Tuesday, March 03, 2009

The Words

I have a good friend who is on a spiritual quest. She hungers for something... for faith... for connections. She has lots of friends from various faith traditions and she has shared her hunger with them all. Most have shared their stories in response. She especially struggles with dogma and with any top down kinds of directives.

We were talking one day and she told me that she was very attracted to Judaism but she just can't seem to leave out Jesus. I understand that feeling. Now, I know that I am a product of my culture and my background and all of that colors what I see and how I see it... but I just can't ignore Jesus either. His words, his actions, the movement he began, a view of God's kindom more inclusive and expansive than any other I'm aware of... I just can't ignore Jesus.
At the same time, there are lots of pieces that make me want to ignore those people who call themselves his followers. Since the very beginning we have overlayed Jesus with our interpretations, our dreams, our fears, and our theologies. Some, I think, have clearly represented him well. At other times, we have so skewed his message as to make it unrecognizable. Once, on a plane trip, a young woman with whom I was talking said, "we don't worship the same Jesus." She was correct, I think. Our presuppositions had so colored what we see, that we were not seeing the same thing at all.

Now, I know it is not possible to remove all of those lenses. But it is a good thing to work towards. One step is a new project by Lee Cantelon called The Words where he is publishing a collection of the words of Jesus. Again, I know there are translational issues and I know that scholars debate which statements Jesus actually made and which he didn't but the task is still a worthy and helpful one.

The book has already been translated into a variety of languages, has inspired a number of artists including Rickie Lee Jones and Abiodun Oyewole of the Last Poets, and is available as a free download in a bunch of languages both as text and as an audio book. You can purchase the printed copy at Amazon.

I'm really looking forward to it. I just can't ignore Jesus.

two quotes about the work... first from Rickie Lee Jones
”The words of Jesus remain a ‘soft dream' that falls night by night, until the soul is ignited with courage. Our hearts, that did not sing until now, are filled with hope that did not yet dare to dream of freedom from poverty and oppression. With faith, what one feels is the Truth, and the truth, while difficult to teach, is immense. It is easy to learn. We have Christ among us, speaking through each of us, if we choose to listen. We have Christ and though there are few words, they are enough, they are enough to last two thousand years. In spite of so much distortion of His will and meaning, they reverberate clearly in the good work of so many Christians who may not even know they are ‘followers.'”

and from Lee Cantelon
The words of Jesus resound with a challenge to a world burdened by greed, self-righteous religion, and pride. The Jesus I discovered spoke a message of humility, one that did not emphasize a vengeful God, but one of love. His words were filled with mercy, compassion, and forgiveness. A new kind of kingdom was being introduced in his words, accessible to all; men, women, Jews, Gentiles, slaves, kings, free, lost, illuminated, and illiterate. All that was required was that we become “like children” and hold fast to this kind message that offers the stern command, “open your hearts!” How this has become so much dogma, who can understand? And understanding, to recognize his invitation to our right to become “children of God.” Is no great feat.

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