Surely You Were in This Place

We are called during this time to contemplate more deeply the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. This central tenant of our Christian faith is also the cause of my innermost struggle with what I believe and how I am to live. Paradoxically, it has become the source of a deepening faith that I believe will sustain me even if I never enter another church building. I no longer find my “home” there.

The following is the content of a post I wrote in 2012. As I reread it I realized it was everything I still believe because there is no mention of Jesus’ bodily resurrection which has been my sticking point. So, allow me to share the short post followed by a feeble attempt to express my feelings about that with what will surely be impossibly inadequate human words.

So, here we go:

Consider this:

  • While we prepare the menu for an Easter feast; Jesus is preparing for the Last Supper.
  • While we scrub the house for guests; Pilate washes his hands of the people who demand Jesus’ death.
  • While we are shopping for new outfits; Jesus is stripped, humiliated and brutally beaten.
  • While we look forward to having all the family together again: Kids home from college, parents arriving soon, on the long walk to Calvary Jesus and his mother touch for just a moment as their eyes reveal the unspeakable pain of their suffering.
  • While we are feeling left to do all the work amidst our annual pity party; Jesus, in his weakened state, struggles with the weight of the cross he carries – alone and abandoned by those who called themselves his disciples.
  • While we fuss over last-minute appearances playing beat the clock: Taming cowlicks, straightening ties, new shirt without stains, socks that match – finished – Jesus’ face is streaked with blood and his broken body is no longer recognizable. It is finished.

Knowing what will take place before that glorious Easter Day should cause us to tremble – but we’re too busy with our “stuff”.

The soon to be revealed and unimaginable love of God for us should bring us to our knees – an uncertain and uncomfortable place that we avoid.

The reality of the cross should cause us to beg forgiveness for our sinfulness – but we’ve become desensitized to our own sin, while easily pointing out everyone else’s transgressions!

We don’t reach out to God during the darkness of Good Friday or the deafening silence of Holy Saturday because we’re afraid he’ll answer! And then, for many of us, Easter comes and goes with little more fanfare than any other Sunday.

Could we even bear to consider what just happened? Jesus as the Incarnation of God showed us the full expression of God’s own self: He is relentless, extravagant, merciful, indiscriminate, gratuitous, enduring, and grace-filled Love!  

In this most holy season of Easter we are called to remember and celebrate that love. But, not just that! Jesus never said, “Worship me.” He said, “Follow me. Do what I do.” What difference does it make if we have not changed in some way; if Monday is just business as usual, if we step over our suffering brothers and sisters on our way to more important things? If we forget.

Now, for my current, albeit meager, “resurrection” thoughts. This is probably a good time to remind everyone that this is simply my opinion which you are free to disagree with.

I have read and studied the writings of several people I love and respect. Each of them has, in some way, helped me to better understand and then put into practice my beliefs about Jesus’ life and how I am to “follow him”. Even though I may stumble to articulate those feelings, I am still at peace with saying, “This is what I believe. I have no clue what the “facts” are and don’t believe anyone else does either. And that’s okay.”

Bishop John Shelby Spong has had the most profound impact on me so I will begin with him (italics are mine):

 “I do not believe that the resurrection had anything to do with the physical resuscitation of a deceased body, but I do believe that an experience that transcended all known human limits was real. Mythology is frequently the only language we have to use in order to make sense out of a transcendent experience. Having said that, I still see no reason to doubt the historicity of the figure of Jesus of Nazareth or the conclusion that seems to have come from many sources that a deep and transforming God experience was met in him.

After the crucifixion some experience of great magnitude brought Jesus’ disciples back, empowered them and gave them the courage to take up the cause of this Jesus in the face of persecution and martyrdom. They never wavered. The way the disciples understood God was changed by whatever that Easter experience was.”

There it is: Spong says, “…a deep and transforming God experience was met in him.”  We may not know what that experience was and there has never been a consensus about it, but we do know something profound happened!And we know that because those once frightened disciples came back empowered to speak God’s truth and act on that truth no matter the consequences.

Jesus, trusting in his Father, freely chose to become victim and was put to death. This final profound act united humanity to divinity, bringing us into the relationship by the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Easter question for us then becomes, “What do you believe about Me?”  What I say I believe must manifest itself in the way I live my life, or it is a lie.

Rev. Dawn Hutchings gives us a timeline that should cause a whole bunch of head scratching regarding everything we’ve been told to unquestioningly believe about Jesus’ resurrection:

The Apostle Paul wrote his first letter to the church in Corinth, about 20 years after Jesus was crucified, died and was buried….at least 20 years before the Gospel according to Mark, 30 to 40 years before the gospels according to Matthew and Luke and probably nearly 50 years before the Gospel according to John.

The writings of the Apostle Paul contain the earliest writings that we have on the subject of the Resurrection. And the Apostle Paul’s understanding of resurrection was good enough for the early followers of the Way….Paul never described Jesus’ resurrection as a physical resuscitation of Jesus’ corpse. Indeed in 1 Corinthians 15 Paul denies that Jesus’ resurrection was an actual physical resurrection.

The vision that Paul credits with having changed his view of Jesus is clearly that, a vision; a vision of a heavenly body.

….it is also difficult to reconcile a physical resuscitation with the details that are recorded in the Scriptures.

In an age in which, what we would define as supernatural visions, were commonplace, this experience of the power of the divine that their teacher had opened them to could have been interpreted as if the spirit of their teacher had never died because the power of God never does die.

Those who followed and loved Jesus experienced life in ways that were so earth shattering, so mind-blowing, that their lives would never be the same again. The power of the love they experienced in their life with Jesus could not be constrained or ended by Jesus’ death.

Long after they found the empty tomb, Jesus’ loved ones continued to experience his presence in very real ways. In the breaking of the bread and in the meals they shared together; as they walked the pathways they had walked with Jesus, and fished the waters they had navigated with Jesus.

Marcus Borg:

Many of these experiences were visions. Paul’s experience of the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus, described three times in Acts 9, 22, and 26, and referred to by Paul in Galatians 1, was clearly a vision. It happened a few years – three to five – after the death of Jesus.

As Acts describes Paul’s vision of the risen Christ, Paul saw a brilliant light, but not a bodily formThen a voice identified the brilliant light as Jesus. Yet Paul can say, as he does in 1 Corinthians 9.1, “I have seen the Lord.”

 “The Spirit of the Lord” was upon him, as the gospels put it – and his followers continued to experience the same Spirit after his death. The risen Jesus appears in a locked room (John 20). He journeys with two of his followers for a couple of hours and is not recognized – and when he is recognized, he vanishes (Luke 24). He appears in both Jerusalem (Luke and John) and Galilee (Matthew and John). He appears to Stephen in his dying moments (Acts 7). He appears to Paul in or near Damascus as a brilliant light (Acts 9). He appears to the author of Revelation on an island off the coast of Turkey in the late 90s of the first century (Rev. 1).

So, here is the question that I no longer struggle with, Who do you say I am?” (Matt 16:13)  Every human being who knows the name Jesus will answer that question. Those who turn their backs say, “You are no one to me.” Some espouse it verbally, some more subtly by their actions. Many are Christians who profess their faith in a loud voice for all to hear, and cry out, “Lord, Lord!”  Yet, Jesus says, “I never knew you; go away from me you evildoers.” (Matt. 7:23)  Jesus does not recognize those who say what they do not live.  Every Christian must answer the question, “Who is Jesus,” and ultimately, “Who is the God revealed in Jesus?”

The answer I have settled into has given me more peace and joy than I ever imagined. It has stripped away all the spectacle and pageantry and ritual; the flowing robes, incense, drama, and hype.  It has defined and focused my attention on the simple yet profound reality of Jesus. The one I long to emulate. Jesus was God’s beloved son, just as I am his beloved daughter. His life had a purpose, just as mine does.

When I consider all the wonder and awe the disciples must have experienced after Jesus’ death; how he enlivened them with the strength and courage to stand against the same powers that crucified him and they ran and hid from; how he stayed with them in spirit, I am reminded of the most profound experience of my own life.

Jesus appeared to me most vividly in Kentucky twenty years ago (post), at one of the lowest times in my life. A time when I doubted God could possibly love me. I felt the tender hand of God – the touch of Jesus, through another living, breathing human and my life has never been the same since. I have often wished for more of those intense moments when in reality we are surrounded by them in the ordinariness of our lives if we would just stay open to them.

