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Start the Year Right

Happy New Year! In this time of turmoil it’s hard to say what the turn of the calendar will bring. Yet it remains true that life is what we make of it.

Barataria promises to dedicate itself to spreading as much peace, brotherhood, and happiness as possible in 2017. We’re all going to need it. Someone has to lead the way – which is just what this piece is about.

Reporters used to not believe what they were told.

Reporters used to not believe what they were told.

To get this started, it’s time to be personal. My general theory of reporting and all writing is that pure “objectivity” is nearly impossible but an accurate report of your perspective and assumptions is not. It’s as simple as basking in the sunshine on level ground, which we all know from space is on top of a great blue ball of roiling wind and wet.

No matter how you might feel about it, the United States really is a Christian nation. That is a statement of culture and history, not a matter of law or even how law should be. What is “Christianity,” after all? My own experience has a lot of trouble answering that question. Among my 16 great-grandparents there are 16 different Christian faiths represented. These include Lutheran, Catholic, German Reformed, Brethren, Mennonite, Presbyterian, Quaker, and Salvation Army (which is, indeed, a religion).

One world, one people - one market. Yikes!

One world, one people – one market. Yikes!

All of these emphasize and teach very different things, despite their common root in the teachings of Jesus. Some emphasize service, others emphasize faith. Some call for evangelizing or bringing others to Jesus, while others prohibit it. Some tell you that God’s favor is shown in material wealth while others teach that mammon is the way of the Devil.

If I can’t make sense of “Christianity” and what it might mean to a modern life, no one can. But let me try.

It may come as a surprise to many of you that I keep a bible next to my bed and read it often. It’s one of those with the words of Jesus in red. I confess that I often bleep over the black stuff and get right to what Jesus himself had to say. I want to know him and what he had to say. I want him to be my friend. That means knowing the context of his life and really understanding where he was coming from.

What I read often splits cleanly into two parts – that which is obviously Jewish in origin and that which is not. It’s the latter part that I find fascinating.

Jesus probably didn't look like any Western myth

Jesus probably didn’t look like any Western myth

Jesus was from Nazareth, a new Roman town on the Sea of Galilee. It was built as a freshwater stop along the routes which headed to the mysterious East, eventually connecting the Roman Empire with Persia and the Silk Road beyond. There would have been many traders coming and going through this town with very different ideas and perspectives on the world defined by great Empires moving closer together as they closed the space between them.

Some of them undoubtedly were schooled in the way of Taoism, the official state religion of Han China. Some were Zoroastrians from Persia. Some belonged to the Hindu faith. But it is the first group I find most fascinating.

There is little doubt in my mind that Taoism had some influence on the young Jesus. The concept of a universal “Way” is what that faith is all about, and is in fact the translation of the word Tao from Mandarin. That faith was a reaction to rule-bound Confucianism, emphasizing that being a wise, good, and happy person does not come from following rules to the letter. “You shall know the just by their deeds” is how my Salvation Army Great-Grandmother would have put it.

Pope Francis gets this.

Pope Francis gets this.

The vision of a young Jesus learning from scholars from outside his immediate faith paints a clear picture of what all these extra-Jewish teachings mean. When he said that he was the Son of God, he also said that we are all children of God. We all have that spark of divinity within us, if only we come to realize it.

I know many people who, in their reading of Jesus’ works, feel that anyone they meet on the street may be Jesus. I go one step further and say that everyone is, in fact, Jesus. Everyone has their own internal torment which they may not confess easily. Everyone benefits from a smile and a little bit of love which tells them, “Peace be with you.”

This view is often called “Gnostic,” and it was a dominant view in the early church. It was cast aside when the Roman world put structure to the faith after making it the official religion under Emperor Constantine some 400 years after Jesus’ death. But it is still dominant in Coptic Christianity and, to a very large extent, what the Mennonite faith rediscovered nearly 600 years ago under preacher Menno Simons.

Jesus’ life and teachings are, primarily, examples of how children of God should conduct their lives.

Many hands make lighter work. Many different hands make the work a triumph.

Many hands make lighter work. Many different hands make the work a triumph.

Holding this view is both easy and difficult in the modern world. It passes over all the different views of faith we might encounter, Christian and otherwise, finding an easy commonality between all of creation. It is also sorely tested on the internet by trolls and conspiracy believers who lash out in pain and ascribe their misfortune to dark forces far beyond their control.

What would Jesus do in the face of so much suffering, and indeed those who cause suffering in the world?

Those who lash out and live in a constant state of outrage are, first and foremost, to be treated carefully. Their pain should be healed, not magnified in splashing puddles of outrage and disrespect. A true child of God seeks primarily to lessen suffering and heal the pain of everyone, not share it. Where those in great power induce pain through their greed they should be faced as boldly as the money changers at the entrance to the Temple – one of the few times it was recorded that Jesus lost his temper.

