Thursday, January 28, 2010

Radical/Alternative Wisdom: The Road Less-Traveled

First, may I apologize for not getting to this sooner ... been wanting to! Mark's surgery went well, and he's mending ... but it threw a kink in the daily routine here ... and I had to spend about five hours yesterday, tending to some art-biz. Waiting to see if I'm juried into a show ... but since they want to use photos of my art for their postcards, I'm thinking I must be in...!

Back to comparing types of wisdom:

In contrast to Tuesday's peek into conventional wisdom, let's look deeper into the subversive and alternative wisdom that Jesus revealed, lived, and taught...

The wisdom of Jesus directly questions and undermines conventional wisdom ... it reveals another way, another path, another option. Other wisdom teachers taught much the same in preceding generations/centuries. In the East, the most familiar teachers of alternative wisdom were Lao Tzu, Confucius, and the Buddha. Lao Tzu spoke/wrote of "The Way" (Tao, pronounced "dow") that led one out of conventional thinking, into a way of oneness. Buddha taught of an "eightfold path" that leads into enlightenment and compassion for others. Confucius was the first to put forth the Golden Rule, which Jesus quotes (putting a more positive spin on it) 500 years later. In the West, Socrates taught the Athenians to examine conventional wisdom -- for this he was killed.

Jesus taught orally -- He apparently didn't ask anyone to write down His sayings (perhaps not wanting us to fixate on such writings...?). He used aphorisms (short sayings - "one-liners") and parables (short stories). These are invitational forms of speech - they draw the listener in, to hear/see something they otherwise might not -- to see beyond the surface understanding. He invited people to experience a transformation in normal perception.

We have to realize that the writers of the gospels didn't follow Jesus around ... they were written decades after His death. At best, this was second-hand information. Also, Jesus was a traveling teacher ... He wouldn't share a story or a one-liner just once -- He likely repeated them in each town. Further, as any good speaker knows, you don't hit your audience with a plethora of pithy statements -- that lessens the impact. So, rather than the "bam-bam-bam" effect we get when reading the sermon on the mount, that is likely a conglomeration of the familiar sayings of Jesus given over time, in many places.

Jesus did not issue demands, nor commandments (unless asked). Instead, His tone is invitational ... "consider seeing it this way, instead." He doesn't speak as a law-giver, with "do this" and "don't do that" and "thus says the Lord, so you shall". The authority of His words are not imperial ... instead they incite and engage the imagination ... making it a two-way conversation.

Jesus invites His hearers to see in a radically new way. His appeal is to our imaginations, even today. He invites us to try on different images, which affect our understanding of life. He speaks often of "seeing"... those who have eyes to see, those who are blind ... how one sees makes all the difference ... "the eye is the lamp of the body." HOW we see determines the journey we take, and the way we live our lives.

Jesus was not focused primarily on information (what we should believe) or morality (how we should behave) -- His focus was about a way, or a path, of transformation. From a life rooted in the world of conventional wisdom, into a relational life centered in God Himself.

According to Jesus' teachings, the world of conventional wisdom must be deconstructed in order for us to see/experience alternative/radical wisdom. The old must be unlearned, so that the new (which is primary) can be revealed. The veil of convention must be removed, torn asunder, ripped from top to bottom ... so to speak.

Jesus often confused his conventionally-entrenched hearers with his paradoxes ... impossible combinations. Like a good Samaritan (impossible, they thought!). Or an unrighteous pharisee. Or a donkey ride for a king. Or internal purity. Or the poor being blessed. Or the first being last, and the last being first .. the humble exalted and the exalted humbled.

He also described the Kingdom of God/Heaven (same thing to Jesus) in quite-unexpected combinations: How could something so HUGE be described as something tiny (grain of mustard)? How could something glorious be likened to a mere weed? How could it be impure, like a woman (impure!) using leaven (impure!)(double-impure!). How could the Kingdom be for nobodies like children? How could it be for outcasts? They thought they had the Kingdom-notion down PAT. Instead, Jesus speaks of it as NOT "up there, somewhere, someday" but among you, within you, inside you, at hand, outside you, here, now, spread over the earth; the problem is that we just don't see it with the spiritual eyes -- we've been trained to see it with the eyes of human expectations, or (you guessed it!) conventional wisdom.

