Friday, December 19, 2014

Jesus - Unique in Resisting Pressure to Use Violence to Establish God's Kingdom

In chapter 15 of Jesus Before Christianity, Albert Nolan speaks of how Jesus was tempted to bring about God's kingdom on earth by violent means. He points out two incidents close to the end of Jesus' life where it seems apparent that Jesus was tempted to accept the pressures on Him to the kingship of Israel. The first temptation came through a crowd of 4-5,000 men and the second pressure through Peter.

Nolan interprets the story of Jesus' feeding the 4-5,000 men as a gathering that was likely organized purposely to try to persuade Jesus to take on the powers and become king of Israel. Although this story became popular because of the miracle of the loaves and fishes, Nolan proposes that phrases from the different scriptural accounts about this incident hint that this crowd had gathered with the intention of making Jesus king (Mark 6:30-44; John 6:1-15)...

"He (Jesus) was a Galilean, a prophet and a wonderworker with a natural talent for leadership and he had recently made a name for himself by defying the authorities in Jerusalem and 'cleansing' the Temple. There may even have been some rumors that he was a descendant of David.

"Jesus was not unsympathetic toward their aspirations, their desire for liberation and their need of a shepherd. But he tried to persuade them that God's ways were not the ways of human beings and that the 'kingdom' of God would not be like the usual kingdoms of humans...

"But his teaching and the miracle of sharing only made them all the more convinced that he was the Messiah, God's chosen king. Before the situation could get out of hand he forced his disciples to leave in a boat and dispersed the crowds. He then felt the need for solitude, reflection and prayer.

"The second temptation came from Peter...Peter, on behalf of the other disciples, declares that he looks upon Jesus as the Messiah. Jesus responds by giving them strict orders not to say that about him to anyone and then he begins to tell them that it will be his destiny to suffer rejection. Peter takes Jesus aside and rebukes him but Jesus in his turn rebukes Peter...

"This must have been a very serious quarrel. Peter was angry with Jesus for talking about rejection and failure when the opportunity was there to seize power and become Messiah. Jesus was angry with Peter for playing the role of Satan, the tempter, and thinking as men usually do in terms of the power of force.

"We should not underestimate the reality of this temptation for Jesus. (see Lk 4:5-8; Mt 4:8-10) ...Jesus had to struggle with this temptation to seize power, to accept the kingship and to rule over a new empire - 'all the kingdoms of the world'. Would this not be the best way of liberating the poor and the oppressed? Could he not exercise authority as a service to all people after he had seized power by force?...

"Jesus was not a pacifist in principle, he was a pacifist in practice, that is to say, in the concrete circumstances of his time...The 'kingdom' of total liberation for all people cannot be established by violence. Faith alone can enable the 'kingdom' to come."

Teach us, Jesus, how to walk in the ways of the Father in the midst of a world that operates on the principle of violence and force to get things done. Help us trust that Your ways really do work and give us the courage to walk in them...

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Jesus - Unique in Loyalty to God's Political System

In this small series of posts (starting here), I am attempting to show the uniqueness of Jesus as borne out in Albert Nolan's book, Jesus Before Christianity. In his study of Jesus and how he lived His life as a Jewish man in the midst of the religious and political systems of his day, Nolan shows that Jesus was a highly political figure in that he was unswerving in his loyalty to God's kingdom, refusing to live according to the values of worldly systems (money, prestige, power). Surrounded by adherents of a variety of religious and political parties, Jesus was loyal to one kingdom only - God's kingdom - and this made him a dangerous revolutionary:

"Jesus' social mixing with sinners in the name of God and his confidence that they had God's approval while the virtuous did not were the 'violation' of all that God and religion and virtue and justice had ever meant. But then Jesus was not busy with a religious revival; he was busy with a revolution - a revolution in religion, in politics and in everything else.

"It would have been impossible for the 'men' of Jesus' time to have thought of him as an eminently religious man who steered clear of politics and revolution. They would have seen him as a blasphemously irreligious man who under the cloak of religion was undermining all the values upon which religion, politics, economics and society were based. He was a dangerous and subtly subversive revolutionary.

"Jesus disapproved of Roman oppression just as much as any Jew did, albeit for different reasons. He disapproved of their way of 'making their authority felt' and their way of 'lording it over their subjects.' But he envisaged changing this by changing Israel so that Israel could present the Romans with a living example of the values and ideals of the 'kingdom'...

