Category Archives: Jesus

i finally get Easter (mostly)

Being a Christian who does not take the words of the Bible literally, I always struggle with both Christmas and Easter. These two very holy celebrations center around specific events in the life of Jesus. Events that, because I don’t believe they actually happened, I have a hard time celebrating. I need to know how these sacred stories apply to me/us today. I’ve rarely had a convincing answer. Then, last Sunday, listening to the Palm Sunday sermon at my church, I grasped a very real understanding of what the Easter story can mean.

Well, the pre-Easter story anyway. Our minister was talking about the trial of Jesus, Pilot’s asking the crowd which prisoner to free, the crowd fervently insisting on Jesus’ crucifixion and Pilot declaring his hands washed of Jesus blood. it’s a tense, sad scene. With our benefit of hindsight, it’s easy to be appalled at the crowd’s hatred and callousness, at Pilot’s acceptances of the seemingly irrational decision to set the hardened criminal free and to execute Jesus. We are angry.

But then we have to ask ourselves, would we have acted any differently than that crowd or that judge? Oh, we’d like to think so. But if we had really been a Roman politician or a Jewish citizen of Jesus’ time, what makes us so sure that we would have gone against all we knew for the sake of one man. Would we have had the courage to be one of twelve devoted followers of a stranger with a radical message? To stand against law and loved one to say ‘set this man free?’ We’ll never really know.

The real question for us becomes, do we have that courage today? Can we stand up for the weak, the disadvantaged, the wrongly accused in the face of mass unpopularity? Do we have the courage to do something even if it’s not what everyone else is doing, or runs contrary to what we thought we knew?

This is what I take away from the Easter story – a reminder to stand up for what is right, not what is popular. To stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves. To picture myself in the crowd condemning Jesus and accept that that would have been me and I now have the power and passion to change that.

If you believe that Jesus died for our sins, then you must know that it was exactly those people who sent him to his death, their sins, that he was dying for. He didn’t look into a crystal ball and see “us” in the future that he would sacrifice himself for. It was for those sinners right in front of him. We are all among that crowd. We are not above them. And we will continue to condemn Jesus to death until we can truly move out of the crowd and examine ourselves, our motives, and defend the undefended.

abundance of caution

Ok, this I love, from the Houston Chronicle:

Chief Justice John Roberts has administered the presidential oath of office to Barack Obama for a second time, just to be on the safe side.

The unusual step came after Roberts flubbed the oath a bit on Tuesday, causing Obama to repeat the wording differently than as prescribed in the Constitution.

“We decided it was so much fun …,” Obama joked while sitting on a couch in the Map Room. Obama stood and walked over to make small talk with pool reporters as Roberts donned his black robe.

“Are you ready to take the oath?” Roberts asked.

“I am, and we’re going to do it very slowly,” Obama replied.

After a flawless recitation that included no Bible and took 25 seconds, Roberts smiled and said, “Congratulations, again.”

Obama said, “Thank you, sir,” and then added: “All right. The bad news for the (reporters) is there’s 12 more balls.”…

White House counsel Greg Craig said Obama took the oath from Roberts again out of an “abundance of caution.”

Don’t you wish that God had done that – just that extra bit of clarification to make sure we really got it? He had the chance. He comes down with the whole Jesus thing, then 600 years later he’s talking to Muhammad, why not take that opportunity to clarify things? You’d think he’d treat his only son with an “abundance of caution”. Think of wars we would have avoided, the conflicts erased! C’est la vie…let the debates draaaaaag on…

thinly sliced religion

I’ve always been interested in the protestant reformation and the split from the “Church” back in the day. Many of Martin Luther’s objections were more than reasonable – and the split in the church seems normal through the lens of history. But, I can’t help but wonder a) what our Christian religious landscape would be like if it hadn’t split, and b) where it will end? Churches continue to splinter off over comparatively small disagreements. And wasn’t at least one of Jesus’ messages about coming together and putting differences aside? Instead we’re slicing and dicing interpretations of scripture to thinly that eventually we’ll each just form our own individual church!

Several recent blog posts reminded me of this. One from the Evangelical Outpost – Church Branding is the title of the post. The central theme is that Americans are switching churches with more regularity and don’t seem to be loyal to any one brand of their religion. Without getting into whether this is good or bad – because I don’t think that’s even the point. The bigger question is why are more and more people “jumping ship”?

