The kind of wholeness I’m describing as the Universal Christ is a forgotten treasure of the Christian Tradition that our postmodern world no longer enjoys and even vigorously denies. I always wonder why, after the rise of rationalism in the Enlightenment, Westerners would prefer such incoherence. I thought we had agreed that coherence, pattern, and some final meaning were good. But intellectuals in the last century have denied the existence and power of such great wholeness—and in Christianity, we have made the mistake of limiting the Creator’s presence to just one human manifestation, Jesus.
The implications of our selective seeing have been massively destructive for history and humanity. Creation was deemed profane, a pretty accident, a mere backdrop for the real drama of God’s concern—which we narcissistically assumed is always and only us humans. It is impossible to make individuals feel sacred inside of a profane, empty, or accidental universe. This way of seeing makes us feel separate and competitive, striving to be superior instead of deeply connected and in search of ever-larger circles of union.
I believe God loves things by becoming them. God loves things by uniting with them, not by excluding them. Through the act of creation, God manifested the eternally out-flowing Divine Presence into the physical and material world. Ordinary matter is the hiding place for Spirit and thus the very Body of God. Honestly, what else could it be, if we believe—as orthodox Jews, Christians, and Muslims do—that “one God created all things”? Since the very beginning of time, God’s Spirit has been revealing its glory and goodness through the physical creation. So many of the Psalms assert this, speaking of “rivers clapping their hands” and “mountains singing for joy.” When Paul wrote, “There is only Christ. He is everything and he is in everything” (Colossians 3:11), was he a naïve pantheist or did he really understand the full implication of the Gospel of Incarnation?
God seems to have chosen to manifest the invisible in what we call the “visible,” so that all things visible are the revelation of God’s endlessly diffusive spiritual energy. Once a person recognizes that, it is hard to ever be lonely in this world again.
Jesus’ approach to interpreting sacred text was radical for his time, yet honored his own Hebrew Bible (or what Christians call the Old Testament). Even though Jesus’ use of Scripture is plain enough for us to see in the Gospels, many Christians are accustomed to reading the Bible in a very different way. We simply haven’t paid attention and connected the dots! Over the next couple days, I’ll share some examples that reveal Jesus’ hermeneutic so that we might follow his methodology:
- Jesus actually does not quote Scripture that much! In fact, he is criticized for not doing this: “you teach with [inner] authority and not like our own scribes” (Mark 1:22).
- Jesus talks much more out of his own experience of God and humanity instead of teaching like the scribes and Pharisees, who operated out of their own form of case law by quoting previous sources.
- Jesus often uses what appear to be non-Jewish or non-canonical sources, or at least sources scholars cannot verify. For example, “It is not the healthy who need the doctor, but the sick do” (see Mark 2:17, Matthew 9:12, and Luke 5:31), or the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (see Luke 16:19-31). His bandwidth of authority and attention is much wider than sola Scriptura. He even quotes some sources seemingly incorrectly (for example, John 10:34)!
- Jesus never once quotes from nineteen of the books in his own Scriptures. In fact, he appears to use a very few favorites:
- Hosea, and
- Psalms—and those are overwhelmingly in Matthew’s Gospel, which was directed to a Jewish audience.
- Jesus appears to ignore most of his own Bible, yet it clearly formed his whole consciousness. That is the paradox. If we look at what he ignores, it includes any passages—of which there are many—that appear to legitimate violence, imperialism, exclusion, purity, and dietary laws. Jesus is a biblically formed non-Bible quoter who gets the deeper stream, the spirit, the trajectory of his Jewish history and never settles for mere surface readings.
- When Jesus does once quote Leviticus, he quotes the one positive mandate among long lists of negative ones: “You must love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18).
