Archive for May, 2023

‘Consciousness and the Nudging of Sacredness!’

Again, we arrive at the season of Pentecost that starts with the day we call Pentecost Day, Aside from being named as the birthday of the church or the Coming of The Spirit is has been the day Christians traditionally see ‘red’! Every year on Pentecost Day we hear Luke’s story of what he claims happened in Jerusalem 50 days after what we have come to call the Easter event. It’s a playful story full of symbolism and great drama. Like a movie director suggests William Loader, Luke, the one we traditionally claim as the editor of the Acts of the Apostles, scripts a scene with wind and fire, symbols of the present-ness of God, using flamboyant speech. Flamboyant speech it may be but some scholars might suggest it is clever use of Rhetoric as speeches containing words or phrases that engender wide ranging cultural usages of the time. Words like “conspiracy theory” or “violence” or “victim” are used to invoke an audience by drawing on their fears to emphasize an issue and draw sympathy for a cause or the plight of the speaker. This goes alongside the hermeneutics, the art of encouraging interpretation encouraging the hearer to explore the meaning for themselves. The task of this form of communication is similar to the task of Myth, it contains the truth by offering the opportunity to explore the depth and breadth of the claim for a single absolute truth. One might also see it as an entry point into a discussion about the definition or evidence of consciousness.  Current study is discovering consciousness in other than human expressions of creation.

Nikos Kazantzakis wrote in a piece called ‘The Cry’ a creation story that went as follows;

Blowing through heaven and earth,
and in the heart of every living thing,
is a gigantic breath – a great Cry – which we call God.

Plant life wished to continue its motionless sleep next to stagnant waters,
but the Cry leaped up within it and violently shook its roots:
“Away, let go of earth, walk!”

Had the tree been able to think and judge,
it would have cried:
“I don’t want to.
What are you urging me to do?
You are demanding the impossible!”

But the Cry, without pity, kept shaking its roots and shouting,
“Away, let go of the earth, walk!”

It shouted in this way for thousands of eons;
and lo! as a result of desire and struggle,
life escaped the motionless tree and was liberated.

Animals appear – worms – making themselves at home in water and mud.
“We’re just fine here,” they said.
“We have peace and security; we’re not budging!”

But the terrible Cry hammered itself pitilessly into their loins.
“Leave the mud, stand up, give birth to your betters!”
“We don’t want to! We can’t!”
“You can’t, but I can. Stand up!”

And lo! After thousands of eons, humans emerged, trembling on their still unsolid legs.

The human being is a centaur; our equine hoofs are planted in the ground,
but our body from breast to head is worked on and tormented by the merciless Cry.

We have been fighting again for thousands of eons,
to draw ourselves, like a sword,
out of the animalistic scabbard.

Humanity calls in despair,
“Where can I go?
I have reached the pinnacle, beyond is the abyss.”
And the Cry answers,
“I am beyond. Stand up!”

All things are centaurs.
If this were not the case, the world would rot into inertness and sterility.

The story uses common images of nature to provide biological, reasoned and philosophical truths to marry the logical, abstract, literal and reasoned with the aesthetic, metaphorical spiritual in an interplay of beautiful symmetry.

Such speech may on the surface seem to be an inadequate way of addressing the present-ness of God, but I suspect the use of metaphorical images – wind and fire – can be a more helpful way than trying to use abstract theoretical words. Rex Hunt suggested that perhaps  this might be part of the secret behind the popularity of Dan Brown’s fictional novel ‘The Da Vinci code’. What is certain is that it is folly to try and read the script literally, whatever historical events may or may not lie behind our Pentecost story.

And it’s not an original or exclusive script either. We also hear one other revised version
from the storyteller/theologian called John. Yet along with Easter and Christmas, Pentecost is one of the three major Christian festivals. So, what was and is Pentecost? And is it just about a ‘language’ game as many charismatics/fundamentalists and literalists usually argue against the liberal and post liberal view. If truth is not an absolute does that mean that anything goes? I want to claim with Iain McGilchrist that it does not. However, that’s, another 10 sermons of more.

To get a sense of some of the story we need to hear a little bit of historical and cultural background. Because what we commonly remember or know as Pentecost is usually a linking of some stories where that linkage was never intended.  The current debate about the relationship between Acts and Luke is a case in point. Some scholars say Acts and Luke were written as one book whereas others say they weren’t. The difference is a critique of language that could be said to be an interpretation of the difference between Rhetoric (the art of effective or persuasive speaking or writing, especially the exploitation of figures of speech and other compositional techniques.) and the Hermeneutic.(a method or theory of interpretation.)