Couple this news with the recent article “Most US Christians define own theology”. To sum it up with one quote,

“A sizable majority of the country’s faithful no longer hew closely to orthodox teachings, and look more to themselves than to churches or denominations to define their religious convictions, according to two recent surveys.”

To me it’s clear that both these phenomena exist at least in part because, within the Christian faith particularly, we have a history of walking away when we disagree with each other. There’s no sticking around to work out differences. Denominations split and splinter continually over differences in interpretations of the Bible, and disagreements in Doctrine. Including the most recent divorce of the Episcopal Church from itself. Is it any wonder that individuals do the same thing? Or pick and choose what pieces are meaningful to them and reject the rest. The Christian faith has been the guiding light for this behavior.

And why? Because there’s far too much focus on WHAT we believe and not enough on how that belief should impel us to act. So, the more specific churches get on that What, it’s inevitable that people will look to other ships, searching for that ONE that will meet their needs and match their belief system. News flash, it will never happen! No church will be completely sympatico with any one person’s beliefs. So we continue to break off. And what then, once a church breaks away, is it more pure, more true to the “real” teachings of Jesus than what it left behind? If so, we’re creating a dangerous Christian culture of elitism. Each group thinking they are better than the rest because of what they believe. When in reality they might all be equally appalling in how they actually behave on the planet!

Recently I’ve been familiarizing myself with the Buddhist and the Quaker religion – for those of you who’ve followed, I’ve attending the local Quaker Meeting on and off over the past several years. What I absolutely love about these two traditions is the almost exclusive focus on HOW to act with an indifference to one’s personal interpretation of doctrine. In the case of Buddhism, there is no doctrine really. It’s not about a God at all; it’s about how you personally can achieve true happiness (enlightenment) in the world. Quaker’s are more closely tied to the Christian faith but there is no dictate of what one should or should not believe. It’s a very personal experience with God with true understanding only be achieved as a group learns together.

A quote from A Quaker Book of Wisdom, by Robert Lawrence Smith,

“The premise of Quaker Meeting is that no one person sees the entire truth. The group search after truth is more comprehensive and more exacting than the search of one individual. At Meetings for Worship, the shared silence creates receptivity to the continuing revelation of the truth. People who are moved to vocal ministry offer small insights that contribute to each person’s understanding.”

Many foundational beliefs of both the Quakers and Buddhists, living simply, adherence to truth, and non-violence are not at all different from Christian teachings. Jesus was one of the strongest proponents of these concepts. But in learning about, and being part of the Quaker tradition for a short time, the difference is, these are not just things to say we believe in, they are a way of life.

How or can Christianity regain the focus on the wonderful acts of Christ without getting bogged down in the thin deli slices of scripture?

progress

I’ve been going through the list of 2008 Weblog Awards for Best Religion Blog. Check out the whole list, because it’s a great way to catch up on something you may have missed.

Working my way down the Religion list, I went to Christianblog.com. It was new to me, but looked interesting. Just click to sign up, no problem. Then I hit a snag. To sign up, I would have to agree to a statement. Below is the quote from the site.

ChristianBlog.Com is a website strictly reserved for those who know they are a Child of God (aka: a Christian.)

We do not believe it is possible for us (or for anybody) to define what a “Christian” is or is not, other then to quote Romans 10:9, which says, “if you will confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved”.

If you feel that is you and you are being honest with yourself then we stand on the Holy Word of God that you and God have worked out your Salvation and we feel you have the right to become a member of ChristianBlog.Com

I have no issue with their asking this of potential members. Certainly, if you want a blog to discuss Christianity, it would be quite normal for those members to believe that “Jesus is Lord…”. Problem is, I couldn’t do it. I could not agree to this very simple statement that quite naturally defines a Christian. I do not know for certain that Jesus is Lord, that God raised him from the dead for my sake.

I was surprised actually, by how quickly I came to the conclusion that I couldn’t sign it. I didn’t twing, didn’t feel any pangs of guilt, it was just a matter of honesty for me. Maybe I’m getting somewhere in this journey after all…best of luck to you on the christianblog, I’ll be surfing elsewhere.

my conflicted christmas

I love Christmas – for so many reasons – the jolliness, the holiness, the cold weather, the eggnog and rum! It’s the holiness one that always gets me though (well, the rum get’s me too…). I’m conflicted over a few things and would love any thoughts on these:

1. Like others, I’m disgusted by the material focus of the holiday, on the other hand I love shopping for loved ones and feel it’s important to teach my children to GIVE – and yes, that may mean shopping occasionally. Everything in moderation people!