The central meaning of Easter is not about what happened to the corpse of Jesus. Its essential meaning is that Jesus continues to be known and experienced through his followers to this very day. Those whose lives manifest the love of God witness to the truth that Jesus is still here; hanging about loving on humanity.  And he still has his eye on you!

The Jesus Militant Christian Nationalists and Evangelicals Have Created in Their Own Image

This very long blog post began here with an Introduction followed by a two part post concerning Western Christian beliefs about who Jesus is and what “following” him entails.

This last part is mostly a compilation of articles and quotes that I we have been inundated with since January 6, 2021. All presented with the purpose of trying to understand the reality of what we are facing as a country – the good, the bad, and the ugly. I’ll spare you all the details and offer the sources in case you’re someone, unlike me, that actually has a life.

Let’s begin with this article in Christianity Today:

Christian nationalism has little to do with personal religiosity and everything to do with acquiring and leveraging political power around key issues like Islam, immigration, abortion, patriarchy, militarism, gun control and sacrificial allegiance to the flag.

Christian nationalists, then, appeal to biblical justification to construct an “us” (i.e., “white” Christians) versus “them” (heathen) caste system, wherein immigrants, BIPOC, LGBTQ persons and women are subordinate. This segregated worldview attempts to monopolize power among white, native-born Protestants to control social and political institutions.

Christian nationalists, it turns out, are often religiously disconnected, lean toward heterodoxy, and are often at odds with biblical ethical values like hospitality, peace/justice, and neighborly love. One of the strangest realities of calling oneself a Christian…is that if you affirm the social teachings of Jesus (love of neighbors/enemies, inclusive table-fellowship, divestment of money, care for poor), you are called a “libtard” or a “snowflake.” But if you affirm the values of Christian nationalism (militarism, xenophobia, meritocracy), you are considered a good, Bible-believing Christian.

https://www.christianitytoday.com/scot-mcknight/2020/august/lets-talk-about-christian-nationalism.html

NPR: Militant Christian Nationalists Remain a Potent Force, Even After the Capitol Riot, by Tom Gjelten

The notion that God would take direct interest in a U.S. election is an expression of the ideology of Christian nationalism, says sociologist Andrew Whitehead. “Taken to an extreme that viewpoint can even be seen as justifying violence. It tends to draw on a framework of conquering outsiders and taking violent hold of what is rightfully yours.”

The founder of the OathKeepers militia group, Stewart Rhodes, hoped Trump would use the Insurrection Act to “drop the hammer” on his opponents. “He needs to know from you that you are with him, and that if he does not do it now, we’re going to have to do it ourselves later, in a much more desperate, much more bloody war.”

One of the leaders of the invasion of the Senate chamber, Jacob Chansley, actually asked the rioters to pause in their rampage and join him for a moment of prayer to God. “Thank you for allowing the United States to be reborn,” Chansley said, “We love you and we thank you. In Christ’s holy name, we pray.”

Eric Metaxas: author and radio host:

Metaxas said he did not care about the overwhelming odds against any effort to overturn the election of Joe Biden. “We need to fight to the death, to the last drop of blood, because it’s worth it.”

Metaxas was the emcee at the Jericho March in Washington, where he and others implored God to keep Trump in office. “We are here because we know he is the God who does real miracles when his remnant cries out to him in humility and love (my emphasis – added after I threw up!),” Metaxas said.

Metaxas has never shown himself as one who feels compelled to respond to criticism, especially when he feels he has heard directly from God on the matter. In his autobiography, Metaxas lists a whole series of miracles and messages from God — including one from a turtle in Central Park…(Nothing questionable here! While walking one day, Kermit the Frog jumped out of a tree in front of me! I kid you not! SCARED. ME. TO. DEATH. He told me God wanted me to buy that Hermes handbag Shilpa Shetty was spotted carrying. Yeah – my husband didn’t believe me either.  Okay, fine, I don’t even know what a Hermes bag is, except that the cost of it would buy a kidney on the black market.)

Pastor Darryl Knappen was still denying reality and even declaring himself willing to take up arms to keep Donald Trump in office. “I was tempted to wear my black robe today and cover up my AR-15 beneath it.” In his Jan. 9 Facebook message, Knappen issued a call to arms, “There is a need in every one of our localities to have individuals, patriots, who are ready to arm up and be part of a citizen militia to protect our freedoms.”

Kristin du Mez, an historian at Calvin University and author of Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation.

Evangelicals formed an idea of Christ from figures like John Wayne and Theodore Roosevelt. This Christ was a rugged warrior, willing to fight for the faith and the nation. For all their talk of being Bible-believing Christians, when it came to these guides on Christian manhood, there was a Bible verse sprinkled here or there, but it really wasn’t based on biblical teaching. Instead, it was based on Hollywood heroes, mythical warriors, soldiers and cowboys. Its good guys versus bad guys, using violence to achieve order, and the ends will justify the means. It’s violence for the sake of righteousness, violence to achieve order, violence to bring peace and security. There’s a willingness to do what needs to be done.

I just finished reading du Mezes book and what she has uncovered is seriously frightening!  She details the belief that this house of cards seems to be toppling. She says,

In the end, Doug Wilson, John Piper, Mark Driscoll, James Dobson, Doug Phillips, and John Eldredge all preached a mutually reinforcing vision of Christian masculinity—of patriarchy and submission, sex and power. It was a vision that promised protection for women but left women without defense, one that worshiped power and turned a blind eye to justice, and one that transformed the Jesus of the Gospels into an image of their own making. The militant Christian masculinity they practiced and preached did indelibly shape both family and nation. Masculine authority, militarism, and the sexual and spiritual subordination of women have simply been part of the air evangelicals breathe for decades.

That so many of their “leaders” have been accused of and indicted on charges of extreme sexual misconduct and many of those who continually hold them up as the victims of haters of Evangelicalism seems to be the tip of the iceberg and their names as likely as recognizable to you as they are to me. There is no way of knowing over all these many years how many young minds have been corrupted by the violence and hatred they teach and advocate for.

https://www.npr.org/2021/01/19/958159202/militant-christian-nationalists-remain-a-potent-force

This is fun! A little light reading for you:

https://www.splcenter.org/hate-map

https://www.isdglobal.org/our-mission/

https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2021/01/22/capitol-insurrection-shows-how-trends-far-rights-fringe-have-become-mainstream

There’s this analysis in 2020 by the Department of Homeland Security – Violent Extremism in the United States:

Some U.S.-based violent extremists have capitalized on increased social and political tensions in 2020, which will drive an elevated threat environment at least through early 2021. Violent extremists will continue to target individuals or institutions that represent symbols of their grievances, as well as grievances based on political affiliation or perceived policy positions. https://www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/publications/2020_10_06_homeland-threat-assessment.pdf

Accelerationism in the White Power Movement:

What defines white supremacist accelerationists is their belief that violence is the only way to pursue their political goals. To put it most simply, accelerationists embrace terrorism. Accelerationists aren’t part of a new movement. They’re just an iteration more inclined toward terroristic violence than has existed in recent decades.

 “We advocate political terror and murder against jews and politicians among other things. We have accepted that the (((system))) cannot be saved, rather it must be destroyed,” one group posted on Telegram in February. “In order to accelerate the inevitable collapse of the jewish nightmare society we must not follow the rules of the (((system))) but ACT against it.”

In December 2018, a man named Rinaldo Nazzaro purchased 30 acres of remote land in Republic, Washington, a city of roughly 1,000 people about an hour’s drive south of the Canadian border. The tract was meant to serve as a training ground for a terroristic white power group he founded earlier that year called The Base.

Where do we go from here?

In their minds, they are the heirs to a movement that began decades ago and are nobly carrying out the fight. They believe – not unlike many Americans all across the political spectrum – that we’ve arrived at a breaking point.

Scholars and pundits are actively questioning whether American democracy can withstand the threats being made against it….the far right is openly talking about the prospect of civil war. On the economic front, Americans continue to struggle to find stability and, on the political side, people believe not only trust in government, but in each other, is declining. Uncertainty like this provides fertile ground for extremists.

https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2020/06/23/there-no-political-solution-accelerationism-white-power-movement

Robert Wuthnow, Princeton sociologist of religion tells us, “On January 6, we did not witness the old Religious Right at the Capitol. Instead, we saw three streams of religion, forging a new alliance.”

