I am not a 'Christian' as usually defined. But that's not to say there is no room in my life for any kind of 'spirituality' with Jesus as its focus. We still have to decide how to live and what it means to be fully human, individually and together. Maybe his story can still help us.
A NEW RADICAL 'SPIRITUALITY'?
In all conscience, I cannot affirm many of the required beliefs and claims of conventional Christianity: A 3-person God-Being who existed before everything else, (so for at least 14 billion years then), but who has chosen to intervene in this tiny obscure planet in the last few thousand. That Jesus was crucified because of my 'sin' when it was the Romans who did it, not me. Or his unique impossible birth and physical resurrrection from the dead or the final authority of the Bible forever. None of this makes sense to modern minds. It is all frankly unbelievable. I and others cannot deny what else we know to be true in order to make Christianity fit. Many believers can't seem to grasp this. Beliefs have to make sense or no-one will take any notice of them.
And yet this Jesus story has been part of my landscape since I was a child. I still sometimes receive the Eucharist in my local Cathedral or at an inclusive inner-city parish church that does tremendous work supporting asylum-seekers and refugees. This helps me to keep his memory alive - a request that Jesus seems to have given to his followers, and the only remembered saying of his that the gospels and Paul have in common. I still want to walk in his Way of generous compassion and love. He stands in solidarity with the oppressed and invites us to do the same.
A NEW RATIONAL 'FAITH'?
In the C1st, life was 'nasty, brutish and short'. Average life expectancy was about 30. The hope of 'salvation' or a better life to come made sense; the Roman gods didn't offer that. In our C21st culture it's nearer 90. Science has replaced so many things that used to be attributed to a God. We are not the centre of the Universe after all or subject to the whims of gods. And this life offers endless possibilities that were undreamed of before - good and bad. The goalposts have moved. So what does Christianity have to say about life and how to live it? That's what matters now.
I don't think Jesus of Nazareth had any intention of founding a new religion based on himself. That's mostly down to Paul. Religions are all human creations; designed to answer our own questions at the time. But an interventionist 'God' is no longer the answer as they thought then. Things just happen. So, if you take away a supernatural God and see Christianity as a story about a self-sacrificial human death in the line of prophets and martyrs before and since, can we still find some truths to help us live well now? Is there still something to believe in? If not, then surely even more rejection and obscurity lies ahead.
A NEW INCLUSIVE COMMUNITY?
Someone once said that Jesus talked of the coming of the KIngdom, but only the Church arrived instead! The Church needs to listen a lot more - and speak a lot less - if it wants to engage with the C21st and beyond. And it needs to listen most to those who are not part of it. The boundaries have to be blurred, not an inpenetrable barrier designed to keep people out unless they become like us first. So that's where I sit. On the edge. Neither wholly in nor wholly out. Why not join me in a re-think? It may all go nowhere but let's see.
WHAT DO YOU THINK? IS IT ALL OR NOTHING WITH GOD AND CHRISTIANITY? TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT?
OR IS THERE ANOTHER WAY?
The bishops talk of 'Re-imagining' the Church. You can't do that if the faith required always remains the same. What was considered 'true' in the past might not be 'true' now'. But hardly anyone wants to talk about that or to question the historic doctrines and creeds. We wrote them; so we can change them. The New Testament was written ABOUT Jesus, not BY Jesus (or God). We might now think differently. The status often given to the Bible prevents many of us from seeing faith as intellectually or morally reasonable.
So many of the usual assumptions are now up for discussion. Starting with the idea of any God at all. There may be an 'unutterable beauty' or an 'infinite mystery' behind it all. I cannot possibly know. The word 'God' could be used to mean the indescribable depth to all existence. But once you have uttered its name, or claim you know all about it, or turned it into a 'person', that's no longer what you are talking about. Those 'gods' are ours alone. They're all own images, metaphors and pictures. So let's at least make it clear that it's all our own ideas that we are discussing. Then perhaps more will join in the conversation, rather than just ignoring it or feeling excluded unless they conform.
So what's left? An exciting journey towards discovering our full humanity. But we have to be honest. Is Christianity 'good news'? Or just more 'fake news'?
My reflections are like a film 'based on the book' or a screenplay 'inspired by real events', not just a carbon-copy of the original. They are a kind of 'midrash' - a commentary on and development of the original Judao-Christian texts and beliefs, not merely their repetition. So, for example, this contemporary image, from Sri Lanka after the dreadful bombings, is a symbol that Jesus stands with us, here on earth, in our suffering, pain, loss and violence, not up in heaven watching. My human journey includes Jesus when he was still remembered as a radical teacher, healer and prophet who lived on in people's personal/spiritual experience, not as the second member of an eternal Trinity. How might following him be re-interpreted for our own time?
We have to be prepared to reassess the content of 'Christianity', not just its presentation. I am not attacking it; I'm trying to re-think how it could be. A faith should focus on how you live; on what difference it makes, not just be a list of required statements to which everyone is expected to assent without discussion. Fundamentalism and so-called 'Biblical' authority are not the way forward, in Christianity or any other religion. That's like asking people to use the internet based on a manual designed for a typewriter! It might work for a few who are willing to set aside everything else they know to be true, but it just digs a deeper and deeper hole for them to hide in.
The overwhelming majority of people are not convinced. It's a stone when we asked for bread. Just the same old wine in recycled wineskins. We need something genuinely new.
'And a little child shall lead them' said the prophet Isaiah. I recently visited the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire. The centrepiece is a massive circular war memorial with two group sculptures. Each of them shows muddied and frightened figures gently bearing away a dead and naked man from the battlefield. A school party was there and one of the children asked her teacher, 'Is that Jesus'? The answer, of course, is 'Yes'. That's how Jesus still lives, as we find that his human story echoes our own. That's the Way I try to follow. It's a bit like the Confucian 'Path'; living 'as if''Jesus were alive. It doesn't have to be literally 'true' to make a real difference to daily life.
'NOT YOUR USUAL SERMON' BACK NUMBERS
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But my website also reflects my other main interest. Can Christianity and its central figure mean anything to those who are not convinced that conventional ideas of 'God' and religion take us where we need to go as modern, thoughtful human beings?
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