31 March 2010

What was Jesus' intent?

Friends, I must confess that this trip through Jerusalem, exploring The Last Week:  What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus's Final Days in Jerusalem, has not been so immediately enlightening as I hoped.  It is not that the book has failed, it is that all my years of wimping out on Greek and Hebrew study because I was a "pastoral counselling" student has come back to haunt me.

Now I find that I'm faced with a relatively scholarly book that is written for the popular market, and each place I read a translation of Scripture, I am picking up my NRSV translation and finding it wanting.  The book is based on a more up-to-date reading based on both archaeology and reading of original language text, and focuses more on the book of Mark, as the earliest accounting of the story.  Even Mark was writing 70 years after the events, and writing knowing of the destruction of the Temple that occurred in his own era.  So the story is a delicate teasing out of history, to discern the "true" history of the time.

I like what I find, I'm just not sure whether to trust it.  It's hard to give up one's lifelong held version of Jesus' life, even if it is in favor of a version that more suits my life today.  I want to believe what I am reading:  that Jesus was an activist, and that many of his movements, even in this last week, were planned fulfillment of the prophecies, meant to call attention to important lessons for the people, about following their true leader, rather than the Romans.

I've just spent an amazing amount of my life being in dialogue with the 'suffering servant' interpretation of Jesus, and it has not always been pretty.  The salvific model of Jesus life, leading up to his death and resurrection on the cross, has not really had much meaning for me.  I must admit, however, that since it is the Cross that was the focus of my Christian upbringing, this book calls me to see how much time I have spent rebelling from the beliefs of my childhood, a fact that perhaps deserves a little more attention.

So Borg and Crossan have caught my eye, in a way I didn't expect.  They have put the part of me that believes in the work of Jesus' life, in direct conversation with the part of me that was raised to believe (and rejected) his death.  I'm know this is not by accident.  I'm tired of pretending to stand for something, to be polite in certain circles, and I'm ready to have this dialogue.

In my reading of this Last Week, I am at Tuesday night, and so far, my first surface reading has uncovered the powerful messages of Jesus as a countercultural leader, on his Pam Sunday entry into Jerusalem as the peaceful presence counter to Herod's military domination. On Monday, I view his work as a challenger of the status quo, as the Temple has been degraded to a pitiful amalgamation of Roman and Jewish allegiances that serve no one but the rich.  Here he fulfills the prophecy that the Temple shall become as a "den of robbers."  On Tuesday he continues to grapple with both the Priests and the Romans in the temple, calling attention to their own inconsistencies, and deliberately putting himself into more confrontations that fulfill the Jewish prophecies.  Borg and Crossan tell us however, that Mark struggles here to inject meaning that has more relevance for the later destruction of the Temple, so I am left to tease out that which is appropriate to Jesus' life that week.

It is a much more difficult task than I expected.  I can only tell you today that I am halfway through this week, and I do not know how Jesus' life, seen from this perspective, will end.  It is a much more exciting and active week than I have previously thought.  Without viewing the week through the Cross, I am free to see more of the message Jesus may have intended his peope to see, the spiritual message of listening to the Light, to the Divine, rather than falling prey to the fierce, fearsome violence surrounding the Jerusalem that was under domination of the Romans.

I'll continue to read and write, but I can tell you already that this new perspective, while familiar to my innate understanding, will take more than just this week to digest.

28 March 2010


This morning, thanks to my Ffriend Michael Newheart, I had a chance to read a blog about the book by Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan, called The Last Week:  A Day-by-Day Account of Jesus' Final Week in Jerusalem.  It gave me a new look at Palm Sunday, one that is much more closely related to my journey as a Friend.

Michael Westmoreland-White's blog (http://pilgrimpathways.wordpress.com/2010/03/27/palm-sunday-anti-imperialist-street-theatre/) tells us that this book reveals:
"When we celebrate Palm Sunday, we don’t just remember the fickle crowds (so soon to desert Jesus, along with the 12) and their brief recognition/celebration of Jesus’ triumphal entry. We also remember that Jesus presents us with a deliberate choice:  Following His Way of meekness, humility, and peace or the Way of Empire and military might.  There is no Way to follow Jesus that does NOT break from the military option."

Wow!  I'm going to have to read this book.  I struggle so much with the meaning of the resurrection and the cross to my own life, compared to the obvious meaning I find in  the example of Jesus' life.  This simple couple sentences has opened a door wide, to see more of the radical change of Jesus presence in people's lives, even on the way to the cross.