2. The Christmas story (i.e. virgin birth/manger) is very spiritually meaningful to me (part I), but, more frequently, I enjoy the wider reach of the Christmas spirit – that it is really for everyone, including the non-Christian friends I have that celebrate it and anyone else who wants to spread good cheer! Making me wonder how important the “Christian” aspect of Christmas is.

3. The Christmas story is very spiritually meaningful to me (part II), but I don’t believe a word of it. This is the real douser!

But Jesus is the whole reason for Christmas right?

Sure – but the means do not equal the ends.

The birth story is one of the more touching ones in the Bible for me. Despite my love for the story, I push it aside. I don’t want to focus on the story but rather the meaning, the application in life. Help those in need, bring gifts to strangers, open doors rather than shut them.

Whether or not the story itself is based in fact is almost beside the point. The story should represent how we show we believe rather than just what we believe – if that makes sense. Let Christmas become less Christian if it means that more people come together for celebration and sharing. Secularize Christmas for the sake of the true meaning of Christmas! Ok, I know I’m getting carried away, but this topic is hard to articulate for me (I’ve rewritten this more times than I’d like to admit).

The Christmas tree, the stockings, the cookies, the carol, all those lovely traditions – and so many others – all remind us to spread joy, give willingly, and embrace life. I know God’s message is not so easy to boil down, but I don’t think he would object to this version. Let’s just not let an amazing story distract us from the more amazing meaning.

P.S. And the Santa thing, when can we give that up? Pretend jolly fat men don’t spread joy, people do!

defining christianity

There is so much out there I want to write about, it’s overwhelming!

I’ll start with my usual, because Crunchy Con had a blog post on it today and it’s a topic that intrigues me…am I a Christian, and more broadly, what defines a Christian?

Crunchy con’s post was about our president elect and statements he had made, in particular:

Quote from Barack Obama: “Jesus is an historical figure for me, and he’s also a bridge between God and man, in the Christian faith, and one that I think is powerful precisely because he serves as that means of us reaching something higher.
And he’s also a wonderful teacher. I think it’s important for all of us, of whatever faith, to have teachers in the flesh and also teachers in history.”

And Crunchy con’s reaction:

“Unless Obama was being incredibly and uncharacteristically inarticulate, this is heterodox. You cannot be a Christian in any meaningful sense and deny the divinity of Jesus Christ. You just can’t.”

This is my same dilemma of course and normally I would have agreed with the philosophy that someone who does not believe in the divine nature of Jesus, does not believe in the trinity and does not believe that Jesus is the son of god was by definition not a Christian. Hmmmm, does that mean that the early Christians were indeed not Christian? Many of them did not believe what I’ve stated here. Is a Christian defined by what the majority of the religions called Christian believe about one person (that would be Jesus)? An obvious answer is yes, of course. And by that definition I’m happy to admit I’m not a Christian. But, I do hope that Jesus was the son of God, I do hope that He sacrificed his only son so that our sins could be forgiven. It would be an amazing, loving truth – but I can’t say that I know for sure. I can’t say the all the creeds and memorization stuff because I actually want to believe it and won’t say it until I’m sure. Does Christianity reject me as one of it’s own? It’s okay if they do, I’m just asking.

But what if, just if, it’s not all true – what if Jesus wasn’t the actual son of God, wasn’t divine? Would that negate his message? Would that make everyone who believed that’s what he was a non-Christian and all the rest of us doubters the real Christians? I don’t believe so. Who gets to define what a Christian is?

Why can’t someone like me, someone who believes in the amazing nature of a man (yes a man) named Jesus be a Christian? What takes precedence, acting Christian or believing Christian? Maybe the Christians should adopt the Don’t ask, don’t tell policy…

This an on-going question for me and isn’t easy, because as you know my mantra: if it’s easy, you’re doing it wrong! (that includes spelling by the way). I’d love to hear your thoughts!

May God bless you with as many margaritas as you can handle!

leaving the staircase

It’s been a whirlwind few weeks – I’ve started my new job which I love but which has also taken up a lot of my time. It’s also taken my mind off of God for a while, which is probably a good thing. It’s tiring to think about something that heavy all the time. I’m not sure how ministers and priests to do that full time.

I had an opportunity at the last Quaker meeting to continue my reflections on the staircase. This past Sunday was very odd indeed. I closed my eyes and did my usual visualization. I was feeling quite impatient for some reason. I saw myself on the stark white stairs again with the blinding white light. I was just standing there not moving – sort of thinking what to do. And then I just sprinted up the stairs and flew open the door at the top.

