Friday, July 10, 2009

Who is Jesus, *Really*...?

Have you ever wondered about Jesus? I mean, He's arguably the most influential person in all of history, and certainly our denotation of time is divided so as to reflect His life, but have you ever wondered whether you know Him, or just know *about* Him...?

I have.

I've certainly come to question what I've been told about Him by others ... sometimes the claims about Him, and the representations of Him, strike me as missing the point about Him. Certainly His teachings have been misunderstood ... I no longer see Him as primarily a teacher of morality (how to behave), but as a teacher of wisdom (how to know God).

I'm reading a fascinating book about Jesus - "Meeting Jesus AGAIN, for the First Time" by Marcus Borg. Yeah, that dude. The one I was warned about - the terrible and liberal (redundant words in my former culture!) "Jesus Seminar" participant. (You can read more about him here:

He's had an amazing spiritual journey, and is an outspoken critic of Christianity ... hence the indictment against him (if you point out a problem, you become the problem). While our paths are uniquely different, it would seem that he and I see eye to eye on a great many things (go figure!) ... including having a more panentheistic view of God (God being all in all).

It's certainly giving me much food for thought ... and in case anyone else would benefit from what I'm enjoying, I thought I'd share a bit. This is taken from Chapter 4 - "Jesus and Wisdom: Teacher of Alternative Wisdom."

- The subject matter of wisdom is broad. Basically, wisdom concerns how to live. It speaks of the nature of reality and how to live one's life in accord with reality.

(sure 'nuff makes sense to me!)

- There are two types of wisdom (& of sages): the most common type is conventional wisdom, or mainstream wisdom of a culture (what "everyone knows"). The second type is a subversive and alternative wisdom. This wisdom questions and undermines conventional wisdom and speaks of another way, another path.

(I certainly started out in the first, though I never "fit" well ... was forever in trouble with those touting status quo.)

- The wisdom of the subversive sages is the wisdom of "the road less traveled." And so it was with Jesus: his wisdom spoke of "the narrow way" which led to life, and subverted the "broad way" followed by the many, which led to destruction.

(What was your word-picture with the words "life" and "destruction"? If you thought they were synonymous with "heaven" and "hell", then may I suggest that your thoughts are rooted in conventional wisdom, and is missing what Jesus was really warning about..? More on that tomorrow.)

- Jesus largely taught using metaphor, in the form of parables and aphorisms (short memorable sayings, or "one liners"). These are invitational forms of speech. Jesus used them to invite his hearers to see something they might not otherwise see. As evocative forms of speech, they tease the imagination into activity, suggest more than they say, and invite a transformation in perception.

(Yeah! Woot! And to think I was told that the imagination was a dangerous commodity, and to denounce and deny it...! This is indeed how I still experience God's Spirit inviting me to explore the unquestioned beliefs behind my thoughts and understandings.)

- (Borg claims that though we read long strings of these one-liners in various "sermons" of Jesus ... in actuality, Jesus wouldn't have delivered them in that manner. What we have in the gospels is a condensation of parables and aphorisms given over time - he would likely repeat his stories in various locales, as an itinerant teacher.) As provocative sayings meant to lead the hearer to a new perception, they require time for digestion ... thus, we need to imagine them being spoken one at a time. What we have in the gospels is the memorable core (or gist) of sayings that were repeated many times - the resonant lines that hearers would remember as the heart o longer discourses or dialogues.

(That makes such obvious sense to me ... when I receive a rather insightful article or email from someone, I often call it a "keeper" ... if it's heavily laden with food for thought, I often need to save it, to re-read it later, or even to print it off and read it "devotionally" or contemplatively ... the better to take it in. So too, it seems, or even moreso, with the sayings/teachings of Jesus.)

- Jesus' appeal is not to the will - not "Do this" - but rather, "Consider seeing it this way." As invitational forms of speech, the parables do not invoke external authority. They do not appeal to divine authority, as do the speech forms of divine lawgivers ("Thus sayeth the Lord, you shall...") and inspired prophets "Hear the word of the Lord ..."). Rather, their authority rests in themselves -- that is, in their ability to involve and affect the imagination. Their voice is the invitational, rather than the imperative. The appeal is to the imagination, to that place within us in which reside our images of reality and our images of life itself; the invitation is to a different way of seeing. HOW one sees makes all the difference. How we see determines the path that we walk, the way that we live.