And don’t think for a moment that you can exhale because Trump has left the building.

A recent article in the LA Times:

In the days following the Capitol riot, right-wing extremists who lost Parler accounts or were suspended from Facebook and Twitter migrated to Telegram and gained a following of tens of thousands of Trump supporters looking to vent anger and promote extremist views. The groups are competing for a surge of new users on alternative platforms while refocusing their messages on militant nationalism (and) white supremacy.“We want people who walk away from Trump and authoritarianism to join us,” Dunn said in an interview later. “Memes play a role on the younger generation and we are winning.”

Trump’s impeachment and the prosecution of rioters who attacked the Capitol have left the far right emboldened and potentially more dangerous, experts say. Some still rally around the former president. Others, like the militant Proud Boys, have distanced themselves from Trump, blaming him for disavowing the Capitol insurrection and betraying them by leaving office.

“This has been very energizing for far-right movements,” Lindsay Schubiner, program director at Portland, Ore.-based Western States Center, said of the Capitol attack. “The core of these movements is likely to become even more hardcore and violent.”

Schubiner, who tracks activity by right-wing extremists, said some have chosen to work within the political system, shifting their focus from disputing Trump’s loss to joining local races. “They are spreading bigotry to build political power”.

https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2021-01-27/

According to a CBS News poll released in January, more than half of all Americans say the greatest danger to America’s way of life comes from their fellow citizens. Before the election, another study illustrated that about one in five Republicans and Democrats believed that their political adversaries “lack the traits to be considered fully human.” Is it possible for Americans to achieve unity when they cannot agree on their common humanity?

https://www.dannyhayes.org/uploads/6/9/8/5/69858539/kalmoe___mason_ncapsa_2019_-_lethal_partisanship_-_final_lmedit.pdf

Militant Websites:

https://www.propublica.org/article/boogaloo-bois-military-training?emci=20437b9d-6d65-eb11-9889-00155d43c992&emdi=84d073e2-7465-eb11-9889-00155d43c992&ceid=200218

https://religionnews.com/2021/01/06/as-chaos-hits-capitol-two-forms-of-faith-on-display/

Perhaps this will lighten your emotional load a bit. In the aftermath of the violence that day, many faith leaders spoke out condemning it in no uncertain terms:

https://religionnews.com/2021/01/06/faith-leaders-react-to-mob-at-capitol-with-prayers-calls-for-end-to-violence/

So, where does all this leave us? Again, I can only speak for myself, but it has called me to reevaluate who I am, what I believe, and how I am called to act in such a toxic and hostile world. I had to go back pretty far to begin that process.

When I was growing up, Jesus wasn’t in the picture. I never heard him mentioned except in a parental fit of anger. So, he was just an expletive. God did show up occasionally disguised as a dysfunctional wild woman (my mother) and other times a man who sat numb in front of the T.V. every night while his family was being dismembered in the next room (my father).

If either of these images was reality it’s no wonder this god messed up his creation. I suppose in the planning stages it looked great to him on paper. According to the beliefs of Christians who adhere to an “us” vs “them” theology, that warns that you’re doomed to hell because you won’t buy into their “rules”.  This god would have created an excess of people he would then turn around and damn to hell. Just for fun. Like playing the game whack-a-mole out of sheer boredom. It probably keeps him busy on those long winter nights when he is being totally ignored by humanity.

Anyway, God seemed crazy unpredictable and impossible to please. I wanted nothing to do with him. But, alas, my wretched soul was not totally, irreparably lost.

I am so grateful that nearly twenty years ago, right in the midst of my pain and confusion over just who this God was and who I was in relation to him, he showed up in a powerful way in the person of Jesus. I discovered how deeply God loved me in spite of myself and he offered Jesus as my guide. He would walk with me through this long, but necessary, journey with all its pitfalls and uncertainties. I could now accept that, although he would not help me get even with those who so deeply hurt me, he would not leave me alone either. I discovered for the first time that I was worthy of his love; that I mattered, and my life had a purpose.

So, to come back around to my original question:

In this current culture war the lines have been drawn by those on both sides of the struggle for power and significance. When we label those we disagree with “radical” it immediately conjures up a sense of “us” vs “them”, “right” vs “wrong”. It makes us enemies and instills hatred in our hearts leaving no room for Jesus.

So, consider this: If Jesus is the answer, then who do you say Jesus is – the Jesus of hate or the Jesus of love?

Many still believe it’s the Jesus who hates. A belief that has ushered in the violence and animus we witness on a continuous thread. So much so that many have become desensitized to it. It doesn’t seem so extreme any more. It becomes accepted by those who need to normalize their beliefs.  

But, when everything un-Christ-like is stripped away: all the false beliefs, bad theology, and broken promises of our egocentric selves – the foundational, naked truth is revealed. It is there; in that deepest place where “radical” faith goes beyond our human understanding. It becomes a powerful, revolutionary force for God’s love! Which may now give us a better sense of this Jesus.

Now, that’s radical! So, take a deep breath, quite yourself before God, and trust that he will make all things new!

I feel an apology may be in order if you found this last post difficult to follow! Just think of how difficult it was for me to write and offer some grace to this old woman who now needs a serious nap!

God bless!

Jesus is the Answer – Wait…What was the Question Again?

I have been contemplating this often touted Christian belief that “Jesus is the Answer”. It seems simple enough. Easy to dance to. Rolls effortlessly off the tongue. But, in light of the unremitting struggles and suffering in the world there is a glaring question for me. If God actually designated Jesus as the one and only “Savior of the world”, as is the belief of Christians who adhere to a stifling literalism of scripture, and so much of humanity has continually suffered all these thousands of years, is this mess on Jesus? Did Jesus not want to save all of creation? Reminds me of Jonah.

God: “Jonah! Wake up and go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me.”

Jonah: BAHAHAHAHAHAHA…NO!

God: “Fine. Get your trunks on. You’re going for a swim!” (Jonah 1:2)

Or did God mess up trusting this one guy; albeit a really AMAZING guy, with so much responsibility? Who knows, maybe the vetting process wasn’t perfected back then. Or is it remotely possible that God divvied up that job? What if Jesus and Buddha and Muhammad were all sent out in their time, within their culture, to draw followers to the heart of God? If you look into it it’s almost eerie how similar their lives were.

Or is it on us to not just rotely nod to church authority proclaiming the only truth of their particular faith? I have shared the words of Jeremy Weber in an earlier post.

Listen, I love Jesus with all my heart!  He’s the One who saved my sorry, pathetic self from my sorry, pathetic self so long ago and continues to love me in spite of my sorry, pathetic self.

Though I often mess up trying to emulate him, I keep trying because he has become for me a powerful manifestation of God! That said, I still respect the faith of those adherents of other traditions as well.

Consider that our faith could just be a matter of where we were born. If I was born in another country there’s a chance I would have been a Buddhist or Muslim.  Several years ago, we were in Morocco. Our son hired a cab driver to give us a tour. This lovely man enthusiastically shared things about his Muslim faith that nearly brought me to tears. We noticed before that day that so many of the buildings were unadorned; made of mud and earth.

Like this one we saw on our way to a Riad
Then you step inside and the beauty takes your breath away!

Our cab driver explained that the buildings are like that because it’s a metaphor for their very personhood. Their Muslim faith teaches them that what is on the outside is not important. It’s what is on the inside that matters.

In this country, because of 9/11, we have learned to hate all Muslims. What I discovered from that gentleman that day was the true essence of the Muslim people. Sure there are exceptions. But, if we have learned nothing else in 2020, we must acknowledge our own propensity toward violence and hatred that is escalating at an alarming rate.

I will never accept the belief of many Christians, especially church leaders, that if you don’t profess Jesus, and only Jesus, you’re doomed to eternal damnation. I am certain that does not come from God.

Thich Nhat Hanh in his book, Living Buddha, Living Christ says:

“If you only satisfy yourself with praising a name, even the name of Jesus, it is
not practicing the life of Jesus. We must practice living deeply, loving and acting with charity if we wish to truly honor Jesus. The way is Jesus himself and not just some idea of him.

Jesus said, the two greatest commandments are to love God and love our neighbors. Who knows but that such love encompasses Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and all eternal truths humans conceive of to explain the mystery of God in every time and culture?”