When revisiting what was and is Pentecost, we see that Pentecost’s roots are in Judaism.  Pentecost was, and still is, a Jewish festival. Occurring 50 days after Passover it links Israel’s much older agricultural cycle to her religious history. That is, it celebrates both the completion of the harvest as well as the giving of the Law to Moses on Mt Sinai.

So, to the groups of Jewish ‘revisionists’ – followers of the sage from Nazareth – the groups of followers of the Jesus Way within Judaism and including gentiles were still grappling with their Jewish roots, and struggling to survive in a sometimes hostile ‘orthodox’ religious climate, where ‘new’ could mean death, these images would have spoken to them.

William Loader helpfully suggests:  “Luke is saying that the coming of the Spirit is as epoch making as the giving of the Law, the scripture on Sinai and more.” (W Loader Web site, 2005)

So, it is very possible that this revamped story would have given them a sense of legitimacy and purpose and empowerment. Their world view was rooted in their historical past even though they were liberalizing the so-called truths under the influence of a belief based adherence. And they remembered… as at ‘creation’ and in the harvest, as in the valley of ‘dry bones’ and at the giving of the ‘law’ on Mt Sinai… The spirit or present-ness of God was active: as Ruach, as Breath and as Spirit. Their ‘before’, being, – in the prophets, their, ‘during’, being – in Jesus himself, and their, ‘after’ being – in the subsequent witness of the apostles. The spirit of God was at work creating the new community of the church, resulting in the beginning of the post-Easter mission of the early Christian movement.

So, Is Pentecost just about a ‘language’ game? Luke, as storyteller rather than historian, continues his use of flamboyant language. Rushing wind. Tongues of fire. Other tongues. Often called ‘glossolalia’ and associated with Charismatic and Pentecostal churches Luke’s Pentecost story – speaking in foreign languages and Paul’s ‘gift of spirit’ story – speaking in unintelligible speech, are often linked. But this is to make a link not intended by the storyteller.

Indeed, Luke’s ‘foreign languages’ at Pentecost has the opposite effect. The visitors to Jerusalem marveled: Are not all these who are speaking actually Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? So “rather than being unintelligible speech, it was supremely intelligible” suggests Marcus Borg  (Borg/Beliefnet Web site). If the storyteller is making any links it is more likely to be with the story of the Tower of Babel. From the babble of languages – a symbol of fragmentation… To the inclusion of languages – a symbol of one new humanity, able to bridge differences and to value diversity… A metaphor depicting the diversity among the early movement. This sounds rather contemporary, to our ears but what if we have undervalued metaphor and rhetoric and the Hermeneutical in a search for a so-called limited reasoned absolutist outcome.

So, what might Pentecost be for us, in the 21st century, in our urbanized and globalized culture ? We know that somehow Pentecost is something more than a so-called past event. It is the story of God’s continuing present-ness experienced again and again… even if we have different names for that which many of us name God. It is the “the amazing story of people coming to awareness through reflection on the life of Jesus that the same Spirit that moved in him moved in them.”  (Morwood 2003:84). We progressive Christians might also say that it is a story of coming to awareness through reflection on the life and work of Jesus that it is the same Spirit that moves in all myth and story of human life. Karen Armstrong’s claim that all faiths have compassion as the common endeavour is an example of this order beyond order or common value like that of truth that encompasses all truths. A key point is that this common truth is beyond languages ability to define. It is perhaps like Caputo’s naming of something does not mean it exists but rather insists. It is the organic, the dynamic, the unquantifiable essence of. Not ‘incarnate’ in the individual, but becoming incarnate in the ‘us’. As people dreaming dreams and seeing v isions of justice and compassion in the world. Not in the literal babble of tongues, but in the very gift of tongues – the ability to hear and speak the word, each as we come to know it, understand it, and tell it, in the uniqueness of our own experiences as they unfold as authentic in the mass.

So, while there is much in our daily, ordinary living as urbanized nationalized and globalized and as members of the Church/Institution, and of  our congregations, that can sap our energy and frustrate us no end there is also the possibility that Pentecost in the 21st century might be imagined as “the nudging of Sacredness in our lives which can bring about an expanding  experience of what life is really designed to be about.” Life is not about absolutes and definitions and efficiency and production and profit or being in control or winning.none of these.

So, where and how is that ‘nudging’ now?  That’s the 64-million-dollar question, isn’t it? If the stories from the past are any guide, this nudging of  Sacredness will touch us in such creative ways we’ll be totally surprised. It could be said to be birthed in Consciousness such as the ideas behind mystery and ‘more’ and I would add ‘Almost’ as the naming of Sacredness.