(SO true! When I be lived that Jesus was primarily a teacher of morality - right and wrong - I lived within that black and white duality of judgment ... everything, and everyone, I saw was judged as being "good" or "evil", "right" or "wrong". This set up all manner of walls between me and "them". Now, I'm seeing Jesus as primarily inviting me to view from the higher/deeper perspective ... to actually "tell myself another story" of what *is* ... this narrative is all-inclusive; no more "us vs. them" - it builds bridges rather than walls -- though in experiential reality, some folks have taken those extended bridges, turned them sideways, and used them as walls ...)

- Jesus was not primarily a teacher of information (what we believe) or morals (how to behave), but a teacher of a way or a path of transformation. A way of transformation from what to what? From a life in the world of conventional wisdom to a life centered in God.

(I just love this! How freeing! Not about what to *do*, but about how to *be* ... doing always flows best out of beingness.)

- Conventional wisdom is the dominant consciousness of any culture. It's a culture's most taken-for-granted understandings about the way things are (its worldview, or image of reality) and about the way to live (its ethos, or way of life). It is "what everybody knows" - the world that everybody is socialized into through the process of growing up. It is enculturated consciousness.

(IOW, group-think.)

- Conventional wisdom is intrinsically based upon the dynamic of rewards and punishment. You reap what you sow; follow this way and all will go well; you get what you deserve; the righteous will prosper - these are the constant messages of conventional wisdom. The dynamic is the basis of popular Western notions of a last judgment in which we are rewarded or condemned according to our behavior and/or belief, as well as the basis of popular Eastern notions of karma. It is also found in secular form: work hard and you will succeed. It carries with it a hard-edged corollary, of course: if you don't succeed, or are not blessed, or do not prosper, it is because YOU have not followed the right path. Life becomes a matter of requirement and reward, failure and punishment.

(This makes me want to weep...! Ah, the exhaustion, and the shame, that come from such a system! This seems hard-wired into our culture, including the Christian culture! We observe this tendency within ourselves, and we project it onto God ... despite what God, and Jesus, have tried to tell us about God.)

- Psychologically, conventional wisdom becomes the basis for identity and self-esteem. The superego (whether we choose to cal it that or not) is the internalized voice of culture - the storehouse of "oughts" in our heads. It functions as a generally critical internal voice - the internal cop and the internal judge. I am who I am according t the standards of conventional wisdom, and I will think well or poorly of myself depending upon how well I measure up to its standards. Conventional wisdom is thus life under the superego.

(Anyone else ever stand accused by the internal judge, who works on behalf of collective-conventional wisdom? Guess what?!? That ain't God! I've come to equate the "accuser of the brethren" with that very self-same egoic voice within, as well as with the Law in general.)

- Life in this world can be and often is grim. It is a life of bondage to the dominant culture ... a life of limited vision and blindness. It is a world of judgment. I judge myself and others by how well I and they measure up. It is a world of comparison. It is a life of anxious striving, and of a "performance principle."

(This, for me, in my own variant-range of experiences, is an apt description of Christianity - in contrast to the Abundant Life of following Christ into knowing God.)

- There is an image of God that goes with the world of conventional wisdom. When conventional wisdom appears in religious form, God is imaged primarily as lawgiver and judge. God becomes the one whom we must satisfy, the one whose requirements must be met. When this happens in the Christian tradition, it leads to an image of the Christian life as a life of requirements. Indeed, this happens so frequently that it is the most common form of Christianity.

(This also impacts how we view the Atonement of Jesus ... we see it as an angry God demanding payment, in blood -- someone must die! And so Jesus becomes the fall-guy, taking on the wrath of God Who must be appeased. When we boil down this view of the Atonement, which is called the Penal Substitionary Theory, we're really saying this: "God killed God to appease God." Tilt...!)

- The Protestant Reformation emphasized salvation by grace and not by "works of the law." Indeed "justification by grace" was the battle cry ... Luther's own personal and theological struggle had been against "salvation by works." As Protestants, we knew that we weren't saved by "works". Rather, we were saved by "grace through faith." Yet, the emphasis was placed upon faith rather than grace, and faith insidiously became the new requirement. Faith (most often understood as belief) is what God required, and by a lack of faith/belief, one risked the peril of eternal punishment. The requirement of faith brought with it all of the anxiety and self-preoccupation that marked life in the world of conventional wisdom. Was one's faith/belief real enough, strong enough? Thus for many of us Christians, the system of conventional wisdom remained. Only the content of the requirement had changed - from good works to faith.