Anywho…There’s definitely something seismic going on within American Christianity that screams foul and yet those leaders who claim moral authority seem to be oblivious to it as they finger wag to an empty church. Looks like the Emperor still has no clothes on.

For years, research has shown that people have been leaving the church in droves. We’re just waiting for the last guy to turn out the lights when he leaves.

Some church leaders seem to be slow-walking their supposed desire to understand what is happening, especially among millennials, while still operating within an outdated template. They have been focusing on new ways to rebrand Christianity and bring them back (if they were ever there to begin with): Perhaps a more casual atmosphere, a fun coffee bar or surround sound music with a light show.

Some may have even considered a more extreme threat of hell. Forgetting that that’s one of the reasons they left in the first place. You can’t scare these guys like you did their grandmothers!  They don’t even believe in hell. So, that’s an empty threat.

Rev. David M. Felten says:

The challenge is that most people in most churches (and many clergy) have their theological beliefs pre-set to the “oldies station” and are either insulated from or intimidated by what’s going on outside their comfort zone. So, they simply plod along in the isolation of their bubble of orthodoxy without a clue that there are people who practice Christianity and follow Jesus in radically different ways.

How many of these leaders of the Christian faith have thrown up their hands in frustration, choosing  to fill empty pews with cutouts that look remarkably like those numb pew sitters I mentioned earlier?!

I so appreciate the honesty of one millennial, Emma Cooper, in a recent article: Anything But Christian: Why Millennials Leave the Church.

 “We come after college begins, on our breaks. Then, we don’t come back. Why don’t we come back?”

Cooper tells how she was raised in the church and loved everything about it! She never imagined walking away. But, she did. She frankly and openly addresses the issues. One is that:

A separate group of people is speaking for us, explaining why we leave, and what it will take to bring us back. We don’t want coffee. We don’t want multi-colored stage lights. We want Jesus. And we can’t find Him in your churches.”

As if to say, “HELLLLOOO, we’re right here!”

 “No one’s asking us why we left!”

Sadly, they know non-Christians who seem to innately act on God’s call to love one another and care for the suffering. She says that:

If no-Christ has made them people we’d love to be, while Christianity creates people we beg to never be… then why should we be Christians?

What we’re looking for in religion is an experience so real, so gripping, it knocks us breathless. We want our lives to be overturned….We’re not interested in your churches because — as much as we need Him to be — God is not there.

https://emmacopper.medium.com/anything-but-christian-why-millennials-leave-the-church-ccae210dfb06

That is such open and unadulterated commentary on the state of American Christianity that no dogma, doctrine, canon of faith, or fun new latte, will ever penetrate. Perhaps that’s why so many church leaders refuse to acknowledge the truth of their failings to exemplify and teach the love of Christ. They must get stuck on the “exemplify” part. Which seems like an obvious failure since Jesus made it clear that those who are charged with the teaching of God’s truth but use their power to lead people astray will, well, end up in the very place they threaten others with. Many of them seem to continue their stubborn resistance to this reality at their own, and their blind followers, peril.  During his time right up to today, Jesus had no patience with those who claim such authority to rule over others; to mislead them right into the pit (Matt 15:14).  

Barna Research shows: 

  • Only 2 in 10 Americans under 30 believe attending a church is important or worthwhile (an all-time low).
  • 59 percent of millennials raised in a church have dropped out.
  • 35 percent of millennials have an anti-church stance, believing the church does more harm than good.
  • Millennials are the least likely age group of anyone to attend church (by far).

But…if “Jesus is the answer” how is this happening? Where’s the disconnect?

 “What if it’s not a building or an attendance record that is at the core of God’s heart? What if it’s how we love?” Sam Eaton http://www.recklesslyalive.com/50-ways-to-serve/

Has anyone considered the fact that Jesus was a millennial himself – and a radical one at that? There is no doubt in my mind that Jesus LOVES these young people who have bolted from the cold stone buildings and have chosen instead to step into the muck and mire of the suffering and brokenness in their midst, just like he did. They want to make a difference. They want to know and fulfill their life’s purpose.

 “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world”. -James 1:27

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. (James 2:14-17)

I believe Jesus was exactly the one God prepared and sent at that time to infuse the lost with a love they had forgotten. Just as I believe that he is still the One so many of us love! People would not still be dying for him if that were not true.

“We dare to believe that the love manifest in Jesus reflects the authentic nature or character of the Ultimate Reality, which makes Jesus a great teacher, an inspirational philosopher, and someone whose words and example should be followed indeed.” ~ Brian D. McLaren

Consider how Jesus’ ministry began. Father Alfred McBride tells us:

Jesus began his public ministry. His inaugural address in the synagogue was a powerful statement on the need for justice and concern for the poor. (Luke 4:16-21)

Jesus read from a scroll the sixty-first chapter of Isaiah. Those words were about the servant of the Lord that God’s Spirit had come upon. God sent the servant to bring good news to the lowly, to heal broken hearts, to announce freedom for those in prison and liberation for those suffering oppression.

Everyone listening thought those words to be the fulfillment of their longing for the Messiah that would come to set them free from their oppressors. An army would be raised up in rebellion against the government; a political and military revolt against Rome. It was gonna be epic. The stuff movies are made of!

Jesus knew what they believed about that reading in Isaiah. When he rolled the scroll up he sat down quietly and watched as the tension rose in the room. But, when he finally spoke again and said, “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:20-21) they were gob-smacked! Wait…what?! Did Jesus claim that he was the Messiah God sent to save them? Jesus? For real? The kid who grew up in their midst!? He was a lover not a fighter! His message struck a nerve in them because they didn’t want to hear it. All that love, mercy, compassion, justice talk was too much for them. They were seething with anger to think that he wanted them to let go of their long held desire to get even with those who oppressed and held power over them. They covered their ears, walled off their hearts, ran him out of their midst and threatened to kill him. (Luke 4:29)

Even in our time, those who followed the non-violent precepts of Jesus and died for them are still etched in our memories: Mahatma Gandhi (that’s right, Gandhi loved Jesus!) Martin Luther King, and Archbishop Oscar Romero just to name a few. Like Jesus, all of them were well aware of the hatred that would likely cost them their lives, but they continued on in spite of the threats, until they too were silenced.

And now, this is our time of reckoning; a time for each of us to take a stand, to pronounce our faith in Jesus and then to act on that faith. Not in anger or hatred, but in love. This country is on shaky ground, but it is not a time to cower in fear.

“When people get caught up with that which is right and they are willing to sacrifice for it, there is no stopping point short of victory.” Martin Luther King

“Seeing the suffering is only the beginning of change….to move not just our hearts into a deeper understanding but also our bodies into the work of greater change. Perhaps out of this comes, truly, every form of love.”  Kristin Lin, Editor of the On Being Project

Thich Nhat Hanh offers another critical question that must be answered:

…what we say of Jesus, what we believe of Christ, determines how we live our lives.
To set our minds on divine things is to care about how everyone answers the question, “Who do you say that I am?” Because the answer is the heart of the matter.

The answer to his question, “Who do you say I am?”….is the key to our own lives. It calls our bluff about all the things we say our lives are about. All the things we say, but do not do. When historical people like the Buddha and Jesus, like Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. live out the call of who they believe God to be, the world knows it. If you and I live out the call of who we believe God to be, the world will also know us. Who we say Jesus is inspirits our lives.

Episcopal Bishop John Spong said:

I do not believe that God is a Christian or a Buddhist. Yet both Christianity and Buddhism have pointed hundreds of millions of people toward the mystery of God. Seeking faith is not about dogma and the mind alone, though it is about that. It is about the heart. It is about living as God inspires us to live.

So, I will leave you to consider this: If Jesus is the answer, then who do you say Jesus is?

Yes, Jesus was radical…He radically loved, he radically touched lepers, he radically condemned the powerful for causing the suffering of those they considered “less than”.  Jesus did NOT hate and he did NOT empower others to do so. So, what do you feel deep down in your very being as you witness that hatred day in and day out?

Up  next:  The Agenda of Militant Christian Nationalists and Evangelicals

Jesus 101

This post has been developing into a book! I have spent a great deal of time reading and researching massive amounts of material concerning the hatred and violence we have been witnessing for so long, not just on January 6, 2021. It began long before Donald Trump and those who monitor it, such as the Southern Poverty Law Center, warn that it is getting worse. https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch

While watching the violence escalate that day something shook me to my core. Since then, I have sat with, prayed about, and reaffirmed my deepest beliefs about who Jesus is, who I am as a professed follower of him, who my neighbor is, and who we are as a country.

