Tuesday, January 31, 2006

I am a Christian

I am a Christian.

There, I've said it, I'm sure for the first time. Now why was it so hard to say -- as if I'm at an AA meeting or something? Why do I trip over the word? Why is it scary-feeling, as if I'm letting go of my brain?

When I first came to Quakers, I came to get away from all that. I remember my former meeting giving me a Faith and Practice book when I was accepted into membership. And I liked the book -- except for all the stuff about Jesus. And the stuff about God was a bit hard to take too, but I could afford to be more generous about it. Yet over time, I pencil-marked the book up, and even some of the Jesus parts got underlining.

Some years later, John Lampen's book, Twenty Questions About Jesus, that got me over the worst of the choking at the J word. It was the first reasoned look at Jesus' life and teachings I'd ever read. And I realized there were options here, that theology didn't require a lobotomy, that people like me did consider themselves Christian.

Another turning point was reading Stephen Mitchell's book, The Gospel According to Jesus, some years after that. Here I saw the humanity of Jesus, the Jewish boy born of an unwed mother, whose wounds became his Light. He became a person, a life story I could relate to. I decided then that I liked him.

After that, it became easier to face the words and ideas of Christianity. I could distinguish between the Jesus of Matthew, Mark and Luke, and the Christ of John, Paul, and others -- and the FrankenGod of the Old Testament.

What tipped this over the edge was an article that Richard sent me (via this blog) on the difference between Christian and Jewish ideas about evil and forgiveness. And as I read it, I became awash in the awareness that I am a Christian, that I was part of the Christian side of his essay.

Never mind the theology. Never mind the rites of passage, salvation schemes, and unthinking dogmatism. I belong to this part of the world's spiritual journey, this chapter started by Jesus deliberately or nondeliberately, whose teachings have shaped us to work miracles in the world. The teachings had secretly, over time, without my knowing, become precious to me, a beacon that guides me.

It just kind of snuck up on me.


At 3:17 PM, Blogger Richard said...

Always nice to see my name mentioned :-)

I have always been a Christian. I have never denied it, or run away from it or minimized it. On the other hand, I do not flaunt it or stick it in peoples faces (I am no Jesus Freak)

I practice in the tradition of the Roman Catholic Church - but believe that Truth must be served before anything else. I am a Roman Catholic, but not a slave. I am a Canadian, but not a serf. A friend, but not a lackey. I am a free man who only desires to serve God.

At 6:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Google "Jewish forgiveness" and you will get a more nuanced view of that topic than the one given in the article.

At 4:25 PM, Blogger Johan Maurer said...

Hi, Nancy! Thanks for the reference to the First Things article.

Yes, there are more nuanced treatments of Jewish forgiveness. The Bible, taken as a whole, may be more nuanced than anything else we could find. For instance, Ezekiel has God expressing furious frustration with unfaithful Israel, but also saying, in chapter 18, "For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!" The idea that God utterly and completely forgives those who repent is rooted in the Hebrew Scriptures. So is the idea that the People of God are to become a blessing to the whole world, not just to one nation or group--the New Testament simply claims to add new information as to how this promise is being fulfilled.

To me, the name "Christian" is not a flag flying over a camp with guards at the edges. It refers to an ancient and extensive web of relationships, with Jesus at the center, with many conversations going on among those in the network, and also, tender conversations and dialogues going on with those who do not consider themselves part of this web.

The long-term worldwide impact of a spirituality of forgiveness and grace, no matter how badly some of us have carried it out, is astounding. For just a tangential sample, showing the very imperfect genius of this influence, here's an interesting article I just read in the weblog intelligent.ru: Christianity and European Democracy.

At 2:44 PM, Blogger earthfreak said...

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At 4:47 PM, Blogger earthfreak said...

I dont' identify as a christian, except culturally, and occasionally as one aspect of my spirituality (I am a follower of Jesus in some ways, at some times, but then, I am a follower of Alice Walker - who was just on the radio- probably just as frequently)

This article bothered me on so many levels. I was surprised to go back and find that it was written by a jew, and not a christian, it seems quite easy to choose the christian "side" in what he is professing here.

I myself have a radical (rooted) sense that forgiveness is best.

That said, I had a very painful relationship with a very manipulative person whom I loved very deeply, and was treated very badly by. She didnt' murder anyone, or anything of the sort, and yet her willingness to play with some of my most profound and beautiful feelings in order to satisfy her own whims have shaken my faith in God and Love and Humanity to the core - I have a new understanding of evil from having given my heart to her and having it really shredded.

I have a new understanding of hatred

and a new understanding of what forgiveness really means, and how hard it is.

She asked for my forgiveness. and I "refused" (a word I see used in this article, and which she also embraced to describe the situation) I myself felt that forgiveness was something I desperately wanted to be granted. I so wanted to be able to let go of my pain, to move on, to harbor no ill will, no fantasies of revenge.

But it wasnt' granted.

