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Archives For January 2013
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(originally a guest contribution post to novaviavitae.org found here).
We hear a lot about “hope” these days. In a world that constantly reminds us of its injustice, of its instability, hope is often the glue that holds us together both personally and corporately. But what are we hoping for exactly? Are we hoping that society will throw off the global shackles of hunger, poverty, and oppression? Or is it merely that we wish to taste the slice of victory society has withheld from us individually for so long? Is the justice that we seek for the world simply a mask for our own aspirations and grievances? Such reflection is necessary, even critical, for the fruits of hope to emerge in our lives.
One first step is to recognize what we are hoping for. There is a certain naiveté hope carries. This much is evident. Some would even call hope foolish. They may be right, but that would require identifying the object of said hope. For countless millions the return of Christ is center-stage, the coming of an apocalyptic and divine kingdom on earth. For others nothing short of a politically-achieved utopia will do, a new and lasting “Enlightenment” built upon science and reason. Depending on how you were raised, which courses you took in college, or simply which path you chose to take, one of the above scenarios may sound far more naive than the other.
The faithful have been zealous in proclaiming a future fulfilled by a divine interruption, by the coming of a radical new age that breaks into history and makes all things new. Regardless of your personal affiliation with religion, this hope has a certain zing to it. I mean it’s bold, exciting, and sounds worthy of being made a summer blockbuster by Michael Bay. But this grand dream has ironically transitioned to a nightmare in many circles as they have traded hope for a fatalistic pessimism. Ironically, many within Christianity (a religion founded on hope) have abandoned hope for today’s world altogether. As time marches on, every political setback and progressive social movement is seen as a “sign of the times” and further evidence that the end is just around the corner. Furthermore, those who defend the state of present-day society are seen as the truly naive.
Those who do not share such a longing for Armageddon are more likely encouraged by the progress we as a species have made. For many, this is the greatest period of world history by most metrics including education, health care, life expectancy, technology, wealth, and numerous others. Hope in our ingenuity and ambition is the catalyst to propel society forward. Although we have come so far, we admit we still have much further to go. Anyone who would banish hope to a future divorced from our reality, from science, from progress, from the here and now—they are the truly naive ones, right?
A healthy next step is to recognize a basic fact: that the future is indeed a mystery. We cannot know what tomorrow will bring. We’re all naive if we think otherwise. To hope for a better tomorrow, however, is something we must never neglect. To hope is to believe another world is possible. Whether we hope for a life beyond this mortal life or not, we must recognize our common values as members of a global society, as stewards of justice and mercy. As we sit in pews and classrooms, the prophets of propaganda and cynicism must be challenged by our stubborn notions of a better world. The sky is not falling simply because they say it is. And even if it is falling, we can bring our umbrellas.
To hope is also to believe that another life is possible, a life better than the life we have lived thus far. While we may wish our world were far more perfect, that change begins with us. To hope is to believe your volunteer work has done real and lasting good. To hope is to believe playing with your children is shaping their character. To hope is to believe your own health and happiness is worth fighting for. Things can be different. Your life can find greater significance.
So how do we take hold of this radical hope?
It is easy to reduce your existence to a series of tasks, a routine that reinforces the lie that life is devoid of any true meaning. Recognize the interconnectedness of the life you live. Make a list of the people you interact with on a daily basis. How well do you know them? Does your life impact theirs greatly? What small acts of kindness could you perform to create hope in the midst of their own life? Becoming aware of how we all affect one another is of great importance. Wherever our hope lies, it should overflow from our mouths and hearts. It cannot only reside in a distant future. It must manifest here among us. Hope is a state of being meant to be lived, capable of inspiring those without hope to find light once again.
Call me naive but without hope, a new way of life is impossible.
I am going to die someday. I have no idea when, where, how, or why, but it is inevitable. Inescapable. Undeniable. Unstoppable.
Basically, it’s going to happen whether I like it or not. Oh, same goes for you all too. (Sorry).
