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Archive for January, 2012

It is ironic to me that the one thing we crave most and desperately seek everyday is also the one thing that causes more grief and pain that anything else in our life: relationship. There is a book by Rob Bell entitled, ‘Sex God’. In it he makes the argument that humanity has a deep and abiding need to reconnect with one another. He makes a point that some believe the word sex is derived from the Latin word, secare, meaning to sever or amputate, to disconnect from the whole.

“Our sexuality then…is our awareness of how profoundly we’re severed and cut off and disconnected…[and] all the ways we go about trying to reconnect”. – Rob Bell, Sex God

It is after all how we are wired, we need relationship. We attach ourselves to pets knowing they will live a short while and break our heart. We cherish loved ones that will pass away and leave us devastated and grieving. We make friendships though we have experienced the cold steel of a stab through the heart of past betrayals. Nothing lifts our soul like being head over heels in love with a special someone and nothing destroys us like the failure of that same relationship. Divorce, murder, suicide and war are all examples of the results of relationships gone wrong. Relationships are dangerous. The only way we can protect ourselves is to not attach or connect with anyone or anything. Keep our hearts away from the world in isolation, quarantined from the inevitability of suffering. As C.S. Lewis points out, this “solution” is impossible to follow. We are human, our very ontology requires relationship.

The revolution of Jesus is unique in that he makes sexuality the heart of his movement. To Jesus, sexuality was not simply the act of intercourse or as the dictionary defines it, “sexual feelings”. Sexuality is purely and deeply human. It is our sexuality that cause us to crave connection and therefore seek relationship. Given this understanding of sexuality it is then possible to see the non-sexual nature the physical act of sex can have. The term “casual sex” for example can only be casual if both parties agree to not connect in any way but physically. The act of physical sex many times disconnects people from one another. The atrocity of rape is a horrid reminder that sexual acts can be very anti-human and anti-sexual. In his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5), Jesus explains that adultery is more than engaging in the act of intercourse when married, it is lusting. Lust is not understood in our culture. To us, lust is a powerful passionate desire for another in a physical way. To Jesus, lust is the temptation to rebel against our own humanity and that of those in our community. To “lust for her in your heart” is to objectify and to therefore dehumanize. It is a slippery slope when we begin to see one another as objects and commodities. Jesus places lust and murder together as practical actions one may take when they forget that their fellow human is created in the image of God. As Mos Def says, “that’s where people find they’re valuable.”

Jesus proceeds to mention the relationship of marriage and address the issue of divorce. To him, lust and lying are main causes for the failure of marriages. Lust lies to us. Our culture, when it promotes lustful living under the guise of “sexual freedom” leads us to believe a fantasy they have created. The fantasy can be seen in pornography (see Chris Hedges book, ‘Empire of Illusion’ for a great politico/social analysis of the effect of porn on our culture and psyche) and television and pop radio. The reality in contrast, can be seen on the 10 o’clock news and in our mirrors. Lust does not deliver on its expectations, it disconnects us and robs us of our humanness. So lust, granting how Jesus defines sexuality, is not sexual at all, it fails to reconnect us.

It is time for a sexual revolution in our culture. An ideological shift where sex is not misunderstood and feared as the religious right are in the dangerous position of doing, nor is sex looked at as a shallow pursuit of pleasure ignoring its power and potential to heal or destroy. I believe the philosophy of Jesus shows us the way to true sexual freedom and connectedness. In his teachings and actions sexuality is human and divine. It is healing and power, it is who we are and who we can become. Christians have long held to the belief that the death of Jesus on a cross was an act that reconnected God with humanity. The New Testament implies that his cross also reconnects humans with each other. Sacrifice and forgiveness, like those by Jesus in his last moments, “forgive them for they know not what they do” is true human sexuality. It is how a shattered and broken world can be mended and put back to rights.

Let us empower one another and reclaim our humanity as we forgive, reconcile with and reconnect with one another. Let us drop the religion that is without power to restore. Let us not fear or repress our sexuality, nor abuse, underestimate or misunderstand it. In this the revolution of Jesus continues in us.

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It is common place to view Jesus as the founder of a religion. Today over 2 billion of the planet’s inhabitants claim to be Christian. I believe that this predominant view of Jesus, as a religious founder, forces most to be introduced to Jesus through a strictly creedal system. For most, who Jesus is is determined on these statements and teachings. For the past hundred years, a main focus and question in modern Jesus research is “Is the Jesus of the religion, the same as the Jesus of history?”. I have been asking myself that question for the past fifteen years and I must answer a resounding… Not so fast, I believe it’s important to argue my points first and let my conclusions lay bear for all who care to see.

Jesus was Jewish

I know this is a seemingly very elementary statement, and it is in reality, but I believe that the American, as well as the world, Christian culture(s) do not demonstrate practically a belief  that Jesus was a Jew living in Second Temple period Palestine. This deserves a great deal of attention and has received it, but here I will just point out that the Jewish world in which Jesus was born, grew up and lived must be looked into if one is going to understand the Jesus of history. Revolution was in the air and lungs of the Israelites for hundreds of years. Jesus did not live there and was not of their blood and culture without breathing the same air as everyone else. The Roman Empire was always crushing them. The corrupt Jewish elite leadership and system were never tired of manipulating and oppressing them. Jesus cared deeply about these things, as all in his community and society did. This understanding, that Jesus was of ancient Jewish ethnicity and culture should cause pause and humility for us here in 2012 America. We have now a very real need to seek and learn about that world if we would meet and understand that world’s Jesus. In following blogs I plan on demonstrating more why understanding Jesus in his historical context is so important.

