Can we talk about Jesus?
My experience with organized religion has left me leery of canon and religious code. I have no trouble using the word God, but for me that term is non-dogmatic.
I was raised in the Presbyterian Church, but my progressive, hippie folks read Ram Dass, practiced transcendental meditation, and discussed the Five Precepts of Buddhism at the dinner table.
The Presbyterians are a fairly open-minded bunch, but the liturgy was written by a bunch of old, white men that seemed to have little understanding of the interior life of an adolescent girl. The hymns are depressing dirges written in minor chords and the readings are too often from the Old Testament, with the Angry God constantly smiting some poor guy over a tiny infraction. God seemed like a remote, uncaring jerk. The sermons rarely seemed relevant to my angst-filled, pubescent life.
So while it may seem that I have disavowed myself from Christianity, I have welcomed Jesus into my heart. I tried for many years to disregard Jesus, as he was so tightly wrapped up in what I consider the overly narrow dogma of Christianity.
But Jesus kept boomeranging back into my life. When things fall apart, I turn to words and nature, scouring the texts of all the wisdom traditions and then taking long hikes to process what I read. And for the last four decades, every time I sought wisdom, the teachings of Jesus popped up across all faiths and doctrines. And darn it if his theology didn’t strike true.
Accept everyone, forgive expansively and, above all, love as hard as possible.
It seems like my column ruffles the feathers of a local evangelical congregation. I have received letters from various members, and they always sign their name and then add the name of their church. In these letters, I am chastised for all sorts of “extreme” behavior, from loving homosexuals to practicing mindfulness (which they see as an affront to God and a kind of Buddhist mind control). They scold me for my “fringe” theories, like believing that everyone deserves healthcare, that America isn’t the only country that matters, that all religions are equally valid. My worldview that the planet is served by human diversity has somehow labeled me as a member of the “extreme left.”
I don’t care that people disagree with me; varying beliefs add spice to life. My problem is when they invariably end their letter by telling me how my soul is at risk of eternal damnation and they will pray aggressively that I come back to the light.
Pray aggressively is an oxymoron. We cannot adopt narrow, unloving ideas and make them acceptable by couching them in Jesus’ name.
Here’s what I know about my friend Jesus. He values life, acceptance, diversity, and compassion. We cannot spout fearful, hateful ideology and attribute them to Christ. Because we – all of us – already live in the light.
Heterosexuals and members of the LGBTQ community live in the light.
Caucasians and people of color live in the light.
People of every faith live in the light.
Nancy and Mitch live in the light.
White children of privilege and brown-skinned children in cages live in the light.
Pro-lifers and pro-choicers live in the light.
Climate changers and those who reject evolution live in the light.
We might find it inconvenient, but Jesus loves us all equally (though I suspect he is often disappointed in us).
Stop dressing fear and hatred up in holy doctrine. When you say come back to the light, what you mean is think exactly like me. Your white, patriarchal, exclusive, nationalistic religion is spiteful, mean, and inhumane and Jesus was none of those things.
We see this more and more on social media. Someone posts thinly veiled hate speech under the guise of being a Christian (my favorite is “it’s okay to be white,” which is unimaginative at best and straight up racist at worst). Adding the hashtag #Jesuslover doesn’t excuse your ugliness. Jesus taught us to seek more humanity, not less. He did not approve that message.
When did love, acceptance, and common decency become an act of extremism?
Jesus wasn’t threatened by diversity. In fact, his father must have created us differently for a reason, yes? Perhaps we need to look deeper into our hearts to find it.
As for me, I guess I’ll stay radical by choosing to love.