Saturday, June 16, 2018

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, June 16, 2018 - Jesus Saves What

I can remember seeing the “Jesus saves“ bumper stickers as a child. I wondered what they meant. Jesus saves what? Sometimes the people who drove those cars turned out to be fairly pushy about their faith. It would come open in a crash rather than unfolding. “Jesus saved you!” And then they’d shout, “Hurry up!”
I realize now they were telling me to hurry up and get ready for the second coming they believe to be on its way. But it confused me at the time. It also, however, instilled a deep sense of curiosity. The intensity of people's feelings around that idea was evident to me right away. I wanted to know why.
The aphorism “Jesus saves“ ultimately became the second theological question of my life. The first having been what happens when we die. Asking “What did Jesus save?” of people who study this idea generally gets me an answer describing, among other things, the reconciliation of God to humanity. A clean slate. And that it was the crucifixion and resurrection which provided it.
That’s a pretty big declaration to make. Because I, like all other humans, do not have full access of the inner workings of all realms of existence. I can neither affirm nor deny any idea about the relationship between Jesus, God and Humanity. I was never made privy to that information directly and thus I elect not to comment on it. Simply put, I wasn’t there. I don’t know. I am comfortable with the existence of a variety of beliefs. But we should be responsible with what we refer to as spiritual fact. It’s a fact that Christianity exists. But that’s essentially where the trail ends. The rest is faith.
On some levels, it seems a fairly arrogant exercise to try to determine and declare what God thinks. Of course the answer I get might be, “It’s right there in the Bible.“ But for a variety of rational reasons, that doesn’t sit well with me as a point of debate. Interpretation of the Bible is subjective. Otherwise there would be only one denomination. There would also be only one version of the Bible, for that matter. Obviously there are vast differences of opinion, and most of them feel theirs is the only correct one. Do I disrespect one opinion in favor of another? How do I know that’s the one? How do any of us?
My third theological question came from bumper stickers too. “What would Jesus do?“ It’s a good question if you’re interested in being a practitioner of the teachings. How would Jesus handle today’s mainstream American Christianity? How would he lead it? Assuming any of it was willing to hand over the reigns. What would he have to say about it? What tables would he overthrow before this temple? I don’t wonder. But I do.
I return then to my original question. Jesus saves what from whom? Since I don’t know what occurred on the celestial level, and can only have my own personal opinion about it without anything to compel you to believe me, I’ll stick to things more concrete: The teachings. Sometimes we argue so much about the composition of the soil we forget the flower.
I think the teachings were the whole point of the existence of Jesus of Nazareth on this planet. The dharma. The practice. The way. Forgiveness, nonresistance, hospitality, compassion, empowerment. These five things are a life practice which Jesus taught. Start practicing them. By doing so, over time, we are saved from ourselves. We break cycles of violence by turning the other cheek. We raise up the world one generation at a time by empowering one another. We add Christianity to the chorus of other world voices teaching each tribe the same truth in different ways. Over time we reveal our own divinity. Peace on earth.
Imagine what the world could be like if a document were written that extended those exact principles into the governing of a country? Such a document exists, in fact. It’s called the US Constitution. And much like the Bible, it is preached far more than it is practiced. That is not to say that this nation was founded under Christianity. It was not. But the principles of Deism, in which our founders largely believed, come from the same ethical truth. The necessity of forgiveness, compassion, hospitality, nonresistance and empowerment are self-evident in a civilized society which expects not to destroy itself, but flourish. That’s why Jesus tried to teach them to us through his example. He gave an inconvenient truth of self empowerment at a time when such words invited execution. He sacrificed himself to make sure that we heard them. And that is how he saved us. Provided it works. In many ways the jury is still out. But the teachings endure.
I can’t say what really happened over two thousand years ago. But that is no longer the point. What matters is the legacy which that time has left us. The world’s largest religions all say it, Christianity is no exception. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. That is the salvational practice.

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