Faith and Easter
(The Network of Spiritual Progressives is an interfaith organization seeking a world in which love, generosity, kindness, ethical and ecological sensitivity, caring for others, and awe and wonder at the grandeur of creation replace the crass materialism and selfishness of the contemporary world. We welcome submissions from all religious traditions that provide new interpretations or deeper understanding of the spiritual realities of our own lives, of contemporary politics and culture, of traditional texts, or of the universe. Selected articles may be posted on our web site , printed in our affiliated magazine TIKKUN, or shared with our readers through emails like this one. Meanwhile, we wish all our Christian members and friends a spiritually deep and meaningful Good Friday and Easter. The essays pritned here are taken from Tikkun magazine. Tikkun: NSP
Faith by Father Richard Rohr
I am wondering if I have ever understood faith-or if I want it now that I am getting the point. The price of faith is much higher than I imagined it to be in my youthful readings about martyrdoms and lives of heroic sacrifice.
Now I know that faith is not believing-certain-ideas-all-evidence-to-the-contrary. It is not dogged loyalty to childhood conditioning or pledges of allegiance to sacred formulas and official explanations. It is surely not the addictive repetition of rituals or practices that keep God under control. These approaches give the ego comfort, but they give little comfort to truth, and even less to the scary and wonderful coming of the Reign of God.
I can only describe faith in its effects: people of real faith seem able to hold increasing amounts of chaos in one tranquil and ordered life. Faith seems to make people spacious, non-controlling, and waiting in awareness. The faith that Jesus praises as salvation (and sufficient in lepers, Samaritans, and those outside the temple system) is something very different than religion as such. It is a capacity within people to contain and receive all things, to hold onto nothing, with almost no need to fear or judge rashly. Faith-people find it unnecessary to secure themselves because they are secure at a deeper level; there is room for Another in that spacious place.
If Someone is not holding together the Big World, then I had best concentrate on making sense out of my own little corner. If No One else is finally in charge, I had best take charge. If No One else is caring for me, I had better be preoccupied with security and insurance. If No One else is naming me, I will be very invested in my own image. If the only joy is self-acquired, then any mood-altering substance will do. All the burden, anxiety, and options are back on me and I must take myself too seriously-it is the glory and the price of secular men and women. When Prometheus can no longer enjoy sitting at the fireplace of the gods, he must steal his own fire, but he pays the price forever. Such seems our contemporary exile. The human mind is enamored and burdened with itself, trying desperately to hold itself together. Trapped in our fractured worlds, we are unable to re-connect with one another.
Because people of faith are comfortable with the totality, they are the only ones who can hold the disparate parts together, make the peace, or "mend the breach." The recurring temptation is to separate, analyze, and judge the parts, which gives us a sense of control and "understanding." But Steve Levine speaks universal wisdom when he declares that, "Understanding is the ultimate seduction of the mind. Go to the truth beyond the mind. Love is the bridge." Faith, driven by love, enables us to give up our need to understand, allows us to let go, and for Someone else to hold us together. It is not a giving up as much as it is an opening up and refusing to close back down for the sake of self-sufficiency and mastery. If this is indeed the character of faith for postmodern people, or any people, then I finally know why faith is so rare and why Jesus himself wondered if he would find very much on this earth (Luke 18:8).
Today, there seems to be a breach in almost every wall. Some have said, the "cosmic egg" that seemed to hold us together for a long time is now broken. "All the king’s horses and all the king’s men" find themselves unable to put it back together again. It feels like the earth moved beneath us somewhere in the mid or late 1960s: the old certitudes, the agreed-upon assumptions, the core values of Western civilization came up for major questioning. Our presuppositions dissolved and the questioning has not stopped. We now find ourselves engaged in major, and sometimes minor, culture wars on almost every personal and social issue. It is all thinkable now, and most of us are beyond being shocked by anything. We are often sad, discouraged, even alienated from the only world we live in. It was so much easier to exist inside the cosmic egg! It feels like exile from home and manifests in rampant abuse, violence, victim behavior, denial, social hysteria, or life-boat ethics. Each enclave of security seems to be clutching at its small certitudes: defiant, assertive, and substituting opinions for deeper identity.