Depending upon your own beliefs, your thoughts on death may vary drastically. It may be the gateway to eternal life, or the cessation of life entirely. Is it the beginning or end? Is it reunion with those who came before you, or the final goodbye to those you have left behind? What lies behind this veil of death?
Simply put, it is everything… or it is nothing.
Let’s weigh out these implications. You may be surprised at the results. I’m sure most of us would like something to happen after we die. I mean, anything is better than nothing, right? (Well, besides some lava river scenario anyway). But the problem with eternity is…
IT LASTS TOO DAMN LONG.
I don’t care who you are. Living for as little as 500 years would drive me insane, no matter what I was doing. And as I’ve stated my entire life, I have an arrangement with God. He’s going to nuke me after 10,000 years, regardless. After that, I’m out.
But what is the alternative? Nothing? How could anyone be okay with nothing? With non-existence? Well, a positive thing about non-existence is…
YOU HAVE NO IDEA YOU DON’T EXIST.
I swear, some people think “no afterlife” means they would lay in the dark staring at the roof of their casket for trillions of years. I mean, were you bored to tears all that time you were waiting to be born? Honestly, there is somewhat of a similarity, a commonality with eternity and nothing. Eternity without meaning is nothing. Yet if we did not exist, would that not last forever? Look at the stars? How long have they shone? How long have they known?
What lies beyond this life is the greatest mystery of all, but that end should hold little sway over the here and now. Life is a gift, given by a power as mysterious as death itself. Some call it God. Others call it chance. We’re here either by providence, or for no “reason” at all. Again…
all or nothing.
Now, when we choose what we are living for, we’re simultaneously choosing what we would die for. It is worth the risk. Many could walk the rest of their days as a Christian or an atheist, all in, no matter what lies behind the veil. To believe is to be bold, to march down into the valley of death without fear. Fear means we are allowing death to dictate how we live our lives. This is the greatest injury we can inflict upon our own soul. Life is not about waiting to die.
How long have you been waiting to live?
Find a passion that consumes you, defines you. Make the angels envy your heaven built on earth, made of laughter and tears, long talks and kind deeds. Live a philosophy too grand for a textbook, etched on pages safe from time and ware. Write a symphony played on the heartstrings of strangers, filling your cathedral to the rafters. The agents of death cannot find you there. They bang on the doors as the flood waters rise higher.
There is nothing to fear, my child. Haven’t you heard?
You are alive. So live.
Has anyone ever asked you “Do you believe in God?” Of course they have. Your response is almost more intriguing than the question itself, if you ask me. You may answer the question confidently. The matter may be fairly simple. It’s a yes or no question after all. If you have no hesitation, does this strike you as odd to have such a profound question decided so easily? You suddenly become the one with all the answers.
Perhaps you’re the type who answers “I don’t know.” I mean, it is such a monumental question that “I don’t know” seems almost a given. How can anyone believe in God with certainty? Yet, does it also not strike you as odd that you could live your life in such tension? Is not the existence (or non-existence) of God extremely significant in the big scheme of things? It would seem that such a question demands a definitive answer on your part. What if you’re wrong?
Would there be hell to pay?
Another question that taunts us regularly is “What is real?” Growing up in a Christian home, certain things were obvious to me. There was a God. He was real. Angel were real. Heaven was real. Hell (gulp) was real. For all of you who were never raised in such a household, I can not stress enough the degree to which I mean “real.” God was as real to me as grass, trees, and skinned knees.
I have since grown up and learned of other perspectives that muddy the water (and for good reason), possessing their own merits which demand my reflection. After learning of the various streams of theology present throughout church history, I came to find differing opinions about the reality of hell. All of a sudden the game had changed. What if all those other things were up for debate? What if nothing had been decided?
