Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Someone Finally Said What I Believe (Better Than I Could)



Once in a while I read something that "says" what I believe and at the same time clarifies that belief and makes it better than it was. Here is one such article. I share it here as my Lenten meditation. 


By Andrew Sullivan (The Daily Beast)

If you go to the second floor of the National Museum of American History inWashington, D.C., you’ll find a small room containing an 18th-century Bible whose pages are full of holes. They are carefully razor-cut empty spaces, so this was not an act of vandalism. It was, rather, a project begun by Thomas Jefferson when he was a mere 27 years old. Painstakingly removing those passages he thought reflected the actual teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, Jefferson literally cut and pasted them into a slimmer, different New Testament, and left behind the remnants (all on display until July 15). What did he edit out? He told us: “We must reduce our volume to the simple evangelists, select, even from them, the very words only of Jesus.” He removed what he felt were the “misconceptions” of Jesus’ followers, “expressing unintelligibly for others what they had not understood themselves.” And it wasn’t hard for him. He described the difference between the real Jesus and the evangelists’ embellishments as “diamonds” in a “dunghill,” glittering as “the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man.” Yes, he was calling vast parts of the Bible religious manure.

When we think of Jefferson as the great architect of the separation of church and state, this, perhaps, was what he meant by “church”: the purest, simplest, apolitical Christianity, purged of the agendas of those who had sought to use Jesus to advance their own power decades and centuries after Jesus’ death. If Jefferson’s greatest political legacy was the Declaration of Independence, this pure, precious moral teaching was his religious legacy. “I am a real Christian,” Jefferson insisted against the fundamentalists and clerics of his time. “That is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus.”

What were those doctrines? Not the supernatural claims that, fused with politics and power, gave successive generations wars, inquisitions, pogroms, reformations, and counterreformations. Jesus’ doctrines were the practical commandments, the truly radical ideas that immediately leap out in the simple stories he told and which he exemplified in everything he did. Not simply love one another, but love your enemy and forgive those who harm you; give up all material wealth; love the ineffable Being behind all things, and know that this Being is actually your truest Father, in whose image you were made. Above all: give up power over others, because power, if it is to be effective, ultimately requires the threat of violence, and violence is incompatible with the total acceptance and love of all other human beings that is at the sacred heart of Jesus’ teaching. That’s why, in his final apolitical act, Jesus never defended his innocence at trial, never resisted his crucifixion, and even turned to those nailing his hands to the wood on the cross and forgave them, and loved them.

Politicized Faith

Whether or not you believe, as I do, in Jesus’ divinity and resurrection—and in the importance of celebrating both on Easter Sunday—Jefferson’s point is crucially important. Because it was Jesus’ point. What does it matter how strictly you proclaim your belief in various doctrines if you do not live as these doctrines demand? What is politics if not a dangerous temptation toward controlling others rather than reforming oneself? If we return to what Jesus actually asked us to do and to be—rather than the unknowable intricacies of what we believe he was—he actually emerges more powerfully and more purely.

And more intensely relevant to our times. Jefferson’s vision of a simpler, purer, apolitical Christianity couldn’t be further from the 21st-century American reality. We inhabit a polity now saturated with religion. On one side, the Republican base is made up of evangelical Protestants who believe that religion must consume and influence every aspect of public life. On the other side, the last Democratic primary had candidates profess their faith in public forums, and more recentlyPresident Obama appeared at the National Prayer Breakfast, invoking Jesus to defend his plan for universal health care. The crisis of Christianity is perhaps best captured in the new meaning of the word “secular.” It once meant belief in separating the spheres of faith and politics; it now means, for many, simply atheism. The ability to be faithful in a religious space and reasonable in a political one has atrophied before our eyes.

Organized Religion in Decline

Meanwhile, organized religion itself is in trouble. The Catholic Church’s hierarchy lost much of its authority over the American flock with the unilateral prohibition of the pill in 1968 by Pope Paul VI. But in the last decade, whatever shred of moral authority that remained has evaporated. The hierarchy was exposed as enabling, and then covering up, an international conspiracy to abuse and rape countless youths and children. I don’t know what greater indictment of a church’s authority there can be—except the refusal, even now, of the entire leadership to face their responsibility and resign. Instead, they obsess about others’ sex lives, about who is entitled to civil marriage, and about who pays for birth control in health insurance. Inequality, poverty, even the torture institutionalized by the government after 9/11: these issues attract far less of their public attention.