I think that, little by little, now almost 2 years later, it is being granted. I know that she is a child of God. I never wanted her to suffer (like burn in hell) but I did, until now (more and more) need her to understand, regret, apologize in order to truly forgive.

At the same time, in my searching for perspectives on forgiveness, I read something (in a rabbi kirschner book, I believe) talking about how most people dont' really WANT revenge - they don't want to see their enemies die, or suffer, they simply want a sense of justice. He even mentioned Bishop Tutu, and the south african reconciliation process.

In which, rather than burning their oppressors at the stake, to much public revelling, they gave the victims a chance to speak of the pain they suffered, and the perpetrators a chance to apologise.

The people did not want revenge, but they wanted:

-to be heard
-to see some justice enacted (an apology, perhaps a sort of recompense - rebuild that school you burned, or something
-and to make sure that the evil was stopped

(I have said many times I don't understand the desire of people to see those who committed crimes years ago and lived peacefully since be prosecuted. I believe that prision is perhaps useful when others in society can't be safe with a certain person walking the streets, and simple "tit for tat" it's nothing more than stupid!)

The perspective that I feel is inadequately voiced in this article is that jews have been consistently oppressed, throughout centuries. People who are still alive who lived through the concentration camps. many more are alive who lost their families to the holocaust. To somehow condemn these people for not being as "forgiving" as christians, who have not faced any sort of real oppression in many many centuries is very, very disturbing.

The blacks in south africa could forgive because they were finally in power, they were finally safe. When they were still struggling under oppression, you can bet many of them wanted to see their oppressors hurt (at least enough to get them off their necks, no?)

I mean, the author couldnt' even think of a Hitler for christians. he went back to Pilate, who is more a mythical than a real figure for us, and who didn't oppress christians, christians didn't even EXIST during his lifetime. If christianity had a figure who had worked to wipe them off the face of the earth, and succeeded in creating much destruction and misery, within the last century, would they be so forgiving? Pat Robertson wants to see the town of Dover, PA wiped off the map by God's wrath, and that's not for killing a single christian, but simply for refusing to bow to his (not God's, I might add) will.

Most of what I heard says the Jews don't even believe in hell. There is no suffering for "our enemies" - they simply disappear. As far as wanting your enemies to suffer during this lifetime, I reiterate that the situations presented are laregely about enemies who are currently oppressing them. christians really don't even know what this means as a relgious group, "we" have been the oppressors rather than the oppressed for 1600 years. How nice of us to be forgiving (when we are, which, as a group, isnt' very often)

What I took from the article was actually "maybe I'm really a jew" - not based on the tendency to hate (though I don't deny mine. I want people who have hurt me to suffer - though mostly only guilt at the awareness of what they've done, and those who are hurting me (and others) I want stopped - if that involves some inconvenience to them, that doesnt' bother me too much.)

Ok, so maybe I'm really a jew (not really) because some of what he said so resonated with why I am a quaker - the kingdom of God is at hand. We live in God through our daily actions. Heaven is living a Godly (loving, compassionate, free and passionate) life, and not a goal, the pursuit of which makes this life almost an irrelevant detail.

I think I will go google "jewish forgiveness" and learn more. It's clear to me that real life jews have much more to forgive than real life christians, and have really, overall, done a much better job of it, all rhetoric aside.


PS - I recently bought a copy of "The Sunflower" - I havent' read it yet. But it does strike me that this man's "repentence" seemed to be very selfish - he was dying, worrying about HIS future. It is unknown, but I doubt that he, on his deathbed, appealed to his fellows to stop harming Jews. I doubt he made any effort to ameliorate the situation, he simply wanted HIS slate wiped clean to meet HIS God. A few days before (I assume) he was engaging in these heinous acts, and if he wasn't so ill, he would be still. Now, someone who was no longer being victimized might be able to find it in their heart to forgive, but someone who would go back into that hell, that this man had helped create, supported, and probably hadn't really in any true way, even renounced. I think the expectation is wild.

At 5:25 PM, Blogger earthfreak said...

Just a site I found interesting on the topic.


I believe that it's appropriate to require repentence and reform as "conditions" of personal forgiveness.

That said, I don't believe in eternal hell. I hope that people who have done terrible things will at some point, before or after death, be faced with the horror of the things that they have done - be granted clarity, empathy, whatever is needed. But I believe that God will hold them while they cry over their sins, and set them free.

Does that make me a christian?

At 6:07 PM, Blogger Nancy A said...

Hi Pam

I brought this article to our midweek study group, and it provoked/inspired many very different reactions. I think the whole idea of forgiveness of those who do us harm is a sensitive topic. It touches on cultural and historial "baggage" too, as well as issues from our own lives.

The response it provoked in me was to make me ultimately accepting of the "C" word.

One other book that I read years ago that brought me a nudge closer to the C word was Stephen Mitchell's The Gospel According to Jesus. Mitchell is a Buddhist, which makes the book all the more interesting.

I guess I need to see Xianity reflected through the eyes of nonChristians to really see it.


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