Saturday, April 28, 2012

What's the REAL point???

I woke up yesterday morning with a very CLEAR idea of what I was gonna post on the blog... then the day got busy, I didn't do it, and now I'm not quite sure where I was headed.  Don't you hate that??

So... I'm going to put some of my fuddled thoughts out there - but then YOU're gonna help me (Pleeease?  It'll be SO MUCH better if you do!)

It started with a couple of online discussions I've either been involved in or privy to.  Theological stuff  (don't run away now).  One involved the issue of homosexual marriage - a hot topic in Aust. right now (& if you are connected with me on facebook, you no doubt saw the heated debate that went on!)  A couple of others involved "churchy" type discussions about...  well, it doesn't really even matter what they were about...  MY frustration is about the approach we tend to take, to all this stuff.  (& don't tune out if you're not a "churchy" type - I'm talking about people in general).

The thing is, in ALL of these conversations, there was a lot of nitty-gritty, intense discussion, about whether things were, or were being done, or being thought of, the "right" way.  Whether someone's behaviour or views were "correct", or not. 

Well I have some thoughts about that.  For starters, when the conversation heads that way, I tend to back out.  Fast.  I think at that point, all is lost. 

Theological thought for the day:  The whole Bible narrative begins with two ways of living, represented by two trees.  One is life - one is about "right and wrong".  And the message is clear - the latter will kill you. 

And then there's Jesus.  Lots of people who are quite "anti" institutional Christianity, have no problem with him at all!  Why?  Well, I think because he Really. Wasn't. all about right and wrong.  He was showing a new way.  His message was not about "right, vs. wrong".  It was something else.  Have we missed it???

BBC "forensic" portrait showing what Jesus may have looked like.  (personally, I think it makes him look a bit "neanderthal" - but hey, the Bible does say he wasn't good looking). 

Righto - Here's where I want YOU to jump in and lend a hand...

What "Way"? did Jesus exemplify?  What qualities do you see in his life and example? (& this question is open to anyone who has the slightest idea what the stories say about him - NOT specifically "churchy types")  Heck - Ghandi had things to say about Jesus - Muslims acknowledge him - most everyone in Western culture, at least, has an opinion - so JUMP IN!  What things/lessons/qualities/questions does his example raise for you??

Some random thoughts from me, to kick-start this (and you may disagree - that's totally fine!):

*  When religious leaders approached Jesus on some theological point or other - he ALWAYS turned the discussion on its head.  He NEVER allowed that stuff to become the point.

* He was contradictory

* He seemed to refuse to be "pinned down" and pigeonholed

* He had a way of seeing right to the "heart" of people

* He was about "embodying" something... rather than explaining it.

I think that will do from me... 

Go on - get brave and tell me your thoughts (and mine are pretty jumbled here - so please don't feel you have to have it all "well ordered" in order to comment... )


  1. Kerry, I think you nailed it when you said that Jesus saw right to the heart of people. When I read the "gospels" where Jesus interacts with people, he really - in my eyes - always seems to cut right through all that nitty-gritty small stuff (that we love to make the point of discussion) and Jesus' response seems to be keyed around this: that he cares far more about what's going on in the heart than anything else. He cares more about why we do than he does about what we do. Sure, what we do obviously has an important place at the table. But the heart behind what we do seems to be more important to him. His responses and actions always seemed to be very deliberately and cleverly crafted to cut right through to it.

    And I agree with you; I always back off when the conversation turns to nitty-gritty-being-right mentality. In my eyes, if we're there, the arguement's already been lost for both sides. Again, being *right* matters less than the heart behind how we put that across. As a gay Christian who hopes to be married someday, I've had so many conversations with loved ones that did exactly that - attempted to convey what they honestly believed to be truth, but all they did what seal themselves as judgemental, small-minded jerks who cared far more about being right than they did about me. Reflecting back, I don't think that's true (that they loved me less), but in their zeal to be "right" that's how they came across, and I think that's something Jesus would have a wonderful story or action to highlight.

    There's been a particular phrase that Jesus used that's been in my mind the past few weeks, directly relating to this. He healed on the Sabbath, and when confronted about it, responded that the Sabbath was made for humanity, not humanity for the Sabbath.

    The heart behind (love, justice, mercy, etc) is more important. I really think so.

