If Jesus Addressed Congress

Second in a Series exploring the relationship between one’s theological framework and political viewpoint …

Jesus before congress graphic copy

In a previous post in this series (If Jesus Ran for President) it was suggested that behind anyone’s religious beliefs and practice – as well as their political point of view, and freedom to express that view in the polling booth – there is an underlying theological – or cosmological, if you prefer — worldview that shapes the way we express both. It is that vantage point, with our own set of biases, with which we regard the sum of one’s highest values, or ultimate concern. If that all sounds like too many big words, try this:

When one hears the word ‘politics’ these days, there are descriptive terms that often quickly follow: dysfunctional, divisive, obstructive, uncompromising, gridlock.

When one hears the word ‘religion’ these days, there are other terms that often come to mind: arcane, out of touch, reactive, dangerous, radical extremism.

In contrast to all this — and in the midst of the hotly contested political debate well underway — the American public recently witnessed the media frenzy surrounding the papal visit to our country; where both the public throngs and politicians alike were beset by a sole figure who beckoned us to rise above partisanship and parochial sectarianism to still seek common ground for a “common good.”

Jesus, of course, never enjoyed such ecclesiastical power and position, but quite the opposite, of course. And therein lies only one of the differences between Francis historical visit and the central message of the historical Jesus.

Francis got the biggest response from those in Congress when he referred to the Golden Rule, with spontaneous applause breaking out before he could complete the brief maxim. “Let us remember the Golden Rule: ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,’” the pope said. “This rule points us in a clear direction: Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated.”

The early Christian movement that emerged following the removal of the historical figure who was its precursor, drew upon something more ambitious and demanding. “Master, when did we see you hungry, thirsty, naked, an alien or prisoner in our midst, and we neglected you?” the early tradition asked of itself. (Matthew 25:31ff.) The implication suggests the gospel message supersedes any Golden Rule: Do to others, not as you would have them do to you, but as you would do for one whom you would esteem and regard as the Anointed (your Christ).

If Congress were addressed by such a one as this with such a message, would those who represent us respond with a standing ovation, or stampede the exits? You can explore this question further HERE.


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If Jesus Ran for President

© Jerry Ta, used with permission

© Jerry Ta, used with permission

Jesus, a cleric and a politician walk into a bar …

If that sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, consider the 3-ring circus of political debates and punditry already well underway 14 months before our next national presidential election. It is infused with religiously-motivated rhetoric that expresses itself in political terms.

“How we think about religion — even if we are skeptics or atheists — will spell itself out in how we think about society,” observes philosophy professor, David Galston. “In other words, our theology and politics are inextricably linked. The difference of course is that politicians get to enact their thinking as policy.”

If that is the case, should one consider a candidate’s religious bent when assessing the way they might make their political decisions? Absolutely! You can read more here.

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UNBOUND: Freedom, Liberty & the Gift of Liberation

Declaration graphic

In observance of Independence Day, 2015

Liberty and Freedom: People – especially politicians, it seems – frequently use the two terms interchangeably, as if they were the same thing. But while civil liberties can be legislated and personal freedoms can be infringed upon, there is something autonomous about personal choices and actions that can never ultimately be denied or encumbered. “Freedom is not something that anybody can be given,” the late author and civil rights activist, James Baldwin, once said. “Freedom is something people take, and people are as free as they want to be.”

An earlier commentary considered the two ideas of conscience and consciousness as a spiritual component and practice of human experience. These comments are written as we approach our nation’s annual observance of the Independence Day holiday; exploring what might constitute a progressive Christian perspective of a kind of liberating “freedom” that is comprised of loosing the bonds of all the little deaths we die, and binding oneself to that which can irrepressibly spring once more to life.

You can read this latest commentary Here.



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Conscience and Consciousness

Black heart surrounded by wisps of smoke

A Spiritual Path for Personal Transformation

“So many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half-asleep, even when they’re busy doing things they think are important. This is because they’re chasing the wrong things. The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.” — Mitch Albom, Tuesdays with Morrie


An aging Vietnam vet suffering from PTSD returns to Da Nang after 50 years in order to try to do something for those still afflicted generations later by the lingering toxic affects of Agent Orange. His nagging conscience leads to a redemptive act of self-healing and a common good.

Spirituality is often an amorphous and bandied about term that too often connotes the merely religious type, as somehow distinct from those who are not. Instead, I appreciate something as equally shared as it is often neglected, namely the human conscience and our sometimes-belated conscious awareness of it.

