This is the first in a series of blog pieces describing the place to which my faith journey has taken me. Out of these scattered thoughts, I am constructing a new creed, or rather I should say WE are constructing a new creed because these are not original thoughts. They arise from discussions, books, doubts, hopes and a profound feeling of HOPE for the emergence of a new kind of Christianity.
For each of these posts, I will try to follow the same format;
A look at the old paradigm.
A look at the new.
Finally, a ‘statement of faith’
I read a lot. Sometimes I read voraciously around a particular subject- one book leads to another and then another. Cricket. Everest. Climate change. Above all, matters of faith. A decade or so ago, I joked about Amazon being my spiritual director, so much did I come to rely on the ‘You might also like…’ function that they cleverly added into their business model. What becomes even more interesting is the way that books begin to explore the same new ideas from different perspectives- when this begins to happen, it is time to wonder whether something new is actually breaking out.
But books can only take you so far; the danger is that you end up pulled this way and that by the skill of the writer, moulded to their passions. Something needs to anchor them, and for me, that something is community- the place in which the ideas they contain are tried and tested, critiqued even. This might take an academic leaning, where the testing will typically be more forensic, or it might simply be about talking it over with friends. Books that explore theology seem to require an extra degree of community testing, as theology itself emerges from community.
With that in mind, I have to confess the importance of one particular book for the conclusions of this post, in that it has gathered a number of scattered thoughts and together and gelled them into something deeply meaningful for me in a quite remarkable way. The book is this one; The Universal Christ by Richard Rohr.
I have been so captivated by this book that I am ‘book clubbing’ it with some friends who live close by, and asking others to read it too whose views I trust, even if different to mine. I am going to make liberal use of some of Richard Rohr’s statements in this post.
Jesus; “Who do you say I am?”
In the first reformation, we discovered Jesus as the redeemer who saved us from the consequences of sin. Jesus, came to earth primarily to die- his teaching was largely incidental, the main action was to act as our cosmic get-out-of-jail card. Not all of us though, just the elect- those who followed the right form of belief (and this right form has been debated.)
This Jesus, through a process of re-invention, was formed from a particular reading of two main portions of the bible- the book of Romans and the Gospel of John. The rest of the bible was then backwards interpreted in the light of these two readings, and any inconsistencies ironed out.
The first reformation employed enlightenment thinking, with Jesus as the great sacrificial lawyer, subjected to eternal laws of damnation bigger than himself, bigger than God. Logic ruled, and as such, a logical framework was applied to religion, justified by the deification of the bible, which became the forth person of the trinity – perhaps the most important – because it was tangible. It could be held in the hand. It could be used like knowledge, as if it contained the very mind of God. As if it was a blueprint that (once interpreted through the correct form of faith) answered all questions, for all people, for all time.
So, the Word of God (Jesus) was largely obscured by the Word(s) of God (the bible).
If you think me harsh in that last statement, think about the yawning gap between what Jesus said and what our religion has become and remember that this religion is entirely justified by correct, orthodox readings of… the bible. But enough of that, for now. We will come back to the bible later!
Jesus, in the tradition I grew up in had another purpose. He was there to be worshipped. We had a thousand songs with which to do so- some of them positively weird in their aping of popular love songs. How odd then that Jesus is never recorded telling us to worship him. Not once. Rather he told us to follow him.
Follow him? What, into poverty? Radical inclusiveness? The constant call for re-connection, to find ever more ways to love? To make peace with our enemies? To give away our second shirts?
Nah, let’s just worship him instead.
Another name for everything
Jesus stepped into human history, but he was always the Christ.
Through him, all things were made, and have their being. He is both beginning and end. Through him all things are held together. He is the essence that lives in all creatures.
He is the unity of all things that we partially sense when the sunset fades into starlight.
He is love, light.
Through him all things are being made new, always, for all time.
And what of us? We are like him because he is the life within us. ALL of us, not just the chosen frozen few. Even the most dissolute, hardened, poisoned and venomous specimens of humanity, because even though we are like tombs in which the Christ is dead, he has this trick of coming back from the dead, remember.
The Christ, in the human form of Jesus, gave us the Sermon on the mount, in which he told us over and over again to love one another, particularly the poor and the broken, the weak and the stumbling. The Christ, in the human form of Jesus, excluded no one from his love. He became angry at those who sought to do so in the name of religion and he said ‘Follow me.”
The eternal, cosmic Christ, loves things by becoming them.
In this way, everything that we see and touch – everything of rock or fur or feathers; everything that smiles or weeps; everything that grows leaves or feathers; everything that hides in pools or in a twist in the stream or the tide – all these things are by their very nature, the Christ.
If we look, we will see him. That is what he longs for us to do. If we see him then everything changes, right? That climate change thing? The mass extinctions? The poverty? The racism? The sexism? The exclusion and dividing up into good and bad, in and out, saved and unsaved?
Remember that trick he does in making things new, even when everything seems too late? Even when the tomb is closed and the funeral party has ended?
Far from being subject to logical legalism, the Christ is much more interested in restoration- you could say, restorative justice. He seeks to connect us again to our own deep humanity, which is where he waits for us, at the core of our being.
Christ-who-was-also-Jesus calls us to participate with him in the great divide dance. It is remarkably close and remarkably ordinary.