We yearn for breach-menders who can restore our ruined houses, as Isaiah says. We long for great-souled people who can hold the chaos together within themselves-and give us the courage to do the same. In mythology, this is the gift of the queen or the king. In religion it is symbolized by the temple in Jerusalem or the cathedral at the center of the city. In the psychological world, we speak simply of mental and emotional health. In spirituality, we dare to long for God. But our condition instead is always one of exile-"we are pilgrims and strangers on this earth" (Hebrews 11:13). It was in exile that the Jewish religion attained its most mature state. In exile, Isaiah took religious poetry and prophecy to its height. The collectivist ethics of Israel were refined and personalized by Jeremiah and Ezekiel, and the story of Job emerged to push the meaning of faith beyond conventional wisdom. Maybe it is the necessary pattern. Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar were good religious men, giving Job the traditional religious advice, but it was still insufficient. Exile led Israel to the edges of what it had already experienced and battered open the door to the new realm of faith, which is always more than conventional wisdom. We are in cultural and spiritual exile in America now, and long to return to Jerusalem. Or even Kansas! Maybe a new door needs to be opened.
I doubt whether having a single cultural myth or national story is now possible. That is frightening as we experience the fractured results while groups divide, encircle, and defend: male versus female, rich versus poor, liberal versus conservative, Christian versus non-Christian, pro-life versus pro-choice, renew from within versus change from without, overdeveloped world versus underdeveloped world, straights versus gays, environmentalists versus developers, hierarchies versus memberships, whites versus people of color…. The rifts and chasms are irreparable.
Many are unable to offer one another basic respect, engage in civic dialogue, or honor what God is apparently patient with: the human struggle. The Catholic Church is in disbelief and panic at its inability to be a truly universal communion. But I am still advised by Thomas Aquinas who said, "We must love them both: those whose opinions we share and those whose opinions we reject. For both have labored in search for their truth and both have helped us in the finding of our own."
For the middle-part of this past century the goal seemed to be integration, homogenization, centralization, uniformity for the sake of unity, upward mobility, and acceptance. Suddenly, the pattern is reversing worldwide. Now the words are "multiculturalism," diversity, smaller units, ethnic identity, decentralization, states rights, and my rights. For such a paradigmatic shift we need a new ethic and vision for ourselves. If it was e pluribus unum (out of the many, one) for the past two hundred years in the U.S., it now feels like e uno multos (out of the one, many). How do you create a new cultural myth when you are now many cultures? Such is our problem.
The overriding temptation of both churches and nations today is to circle their wagons and worship their own Promethean fire. But the ancient ruins must be built on age-old foundations: we need to assert both exclusivity and inclusivity, both priesthood and prophecy, both identity and universal table fellowship, both holding on and letting go, both the nuclear family and global consciousness. The conservative temptation is to put all the energy into the first: batten down the hatches! The liberal temptation usually succumbs to the second: no boundaries are worth defending except the right to choose itself.
We both need to recognize our underlying cultural assumptions, the "myths" out of which we all operate. Until we can admit that largely nonrational myths guide and determine our so-called rational choices, there is little chance that we will "restore the ruined houses" of our civilization.
Fr. Richard Rohr is a Franciscan priest of the New Mexico Province and founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque
God As Suffering Servant
In any relationship, it is impossible to express love and power at the same time. Whoever is exercising the most power is expressing the least love, and whoever is expressing the most love is exercising the least power. In expressing love a person must give up power, hence loving makes a person vulnerable.
Consider a particular married couple. He loves her and will do anything to keep her in his life. She, on the other hand, does not love him very much, and is unconcerned as to whether he stays or leaves her. Who in this relationship has the most power? Who can dictate the terms of the relationship and call the shots in decision making? The answer seems clear. She can because she has all the power. But note that her power is the consequence of her lack of love.
Christians should have no difficulty in understanding this relationship between love and power, because their New Testament theology posits a God who, in order to express His love, chooses to give up His power. That is what we Christians believe the incarnation is all about. We believe that 2,000 years ago the almighty God set aside His power in order to express His love. We believe that this is why the Messiah entered history, not as a conquering emperor, but as a defenseless baby in a manger. The passage of scripture that speaks to this most clearly is Philippians 2:7-8, where we are told that in Christ, God "emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ and humbled Himself."
The God described in this passage is a God who refuses to use His power as He seeks to save the world. In the temptation story recorded in Matthew 4:1-11, Jesus, who we believe to be the incarnation of God, refuses to establish His Kingdom here on earth through the use of power. Instead, His Kingdom will come, not in a triumphalistic imposition of His will on the nations, but through sacrificial love expressed in His death by dying on the cross. While He is hanging on Calvary’s tree, Jesus’ enemies taunt Him and shout, "Show us your power and come down from the cross, and then we will believe in you" (Matthew 27:39-42). But His way is not to use power and coerce humanity, but to draw humanity unto Himself through sacrificial love. (I wish those on the Religious Right would get this message.) He said that if He were "lifted up" (i.e. crucified) that this act of sacrifice would draw people to Him and to His Father (John 12:32).
