Part 2: Progressive Reflections on Traditional Christian Themes
I believe that the living God who Christians know through the sacred story of Jesus is far more interested in our faithfulness to the way of Jesus than our worship of Jesus or veneration of his deity. Having the faith of Jesus is more important than what we believe about Jesus.
I don't want to suggest that what we believe is insignificant. What we truly believe in the core of our being impacts how we live, or at least how we want to live (false attachments and negative addictions are hard to break).
The beliefs we draw upon, however, to describe the Really Real, the Divine Reality who is the source of all spiritual experience will always be inadequate.
Belief is simply one of three components of a living, dynamic faith. The other two are trust and faithfulness/commitment. A living faith is the means by which we connect, commune, and cooperate with the Divine Spirit within each of us. Our beliefs are mere pointers; our human way of trying to grasp and explain what is beyond our comprehension. Whereas beliefs tend to divide us, a living faith unites us.
When beliefs dominated my Christian experience, I had such an exalted view of Jesus and his divine status that it did me no earthly good. Jesus was so high and lifted up, he was unreachable.
I imagined Jesus as someone who never demonstrated a cultural bias or acted in a selfish way or entertained a single, lustful thought. So I worshiped and venerated Jesus, but I couldn't imagine being like Jesus.
That started to change when I read two books that were part of a doctoral seminar: Jesus Christ, Liberator, written by liberation theologian Leonardo Boff, and Jesus Within Judaism, written by James Charlesworth, a New Testament scholar specializing in Christian origins. Then, a few years later, when I read a book by Marcus Borg titled, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, I became hooked.
I was captivated by the Jewish Jesus. The title that Jesus employed of himself in the Gospels-"the Son of Man" (the human one)-took on new meaning. As I began to understand Jesus in his culture-as a sage, a teacher of nonconventional and alternative wisdom, a prophet who challenged the status quo and subverted the system, a Spirit-immersed person driven by a vision of God's new world and moved by a deep compassion, especially for the impoverished and marginalized-I began to find Jesus appealing, a compelling force drawing me into a deeper discipleship.
No longer did I see Jesus as one so perfect or sinless he could not possibly be emulated, but as an extraordinary human being completely dedicated to the cause of God's kingdom and given to the good and well-being of others. Letting go of the Jesus who could walk on water, I found Jesus to be a deeply spiritual person devoted to healing the sick, loving the unlovable, caring for the diseased and demonized, challenging and confronting the injustice of the religious establishment, and exuding a contagious faith, hope, and love.
I began to cultivate a vision of Jesus that called forth my best effort, challenging me to nurture the transformative virtues of moral courage, forgiveness, and compassion.
As I studied the Gospels, I was startled that Jesus never appeared concerned about or focused on his own veneration or exaltation. In fact, when the persons he healed wanted to proclaim him as the Messiah, he told them not to tell anyone.
He told his disciples that while those bound to the domination system seek positions of power, authority, and veneration, it was not to be so with them. He instructed them to be servants of all, for the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life for the liberation of many (Mark 10:35-45).
It is Jesus' human vision of God's kingdom-the dream of a world made right through forgiveness and reconciliation, through distributive and restorative justice, through radical sharing and grace-that convicts and humbles me, and is slowly changing me (slowly, because old habits and entrenched attitudes do not die easily and I have a long way to go).
My discovery of the Jewish Jesus-the archetypal "Son of Man" who embodies what it means to be "fully human"-has become my salvation.
(The reflection above was adapted from chapter 2, "Hey, I'm a Believer Now" (Faith) in my book, Being a Progressive Christian (is not) for Dummies (nor for know-it-alls): An Evolution of Faith.)