Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Gospel Truth?

We have a lively discussion group at our Quaker meetinghouse early Sunday mornings.

The leader of tomorrow's discussion sent out his ideas about the scheduled discussion topic. I thought you might find them interesting and even challenging.

The topic is:

“What Did Jesus Say
and What Does That Mean to Me?”

Jesus did not say many things we assume he said, and he said many other things people have found convenient to ignore.

He did not say he was God, nor that people should start a new religion in his name, nor that abortion or homosexuality were bad.

He did say that the meek and the peacemakers were his favorite people; that if a man hits you, do not defend yourself; and that you must love and honor those who mistreat you.

I would like us to discuss what Jesus said, and then I would like each one of you to state what Jesus’s message means to you. To get things started, this is what it means to me:

I believe Jesus said far more about social change than what little is stated in the Sermon on the Mount and elsewhere in the New Testament. I believe that is why he was murdered. I believe he was a real troublemaker, in the very best sense of the word, and that separates him from Confucius, The Buddha, Mohammed, Krishna, Moses, and the rest who started a major religion.

My reading of history is that the founders of religions, with the clear exception of Jesus, have generally tended to get along relatively well with existing civil authority. At least, they didn’t get themselves crucified. That is because none of them, except Jesus, declared that existing society was corrupt top to bottom and needed to be first ignored and then changed.

I believe the rest of them said, “Change yourself, one convert at a time, and eventually the world will change, too.” The civil authorities will accept that kind of change.

But Jesus proposed instead the Law of Upside Down, and for that, they killed him.

This is what I believe Jesus actually said in the Sermon on the Mount:

“You have heard it said, that you shall love your friend and hate your enemy. But I say to you, that you shall love your friend and also your enemy. You shall love him who hates you. You shall speak kindly of him who defames you. You shall help him who has tried to injure you. For if you love only him who loves you back, do not the Romans and (Re)publicans the same? How are you any better than they are? What have you learned following me?

“And if a man hits you, turn your cheek, so that he may hit you again. For if you take revenge for every wrong, do not the Romans and (Re)publicans the same? How are you any better than they are? What have you learned following me?”

So far, so good. You’ve heard the above 10,000 times. What follows is the part you haven’t heard, and this is what got him killed.

“You men are as obvious as dogs. You grow up, but you never grow wise. Every one of you wants to sleep with the prettiest girl in the room, and you mock her ugly sister. Every one of you honors the hero, and you laugh at the terrible toils of the common laborer.

"Every one of you exalts the rich man and pretends that he is wise, while you ignore the poor man and pretend he has nothing to say. Every one of you wants to be praised and recognized as some sort of great man, while you refuse to praise and recognize the greatness of others that is all around you.

"You middle-aged men will jump up out of your chairs to help a pretty young woman open a door, even though she has no need of your help. But let an ugly old woman need a door opened, and you sit on your behinds. She must fend for herself. And it is she who needs you.

“I say to you, turn it all upside down. Seek the ugly maiden’s favors, and she will weep for joy that you noticed her. She may also be ten times sexier, ten times kinder, ten times smarter, and ten times more likely to care about you and your future, than her pretty sister.

"Honor the common man, not the hero. The hero has more honors already than he can count. Ignore him, and seek out that man whose work is dangerous and underpaid, and make him your new hero.

"Ignore the rich man. He already has more so-called 'friends' than he can count, because of his money. He has no need of your friendship. Give it instead to the poor man, and ask for his opinions on the issues of the day. His wisdom will surprise you.

"Do not seek promotions, awards, medals, and honors. Seek instead to follow the examples of the ordinary people around you, and praise them for their works. If you watch them closely, you will find much to praise.

"Start living your lives the opposite of how you lived them before. Stop believing that you must cooperate with authority, or that you must be what your parents or teachers wanted you to be.

"Stop helping the existing order to crush our spirits. Stop continuing to do all those things that have made us so miserable for so many generations.

"Start living Upside Down."

The logical conclusion of such a message is a powerful challenge to secular and religious authority. It says that everything is open to scrutiny, to see if it does what it claims to do. It says that nothing is sacred, except treating people right. Ultimately, it says that no person has to right to tell any other person what is right or wrong or what one must do.

Today, in a liberal democracy, you might be able to get away with that kind of preaching. In 33 AD, it was treason.

So that’s what I think Jesus said. What do you think?

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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Considering "Joys and Concerns"

We Quakers traditionally seek to learn about each other and to share through expressions of “Joys and Concerns.”

I find myself increasingly relying on these two terms as I go about life. At the very least, they provide balance and open communication.

But I also have come to question whether they provide the proper “frame” for our feelings and experiences. How much outside, and even inside, the Quaker frame of “Joys and Concerns” are we missing?

Consider the defined margins of “joy” on one extreme and “concerns” on the other. Beyond those margins are certainly other feelings. Beyond “joy” consider “ecstasy” and “bliss.” A vast emotional space reaches beyond “concerns,” a word that seems steeped in traditional British understatement. Consider, for instance, “stress,” “worries,” “anxieties,” and even “paranoia.”

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that Quakers replace our “joys and concerns” with “bliss and paranoia” (or some such). But what I am suggesting is that the words we choose may limit our awareness and discernment of Truth.

And what about all that falls within the Joy-Concern frame? Why do we share only joys and concerns? How about, for example, sharing “interest” or “passion” or “anger” or “love“ or “disinterest” or “ambivalence”?

Some feelings have little or nothing to do with joy or concern.

Consider too that joy and concern are closely related. In fact each is essential to defining the other. A world without concerns by necessity would be one without the joy of putting concerns aside. A world without joy would be a flat, depressing landscape where concerns wouldn’t be recognizable.

So why must “joys and concerns” be kept distinct? Can we find ourselves in situations that produce both simultaneously?

If you are like me, you may even find joy in a concern. Concern can lead, for instance, to an opening that brings with it the joy of creativity, accomplishment and giving. In Quaker terms, a concern is the beginning of a “leading.”

You may also find concern in joy. Recently I’ve found myself expressing joy at holding a position of responsibility that brings satisfaction. In the same breath my joy evokes the question, “Am I missing something? Has my joy blinded me? Do people I work with have concerns I’m unaware of?”

It would actually make me feel better to know of concerns. Learning them brings me the joy of awareness and the opportunity to help.

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