Saturday, May 19, 2012

Subverting our Stories...

Image Credit:
Alright.  Here's my latest "niggle".  What is unique about Jesus?  It's one of those hard questions that can't be answered glibly.  I grew up steeped in the tradition that says Jesus was, in fact, God incarnate.  And that he was the only incarnation of the one true God, to visit us in this way.  That's a very. big. claim.

So, if Jesus was the only human incarnation of the Creator God of the cosmos;  what would he be like?  What would be unique about him?  It seems to me that if the crucifixion of Christ is, indeed, the pivotal point of human history - then there has to be a whole lot more to it, than a substitutionary sacrifice to fulfil the demands of a religion - ANY religion.  That's just not big enough.

Now some of my Christian friends reading this will think I've finally lost the plot and fallen into heresy - and my atheist friends will be cheering because I've finally "seen the light" and abandoned my faith - but settle down, peeps - this is neither.

Yet the truth remains - for Jesus to be all that He claims, there must be more than the satisfaction of some "rules" going on here.   I guess I've been coming back, over and over, to chew over the meaning of Christ's Incarnation, Death and Resurrection.  I mean - it's the weirdest story, is it not?  The Creator of the Cosmos abandons his deity, and chooses to be born to a poor, uneducated girl, have an inauspicious upbringing in an insignificant backwater...  hides what would be the most incredible news in history in parables, choosing to spread it by simple word of mouth, performs miracles and appears to gain a following (albeit a very localised one) only to have everything fizzle, be handed over to the occupying government and crucified along with a couple of common criminals.  A couple of days later, his disciples claim to have seen him, risen from the dead, and this seemingly insignificant and quite unsuccessful revolutionary is now somehow deemed to be the turning point of history, and the answer to all of mankind's problems.

I mean, even the things that we were taught were startling, miraculous and unique about Jesus - really are not.  There are other legends that speak of miraculous, or even virgin births.  And plenty of other deities are supposed to have risen from the dead.  And miracles?  Well, there are stories of those in almost every religion, everywhere!

Yet, for Jesus to be all that he claims, there kinda needs to be something unique about him.  I think that something is in the way Jesus entered, and then subverted, our stories.

Think about it.  All our ideas of greatness;  kingship, deity, power, glory...  ALL are subverted in the person of Jesus.  He is the ruler who comes instead, to serve.  The God who lays aside all power and becomes completely helpless and dependent.  The Creator and owner of all, who puts that all aside, to possess nothing.  Where Caesar Augustus claimed virgin birth, as a means to grasping power and unquestioned allegiance;  Jesus' birth was ignominous, and his life demonstrated a relinquishment of power and a refusal to rule by force.  Even his resurrection happened quietly, in front of a relatively small group of witnesses.  And the result was not a triumphant, all conquering return.  Instead, a movement was spawned, in which countless of his followers would give up identity, wealth, and even life.  This is a very UPSIDE-DOWN picture of God - and I think that is exactly the point.

Read through the accounts of Jesus' life and teachings... how many references are there to "the first being last", "the poor being rich", "losing your life to save it"....  This is very much a message of subversion.  Our symbols of religion, power, worth, rightness, are all there... all inhabited by the life of Jesus, and in this process, subverted and completely transformed.

Douglas Adams, in his Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy series (I forget which book, now) writes a scene in which an alien spacecraft is parked in a crowded stadium.  There's no need for disguise, because nobody sees it anyway.  It is too far outside their concepts and belief systems to even register in their consciousness.  I think the realities of God are, to us, a lot like that spaceship.  For God to communicate to us in his OWN language (whatever that may be) would be no communication at all.  I love that in Jesus, He inhabited OUR reality, and spoke in OUR language - and in doing so, subverted and transformed everything!  Jesus lived our life, experienced our reality, spoke our language, and inhabited our symbologies and belief systems.  And by inhabiting them - not only subverted their meaning, but broke them wide open and gave us a glimpse of an infinite reality.  I think that is completely unique.


  1. I like the potential outcomes of a subversive god. But as I don't really believe that Jesus was God, its a bit academic for me. I regard him as a Teacher, no more and no less.

    As for God speaking to us in our language, is it churlish to point out that Jesus probably spoke in Aramaic, and translated into Greek, Hebrew, then Latin, then e English, by thousands of scholars? These were mortal men and women, no miracle in that.