I came to the personal conclusion that hell did not exist. I also came to the conclusion that my belief in hell had no bearing on whether I would even go to such a place if it did exist. Why would it matter? How could it? If the only rationale for believing in hell was the fear it induced to keep you in line, that’s a pretty crappy reason (and further evidence the whole thing was bullsh*t).
But then I came to a far greater revelation. Hell did exist.
You heard me right. I don’t believe in hell, but hell obviously exists.
I once took pride in proclaiming that I did not believe in hell any longer. But such a statement ignores the genocides in Sudan and Rwanda. It says the Holocaust never happened. It spits in the face of every child slave, every infant ripped from her mother’s arms. It looks the other way as workers are exploited, as women are raped, as children are orphaned by decades of bloody civil wars. We cannot say hell does not exist.
Does Heaven exist? To deny Heaven is to deny lovers their wedding night. It is to drain music from our ears and hearts. Without Heaven there would be no smiling children or roller coasters. We cannot say Heaven does not exist.
Is there a God? Well, if your God is love, he is within those who love. Is God everywhere? Wherever you go, there he can be found if love is with you still.
Don’t let your ego blind you from what is truly real. To dismiss an idea is to dismiss a reality it represents. You have the power to create and destroy, to give life and to take it away. To make your beliefs into gods is to hand your fate over to them. They will rot and crumble as you cry out for answers.
You may decide there are no Angels, but their songs may reach you still. One may be calling out to you from the living room.
They want another juice box.
So, I have this Jesus bobble-head. It’s ridiculous really. It sits on the desk across from my bed, looking at me with its goofy messianic expression. My wife hates the thing. However, there’s really no getting rid of it. I mean, you can’t throw away Jesus. That’d be disrespectful. Almost as disrespectful as… a Jesus bobble-head. So I keep it, partially because it’s hilarious, partially because I like sacrilegious things. The other day it was doing its bobble-thing and I said, “Look honey! We’ve been waiting on a move from the Lord, haven’t we?” She put her hand over her face, fighting back both horror and laughter. Man, I love that thing.
I remember the whole “Jesus is my homeboy” t-shirt craze about a decade ago. It was all edgy, you know… because Jesus wasn’t supposed to be… urban? I’m not sure. All I know is that it created a backlash of opposing t-shirts and bumper stickers with the rebuttal of “Jesus isn’t my homeboy. He’s my king!” Oh, and no one will ever forget that song that came out with the audacity to proclaim “I am a friend of God.” Phhssst. God has no time for friends. I don’t know why, but that song “Yes lord, yes lord, yes yes lord…” got thrown under the bus at the same time. But we could talk about bad Christian music all day. The point is that all of a sudden it was taboo to convey Jesus as anything less than a fourteenth century feudal lord.
Now, I do understand there is a thing called reverence. Certain things are indeed sacred to many. This should be respected. We Occupy Jesus is all about bringing much needed positive PR to the legacy of the Jesus narrative. I am in full support of religious freedom of expression. I admit, there is a lot of expression going on. When you look online, there is a plethora of crude and satirical representations of Jesus, including Raptor Jesus, Zombie Jesus, Alien Jesus, Gay Jesus, and the most bizarre of them all…
We must stop this madness!
But when I look across to my bobble-head savior, I think to myself… “That’s not Jesus.” Obvious, of course, but important to note. I’m not making fun of actual Jesus. I’m not reducing any literal notion of the historical and/or theological Jesus to a childish toy. It’s just a dumb bobble-head. And to my embarrassment, it’s also the “White Jesus” model.
When I go online and witness the circus surrounding the person of Jesus, I rarely think these depictions represent anyone’s real thoughts concerning the man from Nazareth. At best they are an example of an overactive sense of humor, and at worst they are examples of a sheer disbelief in Jesus and/or religion. I don’t think Jesus would take it personally (but White Jesus would be pissed). Do Christians really think Jesus’ temper is raging out of control due to this sacrilege? Are people really going to hell because they make an internet meme, or merely laugh at one?