Jesus vs. Ceasar

Jesus was a Jew, and the empire over the Jews was Rome. It is true that over the centuries many Powers had traded places as Israel’s master. At the time of Jesus it was the Roman Empire. The Romans were accustomed to revolt and resistence from the Jews. They tried to keep them calm by appointing Jews to rule over them or by letting them worship in their way. This did little to extinguish the fire that burned deep in “God’s chosen people”. The prophets promised deliverance from their exile. Renewal was supposed to be a sure thing! Yet still Rome had them and their power was unparalled in all the earth. Jesus would attract the empire’s attention. He would claim that there were some things the Empire had no right to. Ceasar was not lord of all, as was the claim.There was only one Lord over all and he, Jesus claimed, would deliver Israel.This deliverance would not look how they imagined, but it was coming. Jesus believed this and he believed it was coming through his movement.

The Revolution of Jesus

If we understand Jesus as a second temple Jewish leader living under the tyranny of the Roman Empire with the promises of a new Exodus being interpreted from the scriptures and Jesus believing he was to lead this movement, the gospels should take on a new life and shape for us. The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5&6) for example makes sense as a manifesto for revolution under a new type of leader. Lets briefly journey through the sermon together. The Beatitudes are not lofty standards or ethical characteristics for the holy to shoot for, they are announcements that Jesus is bringing “wonderful news” (blessed, gk.makarios) to his people. He is claming to be the fullfillment of the promises for renewal in the prophets, particularly Isaiah (see Is.52 for case).

His call to unrelenting reconciliation is seen as the foundation upon which his revolution can stand. His call to seek reconciliation with their brothers even above sacrifice in the Temple would be a cause for gasps and outrage from some hearing him.There was nothing more important or sacred than the Temple. It was the center of the universe. It was were healing and forgiveness was found. Jesus says not anymore. Now healing and forgiveness will come from him, and not from him as an individual, it will come from his community, healing and restoration will come through his movement. Jesus is downplaying the Temple because he believes its time is over. He believes the time has come for a new temple and by implication a new High Priest. Jesus prays adamently for his people to be unified and in strong fellowship and community with each other (John 17). It is not until his community is unified and strong that they can proceed to the huge task of resisting evil.

Jesus never not resisted evil. English translations have missed the mark here.The greek does not at all give room for a pacifist look the other way, be a doormat type of idealogy. Jesus says, do not resist evil with evil. Or also, do not resist evil violently. Either way, he never never says, don’t resist evil. His community of revolution must be active in resisting the oppressive powers. When they are beat like dogs in the street they are to go back for more but in a way that forces the attackers to face them as humans, “turn the other cheek” is a way to reassert one’s humanity. Roman law allowed a soldier to make Jews perform hard labor for them such as being a mule to carry the many many pounds of supplies and armor and such that a centurion would have to move. They were only allowed to enforce this work for one mile however and failure to release the forced servant would result in stiff penalties if discovered. What if a village became known for never returning the Roman’s things after the mile but continuing for a second mile or more? Making the oppressor uncomfortable in his actions is a big tactic employed by revolutionaries. Or perhaps as Rome is proclaiming it’s “gospel” to the world some are being taxed to the point that they can no londer afford to pay. As a result, they are brought to court and their outer garment is taken, which was a common practice. Jesus tells them in that situation to use it to expose the truth about the empire. They are not good, they are not providers of justice. Those under their rule are not better off because fo them. As the Empire proclaims its gospel the over taxed give up their inner garment as well. The great benevolent and just Empire is actually a power that takes and oppresses even to the point of leaving those in their charge naked in the street. Exposing the power for what it really is a powerful way to gain leverage against a great power.

Next Jesus charges his people to a real and pure spirituality. The spirituality of the revolution is one where the community prays and fast and gives themselves for the needy.The revolution is impossible without it. It is interesting that according to Jesus caring for the needy is included as a vital part of this spiritual community revolution life. Caring for the needy is demonstrated in the New Testament as well as in the great revolutions throughout history, to be more than just giving and feeding though that is included. The caring for the needy in the Jesus movement needs to be more than the caring done by the Jewish leadership of his day. The revolution Jesus calls his people to is one where they suffer for others. Jesus knows that love is the power that will bring even the greatest of empires to its knees. Sacrificing of oneself and life is not possible without a real and powerful spirituality. The importance and power of this is seen in the examples of Ghandi, Mandela, Dr. King, Bonehoffer, as well as many more.

Challenge: Rethink

I believe we are at a critical time for America, for the world and for Christianity. The popular ways of seeing Jesus and his mission must be re examined by all. It is not only the work of academia and clergy but of all who desire to know the real Jesus. I don’t know of any person or movement that can be known and loved through doctrines and teachings. Christians, I urge you to meet Jesus in history. See him for who he shows himself to be, not just who the creeds say he is. Skeptic, seek Jesus yourself without religion and see the beautiful movement of his revolution. Understand his cross as the human need to resist evil at all cost, even to the point of death. Perhaps Jesus dying on the cross reveals that death is not to be feared and can be overcome? Could it be that in Jesus we see that there is more to us than simply surviving, but that true life comes when we lose our life for others? I do not believe that Jesus cares more about the aborted baby than the homeless man. I do not believe he would ever neglect and abuse God’s creation and gift of the earth we call home. I do not believe he is anything but full of love for all regardless of sexual orientation. I believe he hates oppression and corruption, I believe his philosophy is relevant and important for us today. In fact I believe it is our only hope. 

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