Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Salvation is about healing

Deborah Caldwell of Beliefnet interviewed Marcus Borg about a year ago regarding his book, "The Heart of Christianity". I found Borg's response to Caldwell's question on salvation to be very interesting because it really shows the relation between salvation and establishing the Kingdom of God in the here and now through mission and peace & justice efforts.

I very much like Borg's view that salvation is not about going to heaven and living happily ever after, but rather about healing. I am also fascinated by Borg’s view that relating salvation with going to heaven “impoverishes” the meaning of the word. I believe that the moment you start talking about salvation and heaven in the same sentence, that’s when you start to divide humanity by creating a sort of competition between those who may go to heaven and those who may not.

Suddenly, as Borg points out, “Christianity ceases to be a religion of grace and instead becomes a religion of measuring up to what God requires.”

Question: How do you talk about a word like "salvation" in this new [post-modern] paradigm?

Answer: In the Bible, salvation is mostly concerned with something that happens in this life. Even in the New Testament, the primary meaning of the word "salvation" is transformation in this life. One can see this in the roots of the English word salvation, which comes from "salve," which is a healing ointment. Salvation is about healing. We all grow up wounded, and salvation is about the healing of the roots of existence.

Question: Sounds like a mid-life crisis.

Answer: Well, yeah. And the Bible has specific images of salvation. Salvation is about light in the darkness, liberation from bondage, return from exile, or reconnection with God. It's about our hunger being satisfied, our thirst being quenched, and so forth. The identification of salvation with "going to heaven" in much of popular Christianity not only impoverishes the meaning of salvation but I also think really distorts what being a Christian is all about.

Whenever the afterlife is made central to being Christian, it invariably turns Christianity into a religion of requirements. If there is an afterlife, it doesn't seem fair that everyone gets to go there regardless of what they do before death, so there must be something you have to do or believe. And then suddenly Christianity ceases to be a religion of grace and instead becomes a religion of measuring up to what God requires.

Monday, November 21, 2005

We average Christians

I recently attended a forum in which one of themes had to do with the question… Why are our youth not embracing Christianity more than that they are? Why do we not see more people in their teens, 20s and early-30s in church on Sundays? The first thought that came to my mind in response was… “They’re just not buying what the Church is selling.”

Frankly, I’m not sure that young people have ever flocked to the church. But there seems to be a sense that the situation has worsened. If this is so, I can’t say that I am surprised, given what we see and hear in the news about the Church, be it Catholic, Episcopal, Baptist, Mormon. I won’t go into specifics. You all know what I’m talking about.

Indeed, why should anyone in their youth wish to be a Christian? In theory, Christianity offers a great deal. However, when you see Christians in our society, there really isn’t much that distinguishes them from other people.

Christians are happy and sad. Christians are nice and not so nice. Christians are easy to get along with and some are difficult to be around. Christians have answers for some of life’s problems, and sometimes they haven’t a clue. Christians are tolerant and intolerant. Christians have huge egos and tend to focus on themselves, and some are very giving and selfless. Christians are forgiving and also vengeful. Christians are gentle and kind, and some of us are violent and aggressive. Christians are committed to their families and communities, but some are not.

In other words, Christians are average human beings. Aside from the promised “reward of “salvation” sometime in the future after we exit the physical world, what is it exactly that makes being a Chrisitan attractive? What are the tangible benefits in the here and now? What do we think, do, and say that is so radical and revolutionary that will contribute to making us better human beings and our world a noticeably better place to live for everybody?

I know that in theory, we Christians have some pretty good answers to the problems that people, communities, and nations encounter every day. We have some of the most powerful ways of dealing with both the simple and complex stuff.

The question is, “Do we practice what we have learned from our Teacher?” For it is the practice of what we’ve been taught by the Master that creates that kind of energy and excitement that draws people to our movement, especially those who are young and hungry knowledge, wisdom, and truth.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Missional hesitation

I think one way for Christians to overcome the hesitation of becoming missional and venturing "out there" versus remaining overly content staying within the boundaries of the Church is to move away from the traditional dualistic view of salvation... the sense that it's "us versus them".

