Zealous for Zealots

30 07 2013

How I wish Lauren Green worked for NBC . . . not because she is such a gifted and talented religion correspondent – I don’t know enough about her to say that . . . but because right now she works for FoxNews, and I do NOT want this to be an anti-Fox blog!

For the past several days I’ve read about and watched several clips of Lauren’s interview with Reza Aslan, author of the book, “Zealot: The life and times of Jesus of Nazareth.” Aslan is an internationally known religion scholar and author, who is fluent in New Testament Greek, and who actually claims in the opening pages of the book that his “two decades of rigorous academic research into the origins of Christianity has made (him) a more genuinely committed disciple of Jesus.” He made that clear again last night in an interview with Pierce Morgan when he stated that he passionately tries to follow Jesus’ example . . . and oh yeah, Aslan is also a person of the Muslim faith.

(By the way, did you also know that Ayaan Hirsi’ Ali, author of “Infidel” and “Nomad”, books that claim to expose Americans to the evils of Islam, is a devout Christian; and that Pat Robertson is a male heterosexual, who has a great deal to say about transgender issues and homosexuality; AND, that there is absolutely no record anywhere of Dr. Seuss, author of the classic Green Eggs and Ham, as ever having eaten green ham?)

Now most are in agreement that Green probably just asked the questions that she had been given. Her greatest failure was simply not doing the research needed for the interview. (The same kind of research she not surprisingly, failed to acknowledge in Aslan’s book!)She made the same mistake we’ve all made at some point in our careers and she shouldn’t be hung out to dry for it! Never the less, I still believe that her conversation with this brilliant and devout man of faith reveals several unfortunate attitudes that reign in too many segments of American Christianity today. And the attitudes leave me extremely confused.

Why do so many Christians think that every Muslim has an agenda that involves discrediting or maligning Christianity? Why do so many people treat education and educated people as the enemy? And why are so many so quick to see those who have different beliefs, as propagators of evil rather than fellow pilgrims on a similar journey?

As any religious scholar will affirm, and as most thoughtful people of most religious traditions will confess, Jesus was a great prophet, who has changed and continues to change the course of human history. Certainly this is true of people in the world’s
three great religions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. In his selfless life and senseless death, we have in Jesus a model for what can truly be said to have been a ‘Godly’ life. And I know countless people of all faiths who can and do affirm this – as well as many who claim to atheists! Our only disagreements, and I intentionally use the word ONLY because they were so unimportant to Jesus that he failed to ever address them – involves doctrines and laws created by men to control people, and to divide and separate nations and cultures. And frankly, these doctrines and laws – like Jesus’ being born of a virgin, his claims to be God, and his bodily resurrection – are issues that have divided even the Christian community since the first century!

So why do we think that a Muslim is not qualified to write about Jesus, or that if s/he does, it is with an agenda to discredit Jesus’ ministry? Further, why do we think that one who ‘studies’ faith, is somehow denying or negating the ‘experience’ of faith, and thus has little to teach us? And finally, why are we so afraid to acknowledge that even if someone does have a faith that is radically different from our own, they may still be moving closer to the same God that we love and serve?

How ironic, that so often these days, I find that I have more in common with people of other faiths, than I do with so many who claim to embrace the same faith that I do. I guess that’s why I’ve become a ‘zealot’ for progressive Christianity – because it’s the Christianity that I see in the life of Jesus.

Thanks Reza, for pointing that out!

Heaven on Earth

18 07 2013

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

They are words from the MLK Memorial in Washington, DC, and they’ve been pricking my conscience since I first read them several days ago. A little research has revealed that the quote is believed to have been written by – yes, a pastor! Theodore Parker, a Unitarian minister in the mid-19th century, composed a sermon on racial injustice that would foreshadow this nation’s 4 year civil war; and he included this phrase to motivate his listeners to action, and to keep them from giving up.

I’ve also discovered that this is one of President Barak Obama’s favorite quotes; and whether you support him or not, I believe this quote is an accurate reflection of his theology . . . as it is of mine!

I like Parker’s sentiments because of all that it implies about Jesus’ words that the kingdom of God is ‘at hand.’ The quote serves as a reminder that while at times . . . the wrong seems oft so strong . . . God is working God’s purposes out in creation. The Holy Spirit is still moving over the face of the earth, guiding and directing all that is toward that day when “justice will roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” The words admonish and inspire me to stop waiting for life on the other side of eternity, and to make sure that I’m working on THIS side!

You see, for too long, the church has been preoccupied with . . . life on the other side. We’ve been so focused on heaven – a place we go when we die, where streets are paved with gold, where we’ll finally be reunited with all of our loved ones who have passed on, and where there really will be a mansion with our name on the front door – that we’ve neglected life here, in this world.

Rob Bell, in his book “Love Wins”, puts it best – “When we talk about heaven . . . it’s important that we begin with the categories and claims that people were familiar with in Jesus’ first-century Jewish world. (And) they did NOT (emphasis mine!) talk about the future as somewhere else, because they anticipated a coming day when the world would be restored, renewed, and redeemed and there would be peace on earth.”

Further, when asked about ‘eternal life,’ Jesus takes a question about ‘then’ and makes it about the kind of life that is being lived now! Why? Because his desire was the earth and heaven become one. His desire was that God’s will be done just as it is in heaven. His desire was, and still is, that whatever we believe about the future, would determine how we live in the present!

Friends, as we struggle with injustice, racism, homophobia, and countless other issues that lead many in the faith community to conclude that the world is going to hell in a handbasket, let’s all remember whose world this is. Remember that while the moral arc of the universe is indeed long, and hard, and while it may at times may appear to be bending in the wrong direction, it still leads to the heart of God. Good and Godly people are everywhere. And one day, justice WILL win.

So let’s keep working for the sake of the Gospel. Let’s continue to live into the kingdom that is at hand. Let’s do what all those bumper stickers tells us to do . . . to stop being so heavenly minded that we’re no earthly good . . . to be the change we long to see.

Actually, let’s just . . . BE THE CHURCH . . . for Christ’s sake!

Let’s just BE . . . the Church; and make heaven on earth, a reality for everyone!