For their part, the mainline Protestant churches, which long promoted religious moderation, have rapidly declined in the past 50 years. Evangelical Protestantism has stepped into the vacuum, but it has serious defects of its own. As New York Times columnist Ross Douthat explores in his unsparing new book,Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics, many suburban evangelicals embrace a gospel of prosperity, which teaches that living a Christian life will make you successful and rich. Others defend a rigid biblical literalism, adamantly wishing away a century and a half of scholarship that has clearly shown that the canonized Gospels were written decades after Jesus’ ministry, and are copies of copies of stories told by those with fallible memory. Still others insist that the earth is merely 6,000 years old—something we now know by the light of reason and science is simply untrue. And what group of Americans have pollsters found to be most supportive of torturing terror suspects? Evangelical Christians. Something has gone very wrong. These are impulses born of panic in the face of modernity, and fear before an amorphous “other.” This version of Christianity could not contrast more strongly with Jesus’ constant refrain: “Be not afraid.” It would make Jefferson shudder.

It would also, one imagines, baffle Jesus of Nazareth. The issues that Christianity obsesses over today simply do not appear in either Jefferson’s or the original New Testament. Jesus never spoke of homosexuality or abortion, and his only remarks on marriage were a condemnation of divorce (now commonplace among American Christians) and forgiveness for adultery. The family? He disowned his parents in public as a teen, and told his followers to abandon theirs if they wanted to follow him. Sex? He was a celibate who, along with his followers, anticipated an imminent End of the World where reproduction was completely irrelevant.

The Crisis of Our Time


All of which is to say something so obvious it is almost taboo: Christianity itself is in crisis. It seems no accident to me that so many Christians now embrace materialist self-help rather than ascetic self-denial—or that most Catholics, even regular churchgoers, have tuned out the hierarchy in embarrassment or disgust. Given this crisis, it is no surprise that the fastest-growing segment of belief among the young is atheism, which has leapt in popularity in the new millennium. Nor is it a shock that so many have turned away from organized Christianity and toward “spirituality,” co-opting or adapting the practices of meditation or yoga, or wandering as lapsed Catholics in an inquisitive spiritual desert. The thirst for God is still there. How could it not be, when the profoundest human questions—Why does the universe exist rather than nothing? How did humanity come to be on this remote blue speck of a planet? What happens to us after death?—remain as pressing and mysterious as they’ve always been?

That’s why polls show a huge majority of Americans still believing in a Higher Power. But the need for new questioning—of Christian institutions as well as ideas and priorities—is as real as the crisis is deep.

Back to Jesus

Where to start? Jefferson’s act of cutting out those parts of the Bible that offended his moral and scientific imagination is one approach. But another can be found in the life of a well-to-do son of a fabric trader in 12th-century Italy who went off to fight a war with a neighboring city, saw his friends killed in battle in front of him, lived a year as a prisoner of war, and then experienced a clarifying vision that changed the world. In Francis of Assisi: A New Biography, Augustine Thompson cuts through the legends and apocryphal prayers to describe Saint Francis as he truly lived. Gone are the fashionable stories of an erstwhile hippie, communing with flowers and animals. Instead we have this typical young secular figure who suddenly found peace in service to those he previously shrank from: lepers, whose sores and lesions he tended to and whose company he sought—as much as for himself as for them.

The religious order that goes by his name began quite simply with a couple of friends who were captured by the sheer spiritual intensity of how Francis lived. His inspiration was even purer than Jefferson’s. He did not cut out passages of the Gospels to render them more reasonable than they appear to the modern mind. He simply opened the Gospels at random—as was often the custom at the time—and found three passages. They told him to “sell what you have and give to the poor,” to “take nothing for your journey,” not even a second tunic, and to “deny himself” and follow the path of Jesus. That was it. So Francis renounced his inheritance, becoming homeless and earning food by manual labor. When that wouldn’t feed him, he begged, just for food—with the indignity of begging part of his spiritual humbling.