    1. Ethan! You are a gem!!

      And yes, I think when Jesus turned people's "theological questions" around - it was always in a way that got to the heart of their real motivations and desires. "The Heart". That about sums it up, really!

    2. "The Heart"

      Brilliant. I *love* that.

  2. My friend Laurell commented on the facebook link to this post - but her thoughts are worth bringing into the discussion here, I feel (her comment as well as my reply copied here):

    # Laurell I 'see' it, right and wrong are the wrong descriptors for this discussion. the 2nd tree was 'the knowledge of good and evil' something that always brings death because,who's going to know the difference unless you know the Truth?

    Kerry Miller-Whalen Laurell, I think in the story (and other places) it is clear that they DID know. I think the "truth" is on another paradigm altogether. And I think this is why all those discussions about what is theologically, morally, or even politically "correct" just end up wounding people.

    The discussion isn't even specifically about "Christian issues" (although for me it starts with Christ), but how many people do you hear arguing from the point of "knowing the truth" - yet disagreeing vehemently?

  3. Two things totally unrelated to the "heart" of the issue:

    1) It'd be possible that Jesus could have Neanderthal genes, Neanderthal archaeology has been found in Israel/Palestine.

    2) I'd like to see the verse or verses where Jesus is described as not good looking, i never knew it existed.

    Near the heart of the matter: not everything Jesus is reported to have said or did, I agree with. Some things are in my mind, negative. I don't think the reported words of Jesus are above criticism. More on that if you like.

    A concern: by focusing so intensely, soley, completely and devotedly on only the reported words of Jesus, and what others have written about Jesus, excludes a lot of other wisdom literature by and about people as profound. I feel that focusing on one prophet/philosopher/period of history - narrows and closes the mind.

    Though Kerry I acknowledge that this blog is your blog, and I can essentially "take a hike" if i dont like the content. Also there is your right to free speech.

    The heart of the matter: I'll think about it and get back to you.

    "What qualities do I see in the example of the life of Jesus?"

    that is worth thinking about, can i be extremely controversial and critical and polemical?

    1. Hey, Stu

      (this is about the 4th time I've tried to reply... have resorted to using an internet cafe!)


      1) Perhaps. I wasn't being literal about genetics, though. More referring to the fact that it makes him look primitive and a bit dopey. For someone with such sharp insight, that doesn't seem a good fit.

      2) There are no references in the N.T. to Jesus' physical appearance at all (to my knowledge) However Isaiah 53 is considered to be a description of the Christ. This passage describes him as having "no beauty or majesty" or anything that we would find attractive. Make what you want of that, I guess.

      Re: focusing solely on Jesus... this particular post was about a mis-match that I perceive between organised "Christian" religion and the actual example of Christ, so in this instance I think it's entirely appropriate for that to be the focus. I don't discount other "wisdom literature", however.

      Can you be controversial?? (hehe - in your case, Stu - I wonder can you NOT!!?? ;) I think one of my biggest aims in creating this blog, has been to have a space where different views can be listened to. So yes, you can say whatever it is you really think. On the other hand (as I mentioned in the post) I don't find didactic "I'm right - you're wrong" arguments, or controversy for its own sake particularly helpful.

      So... what things do you honestly see in Jesus' example (good or bad)? I'd really like to know!

  4. I think I would find more value in Jesus if he hadn't been so into Judaism. I mean, for example, if instead of getting mad at the money changers at the temple he had instead made the point that none of that animal sacrifice business had anything to do with true religion in the first place. Well, for me that's the problem. If we are going to talk about doing the "right thing" it inivites the question: according to whose standards? Even though I applaud and agree completely with his "Golden Rule" standard for behavior, it is clear (at least as the record stands in the NT) that he subordinated that to a form of the divine command theory of ethics.

    1. Hey, Doug!

      I think the whole point of Jesus' life was to move past and make "redundant" the whole temple sacrifice system... but having read your recent post on guilt and atonement, I think I get where you're coming from with that.

      I don't agree that Jesus suburdinated love to divine law - in fact, for me, that's entirely the point. That might not fit with everyone's theology, though (in fact I'm sure it doesn't).

      For me, this raises thoughts about a few things - how DO you move away from a "right/wrong" paradigm? If you simply point out that it is wrong, you are still participating in it. I think the only way, is to embody love. I think that is exactly what Jesus did.

