Monday, January 25, 2010

Part #4: The Most Personal Is the Most Ultimate

In my speculative opinion, I would say Jesus of the Good Messages in the New Testament is the meeting point of God and the human, that Jesus' message and Jesus himself are the crossing of the finite and the Infinite. Jesus is the Chosen One. The nature of Ultimate Reality (God) is Good, Personal, and Loving. What is most personal is most Ultimate.

Jesus represents not only someone who had ethical insight such as in saying "Love your enemies"; more importantly he personally lived out his statements (when he rose above his own ethnocentrism, which sometimes shows up in his speaking).

He demonstrated the love and moral idealism he spoke of, became the image of God. He revealed God most clearly in not violently resisting the Romans, in rejecting the tempting motivation to mount a revolution like the Messiah was expected to do according to the Jewish Scriptures. He also rejected other temptations many charismatic individuals have succumbed to in history such as to use their power and influence to control and manipulate. Instead of giving into humanity's incessant egotism, he humbly gave of himself ultimately.

Infinite Truth and Goodness and Love showed through his temporal self.

Exactly how all of this works out depends on one's Christology. I tend toward a lower Christology similar to Henry Emerson Fosdick or Walter Rauschenbusch.

I think God at times shines through other "human windows or images" too such as Martin Luther King, but often the Infinite in the finite is tragically marred, distorted, or destroyed by the sinful acts of the human. For instance, in MLK's case the FBI caught him committing adultery repeatedly, being very unfaithful to his wife.

Of course, as I referred to in my first post, we don't know what weaknesses Jesus had that didn't get written down that may have dulled his being the Son of Man, Son of God. However, I am not one of those kind of textural critics who think they can get behind the text, not of the sort of scholars who cast doubt on most of the received text or even question whether Jesus ever lived. Nor am I like the more conservative ones who think we have a mostly accurate recording of Jesus' words and acts. I think Jesus was very much a human being in whom God indwelt.

I also think the personal is reflective of the Ultimate, that Jesus is the Christ because I've been influenced by the philosophical views of individuals like John Cobb and Daniel Day Williams who considered personhood as more real and more important than the physical and the cosmic. It is via the personal that the universe is being influenced eventually to move toward the more spiritual.

Currently many of the big weights in science and philosophy consider human consciousness a "fluke," and they laugh dismissively at those who think that human consciousness represents anything real or important in the Cosmos. They call such theistic outlooks "species-ism" and emphasize that on the contrary, humanity is just one twig on a branch of evolution existing for no reason or purpose.

In my opinion, they are woefully wrong and we can already see the very bad influence such thinking has on humanity.

In the past, I've also had spiritual experiences which have given me a new way of seeing Life. On a rather mundane level, I've encountered a deep love for Jesus to the point I've been overwhelmed.

On several occasions, I've experienced God in what I suppose would be called "openings" or mystical awarenesses which also lead me to think that what is most personal is most Ultimate.

In those very personal encounters with God, I was highly aware, most rational, not overwrought emotionally or out of control, but very much balanced, not delusional. I was so aware of my finiteness, yet expansively aware of the Infinite. And felt boundless love despite my very temporal insignificance.

Later when I was reading Friedrich Schleiermacher's On Religion: Speeches to Its Cultured Despisers, his passages about the Infinite encountering the finite suddenly jumped off the page reminding me of my own encounters with God.

Change your mind, take up your cross and follow Jesus:-)

To be continued:-)

In the Light,

Daniel Wilcox

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Part #3: Son of Man, Son of God

What do these long-ago N.T. terms mean for us in the 21st century? Let's use Aramaic again, the language Jesus spoke to help get us out of our verbal, cultural, and theological mindsets...maybe ruts.

In the Good Message of Mark, the opening line says "The beginning of the good message of Eashoa the M'sheekha, the BarElah (Son of God). And later Eashoa is called and calls himself the Barnasha (son of a human).

First, many scholars agree that Eashoa and the other N. T. writers meant two paradoxical meanings when using the term Barnasha (son of man). First Eoashoa was probably referring to the Jewish Bible's meaning of "human being." We see this often in Ezekiel's calling of himself "a human" and of the same meaning in the Psalms and other books of the Jewish Bible.

Eashoa is emphasizing he is one of us, a human born of woman like every other human being. The term often is used in a humbling sense, as a contrast from all that is exalted. (I remember studying this for my term paper on the Book of Daniel at the University of Nebraska, but now days, you can find much about the term without going to a university research library; just do a google search.)