Francis insisted on living utterly without power over others. As stories of his strangeness and holiness spread, more joined him and he faced a real dilemma: how to lead a group of men, and also some women, in an organization. Suddenly, faith met politics. And it tormented, wracked, and almost killed him. He had to be last, not first. He wanted to be always the “lesser brother,” not the founder of an order. And so he would often go on pilgrimages and ask others to run things. Or he would sit at the feet of his brothers at communal meetings and if an issue could not be resolved without his say-so, he would whisper in the leader’s ear.

A Vision of Holiness

As Jesus was without politics, so was Francis. As Jesus fled from crowds, so did Francis—often to bare shacks in woodlands, to pray and be with God and nature. It’s critical to recall that he did not do this in rebellion against orthodoxy or even church authority. He obeyed orders from bishops and even the pope himself. His main obsession wasn’t nature, which came to sublime fruition in his final “Canticle of the Sun,” but the cleanliness of the cloths, chalices, and ornaments surrounding the holy eucharist.

His revulsion at even the hint of comfort or wealth could be extreme. As he lay dying and was offered a pillow to rest on, he slept through the night only to wake the next day in a rage, hitting the monk who had given him the pillow and recoiling in disgust at his own weakness in accepting its balm. One of his few commands was that his brothers never ride a horse; they had to walk or ride a donkey. What inspired his fellow Christians to rebuild and reform the church in his day was simply his own example of humility, service, and sanctity.

A modern person would see such a man as crazy, and there were many at the time who thought so too. He sang sermons in the streets, sometimes just miming them. He suffered intense bouts of doubt, self-loathing, and depression. He had visions. You could have diagnosed his postwar conversion as an outgrowth of posttraumatic-stress disorder. Or you can simply observe what those around him testified to: something special, unique, mysterious, holy. To reduce one’s life to essentials, to ask merely for daily bread, forgiveness of others, and denial of self is, in many ways, a form of madness. It is also a form of liberation. It lets go of complexity and focuses on simplicity. Francis did not found an order designed to think or control. He insisted on the simplicity of manual labor, prayer, and the sacraments. That was enough for him.

Learning How to Live

It wouldn’t be enough for most of us. And yet, there can be wisdom in the acceptance of mystery. I’ve pondered the Incarnation my whole life. I’ve read theology and history. I think I grasp what it means to be both God and human—but I don’t think my understanding is any richer than my Irish grandmother’s. Barely literate, she would lose herself in the rosary at mass. In her simplicity, beneath her veil in front of a cascade of flickering candles, she seemed to know God more deeply than I, with all my education and privilege, ever will.
This doesn’t imply, as some claim, the privatization of faith, or its relegation to a subordinate sphere. There are times when great injustices—slavery, imperialism, totalitarianism, segregation—require spiritual mobilization and public witness. But from Gandhi to King, the greatest examples of these movements renounce power as well. They embrace nonviolence as a moral example, and that paradox changes the world more than politics or violence ever can or will. When politics is necessary, as it is, the kind of Christianity I am describing seeks always to translate religious truths into reasoned, secular arguments that can appeal to those of other faiths and none at all. But it also means, at times, renouncing Caesar in favor of the Christ to whom Jefferson, Francis, my grandmother, and countless generations of believers have selflessly devoted themselves.

The saints, after all, became known as saints not because of their success in fighting political battles, or winning a few news cycles, or funding an anti-abortion super PAC. They were saints purely and simply because of the way they lived. And this, of course, was Jefferson’s deeply American insight: “No man can conform his faith to the dictates of another. The life and essence of religion consists in the internal persuasion or belief of the mind.”

Jefferson feared that the alternative to a Christianity founded on “internal persuasion” was a revival of the brutal, bloody wars of religion that America was founded to escape. And what he grasped in his sacrilegious mutilation of a sacred text was the core simplicity of Jesus’ message of renunciation. He believed that stripped of the doctrines of the Incarnation, Resurrection, and the various miracles, the message of Jesus was the deepest miracle. And that it was radically simple. It was explained in stories, parables, and metaphors—not theological doctrines of immense complexity. It was proven by his willingness to submit himself to an unjustified execution. The cross itself was not the point; nor was the intense physical suffering he endured. The point was how he conducted himself through it all—calm, loving, accepting, radically surrendering even the basic control of his own body and telling us that this was what it means to truly transcend our world and be with God. Jesus, like Francis, was a homeless person, as were his closest followers. He possessed nothing—and thereby everything.

