The Fox at Dawn

2/16/20 In Defense of Jesus: Letter to a Reverend
February 16, 2020, 10:38 pm
Filed under: Faith, memory memorabilia re-membering, Teaching | Tags: , , ,
Morning Sadhana

Dear Reverend,

Not for the first time have I come out of a worship planning meeting troubled and puzzled. I’ve been thinking about it for days now and need to put some thoughts down on paper so I can look at them and share them with you, if you don’t mind. What I am troubled by is the dismissive and even belittling tone of the comments made by worship ministry members about the Christian tradition, specifically Easter and Christmas Eve Vespers. I have heard these remarks before, in other meetings and in the halls, often accompanied by a knowing laugh as if to say ‘Yes, well, we know better than to believe in all that’ and I have to say it hurts my heart and makes me sad. I don’t believe those remarks are consciously made to make anyone feel bad, but that’s just it, isn’t it? Isn’t this an inclusive community, isn’t the Unitarian church consciously welcoming everyone? All faiths and beliefs and lack of beliefs are welcome here, except those who follow the teachings of Jesus? I am puzzled. Remarks made by the Worship Ministry on Wednesday seemed to suggest that the inclusion of the Gospel stories at Vespers is done only to placate those who ought to know better and that’s plenty of Jesus for the whole year. It is an attitude of superiority that makes me very uncomfortable.

No room at the Inn or the manger.

At the same time, I am grateful for the discomfort because it leads me to reflect on my own beliefs and I am surprised at my own warmth of feeling for Jesus and his teachings. I have been a spiritual seeker since I was a child, first embracing the teachings of Jesus in an almost progressive Presbyterian church. I went on to absorb lots of teachings from varying faith traditions, making it a point to attend different services whenever I could- from Pentcostal revivals in Eastern Kentucky to Sikh Gurdwaras in New Mexico. I’ve studied Buddhism, Jainism, Hinduism and Sikhism academically as well as spiritually. In my mid-fifties now, I suppose I’m more of a Sikh than anything (the word even means ‘seeker’), I embrace Guru Nanak’s teaching that all rivers lead to the ocean. Every morning before dawn, I practice my sadhana with Kundalini yoga and meditations with Sikh prayers. But I also observe Christian liturgical holidays and have found the richness of biblical scripture to be an endless source of reflection and inspiration. 

 I also understand the frustration many people feel with the seeming nonsense of a lot of Christian churches- the holding on to the ancient patriarchal language and dogma, the outrageously ornate and cryptic masses, the ‘my way or the highway’ road to salvation, the unforgivable use of cherry-picked scripture to judge and condemn others. Every time I attend a Catholic mass and the priest, all decked out in gilded glory, ponces over to the golden garage to get out the host to share exclusively with Catholics in good standing, it takes everything I’ve got not to stand and shout with my finger in the air “I protest!” I feel so very angry. And I cannot help imagining the dismay of Jesus if he were to walk into such a spectacle. I imagine him saying ‘This isn’t what I meant at all’. But see, maybe I’m guilty of fashioning Jesus in my own image just as others do. I could be totally wrong about what he meant when he broke bread with his friends the night before his betrayal. Whatever he may have meant, the communion I shared with my church in Chicago, the small but mighty Wellington Avenue United Church of Christ, was so powerful, so dear, so transformative that I crave it still and judge other communions by its standard. 

My fireplace hearth.

I understand having opinions about the way the image and the words of Jesus have been used and abused over the centuries. I certainly have my own. I also have my own relationship to his image and words. To me, he was one of the ultimate teachers, a powerful yogi, so connected to the source of spirit that others were healed simply by being in his presence. He was a rebel. He embraced those who were outcast and considered unclean, not just with his words but with his body. He was a person of action, he made his words manifest. Love one another. Don’t judge each other. Don’t tolerate hypocrites and those who profit off the needs of others. Like a great work of art, his life and death raise far more questions than they answer. That’s why I like observing the liturgical year, taking time to ponder these things over and over, holding them up in the light to look at them from a new stage in my life. Take Easter Sunday. I never could reconcile the Easter bunny with the betrayal, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. It’s an awkward fit, this trying to piggyback the ancient church’s idea of what Jesus’s death meant on top of the even more ancient pagan rites of spring. Frankly, I like thinking about them both. It’s easy to embrace the pagan rites- thank you Earth! Not so easy to stomach the insistence of certain Christian churches that ‘Jesus died for your sins, so either you’re scott-free or you owe Him, depending on how we feel about you’. Of course, it’s not so simplistic, it’s a huge question to ponder. What did he die for? One way I have thought about it is that he died because of the sins of those around him. He allowed it to happen, did not run away from it. He used his own suffering, his own life, to expose those sins for what they were. Jesus, the ultimate performance artist. For me the greatest miracle is that at the peak of his suffering, he forgave everyone, he asked God to forgive them. And in doing so, freed his own spirit. It is hard, so hard, to truly forgive injury and wrong. Am I capable of that kind of forgiveness? I don’t know.  It’s why I celebrate Easter, so I can think about it.

A postcard my great-grandmother received shortly after my grandmother was born.

Remarks that dismiss the richness of Christian teachings are thoughtless, I think, and they can alienate congregation members who have their own relationship to them. Such a mindset doesn’t serve anyone. Yes, Unitarian Universalism is a thinking, rational faith, but I don’t believe we have to throw the baby out with the bath water.

Thank you Reverend, for reading all of this, I’ve enjoyed thinking about it. I’ll continue to keep my mouth shut in worship planning meetings as best I can, but the day may come when I stand up with my finger in the air and say “I protest!” Perhaps I am a protestant after all.