Editors' Note: Guest blogger Rev. Rick Elliott has been a minister since June 1973 and has frequently handled the overflow of weddings from a university chapel. He has received an M/Div from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, and did five-sixths of a D.Min at Perkins School of Divinity (SMU).
As time approaches when death will, once and for all, reveal what I've come to hold in faith, I feel estranged from many who call themselves by the same name I call myself--a Christian. I perceive a bewildering muddle of political gamesmanship, Machiavellian manipulation of well-intentioned people, Madison Avenue staging, and yet, a deep personal belief that nurtures a soul. And somewhere in the midst of it all true faith struggles to be known, and continues to find witnesses--albeit voices crying in the wilderness who feel a prophetic word wanting to be proclaimed.
To help me keep my moorings I stop to assess what is faithful and what is at the core of my belief:
- The Native American storyteller doll is the trigger of a primitive faith memory. It's much like the picture of Jesus engulfed in children. I can see him smiling and playing with them, reveling in their exuberance and simplicity. Then adults want Jesus to shoo away his young companions and he brings them up short--adults have to be like children to get into the Dominium of Heaven. How we encrust a child-like core with layer upon layer of dogma, self-serving credos, Pharisaic works righteousness, and nit-picking regulation that loses the truth in a miasma trying to preserve it!
- Jesus, the good shepherd who is always reaching out, loving, accepting.
- Jesus, the healer who brings health and wholeness--someone to whom a grieving father can come to bring a child back from death, someone who ends the prison of being blind, crippled, and vaginal bleeding,
- Jesus, the advocate for those deemed unacceptable because they are women, the wrong ethnicity, in a shady business, shunned by respectable society, those who've run afoul of discriminatory religious regulations and those in a sexual identity minority.
- Jesus, who relates that real happiness comes from a way of life that is diametrically different from what our society bombards us with in advertisements and societal opprobrium. He declares that our identity comes from our being created in God's image instead of wealth, position in society and the vagarities of fickle people and circumstances.
- I also see where Jesus' announcing that he is Messiah. In contrast I see people--even people called Christians--whose public lives are governed by appearances, but quite different from their private lives. For example, office seekers choose carefully where their grand pronouncements are made. Press conferences are called at places where there'll be the most impact.
Yet note the setting where John's gospel portrays Jesus first making the revelation that he's the Messiah. There's no press release, no throng of exuberant supporters. There's only a well in a country looked down upon by his fellow Jews and only an audience of one: a woman who's one represents several despised categories of. She's been married five times and is shacked up with a sixth man.
Jesus constantly thumbed his nose at the religious of his day. The religious establishment dogged his tracks wherever he went trying their best to get him in hot water with the crowd or violating minutiae of religious legal interpretations.
- I see the angry Jesus, livid with how alleged believers have defiled the place
of worship. Futile bleating and restrained fluttering of sacrificial animals provide a backdrop for the loud hawking of sellers of the special coins that only can be used as gifts to the God who only claims to what a faithful heart. Images of Gothic university buildings donated by men who made themselves rich with sweat shops, child labor and unsafe mineshafts. And used their power to obtain obscene agglomerations of assets. And similarly folks who enflame bigotry to maintain their power.
- I see Jesus trying to logically show the religious establishment how they
turned the life-giving word from the mountain into a stultifying morass of regulations, guilt and a burden impossible for anyone to bear. Once again folks manipulate that Law to put down GLBT folks and promote a hate that is the antithesis of Jesus.
As I have become more sophisticated I realize other aspects that trouble me:
- People calling themselves Christian who practice selective biblical literalism with no faith-based reason for their choices,
- The Church that has gotten furthering the institution confused with furthering the dominion of God.
- Unity in Christ isn't unanimity of belief, but what different pieces need to be present for the Church to be whole. I was stunned when it hit home that I needed folks who believed different from me in order to be complete and not completeness from having everybody agree with me.
And I return to my quandary of who Jesus is. What I hold onto is my earliest affirmation of faith expressed in song, Jesus loves me this I know. Little ones to him belong: they are weak, but he is strong.