(I hesitate to even comment here ... this is utterly profound. Let it sink in ... selah.)

- There is another consequence of Christian conventional wisdom. The requirement of faith divides the world up into those who have faith and those who don't, with the implication that God is kindly disposed toward the first group and not so kindly disposed toward the second. This understanding is reflected in a bumper sticker that reads: "Christians aren't' perfect - they're just forgiven." It implies that other people aren't forgiven, and that Christians have done something (become Christian? believed?) that merits forgiveness. There is a smugness and divisiveness in the statement that comes out of the marriage between conventional wisdom and Christitanity.

(Again, deeply profound ... hugely indicting. To be honest, I see no distinction between conventional wisdom and Christianity ... as I see Christianity as a manmade construction based entirely ON conventional wisdom ... ignoring that Jesus subverted and upended the very things that Christianity insists upon...!)

- Most people report having heard the Christian message as a message of requirements (whether of belief or of behavior, or, most often, of both) and of rewards, typically in "the next world," and sometimes in this world as well. Thus Jesus' subversion of conventional wisdom is a subversion not only of the central convictions of his social world, but of many common forms of Christianity as well.

(This has become so very, very clear and true to me ... most of Christitanity has been playing a game of "The Emperor's New Clothes" ... admiring a projection of egoic collective thinking, of conventional wisdom, and using Jesus as a mere mascot to promote and enforce the reward/punishment system of man.)

Tomorrow, I'll finish out this most-excellent chapter ... looking into the *what* of Jesus' subversive and alternative wisdom...!

Shalom, Dena


MysticBrit said...

We are the Borg. You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile. (Sorry, Dena, I just couldn't resist that;))

The problem with all the wonderful stuff you post is, well, that there's very little to add, for me at least.

I'm very much meeting Jesus again, for the first time, and my soul's all a-flutter at the sublime unspeakable wonder of this God Made Man Made God. I, in the very deepest sense of that word, am Coming Home, and what a beautiful, crazy, sometimes bewildering road this is turning out to be!

I'm becoming an ardent critic of the very concept of 'Christianity', and I wish we could find a better word for it, one that would make it all much clearer for those turned off by the negative connotations of the word. We need to start over, in every sense. I 'spose just loving folks is a good start.;)


dena said...

My thoughts align with yours, Harry, because we're having the same experience (but of course!).

I just finished Borg's book -- oh. my. gosh. The final chapter is worth the whole thing...! I'll be blogging on it soonish. He takes on the popular theory of atonement, and shows how even Jesus subverted/subverts it -- we've turned the radical-subversive wisdom of Jesus into the suffocating/conventional wisdom of man...!

I'll unpack that as I get to it ... as it is, I'm a day behind in blogging ... off to remedy that!

MysticBrit said...

And Another Thing...

While we're about 'renaming' Christianity, let's think of a better word for 'God'. I believe the Germanic root of that word actually refers to a water sprite in the local mythology! Oh boy...

I hope you're not becoming a slave to the Greater Law of Blogdom, Dena;)

Paul Cohen said...

Dena, try this answer from our site, given throughout several writings:

Also, I would like to send you my response to "A Jesus Manifesto," but see no email address here.

Please drop me a line, if you are willing to receive.

Paul Cohen

Dena said...

Thank you for sharing the link, Paul -- sure, I'd be interested in reading your response to the Jesus Manifesto.

Email: brehmites @ aol . com (remove spaces)

Just so you know - after a quick perusal of your site, I would say that you and I have quite-different views of many of the things the site speaks against. I've been richly blessed by many things your site calls "false teachings." For instance, I've experienced God personally in Theophostic prayer (& I know Ed Smith personally) ... and siimply I've learned to go with the God I've experienced, rather than the one folks tell me about.

I'm open for conversation, but have no time nor inclination for debate ... we must each follow the Spirit as He leads. We can all only walk in the Light we've been given.

Shalom & Namaste -