It was a dark, empty room. No light, no whatever I was expecting to see by charging up there. I sat down in the room, feeling very frustrated. I became aware of another presence on the staircase – someone had been following me. Before I looked I knew who it was – Jesus.

Great. Just great. The one guy I can’t get my head around at all is following me. I was annoyed and told him so. I started ranting at him basically – telling him I didn’t know who he was, what to make of him, I just wanted to find God, etc….

He, of course, just smiled and said nothing. But he did motion that I follow him and he started walking back down the staircase. Reluctantly I followed. I didn’t really want to leave the room, like if I hung around God would be right back from the grocery store or something. But I also knew how ridiculous that was and that this Jesus representation was not leading me in the wrong direction. He knew best.

So we go to the bottom of what was really a very short staircase and he opened the door. Outside it was a sunny, beautiful day. It opened out into a sort of park with beautiful green grass and trees and birds. People were walking around. It’s where I was supposed to be. Not off by myself pursing a God that I had no idea how to find.

What the Jesus figure was showing me is what I knew to be true, that I would only find it by re-engaging in the world with people and making myself open and vulnerable to them not just to God where I perceived it to be “safe”.

When I turned back around he was gone. And so is my staircase for now.

Ironically the two people who spoke at the meeting that day (after my staircase vision) spoke of the importance of being part of a community and giving back to people in the community of not isolating yourself. I got the message loud and clear!

notes from the edge of the river – I

These writings were from my solo vacation to a little red caboose cabin near Bandera, Texas this past week. A long weekend of relaxing, reflection and exploration.

cross.jpgIt was on my drive up to the little red caboose, while contemplating my relationship with Jesus (yet again!) that I saw an enormous cross on the top of a hill. The effect was startling. I tried to visit it a few days later but it’s apparently located on private property that no one can access. I found this quite annoying – like the person who wants to convince me that Jesus is the way but isn’t willing to hear my thoughts. I’m probably overreacting but that was my honest initial feeling.

I’m sitting in this peaceful, serene spot now thinking how lucky I am to get to have this time for me. I want it to be a contemplative time. You know, solve all my religious issues in 4 days! 😉 I can hear the river from the back deck – all nature all the time. A big change for a city girl like me.

So what was I thinking about Jesus you ask? I was reflecting that the more I learn about early Christianity and the history of the church the more I come to believe that he was mostly a man, if a God at all. But my circular argument with myself is that no matter what I think, or what historians find, or what theologians write about we’ll never know for certain. We will never have proof. When I get here I’m stuck. Not because I’m not comfortable with not having proof, but because I have a perverse need to pick a side!

This dilemma also causes me to contemplate those who believe they do know and without a doubt, the Truth. Knowing for yourself is wonderful, and I hope to get there someday. It’s the knowing for others that bothers me. “Knowing” that someone is going to hell because they don’t believe is like sticking a cross on a hill and not letting anyone visit it. Just pronounce, don’t debate.

Some would say that because I don’t ‘know’, I don’t have faith. And I guess in a way they are right. I believe in God without proof, why can’t I make the lead with Jesus? Probably because of just those people who insist vehemently that he is the son of God. Maybe I’m just reacting against something, instead of for something – I don’t like that concept and it’s one I will have to work on. Good thing I have 3 days left!

yes, more on the jesus tomb

I’m almost completely sick of this topic, but it’s impossible to pass up. I’ve been reading up on all the various discussions today and below are a few good synopsis’s. Most of what I’ve read is from people defending it from a Christian perspective. I’m more appalled at the lack of scientific approach behind these claims. It is however a great example of the joining of science and religion. Both are at least oppose money hungry filmmakers!

I have a problem with those who quote the Bible as a reason this story is false. It’s false (so far) because they’ve not proven anything. It’s poor science at this point. That does not by default make the alternative true.

While I don’t necessary agree with the inevitable truth of Jesus’ resurrection and return I do agree with most of the comments on the laughable nature of this new so-called documentary. Read it here.

You can also check out the videos of Bruce Feiler’s recent TV appearances on the subject here.

if Jesus was a jew, how come i’m not?