Christianity Resurrected

I have no concrete idea how Christianity will wrestle free of its current crisis, of its distractions and temptations, and above all its enmeshment with the things of this world. But I do know it won’t happen by even more furious denunciations of others, by focusing on politics rather than prayer, by concerning ourselves with the sex lives and heretical thoughts of others rather than with the constant struggle to liberate ourselves from what keeps us from God. What Jefferson saw in Jesus of Nazareth was utterly compatible with reason and with the future; what Saint Francis trusted in was the simple, terrifying love of God for Creation itself. That never ends.

This Christianity comes not from the head or the gut, but from the soul. It is as meek as it is quietly liberating. It does not seize the moment; it lets it be. It doesn’t seek worldly recognition, or success, and it flees from power and wealth. It is the religion of unachievement. And it is not afraid. In the anxious, crammed lives of our modern twittering souls, in the materialist obsessions we cling to for security in recession, in a world where sectarian extremism threatens to unleash mass destruction, this sheer Christianity, seeking truth without the expectation of resolution, simply living each day doing what we can to fulfill God’s will, is more vital than ever. It may, in fact, be the only spiritual transformation that can in the end transcend the nagging emptiness of our late-capitalist lives, or the cult of distracting contemporaneity, or the threat of apocalyptic war where Jesus once walked. You see attempts to find this everywhere—from experimental spirituality to resurgent fundamentalism. Something inside is telling us we need radical spiritual change.

But the essence of this change has been with us, and defining our own civilization, for two millennia. And one day soon, when politics and doctrine and pride recede, it will rise again.

END

PS. I'm adding in the "Live Chat" Newsweek session here because of the remarkable answers Andrew S gave.