That leads us to the second definition: "the Son of Man" is an exalted term, a reference to the heavenly being at the right hand of God in the Book of Daniel (Daniel 7:13-14), a messianic and eschatological reference. Unless you are willing to take the view of a minority of secular scholars, it would appear that Eashoa and the N.T. writers are emphasizing that Eashoa is the messenger of God/from God, the one who is bringing in the everlasting reign of which Daniel 7 speaks.

One of the best results of my writing a term paper on the Book of Daniel for my philosophy of the Jewish Bible class at the University of Nebraska is that it helped me realize how almost no one agrees with almost anyone else when it comes down to the details of these passages. Millions of pages have been written in the last 2,000 years on this issue. Even today, liberal scholars, not only disagree with conservative scholars, but they disagree with each other, and fundamentalist scholars disagree with other fundamentalist scholars. Many brilliant humans have shipwrecked on these verses including a NASA engineer who wrote a book about this prophecy, and so many countless PhD's who had degrees in Semitic languages, etc.. None of that kept them from getting lost in the words.

Thank God, I was overwhelmed early on in my life by all of this and thus have mostly avoided the endless arguments about prophecy. But if this is so--if prophetic terms such as BarElah and Barnasha are so difficult to understand even after 10 years of Middle Eastern language study, of what possible meaning can the terms have for regular human beings?

#1 Point one is that we don't have to learn Aramaic and Hebrew and study theological tomes to see a basic truth: Eashoa represents to us the meeting point of the temporal and the transcendent, the joining of the human and the divine, the expression of eternal truth in mortal presence.

Surely all varieties of people--at least all individuals open to a little religion--from different backgrounds and contradicting theological biases can agree that Eashoa (Jesus) is at the very least, the image of the Eternal (even if they do strongly disagree about what exactly that means).

All the kinds of intricate theological descriptions and explanations from conservative evangelicals like William Lane Craig to the ultra-modernist exBishop John Shelby Spong agree that Eashoa is important, is a way to God. Some Jews who reject Christianity, still see Eashoa as a Jewish prophet who said truth. And Muslims hold Eashoa (Isha) to be from God, as do various versions of Asian religions and many theists.

#2 Eashoa's parables of truth and ethical insights can be fervently followed even if one is uncertain about the abstract theological doctrines and creedal statements of Christianity. Eashoa's life-giving is present to rescue every human even if one doesn't understand how. Change your mind and follow the Son.

My commitment to Eashoa, to his Way of Life has continued with me, in me, through many outward and abstract changes in my life. I've traveled a long spiritual journey from Fundamentalist to Deist to Quaker to Evangelical to Mennonite to Quaker again to Theist, etc.

But amazingly enough, my faith in Jesus (Eashoa) and his ethical way has been a continuum in the midst of all that intellectual and social change.
I see great truth here. Living for Eashoa, isn't a religious organization, nor set of doctrines, nor a complex philosophical system, or an intellectual outlook, or a political plan...

Being a follower and friend of Eashoa is the Way of peace, love, and hope.

To be continued

In the Light,

Daniel Wilcox

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Part 2: Change Your Mind

How do we humans overcome the ocean of darkness that inundates and blinds us? What are some steps for personal and cultural transformation?

#1 First, we need to realize that we are in the dark and that we need help. Then we need to seek, to have hope that there is Light, Truth to be found.

Listen to the words of Scripture:
"Eashoa came into Galilee proclaiming the good message of God, and saying, 'The time (kairos in Greek) is fulfilled, and the reign of God is come near; change your mind (metanoia) and put your trust in the good message...and Eashoa said to them, 'Follow me...'" Mark 1:14b-17a

#2 Note that Eashoa first emphasizes the positive. The message he has for humankind is of the goodness of God. All the bad news of our world especially the ponderous negativity of religions isn't the Truth.

#3 Become aware of the time. Eashoa isn't speaking of chronological time. After all, he came into northern Palestine/Israel and spoke these words nearly 2,000 years ago. If it's a matter of calendar time, it's a bit late:-)

What Eashoa refers to is the right time, the time of decision.

When is the time for you to seek Truth with total commitment? NOW. Don't tell yourself, "At present, I am too busy, but later..." or "I have plenty of time." We may or may not have plenty of chronological time, but we all have crisis time now.

