Sunday, October 16, 2011
Have you been following the Occupy movement?
I have been reading online articles and Facebook posts and have been especially struck by how many times and how many people have made reference to the words of Jesus.
Did you read the article in The Huffington Post written by the now retired the UU minister, the Rev. Marilyn Sewell? She ended the article which she entitled “The Church and Occupy Wall Street” quoting Jesus…reminding her readers what he said.
I am just guessing, but I bet a lot of the folks who are sharing posts that quote Jesus don’t ordinarily define themselves as traditional Christians. They are probably not active, signed up members of a Christian church. And, like Rev. Sewell, they probably stand far outside what might be even broadly defined as the Christian faith.
But does that really matter?
In our world, when you go quoting the greatest teacher who ever lived, it doesn’t make any difference what part of Christianity you belong to, or even if you do! You’ve simply appealed to a higher authority, an authority whose face, words and deeds are recognized by almost everyone.
Everybody knows that Jesus and what he said carries way more weight than Christianity does!
Well, everybody might know that now.
What I would like you to realize is that Americans haven’t always been so keenly tuned in to Jesus and what he looks like, what he said, what he did. Americans haven’t always understood him to be the greatest sage of all time. Americans haven’t always lifted up the words of Jesus as the best there are when it comes to teachings about justice, equity and compassion
Last month I showed you what Jesus looks like!
Well you saw what an ad man, named Sallman, thought Jesus looked like. You may have heard me say, or you knew already, that millions in the 20th century agreed that Sallman, the portrait artist, got it right. He captured what Jesus really looks like, at least in the minds of so many. He created a portrait. The American people turned that portrait into an icon.
This month, I am going to enlighten you as to why Americans grant so much “authority” to what Jesus has to say.
We know what he looks like. And we all think we know what he said.
Well, sometimes we need to be reminded. But whenever we do remind ourselves or each other what he said; when we quote Jesus... whatever we are trying to say is given more weight, authority, power, prophetic voice…..
In our culture Jesus functions as a familiar personality much bigger than any one church, or even any one religion can hold. His is a personality with superstar status that almost everyone not only recognizes, but respects.
Jesus says…we listen.
The process that made Jesus the cultural hero that everyone stops and listens to was brought about by the same kind of “cut and paste” operation that severed Jesus’ head from his body, from any particular context, like the Sallman portrait did. The one I showed you last month.
It was in the 19th century, when Jesus’ words were severed from Christianity, by guess who?
After this President was done, Jesus would no longer belong exclusively to the faith movement that his life and death brought about.
Before I tell you about how that happened, it is important for you to know that in the earliest century of the American experience, the 17th, the figure of Jesus was not central even for Christians. The Puritans, who in so many ways personified the quintessential American religion, who dreamed of building the City on the Hill, who banded together with each other to be in a new covenantal relationship with God the Almighty didn’t have much use for Jesus.
For them, Jesus was only important in a sacrificial way, his death having brought about a new relationship between a new people and an old god. The son’s role was minor compared to big daddy. For the Puritans, worship was not about 'Jesus my savior', or 'Jesus my friend', or even 'Jesus the wise teacher'. It was about getting and staying in right relationship with God the Father.
We UU’s often claim to be heirs to the Puritan form of church governance, the “we-are-all-in-this-together” part. But we make no claim to have inherited the “fear-of-God- Almighty” piece! Sometimes we forget about how BIG and Important God used to be!
Getting from the Puritans to the third President of the United States is a long and complex tale. But the short version is: Along with the Puritans, many others came to the new promised land with all sorts of religion and no religion. What they mostly had in common was a growing disdain for the real or the imagined power of any King, almighty or not. All of the left wing of the Reformation including the Puritans rejected popes, Kings, Lords and all the reigning bishops in the Anglican Church as far as spiritual matters went. It would only be a matter of time, before the idea that all (white) men are equals before God would influence everything.
Along with the idea and practice of democratic society, came the elevation of Jesus into the Super Man among men. The radical notion that everyone is capable of deciding and acting for themselves, would bring education and enterprise, and deeply affect not just forms of governance, but change who was imagined to be in charge of spiritual and moral and ethical matters.