You can read the full commentary here.


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What Shall We Overcome?

Racism, the Imbalance of Power, and the Response of the Prophetic Voice

King in Selma“They told us we wouldn’t get here. And there were those who said that we would get here only over their dead bodies, but all the world today knows that we are here and we are standing before the forces of power …”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., speaking to 25,000 civil rights marchers, at the conclusion of the march from Selma to Montgomery, March 25, 1965


I’m writing these comments at a particular moment in time. And yet, unlike a week-old newspaper, the themes and issues have a persistently endless quality about them that just won’t seem to go away. The annual observance of Black History Month has just concluded.  And in a few days, our nation’s first black president will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the landmark civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, by standing on a bridge named after a Confederate general and reputed early Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan, Edmund W. Pettus.

In the last few years we have witnessed a resurgence of racial strife, as the recurrent curse of our American story. Names and phrases like Trayvon hoodies, Ferguson and “I can’t breathe” have become protest chants. Hands raised high overhead are no longer accompanied with shouts of “Hallelujah,” but rather, “Don’t shoot.”

Equipping law enforcement personnel with body cams is now recommended to record whatever transpires, after the fact. And all the while, political forces work to dismantle, disempower, disenfranchise and discourage voting rights in our democratic society.  One citizen, one vote, one voice is a constitutional principle that seems challenged and tested, once again.

It took a half-century to elapse after those two marches from Selma, Alabama in 1965, for a docu-drama retelling that story gets an Oscar nomination. And the anthem, Glory wins Best Original Song at the Academy Awards:

One day, when the glory comes

It will be ours, it will be ours

Oh, one day, when the war is won

We will be sure, we will be here sure

Oh, glory, glory, glory.

 One fine, glorious day it shall come, the singer sings; just as both the ancient prophets and the prophets of our own age once proclaimed. It understandably leaves us wondering when that day will come?

But perhaps it is not so much a matter of when we shall overcome, but the ever-present what? And in the naming of the what, we might also ask where is the echo of the prophet’s voice in all of this?

Read the fuller commentary here.


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Je Suis Jésus

Satire and Blasphemy in the Teaching of a Galilean Sage

“Christ before the High Priest,” Gerrit van Honthorst (1617)

“Christ before the High Priest,”
Gerrit van Honthorst (1617)

“You have heard his blasphemy! What is your decision?’ All of them condemned him as deserving death.”  Mark 14.64

Radical religious extremists with a distorted view of Islam commit horrific acts of terror, executing the staff of a small satirical French publication. The satirists had dared to depict the Prophet Mohammed in cartoon caricature; all the while lampooning those misbegotten adherents who in turn regard such irreverent acts as blasphemous.

The Western world reacts with outrage and defiance to such an affront. World leaders join a million person protest and unity march through the streets of Paris, chanting “Je Suis Charlie,” in defense of freedom of speech, and on behalf of the publication’s name.

While a clear distinction might be drawn between the use of words and the vehement reactions they may incite, more profound underlying questions remain. While anti-blasphemy laws are common in Muslim countries, countless other “secular” countries have laws against the defamation of religion. Once the dust settles and more thoughtful discussion ensues, one might ask what constitutes the differences between hate speech and freedom of expression?

This commentary does not attempt to answer this larger question. It does, however, consider Jesus’ use of what was deemed blasphemous satire, it’s intended purpose, and well-known consequences.

You can read more of this commentary here.


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Taking the “Christ” Out of Christmas

Celebrating the Holy Nativity of Jesus

Adoration” by Gentile da Fabriano  Tempera on panel, 1453

Adoration” by Gentile da Fabriano
Tempera on panel, 1453


Now when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord – as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “ Every male that opens the womb is to be considered holy to the lord.”  Luke 2:22

The other day a bumper sticker caught my eye which read, “We still call it Christmas.” I took it to mean the annual plea by so-called true believers in the birth of a divine being in human form for us all to remember “the reasons for the season.”  The orthodox Christian doctrine of the incarnation (lit. “in the flesh”) is the annual observance of Jesus’ birth being one and the same as a godhead taking human form in a cultic (that is culture-shaped) celebration generically referred to as “Christ’s Mass.”

