Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Jesus I Have Met

The last two posts have been about the difficulty of talking about Jesus without getting mired in arguments and assumptions.  This one is about where I now understand Jesus to speak into my life.  
I know, I do know, that this is only a small piece of who Jesus is.   This bit from C.S. Lewis' Prince Caspian resonates with my own experience so far:
         “Aslan,” said Lucy, “you’re bigger.” 
     “That is because you are older, little one,” answered he. 
        “Not because you are?” 
    “I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”
But this is what I have seen so far.  It helps me to articulate this from time to time, and also to hear what others see as they grow into God.  If any of you make it to the end of this post--or even if you don't--I would be glad to hear more of the God whom you have known. 

There are many clear teachings in the Gospels which I find easy to understand and very hard to live out.  I need to watch out for the temptation to use the more perplexing passages as a distraction from living out what I already understand. 
"‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’…Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
"Do not be afraid." 
"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free."  "Let your yea be yea and your nay, nay." 
"Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you, that ye may be the children of your Father in heaven; for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust."
"Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's." "Lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth…" "Freely you have received, freely give…" 
"Truly, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me." 
"If any one doth will to come after me, let him disown himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me; for whoever may will to save his life, shall lose it, and whoever may lose his life for my sake, he shall save it; for what is a man profited, having gained the whole world, and having lost or having forfeited himself?"

Living according to those teachings is at least a life's work.  And it is a help and a comfort and a challenge to read of lives that actually embody that teaching. 
At the moment the exemplary aspects of Jesus' life that stand out most strongly for me are his constant return to prayer, his deep and nonviolent resistance to an unjust and deadly economic and political system, his rejection of the false security offered by money and arms and prestige, and his direct, forceful, loving and unapologetic response to each individual who addressed him.  These are all directions in which I know I need to move.

Sometimes one of the Gospel stories will come alive for me so that I feel myself directly addressed by Jesus in it.  During my struggles with anxiety and obsession I've had this sense of participation in the healing stories.  The madman in the tombs who, when asked his name, answered "My name is Legion, for we are many…" has spoken for my lack of singleheartedness, and in his healing I have found hope and courage for my own.  Jesus' question to the paralytic, "Do you want to be well?" has echoed in my mind; occasionally I have realized that my answer is No, and I've had to wrestle with the roots of that denial until I was ready to say Yes.  
Sometimes I've identified with Peter's heartfelt statement, "We have left everything to follow you…" even as I have imagined Jesus thinking "Oh, really?" And Jesus' question in Gethsemane, "Are you asleep? Couldn't you watch with me even one hour?" has echoed in my mind when I realize I have been unavailable and oblivious to someone who had need of me. 
Sometimes, too, I find myself identifying with Jesus in the stories--especially, for now, the stories of the baptism, the blessing and the temptation. 

When I hear or read the stories of Jesus' death and resurrection I understand myself to be in the presence of a truth that does not quite fit into my language or my concepts. When I hear people explain their significance I often think "There's more to it…" These are a few small pieces of the meaning I think I have understood, though I know that the whole is beyond my understanding:
I see that when people speak and stand against injustice they risk being killed, and that their deaths are not the end of the story.  
I identify with Jesus. I know that following God requires us to die to our self-centered lives.  So far I have not experienced one conclusive rebirth; it's been more like a series of little deaths...which may be related to what Paul meant when he said "I die every day…" or to what Jesus meant when he spoke of taking up one's cross daily.  I see that this dying is terribly frightening, and that new life really does lie on the other side of it. 
I identify with the people who condemned Jesus.*** I know what it is like to resent someone who lives in a way which makes it clear that I also could choose to live more faithfully.  I know what it is like to resist God's breaking in to the order I have tried to make in my life. I know what it is to fear the truth enough to hate a truth-bearer. And I know that avoiding the truth by attacking or avoiding truth-bearers doesn't work in the long term.
I identify with the disciples who ran away and hid and despaired and were restored by the visitation of the risen Christ.  I know how it is to be willing to work for the Kingdom in a way I can predict and control, but not to want to follow leadings that do not offer control or obvious success.  I know what it is to shrink back from what I am called to do, and to be forgiven and called back to the work. 
All these start with my encounters with Jesus in the Bible.  Then there is this other thing that begins with encounters in prayer, or with neighbors. 
Jesus is the name that I know best for that aspect of God that wears a human face, that knows from within our loneliness and brokenness and blindness, that suffers and dies and rekindles new life in us. 
Jesus is the name I know best for the God who stands at my shoulder urging and guiding and comforting me, the one who has been through all the delusions, discouragement and temptations of being human and yet at the same time remained anchored in the depths of God. 
Jesus is the name I know best for God given over into our hands--within ourselves, and in the people we meet, and in the rest of the created world.  For God whom I can help or hinder now, in every living encounter.
I've heard some people say that seeing Jesus in others means seeing others only as abstractions or ways of getting credit with God.  I can see that such a thing could happen. Certainly I'm often tempted to get credit for being a Good Person rather than actually knowing and loving and working with the people I meet--though more often I'm seeking that credit in  other people's eyes or my own, not in God's. 
When I speak of seeing Jesus in others I mean seeing that indwelling, vulnerable and powerful presence of God at work in each of them, and seeing at the same time the brokenness they bear.  I mean seeing them as fully alive and real, not as bit-players in a drama starring me.  I mean something like what I understand Martin Buber to mean when he writes about I-Thou encounters.  I mean being responsible and responsive to them, being open to the challenge and the blessing that they offer me.