"However, Jesus did eventually feel that it would be necessary to confront those Jews who collaborated with Rome: the chief priests and elders, the leaders of the people, who belonged to the party of the Sadducees. Up till now Jesus had criticized the 'men of religion', especially the scribes and Pharisees; now he must confront the 'men of affairs', the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem. Not so much because they collaborated with Rome but because they exploited the poor...(it was this confrontation) which brought him to a violent death."

Do what You need to do, Spirit of God, to sever the loyalties that we Your church have with worldly political systems. Give us fresh leadership that understands the seductiveness of worldly systems, be they religious or political, and put in us the unswerving loyalty that Jesus had to God's kingdom.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Jesus - Unique in Passing the Test

Continuing on with looking at Jesus' uniqueness in His way of dealing with His trial and crucifixion (see here), Albert Nolan says the following of the persons/groups that were tried and tested:

"Pilate, firstly, was tried and found wanting. Jesus' silence took him by surprise. He probably did hesitate for a moment...But because he was not, and had never been, concerned about the truth, he went on to do what political expediency seemed to demand...Pilate was guilty of a lack of interest in the truth (John 18:37,38).

"Caiaphas and his associates were still more guilty...even if Caiaphas had been open to the truth and had come to believe Jesus, what could he or should he have done in order to secure peace with the Romans? Perhaps, we can say, he should have risked his own life by resigning as high priest, joining Jesus in hiding and working with him to spread faith in the 'kingdom.' This is a tall order and one wonders how many men in his position would ever have been so concerned about truth and honesty...Caiaphas was not able to live up to the challenge with which Jesus presented him. Which one of us would want to throw the first stone at Caiaphas?

"The death of Jesus was also a judgment upon the scribes, Pharisees and others who knowingly rejected him. If they had accepted him and believed in the 'kingdom' of the poor, that 'kingdom' would have come instead of the catastrophe. They were not different from so many men and women today...

"Finally the disciples themselves were being put to the test. It was a severe test, a test of their willingness to die with him for the sake of humankind. But Judas betrayed him, Peter denied him and the rest fled.

"Jesus himself was also tried and tested. He sweated blood over it and told is disciples to pray that they would not have to be as severely tested as he was...Jesus did not want anyone to be put to the test. 

"But the crisis came and the test was severe. Jesus alone was able to accept the challenge of the hour. It set him above everyone else as the silent truth that judges every human being. Jesus died alone as the only person who had been able to survive the test. Everyone else failed and yet everyone else was given another chance. The history of Christianity is the history of those who came to  believe in Jesus and who were inspired to take up the challenge of his death - in one way or another."

Work in us, Spirit of God, to be able to recognize the daily opportunities to be loyal to Jesus to the point of 'death' in our personal lives, and work in us as a collective people to be loyal to Jesus in the face of religious and political pressure to do the expedient thing. Thank you that in Your endurance and passing the test, Jesus, You have given us a second chance...

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Jesus - Unique in Not Defending Himself

In this third post (see here and here) about Jesus as presented by Albert Nolan in Jesus Before Christianity, we look at His trial before His crucifixion. Nolan observes the following:

"The most remarkable thing about the trial itself, the one thing about which we can be absolutely certain and yet the one thing that is frequently overlooked, is that Jesus did not defend himself. Throughout all of the proceedings, no matter who accused him or what they accused him of, Jesus remained silent...

"The suffering servant in Isaiah 53:7 was silent before his accusers - like a lamb before its shearers... Remaining silent before his accusers is exactly what we might have expected Jesus to do. He had consistently refused to produce signs from heaven; he had never argued from authority; he had refused to answer questions about his own authority; and now he refused to defend or justify his behavior.

"In other words, Jesus stood there without a word, putting everyone else to the test. The truth of the matter is that it was not Jesus who was on trial. His betrayers and accusers were on trial before him. His silence puzzled, disturbed, questioned and tested them. Their words were turned back at them and they condemned themselves out of their own mouths..."

Breathe on us, dear Fire of Jesus, till we Your people are purged of all need to be understood or to defend ourselves and are nobly silent in the face of others' accusations, trusting our reputation into Your hands completely...