  • What kind of controversy has your essay received?
    by Christine Wright edited by Chris Bodenner 2:00 PM
  • It's beginning to build. Maybe if we'd put on the cover: Why Are Jesus' Supporters So Dumb? we might have had a bigger impact. But I answered some issuesearlier today. And I'm looking forward to others.
    by Andrew Sullivan edited by Brian Ries 2:03 PM
  • You were a little deprecating towards ‘spirituality’ in your essay: …”so many have turned away from organized Christianity and toward ‘spirituality,’ co-opting or adapting the practices of meditation or yoga, or wandering as lapsed Catholics in an inquisitive spiritual desert.” What’s wrong with spirituality, and how do you distinguish it from, say, Buddhism, which I know you respect?
    by TheOneRing edited by Chris Bodenner 2:03 PM
  • I respect both. My worry with purely open and doctrine-free spirituality is that without some contours of revelation, it can become solipsistic. It can become pantheism. It can become nothing but openness.
    by Andrew Sullivan 2:05 PM
  • Hey Andrew. You advocate in your article a "stripping away" of canonized myth and politics in order to find Christ's true message. Do you think it is possible to divest the story of even the virgin birth, or death upon the cross, without losing the essence of Christ's message as a path to the divine?
    by Tim 2:05 PM
  • I think it's easy to dismiss the virgin birth, in so far as it is obviously, at least to me, a retroactive re-imagining of events, reasoning backwards from Jesus divinity to legends about his birth. But the details of the nativity scene - in particular the homelessness of Jesus even as he came out of the womb - are instructive... The death of Jesus is, however, so integral to his story it can no more be expunged than Socrates'. I would also of course include the Resurrection as something that cannot be stripped away - because it was so central to the first accounts we have of what Jesus' followers believed, and because so many experience the risen Jesus every day.
    by Andrew Sullivan 2:09 PM
  • Now, the meaning of "resurrection" is hard.
    by Andrew Sullivan 2:09 PM
  • Do you believe in Hell as the Bible foretells as a place of eternal torture?
    by Hellboy 2:09 PM
  • Hi, Hellboy! ...
    by Andrew Sullivan 2:10 PM
  • I do not know what Hell or Heaven is; and neither does anyone else. But in terms I can grasp, I believe Heaven is a sublime awareness that God redeems us all with caritas, if we choose to accept it and give it away to others. Hell is the absence of such a vision, a view of the world that is all nature and no grace, a death that has no redemption and a life that has no divine sparks of transcendence. If we choose to live that way, and we all so most of the time, then we will be intensely lonely and lost from the caritas we come from and need to return to. And I cannot see, as a Christian, how someone who dies in such a fashion can overcome it after death...
    by Andrew Sullivan 2:13 PM
  • But I do not know what is possible. Jesus told us of the rich man that for God, all things are possible. And my gut Christianity tells me that God is pure forgiveness.
    by Andrew Sullivan 2:14 PM
  • Is homosexuality considered sinful in both the Old and New Testaments? If so why do you not consider it a sin and something that should not be practiced as a Christian?
    by DavidT 2:15 PM
  • Definitely in the Old Testament which prescribes execution for my type. And arguably by Paul, although he may have been referring to prostitutes rather than to gay men as we understand them. But Jesus never mentions it; he barely says anything about sex...
    by Andrew Sullivan 2:16 PM
  • To your second question: I cannot see how being created gay is inherently sinful, any more than being created blue-eyed or talented in music or sports or math. It is simply something in the human condition. My view is that just as there is no male or female or Jew or Greek in Jesus' new world, so there is no straight and gay. We are one in Christ Jesus. And while sex as such can always lead us away from God because of its sublime intimations of the divine, it is also, in my view, not sinful in itself merely because it offers such intense pleasure and transcendence of self. And I do not think it can be reduced to the mere mechanics of heterosexual reproduction to be meaningful and joyous and God-filled...
    by Andrew Sullivan 2:20 PM
  • But homosexuality, like heterosexuality, is for humans about the unconditional love of one person for another through thick and thin, for better or worse. At least that's what it is at its best. I do not see how that is incompatible with Christianity while marginalizing a long-despised minority group is completely fine. If Jesus did talk about gays, he did so through the parable of the Samaritans, the despised tribal rivals to the Jews. He insisted that the last shall be first. He could not describe a vision of inclusion more alien to the current evangelical and Catholic leadership.
    by Andrew Sullivan 2:24 PM
  • You were good friends with Hitchens. Would you ever discuss religion with him? And how would those discussions go?
    by Ian edited by Chris Bodenner 2:25 PM
  • Yes. They went long into the night. I loved him and I admired his brutal dissection of the flaws of organized religion. But the more he pointed out the flaws, the less he troubled my faith. Of course the institutions and humans are flawed! I read, enjoyed and agreed with much in God Is Not Great. But it persuaded me not a jot. In some ways, it made me realize what my faith wasn't, and what its temptations are. So Hitch actually strengthened my faith at times.
    by Andrew Sullivan 2:27 PM
  • I was an Atheist all my life and then came to the Catholic faith a couple years ago. I'll be baptized at the Easter vigil this Saturday. What do you see as the appropriate role for the Church authority? (the magesterium, papacy etc.)
    by FIUstudent edited by Chris Bodenner 2:28 PM
  • They are flawed and humble stewards of a great truth. Some thought in the essay I was dismissing the institutions of the church. I wasn't. Without institutions, faith cannot be transmitted from one generation to the next. We need them; but they remain encumbrances to faith if we give them too much power or authority. My view remains that of the Second Council: that the laity too have a role to play in interpreting doctrine and dogma.
    by Andrew Sullivan 2:30 PM
  • Do you love your enemies? This seems like the kind of commandment that's easy to approve of as a good idea and terribly difficult to do. Do you love Rumsfeld, for instance?
    by gibletsMoon 2:31 PM
  • I try. Rummy is a strange choice because I actually did know him personally and liked him a lot. I certainly don't hate him. I do hate what he authorized and believe the rule of law should prevail, but I cannot judge what is in his heart and soul...
    by Andrew Sullivan 2:32 PM
  • As for the general question, it's a great test of prayer for me to think of someone who has brought out the worst in me, and to pray for him or her. That rather simple practice of remembering those with whom I have tangled and commending them to God and asking myself in prayer whether I can actually love them ... is my best answer to my own horribly flawed life. By the way, I don't count jousting online. That's a role. My actual life is a different story. And Christianity is intensely hard. Which is why it is only achieved when one finally gives up and asks God to take over.
    by Andrew Sullivan 2:35 PM
  • Do you feel that the anomalous level of religiousity in America is holding us back in any way?
    by Alder 2:35 PM
  • I think the kind of Christianity is definitely holding us back. I think investing one political party with a monopoly of Christian wisdom and truth makes our politics impossible. When you know that God is on your side and the church and state should not be separate, then a political conversation is over, and a culture war is begun. That's why my current fixation on Christianity springs naturally out of my diagnosis of America's political problem ...
    by Andrew Sullivan 2:37 PM
  • I do not think the crisis of our politics can be resolved without addressing the crisis of American Christianity. Because the corruption of Christianity has corrupted American public life and we must be rid of it to move forward. Hence my coinage of the term Christianist. I use it out of respect for real Christianity, as much as concern about its current partisan politicization.
    by Andrew Sullivan 2:38 PM
  • You write that you have "no concrete idea how Christianity will wrestle free for its current crisis." I am wondering if there are ways you have found to practice your faith that have helped you move through the crisis and keep your faith.
    by Christi Humphrey edited by Chris Bodenner 2:39 PM
  • Prayer, reading, poetry, meditation, nature, the sacraments. I cannot deny that I feel wounded by the hierarchy of the church, on behalf of myself as a gay man and on behalf of all the parents and children whose lives were destroyed by the abuse of church power. And letting go of this anger at the institution in order to focus on the abiding truths of the faith has been a struggle. It's not over. It's lonely and desperate at times. But something pushes me forward over which I have iimited control and I am happiest when I give in to that, and trust it in the wilderness I find myself in.
    by Andrew Sullivan 2:41 PM
  • There's a reason I love Saint Francis so.
    by Andrew Sullivan 2:42 PM
  • What role does Catholic literature play in your life? Do you read much of it? I am often more moved by a novel like Graham Greene's "The End of the Affair" or a poem like Francis Thompson's "The Hound of Heaven" and I wondered if you had any favorites.
    by Owen Cunningham 2:42 PM
  • The poetry of Henri Nouwen, the prose of Marilynne Robinson and the stories of Flannery O'Connor are my personal favorites in literature. But also: Mauriac and Waugh. Waugh captured the heavy weight of English Catholicism and its pain and persistence.
    by Andrew Sullivan 2:45 PM
  • But two recent movies really hit me hard: Into Great Silence and The
    Tree of Life.
    by Andrew Sullivan 2:46 PM
  • As literature, it's also hard to beat Augustine's Confessions.
    by Andrew Sullivan 2:47 PM
  • Is there a place for Buddhism in your personal understanding of your faith? Why did you stick with Catholicism as opposed to "going with" Buddhism?
    by fresafresca3000 2:47 PM
  • You echo my perceptive reader here. The short answer is that Jesus is enough for me. The longer answer is full of deep deep respect for Buddhism but an intense difficulty with the absence of a loving God and the perpetuity of the human soul as singularly itself. But I find myself reading Merton on Buddhism a lot, and his translations of Chuang Tzu. He saw so much overlap between the two traditions. But I am still at the start of that journey and do not know where it will lead me.
    by Andrew Sullivan 2:52 PM
  • Thanks for answering my question Andrew. Since you brought up Henri Nouwen, I thought I'd share one of my favorite quotes from him. I love the way he uses the etymology of compassion to extract what I think is such a profound insight:

    "Jesus' whole life and mission involve accepting powerlessness and revealing in this powerlessness the limitlessness of God's love. Here we see what compassion means. It is not a bending toward the underprivileged from a privileged position; it is not a reaching out from on high to those who are less fortunate below; it is not a gesture of sympathy or pity for those who fail to make it in the upward pull. On the contrary, compassion means going directly to those people and places where suffering is most acute and building a home there."
    by Owen Cunningham edited by Chris Bodenner 2:52 PM
  • And now you see where part of my faith comes from: reading Nouwen compulsively as a teen. I never knew he was gay of course. But when he speaks of "places where suffering is most acute", I think of the terrified, suicidal gay teen. And I think of Jesus.
    by Andrew Sullivan 2:54 PM
  • Let me end with one final snapshot of what I mean by a Christian life. Father Mychal Judge went to serve the sick with AIDS at the very start of the epidemic, when no one knew what was contagious, what it was, and many patients were quarantined and abandoned by their families. When they saw him in his monastic garb, they refused to let him in their hospital rooms, they were so alienated by "the church." And this man waits outside until they are asleep, then goes in and gently lifts up the sheet and massages the feet of the sick as an act of love and deference. He was one of the last who rushed into the World Trade Center to be with the firefighters he was assigned to minister to. He came out dead in their arms. He didn't even have a bank account.