I don't have much more to say right now, except, stay tuned.  I'm going to purchase and read this book this week, my humble tribute to the Lenten season.  When I feel a leading this strong, the best I can do is listen and obey.  I'm looking forward to what develops.

This morning, in worship with my community, I will be contemplating "the contrast between Jesus’ entry into the East Gate of Jerusalem with Pilate’s military/imperialist entry into the West Gate of Jerusalem on the same day."  I love having the opportunity to open my heart even more deeply to the experience of the peace that passes all understanding.

I invite you to do the same, and please, share your journey with me.

13 March 2010

Palestine and Jerusalem...Pray for them all. Pray for US all.

Recently a couple have joined our meeting, who are long term service workers, in the Quaker tradition, but for many different organizations.  The man is a native Palestinian, who  fled his country during the British Mandate for Palestine, which began the establishment of Israel.  Forgive my ignorance of the historical events related to this post, for I am a youngster compared to this man and the events of his young life that included his forced flight to Lebanon, his subsequent conversion to Quakerism, and his life of deepy dedicated service to humanity and peace.

One statement has been ringing out, in my thoughts and dreams, since our meeting with this couple in their home.  My friend told me of the shots of guns eradicating women, children and men of Deir Yassin (http://www.deiryassin.org/), a small village adjacent to Jerusalem, and how the loudspeakers announced to them that they must leave their homes or suffer the same consequences as their neighbors.

This was 1948.  WW II was barely over.  Millions of Jews and other non-arians had been executed, experimented on, tortured, abused and violated at the hands of their enemies.
Then, as the world prepared to help Jewish people return to their historical and religious roots in their ancient homeland, still more people were executed to carry out the plan.

This has shocked and stunned me.  First, I could not believe how ignorant of history I was, and how long I chose to stay ignorant.  In the back of my mind, I must have known that somehow they had to move people to make room for the Jews to return to the land of their ancestors.  But I chose to stay ignorant, because what lay under the surface was unthinkable.

Second, here sat a man before me, a man of peace.  A man who had helped so many others who were poor and starving and had suffered at the hands of their own enemies, and had helped selflessly for much of his life.   What motivates someone who has had it all taken away, who has been lucky to escape with his life, to go on, and more to reach his hand out to others.  He had every reason to be bitter and angry, but he acted in kindness.

Third, how do people slaughter others in the name of peace?  This has always been a question I ask.  I have a friend who is a veteran of war in the middle east.  In order to serve, to do one's duty, I realized in a conversation one day, that soldiers are systematically programmed to dehumanize the enemy, so in this person's eyes, an Arab, who looks like my friend is filthy, smells bad, is unintelligent, ignorant, and deserves to die.  In my mind, I put these two people side by side. Meeting on this soil, in these times, they would most likely be friends.  If they met in the middle east, one might have slaughtered the other without thinking.

I remember the first time I saw the old movie, All Quiet on the Western Front.  It was a hallmark moment for me, when I realized through a touching scene in this movie that if we know each other as human beings, if we see each other through the eyes of family, community, friends, we cannot so easily kill each other.  Long before I was convinced as a Friend, I saw that this ought to be one of my goals:  to know and treat each person I encounter as my neighbor, no matter how brief the meeting.

Don't raise me to sainthood yet.  This has proven to be far more difficult to live than I ever imagined in my idealistic youth. Carrying it with me has, however, has informed my thinking and my decisions.  It has made me aware of the times I make a harsh judgement out of fear.  It has shown me how the individualism of our culture affects my aim for peace.  It has caused pain in my heart, when out of zeal or haste or selfishness, I brush another aside as unimportant, only to feel the consequences if I happen to catch their eye as I rush by.

Now, as a result of the little story my friend told me, of getting into his car with his relatives, with only the clothes on his back, and leaving his homeland, where he would never return for many, many years, I understand why there is so much enmity between the Israel and Palestine.  Now I understand why the fighting seems it will never stop.

There are still things I don't understand, but I am still learning:  Why the United Nations voted for the British Mandate, knowing so many people would have to be "displaced."  How the Jewish people, who had just barely survived the holocaust, could close their eyes to the treatment of the Palestinians being forced to make way for them.  How can anyone believe that God means for others to die for the edification of others?

We, the Quakers, are a people of peace.  We believe that God (Jesus) is love, and that we should seek for that of God (love) in every person.  Ideals, yes, but ones we strive for.  My elder friend told me that Nasser met with the Quakers in Gaza, and tried to find ways to work out a peaceful resolution, but he died before his plans could become reality.