It has been messy and fluid with so many nuances but here we go.

This is a thought process that I began for my own understanding and sanity…mostly sanity, because trying to know anything concerning God and the way he operates, without any doubts, can be likened to figuring out how birds know I just washed my car!

The need to know, to understand, presupposes that somehow, someway, we can reason this out. Like when Jesus asked his disciples “Who do you say I am?” – that was not an academic question. It will not be satisfied by any amount of head knowledge. It is answered by first falling on our knees in awe and reverence before the magnificence that is God’s love on full display in the life of Jesus. That’s a great start, but, it can’t stop there. And that’s the rub. We want it to stop before that. Let’s just go to church – get our cards punched –done – go home and watch football. But, Jesus never said, “Worship me”, he said “Follow me”. OUCH!

 You may not agree with me when it’s all said and done and that’s fine. These are just my thoughts not any attempt to coerce or judge anyone who differs. If we were all meant to be robots marching lock-step through this life God could have easily made that happen. Although, I wonder if, for his own sanity, he may now regret not doing that!

Anyway, I believe it is incumbent upon each of us to decide; to take a stand once and for all. To not be afraid of what others will think or say about us. Rather be afraid of not being the person we claim to be only when others are watching. We should be more concerned that God is watching! And I am betting that it’s not the god who keeps a running total of our church attendance and tithing spreadsheet. That would be a shallow, small-minded, authoritarian god who is out to get you if you make one wrong move.

The God I’m going to stick with tells us through the uncompromising words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 13: 1-13, spoken to the hard-headed Corinthians. I know these are verses we have heard so often our eyes glaze over. So, perhaps reading them again, slowly, one at a time, picturing all the hatred and violence we are witnessing we could see them as God intended:  

 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 

Love is patient.

Love is kind.

It does not envy.

It does not boast.

It is not proud. 

It does not dishonor others.

It is not self-seeking.

It is not easily angered.

It keeps no record of wrongs. 

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.

It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is…following the “rules” some guys made up over beers in a bar…wait…no…that’s not it…sorry. Just seeing if you’re still there.

“The greatest of these is love”.

From where I stand, it seems to have come down to two options if I claim to be a Christian: Either I stand with the Jesus who loves or the Jesus who hates.

I once would have said there was a third option of neutrality, but, not anymore. Too much is at stake. God is adamant about it when he says, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” (Rev 3:16) Ewwwww…nothing ambiguous here.

Let’s say you agree that you need to decide where you stand and why. The “why” is critical. I believe  stopping short of fully embracing your “why” leaves you wobbly and vulnerable to anyone who can shove you off-balance. Believe me; I have had that happen more times in my life than I care to admit.

So, this is where I landed: As a Christian, I am compelled to consider my life and purpose from my essence, my very being, where God resides.  How I live that life, if I own up to being a follower of Jesus, is to manifest his love in every moment and with every decision.

Not that seeing the hatred spewed by those who profess Jesus is anything new, but it has challenged me to look honestly at how I am living my life in light of Jesus’ words to his disciples, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35) I believe at times we all need a wake-up call because too often we simply muddle through our days numb to what we’re even doing here.

And so, as I see it, the most important question to begin with must be: Just who is this Jesus I claim to follow? I think it’s fair to say that one of Western Christianity’s most espoused and fervent beliefs is that Jesus is the Answer. But, are we asking the right question?

Up next: Jesus is the Answer

You’re an Idiot – Just Thought you Should Know

We all seem to have a sense of what “should be” in our personal lives, our neighbors lives, our culture, and our God.

I should, you should, we should, they should, God should, trees should, rocks should, animals should, the weather should. My boss should be nicer, my kids should be more respectful, my husband should do the laundry, my hair should be thicker, my waist thinner, my car should be a Mercedes…(deep inhale).

Have I left anything out?

We are obsessed with how our lives should be and how others should act. We calculate daily, almost moment-by-moment, what ought to be, and then adjust our lives accordingly. Let’s say I call you out on social media because, well, you’re an idiot and someone has to do it. Then, I see the next day you’ve done something even more reprehensible. You should then be arrested, or at the very least, get a huge dose of eczema right before a long anticipated summer holiday and have to wear sweatpants the entire time!  There take that!

What if before you died you were given the power to enact all the most profound shoulds you have ever imagined? What would they be? This is pretty broad so let’s make three categories:

  • My shoulds.
  • God’s shoulds
  • Everyone else’s shoulds.

I’ll start:

My shoulds (being totally honest here…which sucks. But they probably won’t materialize anyway):

  • I should be more loving and less judgmental.
  • I should spend less time on the internet and more time with God.
  • I should quit counting offenses against me and begin counting my blessings.
  • I should be more like Jesus and less like a “Christian” who’s superior to everyone (more on this to come).
  • Chocolate should not be fattening (oops how did that get in there?).

God’s shoulds:

  • God should not allow suffering – especially for Christians.
  • God should make purgatory mandatory for non-Catholics too (no reason to keep that exotic vacation destination to ourselves!)
  • God should punish all mean people – except me.
  • God should ignore my pompous attitude even though it runs totally counter to everything Jesus stood for.

Everyone else’s shoulds:

  • People should be more generous and less self-serving.
  • Wicked people should not prosper.
  • People should love and accept each other.
  • My neighbor should only put his trash out on trash day and make his dog stop pooping in my yard. (Yeah, I know it’s you!)

But wait; is this truly what we were made for? Is this what fulfills us and gives our lives meaning?

It seems we have gotten so caught up in demands and rules and check-lists that we have forgotten who and Who’s we are. We need to reclaim our innate call to love because of who we are in Christ. But, we seem to have lost our way in a culture that is hell-bent on dividing us into opposing camps: those who deserve the best life has to offer and those who don’t. We have replaced decency and justice for one-upping our “enemies” and this is not a new phenomenon.

Let’s take a look back.

Did you ever wonder how the piety of Jesus’ early followers morphed into the self-righteousness we witness today; how we as proclaimed followers of Christ actually believe that mandates enacted by man were Jesus’ way of “doing” religion? I’m no Scripture Scholar (duh) but I don’t think anyone has to be to question this colossal slight-of-hand by the powers-that-be from the beginning of Christianity. And, we who have been led to assume that we are superior to anyone who does not adhere to our beliefs, have let our egos run amuck. 

 A for real Scripture Scholar, Stephen Patterson tells us:

 “The original believers embraced Jesus’ radical social message – something we know because they were killed by the state as traitors. They were “committed to giving up old identities falsely acquired on the basis of baseless assumptions – Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female (insert: black or white) – and declared themselves to be children of God.

The first Christian creed – the long-forgotten creed – wasn’t about God. It was about us. Who we are, who matters, and who deserves dignity. The first creed was a statement of human solidarity. The Jesus movement grew from a community who dared to proclaim that “there is no us, no them. We are all children of God. It was about solidarity, not cultural obliteration.” 

Diana Butler Bass emphasizes Patterson’s words:

“We are all children of God. You and your neighbor and immigrants and believers of other faiths and Democrats and Republicans… and … and … and …We are all children of God. It doesn’t sound like any Christianity we know. But it is what Jesus preached. What Paul shared in his letters.  And it was what the first Christians gave their lives for – a world of human dignity and equality for all children of God – where walls are torn down and bridges built in their stead. And if that’s what a “Christian America” could mean, then count me in.”  (Me too!!)

Each Christian faith has creeds, dogmas, and doctrines that define them. I am going to focus here on the Catholic version as that is what I am most familiar with. If I call myself “Catholic” then I am expected to adhere to Catholic doctrine. Long ago, I learned to walk lockstep in conformity to the “rules” because, well, the Church knows what’s best for us, right? Truth be told, I loved feeling superior to others. I did not question any of it. With a straight face I could admonish you if you did not play by the rules, “Yeah, you’re going to hell. Not sorry.”

The Church, somewhere back in time determined that its “sheep” needed to be controlled. They created rules that required strict adherence to avoid damnation and the eternal fires of hell and then circled the wagons to protect their flock from the evils of the world; or more likely from discovering the truth. Which explains why the “unqualified” laity were discouraged from reading the Bible. They needed their pastors to interpret it for them, poor inept souls. The BS meter should have gone off on that one!