    He lives as Jesus does. He - and countless others like him, unknown but faithful - is the church. Why would anyone want to leave a place where he remains?
    by Andrew Sullivan 2:59 PM
  • Thanks for everyone's questions, until next time.
    by Chris Bodenner 3:02 PM


13 comments:

S. Dubinin said...

Always so validating to see someone else come to these kinds of conclusions! More and more people are.
In this article, the last paragraph beautifully summarizes the Christianity I can embrace. My thanks to the author.

Frank Schaeffer said...

Here, here! Thanks S. Dubnin. F

EditNetwork said...

Frank (and Andrew), you would most likely enjoy the novel Chasing Francis by Ian Morgan Cron.

Thanks to you both for posting these provocative and simplifying thoughts.

——Paul Hawley

DLW said...

It is good for these arguments to be made. I see TJ as appropriating Jesus and the Bible as he was able to do so.

I believe that if we deliberate further on God's truth and our experiences in community that understanding and practice will tend to heal each other and be led by the HS towards what God intended.

And so even if I disagree with stuff with Andy S, I see him as being prophetic and its up to us reap where seeds are being sown, rather than to polemic in public over what is wheat/chaff. In public, we get caught up in our status games. Let us trust that when we tie things back to the life of the church-community that we'll be drawn to the truth.

dlw

Steve D said...

It's very easy to have a religion of peace and benevolence when you're well fed and safe and not confronting ugly choices. Would Jesus have enlisted in the Civil War? Would Jesus have gone on a mission to liberate Auschwitz? What would Jesus do if he came upon a drug cartel about to execute innocent people? What would Jesus have done in Rwanda? Would Jesus take part in a mission to capture or kill Joseph Kony? Would Jesus be a cop? How can you reconcile nice-guy Jesus lashing the money-changers in the Temple?

What would Jesus do if someone founded a group that claimed to be his followers but preached something radically different from him? Would he go to court?

If you're TJ, you can just cut all that out and pretend it's not an issue. I mean, we're talking someone whose image of pure Christianity didn't exclude slavery.

S. Dubinin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steve D said...

In Jim Palmer's book, Divine Nobodies, he writes about going on a mission with International Justice Mission to gather information on child sex trafficking in South Asia (he wasn't allowed to name the city or country). Upon actually entering one establishment, he wrote "Anger began seething within me, and I felt I could actually kill somebody without regret." He writes "These IJM guys have a slightly different picture of Jesus than most of us do, convinced that if he were bodily present, his boot would have been the first kicking in the door."

Once you take your religion out into the street, you're either going to have to turn a blind eye to things that hurt people, or take action, and probably have to hurt people. You're going to have to decide that taking one course of action does less harm than some other course of action, but every course of action leads to harm. When your choice is to ally with Hitler or Stalin, what do you do?

This, I think, is the message of the Parable of the Tares (Weeds) where an enemy sows weeds in someone's field. The owner forbids tearing up the weeds, lest some of the grain be destroyed as well. It's rarely possible to perform a surgical strike against evil. Nevertheless, we're obliged to do something, and we will be clumsy, and make mistakes.