When I say such things in sermons, those in the congregation say, either silently to themselves or out loud, "Amen!" Yet they seldom follow this thought to its logical conclusion, that they have a powerless God on their hands, and that what goes on in the world is not totally under His control. Instead, I hear them say such things as "whatever happens, regardless of how tragic, is part of God’s plan!" When something terrible happens, like a child being run over by a bus, they often respond with such offensive statements as: "We just have to accept this as God’s will!" At the funeral of Rev. William Sloan Coffin’s son, who had died in a climbing accident, the preacher conducting the service said just these words. Rev. Coffin impulsively shouted back, "The hell it is! When my son died, God was the first one who cried!" This, from one of our time’s most prominent Christian leaders.
I believe Rev. Coffin was right!
If God is in control of everything that happens, then there would be no such thing as human freedom. Without freedom, none of us would be able to choose to love God-and loving Him is what God wants from us more than anything else. Love is, by its very nature, voluntaristic. It is never constrained. What I am saying is that God deliberately gives up power in order to express His love for us and to give us the freedom to choose to love Him in return.
It is surprising to me that most of my Jewish friends likewise believe that God is omnipotent. They do so even though the Hebrew Bible never declares Him as such. No wonder so many of them rejected their religious beliefs following the Holocaust. "How could an omnipotent, loving God let such a thing happen?" they ask. Does it not seem more likely that their loving and merciful God groaned in agony at Dachau and at Auschwitz? That He wanted to stop what went on in these places? It would be impossible to love God if it were otherwise.
If we are to accept the truths in the Adam and Eve story, must we not accept that God created humanity to act in freedom and thus to be capable of going against His will? And what do we do with that biblical God who, at one point sees that things have gone so contrary to His will that He even regrets that He made humanity in the first place (Genesis 6:6)?
The concept of an omnipotent God came from Greek philosophers. The Greeks are the ones who defined God with such words as omnipotent. This did not come from the Hebrew Bible. The prophets of old declared that their God was more powerful than all the other gods, but they did not say that He was in control of everything. They did not define Him as a puppeteer deity controlling all of our actions. Instead, they spoke of a God who mourns over much of what goes on in our world. (Consider what Abraham Joshua Heschel says in his book, The Prophets, about the differences between the God of the Hebrews and the God of the Greeks, if you want to explore this further).
In the story of Hosea, we get the picture of a broken-hearted God who suffers because of the unfaithfulness of His whoring beloved, but who never stops loving her. Such a God is not the "unmoved mover" who is the creator force spoken of by Aristotle. Instead, He is the passionate God who is marked by deep emotions and loves Israel with intensive love.
The God we find in both the Hebrew Bible and in the New Testament is a God who pleads with His people to do justice and to live out love. This is a God whom Christians call the Servant King and that Jews should acknowledge as a God who limits His power so that we might have the dignity that goes with willingly choosing to do what is right and good.
I am sure that there are times that God must wonder if the price for giving us the freedom to love or to disobey His will is too high, and there are times when all of us wish that He would take charge of human affairs. Nevertheless, it is this God who ordains freedom whom we worship. In trusting us to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8) we find in Him a God who is infinitely worthy of our love.
The good news is that our God is at work in the world, driving back evil through those who acknowledge Him as Lord of their lives. We believe that the day will come when this God shall reign on earth as He does in Heaven. On that "Day of the Lord," which is the eschaton of history, He will then be omnipotent, because on that day, we will love Him so much that we will ascribe all power and glory unto Him-forever and ever!
I know nothing of the ontological nature of God. I only know Him as a God who chooses to be limited in power, for our sakes. And even as I call God "Him" I reveal the limitations of my knowledge of God. God transcends both masculinity and femininity and my feminist friends are right in this. I use "Him" when I talk of God because the Bible does-and it is from the Bible that I get a glimpse of the God who is totally other than what the ancient Greek philosophers made Him out to be, and from whom too many of us formed our theologies about God.
Anthony Campolo, Ph.D., professor emeritus at Eastern University, is the founder of the Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education, an organization that develops schools and social programs in various third world countries and in cities across North America. He is the author of thirty-three books, including his most recent, Letters to a Young Evangelical.
Easter: What Happened to Jesus? by Walter Wink
Considering the weight the early church attached to the resurrection, it is curious that, subsequent to the empty-tomb stories, no two resurrection accounts in the four Gospels are alike. All of these narratives seem to be very late additions to the tradition. They answer a host of questions raised by the gospel of the resurrection. At the core of all these accounts is the simple testimony: we experienced Jesus as alive.
