Sunday, 29 March 2009

So, about this Jesus bloke...

Over at Telling Secrets there's a great post with some good questions. Do go read the whole thing.

I'm having a little attempt to answer some of the questions for myself, here. Because really, a lot of this is what I'm trying to figure out.

So, here’s my question: Do you know Jesus? Yes, I know you do, but how would you describe Jesus? In your own words? Who is Jesus for you and why does he make a difference in your life of faith?

I don't know that I do know Jesus, really.

I know what some people say of Jesus.

My familiarity with the Gospel is somewhat rudimentary; I'm working on mending that, through daily reading and prayer. But I'm not a literalist, and I'm sufficiently cynical that I will always wonder how much of what is in the Bible is entirely context-dependent, I will always wonder how much of what people wrote is true in any sense. Sometimes, that doesn't seem to matter much: the Summary of Law speaks to me on a level that doesn't take into account literal truth in any sort of rational way, it just feels right. But even then, there's this bit of me that says, "Okay, nice idea, admirable idea, I'll buy that, I'll try to live that way, but how do I know that it's this Jesus guy who said it? Hillel came pretty close for all that. It's an idea that was floating around at the time, it needed a story." It's all a bit too convenient, and I can't accept on any rational level the authority of a text that isn't even consistent within itself on that level.

If I were to say that the Bible is a finished work rather than a snapshot of an ever-growing library, then I might have to conclude that Jesus was a person who was hugely inspiring to a number of people. I know how I feel when I have am falling in love with someone, how my entire world revolves around them and I think they are the Best! Thing! Evar! (better than kittens!) and I want to tell everyone I meet how shiny they are. I can see an extrapolation of that leading to the conclusion that a person is somehow more divine than the rest of us, somehow sent by God for the benefit of the rest of us. The psychological wrenching shock of the crucifixion would make that an easy leap to make, I think.

But... somehow, that doesn't really feel like the right answer. I can't put my finger on all of why. Partly it's that I don't accept the Bible as a standalone, finished work. I think there's a very strong possibility that it is still in progress.

I said that I know some of what others say of Jesus. Contemporary accounts are part of that, too. And most of that isn't so much in the form of words as in the form of actions.

There is Deacon Friend, who reaches out to those in need no matter how great her own suffering, who has turned her life upside down and inside out in some very unfavorable circumstances to pursue a vocation to priesthood. There is Catholic Friend, who has provided so much practical and moral support through some very difficult times of my life and who takes so much care to speak truth and reduce harm. There is C of E Friend, who balances his public and private life in a way that makes me think even someone as strange as I am (for I am, in some ways, less strange than he) can perhaps find a community and fit in without dishonesty or confrontation. There are many other examples, people who seem to be doing what I perceive as God's work in this world, moving heaven and earth to help others. Many of them seem superhuman in their stamina and I can see, in some of them, that their ability to do this work is tied up in their relationship with God. For many that relationship with God is very much in a Christian context, inseparable from their relationship with Jesus. And that's one of the things that does make Christianity itch for me, does keep me curious about Jesus: if so many of the people who make this world worth living in are Christian, if so many of the people who I would actually trust with my life are Christian, then maybe there is something to it. Maybe I was wrong to walk away.

There are plenty of examples of people I think do God's work, or at least have been Godsends in my life, who are not Christian. Some belong to other faiths, some to none. Some of them are not even theist. And yet all seem to have the same modus operandi: that nobody, alive or dead, is worthless, that we are responsible for compassionate action in the world, that the world is interconnected in ways too deep and complex for us to understand, that unconditional positive regard (that's, er, love) can change the world. The theists among them would expand that to say that we are all loved, unconditionally, that we are all God's children.

And I think that maybe that's what Jesus was getting at, too. And whether the Gospel is an accurate historical account, a mythology, or something somewhere in between, it says Jesus was so committed to this message that He was willing to die for it. That this message is so important, so sacred, that even death couldn't kill it, because love is stronger.

I don't think that Christianity is the only religion that has these linked messages of God's love for us and our invitation to act for God in the world, to become an active part of God's work. But human beings love stories, and as stories go, the Passion is a pretty good illustration of those messages--whether it's true in a strict historical, rational sense or not. As a metaphorical thought-shorthand it works very well. And I don't know about you, but I do need metaphorical thought-shorthand. I need images and symbols and rituals in my life because without them I get disoriented and lost.

If some visitors who weren’t Christian came in today because they wanted to meet Jesus, who would they find? How would you describe Jesus to them?

