Sunday, January 25, 2009

Dropping in on Obama

Like Lincoln, President Barack Obama speaks the language of faith. Like Lincoln, he is not infallible. Unlke his predecessor, George W. Bush, Obama knows this.

It seems inconceivable that Jesus might embarrass Obama if he were to walk into the Oval Office, the way he might have embarrassed Bill Clinton with an intern or Richard Nixon muttering antisemitisms.

Christ Jesus teaches the values, which have no value if he has to impose them. His teachings were not recorded by Jesus. He once wrote on the ground, with his finger, while Pharisees were testing him with a question about a woman caught in adultery. (There’s no reference to a man who might have contributed to the adultery.) Christians may wonder why Jesus wrote only in the shifting impermanence of dust. Nobody knows what Jesus thinks about the way his words were written down by others.

If the incarnation is to offer Jesus as fully human, then the miracles should be (1) natural events that people might emulate; (2) dramatic events intended to provide memorable lessons; (3) important events which so overwhelmed the biblical writers that they were described in terms reflecting their awe.

In a couple of hundred words, this is pretty much the religion of Jesus:

• You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Matthew 22 NRSV

• But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

• When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

Pray then in this way:

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.
For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you;
but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
Matthew 6 NRSV

We’ve added curlecues, exclamation marks and liturgies to this. We’ve liturgized candles and incense, which were practical necessities in Bible times. We’ve built a religion industry, but few of its executive officers would be at ease in the presence of Jesus who might say something like "You judge by appearances, but I do not judge anyone."

We have produced millions of words to claim exemptions and exceptions from those couple of hundred words. We’ve been influenced by ecclesial lobbyists to accept or not accept ancient ferocities, destruction of enemies, sexual and hygienic proscriptions and other speculations about human evolution during the quick soundbite of history that’s memorialized in the scriptures.

The study of evolution suggests that we have not been at this for very long. Humankind’s spiritual dimension in just coming out of the ooze, not sure whether to swim or crawl. The best is still to come.

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