Common sense tells us that wisdom is to be found on the conventional (right, traditional, popular) path. You know - what most folks believe. Those in charge of forming religious thought (whether 2,000 years ago or now) tell us that the foolish way is the path of disregarding conventional wisdom. And yet -- Jesus actually reversed this. He came against all the core values of the religious rulers of His day: family, wealth, honor, purity and religiosity. It's no small wonder that so many who defended status quo in His day derided His message, finding it nonsense, offensive, and threatening enough that they did away with Him.

So, how did/does Jesus invite us to see God? (& it seems to me that our view of God is THE defining basis of all of life)

He invites His hearers, then and now, to see God not as the wrathful, angry, ready-to-smite, highly-offendable Judge, not as the task-master with demanding requirements, not as the enforcer of conventional wisdom, but as grace-filled and compassionate.

(Wondering now, how many of us are thinking, "that sounds just dangerously too good to be true!"..?)

Jesus tells us that God is no respecter of persons ... that He causes sunshine and rain upon both good and evil, upon both just and unjust -- with no mention of reward or punishment. He speaks of an intimate God -- one He calls "Abba" (Dada in English) ... one who knows how many hairs are on each head (He sees us each individually, not just en masse) ... and He tells us to "fear not" when He's asked about judgment. We are invited to see God as Jesus does -- as One who ensures that everyone receives what they need. When those who uphold conventional wisdom (the all-day workers in the vineyard) complain, God asks, "why do you resent my generosity?" Jesus is saying, "God is like this -- not the god of requirements & reward and punishment."

The story of the prodigal is a classic ... every step of the way it speaks against conventional wisdom. Conventional wisdom would not allow for a father who lets the son take the inheritance and go (in effect saying, "I wish you dead" to the father) ... nor would it allow for a pig-sty to be a place of enlightenment (coming to his senses) ... nor would it allow for a Father to throw of all dignity and decorum and RUN to his wayward son ... nor would it allow for brushing aside the confession ... nor would it allow for celebrating and lavishing gifts on the son (who "should" be punished!). Conventional wisdom shows up best in the older son -- who resents the grace lavished on the "wrong one", after he's done "all the right things all this time". We're left wondering: will the older son's sense of "how things SHOULD be" keep him out of the celebration...?

We are invited to see our place in the story ... perhaps we are both of the sons ... the one who goes off to a far country (in our thinking - which is what the story is about), awakens, and returns Home to Father; and the one who obeys dutifully, resenting how others "get away without punishment".

Most of us can easily relate to the wanton prodigal. Perhaps we're also invited to see ourselves in the older son ... to hear his voice as our own ... and to reject it.

I believe that the Father would say to ALL of us: "My Child -- you are always with Me -- everything I have is yours." Think on that ... let it well up.

Jesus shows us the Truth about God -- that He is a God of graciousness and compassion.

It's right about now that I imagine that some may be asking, "what about all those verses about judgment?!? Surely we need to 'balance' all that love with a healthy dose of wrath!"

My views on this are not ... shall we say ... conventional. Now, don't faint, or fall off of your computer chair. First, I do not believe that Jesus' warning verses are about "what happens after we die." I believe that we've projected our views, our traditions, onto the scriptures. Sure, Jesus believes in a life after this earthly habitation -- but I don't think His message, including those judgment-verses, are about how to get there. I believe that Jesus' warning verses are about the soon-coming historical consequences that the Jews were soon to experience for their choices. In choosing to be spiritually blind, in stubbornly clinging to the "security" of their own hierarchical kingdom, in refusing to follow Jesus into the Abundant Life He demonstrated and provided, they were sealing their own doom (Jesus describes this in the "Olivet Discourse" of Mt. 24, Mk. 13 and Lk. 21 -- and it came to pass in 70AD, in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple). Because they clung to conventional wisdom, because they arrogantly scoffed at His message of radical wisdom, because they claimed to be the center for religious truth, and yet did not know "the things that make for peace", inevitable conflict lay ahead for them. Jesus warned them, over and over -- the specific warnings were for them , then, and not for us (though we can learn from them). THAT, and not the threat of "hell" (of which Jesus never spoke - as it's a word Christians inserted into the text) is the warning message.

