Previously published on Associated Content / Yahoo Contributor Network November 5, 2008
His name is intoned from mountaintops, whispered through folded hands in pews of a church. People fall to their knees when they hear his name or raise their arms as they sing his praises in their weekly visits to his father's home.
Follow these people home, however, and you might find some of them abusing their children, spitting at their gay neighbor, stealing from their local grocer, sleeping with a married co-worker, or cheating on their taxes. They don't see a correlation between following Jesus and acting counter to the way Jesus taught us to live. They've discovered that by making excuses to explain their behavior, they can convince themselves to believe their own lies.
I watch them from my window, trying not to pass judgment, trying not to wince in pain. I raise my eyes and see the clouds of deception form question marks in the sky. Does anything make sense to anyone anymore? Sadly, I sometimes see myself reflected in the glass, my perceptions distorted and formed by the people I've loved and trusted, my actions at times contradicting my beliefs.
While I am in no position to defend people who love Jesus but who act in accordance to a belief system that runs counter to the way Jesus taught, I find it difficult to trust things I once believed to be true. I am, after all, one of them. The world as I know it changes every day. My perceptions cloud reality. Reality, I realize, is also deceptive.
Growing up Catholic I was at a vulnerable stage in my development when the Church decided St. Christopher was no longer a saint. Eating meat on Friday - once a sin for Catholics - now became a sin only during Lent. My observations of these events left me confused. I was curious, but because I was reserved and quiet, I never vocalized my concerns - I was too timid, too afraid to speak without fear of looking stupid.
I admired people who stood up for themselves, however, people who were unafraid to voice in public their questions or opinions. One boy I think about from time to time serves as an example of someone who never allowed his questions to die unasked. He was in my sixth grade class and his authoritative demeanor, even at that age, commanded attention. Quite vocal and very inquisitive, he was also the smartest boy in the class.
In a school filled with Catholic students, Bill wanted to know how the world became populated if only Adam and Eve were the origins of us all. Our religion teacher told Bill that it was not up to us to question God. And that's when Bill Fenner stopped time. "I wasn't asking God," he told her, "I was asking you."
I was so impressed with Bill, I don't remember what happened next. My mind stirred and whirled. I came up with hundreds of questions of my own, many of which concerned spirituality, religion, and Jesus Christ.
More than half a century has passed since the day Bill Fenner opened my mind. For more than half a century I have read the words of Jesus repeated in a variety of circumstances. And after all this time, after all this research, I've come to the conclusion that if Jesus were standing before me this minute, he would wonder why we are still driving nails into his outstretched arms and why we are still expecting him to carry the same cross he tried to unburden us from so many centuries ago.
While what I am about to say may sound blasphemous to some people and shocking to others, I will say it anyway: I believe Jesus would be appalled at the way our world praises and honors him today.
I'm not talking about the words people use to describe him or the way they discredit him. I'm talking about the contradictions that abound when they discuss him. I'm talking about priests and other people in positions of authority who use their authority to shred into pieces innocent lives "in the name of God."
I'm talking about countries that construct religious wars to "honor" their God. How did the words, "Holy War," ever appear together in the same sentence? "Holy War" should be an oxymoron.
I think about him often, the man who lived thousands of years ago and thousands of miles away from where I grew up, the man from an ocean and a continent away who grew up in a region of the world where wars are commonplace. This man has mystified and intrigued me - and others like me - my entire life.
Because I believe our spirits live on after we die, I'm sure Jesus Christ is fully aware of what has transpired since his earthly departure. I wonder if he thinks we understand "the way" he showed us or if we are acting counter to "the way."
His message was simple. He was "the way" - he was the how-to-be of all how-to-be's. The WAY he was - was the message he died to deliver. His death signaled that life is only temporary, that what awaits us after this life is an eternity of abundance and love.
I look at "the way" we treat our neighbors and I wonder if Jesus was referring only to lepers or was he perhaps referring to everybody, including people we might consider to be outcasts, when he asked us to treat others the way we want to be treated.
What about atheists and agnostics who are kind, loving people who perform extraordinary acts for people and animals but who either don't believe in God or aren't sure of His existence? How is it that these neighbors are condemned to hell by certain Bible-preaching religious groups?
Gay members of our communities, women, African Americans, the elderly, Jews, Irish, all groups that have been ostracized by people around the globe are, because of their differences, equally condemnable by various religions. Does anybody else wonder how Jesus and other spiritual teachers would react to today's treatment of human beings in general?