The challenge for a progressive Christian who has moved beyond such notions as virgin births and gods disguised in human form come to save us from ourselves is to remember that it is as much a historical development, as it is a theological one. That is, the attribution of a “Christ” title accorded a very human Jesus constitutes the imaginations — if not machinations — of an early Church; consisting of very human, second-generation followers of a 1st century Galilean peasant sage and itinerant preacher. And who all but drowned out the authentic voice of the one who was once born and dwelt among humankind.

Such an assertion is simply based on the fact the historical Jesus never self-identified as the “anointed one,” the Christ.

As such, if one were to remove the Christ-title from the various birth narratives of those secondary traditions of this religious movement, what would remain of the “Christmas story” that has become as prevalently assumed, as it has been unexamined? If we took the Christ out of Christmas, what might remain of that still, small voice?

This question is explored here.

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Defining Progressive Christianity

An Open-Ended “Creed” for a Progressive Christian

Right: Icon depicting the Emperor Constantine, accompanied by the bishops of the First Council of Nicaea (325), holding the Niceno–Constantinopolitan Creed of 381.

Above: Icon depicting the Emperor Constantine, accompanied by the bishops of the First Council of Nicaea (325), holding the Niceno–Constantinopolitan Creed of 381.

I have often said so-called “progressive Christianity” is a notion forever in search of its own elusive definition; and that’s as good a way of explaining it as we may be able to find.  We live in a post-modern world that considers the age of Enlightenment to be a post-facto reality. As such, “progressive” thinking in an age of Reason has pushed the boundaries of nearly every facet of life, except one: those ‘traditional’ or ‘orthodox’ beliefs, based on certain creeds, doctrines and dogma that still dominate what it presumably means to be “Christian.” It hardly needs to be said that it is also why so many one-time believers have outgrown their one-time faith. Calling them merely “lapsed” is misleading. So much has elapsed in the world we have all come to know and take for granted, that the once-dominant Church — — despite all its denominational varieties — has fast become a post-modern relic.  Yet any critical examination of how Christian scriptures developed and how the history of the tradition evolved will quickly demonstrate how it has always been in a constant state of flux, or – if you like — “progression.”  It was only when it stopped and got stuck that we traded in the tent for a temple, and snuffed the life out of a movement that is progressive by its very nature. What then would constitute an honest statement of belief for at least this “progressive Christian?”

You can read more Here.


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Exhuming Jonah, and the Myth of Redemptive Violence

Above: Jonah Cast Forth By The Whale, by 19th C French Artist, Gustave Doré

Above: Jonah Cast Forth By The Whale, by 19th C French Artist, Gustave Doré

Every Sunday School student learns the fantastic story of Jonah and the Whale. The miraculous regurgitation of the reluctant prophet after three days in the leviathan’s belly is a whopping tale as big as any fish tale ever told. He changes his tune and high tails it to the great city of Ninevah with his prophetic message of repentance.

There is only a passing reference in the king’s response, with regard to Ninevah’s great offense; and the wickedness from which they must mend their ways to avoid total annihilation: “By the decree of the king and his nobles … all shall turn from their evil ways and from the violence that is in their hands. Who knows? God may relent and change his mind; he may turn from his fierce anger, so that we do not perish.”

Of all the hotspots flooding the news and erupting in so many corners of our global village, one headline in particular caught my attention not so long ago. The news article came from Mosul, Iraq and was entitled, “Historic Tomb of Jonah Destroyed by Isis Militants.”

A photograph showed the explosion and subsequent rubble of a Sunni Mosque which was alleged to be the burial site of the Prophet Younis, the Arabic name for Jonah. Though ISIS claims to adhere to the Sunni branch of Islam, they have nonetheless blown up or bulldozed any Sunni shrine they deem “un-Islamic.” Go figure.

Well, that’s more than a little ironic, I thought to myself. God regurgitated Jonah from an early grave, only to have some fervent believers go and blow up his purported final resting place. What, once upon a time, God apparently could not do – or was not willing to do – was not a problem for some of God’s children hell-bent on advancing some twisted ideological agenda through means of violent force.

If one finds the mythic tale of Jonah and the whale too much to swallow, more incredible perhaps is what the people of ancient Ninevah presumably managed to pull off.  You can read about it here.

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Embracing Resurrection as a Way of Life

“Jesus’ disciples” – early catacomb painting

“Jesus’ disciples” – early catacomb painting

A Series on the Teachings of a Galilean Sage: The Sermon on the Mount, Part IV of IV Parts

A pdf copy of this commentary to print and read is here.