So, what is this Abundant Life, this life of alternative wisdom, that Jesus invites them, and us, into? It's not a "new religion." It's not Christianity (which was man's idea). It's an invitation to see God in a daringly "new" way ... as gracious, intimate, even womb-like (motherly, nurturing), rather than as the Enforcer of The Requirements/Boundaries/Divisions of conventional wisdom. It's an invitation to a radical life that's wholly centered on God, led by the Living Spirit. An ever-deepening relationship of trust in the Spirit ... not a life of striving, requirements, rewards, and punishments.

What is promised, and delivered, is a new heart -- symbolic of the deepest level of the self. An inner transformation that changes everything. A whole new God-lens perspective of BEing, rather than the ego-centered perspective of earning/striving/doing.

AS we die to the notion of conventional wisdom as the center of our security/identity, we also die to the notion of the self as the center of our focus. We are set FREE from all restraints, both outward and inward. This "dying to self/ego" may include all the classic stages of physical dying: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Anyone who has experienced even one (if not several!) paradigm-shifts can attest to going through this agonizing-yet-liberating process...!

The way less traveled is the Abundant Life. Life in the Spirit. The life that Jesus lived, demonstrated, exampled, and which He invites us to share with Him. It's a transformation of perspective ... being enabled to SEE what was always there, all the time, only eclipsed by our carnal/egoic thinking... our insistence upon the self-achievements of conventional wisdom.

We are invited, and even enabled, to know God as Jesus does -- the Compassionate One, and not the God of demanding requirements, and exclusionary boundaries. We are invited to abandon second-hand religion in favor of first-hand experiential relationship with the Divine.

As beings who are Sourced by the Infinite/Divine (God), we have an undeniable appetite for the Infinite ... though we may spend our time feeding at various conventional pig-troughs in life. There comes a time when all the rewards of conventional wisdom (achievement, affluence, appearance) no longer satisfy ... and we experience the horrible too-full-yet-starving sensation of those who are stuffed with fluff and nonsense. There comes a time when we can no longer deny the hunger for the "much more" of which Jesus speaks. It is then that we allow the Spirit to lead us into all truth.

Letting go of those things that the traditions of man has declared "sacred" can be challenging, and painful. I've lost much in this process (though none of it can compare with what I've gained!). We may need to let go of what others tell us the scriptures say ... or what Christian doctrines declare. We may need to forsake "what everyone believes to be true" in favor of what the Spirit reveals to us ... there comes a time when we have to choose between the God that we are experiencing, and the god that others tell us about.

This is powerfully expressed in Job, when he says (to God):

"I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye beholds You."

That transformation, from hearing *about* God, to beholding God experientially, is what the radical/alternative wisdom of Jesus is most deeply about.

If we dare to follow Jesus on this radical path of alternative wisdom, we will move from anxiety and fear, into peace and trust. From the enslavement of self-focus, to the freedom of self-acceptance and other-service (for we will see all others as one with us).

From fear to love.

Will you answer that invitation..? Will you take the offer of this radical adventure...?

Shalom, Dena


MysticBrit said...

Thanks, Dena. A true tour-de-force.

Tell it in Texas!:D

Dena said...

Thanks, Harry ... and it'll be part of the Texas message.

But here's what keeps happening ... I prepare for a talk, notes and all, preparing for weeks ... and then, when the time comes, I never look at my notes!

The first time, my contact fogged up, so that I could see the people, but not the notes. I had to wing it ... but it felt like I was riding something.

The second time, I had my notes, and I could see 'em, but I just started sharing from my heart, and never looked down. I left some things out, but other things were added in ... part of my brain was saying, "WHY are you sharing THAT?!?" And then later, a man, crying, approached me and said it was just what he needed to hear.

So be it.

I can't make that happen ... I feel the need to prepare, for my own sake ... but if I get carried, I'm hanging on and going with it!

MysticBrit said...

Hmmm... now why am I not surprised?;) Christ Mind takes the reins from Me Mind, and mighty things come from your heart.

I wonder what inventive variation it'll be this time...:D