Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Seeking The Other Jesus... ?

From Seeking the Other Jesus: by Greg Garrett

"...Many Americans, particularly people in their teens, twenties, and thirties, have a virulent negative reaction to Christianity as they understand it. It seems to them to be too narrowly focused on piety and individual salvation, too judgmental and homophobic, too directly identified with a particular far-right political agenda... The qualities they identify describe the tradition in which I was raised -- and the tradition I fled.

My book, The Other Jesus, grows out of my upbringing in a conservative evangelical denomination, my decades in the wilderness seeking spiritual connection, and my rescue by a multi-cultural Episcopal congregation in Austin, Texas who introduced me to that possibility of faith as love and radical hospitality. It's my exploration of how following the Other Jesus has been life-giving for me and many other people who felt we could never identify ourselves as disciples of Christ.

Instead of piety, salvation, and politicized morality, many of us -- the sort of folks that Diana Butler Bass calls "the other Christians" -- have embraced love and radical hospitality (the messages of the Hebrew and Christian testaments), and the two-fold commandment (love of God and love of neighbor) articulated by Jesus and spotlighted by Augustine....

When I arrived in 2001, that radical hospitality was manifested in their welcome, in their worship, and in their liturgy, where everyone was encouraged to take communion. I walked into St. James a broken man who thought his life expectancy was measured in months; I walked out loved, accepted, accompanied, and encouraged to rescue others. The people of St. James showed me a faith that was living and vibrant, that wasn't based on assent to a set of beliefs, but on a communal journey toward God, and that has made all the difference for me.

How did the people of St. James look past differences in race, culture, and theology? How could the people of St. James commit themselves to care for others in and outside of their community? Why did the people of St. James exert themselves on behalf of the hungry, the poor, the marginalized?

The answer was that they were coming at faith in a different way from other Christians. I realized that although the people of St. James called themselves Christian, the Jesus they served was not the angry Jesus of my youth, nailed to a cross to atone for the sins of the world. He was not the Spiteful Jesus of Scott Cairns' poem, "quick to dish out just deserts." Their Jesus was the Other Jesus, the one who advocated compassion and sacrificial love, who called people to walk the Way, who fed, and healed, and reconciled, and so they modeled themselves on him and tried to do what he did.

The Other Jesus and the people doing his work in the world saved my life, and they can be a powerful corrective to the kind of faith and practice many people identify with such disdain today as Christianity..."

This interesting post from Gregg Garret at "The Huffington Post" left me with a lot to think about in my own walk of faith. Though I agree wholehearted with many concepts in his article and identify with the experience of faith at St. James, some of his comments leave me out of sorts.

Coming from a similar religious background and serving at a multicultural Episcopal Church where all are welcome, I want to know and follow the real Jesus, not an artificial persona product of imagination, politics or bad experiences! There is no such person as "angry Jesus", nor a "spiteful Jesus", nor a "Jesus quick to dish out". These are caricatures whose existence is limited to the imagination and words of people, and are in no way connected to the reality which is Christ!

As we approach Jesus we must, with the help of God, shed images that distort the person who is described as "the visible image of the invisible God". When we begin to, we find that, this same compassionate advocate, who called people to walk the way, fed and healed... was indeed nailed to a cross! We discover that his gift was born of love and his offering of self does atone for the sins of each and all!

It is also true that as we seek to follow "The Way" and make a difference in our world, the Jesus we seek to follow and imitate, points us to a hope which is not limited to improving our lot and that of others in the here and now! He reminds us, even as we engage in welcoming , and loving and feeding and healing that we are called beyond today! We are here but part of us does not completely belong, we are citizens of a kingdom that extends beyond this world. The Apostle Paul takes this theme and reminds Christians that "if, we only hope in Christ for this life we are of all men the most unfortunate".

As Episcopalians, our church's weekly liturgy helps form us in our continuing journey with God. It recalls for us images found in Scripture, stained glass, the prayers, songs and hopes of all sorts of Christians... "Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" , "Saviour", "our passover who has been sacrificed for us".! The communion we are all invited and encouraged to partake in every Sunday is a "proclaiming" of "Christ's death until he comes again"! Our "spiritual food" is the bread "broken for us" and "blood of Christ" from which we receive strength for our journey! I assume it is much the same in St. James as in San Lucas! These words, certainly must seem odd if we repeat yet overlook the images, riches and truth they contain about the Lord we love.

The other Jesus must not be a "cafeteria Jesus" a mere construct that enshrines in our mind only those qualities and concepts compatible with our political sentiments or that shield us from bad childhood experiences! That is as artificial and unhelpful as we perceive the fundamentalist version to be. It is not true to Him, and cheats us from experiencing the fullness of His person and love.

It is my sincere prayer as we proceed in our "communal journey towards God" that we have the grace to look beyond all stereotypes and seek Jesus...the real one!



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