Two things crossed my desk in the past few days that I need to share.
The first is a small piece by Reza Aslan at CNN (Losing Christ, Finding Jesus) in promotion of his new book about Jesus.
I think I affirm about 95 percent of what Aslan says. I happen to feel drawn to both the Jesus of history Reza Aslan proclaims and to the Christ of faith, and that may be in part because, like Aslan, I no longer regard the Bible as literally infallible or believe it needs to be in order for the Jesus story, which existed before the Bible, to be true. Freed from the need for the Bible to be some perfect record of spiritual debt and dessert, my love of Jesus the radical has brought me into step with larger spiritual realities that, for me, show the work of the God that Jesus proclaimed, the provision of the Spirit that Jesus promised to send, and, in the end, the reality of Jesus as the living Christ himself. On the days when I doubt the latter, I’m as much of a Christian as I’ve ever been. There’s room in Jesus’ company, and certainly in mine, for questions, doubts, and denials about what it means to understand him as the Christ, but what doesn’t seem negotiable to me is that to call yourself a follower of Jesus, you must at some point take up his teachings, commit to them…something I think he called “taking up your cross.” Our cross is his cross. His cross is our cross. Indeed, “follow me” is predicated by “take up your cross and…”
For me, coming to see Jesus the marginalized peasant with a radical vision of the egalitarian kingdom of God also as the Christ, as God in flesh or something somehow like it, is part of a journey we share in common with his earliest followers. His radicalism is far more interesting, and far more relevant to life in the 21st century, than the story of purely spiritual salvation most often told by those made nervous by the so-called Social Gospel. Jesus ended up dying, sacrificing himself to the 1 percent of his day, because he needed to tell the truth about what power does to the powerless, about what empire does, finally, to those with whom it disagrees, those whom it fears, those whose ideas about equality and peace its war machinery can’t finally abide. On one hand, his death says, is the deadly array of empire. On the other is a choice to live within a different kind of kingdom, a nationless network of communities dedicated to God’s preferential option for the poor and to the prophetic tradition of Jesus vis a vis massive and wholesale injustice. I also happen to believe a number of other things about the death of Jesus, and about his Resurrection. For me, now, we need not lose Christ to find Jesus. On the contrary, Jesus continues to bid me ever toward Christ. That may or may not be a common experience. I suppose part of what I want to say is that if Jesus is in fact the Christ, he’s probably more concerned with you following his teachings than with your ability to embrace his Godhood. The idea of God enfleshed and coming to grips with the shitty situations most of the world is made to live in, and responding as Jesus did…that’s one of those things that I’ve said elsewhere ends up feeling so holy it must also be true. Jesus is the beating heart of my work and my life.
The second piece is the first part of an interview with Chris Hedges. Again, for me, the idea of the “real” Jesus pushes up. Ideally, our churches should be places where these kinds of discussions are happening as often as we gather, or where they’re welcomed. Hedges grew up wanting to be an urban minister. I am one, and I see people following Jesus all the time who may or may not know the Nazarene as Christ. At some point, I want to engage that conversation in a meaningful, regular way. It may not be enough that my spiritual sensibilities are tickled pink by my own perceptions of what others have called “anonymous Christians.” Or maybe it is. Doing Christ’s work should be enough, shouldn’t it? And part of that work was gathering regularly with communities and teaching them about the nature of real freedom, about the real love of God, about the real moral arc of the universe.
As always, these thoughts are provisional. Share yours below.