Sunday, July 12, 2009

Who is Jesus ... *Really* - Part II

As promised (though a day late!), I'm back at it:

- As a teacher of wisdom, Jesus undermined the world of conventional wisdom and spoke of an alternative. The two are intrinsically linked: the first must be deconstructed in order for the second to appear.

(This is what's spoken of as "dying to self" ... dying to our preconceived notions of *what is*, so that what *Really Is* can emerge out from under the veneer of the counterfeit/illusion. This dying process contains all the normal stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. For those who have embarked on a radical journey out of religion, and into the Spirit, does this sound/feel familiar...?)

- Jesus often used the language of paradox and reversal to shatter the conventional wisdom of his time.

(For instance: a despised/heretical/impure Samaritan is featured as a hero; a Pharisee - the very embodiment of righteousness and purity - is pronounced as unrighteous, while the outcast is included; riding a humble donkey is a symbol of a *new* sort of Kingdom.)

- So also Jesus frequently spoke of the Kingdom of God in the language of the impossible or unexpected combinations.

(Examples: The Kingdom is like a seed of a weed (mustard plant); The Kingdom is compared to an "impure" woman, and to an "impure" element (leaven); The Kingdom is for children/nobodies, those with "beginner's minds"; The Kingdom as a banquet for outcasts; many who expected to be in the Kingdom would not be, while those considered to be excluded, were included - and note, this has nothing to do with "where we go after we die".)

- Morever, the Kingdom is not somewhere *else* - rather it is among you, inside you, and outside you. Neither is it some time in the future, for it is here, spread out on the earth - people just do not see it.

(It astonishes me that the traditions of man have ignored what Jesus said about the Kingdom, and insist on it being a future-coming event that will be *observed* by the entire planet ... taking metaphorical verses literally, we've turned the story into a nonsense-myth, which not only undermines the revelations of Jesus, but turns many Christians into a passive lot who see the entire planet, and most of its inhabitants as soon to be destroyed...!)

- Jesus spoke of two ways, a wise way and a foolish way, a way of life and a way of death, a narrow way and a broad way. For most sages, the wise way was the way of conventional wisdom, and the foolish way was the path of disregarding conventional wisdom. Jesus reversed this: he spoke of the broad way that led to destruction not as gross wickedness or flagrant foolishness, but as the way of conventional wisdom. He directly attacked the central values of his social world's conventional wisdom: family, wealth, honor, purity and religiosity. All were sanctified by tradition, and their importance was part of the taken-for-granted world.

(Interesting ... Jesus attacked the very things that traditional Christianity hallmarks.)

- Those who were secure in the world of conventional wisdom found little worthwhile in his message, and much that was nonsensical, offensive and threatening.

(This continues to play out today - those who leave religion to follow Christ are viewed as being nonsensical, offensive and threatening.)

- Jesus invites his hearers to see God not as judge, not as the one who has requirements that must be met, not as the legitimator of conventional wisdom - but as gracious and compassionate.

(So often, when I speak of God as Love, God *being* love, I'm reminded by others that God is also judgment, wrath, and punisher. One friend recently reported that the following statement came out of an online conversation: "I cannot believe in a God who would not kill and punish.")

- Jesus invites us to see reality as characterized by a cosmic generosity and by an overflowing effulgence of life - even while acknowledging the transitoriness of life. He speaks of God as the one who "makes the sun to rise on the evil and the good," and as one who "sends the rain upon the just and unjust," without thought of reward and punishment. In the story of the vineyard owner who pays all of the workers the same amount regardless of how long or how hard they have worked, the hearers are invited to enter a world in which everybody receives what they need. The workers who complain are the voice of the old world, the world of conventional wisdom, and the vineyard owner's response to them is striking: "Do you begrudge my generosity?" The parable invites the hearers to consider that God is like this, and not like the god of requirements and reward.

(Are we, as humans, so very addicted to the concept of requirements and rewards, that we cannot SEE God as Jesus was revealing Him? Could it be that we're viewing the world through the eyes of our egos, which insist on earning and achieving? Could it be this very perspective, this egoic insistence upon accomplishment, that needs to die, so that our true selves, can arise & see God in the way we've always longed for ...?)

- The ending of the parable of the prodigal son is telling -- rather than ending with the celebration of the lost son returning (powerful in and of itself), the parable ends with a question hanging in the air: will the older son's sense of the way things *ought* to be keep him out of the banquet?

