Blog Archives

We Are Not Called to Just Love Others as We Love Ourselves or to Do Unto Others as We Would Have Them Do Unto Us.

An area I disagree with many Christians about is that Jesus’ ultimate call to love is summed up in, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself” and “Do unto others what you would have them do unto you.” I think these are fundamentally limited ways to love. I have found from experience that, one: I often don’t love myself, and two: how I am able to accept and experience being loved is quite different from a lot of other people. I think at a later time in his journey, Jesus caught on to that too. Then he said to love others as He loved us. That greater love had no one than that they lay down their life for another. He laid down his desires, his gifts and ministries, his power, his limited vision of his purpose, his followers, even ultimately His awareness of God’s presence, as he hung on the cross. He gave up his self- hood. That’s a call most of us avoid hearing. Dying to self involves letting go of pretty much all of our preconceived ideas and natural inclinations in order to get outside of our own self and become able to hear/see/ respond lovingly and appropriately to those different from us. This dying to self is very very hard to do. It was so hard for Jesus that he literally bled in his anguish and then experienced deep despair in his feeling of abandonment by God.
Today, I think we get so nervous about something sounding like we are saying Jesus isn’t God, that we miss what we can learn from his life about our own journey. His life, God or not, was human. He didn’t spring forth fully grown, fully mature, completely understanding his mission, or knowing his future. He came as a baby, vulnerable, innocent, and ignorant. There are some obvious learning events in His life story, and there are also more subtle ones we often miss. Watch him as a twelve year old learn to wait on God’s timing and to consider his parents’ feelings and guidance. Watch him get pushed out of his comfort zone by his mother’s caring about a young couple’s embarrassment on their wedding day, watch him escape from his angry neighbors in Nazareth, but three years later, fully knowing the outcome setting his face toward a hostile Jerusalem, watch as he let’s a gentile woman convince him of his call to minister outside his own religious group as he recognizes the faith of even unbelievers, watch him weep as he recognizes that his own people will not accept his love and salvation, watch him test his power on a fig tree, but then recognize his own servanthood as he washes his disciples feet, watch him struggle in the garden with his realization that he must die young, watch him accept the agony of feeling abandoned by God on the cross, and yet still move to “Thy will be done.” Consider the difference in the difficulty of the moral code of the ten “Do Nots” and the spirituality of the “Beatitudes.” There’s way more to loving than most of us want to know.

Hubris (Part One)

A long time ago, when I was in my mid-twenties, I became disillusioned with religious institutions. Since I had been brought up in one that declared itself the infallible mouthpiece of God, I was also disillusioned with what had passed for God up to that point in my life.

My father’s premature death and the inequalities and suffering I saw in the world convinced me that if there was a God, I didn’t like him very much. Not liking God was uncomfortable, to say the least, since the feeling might well be mutual. It was easier to just not believe in one.

I simply abandoned God to a mental file labeled “Probably Not,” and proceeded to enjoy a reasonably affluent lifestyle of many delightful pleasures.  The problem with a life of pleasure is that it is addictive.  It took more and newer pleasures to keep my naturally questioning mind turned off.  And my children were becoming old enough to ask me some of the questions I was avoiding. At the same time the increasingly blurred edges of society’s moral boundaries left me without the guidelines that had kept me safe from the more destructive human behaviors while I was growing up. I finally admitted that the life I was leading was becoming increasingly bereft of any purpose that I truly valued.

I began a search for meaning. I had read most of the classical philosophers, the thinkers of the enlightenment, and contemporary books about the death of God. But I had never actually read the entire bible, so I decided to start with the scriptures. I read it from Genesis through Revelation.  Since I brought a skeptic’s mind set to the project, I had also thrown out most of the interpretations I had been taught or exposed to in daily life. So, in some ways, I came to the scriptures without preconceived opinions. I was surprised by the relevance of many of the ideas, though puzzled by obvious contradictions. The claims about Jesus and his promises to his followers challenged my credulity, but set off a tiny wistfulness deep within me. Mostly, reading the scriptures just increased my hunger for meaning and purpose.

So, I began a search that eventually included taking introductory classes in several of the major Christian denominations and a couple of courses at Vanderbilt University’s Divinity School, one of which was on world religions other than Christianity, and initiating discussions with church attending friends about some of the more difficult to believe claims made in the New Testament.

The major denominations seemed to all emphasize certain (and different) parts of the New Testament, while ignoring others. The part about give all you have to the poor appeared universally unpopular. The humanity of the person, Jesus, seemed pretty much unexplored, though the miraculous was also downplayed.

Modern Christianity was a very anemic version of what was described in Acts. In fact, it looked mostly like a combination of an insurance policy and a spiritual country club, rather than the life and world-changing force it claimed to once have been.

I came to the conclusion that Jesus was a good man, but a somewhat delusional idealist, who got himself killed. I sadly put Christianity and God back in my file that was labeled Probably Not.

Since humanity was on its own, then it was up to us to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and try to make our planet a better place to live for future generations. I began to invest some of the time and energy I had spent first on pleasure, then on seeking God, to a search for meaning through working for justice for those still disenfranchised under our political system.
(to be continued)

The Dialogue between Faith and Reason

Part One

Faith untempered by reason quickly becomes superstition. Reason that is unwilling to take the risk of faith becomes hubris.

The challenge of the spiritual life is maintaining an ongoing dialogue between faith and reason that stretches and refines both.

The historical paradox of Jesus being divine, yet fully human, does not require an either/or solution. We can focus on one aspect to better understand it, but if we emphasize one to the detriment of the other, we lose the meaning, purpose, and power of the mystery.

One of the most amazing and freeing aspects of the humanity of Jesus, as illustrated by the stories in the Scriptures, is that he grew in wisdom and holiness. He, like us, was until the moment of his death in a process of growth in understanding of his mission, in his understanding of the nature of love, and in the faith and courage to accept death .

Even more surprising was that often the people who guided and challenged him in this process were women, women with no religious or political credibility, even gentile women, and women considered unclean.

Recognizing the humility of the human Jesus can free us to both face our own incompleteness and to believe in our potential for growth.

And risking the leap of faith to accept Jesus as the expression of the unconditional love of the creator of all that exists for us personally is the saving grace that can carry us through the doorway of death.

God is love and Jesus is the human expression of that perfect love. Jesus is the Word of God to us.

Our own difficulty in grasping the paradox of the divinity and the humanity of Jesus, is simply just that, our difficulty, because of where we are in our own growth process. Sometimes our leap of faith is like putting something we don’t understand into an open file labeled Possibility and then living with an openness to the Spirit of God speaking, guiding, challenging, calling, teaching through the everyday events and people in our lives and then empowering us through Her quiet voice within.

(to be continued at a later date)