I’ve been reading an incredibly hopeful and life giving book by an Episcopal priest called “ReImagining Christianity: Reconnecting Your Spirit Without Disconnecting Your Mind“. Allow me to say that while I read MANY good books-rarely do I read books that our FOR me. This book is one of the latter. It has been rich in its critique of stale and stagnant religion and rich in its calling for a remembrance of the heart of Christianity. It brings front and center both the complaints that many legitimately have regarding Christianity and the deep truths and beautiful vitality of the faith.
Recently I’ve been criticized for overemphasizing the shadow side of Christianity. In truth, I feel as if I’ve hardly touched that subject. There are volumes that could be filled, not only historically but also presently with the wrong doings of this faith path. I’ve often wondered why these shortcomings are so painful to myself and so many others. I can’t help but think that it’s because we expect quite a bit more from Jesus and his friends. There is so much, when looking at it, that leaps off the page-that makes one say with an early follower of Jesus “Where else will we go? In you (Jesus) are the words of Life.” (John 6:68). And therein lies the paradoxical reality…one I hinted at earlier. Christianity is as varied as its practitioners. As soon as someone suggests they dislike Christianity, I’m inclined to wonder: “whose?” Contrary to many there may NOT be one static version of the faith. Certainly it is One–it’s centerpiece and hope is wrapped up exclusively in the person of Jesus, representing the full reality of God and Man. But it is also widely varied in the heart of each man and woman. Which is how it becomes incredibly tricky.
God is seemingly NOT offended by multiple versions or visions of his Son. People are inventing new ones all the time, while most are benign and even valuable, there are others that cause us all to shudder. And the worst part is both the beautiful and horrific claim Jesus as their Lord. Some see this as an easily addressed issue: “Just get back to the clear word of God”. But this seems a little like looking into a clear pool of water, where we end up seeing the pool certainly–but also our own reflection. The clear word of God is capable of being, silently and selectively, modified by our core personhood–without our even knowing it. In fact it becomes entirely possible to justify almost any previously held position we’ve got with “the clear word of God” and the “person of Jesus”. Surely all of those horrifying versions of ages past weren’t only maniacal, they probably actually believed deeply what they were selling–and thought it was faithfully reflecting God.
The phenomenal book “ReJesus” by Frost and Hirsch due to come out this January/Feb describes this situation in an incredible way.
Those who want to find in Jesus merely a reformer of Judaism, or the last of the prophets, have managed to do so quite readily. Supporters of violence have characterized him as a revolutionary, while Tolstoy and his disciples saw him as a teacher of non-resistance. To the New Age scholars, Jesus is the holy one of an esoteric order. To the enemies of the traditional social order, he was a warrior against routine. To racists Jesus was an Aryan Galilean. In fact after ten years in prison for his involvement in the deaths of three civil rights workers, Sam Bowers (the Imperial Wizard of the KKK in Mississippi) returned to Mississippi to devote himself to a study of the life of Jesus and was never, in 40 years of research, convinced that Jesus was anything other than Bowers believed him to be when (he condoned the murders)…
This reality is at first tragic. One is left with a sort of, “how can I EVER know?” mentality. But I ask again…whose Christianity? There are forms, such as Sam Bowers’, that need to be condemned as NOT Jesus. There are crude forms of Christianity (just as there are in EVERY religion including science and secularism, one has only to look at two great secularist leaders of the 20th century and the death tole they took tallying over 20 million lives to realize a world without God ISN’T the answer). As one commentator on my blog warned me against doing, it would be unfair of me to compare the BEST of other religions to the WORST of our own, or vise versa…
In final analysis I find myself in complete agreement with Frost and Hirsch:
Whether it is the grand ecclesiastical project of the institutional churches, epitomized by the excess of the Vatican, or the tawdry grab for the hearts and minds of the aspirational middle class by prosperity style Pentecostalism, the Christian movement has been subverted. LIke a forgotten nativity scene in a shopping mall dominated by Santa Claus, reindeer, elves, Disney characters, tinsel, baubles, and fake snow, the biblical Jesus is hard to find. But Jesus is still calling us to join him in a far more reckless and exciting adventure than that of mere church attendance. When allowed to be as he appears in the pages of Scripture, Jesus will not lead us to hatred, violence, greed, excess, earthly power, or material wealth. Instead he will call us to a genuine faith and existential faith that believes in him, not simply believing a belief.
Alan Jones says “Realism isn’t enough. Bagehot wrote of the isolating power of the impoverished imagination: ‘poverty is an anomaly to rich people. It is very difficult to make out why people who want dinner do not ring a bell.’ How do we break down the confines of excluding views of the world? How do we storm the ramparts of privilege and exclusion without creating another nightmare?”
The answer to the deplorable Christian condition is not the abandonment of Christianity but rather the embracing of Christ–at least that’s the conclusion I’ve come to. The person of Jesus came, as Richard Rohr says, not to start a new competing religion–but to reform ALL religion and lead us ALL into relationship with the one Jesus related to as Father. I suppose that this is inclusive of Christianity.
At the end of the day–while I have engaged this last year in a genuine critique for much of what passes for and poses as following Jesus–I am far more committed to personally discovering myself as the Beloved of the Father, a follower of Jesus, and a partaker of the Spirit. I also find myself to be a dedicated supporter of the Church, in all of her expressions, as she is engaged in realizing the good dream of God. Hopefully this next year I will advance into a fuller incarnation of some of those hard won realizations, living deeper into the mission of God, and growing in grace together with others as we live into a new way of thinking.
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