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Jesus - Uniquely Liberated, Fearless, Truthful

This is the second in a series of quotes from Jesus Before Christianity that increase wonder and awe over this man Jesus (see part 1):

"'Everyone who loves is born of God and experiences God; anyone who does not love has never had any experience of God, because God is love' (I John 4:7,8).

"...prophets did not only share God's knowledge, they were also filled to the point of bursting with God's own feelings and emotions. In the case of Jesus it was God's feeling of compassion that possessed him and filled him. All his convictions, his faith and his hope were expressions of this fundamental experience. If God is compassionate, then goodness will triumph over evil, the impossible will happen and there is hope for mankind.

"Compassion is the basis of truth. The experience of compassion is the experience of suffering or feeling with someone...This is also the experience of solidarity, solidarity with humanity, nature and God. It excludes every form of alienation and falsehood. 

"The secret of Jesus' infallible insight and unshakeable convictions was his unfailing experience of solidarity with God, which revealed itself as an experience of solidarity with humanity and nature. This made him a uniquely liberated man, uniquely courageous, fearless, independent, hopeful and truthful..."

Lord, fill us Your people with Your emotions of compassion and care until we as a people are freed from fears and anxieties that prevent us from fully loving all of Your creation.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Jesus - Uniquely Friend of the 'Outsider'

I recently picked up the book, Jesus Before Christianity, again. I began 2014 with several posts about it (starts here). I keep reflecting on the man Jesus and am continually taken with what a man He must have been. So now as we close out the year, I return to this book and write a few posts quoting parts of it in my desire to know Him more and perhaps help others know and love Him more as well..

Albert Nolan on Jesus and how the poor and sinners of that time and culture would have been impacted by His unreserved inclusion of them:

"...what made Jesus different was the unrestrained compassion he felt for the poor and the oppressed.

"It would be impossible to overestimate the impact these (festive) meals must have had upon the poor and the sinners. By accepting them as friends and equals Jesus had taken away their shame, humiliation and guilt. By showing them that they mattered to him as people, he gave them a sense of dignity and released them from their captivity...Moreover, because Jesus was looked upon as a man of God and a prophet, they would have interpreted his gesture of friendship as God's approval of them. They were now acceptable to God. Their sinfulness, ignorance and uncleanness had been overlooked and were no longer held against them....There can be no doubt that Jesus was a remarkably cheerful person and that his joy, like his faith and hope, was infectious...The poor and the oppressed and anyone else who was not too hung up on 'respectability' found the company of Jesus a liberating experience of sheer joy...He made them feel safe and secure...His very presence had liberated them."

Do others different from us feel this way around us? Lord Jesus, may we Your people be more like You, large of heart and inclusive of all, a haven where anyone can feel unafraid, unashamed and accepted.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

God Thanks Us...

The picture below and the caption written by the dad (who is my nephew) captures beautifully what I believe God thinks of us, His dear ones, when we accompany Him in His mission on earth. He does the heavy lifting while we walk next to Him. It may seem that we don't do much to help, but God so loves to have us with Him as He works that it counts in His big heart and He credits us with helping Him and even thanks us for it! What a loving generous Father!

"I couldn't have carried this suitcase without my little thankful for him"

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Becoming Adult, Becoming Christian - Faith Stage 7 (Universalizing Faith)

We are now at the 7th and final stage in our faith development, which James Fowler (Becoming Adult, Becoming Christian) calls Universalizing Faith. This will be my final post in a series on this book. The previous posts can be found here: #1 , #2 , #3 , #4 .

Universalizing faith is the stage of full maturity in a person's development. I began this series with the prayer of St. Augustine that I have prayed for many years: "Lord, the house of my soul is small; do Thou enter in and enlarge it."  I see this final stage of faith as a fulfillment of that prayer, because it is the stage when the heart is entering into the largeness of the heart of God, able to encompass all people in its love.

In the previous stage (Conjunctive faith) the person lives in the tension of opposing factors. "The polarities in its loves and loyalties can seem to cancel each other." They see the need of living in full solidarity with all people and yet their integrity keeps them in commitments to institutions and persons that are in their present life. This can lead to a feeling of "cosmic loneliness and homelessness." For some this discomfort is what moves them on to the ultimate issues of life that have to do with themselves and with everyday existence with their neighbor and it leads them to this final stage.

