speaking on the subject. If abortion is always murder, then wars are murder also. Capital punishment is murder.
>>>Gay Marriage: Did Jesus ban gays and lesbians from his frequent suppers. I know he did not ban prostitutes and money lenders. It’s hard for me to see Jesus hating “faggots”. There is a lot of hate, IMHO, among the Religious Right that desperately needs objects and persons to hate.
Jesus was about love, not the Christ of hate.
>>>Right to Die: Did Jesus say anything about a person who is terminally ill and in great suffering deciding to end his/her life either on his own or with the help of a doctor or loved one?

• “...reduce the current separation between church and state.”

>>> Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s. Of course, all things and all beings are God’s--including the government, but this does not mean that the State should be enforcing the religious views of this church or that one on its citizens.

“ 2004, the Lone Star GOP was not content to call for abolishing the EPA and the Energy Department; it also demanded the abolition of the IRS and elimination of the income tax, the inheritance tax, the gift tax, the capital-gains levy, the corporate income tax, the payroll tax and state and local property taxes.”
>>> Phillips says that the political platform of the Texas GOP in 2004 gives us idea of “the religious right’s larger view of economic matters and dismantling of government.”

>>>Can you imagine the real Jesus returning to earth and pushing this agenda. What has this got to do with Jesus’ main goal of establishing the Kingdom of God on this earth ---NOW?

• Science vs God: In an attempt to read the myth of Genesis as a “play by play” history of God’s actions in the beginning --- the Right forces itself into situation after situation, e.g. some believe, according to Phillips that “...the Almighty, not carbon dioxide, brings about climate change.” (In stark contrast, I might say, to the religious philosophy of Deism held by most of the prominent founders of this republic, i.e. that God set up the world, and just walked away from it.)

>>>On evolution: ”In Texas, where the cotton industry is plagued by a moth in which an immunity to pesticides has evolved, a frustrated entomologist commented, ‘It’s amazing that cotton growers are having to deal with these pests in the very states whose legislatures are so hostile to the theory of evolution. Because it is evolution they are struggling against in their fields every season.’“

• ”Organizations such as the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty have enlisted a fair amount of conservative religious and corporate support for preparing what amounts to a pro-business, pro-development explanation of Christian stewardship. The institute's director, Roman Catholic Father Robert Sirico, contends that left-tilting environmentalism is idolatrous in its substitution of nature for God, giving the Christian environmental movement a "perhaps-unconscious pagan nature."

>>> This is incredible to me. Jesus spoke of the lilies of the field, sparrows; he used nature parables a good deal of the time. Does caring for the mountains, the rivers, the forest, wildlife mean that a person believes these things are God? Is being pro-development a sign of Christian stewardship of God’s world ---or it more likely greed and the lust for mammon? The answers are clear to me.

• The Christian Right seems obsessed with “the rapture, the end times, Armageddon and the thinly disguised U.S. crusade against radical Islam.” “In the months before George W. Bush sent U.S. troops into Iraq, his inspirational reading each morning was a book of sermons by a Scottish preacher accompanying troops about to march on Jerusalem in 1917.”

>>> one of personal “gripes” about the Christian Right is its focus on the “end times” the approaching Judgment of Christ upon the earth; its destruction; the sparing of the righteous; the annihilation of the wicked.
No wonder so many of these true believers care little about the environment and Mother earth. It’s all going to be gone in a few years! Let’s prepare for the reality of what is coming, what’s been foretold.
Much of this is based on the Book of Revelations which almost did not make it into the Canon of Scripture. (Oh, yes. God came through just at the last minute and made those early Christian bishops do the right thing.)

For those awaiting --even eagerly looking forward to the coming of the wrathful, but Just Lord---there is little interest in issues such as social justice, universal health care, the end of war----these don’t count. Well, maybe war counts because wars and bloodshed are one of the signs of the approaching days of retribution.
If these Christians want to believe all of this, which I believe is a misreading of parts of the Gospels, and, as well, the acceptance of a strange and enigmatic final book of the New Testament canon---let them have their fixation. Unfortunately it prevents them from working towards the Kingdom of God coming --on this Earth --Now. Jesus wants us to create a just loving society here ---it’s our work for him. We are not fulfilling what Jesus wants by looking forward to him doing it by destroying creation and setting up a New Jerusalem of some sort.