I make fun of many Christian things all the time. I try (keyword: try) to tone it down around those who are easily offended. I don’t make fun because I think Christianity is wrong, or dumb. I just see past the veils of religious theatre that put Jesus on stage as something he is not. If your Jesus gets offended by “Homeboy” t-shirts, well… your Jesus is just as comical as raptor Jesus. If your Jesus gets angry when Project Runway comes on the air, your Jesus is more ridiculous than Alien Jesus.
“But my Jesus is the real Jesus! The one true Jesus! The alpha and the omega!” you say. “You shall bow down and respect him!” you say.
We need to be honest with ourselves. Christian or not. Theist or atheist. Our ideas of Jesus are merely that… ideas. I’m not saying Jesus isn’t real. I’m saying every conception of him we hold is essentially our own. It is much like a memory. We can remember countless moments from our past, but they are merely re-creations of a former reality. The church, Christianity, our religions, our beliefs, they are built upon those former things.
When a ridiculous version of Jesus is mocked, it is the absurd idea that is under siege, not God or his son. My bobble-head pokes fun of society and its fixation with making Jesus so commercial. That is what is being ridiculed, not Jesus himself. To suggest such trivial things are cause for eternal retribution truly offends me, because this also suggests Jesus somehow represents the self-absorbed, those preoccupied with t-shirts instead of humanity.
What is most offensive is Robot Jesus, the same old, tired, mechanical Jesus that the fraudulently pious wind up and clap their hands to each week. Robot Jesus does what you want him to do, what you expect him to do. You can dress him up however you like. You can put him away when you’re sick of him.
You can also flip the switch on his back from love to kill.
If you value and respect what Jesus stood for, we ask you to join us here at We Occupy Jesus. We have plenty of robots to smash.
Would you like to borrow a hammer?
If you had a time machine, what would you do with it? Your imagination just lights up at the mere thought, doesn’t it? In a way, a time machine would be immortality. Death could not touch you (unless you age as normal in the machine, perhaps? I haven’t figured out the physics yet). You would be a master of time. A “time lord” per say (for you Whovians out there). Where would you go first? Forwards or backwards? The beginning or the end? Maybe we would need to think this through first. We’ve all seen Back to the Future. Stuff can get complicated. Save someone’s life and you may end up taking your mother to the Enchantment Under the Sea dance.
Let’s assume you go to the past first. But don’t try fixing mistakes from your life. It won’t work. Why not? Well, isn’t it obvious? If you fix a mistake, that means the mistake never happened… and you can’t go back in time to fix a mistake that never happened. C’mon, guys. Keep up. The past is for sight-seeing. Everyone knows that. If you mess with anything, bad stuff happens. But there’s so much to see. What first? So many debates could be settled. You could report to your friends and family back home what really happened in the beginning. The whole evolution debate? Settled. Kennedy Assassination? Settled. The location of Jimmy Hoffa’s corpse? Settled. (He’s buried under the Vatican). But honestly, would anyone believe you? I mean, would you believe someone who told you they came back from the past? Such a journey may be a lonely one.
What about the future? You could see the rise and fall of societies. Imagine the horror of advanced warfare. War gives way to peace. Peace gives way to destruction. Imagine the cycles of life spinning faster and faster, extending endlessly onward. The mystery is gone. Hope and faith melt away. They are no longer needed. You have seen all that shall come to pass.
But the future is open, is it not? The future is not set in stone, right? This cannot be known, even for you, a time traveler. Maybe things will be different now that you’ve seen the future. (Or maybe you seeing the future caused the future to be… the future? Way to go, Mr. Future McFuturson. You’ve doomed us all).
To put it mildly, time traveling would be beyond anything we could fathom. The implications cannot be overstated. It may be best to just do what Marty McFly and Doc Brown should have done in the first place: sell it to the Libyans (with an engine filled with used pin ball parts).