S. Dubinin said...
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S. Dubinin said...

I really like your reference to the parable about the wheat and the tares. You have a great point. The point being discussed in these last few blogs about how one who follows Jesus and his lifestyle responds to terrible oppression such as slavery, child abuse, political tyrany, etc. brings up so many things. All responses have been done, so it's not like we can't look at historical outcomes at many different levels. It's easy for me to respond like a hippie, you know, just take care of your little part of the world. It might sound flippant, but consider the complex levels of disfunction tht result in something like the slave trade. Also consider the fall-out of actions that we have felt compelled to take in response to horrific events. What is the fall-out of our invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan? Sometimes worth it, sometimes not. Yes, large groups of citizens must band together and provide rescues or perhaps join with other governments even to take action, but with approval of society at large as well as approval and cooperation of any other region involved (police, UN, Interpol,etc). My point is that we're already doing it. It has it's problems of course. How could it not? But for me, at my levelof function in this world, I can chip away at the disfunction. I can hold the white hand and the black hand of two children and foster their play at recess. I can spend two nights at my church every month as host for small group of homeless during the cold of winter, I can support legislation tht helps level the playing field for those struggling economically, i can carefully tend my garden without pesticides that run-off into our water source. If I'm aware of a child being abused, I call the authorities. I need to be willing to take some of those children into my home. Believe me when I say, the fall-out of our action in the middle east is in my face every day as I work with the children and spouses of soldiers. The reality of the fall-out is stark and severe compared to the ideology that sent us there.

Chaz said...

To continue S. Dubnin's very helpful commentary is to beg ourselves, "With WHAT will modern vapid bankrupt Churchianity be replaced?"

Lamentation and mourning over the lost and corrupt is the necessary step of acknowledgment. The next step is to offer something in place of the 'whited sepluchere, as Jesus once did.

We seek the 'new alternative.' Bring the key of the past to unlock the door to the future. We evolve as we enable AND transcend ourselves.

In religious language the only true 'religious practice' is the one led in the moment, the present, by the Holy Spirt. But even its 'identity' too needs updating in the post-modern world (and has been in the works of Ken Wilber, which I recommend to Frank Schaeffer, et. al.)

One might read the NT to say this empowering 'force' was the only real legacy Jesus intended for us, the one that empowers all acts of 'salvation,' whether political, social or personal mercy and justice. We are the SaviorS as daily we chose how we may love our neighbor as our selves.


Open Heart Spirituality is the new alternative. Its meaning is both to be practiced and explored for its ever-renewing and guiding ways and its durable lasting wisdom/Sophia. In traditional language true practice is the one led in the moment by the Holy Spirt. Integral vocabulary might call it the open heart/mind of Kosmos.

But it's no longer about 'religious marriage.' Now it is not just about the stuff of the mind/body/sprit experiencing universal energy. It is about Partnership with Spirit, its intention to see our evolution occur in our species. We are the species that can let go the dross of the past, carry forward its gold, and expect its higher consciousness to see to it that we transcend our former corruptions and deviations.

We are to become simply co-conspirators in the same with Spirit, mindful in all our lifestyles of our own drive always to merge, adapt, yoga/union with IT. Each of us chooses our purpose and vehicle in the struggle and yearning for Spirit as Partner. Thats' what Jesus would do.


C.F.Benz
Durham, NC

S. Dubinin said...

Chez, I'll be reading K.Wilber. I need to hear from people who are making these kinds of connections. My mind is one that will never be able to "settle" on a philosophy of religion or to be more specific, a spirituality, that has proven itself limited, false, and/or become a maniacally manipulative afront to the sincerly seeking individual. I'm wondering if you have read either of publisher John Hunts books, Daddy Do You Believe in God?, or Bringing God Back to Earth. They are amazingly thought provoking and even explore sprituality ref. quantum physics as it applies to how things work at such a level to help us become who we need to be. If you have read either of them, please let me know. I'm dying to have someone to discuss his ideas with.
Same to anybody else out there.

Chaz said...

Mr. Dubinin;

I've not read John Hunt. But if he can connect quantum physics to our old pre-rational/mythic Christianity and Holy Spirit (my OHS Open Heart Spirituality) I shall enjoy the connection.

Bon voyage into K.Wilber and his Integral Life stuff

Chaz

Chaz said...

S.D.

Integral Christianity includes like-minded people who love the legacy of Christ and tht transformed into post-modern spirituality. You might enjoy dialogue with them. It takes some effort to let go of our post-Enligthenment mindset - sort of like woodshop - learning to make a good birdhouse for the first time.

Chaz
@
ChasBenz.com