(Will our own insistence of how things *ought* to be, according to the traditions we've always known, keep us from seeing the Kingdom which is all around and in us, keep us from seeing ourselves as we really are, keep us from enjoying God as He really is?)

- The story of the prodigal images the religious life very differently from how it is seen within the world of conventional wisdom: as a life of exile "in a far country" and a journey of return - not as a life of duty, requirements, and rewards. Between the two there is an enormous gap.

(Having lived within that conventional-wisdom-world of duty, requirements and rewards, and having begun the journey into the return (both with and to God), my heart *aches* for all those who yet-believe that they must adhere to duty/requirement, hoping for rewards, and who thus see God as a demanding task-master, or, more subtly, One whose love is conditioned upon our own level of belief.)

- If we take the graciousness of God seriously, it completely undermines the world of conventional wisdom [including Christian tradition], whether in religious or secular form. This emphasis on God's graciousness in the message of Jesus often leads to questions about whether there is any element of judgment at all. The notion that our life on earth is primarily about meeting God's requirements so that we may have a blessed after-life is foreign to Jesus. In the few texts where He does speak of a last judgment, it is to subvert widely accepted notions about that judgment. In short, it seems that the threat of being judged by God for one's sins at the last judgment was not central to Jesus, if it was in his message at all. Yet the historical judgment does play a role in Jesus' message, in much the same way as it does in the classical prophets of the Old Testament: blindness has it's consequences, both for a society and for the individual. On the level of society, because Jerusalem (the center of the ruling elites) did not know "the things that make for peace," historical conflict lay ahead [in the Roman siege and destruction in 70AD]. On the individual level (now as then), if one does not leave the world of conventional wisdom, one remains in it, living in "the land of the dead." THAT, (and not the threat of "hell") is the issue.

(Yes! I've come to see this through my own journey and studies. All of the judgment warnings, all of the exhortations to choose the narrow way or be destroyed, were historical warnings of the judgment and destruction that was to come upon Jerusalem in 70AD -- Read Jesus' warnings in what we all the "Olivet Discourse" - Mt. 24, Mk. 16, & Lk 21 - for yourself, and see if his words make more sense about the "end of the planet" or the "end of the Jewish age/covenant". For more exploration on this fascinating and life-changing understanding, see the articles at, and the discussion forums both there, and at There is no need for us to continue to live under the illusional fear about "hell" and the "last judgment", which were fabricated out of the misperceptions of the traditions of man.)

- What then is the way that leads to life? The narrow way, the way less traveled, is the alternative wisdom of Jesus. It has two closely related dimensions. First, it is an invitation to see God as gracious and womb like, rather than as the source and enforcer of the requirements, boundaries, and divisions of conventional wisdom (whether Jewish, Christian or secular). Second, it is an invitation to a path that leads away from the life of conventional wisdom to a life that is more and more centered in God. The alternative wisdom of Jesus sees the religious life as a deepening relationship with the Spirit of God, not as a life of requirements and reward.

(While I would replace his wording of "religious life" to "Spiritual life" or even "Abundant Life", I agree wholeheartedly with what Borg is saying here! We've had God all wrong - we've continued to focus and highlight and promote the fear-and shame-based concepts of God that were prevalent in the early stages of man's awareness of God, rather than seeing God through the revelation of God in the life and teachings of Jesus. We've let fear cast out perfect love, rather than allowing perfect love to cast out all fear...! We have nothing to fear but fear itself.)

- Jesus used the imagery of the heart to speak of the need for an internal transformation. The heart represents the self at its deepest level. When the heart is centered in the finite, it becomes closed and heartened rather than open and receptive [I would include doctrines and theological dogma as part of what's "finite"]. What is needed then, is a new heart - an internal transformation brought about by a deep centering in God. It is possible to be centered in sacred tradition and yet have one's heart far from God.

(I know well the delusions of a life centered in sacred tradition -- wherein my heart was indeed far from God, despite knowing a great many things man said *about* God.)

- The way less traveled, the narrow way, is life in the Spirit. The life that Jesus himself knew. The transformation of perception to which Jesus invited his hearers flowed out of his own spiritual experience. There is a sovereign voice in his wisdom, one that knows tradition but whose vantage point is not simply tradition.

(& yet Christianity insists upon upholding and defending tradition..!)

- Our secular culture insists that we uphold the "Three A's": Achievement, Affluence, and Appearance. Not only is the effort to measure up burdensome, but even when we are reasonably successful at doing so, we often find the rewards unsatisfying, We may have the experience of being satiated and yet still hungry... we are made in such a way that we have an appetite for the Infinite. The signs that people in modern culture often do yearn for something more are many and encouraging.