I’m listening to a wonderful lecture right now from the teaching company. Part of the discussion is on the Jewishness of Jesus – basically that he was one and a very big one at that. If you take away all the stuff I struggle with: Jesus being the son of God and the messiah and all that, I do believe he was a very influential Jewish prophet who managed to change the way a lot of people thought. You might even say that because such a small, radical sect of Judaism became the dominant religion of today speaks volumes as to how really influential Jesus was – maybe this was supposed to be? But I try not to get bogged down in supposed to be’s.

But if he was this great Jewish teacher, prophet, whatever you want to call him, that had no intention of starting a new and separate and certainly anti-Jewish religion then why are all Christians Christian and not Jewish? Because his followers and disciples became convinced that he was the messiah and spread the word about HIM rather than his teachings. Ok, but then we have a religion based on one person (albeit divine in nature) as opposed to the one God. That particular notion makes me uncomfortable. It’s great and all that God sent his only son to die for our sins but why still does that mean I don’t follow the religion that His son did? The separation of these two once so closely related religions doesn’t seem to mesh with the concept of forgiveness and unity. If every time we have a difference of opinion we split off and form a new sect of something without bothering to stay and work it out we’re quitters.

I’m not saying we all have to agree and practice one unchanging religion. On the contrary there should be debate and differences – that’s the only thing that helps us grow. Maybe it doesn’t matter that we call ourselves Jewish or Christian or Muslim or Buddhist or whatever because deep down we’re all the same? Good thought, but the devil’s in the details and that’s still where a lot of folks are focused. It doesn’t matter that we all agree we shouldn’t kill another human being if we’re worried about whether Mary was actually a virgin or Jesus was really fathered by God. There are too many people out there who still think they are the one that got it “right”.

Ok, so there is no right answer and we will continue to splinter and differ, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible for us to get along. Great – where does that leave me personally? I have no clue. Christianity is what I know, it’s comfortable to me and I’ve come a long way with it. I can’t just walk away. At the same time, I can’t ignore the questions of faith and belief, as a matte of fact, I think I should embrace them. I’ve always said I wouldn’t convert to any particular religion. But then maybe I can’t claim to be any either. I consider myself a Christian now. I would like to believe that Jesus was the son of God but I admit I’m not there yet. How do I reconcile a man who lived thousands of years ago in a completely different time and place with what I know and feel today? Is this even possible?

Maybe I’m focusing to much on the man. Maybe there’s a more general, or spiritual way of approaching it. But then I have to separate the physical, historical realities from the spiritual beliefs. How do I do that? Faith is a great answer in theory, but much harder in practice. I’m a historian by training, it’s what I know and love – looking past historical realities is like deciding not to see the truth for me. I do have a desire to get it right. I guess that’s the first thing I have to set aside. All I really need to do is get it right for me.

Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt

I’ve never read an Anne Rice book until this one. My non-fiction bias kept me away. However, I was drawn to Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt because I am always interested in learning bout people’s decision to return to or renew their faith. Anne Rice wrote this book as part of her own journey back to her Catholic roots. It’s a first person account of Jesus as a 7 year old child. And as a mother of a 7 year old I was especially intereted in her rendention.

As her fans will already know she’s a writer who can suck you in to the world she’s created. I have just discovered this and thoroughly enjoyed this glimpse into one person’s thoughts on what Jesus’ life would have been like at this stage. It opened up new ideas for me and new ways of thinking about my often conflicted views of the man/God. It also gave me new ways to think about the figures of Mary and Joseph who are so often blank to me.

Christ the Lord gave me a greater understanding of why Mary’s immaculate conception is so important – not just because one who is without sin should give birth to the Messiah but because she will also have to raise this son. And it’s the rearing that really becomes the most important aspect – one that we don’t hear much about in the Bible.

I also loved the concept, and it had never occurred to me before, that Jesus didn’t know who he was. That his was a story of discovery, looking for his path – like we all are in some way. It seems obvious to me now that if God were to decide to have this son and experience life as a human through him, that he would have to do it all the way – not with some special knowledge of himself. That would not be as authentic an experience. And how much more powerful the crucifixion becomes when it happens to someone who has struggled so with his reality – when so much was still unknown for him yet he is still willing to die. A representation of his own leap of faith.

It’s a complex and controversial subject – Jesus as son of God and God himself. It’s one I have trouble with. Anne Rice’s book helps me better align these two sides of Jesus. Now hers is a work of fiction of course, but really could be called an interpretation; and one that has just as much plausibility as any religious scholars’. Her research is impeccable! If you read the book, don’t miss the Author’s Note as the end. Her own description of her renewal of faith and reason for writing the book are as touching as the book itself.