One could make the case that the passage of the first amendment not only guaranteed religious freedom, it also had the effect of demoting God- the Lord it Over-You to be feared Father. In his place rose Jesus, the perfect teacher of how to live together in brotherly love in a just society of equals. (It was as if Americans left God behind, when they began to worship Jesus…)
It was Thomas Jefferson the creator and passionate promoter of the separation of church and state, who was the major player in separating Jesus from Christianity. Jefferson paved the way for Jesus to be the super sage every one listens to, everyone respects.
While Jefferson was the third president of the United State, in office, he found the time to take a razor to the Bible, cutting out the parts he agreed with- that he found to be reasonable-pasted them together and produced what would become known as The Jefferson Bible.
What motivated him to do such a thing on “our” time? Was he just trying to produce what he needed Jesus to say, in order to make an appeal for his agenda by making reference to a much Higher Authority?
Maybe. That might be how we interpret his actions now…
At the time it was more likely that he was motivated by what moved most educated, passionate leaders, who wanted America to be great. He used reason to look for the reasonable things Jesus likely said. He threw on the floor the parts of the gospels that were, in his mind, unbelievable, silly or inconsistent. The result was the clear undeniable message of justice, equity and compassion. (The same message that would later cause UU’s to disavow their relationship with Jefferson, the slave holder.)
Nearly a quarter century later, another “cut and paste” operation would bring about The Woman’s Bible. Elizabeth Cady Stanton one of the early leaders of the long movement to secure women’s right to vote, was censored by most of the other suffragists because she wouldn’t give up her efforts to produce a Bible that eliminated, or explained the offending sexist passages. Yes, of course the vote was important to her, but getting the Bible to say the essential message of justice, equity and compassion that she knew must be there beneath the misogynist details was more important.
Unlike, Jefferson, she at least had a committee of 26 to help her.
Yet, neither Jefferson, nor Stanton, relied on Biblical scholars.
Contemporary Biblical scholars endlessly debate what the Bible really says about what Jesus really said.
We don’t know for sure. We only sort of know what people much later said he said.
When the Jesus Seminar, comprised of academics at work in public and private universities all over the US from the late 1980’s forward, voted to determine what the great teacher “really” said…it ought to come as no surprise to learn that the academics drawing straws produced nearly the same set of words that Jefferson had put in Jesus’ mouth two centuries before.
I shared with you last month that this sermon series “Who is Jesus” comes from my having read Stephen Prothero’s book American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon. Prothero again and again calls America the “jesus nation”, because whenever there is something we need to fix, that brings us back into alignment with justice, equity and compassion, who do we call on to have the last word?
In America, it does not matter whether one is on the right or the left…or in the middle, or whether one is Christian or not….ALL Americans have inherited a strategy for effecting cultural change, especially change which asks/demands that people to be transformed.
It is the cut and paste… strategy that goes like this:
First, refuse to equate Jesus with the Christian tradition. Say something equal to: “The religion of Jesus…is not the same as the religion about Jesus; and what really matters is what Jesus did and taught.”
Secondly, use the cultural authority of Jesus to denounce whatever it is you as change agent deem to be contrary to “true” Christianity. Or, press on and use the authority of Jesus against the whole of Christianity…like our own Theodore Parker did.
For when the person or the people calling for change unmoors/disengages Jesus from the beliefs, practices and institutions of the traditional Christian faith, Jesus is then free to be whoever the change agent needs him to be. Jesus is already a cultural icon among Christian so he loses no authority there. AND when separated from Christianity, he gains authority among those who want change.
What did Jesus say?
The Jesus who stands separate from the beliefs, practices and traditions of the ever – evolving and incredibly diverse Christian church…can say whatever our culture or the various sub-cultures within our broader culture need him to say.
He can say whatever we hope will bring about the change we want to see, as long as we believe what he says carries the potential to change our nation and our world…as long as Jesus, our Super Hero, gives voice to the frustrations and fears of ordinary people who know something is wrong, as long as we-Americans give him this power, we-Americans will continue to believe in Him and his message.
Rev. Sewell ended her article by reminding us that Jesus did not say; “I have come that you might be comfortable”. But rather, “I have come that you might have life”
How we interpret “might have life” has everything to do with who we are and where we stand, where our hurts and fears are…
There is no denying the super hero weight, power, authority that the words of Jesus have, especially when severed from any historical or traditionally Christian context…
…especially when everybody knows what Jesus says and only needs to be reminded…
What did Jesus say?
I am guessing you know already...