AMERICA FERRERA AND JOHN PAUL LEDERACH
.. I am deeply convinced that change must be relationship-centered. We don’t create change purely on the basis of the content of a policy. We don’t create change purely on the basis of winning an argument or, even, winning a particular vote at a given time. Change has something to do with who we’re going to choose to be, together, as the human family. And until we understand this — this is when I was working with that notion of the moral imagination — the imagination that you’re in a web of relationship that includes your enemy, because your grandchildren are gonna be mutually affected. So how to hold these two — I think it’s actually the art of everything.
.. In highly polarized settings, one of the ways I understand social courage is that it takes courage to reach out to things that are not known, not well understood; that may be threatening to you; that may, in fact, pose a threat to everything you believe. So there’s a certain kind of courage that it takes to reach into that unknown.
.. But there is also a courage that is required of us — that when we see our own community dehumanizing others, that we have the courage to speak to that dehumanization. So social courage cuts in both ways, and this is sometimes the hard part, is that we just would like it to be one way. But then we’re backing away, aren’t we, from the complexity? We’re not willing to sit with the mess of who we are in a way that finds a way to speak to that clearly.
The psalm that I ended up with that was most helpful for me was Psalm 85: “Truth and mercy have met together. Justice and peace have kissed.” You may be familiar with some of that phraseology — it was actually the psalm that was read over and over and over again to start the village-level negotiations in the east coast of Nicaragua. And when I was sitting in those locations, in bombed-out churches with people who were in the same rooms who had come from different sides of a war where they had lost families and had been shifted out of a country, and they’re sitting there, and the first words they hear are: “Truth and mercy have met together” — it sounds like truth and mercy are people. “Peace and justice have kissed” — it sounds like they’re people. So I began to ask, what if truth showed up here today? What if mercy showed up alongside of truth? And how in the world do you hold truth and mercy together, so it’s not choosing one over the other, but somehow, they’re there? I think that’s the real challenge of learning to live with that tension: not avoiding it.
.. I used to be really disturbed by all the violent psalms, and then I, when I studied theology, got behind that. I really appreciate that — that at the heart of the Bible, this, too, comes before God, and you speak this out loud. And also, when I learned that those are common prayers, and so you’re not always praying just for how you feel that day and that there is always somebody in the world, and too many people in the world, who are righteously full of rage.
.. something that’s been so on my heart this entire weekend has been our indigenous brothers and sisters. We so rarely ask our question: Whose land are we standing on?
We think about reckoning with this country and the history and the past of this country, and we so rarely want to begin with the original sin of massacre and genocide of an entire indigenous population. And they’re so rarely evoked and called into these rooms that I think that if we really want to reckon, if we really want truth, we have to start there.
.. I feel like when you are talking about, like right now — this is a way you’ve said it — you’re part of these multiple, overlapping, converging initiatives, some of which are very well publicized now, some of which are more emergent — and that it’s essentially leaderless; there’s no great charismatic leader. It feels to me like a lot of what is brewing, and especially in Hollywood, among artists, is kind of new-form social innovation.
.. And so something beautiful emerges out of a moment, excitement — yeast, reaching a point where it explodes into something great.
But then our human instincts kick in, and we want to control it, and we want to define it, and we want to put it in a form that we recognize and understand. And so the instinct can be: Who’s the leader? And what’s the process? And who reports to whom, and what’s the chain of command, and who gets to use the logo, [laughs] and defining the “we.”
.. You can be angry, but don’t become bitter. You can be angry, but don’t refuse to talk. You can be angry, but don’t forget to love. And he’s slightly my elder, by about a five, maybe eight-year period. And there were periods where, to be honest, my anger was headed more for the bitter. I forgot to love. And then you have this extraordinary friendship of somebody who’s been through so much more, who just comes alongside — I love alongside — takes your arm, and says, “Let’s walk.”
Often the very things that don’t appeal to us have the most to teach us spiritually.
If you’re like me, you’d much rather spend time in the classical, medieval, or renaissance galleries than in modern exhibits. We tend to be attracted to whatever version of art makes us feel comfortable or reflects our worldview.