Back in the First Century, Saint Irenaus took it upon himself to save the poor naïve masses from the Gnostics who, “…cunningly allure the simple-minded to inquire into their system; but they nevertheless clumsily destroy them…and these simple ones are unable, even in such a matter, to distinguish falsehood from truth”.  The Franciscan Media tells us, “Iraneus was tremendously protective of apostolic teaching, but was prompted more by a desire to win over his opponents than to prove them in error.”

So, what happened to Jesus? He seems to have gotten lost somewhere in the smoke and mirrors. Who is He to us? “Who do you say I am?” (Matt 16:13) is the definitive question He still asks us today.  Every human being who knows the name Jesus will answer that question.  Those who turn their backs say, “You are no one to me.”  Some espouse it verbally, some more subtly by their actions.  Many are Christians who profess their faith in a loud voice for all to hear, and cry out, “Lord, Lord!”  Yet, Jesus says, “I never knew you; go away from me you evildoers.” (Matt. 7:23)  Jesus does not recognize those who say what they do not liveEvery Christian must answer the question, “who is Jesus?”

Bidden or not bidden, Jesus is always and everywhere among us. We are invited to respond to Christ’s stirrings within our very being. The purest and most perfect act of worship is to go out into the world and do what He did for others. Central to what he did was to care for the poor, the outcast, the lost and rejected, with no regard for what others would ultimately do to Him. “Do what you must,” His life would say, “I can only respond to you in love.”

We must surely ask ourselves, today in particular, if we believe in and recognize the worth of everyone. It will require all the truth and vulnerability we can muster. Have we replaced Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:3-16) with a sense of superiority? If we look deep inside our own hearts what will we find? As hundreds of years of racism and bigotry in this country have become a glaring reality some so called “Christians” have jumped unapologetically on that bandwagon, we have to ask ourselves where we stand.

“If  you hate a person, you hate something in him that is part of yourself. What isn’t part of ourselves doesn’t disturb us.”  Herman Hess

We are currently facing a hard truth that can no longer be ignored by any Christians, specifically (in the context of this post) Catholic Christians and the Catholic Church itself. We are in the midst of our day of reckoning. The Catholic Church’s extensive history of involvement in racism and bigotry which gives approval to white supremacy can no longer be denied. Sadly, when the Church condones these atrocities it is no surprise that some followers feel emboldened to do the same.

“I can only speak for myself, if I only teach things that make me feel comfortable, if I only teach and read things that reaffirm that I am right to be as I am in the world, then I never become aware of how I’ve both personally and systemically contributed to white supremacy. And that’s not okay.” Dr. Megan Goodwin

I will summarize these thoughts with two recent examples of the relationship between the Catholic Church and white supremacy. If you are not Catholic you’re still not off the hook. Sorry. I mean Westboro Baptist Church! So, it is still up to you to determine where your particular faith tradition stands and where you stand because this is not just a Catholic issue. Anyway…

white supremacy catholic

Jeannine Hill Fletcher wrote about “The Sin of White Supremacy” which Jack Downey discusses in America Magazine. He says:

“In 1968, the Black Catholic Clergy Caucus’s inaugural public statement indicted the Catholic Church in the United States for being a “white racist institution.” The following year, Vine Deloria Jr., a champion of Native American rights, chronicled the genocidal effects of the “Doctrine of Discovery” on indigenous peoples throughout the Americas. The year after that, theologian James Cone called the white Christian ideology that undergirded U.S. slavery and Jim Crow nothing less than “Antichrist.”

Hill Fletcher offers a wrenching and meticulous genealogy of the relationship between Christian thought and racism that is guaranteed to shock, depress and enrage more than a few white readers. At the same time, others will read it and think it to be among the most obvious and historically demonstrable theses in world history.

White Catholic institutions are beginning to reckon with their internal traditions of racism, but justice will remain an ever-receding horizon without a full accounting of, and divestment from, their spoils of white supremacy….the notion that American Christianity is fundamentally committed to the equality of all humanity, despite voluminous evidence to the contrary—is the soil out of which white supremacy grew”

 You can read the full article here: https://www.americamagazine.org/arts-culture/2018/03/08/hard-truths-about-white-supremacy-america

My second example is from the National Catholic Reporter:

An article alleging that the Catholic Church has a white power faction was unpublished by Sojourners magazine (a social justice magazine no less), prompting backlash from other Catholics over the decision (and) the public resignation of two of the magazine’s editors.

The controversy surrounds the article, first published online under the headline “the Catholic Church has a visible white-power faction” and appearing in the August issue of the print magazine under the title “Harboring a Culture of Hate.” the essay was penned by Eric Martin who teaches religion at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Martin claims that when the U.S. bishops deliberated over their 2018 pastoral letter against racism, they voted to reject language condemning the imagery of swastikas, confederate flags and nooses.

 “The Catholic Church, once persecuted by the Ku Klux Klan, today has a visible white-power faction,” he wrote. “As long as the bishops actively refuse to condemn its banners, they give white supremacists space to embrace their anti-Black and anti-Semitic work free of religious dissonance.” 

Further, Martin chronicles a number of individuals who have promoted their faith as sympathetic to white supremacy or explicitly nationalistic in nature and that these individuals, some of whom led or have founded Neo-Nazi groups, have found a safe harbor in catholic leaders and institutions.

What I found to be a chilling reality is that Jim Wallis, the Founder and Editor of Sojourners who unpublished this article succumbed to outrage and pressure from the “Circle of Protection” of which he is a member.  I was aghast when I went to their website! They define themselves as: “Christian leaders who are heads of denominations, agencies, organizations, and educational institutions. We share a belief that God expects national leaders to give priority to the needs of poor and hungry people.”

Wallis is also the author of this 2017 New Your Times bestselling book….…wait for it…

America's Original Sin

The full story is here: https://www.ncronline.org/news/media/sojourners-pulls-article-about-catholic-church-and-race-website?utm_source=AUG+14+2020+NCR+White+Sojourners+email&utm_campaign=cc_081420&utm_medium=email

Circle of Protection website: http://circleofprotection.us/who-we-are/

This may have been as difficult for you to read as it was for me to write. It challenges all of us to look honestly within our own hearts, by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, for the truth of our beliefs and the basis of our actions. Perhaps we don’t consider ourselves racist or bigoted, but do we have the courage to confront family members, neighbors, or coworkers, or even our churches, especially our churches, if they are? Or do we remain silent?

Right now, not some questionable far off Judgment Day, we are all being called to account for the way we have treated our fellowman. God help us if we don’t get this right.

 

But…Who do YOU say I am?

 

Matthew 26:35-40, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me. I was ill and you comforted me, in prison and you came to visit me.” Then the just will ask him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we welcome you away from home, or clothe you in your nakedness? And when did we visit you when you were ill or in prison?” The King will answer them: “I assure you, as often as you did it to one of my least brothers, you did it for me.”

 INTRODUCTION

Who do you say I am? Every person who knows the name Jesus will answer that question. Those who turn their backs say, “You are no one to me.” Some espouse it verbally, some more subtly by their actions. Many are Christians who profess their faith in a loud voice for all to hear, and cry out, “Lord, Lord!” Yet, Jesus says, “I never knew you; go away from me you evildoers.” (Matt. 7:23) Jesus does not recognize those who say what they do not live. Every Christian must answer the question, “Who is Jesus,” and ultimately, “Who is the God revealed in Jesus?”

The two basic elements of Christology are the historical Jesus and the “living” Jesus. Neither can stand alone. We must understand the historical Jesus to ground belief in the “living” Jesus. Historically, Jesus was human; he was a Jew, a teacher, and a preacher of salvation. He was God Incarnate, bringing mercy, compassion, hope, and unconditional love to all humankind. He healed suffering and overcame sin. That is the truth of the “living” Christ in our midst.

So then, if Jesus is the Incarnate Word of God, who is God? Our human finite thinking cannot answer that question. Scripture says, “We are made in God’s image,” that conjures up a picture of a very very old grandfather. Even though the image we have of this grandfather may be loving and benevolent, it is woefully inadequate, because we can never know the essence of God. What we can know is what Jesus reveals as the Logos, the Word made flesh. Jesus as the Incarnation of God is the fullest expression of God’s own self. God is relentless, extravagant, merciful, indiscriminate, gratuitous, enduring, and grace-filled Love!