#4 The reign of God is come near. Wow, what a deep philosophical concept! As a literature teacher and writer, not a biblical scholar, I don't presume to know all that this central key idea of the N.T. means. But at least the starter point is Eternal Truth/the Ideal/the Transcendent/the Perfect/Ultimate Reality has come near, has shown Light into this world.

The inequities and iniquities of human governments and cultures and individuals are to be defeated. The ruthlessness in Nature is to be overcome. Matter, Energy, and Chance aren't the last word, not the only reality. Indeed, they are only temporal. The Eternal Personal is the ultimate Truth.

#5 Change your mind. That is what the cliche word "repentance" means in the N.T. Eashoa isn't talking about beating yourself up emotionally or physically (like some religious individuals do) for your wrong thoughts and acts, nor of seeing yourself as worthless, totally depraved. Nor is this time to have an endless cycle of pity wallows.

Instead, if you are impatient, given to outbursts of anger, change your mind. Practice walking/working meditation of God's presence. Learn to pause when given to emotionally negative feelings.

Instead, if you think your earned income is your own, or even your family's, change your mind. If you already give 10% of your income to others for God, change your mind and adopt the graduated giving method suggested by Ronald Sider of the Brethren in Christ. As you earn more money (or have more time), you give more of it away--giving more and more to others in need as you income (or free time) increases.

Some followers of Jesus have reached a level of giving 90% of their earned income to meet the need of others and to proclaim the good message of God! Give of yourself to an organization working to heal and transform such as World Vision, Mennonite Central Committee, Compassion International, Habitat for Humanity, Care Net Crisis Pregnancy Centers.

Instead, when you are at your computer on the Internet and see an alluring image, change your mind. Click out and go help your spouse, or maybe find time for a few moments of holy passion;-)

Instead, when people all around you are living in the "God bless America"-mindset, change your mind and defend undocumented workers, dysfunctional teenagers, even misguided Muslims. Remember the shocking point of the leader of Open Doors: I.S.L.A.M. for every person who follows Jesus should stand for "I Sincerely Love All Muslims!"

Change your mind like Clarence Jordan, the N.T. Greek professor who started Koinonia Farm (Greek for communion), an interracial reconciliation community in Georgia in the 1940's.

His integrated farm was attacked by racists. Despite several bombings and other violence, eventually its influence grew and has helped change the world. For example, one very rich couple that joined the farm, Millard and Linda Fuller (millionaires), helped found Habitat for Humanity.

Instead, when you think you need to buy a new lawnmower, paint set, power saw, change your mind and buy the item with friends, sharing the equipment amongst the group. Then use the surplus money to invest in micro-businesses in impoverished countries.

Instead, when attacked, slandered, or verbally maligned, and you understandably feel resentful, change your mind. Do as Eashoa said in the Sermon on the Mount: Forgive and pray for and bless your enemies! Not easily done!

I am still very upset because I was slandered, not defended and trusted, and thus lost my career! It deeply hurts and grieves me and probably will for the rest of my life. Yet each day, I remember that I need to forgive.

C.S. Lewis tells of how it took him many years to forgive someone who mistreated him when he was a youth. And think of how difficult it is for those whose loved ones have been killed. To forgive is definitely divine, comes from God.

#6 Follow Eashoa (the real Jesus). Those two words encompass many pages of concepts and actions so that will have to be put off for another post.

In the Light of God and Eashoa,

Daniel Wilcox

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Encountering the Son of Man

Of late, like the psalmist of the Jewish Bible times and George Fox at the start of the English Civil War, I have despaired observing the ocean of darkness that is again inundating, drowning this present generation.

Fundamentalists of all stripes justify violence, from Christian rightists to Israeli settlers to Muslim jihadists to Hindu extremists. Even Buddhists are getting into the attack mode in the name of truth. And while this bloodletting stains the world on the physical level, all manner of darkness comes forth from various worldviews twisting our understanding...

Some polytheists claim that malaria and Death aren't evil; religious nontheists assert, with amazing certainty, that there is no Ultimate Meaning or Purpose to Existence.

Reformed leaders inundate the Internet and bookstores with their claims that God loves and wills only a limited number of humans to find the Truth. They assert that God preordained the vast majority of humankind to be eternally damned for his glory.

On and on this deluge of despair keeps 'reeking' havoc in the lives of human beings.