When we believe that ours is the only way to attain eternal Oneness with God, then we automatically create division within humanity. It is this perception of division, I feel, that pushes us toward "our kind" and encourages us to keep away from "them".

We can only be truly missional by emptying ourselves completely, always looking outward beyond our safe borders... and never seeing the differences, never judging. It's not up to us anyway.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Peace through justice

I just read a recent interview with New Testament scholar John Dominic Crossan, which I found very interesting. However, it is the part that deals with the attaining of peace that mostly caught my attention.

Traditionally, movements, governments, individuals seeking to attain peace in the world have tried to do so through winning. Unfortunately, victory usually means that someone wins and someone loses. As a result, victory consistently fails to establish real, long-lasting peace.

We in the West especially place a high value on winning, whether it has to do with sports contests, political elections, or job promotions. All of these things are ego-based... they are about us.

I think that we followers of Jesus, we humans, we citizens of the world must learn to empty ourselves to others and place less emphasis on winning and more emphasis on sincerely caring for and about others. These are the first steps toward living a life focused on seeking justice. And it is justice that leads to true peace.


QUESTION: What analogies would you draw between 21st-century America and the Rome of early Christianity?

ANSWER: The Roman imperial program could be summarized in the motto "First victory, then peace." Or, alternatively, "Peace through victory." The program of Jesus, and, following him, of Paul, was establishing peace not through victory but through justice.

The great theological clash in the first century between Caesar as divine or Jesus as divine was a choice between two methods of establishing global peace. After 2000 years, we are still using those same two methods – violent war, or nonviolent justice.

Generally speaking, the option of peace through victory has nevere stablished peace, but little more than a lull. Afterwards, the violence starts up again and always even more violent than before.

Monday, November 14, 2005

John 14:6

"I am theway, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father but through Me." (John 14:6)

This verse has always nagged at me because it is so often used to"prove" that Jesus Christ is the ONLY way to God. Instinctively, I've disagreed with this for as along as I can remember. In my opinion, itis one of the most destructive verses in the Bible because it has beenused throughout the ages to justify intolerence and many moreunpleasant ways of treating those who are not "Christians".

Obviously, I have a huge problem with this because it is so utterly un-Jesus-like (to me, anyway). To use this verse as anything akin to "proof" that would justify exclusivism is in my opinion extremely simplistic.

Additionally, it assumes many things... not the least of which is the unquestioned authority of the community or individual who wrote the Gospel of John. Many traditional scholars attribute authorship of the Gospel of John to the "beloved disciple" of Jesus - John of Zebedee. But this is not anywhere close to being factual. John of Zebedee was apparently beheaded by Agrippa I in 44 CE, long before the Gospel of John was written (sometime around 100 CE).

Without knowing really who wrote the Gospel of John, my tendency would be to read what the writer(s) wrote and reflect upon it... and see in which ways the wisdom points to God, and in which ways it does not. Of course, one can debate endlessly about such things as the meaning, the interpretation, and the authority of Scripture. At some point, you have to simply agree to disagree. I accept that.

What I do not accept are poor or inaccurate translations of theoriginal scripture written in Aramaic or Hebrew.

Note that in the original Aramaic, the word that was translated into the Greek to mean "I" in John 14:6 is "ena-ena". The problem is that ena-ena does not actually mean "I" as we understand it. It does not mean the "individual I", but rather "I-I"... In other words, the "cosmic I", as in "I AM THAT I AM (Exodus 3: 13-14).

My understanding of John 14:6 is that Jesus was referring to his Father in heaven... the great "I AM" or Yahweh.

Also, in the original Greek version of this scripture, the word for"comes" is "erchetai"." Erchetai" has a very present tense meaning, feel. It does not apply to all people for all time. In John 14:6, Jesus was speaking to his disciples, trying to comfort them after telling them he would soon die.

My understanding is that the more accurate translation of John: 14:6 is:"Yahweh is the truth, the way, and the life. No one of you here comes to the Father but through me."

Keep in mind, though, I am not an exclusivist. I am a universalist. I believe that there is one Creator of the universe. I believe the Creator reveals truth and enlightenment in different ways to different people in different cultures in different worlds in different galaxies at different times.