    The amazing thing about the translations was the blood that was spilled to get us these translations. People died for the right to have the Gospel read to everyone in their Native tongue. Miracle no, amazing struggle of reason against power, yes.

    I'm probably missing a spiritual point. I'm sure however I will be corrected.

  2. I have however always appreciated subversive teachers.

  3. I also dont think that Jesus was, has been, or forever will be the only subversive teacher.

    Buddha gave up the life of Royalty, in order to pursue his spiritual path, so the story goes. That is subversive too. It says you don't need wealth and power.

    A more modern example are subversive Marxists. Then there are people, living the life of eco-activists, rejecting middle class norms.

  4. Hey, Stu!
    Glad you dropped by!
    I kind of expected a bit of pushback from my atheist/agnostic friends - which is quite welcome. I guess if you see Jesus as "teacher", it is still true that he embodied his message as much (arguably even more) than he talked about it.

    On "speaking our language" - I wasn't really meaning Aramaic, English, or any other language in that sense (although for the people he lived with, he literally did speak their own everyday language) - but he entered our history, was part of our story, and really entered into "dialogue" (if you like to call it that) on OUR level. When it comes to translations of the Jewish Scriptures, or letters and accounts of Jesus' life - you are quite right, there is nothing supernatural at all about people copying and translating, and much is lost in the translation and over the years. I don't see that as a problem, if God is living and active and still meeting people at their own level today (which I believe he is). Believing that all there is to God, is contained in a specific set of writings, is like believing all there is to your family is what is recorded in your old photo albums!

    As far as Jesus not being the only subversive teacher - Yes, I think you are right. Buddha was definitely subversive (at least, as much as I know about him) and many other teachers and enlightened leaders have been powerful and subversive too. I guess in order to back up his own claim to deity, Jesus would have to be the most perfect and complete example of subversive, transforming power that there ever was. Up to you to judge whether or not he fits that bill!

  5. No, I don't think any humans are perfect, we are all flawed, including Jesus and Buddha, and the Pope even when he has his "morals" hat on his head.

    If Jesus was "the most perfect and complete example of subversive, transforming power there ever was" one would be entitled to think at least the majority of his followers, were subversive in themselves, through submission to his Deity, the spirit. The truth is far different to the reality. Most followers of Jesus, are the antonyms of subversive.

  6. Stu, I think most Christians are followers of "the Church" - which, sadly, tends to be anything BUT subversive - yet from the outside looking in, I think the wide gap between institutional Christianity and the example of Jesus is glaring! We were never called to be followers of a system, but to live powerfully beyond all systems. It's my main beef with "Church". Having said that, there ARE powerful examples of Jesus-followers who do step outside the lines and make a difference.

    Maybe all that stuff about narrow and wide gates had more to do with this. It was certainly never about keeping the "rules" of religion, and so many seem to completely miss that.

  7. Not possible to live powerfully beyond all systems. And who are these powerful examples?

  8. Even if you followed Christ's example and hit the road, teaching and talking, he was reliant on the hospitality of others to feed him and his disciples. If he was "living of the land" hunting and gathering, there wouldn't be time to talk.

    As humans,there are basics to life that are inescapable, that no one can escape, no matter how hard they try to reconfigure reality. No water, you die of thirst, no food you die of starvation, no clothes/shelter/fire you die of exposure. This neccessitates systems, either of a personal or social nature.

  9. Even the most hermetic solitary monks and prophets had monasteries behind them. Even then they are not the only ascetics in history.

    If someone were to claim that they could live in a cave in full time prayer and meditation for more than 2 months because "god" provided for them I would claim it is complete and utter rubbish, nothing but lies to elevate the "mystical status" of the liar.

    The only way to survive alone in the wilderness, is to hunt and gather. This takes time, energy, and a lot of cultural knowledge. Most average, city dwellers, have no hope, beret without the cultural knowledge.

  10. Stu, I think I'm probably expressing myself poorly - I agree with you that it is impossible to just not have systems; at their best, they are very useful servants. But they make oppressive masters! As human beings, we use "systems" of one kind or another to organise everything from our finances to our thoughts and beliefs. The problem (as I see it) is that we allow our lives and thinking to be limited by systems, and they become our masters. In this sense, we need to be "outside" them in order to govern them, rather than be governed by them. This includes our own worldviews and belief systems - which are very tricky to really "see".