I have been touched deeply by hearing this story.  I have been saddened, grieving for our world, where so much is black and white, wrong or right, all in absolutes.  We need prayer.  We need deep continuous soul-crying prayer.  Pray for those who have, without conscience cast the first stone.  Pray for those who are quick to judge, for those who rewrite history, for those who choose to remain ignorant.

I read a little parable this week, about a man who was asked why he did not judge a neighbor who had harmed him.  "How can I judge him," he asked, "When I have never bowed my head to pray for him."

05 March 2010

Jesus saved my Life

This morning, reading Friend Johan's latest blog, Meeting Jesus Halfway, (http://johanpdx.blogspot.com/2010/03/meeting-jesus-halfway.html), I had one of the glorious revelatory "duh" moments. I thought I might share it with you here.

I have been railing and fighting the fundamentalists for much of my life. At one time I allowed them to force me from my church home. I went flying out into the desert, willing to face life alone rather than live with these "fools" who tried to tell me that in order to live in the spirit of Jesus the Christ, I too had to face the cross, to sacrifice myself and be reborn. I who had known a personal relationship with the God/Jesus of my understanding for my whole life, was told by Christian scholars that my theology was too simplistic, that it would not stand the tests of ministry, but not to worry, my seminary experience, while devilishly torturous, would raise my understanding to a scholarly level. The result: I left the pursuit of denominational ordination in another religion.

Years passed and I wandered in the desert. I still heard the voice of God saying, "You are a minister." But now when I heard it, all I wanted to say was, "Go away, leave me alone, Shut Up." Better to be alone than to worship the false idols of Christians, a God who could kill, albeit massacre people, in the name of salvation. A God whose leaders judged whether one's faith was suitable based on the letter of the law their own prophet had eschewed, rather than the proof of a life lived. I had no need for it.

There was only one problem: The still small voice would not go away. I busied my life doing good deeds, proving that I was a far better person than "those hypocrites." It doesn't take salvation to make a good person, I declared. I studied buddhist meditation, teachings of Judaism, read the Koran, explored native american rituals, always seeking. On the few occasions I became quiet, the voice would return, counseling quiet peace.

In that process of seeking, I came to a Quaker meeting. There on a rainy Sunday, I heard others rise and speak what they were hearing when they became quiet, and their accountings were remarkably similar to my own. In this very liberal part of the Quaker world, there were even people like me, who had felt abused in the name of Jesus, and didn't even care to say his name. My new Friends said to us, "Are you seeking a relationship with the God of your understanding?" "Yes..." "Then you are welcome to join us."

Gradually, I had the courage to listen again. There it was! The source of my guidance all the years before had not left me. Once again, I heard the clear yet simple direction of that inner leading, and I came to be convinced I was a Friend, that the voice was my Friend. It was one of the most peaceful and yet celebratory experiences of my life.

Sadly, it would take me many years to understand that this was the Jesus of which Johan speaks. I was too injured by the "Christians" who had tried to teach me the "right" way. Yet curiously, as the Light nurtured me and grew within me, I began to have less vehemence against those people, and more understanding that they like me were also seeking, yet were so fearful, that they could not stray from the Letter of the Law. What a sad existence, I thought.

The fallout of the abusive relationship I had with Christians has affected my relationship with the inner Christ all my life. I often do not trust him. I am afraid that if I follow he will lead me someplace where I might be abused or massacred. Because I do not trust him always, I do not trust you. So, just when I am at the edge of the most amazing spiritual revelation, I have been known to turn and run, not to be heard from for years.

It is only because of the love and nurturing of Quaker spiritual community that I have slowly come to understand that the voice of God, the inner Light, the living Christ, the unspeakable, call it what you will, is alive and accessible to me. I could not do it alone. Then I walked in the desert.

I could not do it following the Law. Then I feared certain death and destruction if I fell from the path.

Only in the quiet communion of like Friends, was I able to find the nurture to recover from the abuse of the Law.

I do not have to be a Christian to know Christ. I do not have to be a Buddhist, to know the Buddha. I do not have to be a Muslim to know Allah. I need to be me, and I need to listen.

If you think you are surely on the Path, and the Path calls you to tell another that they are Wrong, that they will surely perish if they go this way or that, that you have the Answer for them and you fear for their soul if they do not follow it, then you have surely lost your way. Stop and listen to that still small voice.

Jesus saved my life.