I Can Relate to Jesus - and He Relates to Me
by the late Rodney O. Lain
"In legalistic communities, every person who questions the status quo becomes [labeled] a heretic or false teacher."
"The new covenant was not written with ink. It is not a written code. It does not consist of the Gospels, the books of Acts, the epistles, and Revelation. Every one of those books was written with ink.
"We have always been told that 'the new testament' consists of twenty-seven books. It seems almost heretical for one to say this is not true. To refute it seems to deny God's Word, even though God nowhere said or implied that such was the case."
- W. Carl Ketcherside, The Death of the Custodian, pages. 135, 83, 95, respectively
I will put my laws into their minds, and write them in their hearts; and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people."
- Hebrews 8:10, KJV
They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God.
- John 16: 2, NIV
When Jesus had finished . . . the chief priests and the elders of the people assembled in the palace of the high priest, and they plotted to arrest Jesus in some sly way and kill him.
- Matthew 26: 1-4, NIV
No servant is greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.In theological circles, there is a frowned-upon principle called proof-texting, which is this, in a nutshell: you pick and choose Bible verses that conform to your preconceived beliefs.
- John 15: 20
I want to say, from the outset, that I am not proof-texting. I am speaking from conclusions based upon my experience with religion and the Bible.
That said, I still know that, invariably, many professional theologians (the modern-day scribes and Pharisees, ya think?) will turn up their noses at what you are about to read. You see, the first thing they will do is to check the following:
- What are my "credentials," i.e., do I have a theological degree from a good, conservative seminary? What right have I to speak?
- Of what denomination am I a member?
This essay is basically one heart talking to your heart.
I have been a member of several organized churches. I have hardly ever went looking for wrong doing or "sin" or any other human frailty. But each time, it reared its hoary head and demanded that I see it.
F'rinstance, I was a preacher in one church, a person that some people even looked up to. I, with all my might, preached that each person is precious and equal in the eyes of God. I demanded that no person look up to the pulpit where I stood and think that I was better than they. That type of message became fiercely popular, as you can imagine, since it speaks to the inborn need for freedom and control of one's own life. More and more congregations sought me out to speak to them. I even spoke to churches that were not in the same denomination as mine.
At this point is where I ran into the twin devils of hierarchy and denominationalism. You see, I found out that preaching equality in the eyes of God is not what the religious establishment wants. They, instead, wanted me to remind the people about the "truth" that parishioners obey God by obeying the "ministers" placed over them.
After all, it's the will of God, no?
Well, I didn't buy this, because I had already started down the road towards the unspeakable: I began to read the Bible for myself. And, worse than that, I began to act upon what I read. My reading uncovered this Jesus guy, who hardly ever went to church, who rarely if ever did anything remotely religious. Here is a man that millions have sworn allegiance to, and he doesn't appear to even condone the beliefs that they adhere to so tenaciously.
He, for example, never saw himself as divinity; he called himself merely the 'son of man' (some today call him by the name closest to what he called himself: "Joshua Ben Adam" - literally, 'Jesus, the son of man').
He never spent his time pointing out the flaws and weaknesses of the "sinners" and the downtrodden. His strongest anger, however, was reserved for the pious, whom he repeatedly referred to as hypocrites.
He never sought to control people. He never tried to modify anyone's behavior so that it conformed to an outward display of piety. Instead, he gave simple instruction: do everything in your power to love your fellow man in deed. Do not draw attention to yourself with your good deeds. Give and ask for nothing in return. If you can, give anonymously. If you give publicly, you're no better than the religious.
I love his definition of true religion: visiting the poor and the fatherless. He also said that one day, people would finally understand that true religion transcended ritual and liturgy. The one, true God, he is recorded as saying, seeks people who worship "in spirit and in truth" - whatever that is.
He said that the biggest enemies of people who live this way are those who are devout in their religion - who put religion and tradition above human needs.
For some reason, this Jesus touches me in ways that the mythical Jesus never did. The Jesus of the past was an asexual (not to mention sexless), dour-looking man who had long hair, effeminate features and was so far above humanity that he couldn't begin to possibly be able to relate to us.
The Jesus that I've discovered in my own study and research, however, is a man who would feel more at home in a bar with a cold beer than in a church with shouting followers.
Why is it that this Jesus never demanded that any of his contemporaries sign a formal agreement to abide by a list of do's and don'ts? Why is it that this Jesus did not spend his time telling people that they must give 10% of their income? Why is it that this Jesus didn't spend his time talking about how evil the world is? Why did he spend so much of his time trying to make the world a better place for those around him? Why does this Jesus come across more like a "bleeding heart liberal" than a Pat-Robertson-Christian-coalition-trying-to-stop-liberals-from-tearing-apart-the-moral-fabric-of-our-holy-blessed-Manifest-Destiny-nation kinda guy?
More importantly, why didn't anyone ever tell me about this Jesus?
This is a totally human Jesus. One that I can relate to more than I've ever been able to relate to any living human that I know.
This Jesus, I think, wouldn't be upset if I questioned his very existence. He wouldn't mind if I decided to do some comparison shopping with Christianity and other world religions. He wouldn't mind if I wanted to check into this "Christianity stuff" for myself. I feel I could ask him to explain to me why every culture has myths about virgin births, man-gods, etc. - the same things that are part and parcel of Christian tradition. I don't think he'd chide me for not having "simple (read blind) faith." I think he'd listen to me recount my discovery that the Ten Commandments (good principles that they are) did not originate at Mt. Sinai. I'd like to think that he'd address my concerns, instead of calling me a heretic and forbidding me to discuss such things, for fear that it would trip up "babes in Christ."
I think he'd commend me for using my hat rack for something other than an empty brain. Heck, he may even agree with some of the things I hate about modern Christianity (sectarianism, biblicism, etc.) If he did, that kind of candor would impress me enough to follow him - seeing that he would be, in my mind, a man of principle instead of a puppet of some denominational hierarchy.
If this is the Jesus of the bible, I'd imagine that the churches would be full of bodies, not just on C & E (Christmas and Easter).
Will the world ever know about this Jesus, this Joshua Ben Adam? Would the Christian establishment stand for it?
Only time will tell.
Note: Rodney O. Lain was a Twin Cities writer and Mac enthusiast. Rodney became an early blogger on the Internet before that word was coined. His crisp crunchy prose earned him a huge following among Mac users and initially the wrath of Apple when he penned an article on the first iPod called "iYawn". Apple took his criticisms to heart and at Rodney's funeral Apple VP Ron Johnson of Marketing gave an eulogy on his interactions with Rodney and how Rodney affected the development of the iPod. It was a touching tribute - that Rodney would have cherised. Rodney are you missed!