I don't do that consistently.  I get stuck in my ideas, my hurts, my wants, my self.  My brokenness and blindness undermine my best efforts.  Knowing that, I turn back to Jesus, and to the God to whom Jesus turned, and ask for grace and strength so that I can get back up and start walking toward the Kingdom one more time. 
***In case it still needs saying, I do not believe the narrative that blames Jews or Judaism for Jesus' death.  I know that narrative has done great harm. Other people have explained why it is wrong clearly and forcefully. I am convinced by them. I'm not going to try to summarize them here.


broschultz said...

the Jesus I know is actually alive.
The Jesus I know could have failed because he was tempted in all things like me.
The Jesus I know will not fail me now because he did not fail when He was at His weakest.
The Jesus I know is an everpresent companion and source of strength who helps me take that one more step when I am totally exhausted, whether that step is reaching out to someone to help them, forgive them or seek their forgiveness.

Anonymous said...

The "Jews", so called, were the people chosen by God to be open to, and eager for, God's revelation, even manifestation. Our family/Friends have chosen us as well - yet the greatest battles and feuds in history have come from them. Who started it, or even is responsible for the wrong as blamed, is never as life-threatening as those who have wronged being shamed, or disowned.

Carolyn Taylor said...

My faith is simple and so is my
If you truly, really try to be
nice to others regardless of how they might treat you, you will most often be blessed with new friends and you can share your testimony. You can tell about Jesus and how you love Him and know He helps you every day, and helps you to help others. Every time you can in a day, try to do some kind things for others in your family and outside of it. Say kind things, do someone else's chore, try and anticipate how you can make another's day a bit more pleasant. Take on a work for another and save them some precious time for themselves. In doing such simple things, you will feel closer to Jesus than ever. Because you are constantly trying to be like Him.

Joanna Hoyt said...

Thank you for your testimonies. I am glad to hear how Jesus works in your lives, and I also admire your concision (that was never one of my gifts).

Susan Furry said...

Dear Johanna,

Thank you for this beautiful testimony.


Anonymous said...

Thank you... you write beautifully, and what you write speaks to my condition!

You might enjoy this essay by Krister Stendhal, entitled "Why I Love the Bible."

I look forward to reading more from you!

Craig Barnett said...

Dear Joanna,
Many thanks for this. I have been encouraged by this series of posts to attempt my own summary of the Quaker understanding of Christianity at:

I only discovered your blog fairly recently, but have been enjoying reading through all the previous posts, which speak to me very much. I was part of a 'Quaker Catholic Worker' called Woolman House in the UK (Liverpool) for several years, where we offered hospitality to refugees. We always felt quite 'out on a limb' in relation to the wider CW network, as there are very few in the UK and Europe, although we did once host a visit from Tom Cornell, which was a source of great excitement. I wonder how connected you are to other CW houses in the US, and whether this network offers anything in the way of a wider supportive community.
Wishing you and your family many blessings, with thanks for your witness and ministry, and in Friendship,

Joanna Hoyt said...

Thank you for writing, and thanks for the link to your post on the Quaker understanding of Christianity! I've left more comments on that at your blog.

I'd love to hear more about Woolman House. Is it still active? What led you there, and led you away? How did you set boundaries for welcoming people?

We also feel rather 'out on a limb', despite being in the birth country of the CW. There are many city houses here, mainly focused on shelter, feeding and political action/education, but not very many CW farms. We have had an encouraging visit from Tom Cornell's son Tom Cornell of Peter Maurin Farm, and some correspondence with CW farmers in the Midwest where they are more common. (The other problem is the size of the country and the lack of well-organized mass transport. To bus to the latest CW farmer conference would have taken more than 24 hours each way.)

And, with the CW as with Friends, I find that many founding principles and early writings speak powerfully to me, but that I/we do not quite fit the current culture of the movement. Meaningful dialogue and shared labor toward a common goal still happen and are prized.