Posted by Rev. Ann Marie Alderman
Labels: 2011, A sermon delivered to the UU Congregation of Greenville October 16, Who is Jesus? series
Monday, October 10, 2011
In 1979, Norman Cousins, the writer and editor, published Anatomy of an Illness. He had been suffering from an auto-immune disease which came upon him in the form of a debilitating arthritis. Doctors had told him that his condition was terminal. His book started a revolution in patient care, because it told a story of how powerful the results can be when a person participates in their own healing. That one could alter the course of a terminal diagnosis was a brand new idea in the late 70’s.
Cousins used many different techniques beyond the medicines he was prescribed to deal with his illness. The book walks the reader through his journey to find health again. One of the things he discovers along the way, is that if he watches the Marx Brothers or reruns of Candid Camera, and laughs hard, it is good… really good!
He shared that he was able to enjoy up to two hours of pain free sleep from just 10 minutes of deep belly laughing! No sedative or pain medicine was able to do that for him. There was a point in the progression of his disease when laughter really was the best medicine!
He reminded us of something we humans have always known. Laughter can save our lives!
Cousins didn’t die from his auto-immune disease, like the doctors said he would. After he recovered, he wrote more books, and he became, among other things, a Professor of Medical Ethics at UCLA. It was there that he participated in doing research on the biochemistry of human emotions.
Back in the late seventies, scientists were just beginning to prove what we take for granted these days, … one’s emotional state is important for how one’s body deals with disease. We’ve come to believe that optimistic, hopeful, trusting folk are more resilient; recover faster. Negative, paranoid, cranky folk don’t do so well…
It’s really not that either/or!
Yet laughing is critical for our mental, physical and spiritual well-being.
We can’t laugh our way out of the human condition! But we can cope better. We can by laughing relieve stress, find commonality with each other, and give ourselves some needed distance from the pain and the downright absurdity of life. It is good to let in some comic relief!
Being able to laugh, just laughing on a regular basis, often and long and loud… is maybe way more important than we might think it is!
Have you heard about Laughter Yoga?
Its proponents claim that there really is no need for reruns, comedians, sarcasm, clever humor, poking fun! …your body just needs to laugh!
Started by an Indian physician named Dr. Madan Kataria from Mumbai, Laughter Yoga Clubs now number over 6000 across the world and are in nearly 60 countries. Dr. Kataria started the first club with a few friends in a public park in 1995. They simply came together to laugh for 20 minutes….as hard and as deep as they could. Then they did it again the next day and the next… That began the Laughter Yoga Clubs that are now all over the world.
It doesn’t cost anything to join. There are no forms to fill out. The clubs are non-political, non-religious and non-profit. They are run by trained volunteers. The training they go through helps the leaders teach the others how to breathe! Breathing is important when your goal is to laugh for 20 minutes!
The ultimate goal of laughter yoga is nothing to laugh about! It is no less than world peace!
Actually the theory behind laughter yoga is that it doesn’t rely on humor, or sarcasm, jokes or comedians! There are studies that have been done that prove that the body cannot tell the difference between faked or real laughter. One will receive the same physiological and psychological benefits either way.
The proponents of laughter yoga hope that these clubs will spread to more businesses, schools, prisons, long-term care, or cancer centers, and/or wherever there are physically or mentally challenged folk.
I think it would be great if instead of opening prayer, congressional sessions or city council meetings, police briefings, or military operations could start with 15 minutes of belly laughing! Now that would be revolutionary!
Perhaps it would change the world if we laughed more, more often and for longer periods of time!
…especially before we engage in serious concerns
We really don’t need science to tell us that laughing is good for us. Perhaps we need science to prove how laughter works, but we’ve known that its good medicine for a long time.
They say that healthy children laugh up to 400 times a day, but adults only 17 times a day, on average.
From a religious or theological perspective, laughter can honor the essential absurdity or paradox of the human condition. Comedy is sacred art. It can keep us from thinking too much, worrying too much about the ultimate questions that essentially have no answers…like why did this happen to me? …or why do we live, just to die? …or what happens when we die?
Laughter can bring people together and dissolve differences and hatreds, and pain.
Laughter can enlighten our everyday existence so that we see with new eyes, so that the world of joy and possibility becomes real. It helps us not to take ourselves so seriously…
Or perhaps what I ought to say is that laughter might help us to be and to do the very serious task of changing the course the world is on, or altering the progression of disease.
Laughing is good for you!
Posted by Rev. Ann Marie Alderman