    (This is an area of thinking that I guess I've thought and talked about a lot with regards to Church, but your question has made me think about it more as it applies to life in general - I'm convinced it does, but it's something I might need to think on a little more, in order to articulate it well - so bear with me as I nut it out - and push back!! It helps me get things clearer!)

    Examples of systems that ought to serve, but which control our lives in ways that are not healthy or constructive are literally everywhere!! Our industrial system is an unsustainable monster - driven by an even more insidious economic system - driven by a system of thought and power dynamics we call "consumerism". I guess there are a whole lot of other systems; systems of thought, systems of social infrastructure, etc.etc, that feed into and support this. I believe the power of these kinds of controlling systems is broken at the point where people no longer believe in them, and begin to envision and live into alternatives. It may take time for the change to happen - but that's where it begins.

    I guess when I'm talking about people who "live powerfully beyond all systems" I couldn't think of a human example who lived beyond ALL (at least in a way I could put my finger on) but there are countless examples of people who have lived into a reality beyond the system they were in, in some way, and in doing so, changed things in a big way. There are historical examples, such as Wilberforce and the other people who worked with him to abolish the slave trade in England, names like Dorothy Day and Rigoberta Menchu also come to mind... Another example that sticks in my head, is that of Jackie Pullinger - crazy pentecostal christian girl who took off on a boat to Hong Kong when the drug Triads were very much in control. She managed to connect, and reach out to individual Triad members, but the change begun by her work eventually broke their power.

    I suppose it's a bit of an "aside" but thinking about this kind of stuff has made a lot more sense, for me, of Jesus' images of the Kingdom of Heaven as something that is "like yeast" and "like a mustard seed" - it is a small, almost invisible and intangible shift, that occurs in our thinking and believing - that ends up changing everything from the inside! Jesus never aspired to political or religious power, but the change he set in motion is something that has demonstrated the power to break both.

  11. There is a point that I concede, that some systems, or ways of thinking about and doing things, are bad for us. There are people that do Change ways of thinking, and yes Wilberforce was one, among many, that stopped slave trading.

    Jackie Pullinger, may have converted a few Triad members, good for that. However the Triads are still here, in Australia and China, almost everywhere. Organised crime gangs like the Triads will always be with us, just like the Poor, to quote Jesus. Where ever there is a chance to make high profits, legal or illegal, there will always be people attracted to those profits. She did not break Triad power, that is just not evidential.

    That Jesus gave us a mustard seed of hope, did make a difference for at leastt 2000 years, both from the faith that salved our fear of death, to better ways to love each other. However, it is entirely an overstated thing.

  12. I have a great deal of respect for those that fight to change systems. Not just Gandhi but ordinary everyday people who fight against cruelty and oppression or to protect a forest. This does not mean I support everything that greens or human rights activists say or do, I do admire those who advocate for change. Often however you don't need a revolution to change everything, just a few laws.

  13. Hey, Stu,

    Correction - broke the power over the Triads in that area. As far as I understand drug addiction continues to be a problem all over Hong Kong, including in the Walled City where Jackie started her work, however it is a very different place now than it was then, and Jackie's "mustard seed" was instrumental in starting that change. The drug rehabilitation program that continues to run there, is purported to be one of the most successful in the world.

    As interesting as it is, to look at things like this from a "systems" viewpoint (& I think Jesus directly confronted political and religious systems of oppression, so it is not a minor point) I still think the main thing is love - and really, it is love, and the change that love brings to individuals, that is the basis for lasting, positive change. I don't think that is overrated or overstated. :)

  14. Yeah but we don't need a belief in god to love or be loved. We don't need devotion to a supernatural deity, to express a human capacity to love. We don't need the rigamorale of religion, to treat each other decently. We don't need Jesus to guide us always, either as an imaginary prayer partner or a voice down the centuries through the bible.


Feel free to leave comments - I love discussion, & diverse opinions! So comment, add your own thoughts, disagree - you are welcome.

Its okay to comment anonymously if you are shy, but I'd much rather know who you are, & always appreciate it when people "own" their own opinions. Look forward to chatting with you :)