But if I had to use a time machine, I’d personally have no doubt about how I would use it. I would go see Jesus of Nazareth. I would watch him grow up. I would witness his messages. I would somehow bring myself to watch him in his moment of death. I would then wait patiently to see for myself what happened the third day after his crucifixion. Then I would come back… and tell no one what I saw.
Well, Jesus represents much more than what really happened. Any words I could bring back with me would only cheapen what his life has come to mean for millions. Also, it would be no different than the numerous testimonies of those claiming to have encountered Jesus. You either believe it or you don’t. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, does that leave his life in the grave? Of course not. If he did rise from the dead, does that make the unbeliever love him, or worship him? Well, maybe not.
I would come back and destroy the machine. My world would be forever changed. When I think about it now, I wonder how many modern prophets have the empires trampled? How many Jesuses, how many Martin Luther Kings, how many Robert Kennedys have been nailed to the wall? How many men and women have stood before the tanks, the guns, and machines of tyranny? How many naive dreamers lay down on the alter of society to give their lives for a pay check, trading their integrity for the scraps and bread crumbs dropped by their corporate masters?
You do not need a time machine to see the beginning and the end of all things.
It is in every birth and every death.
There is a darkness we all recognize in our own way. We need not seek it out, for it always finds us. It lurks not under the bed, nor in the closet. It needs not the blanket of night. The day does not scatter its minions. Of course, I speak of what we commonly call evil. It is a name, but also much more than that. It is a state of being, or lack of being to be precise. Its existence is tied up with ours, yet it also seeks to destroy us. It is a parasite of the worst degree.
In haste to smoke out this beast from its lair, some create a scapegoat, a singular figure which to blame, to fight, to engage in battle on the fields of spiritual warfare. They muster their weapons that amount to incantations, spells that cloud the senses and distract them from the gathering storm. They call this darkness by name. They call it Satan. And they are foolish to speak its name, for he surely does appear. Reflections in their own mirrors, reflections mistaken for a foreign enemy, an intruder.
Some deny the existence of evil. They say it is merely a condition brought about by ignorance, corruption, class warfare, or other societal factors. Others claim a spiritual being is the manifestation of this darkness, commanding an army that is waging an unending war on this earth. One wonders, if we were to set up a colony on an alien planet, would this dark prince follow us there? Is he omnipresent, equal with the divine light of the Almighty? Or is such a demon merely another pawn in a greater force of evil, spinning a terrible web that entangles us all? So many questions. How are we to stand up against such an onslaught?
Surely, we can recognize what is basic, what is evident to all. Call it what you wish, there is a sickness that infects us. All is not well. Evil is here, calling our names each day. It is subtle. It cares not what we call it. It laughs at such debates. We must cast down the idols of our self-declared immunizations. We must look inward, to those spaces we’ve locked away. It is there we shall find it. Are we its origin, or merely catalysts? The distinction is irrelevant.
What is the nature of evil? It is both present and absent. It is everywhere and nowhere, much like darkness itself. Darkness consumes the cosmos itself, yet it is still the absence of light. It is the same with evil. Love is the substance that fills the spaces in our hearts. To be fully human is to know this love perfectly. Any crevice, any corner of the soul not drowned in this light of love is but a nest for ravens, cawing and pecking at our being. Look at your neighbor. Do you feel the indifference rising up in you? Do you feel a disconnect, a natural isolation from all and any who do not share your petty interests? The language of evil is indeed found in our very bones.
Oh, justice. Do you hear her? She calls you to join her. You both have so much work to do, rounding up the enemy. Look, they are everywhere! Are we the only righteous ones left? Of course not. Do not let the false sirens lure you in so close. Your zeal to fight this darkness is a tool it wields against you. To change the world, we must first love those who stand in our way.
It is then, and only then, that we can face down the shadow of our own soul.