The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus was not for the purpose of atonement. Peter Abelard explains, “Since man could make no payment to God, and God need make no payment to the Devil, the purpose of the Incarnation could not be that of making any payment at all. It could only be an act of love.” The problem is, we cannot grasp that kind of Love. As mystery we worship it, yet God calls us to do more. By the power of the Holy Spirit we are made to share in the mystical life of the Triune God. We are called to respond to that Love, just as Jesus responded. We are called to “follow him.” What does it mean to truly “follow” Christ? What does it demand? How do we know we are not simply giving lip service to our confession of faith?

The suffering of the poor and marginalized among us is immoral. In the world’s wealthiest nation six-hundred thousand children should not go to bed hungry—but they do, every day. The stories of abuses of women in India, Asia, and Africa, are horrendous and inexcusable. How do we respond? How are we Christ to our brothers and sisters who are suffering right here in our midst? How do we join them in their struggle for a just society, a just world? Would we be admonished by Jeremiah today? “Your own apostasies are rebuking you.” (2:19)

homeless

So, let us take that walk with Jesus from the last supper to His Crucifixion and answer the question,  “Who do you say I am?”

Jesus Institutes the Last Supper

last supper

Scripture:  Matthew 26:26-29, “During the meal Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to his disciples.“Take this and eat it,” he said, “this is my body.” Then he took a cup. Gave thanks, and gave it to them. “All of you must drink from it,” he said, “for this is my blood, the blood of the covenant, to be poured out in behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins.”

Luke 22:24, “A dispute arose among them about who should be regarded as the greatest.”

John 13:5, 14, “Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples feet.…”  “But if I washed your feet—I who am Teacher and Lord—then you must wash each other’s feet.”

Meditation: As Jesus prepared himself and his disciples for his coming suffering and death, they were frightened and misunderstood his final and central teachings: The unblemished lamb was now the innocent Jesus; the blood on the signpost that would save the Israelites from death, was now Jesus’ blood that would give all humankind eternal life.  God’s power would, paradoxically, be revealed through Jesus’ total surrender. Jesus did not come to take Caesar’s place; he came to take the place of sinners. He did not come to be served, but to serve.

Meaning Today: Jesus is always and everywhere among us. He invites us to respond to Christ’s stirrings within our very being. The purest and most perfect act of worship is to “do this in memory of me” and then go out into the world and do what he did for others. Central to what he did was to care for the poor, the outcast, the lost and rejected, with no regard for what others would ultimately do to him. “Do what you must,” his life would say, “I can only respond to you in love.”

Prayer:  Who do I say you are Lord, when I forget you humbled yourself to wash my feet? Who do I say you are when I do not live my life as though your sacrifice meant something? May my life speak to the memory of God’s passionate love, revealed through you.

The Agony in the Garden

agony-in-the-garden

Scripture: Matthew 26:36-39, “Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane. He said to them, ‘Stay here while I go over there and pray.’ He took along Peter and Zebedee’s two sons, and began to experience sorrow and distress. Then he said to them, ‘My heart is nearly broken with sorrow. Remain here and stay awake with me.’ He advanced a little and fell prostrate in prayer, ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass me by. Still, let it be as you would have it, not as I.'”

Meditation:  Fear fueled the anger that turned the Jewish leaders against Jesus. Fear fed the disciples’ desperation and confusion. The scene was chaotic. Yet, in the middle of that chaos stood a silent and submissive Jesus. He was not submissive to the angry mob before him; they had no power over him. All the strength and courage his humanity would now require would be his through his relationship with his Father, the deepest source of his identity. Because we are made in the image of God, that same courage to submit to God’s will, that same identity, belongs to us.

Meaning Today:  We are revealed in our relationships, how we accept or reject others, and how others react to us. Jesus was in the face of those who oppressed the least in God’s kingdom; that cost him his life. What are we willing to sacrifice for the sake of those the world rejects? Pride and arrogance blinded those who used their power to oppress others, where is our pride and arrogance revealed?

Prayer:  Lord, to be countercultural is risky and uncomfortable. But, before I shake my finger at others, may I have the courage to stand in the mirror and shake it at myself. With a trembling heart and a longing to change, I ask you to reveal the truth to me. Show me where I have rejected others, and in doing so, have rejected you. Show me where my pride masks my indifference to those who suffer.  

Jesus is Scourged and Crowned with Thorns

jesus scorged

Scripture: Matthew 27:27-31, “The procurator’s soldiers took Jesus inside the praetorium and collected the whole cohort around him. They stripped off his clothes and wrapped him in a scarlet military cloak. Weaving a crown out of thorns they fixed it on his head, and stuck a reed in his right hand. Then they began to mock him by dropping to their knees before him, saying, ‘All hail, King of the Jews!’ They also spat at him. Afterward they took hold of the reed and kept striking him on the head. Finally, when they had finished making a fool of him, they stripped him of the cloak, dressed him in his own clothes, and led him off to crucifixion.” 

Meditation:  The question so often asked of Jesus’ suffering and death is “why?” Did Jesus have to suffer? Why did God allow it? Jesus’ obedience was not demanded by God as a price for our salvation. Jesus was the revelation of God. God is Love, and can be nothing other. Therefore, he could not return violence for violence. Certainly, he knew that would make him vulnerable. Being faithful to his mission, his suffering and death would be inevitable. It would be allowed by God, but it was not his will.

Meaning Today:  Jesus’ suffering and death screams, “Stop the insanity!” Evil and violence perpetuate themselves over and over. That is how “original sin” affects us two-thousand years later. Adam and Eve may have started it, but every generation perpetuates it. At some point someone must respond as Jesus responded to end the cycle of violence we inflict on each other. We cannot, must not, excuse ourselves by pointing to others. We all must look deep within our own hearts as that is where violence begins.

Prayer:  Lord, who do I say you are when I refuse to suffer, or accept the slightest inconvenience? We have the examples of victims throughout history who refused to enter into the violence of this world. Many have suffered for their convictions. We believe suffering shouldn’t happen. Jesus accepted, as we should, that suffering is part of human life. Peace was first offered by you on the cross, and is made available to us through you.  Help me to strive for peace and justice no matter the cost.

Jesus is Condemned to Death

jesus condemned

Scripture: John 19:13-16, “Pilate…brought Jesus outside and took a seat on a judge’s bench at the place called the Stone Pavement – Gabbatha in Hebrew. He said to the Jews, ‘Look at your king!’ At this they shouted, ‘Away with him! Crucify him.’ 

‘What!’ Pilate exclaimed, ‘Shall I crucify your King?’ The Chief priests replied, ‘We have no king but Caesar.’ In the end, Pilate handed Jesus over to be crucified.” 

Meditation:  The oppressive and brutal nature of those in power in Jesus’ day was blatant. They truly believed they were God’s elect, his favored, and they could do no wrong. Jesus challenged that presumption at every turn. What began as someone who simply loved and cared for others, became an accusation of their sins. Jesus became dangerous and threatened the status quo. There was no alternative but to rid themselves of him to restore the peace they once knew.

Meaning Today:  What lengths will we go to today to rid ourselves of those who make our lifestyle uncomfortable and remind us that we are not living up to the faith we profess? Untimely pregnancies, aging parents, that annoying homeless man on my street corner. 

Prayer:  Lord, forgive my indifference to the suffering all around me. When I neglect my brothers and sisters, I neglect you. I call upon your grace to change my heart that I may care for those you call me to serve.

Jesus Takes up His Cross

JESUS-carrying-cross

Scripture: John 19:16-17, “Jesus was led away, and carrying the cross by himself, went out to what is called the Place of the Skull.”

Meditation: What kind of love is this which allows such pain and suffering? Jesus’ cross bore the weight of our sins, yet he carried it alone. His heart should have been filled with hatred. God should have been shaking with anger, his will bent on revenge.

Humankind could understand and accept that response. It is more difficult for us to accept love and forgiveness as a response to violence. Christ, as the Incarnation of God, could do nothing else. 

Meaning Today:  What is the meaning of suffering? Why does God allow it? Meaning is not found in the suffering. Mark Heim says, “It is found in the grace of the transformation of that suffering.” As Christians we are called to be an instrument of God’s grace-filled love for a suffering world.   

