Over the course of the last several years, I have searched for a perspective on ancient scriptures that could make sense. I discovered there are 30,000 perspectives on Christianity including something called The Emerging Church. I found an activist in my area who says that every church should be a peace church. For Christmas, I got a few books that have been on my list for a while, one of them says Everything Must Change. While waiting to unwrap them, I came across a tattoed, sarcastic Lutheran.
When I tired of looking for new leaders, I looked into more details about the old and dead people they were referencing, and found there was not much new under the sun. The recent authors, writers and leaders have brought some fresh language, some challenges that are more entertaining than the typical Sunday Sermon and, although it can’t proven, hopefully they have inspired some young people to participate in a world that would be happy to have them be disenfranchised consumers of a prepackaged culture. But the core message only changes slightly in flavor, not substance, and the substance is still paper thin.
Seeing young people inspired is an inspiration in itself. But it is not enough. Religion has been on the skids for 500 years. Warmed over versions of it have shown its amazing staying power but they don’t indicate real change. The latest techno hip-hop networked version is not emerging as anything that will stand out when this millennium is reviewed.
As I prefer concrete examples, take a closer look at the Sarcastic Lutheran’s sermon about Jesus walking on water and inspiring Peter to have faith and do the same.
The new packaging starts with the ripping of the old interpretation of the parable. And I agree completely with her assessment that simply telling someone to have faith doesn’t accomplish much. This begs the question of why she is there preaching on that very story, and she addresses that directly. She answers that God’s story speaks to us better than any other story. She only offers this as an assertion then moves on to suggesting ways to find yourself in the story. This is slightly better than just telling you what a sinner you are or who you should be, but she gets to the “shoulds” soon enough.
She moves on to her new and improved insight for the parable. She switches from you wanting to go walk on the water, to seeing that Jesus is coming to you. I see a room of twenty somethings leaning forward as Nadia dances through that first half of the sermon, then slumping back, some showing disappointment, some looking thoughtful as they try to figure out what the message was. Perhaps they discuss it over a macchiatto, or send a tweet, “Jesus walks on the water towards me #parable”. Hopefully they feel the sense of community as they clean up the park or visit the nursing home.
On to Christmas Day
When I unwrapped my books, I couldn’t decide on just one so I had to skim several. I found that Brian McLaren’s title “Everything Must Change” came from a Burundi woman living in Rwanda. He had met her while there on a mission trip just after the war in that country. They had been discussing the “essential” message of Jesus. The woman was stunned by this discussion and realized,
“I see that it is about changing this world, not just escaping it and retreating into our churches. If Jesus’ message of the Kingdom of God is true, then everything must change. Everything must change.”
He goes on in the book to explain how he went through a personal conversion, from wanting to organize a church with celebrations and support groups to becoming a participant in working on global problems. I was attracted to the book because I agree that everything must change, or it is unlikely that anything resembling our current civilization will survive. What I doubt the book will address is why the presupposition of “If Jesus’ message…” is needed.
And Into the New Year
One of the other books I got comes a little closer to answering that. This one has been on my list for a long time. It contains a discussion of the original interpreter of The Parable of the Talents that inspired this blog. It is a rare look at the first century using historical analysis, rather than a theological one. There are attempts at this that claim to use historical analysis and the author, William Herzog, addresses them in his Introduction. He realized that previous interpreters started with an idea of what Jesus’ ministry was then fit the interpretation of the parables into that framework.
This would be expected in theology. There is an overriding theme that Jesus came to die for our sins and everything has to fit into that. An historical analysis can’t make such an assumption, or even assume that Jesus was thinking it when he spoke. In fact, an historical analysis can’t even assume that Jesus was an actual person that ever walked on this earth. The book does not go that far.
The sub-title of the book is “Jesus as Pedagogue of the Oppressed”, and that is the assumption, the hypothesis, that he attempts to test against the analysis of the parables. He is selective of scripture and admits that it will not work on all scripture. He acknowledges the possibility that scripture may not always accurately reflect the original teachings either by misrepresentation from the time they were written or the introduction of later errors. I have only just started the book, but as yet I don’t see any hint that he would consider Jesus was a made up character.
So his historiography may not be perfect, but I am not aware of any similar application to this particular subject. With the increasingly disappointing results from theology in a world in need of teachers, it is long overdue.