Monday, August 13, 2007

What about when "Jesus" is a swear word?

I'm incredibly encouraged by Forrest's last post entitled "Taking back Jesus," and I agree whole-heartedly.

The problem is, what do we do with those who don't believe in Jesus, or at least don't believe in Jesus in the way I want them to?

That's one major problem with the group of Friends with which I'm affiliated, Evangelical Friends. There are lots of people who are interested in visiting a Quaker meeting where people come meet in silence and speak upon a strong impulse but don't have to believe any specific thing. There aren't so many people who are really interested in visiting a programmed Friends meeting, unless they're already Christians or interested in Christianity. Why? Because going to an unprogrammed meeting is non-threatening and sounds intriguing and open. Going to a programmed meeting is just like going to church, and lots of people have already experienced "church" and it hasn't been a good experience.

So how do we "take back Jesus" and not run out those who are seeking an authentic spiritual experience but have been hurt by the name of Christ, or Christians, or the Bible used as a weapon?

The easy answer is to live as Christ lived, but that's easier said than done...and everyone has their own idea of what that would look like. So what would it look like for you?

Friday, August 3, 2007

Taking Back Jesus

I can always expect that yearly meeting will bring an intense experience of the Spirit, but can never predict what form that experience will take.

This week at Pacific Yearly Meeting, the significant event was an interest group on 'Taking Back Jesus.'

The group was initiated by John Pixley of Claremont Meeting, a man with a whole-body speech impediment; we often see him zipping about here in his motorized wheelchair--and in meeting, we occasionally strain along with him as he strains to articulate: those of us who've best learned to understand him calling out our guesses until we arrive at last at his message. Last year, his friend Charleen Krueger says she had to make about 10 guesses before she realized he was saying "Jesus." And so they agreed that something needed to be done, and that she should join him in it.

Here is his (typed) statement:

Taking Back Jesus:

Last Fall, a young man that I hired as an attendant would often show up to work wearing a blue hooded sweatshirt, on the front of which he had sewn a picture of a Hindu goddess. I was intrigued by this and told him I thought it was cool. He suggested that I have a picture of Jesus Christ sewn into the bib of my coveralls. "That'd be dope!" he enthused.

Jesus on my bibs! That would be cool, if not dope, I thought. Those who know me know that overalls are what I wear, that they are very much a part of my life. Jesus is also a big part of my life. Most likely because of my significant, in-your-face disability, I have long been attracted to his message of love for the different, the outsider, even the enemy. Why not have Jesus, whom I admire--indeed, love--and try to honor in how I live my life, close to me, on my bib, for all the world to see?

But then I got worried. If I went around sporting a picture of Jesus, people would get the wrong idea about me. Never mind that they would think I was out to convert, or "save" the world. People would think I am a right-wing, fundamentalist nut.

People would see me with my picture of Jesus and think I was saying that women shouldn't be able to get abortions, that gays and lesbians are bad, that it is not only acceptable but honorable to go to war and even start wars, that it is okay to torture people.

This is what many people think of when they think of Jesus--or at least of Christianity. The sad, shameful fact is that Jesus has been taken by conservative Christians, the Christian right, and used as their exclusive spokesman. This man who preached and demonstrated radical love and inclusiveness, who showed it to the world, has been hijacked and made to say that women and gays shouldn't have equal rights, that war is good, that torture is fine.

Jesus has been made to say and condone things that he never said or condoned. How else can President Bush, who is against same-sex marriage and a woman's right to have control over her own body and life, who sanctions war and torture (not to mention the death penalty) not only claim to be a Christian but also claim that Jesus is his most-admired philosopher?

This gives Jesus and Christianity a bad name. Earlier this year I saw 'Jesus Camp', a documentary about a summer camp for Christian fundamentalist kids, and I was struck by how the audience at the college screening was laughing. While much of what is said in the film is outrageous and funny, I came away concerned that Jesus has become a laughing-stock.

Jesus has been used in other hurtful ways. Since I was a young child, people have stopped me on the sidewalk to tell me that if I believe in Jesus, I will be healed. I have even been told that I will walk if I pray to Jesus! The message is less about Jesus and more of a judgement--that in being disabled and in a wheelchair, I am not a complete, whole person, but in need of healing and not worthy (in their eyes, if not Jesus') until I am healed.

I have no doubt that all of these people are sincere and well-intentioned, which makes what they do with Jesus quite disturbing. (Indeed, the director of 'Jesus Camp' said at the screening I attended that Christian fundamentalists have embraced the film.) Is it any wonder that, especially as a disabled--and now gay--man, I have become wary of Jesus or at least of any talk of him? I am sad to say that I am all but ashamed to say that I love Jesus. I notice, when I'm with my gay friends, that they get frightened and angry when I mention Jesus. This is a tragedy.

I wonder how many people who would otherwise consider themselves Christians have been scared off or driven away from Jesus by the way he has been appropriated and misrepresented. Could this be why some or many of us in Pacific Yearly Meeting feel more at home with our safe, warm, universalism than with the old-time, Christocentric Quakerism of George Fox?

It is time to take back Jesus. I want to embrace him as the man of peace and love that he truly was. Indeed, I want to wear him and show him off proudly on my gay, disabled body. I dare say that he, with his world-changing message of all-inclusive love, would like it.

Some thirty to forty of us, gathered in a conference room Wednesday night, resonated with this in our many ways. Our understandings ranged from that of one man who thought of Jesus as merely 'a teacher' to a woman who'd seen Jesus appear before her in a Buddhist meditation hall. (When she asked, what was he doing there, he'd said he needed her to be a Christian!)

One of us confessed a fear that he would have to resign his membership in the Society of Friends. "How can I be faithful to my Lord, if I can't freely say his name in a message?" (I wanted to offer the man all the reassurance I could, but at the end of the meeting he was already surrounded by people comforting and embracing him.)

We still have no answer to Pixley's question; I'm just immensely grateful to him for finally bringing it forward in our yearly meeting. We've needed to do this for a very long time, and now we know.

I myself have wondered for many years, what to make of Jesus. But I like what Charleen Krueger had to say. "I claim the pre-Christian Jesus, the person in whom those around him saw that of God. He met the divine by being fully human, by seeing beyond the boundaries of our fear, by opening his life to all that God means, by being open to life, open to love, open to the work of the Spirit. He calls us to translate his full humanity into a new and inclusive life for ourselves and everyone. I accept his call to share the life-giving power of radical love that knows no boundaries."