Monday, November 12, 2007

Bishop Laura's Interview, Part I: A Rant

At my request Bishop Laura of Junia's Daughter has given me several questions to answer. They are all so probing and insightful, I feel a bit overwhelmed at the prospect of trying to answer them in a single post. So I shall answer them one at a time, as I am able. Here goes...

1. What do you see as the most pressing issues facing the Christian Church today?

I have recently been reading some Brian MacLaren, I can often be found reading Marcus Borg, and I aspire to read more than I can reasonably get to. But I have been thinking a lot about what I think is "the problem" with much of the church today, and I will see if I can state it succinctly: I think we largely miss the boat where Jesus is concerned.

I think that much of the Christian church is more concerned with "believing in Jesus" than "believing Jesus." As in: Jesus has given us some rather radical instructions, and an even more radical example. As in the following quotes from roughly five chapters of the gospel of Luke:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.” (4:18)

“Be silent, and come out of him!” (4:35)

“I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God … for I was sent for this purpose.” (4:43)

“Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” (5:4)

“Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” (5:10)

“I do choose. Be made clean.” (5:13)

“Friend, your sins are forgiven you.” (5:20)

“Follow me.” (5:27)

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” (5:31)

“…new wine must be put into fresh wineskins.” (5:38)

“The Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.” (6:5)

“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. (6:20)

“…love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return.” (6:35)

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you.” (6:37-38)

“Do not weep…Young man, I say to you, rise!” (7:13-14)

“Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (7:50)

“My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.” (8:21)

“Where is your faith?” (8:25)

“What is your name?” (8:30)

“Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” (8:39)

“Who touched me?” (8:45)

“Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.” (8:48)

“Do not fear. Only believe, and she will be saved.” (8:50)

“Do not weep; for she is not dead but sleeping.” (8:52)

“Child, get up!” (8:54)

“You give them something to eat.” (9:13)

“Who do the crowds say that I am?” (9:18)

“But who do you say that I am?” (9:20)*

* If this rings a bell, you can peek back at February 18.

It seems to me if we believed Jesus, we would be spending all our time in trying to heal people, in throwing wonderful dinners and welcoming absolutely everybody to them, in forgiving radically, in giving radically. We'd be standing in solidarity with the poor, the imprisoned, the proverbial "least"of our sisters and brothers. We would not be confusing faith with patriotism or citizenship (these are always, always, in radical opposition in the gospels). We would probably not own as much stuff, be as obsessed with appearance, or be as willing to trash our environment.

Tonight a really bright woman at a bible study said: "I don't know why we would bother believing in God and Jesus if we didn't believe in heaven and hell." Her point was, religion makes sense in a context of earning credits and erasing debits, in a context of reward and punishment. This is straight out of the "believing in Jesus" theology. I think this is a total misreading of the gospels. I believe in Jesus, but I also believe Jesus... and this would not change if he appeared in my den right this minute to inform me that, yes, the Jews had it right, and after death there is basically, Sheol, nothingness, or, to spin it as well as possible, the bosom of Abraham. Heaven and hell are abstractions that may or may not exists. I don't actually think it matters if they do or don't. They have nothing to do with why I believe.

Christianity has to be able to hold up without the afterlife carrot. Otherwise, it's no different from anything else in our capitalist, reward/ punishment society. I happen to think it's damned different. It's about doing what's right whether or not you get a cookie at the end. Doing what is right is its own reward. Living with a Kingdom mentality requires going beyond what will benefit us, even in eternity.

Does this make any sense?


LittleMary said...

yes...lots of sense

steve said...

Very thought provoking and deeply moving. Thank you, Mags. I really liked the distinction between "believing in Jesus" and "believing Jesus" -- and your discussion of how our focus on the former has somehow distracted us from the latter.

Iris said...

"[Heaven or hell] have nothing to do with why I believe."

Amen, sister! Thank you for articulating this so wonderfully. Yes, it makes perfect sense to me.

Wyldth1ng said...

Sure, and if it akes sense to me then it has to make sense to everyone.

Mother Laura said...

This is wonderful, Mags, thanks, and challenging to me as well.

I was starting to worry I gave both you and Michelle too many hard questions--sorry if it was stressful. But what a treat for us to get multiple posts out of it :-).

Diane said...

I echo what steve says about believing in and believing Jesus... although I would say it's probably a both/and...

Jan said...

This makes a lot of sense. I find that for myself I can't even think of heaven and hell in relation to faith, otherwise I wonder if I'm believing only because of the eventual fate of my life. That's what I "gave up" when I took the leap of faith. Jesus showed and told us how to live, and I wish to do that. . . .in my struggling way.

revhipchick said...

great post! i think you have named the problem quite eloquently! thank you!

Mystical Seeker said...

I really like what you wrote. I feel exactly the same.

Queen Mum said...

It makes great sense. You explained it much better than I did when I was literally cornered last week by a member who shrieked, "You make it sound like there is no hell!" And thanks for that list of statements from Jesus. In reading them through like that I realize he was much more direct than I tend to be.....

Gannet Girl said...

Great post and great new look ~