Ecologist and theologian Wendell Berry has written that Christianity as it is practiced in the United States “has little to do with what Jesus actually thought.” (Blessed Are the Peacemakers, p. 3). I have heard a variation on Berry’s thought recently. Christianity hasn’t been a failure because it’s never been tried!
Over the years, I have studied persons who seem to have a grasp of Jesus’ message. Dorothy Day was one such person, dedicating her life to peace and to reaching out to the poor on a daily basis. When I read about Dorothy, I become uncomfortable because she appears to have a much better grasp on Jesus’ message than I do.
When I wrote my most recent book Turtle on the Fencepost: Finding Faith through Doubt, I came to see that Jesus’ message was actually very simple and included a few basic tenets:
1. that we should be very wary about gathering wealth;
2. that we have a responsibility not only to reach out to the poor but to challenge a society to uncover and correct those themes that give rise to poverty;
3. that to be a follower of Jesus is to embrace nonviolence and to oppose ALL wars;
4. that we are called to care for one another, even for those whom we don’t like or those who don’t like us;
5. that we have to learn to love ourselves.
As I read these 5 basic tenets, I realize that I haven’t been that great a Christian. I like my stuff. I get angry at others. Very angry. I judge. I resent. And I can be very unforgiving not only toward others but toward myself.
But then I don’t think Jesus came to make us comfortable. So I suppose that if I am made uncomfortable by His message, perhaps I’m at least on the right track.
This past Christmas my daughter-in-law Nicole send me a recording of a song by Jackson Browne titled “The Rebel Jesus”. It reminds us that this extraordinary man was killed for a reason. The powers that be didn’t like what he had to say!
Reflection: Whether you label yourself as a Christian or not, is there anything about Jesus’ message that makes you uncomfortable?
Further reading: Wendell Berry Blessed Are the Peacemakers: Christ’s Teachings about Love, Compassion, and Forgiveness Counterpoint Press: New York, 2005
Further listening: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PEC7d5jbAbo
Decide for yourself about this song.