If Jesus walked the earth today, what would he stand for? What would he think about the hot-topic issues of the day? Would he be a socialist? An anarchist? A homeless guy? Just a stranger on a bus (trying to make his way home)? Well, we can’t know those things with certainty, but we have our opinions. He’d most likely be very charismatic, very passionate about the state of our societies. But envisioning a modern Jesus is tainted, because no one wants to imagine a Jesus who would have differing moral, political, or even religious views.
While Jesus was a figure who drew huge crowds and followers, he was also intensely hated by the very religious figures who had been awaiting the arrival of the Messiah. Why would we expect anything different today? Our neat and tidy picture of a world-changing new-era messianic figure probably looks more like Superman than a smelly carpenter peasant. Have you ever seen a sidewalk prophet shouting that the end is near? How ready are you to join him? It’s much easier to write him off as another schizophrenic bum who needs some good meds, a job, and a shower.
But let’s forget about finding a new Jesus, or waiting for him to come back for a minute. Let’s imagine the awkward reality that we may indeed be wasting our “Jesus” potential. As a Christian, I occasionally have the odd situation pop up when I’d say “Well, Jesus wouldn’t do that,” followed by a fellow Christian saying, “Stop comparing yourself to Jesus!”
I want you to think long and hard about what I just said.
For years, I’ve been told… by Christians… not to compare myself to Jesus. Now, first let me clarify something. I do NOT think I am like Jesus, not by a long shot. But isn’t being like Jesus the point of being a Christian? So many have made him into a cheap ticket to paradise. Living like him is reduced to some type of guilt-driven gratitude shown to him for how great he was way back then, you know… like thousands of years ago… for dying for us. But since, you know… Jesus’ teachings had everything to do with mimicking his behavior (since he was a Rabbi teaching his followers to be like him), then any heaven-laced side effects are beside the point. If you value Jesus’ life, you value his life for its own merits, not because of magic mansions in the sky.
By the way, my magic mansion is going to have a pool shaped like Buddha.
Imagine you no longer need to strive for perfection. Imagine you were a modern Jesus, or “Joe Christ” for lack of a better term. (Jane Christ, for the lady-folk). How would you go about ending homeless, hunger, disease, poverty, depression, war, genocide, corruption, boy bands?
In our consumer-driven world, perhaps the knee-jerk reaction would be to throw enough money at the problem. With enough funds we could buy enough houses, medicine, resources, and provide enough education to stop the majority of suffering in the world. But something would still be missing. If you became simply a source of goods for the masses, who simply gave them what they needed to survive and live comfortably, would this be enough? Would it stop bullying? Would it stop domestic abuse? Would addictions be cured? Would depression by wiped out?
Don’t get me wrong. The world would be drastically better with all basic needs met, but the world needs more than that. The world needs to be loved. How can our lives inspire those around us to love more fiercely? More completely? We must first recognize our ability to actually live a life in the same caliber as Jesus. For those who fall outside of the tradition of Jesus and Christianity, this principle is still true. We all must realize our potential to be fully human. The goal is both the journey and the destination. Any philosophy that begins with “…but of course you’ll never be that good,” is doomed. We’re capable of far greater things than we’ve been led to believe.
Secondly, we must go beyond the letter of the law. This is the narrative of Jesus in a nutshell. Again, if you’re not a Christian, take this principle to heart nonetheless. We can get away with doing merely what is expected of us, but we are meant to go further.
Have a list of five chores to do? Do six.
Have a card to pick up for your spouse? Pick up a card and then surprise them at work with flowers.
Doing volunteer work? Show up early and leave late.
When you go beyond what is expected, you give the world something much more valuable than what it asked for. You give it love. This is the power that can not be bought by money, by special interests and lobbyists, by social programs. This is the power of humanity waking up, eyes fixed on a new horizon far off but clearer by the day. This is the power of faith, hope, and love, those invisible pillars that forever hold us up.
Once you realize this power is more real than money and religion, your magic mansion in the sky starts to look a little more down to earth.
Just remember to mop the floor.