A later generation that did not witness a living Jesus needed more; for them the resurrection narratives answered that need. But what had those early disciples experienced? What does it mean to say that they experienced Jesus alive? The resurrection appearances did not, after all, take place in the temple before thousands of worshipers, but in the privacy of homes or cemeteries. They did not occur before religious authorities, but to the disciples hiding from those authorities. The resurrection was not a worldwide historic event that could have been filmed, but a privileged revelation reserved for the few.
Nevertheless, something "objective" did happen to God, to Jesus, and to the disciples. What happened was every bit as real as any other event, only it was not historically observable. It was an event in the history of the psyche. The ascension was the entry of Jesus into the archetypal realm. Though skeptics might interpret what the disciples experienced as a mass hallucination, the experience itself cannot be denied.
This is what may have happened: the very image of God was altered by the sheer force of Jesus being. God would never be the same. Jesus had indelibly imprinted the divine; God had everlastingly entered the human. In Jesus, God took on humanity, furthering the evolution revealed in Ezekiel’s vision of Yahweh on the throne in "the likeness, as it were, of a human form" (Ezek. 1:26). Jesus, it seemed to his followers, had infiltrated the Godhead.
The ascension marks, on the divine side, the entry of Jesus into the son-of-the-man archetype; from then on Jesus’ followers would experience God through the filter of Jesus. Incarnation means that not only is Jesus like God, but that God is now like Jesus. It is a prejudice of modern thought that events happen only in the outer world. What Christians regard as the most significant event in human history happened, according to the Gospels, in the psychic realm, and it altered external history irrevocably. Ascension was an "objective" event, if you will, but it took place in the imaginal realm, at the substratum of human existence, where the most fundamental changes in consciousness take place.
Something also happened to the disciples. They experienced the most essential aspect of Jesus as remaining with them after his death. They had seen him heal, preach, and cast out demons, but had localized these powers in him. Though the powers had always been in them as well, while Jesus was alive they tended to project these latent, God-given powers onto him. They had only known those powers in him. So it was natural, after his resurrection, to interpret the unleashing of those powers in themselves, as if Jesus himself had taken residence in their hearts. And it was true: the God at the center of their beings was now indistinguishable from the Jesus who had entered the Godhead. Jesus, in many of the post-Easter son-of-the-man sayings, seems to speak of the Human Being (the "son of man") as other than himself. Was Jesus stepping aside, as he seems to do in the Gospels, to let the Human Being become the inner entelechy (the regulating and directing force) of their souls?
The disciples also saw that the spirit that had worked within Jesus continued to work in and through them. In their preaching they extended his critique of domination. They continued his life by advancing his mission. They persisted in proclaiming the domination-free order of God inaugurated by Jesus.
The ascension was a "fact" on the imaginal plane, not just an assertion of faith. It irreversibly altered the nature of the disciples’ consciousness. They would never again be able to think of God apart from Jesus. They sensed themselves accompanied by Jesus (Luke 24:13-35). They found in themselves a New Being that they had hitherto only experienced in Jesus. They knew themselves endowed with a spirit-power they had known only occasionally, such as when Jesus had sent them out to perform healings (Mark:7-13). In their struggles with the powers that be, they knew that whatever their doubts, losses, or sufferings, the final victory was God’s, because Jesus had conquered death and the fear of death and led them out of captivity.
Jesus the man, the sage, the itinerant teacher, the prophet, even the lowly Human Being, while unique and profound, was not able to turn the world upside down. His attempt to do so was a decided failure. Rather, it was his ascension, his metamorphosis into the archetype of humanness that did so for his disciples. The Human Being constituted a remaking of the values that had undergirded the domination system for some 3,000 years before Jesus. The critique of domination continued to build on the Exodus and the prophets of Israel, to be sure. But Jesus’ ascension to the right hand of the Power of God was a supernova in the archetypal sky. As the image of the truly Human One, Jesus became an exemplar of the utmost possibilities for living.
Could the son-of-the-man material have been lore that grew up to induce visions of the Human Being? Could it have been a way to activate altered states of consciousness based on meditation on the ascended Human Being enthroned upon the heart? It was not enough simply to know about the mystical path. One needed to take it.
The ascension was real. Something happened to God, to Jesus, and to the disciples. I am not suggesting that the ascension is nonhistorical, but rather that the historical is the wrong category for understanding ascension. The ascension is not a historical fact to be believed, but an imaginal experience to be undergone. It is not at datum of public record, but divine transformative power overcoming the powers of death. The religious task for us today is not to cling to dogma but to seek a personal experience of the living God in whatever mode is meaningful.
Walter Wink is professor emeritus of Auburn Theological Seminary in New York City and author of 16 books. He is best known for his trilogy on "The Powers" and his fascinating interpretation of Jesus’ teachings on nonviolence.