So, again, I turn to the one who I follow for rescue--for hope and joy and peace and love. Let us encounter again this one human who lived 2,000 years, this "son of man" (his own term) who stood against the evil of his generation to the extreme point of torture and death.

Tragically, however, this individual now has so many false selves, so many utter distortions and reversals of what he stood for that I am going to use his name in Aramaic/Hebrew for a few paragraphs rather than the common English version.

Hopefully, this will keep reminding us that the one I am referring to isn't the religious figure who Augustine, the crusading Popes, Cromwell, Dabney, Sproul, or Piper follow. Of course, I realize that this is my own limited perspective. I am an average joe:-) academically. I don't read Aramaic, and only started Hebrew class when in Israel/Palestine so I am not a scholar, but rather simply an individual who hopes to help shine a little of God's light into this current overwhelming darkness.

The story of Eashoa/Isho'/Yeshua Bar Yehosef/Yeshua Nasraya in the Good News of Mark starts with a prophet named Yokhanan HaMatbil "who appeared in the wilderness proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins..."

"And it came about in those days that Eashoa came from Nazareth in Galilee, and was baptized by Yokanan in the Jordan." (NASB Mark 1:4 and 9, except for Aramaic names)

If we take these verses in the plain sense of the text, (without theological abstraction or tradition) it would seem to be that Eashoa came to be baptized for his sins! But of what sins? Traditionally, most followers of Eashoa have claimed he is perfect and sinless. Most even claim he is omniscient, is God.

So what sin could this Eashoa have committed that led him to want to be baptized for repentance? Only one is mentioned in Scripture. Eashoa is shown to have "missed the mark"--to have sinned when he took off for 3 days without permission and without notifying his parents.

At least most parents, whose kid at 12 years of age takes off without permission and disappears until they finally find him 3 days later, would consider this less than perfect behavior.

Luke seems to be aware of this difficulty because he emphasizes that after this Eashoa was obedient to his parents and "kept increasing in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and men." (NASB Luke 2:52)

Also, note that at this point, (as well as later in his recording of the disciples'' speeches in the Book of Acts), Luke describes Eashoa as a human being, not as God, certainly not omniscient. Luke emphasizes that Eashoa is separate from God, but increases in favor with God and in wisdom.

This is a very different picture of Eashoa from the Nicene Creed. As a student of religious history I understand what motivated ancient church leaders to create the Creeds.

But I never have seen Eashoa as God--not even when a young and fervent fundamentalist Baptist, nor as an educated Evangelical, etc. It's been much clearer for me to understand my rescuer and leader as Colossians 1:15 says: "And He is the Image of the invisible God..."

In this understanding, I follow William Barclay the N.T. Greek scholar, and others, who point out that the vast majority of Scriptural texts emphasize that Jesus (Eashoa) is the Son of God (not literally but spiritually, metaphorically), is definitely not God.

Barclay says there are only two verses in the Bible which assert Jesus is God. The familiar statement of Thomas after the resurrection and in some manuscripts of Titus 2:13 "our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus." However, Barclay points out that some manuscripts say instead "the great God and our Savior Christ Jesus."

While some early followers of Jesus, even in N.T. times, must have seen him as God (probably Thomas), generally this is not the N.T. view. Even the book of Revelation one of the last books of the Bible separates God and Jesus.

Contrary to many Christians in history and today who claim Jesus is God, including being omniscient, the author of Revelation says this: "The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him..."

Notice that even though this is at least 70-some years after his resurrection, Jesus isn't omniscient, nor is he God in many other ways.

The text states God gives Jesus a "revealing" of the end of the world.

Also, while there is great value in the Book of Revelation, observe that the author of the book gets verse 3 wrong: "for the time is near." But, of course, if one reads the plain meaning of those words, they are incorrect.

Nearly 2,000 years of human history have passed and the end of things hasn't come yet. Obviously, the author was in error.

So what's the first point of this reflection?

#1 Jesus, at least in the openings of the Good News of Mark and in the Book of Revelation isn't like what most of church history has theorized him to be. And, to me, at least that is a relief--is indeed wondrous Light, for it means that the "Jesus" of theological determinism, of the Inquisition, of the many Christian wars, etc. isn't the real Eashoa.

There is in Eashoa an infinite Ocean of Light and Love which overcomes the ocean of religious darkness.

To be continued:

How does this give us hope?

Why did Jesus call himself the Son of Man?

How is Jesus the Son of God?

What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus?

In the Light,