Do we not share the same planet, the same resources? If life existed on other planets, members of those planets would look upon us as Earthlings and group us together as one. Wasn't that how Jesus saw us - one people sharing one God? How have we allowed our beliefs to become so self-serving we have denied our consciences? Do we allow others to think for us because the burden of thinking for ourselves is too great? Might we risk being held responsible for acting on our beliefs if we followed our hearts and not somebody else's ignorance?
I once asked a member of a religious organization that relied upon its elders to guide and instruct its people to tell me her belief about abortion in a variety of circumstances. Every question I asked was met by, "I would have to consult the elders."
I wasn't concerned about her church's beliefs. I was more interested in learning about her personal beliefs. "What would you do if you were raped by a family member and became pregnant?" I wanted to know. I wouldn't have judged her answer. I was really just curious.
Again, she didn't know. Again, she said she had to ask her elders. In my truest Bill Fenner voice, I finally said, "I'm not asking your elders what they believe; I'm asking you."
Somehow I don't think she ever formed her own opinions or gave them much thought. She relied upon the elders to form them for her. And that is what scares me. When people ignore their own beliefs and rely instead upon the whims of others, they set themselves up for becoming victims of adopted belief systems that sometimes make no sense to them. They don't believe what they are learning or hearing, but they adapt because they justify their behavior by placing responsibility on (blaming) the elders. They form a group mentality because life is so much easier when you allow others to think for you.
Group mentality may have contributed to the crucifixion of Jesus, the genocide of Jews, and so many atrocities in our history. I imagine at least one person witnessing the murder of Jesus knew that crucifying Jesus was wrong. I imagine at least one person following Hitler's commands knew that killing somebody just because he was a Jew (and in other instances with other leaders, a Christian, or a member of other groups ostracized by "leaders") was wrong. But they acted like I did when I was in the sixth grade - they said and did nothing.
I wonder about us Earthlings. I wonder how we would react today if Jesus reappeared. If another spirit in the same light as Jesus came upon this earth to teach and live his same message today, would we recognize him?
More likely, we would place him on a stage, pay him handsomely, idolize him and no matter how often or how assuredly he told us his reason for being here, we would eventually, if not immediately, ignore his message and honor the man (or woman), so we could place him on a pedestal. Maybe some of us would grasp the meaning of the message and live the way we were shown. More likely though, we would expect displays of miracles.
We are a world that idolizes people who do nothing more than show up on a stage or on television, who buy expensive clothes, who own several mansions and acres upon acres of property. Some of them are worthy of our admiration; they recognize that their true worth comes from that place within, that place where God resides.
Others care only about their image, the way they look to other people. They pose for the camera as they spend exorbitant amounts of money on frivolities, knowing, and not caring, that one piece of jewelry could feed one family for a week. Rich and poor alike, though, were shown by Jesus "the way" to enter into that kingdom, the kingdom within. In the end it won't matter what we own. What will matter is how we treated others.
I am still left with so many questions. What if all religions are the wrong religions? What if we're not supposed to belong to any religion, because by belonging to one or the other, we are being divisive? But what if belonging to a church allows us to belong to a community of caring individuals and we can display our love and affection for others by being in that community? What if there is only one religion, a religion not yet formed, a religion with no name?
Jesus is still carrying the cross. Every day we add to the weight of it by condemning our fellow human beings, by criticizing them, and in many instances, crucifying them because they don't meet our standards of perfection. By crucifying them, we are crucifying Jesus again and again. What we do to them, we do to him, and to his father who sent him.
It's time to put the hammer down and take a good look at the world around us. We share one planet and yet we divide it - not in sections, but in layers, one atop the other - and we put ourselves in the most superior of all positions.
THE WAY to God was THE WAY Jesus lived. He gave us an example of how we were to live our lives if we wanted to find true love, joy, peace, and abundance.
The man with a message soon became the very thing he admonished people for revering, an idol. I think a lot of people still misconstrue and distort his message. Does Jesus want us to honor and praise him?
I don't think he does. I believe he wants us to recognize and honor the God within us and to ACT like Jesus acted when he lived on this planet. I believe he showed us THE WAY to be, because he was THE WAY. The kingdom of God is filled with love, forgiveness, compassion, hope, wisdom, and truth. It resides within us. Jesus (and many prophets) paved a path to that kingdom and showed us the way to enter the source of love within us, THE WAY to God, to the God within us. THE WAY then and now is through forgiveness and through treating each other respectfully and lovingly.
Maybe when we stop crucifying him, he will return.
Related topic: The Philosophy of Common Sense