The movement to Universalizing faith involves a "radical decentration from self." In other words, the person's perspective on life expands to the point that his 'circle of those who count' begins to include all of humanity, not only his own family and friends or those who share similar political or religious views.

In earlier stages of faith "we become attached to causes, persons, institutions, possessions...precisely because they seem to promise to ground us in worth. Likewise, we tend to attach ourselves to certain appearances and promises of power. These sources of power, which promise to preserve our interests and values, help us deal with our fears and our insecurities as finite persons in a dangerous world of power..." Gradually with each stage of development we allow ourselves to include others who are not like us. In Universalizing faith, this process of 'decentration from self' (i.e., a healthy detachment from all sources of security that have kept us closed off from 'the other') reaches completion, because in this stage "a person decenters in the valuing process to such an extent that he/she participates in the valuing of the Creator and values other beings from a standpoint more nearly identified with the love of Creator for creatures than from the standpoint of a vulnerable, defensive, anxious creature."

Fowler concludes this topic by quoting I John 4:18 ("Perfect love casts out fear"), and says that the ability in a person to relinquish all the "perishable sources of power" is the "fruit of that person's total and pervasive response in love and trust to the radical love of God." And so in the end, it is the encounter and continuing receiving of the radical love of God that casts out the fear of fully including others unlike ourselves in our love. Jesus, of course, is the greatest example of all-inclusive love and acceptance both in the way He lived and in His nonviolent death on behalf of violent humans. He lived in the love of His Father and was therefore free from fear and could radically love all humans.

The movement to Universalizing faith is to become nonviolent, just as God in Christ is nonviolent and embraces all people.

The author adds later in the chapter that to move towards this final stage of development requires more than natural human growth; it requires help from God. Few people attain this stage of development. He suggests that rather than make this stage a goal in life, we focus (at whatever stage we find ourselves in) on opening ourselves as radically as possible to synergy with the Spirit of God in love for 'the other'.

"Lord, the house of my soul is small; do Thou enter in and enlarge it."  Amen...

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Becoming Adult, Becoming Christian - Faith Stages 5 and 6

This is the 4th in a series of posts about the 7 faith stages that James Fowler presents in his book, Becoming Adult, Becoming Christian. The 3 previous posts are introduction: the house of my soul is small, stages 1 & 2, and stages 3 & 4.

Note that in the preceding post, Fowler warns that many people get stuck in the 4th stage; as we move now to the latter stages of development, it is easy to understand why many get stuck in the Synthetic-Conventional stage, because the following stage is uncomfortable and moves the person into a time of significant disorientation and confusion related to his or her faith. Most people don't want to go there and so it is not unusual that people remain in stage 4.

Now onto stage 5...

Stage 5 - Individuative-Reflective Faith: young adulthood is a time when this stage typically begins to appear. The Synthetic-Conventional faith (stage 4) is tacit in nature; in other words, the person's faith has not been critically examined or reflected upon but rather has been inherited from trusted people without having thought it through for oneself and without having carefully listened to other points of view outside of one's social network and belief system.

Usually the rise of this stage of faith comes because of experiences of life that force a person to "objectify, examine, and make critical choices about the defining elements of their identity and faith."

At the core of this transition are 2 fundamental movements going on: 1) "From a definition of self derived from one's relations and roles and the network of expectations that go with them, the self must now begin to be and act from a new quality of self-authorization."  2) "There must be an objectification and critical choosing of one's beliefs, values, and commitments, which come to be taken as a systemic unity."

If this stage happens at an older age, it can cause a lot of disturbance to the person's social network. Consequently, not many successfully transition fully into the next stage. Some make a partial shift and remain somewhere between stages 5 and 6.

Stage 6 - Conjunctive Faith: comes mid-life or beyond. In this stage one begins to discover what Nicholas of Cusa (1401-1464) called "the coincidence of opposites", or they begin to discover the "Being wherein all opposites and contradictions meet and are reconciled...In this transition the firm boundaries of the previous stage begin to become porous and permeable. The confident conscious ego must develop a humbling awareness of the power and influence of aspects of the unconscious on our reactions and behavior..."