I guess I would try to explain what I already explained above. I would say that the story of Jesus' life and death and resurrection is one that assures us we are loved and invites us to participate in the world in a loving manner. I would explain that the more loved I feel the more I also feel called to love the world as much as I can, that service from this position of an overflow of love becomes a joy rather than a chore, that when I am exhausted or discouraged or frightened or lonely or hurting it is love that keeps me going and that I seek to augment my awareness of God's love so that I can augment my love of the world so that I can augment my awareness of God's love, that it's a cyclical process, that love is stronger than fear, love is stronger than death. And that doesn't seem, at first glance, to have much to do with Jesus at all. Maybe I can understand the meaning of the story without accepting that it happened as literal descriptions would claim.

Here’s the important question of faith: How would you tell others about who his is and where to find him? And, would they know that any of that is true by how you live your life? One of my favorite images of the church is that of one hungry beggar telling another hungry beggar how and from whom to get bread.

If I had to point to a text to sum things up I don't know where I'd start. If I were talking about my own personal experiences, then I guess I'd start with how other people have affected my own spiritual path. I'd say to find Jesus look for love in the world, try to see the love in any situation, add to it if you can, and especially add love if you can't see any.

I hope that the way I live my life might say a little of this. I know I routinely fall short.

I am a genuinely caring and affectionate person; I try to communicate this, I try to let people know by my words and actions that I do love them. I know I often fail, or overshoot and come across as horribly forward and inappropriate (especially in British culture).

I am a teacher. One of the things I strive for in my teaching is to be honest with my students and respectful of them, to invite them to learn rather than intimidate them into it. Children really do get an awful lot of flak and I don't want to add to that. I try to make it clear that I am there to teach them music and the reason for that is that it is fun and worthwhile. I try to make it clear that some of what I teach them about music is applicable to learning other things, or to life in general. I try to teach them that learning to love what they are doing is more important than learning not to make mistakes, that learning to love a piece of music so much they want to play it for others is more important than passing exams. I try to teach them that practising is a tool, not a punishment, that it is okay for them to have bad days as long as they are genuinely trying their best, that I do believe they are giving it their best shot. Because I do, you know, maybe I'm just naive, but I believe every last one of them does the best that they can with the resources and information they have. My job is merely to try to frame the information in a useful way. I don't know that I succeed at any of this, but objectively I can say that I do not shout at my students as much as some teachers I have had, and that they do mostly seem to want to continue learning, and that today I had students smiling, rushing to their instruments as soon as I arrived so they could show me what they'd done this week. So maybe I do get it right some of the time, this teaching stuff, enough of the time to know it's worth it for me to keep trying. And maybe none of my students will see Jesus in that, but I hope they get the message that they are loved, they are worthwhile, that it is worth doing the best they can.

Here’s the thing: If you want to meet Jesus, you don’t need a formal introduction. All you have to do is walk with him, and let him walk with you. Put your body and your mind and your soul with him and open yourself to his presence.

And, believe. Amen.

I'm working on it. It sounds so simple, and yet I trip over my rational doubts so often. I don't seem to be able to relate to Jesus much except on a very metaphorical and symbolic level.


Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Dearest Song - I am not trying to be cheap by saying that this post would make any preacher's heart sing. You took my questions seriously, engaged them, struggled with them and produced a brilliant statement of faith. Having faith in Jesus doesn't mean you have all the answers - it means that you are brave enough to follow the questions, wherever they may lead.

Thank you, my dear. You make me feel like I've just been given a whole basket of kittens.

Song in my Heart said...

Yay kittens!

Thanks again for the questions. Maybe it was the way you asked or maybe it was the timing or maybe it doesn't matter how or why, but I needed to try to answer them.

it's margaret said...

Song, doubt is a gift from God. Your questions are great.

Myself, I am never ever satisfied with any answer I see or hear or set upon.... I keep asking more.... I am generally afraid of those who claim to know the right answers.

Keep asking righteous questions!

Song in my Heart said...


The questions in italics are from a post by Elizabeth Kaeton. And my answers, incomplete as they are, should really just be taken as a snapshot of what I understand now. And of course that includes more questions.

When I have all the answers I'll be mistaken, in which case I hope people will help me realise it, or dead, in which case cureby evidence suggests I won't be able to say much about it to the people around me now. I hope that I don't stop asking questions. I've no intention of doing so anytime soom.

Thanks again for stopping by.

Song in my Heart said...

Grah, "cureby" should be "current" and I should not try to type at 6am.

Wormwood's Doxy said...

Thanks for sharing this, Song. It's thoughtful and beautiful, and I can think of several people I'm going to pass it to.


Song in my Heart said...

Thanks for dropping by, Doxy. And I'm glad if what I've written is helpful or thought-provoking to others.

Kathryn said...

"I'd say to find Jesus look for love in the world, try to see the love in any situation, add to it if you can, and especially add love if you can't see any."

Song, that is both beautifully phrased and shiningly true. Thank you for the courage to share here

Song in my Heart said...

Kathryn, thanks for reading, and for your comment.