The Bible is surely the most controversial book ever in print. It has done an immense amount of good. Unfortunately, it probably has also caused more damage than any other text. Throughout history we clearly see how many Christians acted in oppressive, ignorant, and abusive ways in the name of Jesus and the Gospel (two of the most damning examples being the support of slavery and the subjugation and colonization of indigenous peoples). It seems that to many Christians it did not matter what Jesus really said or did. They just needed an imperial God-figure, and Jesus was used to fit the bill. It could just as well have been Howdy Doody.
.. We’re trying to be more honest with the Scriptures—inspired by God, as understood by humans—rather than making the Bible say what we want it to say or interpreting it according to our cultural conditioning. Yet God has always risked being misused, misinterpreted, or “man-handled” by God’s own people. For me, this is the deep symbolism of the babe in a manger. God completely, vulnerably gives God’s self over to our care.
Most Christians preconceive Jesus as “the divine Savior of our divine church,” which prematurely settles all the dust and struggle of his human experience. Such a predisposition does not open us to enlightenment so we also can have the mind of Christ, but in fact, deadens and numbs our perception. Too often we read the Bible with an eye to prove this understanding of “our” Jesus so that our ideas and our church are right—and others are wrong. If we are honest enough to admit this bias, we may have a chance of letting go of it for a richer understanding of the Gospel.
.. It was probably St. Francis of Assisi (c. 1182-1226) who first brought attention to the humanity of Jesus within organized Christianity. During its first thousand years, the Church was mainly concerned with proving that Jesus was God. Prior to St. Francis, paintings of Jesus largely emphasized Jesus’ divinity, as they still do in most Eastern icons. Francis is said to have created the first live nativity scene.
The brilliant Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas (1905-1995) said the only thing that really converts people is “an encounter with the face of the other,”
.. When the face of the other (especially the suffering face) is received and empathized with, it leads to transformation of our whole being. It creates a moral demand on our heart that is far more compelling than laws. Just giving people commandments on tablets of stone doesn’t change the heart.
For those who are willing to see, the divine self-revelation of creation as image and likeness is everywhere evident, long before Scriptures were written. God was not mute for 14 billion years. Even though Abraham didn’t have the Bible (either of the Testaments!), he and Sarah still knew God—which is true for all the Patriarchs and their families. They instead knew God by the relationship called faith, better translated as “trust in goodness.”
Faith is the other side of the coin of revelation. Faith is God’s self-exposure received and responded to trustfully. A genuine act of faith is always in response to a new disclosure. It is meant to be an ongoing dialogue of divine disclosure and human response—an ever deeper divine disclosure and an ever deeper human response—just like any human love affair. People who are incapable of vulnerability thus cannot get very far on the journey of faith. They usually substitute either religion itself or atheistic denial.
Contemplation is about seeing, but a kind of seeing that is much more than mere looking because it also includes recognizing and thus appreciating. The contemplative mind does not tell us what to see, but teaches us how to see what we behold.
.. Only a non-dual mind can discover that to be human is to also be divine.
.. How do we learn contemplative consciousness—this deep, mysterious, and life-giving way of seeing, of being with, reality? Why does it not come naturally to us? Many people experience this knowing in small glimpses, in brief moments of intimacy, awe, or grief. But such wide-eyed seeing normally does not last. We return quickly to dualistic analysis and use our judgments to retake control. Contemplation is simply a way of maintaining the fruits of great love and great suffering over the long haul.