There is a time and a place for everything, of course. But Jesus made it very clear that no matter what it was critical that we never lose track of our own spark of divinity as well as the glory of all creation all around us.

He didn’t say it was easy, he said it was the Way.

"The School of Athens" by Rafael

“The School of Athens” by Rafael

This view may leave you cold in many ways, which is understandable. It’s more of a philosophy than a true religion. But as philosophies go it opens up new pathways to faith – both a faith in humanity as well as faith in all of creation. The part of his teachings which are obviously Jewish are strengthened by this, not diminished in any way. God gave his creation a promise – one of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to borrow another secular perspective.

Faith is magnified, not diminished, through this understanding of Jesus.

What, then, is the role of a true follower of Jesus? If you want to take comfort in your own salvation, as per John 3:16, by all means do. But it cannot end there. To see Jesus as an example is to want to be Jesus. It is to act as Jesus did, healing as much suffering as you can. It is to raise the low and never to judge even those who society sees as outcasts – be they tax collectors, prostitutes, or Samaritans.

Nelson Mandela made a lot more progress as a fighter for peace and order.

Nelson Mandela made a lot more progress as a fighter for peace and order.

If everyone acted this way there would be no trolls. There would be no outrage other than that which takes action easily and bravely to confront the outrageous. No one would stew in their own anger forcing it to boil over into destructive actions and more and more pain.

To bring peace, brotherhood, and happiness to the world is the only way. And I call on everyone to do this as actively as they can in these difficult times. I promise to do my best to lead by example, following the example I have spent my entire life trying to understand.

Peace to you all, brothers and sisters of creation. May we all know the Way and live it well.

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13 thoughts on “Start the Year Right

  1. Homo sapiens literally means ” Wise man.” Home sapiens all have the same basic DNA or they would not be able to mate and reproduce as a sub-species. Race is only defined by skin color and a few meaningless general characteristics such as slanted epicanthic folds, straight blond or black knitted hair and esoteric things like slow twitch and fast twitch muscle fibers. Unfortunately Homo sapiens, being nothing more than very smart, hairless apes are born with a “hate chip,” All of the greater apes have this chip.;because in essence we follow a genetic tendency defined as a “Territorial Imperative”. We are biologically programmed to engulf land; and to eliminate those, not of our own tribe, who own it. Religion makes it worse only because of the men who control religion and hold it as a justification to hate. This is sad because the basic tenets of most religions are moral and ethical guideposts to overcome hate and instead… to love. In addition, at least in Western cultures, we all worship the same God. Yahweh, God, Jesus and Allah.
    “The criticism of religion, in embryo’ is that veil of tears of which religion is the halo” (Karl Marx). Abraham, Jesus, Moses. John the Baptist and Muhammed were Holy men who preached ethics, morals, humility, love and peace. We should all return to the basic tenets of these religions and do a better job of embracing the good things in each of them that could eventually eradicate hate, ignorance, bigotry, and……War. Yes…we really can all become “Wise men” if we put our hearts and souls into it.

    • Thank you for taking this to the next level! This piece was written for evangelizing, essentially – to the extent I am comfortable at all with doing that. I didn’t want to get too philosophical or quote too many other people. The purpose was to speak from my heart and tell the world how I think.
      But it needs the underpinnings you provide – the background, the realization that others have looked at this issue in similar ways. Yes, I see all of this as part of a general “higher calling” which is the chakra above – the one I haven’t talked about too much.
      The point is that we should at least have as an ideal a world where everyone is wise and kind and connected. We may not all achieve that, but it is worth trying. Standards are important, especially in cultural frames.
      Thank you again. This stands on its own.

    • I don’t want this to be a competition, but I see what you mean. And that is my point, in a sense. I have just enough Salvation Army in me to really believe that “You shall know the just by their deeds.” I stand by that – regardless of how someone describes their faith or lack thereof.

  2. I never know what to think or do with regard to this. My family is 100% catholic and we have nothing but the guilt from that! I guess there is a feeling we have to give back as well & that is good but sometimes it feels like its just more ways to guilt everyone who isn’t Mother Theresa. I never know just how I think. What you describe here is kind of what Pope Francis says I guess but he never talks about Jesus as a person, always within the doctrine of the trinity. He can’t break out of that box.
    Anyways good blog, alot to think about.

    • Pope Francis is indeed tied to the Catholic view, so he can’t go as gnostic as I do. That’s fine with me because I don’t see that point as being central.
      There is no doubt that Francis sees Jesus first and foremost as an example. His foot washing is the clearest demonstration of this. So there is no significant conflict here.
      Nor do I think there is a great conflict with other “People of the book”, Jews and Moslems. While they do not have Jesus as a guide (Moslems only see him as an early prophet, so he is accessible at least) the message is substantially the same in many ways. The main difference is enough ritual to define every moment of the day, which I admit I find troubling. But even that I feel can be worked out with honest, open conversation. I’d like to have that.

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