Recently one Sunday morning, I awoke in the pre-dawn hours, as the lingering shadows were just beginning their retreat, and the likelihood of another glorious spring day seemed like a good bet.

Then I remembered it was Easter Day for Western Christendom, and I quickly began to recall so many years of liturgical practice in my own personal past that comprised this observance; leading the faithful in procession into an empty, darkened sanctuary, and then banishing the darkness with light, and song, a jig and shouts of “Alleluia!”

Like the last faded echo, the absence of whatever had gone before and was no more could mean only one thing. Things which were “cast down were being raised up,” as one lovely old prayer once put it, “and things which had grown old were being made new.” (Book of Common Prayer, p.540)

There were no hocus-pocus notions of resuscitation or reincarnation, as far as I was concerned; though some among us undoubtedly still believed in the magic of immortality. But those of us who’d lived long enough to find ourselves as good as dead more than once along the way — and nonetheless survived by nothing less than happenstance or grace to discover a gospel of second chances — knew enough to recognize a good thing when we saw it. We’d just call it resurrection, and leave it at that.

Those of us who’d lived long enough to find ourselves as good as dead more than once along the way …   knew enough to recognize a good thing when we saw it. We’d just call it resurrection, and leave it at that.

But on this particular morning I’d rise with the prodding sunlight, and Germaine and I would resume a weekly ritual that has become as routine as any meaningful liturgical practice. Piling the dog into the station wagon, we’d head out for a 3-mile trek around the Lafayette Reservoir.

Falling in line, we would join the parade of all the other 2-legged and 4-legged congregants on the circular path. Some were amblers, some hikers, and others serious joggers. It is as if everyone proceeds in his or her own way, and at their own pace, with one’s own journey, along the shared path. We’d greet others with a nod, a smile, and the usual greeting.  “Good morning to you,” one would say. “And also with you” – or something like it — would be the customary reply. There would be new faces and critters, but also others that have become familiar only because of the shared experience we repeat each week, separately and together. Somehow, it all seemed vaguely reminiscent; as if I’d done it all my life …

And besides, today was Easter Day. Again. It was the “pagan” festival of Estre, the ancient Anglo-Saxon (or Teutonic) goddess who represents the rebirth and renewal associated with the spring equinox.  Little wonder then that budding nature, eggs and bunnies, an Easter parade in some fashion or other, and the empty tomb of former things should all get jumbled together.

Of course, so-called mainline orthodox Christianity co-opted yet another pagan rite early on in its own tradition to make it all out to be something more; just as it had usurped what is aptly now referred to by some as the “voiceprint” of the wisdom tradition that preceded it in the teachings of a human Jesus.

In Paul’s earliest writings he shows little interest in that historical figure. The Christian faith quickly became a confessional religion about yet another dying-and-rising savior god. The various gospel traditions that included the teachings of the earthly Jesus were all written retrospectively. It is as if you are only meant to read all the parables, aphorisms and quips backwards; and in light of the numerous variations of a resurrection narrative that is hardly persuasive if you want to talk about any hereafter.

“The resurrection belief is the first overlay on the preceding wisdom tradition (of Jesus),” says David Galston. “The birth of Christian theology is the silencing of (the historical) Jesus.”

 Wisdom (i.e. teachings) is the foundation of the historical Jesus, not as fact but as voiceprint. What began as a lifestyle became, with remarkable speed, the worshipping of a Lord … What is necessary is to return to the school of Jesus, where Jesus is not confessed, not called Lord, and not even regarded as divine. To bring a silenced Jesus back to life – wisdom’s version of resurrection – means to initiate students in the lifestyle of the school. It means building a community th at addresses and solves the problems of our times on our own terms. It means extending the momentum of the teacher and the contours of his wisdom into the context of today. [from, “Embracing the Human Jesus: A Wisdom Path for Contemporary Christianity”]

This commentary is the last of a 4-part series on the ethical teachings of Jesus from Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount. It explores how we might, in fact, resurrect the voiceprint of this pre-Christian sage. We’ll work with what we’ve got; a gospel tradition that took the teachings of a human Jesus, and further encumbered them with confessional creeds about the man. Like sifting wheat from chaff, we’ll seek to discern both the pre-gospel voice of Jesus, and an adaptable momentum that might still propel us forward to a more meaningful understanding of our own particular time and place.

If there is still an Easter procession for the progressive Christian, this just may be it. You can read more here.

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