    2. Doug B writes Even though I applaud and agree completely with his "Golden Rule" standard for behavior...

      Quibble: this rule of reciprocity long predates Jesus. As its creator, this rule is no more 'his' than it is 'mine' or 'yours'. It is not only species wide, crossing all human boundaries like culture, language, etc., but also crosses the species boundary into our cousins and other mammals. This is pretty good evidence that reciprocity is not a 'moral' rule whatsoever but a behavioural expression evolved from our biology.

  5. How can you take the Judaism out of Jesus? He was totally devoted to the Law of God as revealed to Moses, and that seems to me a very primitive and quite nationalized form of religion, totally unsuited to the needs of modern people.

  6. Hi again, Doug...

    Your criticism of Judaism parallels my own view of organised Christianity today; insular, exclusive, a specific cultural paradigm that fails to recognise the understandings of others... Which is ironic, because I believe the beginnings of both, were intended as something completely opposite.

    I'm going to get kind of theological here... but I don't know how else to explain why I see it the way I do, so please bear with me... (a bit like your "why I am a Pantheist" - I suppose this is "Why I am still a Christian" :)

    I have a good friend who is Jewish (cultural, not religious) & it is interesting to me, that he grew up with the understanding that, as Jews, their purpose was to be a blessing to ALL people. You certainly don't see that reflected in the insular practices of orthodox Judaism. I DO see it in the Bible narratives, though. Again and again, the people of Israel are rebuked for keeping "sacrifices" but neglecting justice, and over and over, those chosen to carry the hope of God are "outsiders" - foreigners, prostitutes... Even the New Testament example you cited earlier, of Jesus clearing the moneychangers from the temple has elements of this - they were clogging up "the court of the Gentiles", where anyone was welcome.

    You may see that as tenuous, given that many of the laws and practices handed down seem so very exclusive (and they are) However the idea of being a blessing and a hope for ALL people is also very strong, and is often repeated. I think the ancient Jews probably thought that this hope would somehow be brought about by them keeping those old laws perfectly - and that God would somehow appear, outside of everyone's reality as a result of their perfect observance, change everything, and vindicate their faithfulness. (This mindset is echoed in the culture and practice of many Christians today). Yet that is not how God appears throughout the narratives at all. It's clearest in the NT, in the example of Jesus - but the same thread is carried through from the very beginning of Genesis, where God takes dirt, and breathes his own life into it, creating mankind. God inhabits what is worthless - and brings life and meaning to it. He does not appear outside of our reality - but inhabits it.

    I love that in the Geneologies of Israel, especially the "Messianic line", it reads like a who's who of "otherness". The most treasured bloodline of the culturally elite, exclusive and insular Jewish nation contains foreigners, prostitutes, adulterers, murderers... and is anything but "pure". To me, that's God saying - "what makes eternal significance is NOT law, geneology, nationality, cultural identity - it's my presence within whatever IS."

    This idea of God "inhabiting" rather than demolishing (and thus completely transforming) our realities is carried further in the narrative of Jesus. God inhabiting humanity in the person of Jesus. Not teaching an alternative, per se, to the Jewish system of religion, but actually inhabiting it, and by doing so - exploding it from the inside.

    If you think I'm taking this too far, look at the results of Jesus' influence on his disciples, after his death. It takes a while, but following "the way" leads them out of law. Peter realises he can eat whatever is offered to him (a HUGE thing, for a devout Jew) They end up eating with Gentiles, travelling and connecting with people all over the known world at the time, and slowly growing in understanding that "God WITH us" is transformational.

    For me, living "the way" of Jesus is not adhering to religion. It is allowing God to inhabit my reality AS IS, and thus transform it. Does that make any sense??

  7. By now I think you "know" me well enough to realize that I'm having a conversation or exchange of ideas with you and not an argument.

    The problem as I see it - and I certainly think it applies to me sometimes when I start expounding my spiritual ideas - is that these explanations can get quite nebulous in a hurry.

    Does what you write make sense to me? It would make more sense if it were uttered "outside the box" rather than with an attempt to use Jesus as a linchpin.

    1. Doug that's something I appreciate deeply about you! & "exchange of ideas" is what it's all about!

      As to "using Jesus as linchpin" - I kind of think he is! I guess if I did not feel that this direction is where the Bible narrative takes us, I'd have walked away long ago...

      Mind you (and this is where my Christian friends might balk at my reasoning) I think that when we follow love, we follow God. It doesn't have to have a "Christian" label.


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 :)