(I see all manner of evidence of that hunger, of an awakening, across the board ... this, I believe, is because all humans are spiritual, whether they yet know it or not ... all people are infused with God, whether they yet know it or not -- Paul affirms this in Athens when he tells the pagan hearers that they are all children of God. As promised, God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself ... Christ is drawing all men to himself, to God.)

- The way of Jesus also challenges many common forms of Christianity. In particular, it invites us to move from "secondhand religion" to "firsthand religion" [which I would say, "firsthand relationship"]. Secondhand religion is a way of being religious based on believing what one has heard from others. It consists of thinking that the Christian life is about believing what the Bible says or what the doctrines of the church say. Firsthand religion [relationship], on the other hand, consists of a relationship to that which the Bible and the teachings of the church point - namely that reality we call God or the Spirit of God.

(Read that section again, and let it sink in. Do you see? Are you experiencing a secondhand religion, or a firsthand relationship? Which do you want? To which are you being drawn? Do you trust the One who is drawing more than you trust that which you've always been taught?)

- The transformation from secondhand religion to firsthand religion [relationship], from living in accord with what one has heard to life centered in the Spirit, is central to the alternative wisdom of Jesus and also to the Jewish tradition in which he stood. As Job said, "I head heard of thee by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye beholds thee."

(Jesus spoke of having "eyes to see" ... and that if our eye is dark [blinded by conventional wisdom/tradition] then the whole body is darkness ... we can question our thinking, our beliefs, our perspective, and try on a new perspective, to see how well it fits, to see if it resonates with the spirit-to-Spirit connection within us.)

- The gospel of Jesus -- the good news of Jesus' own message -- is that there is a way of being that moves beyond both secular and religious conventional wisdom. The path of transformation of which Jesus spoke leads from a life of requirements and measuring up (whether to culture or to God) to a life of relationship with God. It leads from a life of anxiety to a life of peace and trust. It leads from the bondage of self-preoccupation to the freedom of self-forgetfulness. It leads from life centered in culture [or tradition] to a life centered in God.

(This choice, between the broad way of conventional wisdom and the narrow way of alternative/radical wisdom, is about how we live *this life* -- it is a misconception to think that it speaks of an "afterlife" ... the Kingdom of Heaven/God is here and now, within us and all around us, unobservable and yet more real than anything tangible. We either self-enter, or self-exclude ourselves. This is about choices and consequences in this life, not about ever-lasting bliss or torment. Sadly, the traditional Christian message has confused the message of Jesus, enslaving us to a life of requirements and reward/punishment, causing us to fear, rather than enjoy, God ... keeping us from experiencing the reality of the here-and-now Kingdom. May He continue to open our eyes, and may we not resist the leading of the Spirit, as He continues to lead us into all truth...)

Shalom, Dena


Camille said...

Wow Dena, that was brilliant. Really got me thinking and put into words alot of what Ive been feeling but unable to express, thankyou Blessings :D

dena said...

Thank you for the kind words, but the brilliance really goes to Marcus Borg, who put it into his book -- I merely copied his words, and then commented further.

When others have "put into words" what I've been thinking/feeling, I find it SO enormously spirit-lifting! To have nebulous and fleeting thoughts suddenly gel into a comprehensive, life-impacting image is POWERful!

I'm grateful to have been able to do that for you - thank you for letting me know -- we are smarter together than any of us is alone!

Shalom, Dena

MysticBrit said...

It's all about growing into the awareness of What Is Already, i.e., our At-One-ness with the Father of All. It's about Becoming Who I Am, and drawing 'others' into that same awareness and that same One-ness.

We are not Alone. We are All One:)

I sense there's a Divine Rest and a Divine Tension in entering the fullness of this reality, which is utterly beyond words, or even the need for words. The heart knows its Home, and longs for it...

dena said...

Nicely put, Harry.

Divine tension, indeed!

marianne said...

Glad to see a clear, well thought out statement about learning to think for ourselves with the mind God gave us instead of following the "conventional wisdom crowd" of religion that ends up leading us back into the trap that we are told we will avoid if we follow it....just makes you dizzy, doesn't it?

dena said...

Welcome back, Marianne!

Can't wait to read of your own adventurees on YOUR blog (which, for those of you who've not yet discovered her, Marianne has MUCH wisdom and insight to share -- all the hard-won variety...!).

You nailed it - dizziness indeed! Mesmerizement, actually...!

(did I just coin a word?)

Shalom, Densa