Prayer:  What kind of Love is this that refuses to turn away from undeserving humanity? We balk at the slightest inconvenience while others suffer unimaginable pain. Lord, forgive us for saying we love you, while refusing to love our brothers and sisters. 

Jesus Meets His Afflicted Mother

jesus meets his motehr

Scripture: Luke 2:34-35, 51, “Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: ‘This child is destined to be the downfall and the rise of many in Israel, a sign that will be opposed and you yourself shall be pierced with a sword—so that the thoughts of many hearts may be laid bare.’  His mother meanwhile kept all these things in memory.” 

Meditation: Mary, so afflicted by the torture her Son endured. Heart full of anguish. Eyes full of tears.Yet, when Jesus stood silent, she stood silent. When Jesus accepted his cross, she took up her own. When Jesus forgave, she forgave.With the same love of Christ, born in the same Love that brought him into this world, she submitted. 

Meaning Today:  We cannot conceive the pain and suffering inflicted on Jesus and his holy Mother, or the grace they received to submit to such suffering. They have shown us by their very lives how we are to respond to violence, and God has promised us the same grace to endure our afflictions.

Prayer:  Lord, that I may obtain the grace that overflowed in the hearts of your Son, and his holy Mother, to love their persecutors and forgive those who exacted such unspeakable horrors on them both. My willingness to forgive those who have hurt me reveals who I say you are more powerfully than anything else I say or do in your name.

The Cross is Laid on Simon of Cyrene

simon

Scripture: Mark 15:21, “A man named Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was coming in from the fields, and they pressed him into service to carry the cross.”

Meditation: Surely Simon had heard about this Jesus, and could have thought him a troublemaker. Jesus infuriated the Jewish leaders; they had enough of him. Now Simon was being forced to help him carry his cross. Did he know he had just come face-to-face with the living God?

Meaning Today: When any human being is stripped of dignity, Jesus’ passion is repeated. We are made in the image of God, created anew by the resurrection, and empowered by the Holy Spirit. We have a mandate to take that Good News to the world. If fear holds us back, it is grounded in the denial of who we are. Fear clings to the old self, refuses to relinquish control, and ties the hands of the Holy Spirit. God’s sacrificial love is meant for all, and I am to be an instrument of that love or my faith response is inadequate.   

Prayer:  Lord God of immutable Love, you allow no cross that you yourself have not carried. When we see others struggling with theirs, may we not turn away. Let the only thing that forces us to reach out be the Love that resides in the depth of our hearts.

Jesus Meets the Women of Jerusalem

women

Scripture: Luke 23:27-31, “A great crowd of people followed him, including women who beat their breasts and lamented over him. Jesus turned to them and said: ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me. Weep for yourselves and for your children.'”

Meditation:  This was not the first encounter Jesus had with these women. He had a deep love and respect for them. These were women whose lives were changed because he broke all the social and religious rules that forbade such relationships. He impacted their lives and called them to discipleship, but he also knew they would suffer for their faith.

Meaning Today:  It is insightful to realize the deep compassion Jesus had for women, and how that truth revealed in scripture gives power, courage, and hope today  to women who continue to be the victims, like Jesus, of untold abuses. Many women are speaking out boldly (at the risk of their own lives, as many have been martyred), to draw attention to the injustices they and their sisters are suffering.  

Prayer:  Lord, you showed your deep love for all those who were made to feel unworthy of love. How often do I make others feel unworthy because of my refusal to acknowledge them as having the dignity all should be given because they are made in your image? How would I feel in their place? Lord, have mercy. May I never again cause violence or harm to another.  

Jesus is Stripped of His Garments

jesus stripped

Scripture: Matthew 27:35,When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots.”

Meditation: The Roman soldiers stripped Jesus of his clothing in one last attempt to put him to shame. They could strip him of his clothes, but not his dignity. They had no power over him.

Meaning Today: The world cannot strip the poor of their identity; it is grounded in God’s love. God is Abba to all of his children – all are beloved. This is what is most true about us; it is what we share with Christ.

Prayer:  Lord, there is no pain or injustice I can suffer, that You, in your humanity, have not experienced. You know all the pain and humiliation we cause each other. Help me to draw so close to You that any indignity inflicted on my body cannot pierce my heart if it belongs to You.  

Jesus is Nailed to the Cross

jesus nailed to the cross

Scripture:  Luke 23:33-34, “When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, ‘Father forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.’”

Meditation:  In the Passion, Jesus was mocked, beaten, abandoned by his friends and God. Yet, despair was absent—forgiveness was his final word. This is where, Ignatius of Loyola says, “The divine hides itself.” The divine is permanently present in the human. Though Jesus endured the most unimaginable suffering, what is revealed in this moment is not despair, but hope!

Meaning Today:  To forgive such horror—impossible! This is why we have such difficulty believing Jesus was fully human. It is easier to believe his humanity was simply humanlike. Jesus’ humanity confronts us with our sinfulness and our unwillingness to change. It refuses to allow us to divide people into categories of deserving and undeserving of our love and care.

Prayer:  Lord, it is the violence within my own heart that keeps you nailed to the cross. You saw broken humanity with the heart and mind of God. You are now—just as you were then—the outward sign of inward grace. I have no justification for ignoring the cry of those who suffer. My hope is in this Love that forgives the unforgivable, and makes all things new.

Jesus Dies on the Cross

jesus-on-cross

Scripture: Matthew 27:50-51, 54, “Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, ‘Truly this man was God’s Son!’”

Meditation: Throughout Jesus’ Passion God remained eerily silent. Jesus was mocked by those who were certain he was an impostor. “If you are the Son of God, why doesn’t he save you? Why don’t you just come down from that cross?” When “it was finished,” God’s heart exploded with the reality of his beloved Son’s death! The torn curtain, the earthquake, the rocks splitting! The eruption of Love’s broken heart. Slumped over on the Cross was humankind’s ultimate rejection of God’s ultimate Love; “Truly this man was God’s Son!” 

Meaning Today: God was victim, God was rejected, God was cast out, and suffered at our hands. Though he persistently calls out to disturb our comfort with injustice, he refuses to violate our freedom to reject him, to the extreme of his own suffering.

Prayer:  Radical Love, we dare not cling to false innocence when the Truth stands before us. Your essence Lord, is beyond our finite understanding, though your will is made clear through your Son, “Love as I have loved and forgive as I have forgiven, no matter the cost.”

The Resurrection

resurrection

Scripture: John 20:19-22, “When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had net were locked for rear of the Jews Jesus came and stood among then and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’”

Meditation: Before the resurrection, the disciples could only relate to Jesus as a human being. Their attempts to understand Jesus’ teachings were thwarted by human limitations. They could not grasp the depth and breadth of who God was until after the resurrection. Only after the resurrection, when humanity and divinity came together and erupted into their lives, could they comprehend this God Jesus called, “Abba.” Only then could they share in that relationship. Love as we know it is limited. Jesus revealed the gratuitous love of God. It is self-giving. The resurrection of his humanity allowed us to touch that Love. The indwelling of the Spirit of Jesus makes that Love eternally present within the heart of everyone of faith. 

Meaning Today:  This is the point where we must ask ourselves, “Does faith in Jesus orient my life?” If no less than God is present and active in Jesus, is the same true about us? And if so, does that not call for an immediate response? That Love can release our human potential beyond our imagining. 

Prayer:  Lord, the resurrection reveals forgiveness—undeserved, unimaginable, unconditional. May I know that forgiveness for my sins of indifference toward others, for my possessive attitude, and for my lack of compassion. May I see Jesus in every person I encounter, and be Jesus to the lost and forsaken.

Conclusion

“Who do you say I am?” is not an academic question. It will not be satisfied by any amount of head knowledge we may acquire. It is answered by our falling on our knees in awe and adoration. But it cannot stop there. Jesus never said, “Worship me”. He said, “Follow me.”

As a Christian I answer the question every time I give of myself for the sake of another, or conversely, care more for myself than my neighbor. How can I believe God loved me so much, so passionately, that he sent his only Son to suffer and die for me, and for every person I encounter, if I refuse to love them? If I say to Christ, “You are the living God,” that truth must be manifest in and through the way I live my life, or it is a lie. I am sure the next question Jesus will confront me with is, “Do you love me?”  

How will my life answer that question?