Hallmarks of the transition to conjunctive faith are the following:1) awareness of the need to face and hold together unmistakable polar tensions in life, such as being both old and young and both masculine and feminine, having both a conscious self and a shadow self. 2) realization that truth is more complex than most of the either-or categories of the individuative stage; conjunctive faith can value paradox and apparent contradictions of perspectives on truth. 3) transition to a 'second naivete', a post-critical receptivity and a genuine openness to the truths of traditions and communities other than one's own traditions. 

"...Conjunctive faith exhibits a combination of committed belief in and through the particularities of a tradition, while insisting upon the humility that knows that the grasp on ultimate truth that any of our traditions can offer needs continual correction and challenge. This is to help overcome blind spots as well as the tendency to idolatry (the overidentification of our symbolizations of transcending truth with the reality of truth), to which all of our traditions are prone...Persons of Conjunctive faith are not likely to be 'true believers' in the sense of an undialectical, single-minded, uncritical devotion to a cause or ideology...They know that the line between the righteous and the sinners goes through the heart of each of us and our communities, rather than between 'us and them'."

The next post will be about the 7th and final stage of faith: Universalizing Faith. 


Monday, September 22, 2014

Becoming Adult, Becoming Christian - Faith Stages 3 and 4

Continuing on with the series of posts about the seven stages of faith (as presented by James W. Fowler in his book, Becoming Adult, Becoming Christian), I will now cover stages 3 and 4. The previous two posts having to do with this are here and here.

Stage 3 - Mythic-Literal Faith: this occurs about when the child starts to school. "Now able to reverse processes of thought and to coordinate more than one feature of a situation at a time, the world becomes more linear, orderly, and predictable." In this stage the child begins to recognize that others have perspectives that differ from his. Children at this stage develop a strong sense of fairness in their thinking about right and wrong, good and evil.

Faith now involves valuing the stories, beliefs and practices of the tradition within the child's community. "Knowing the stories of 'our people' becomes an important index of identification and of evaluation of self and others and their groups. The ability to create classes based on distinguishing characteristics of objects or groups makes these kinds of identifications (and exclusions) important matters in this stage."

In this stage a child defines himself and other persons in terms of their actions and affiliations with family and other groups. He hasn't yet constructed a sense of himself or others in terms of personality or inner feelings and reflection. His primary sense of who he is has to do with whom he is connected.

The author points out that from this stage through the rest of the stages, the same characteristics can be seen in adults (in terms of where they are in their faith) as well as in the particular biological age group that is being described. So those who come into their faith as adults can be found in any of these later stages.

Stage 4 - Synthetic-Conventional Faith: typically begins to emerge in early adolescence. Adolescence brings a revolution in cognitive development!  

"In formal operational thinking the mind takes wings. No longer is it limited to the mental manipulation of concrete objects or representations and of observable processes. Now thinking begins to construct all sorts of ideal possibilities and hypothetical considerations...Formal operational thinking makes possible the generation and use of abstract concepts and ideals. It makes it possible to think in terms of systems. And it enables us to construct the perspectives of others on ourselves - to see ourselves as others see us."

The adolescent is waking up to consciousness, suddenly aware and interested in the interior (emotions, personality, ideas, thoughts, experiences) of himself and of others. The "synthetic" being referred to here means it's a stage in which the young person begins to be able to pull together (synthesize) parts of his own interior life into some sense of selfhood (identity), and also to pull together the stories and values and beliefs into a cohesive unity to help him get a sense of the meaning of life in general and of his/her own life in particular.

"Although each person's worldview synthesis in this stage is in some degree unique, we describe it as 'conventional' for two important reasons: 1) it is a synthesis of belief and value elements that are derived from one's significant others...2) it is a synthesis of belief and value that has, in this stage, a largely 'tacit' (as opposed to 'explicit') character."

As it pertains to one's stage in faith development, this is a stage in which the synthesis of one's beliefs and values and stories are supportive and sustaining and are held and felt deeply and strongly. In this stage the Christian is "embedded" in his faith outlook and derives his sense of identity from membership in his circle of relationships.

Fowler makes a very important observation/warning about Christians who are in this stage of faith development: "It is important to recognize that many persons equilibrate in the Synthetic-Conventional stage. The world view and sense of self synthesized in this stage and the authorities who confirm one's values and beliefs are internalized, and the person moves on through the life cycle with a set of tacitly held, strongly felt, but largely unexamined beliefs and values."

Next we will look at stages 5 & 6: individuative-reflective faith and conjunctive faith.