And one of those ‘creative ways’ that could be the surprise, is in the way Christianity could be transformed by an openness to other religions, and its desire to relate to them in the quest for a newer and broader form of spirituality.  (J Killinger, 2008/

A new Christianity for a new age is a phrase we have heard often and certainly way beyond the current wave of fundamentalism and new neo-orthodoxy in all the religions of ‘the book’, which breeds and lives on fear.

So, is the nudging of Sacredness or Spirit the awareness of consciousness and its persistence beyond language and is Pentecost the celebration of the awareness of the pervasiveness and unfolding of consciousness? What if ‘The Spirit of Pentecost, the Red flames that enter lives and transform them is in fact the consciousness that is a fundamental priori of reality beyond language (pre- creation, and glossolalia)?

Morwood, M. Praying a New Story. Melbourne. Spectrum Books, 2003. 

‘Ascension, Glorification, Into the Womb of Sacredness’

It is the end of the Festival or Season of Easter. After some 50 days, following an agenda primarily set by the storyteller Matthew, even though the majority of gospel stories have been told by the storyteller/mystic we call John, we have run out of Easter type stories, or have we? We have arrived at a one-day Season, called Ascension Sunday. A Season which uses a heap of ‘up there’ mythical language “as naively as any passage in the New Testament”
to quote 1960s ‘Honest to God’ John Robinson.  (Robinson 1967:76). So, what are we now, to make of the Ascension story in the twenty-first century?

We read in John about a way of viewing Jesus in that Jesus will not leave them bereft, like orphans.  They “will see” him, even though no one else will.  (“…the world can neither see nor know him…”)  The formula “on that day” is used throughout the Old Testament, and the fourth gospel uses it here to underline Jesus’ relationship and identification with the Father.  What’s more, the community’s relationship with Jesus is the same as Jesus’ relationship with the Father, the first such statement in the fourth gospel.

The community “knows” the advocate, and, “on that day,” the community “will know” that Jesus is in the Father.  The word is ginoskoGinosko, as previously mentioned, is knowledge through intimate experience–“mystical knowledge,” you might say.  It is not so much a reasoned-based “knowing,” but more revelation-based “knowing.”

The fourth gospel anticipates some of the trinitarian debate that would come two or three hundred years later.  The Son is in intimate relationship with the Father, yet is distinct from the Father.  Jesus has a direct relationship with the Father, and a direct relationship with the community, though the community itself is in relationship with the Father indirectly, through Jesus. The Father is utterly transcendent, known only through the Son.  John Sanford notes that “in Christian mystical thought…the Father is God as the uncreated One, pure Being or Existence itself who cannot be known or described in any human categories.” 

The Father is beyond space and time, and, therefore, beyond reasoned and rational description.  The eastern tradition calls this “apophatic” theology, which means that God can only be described in negatives, i.e. without name, without origin, without end.  Gregory of Nyssa:  Not unlike the Great Dao which reminds us that the God we know is not God. “There is no way of comprehending the indefinable as by a scheme of words.  For the Divine is too noble and lofty to be indicated by a name, and we have learned to honour by silence that which transcends reason and thought.” (Against Eunomius, 10)

The question that reason leaves us with is:  If the Father is unknown, how can be the Father be known?   And the fourth gospel asserts that The Father can be known through the Son.  The Father cannot be known, but the Son can be known, and to know the Son is to know the Father. This suggests that there is a possibility that some of those who first heard or read the story of Jesus being ‘raised in glory’(like one of the ancient Greek heroes) 70 -90 years after the life of Jesus, actually believed he ascended to a literal heaven and would return from God’s throne ‘someplace up there’ at the end of time.  (Epperly P&F Web site 2005). However that could also be a retrospective interpretation imposed on an earlier questioning.

The challenge we have is that despite how the earlier communities made sense of their world it is not how we understand our world today. So, the Ascension story is a bit of a test case of our ability to cope with strange language, and primitive cosmology. A world that was three tiered where up there was an accepted reasoned or metaphorical interpretation. Remember that reason may not have been separated from non-reason in those days.

The challenge for us, it seems to me, is to find new ways and new phrases of contemporary significance beyond the traditional literal rationalized images of ancient knowledge for the telling of both the Jesus stories and the God story. In literary circles a new look at the concepts and language used to explain what we considered reality in the age of the story or, and of the storyteller.

Some reason-based questions in theology involve humanism, posthumanism, and transhumanism and these go to the realm of so-called artificial intelligence and the use of algorithms and their effect on thought and our understanding of what it means to be human. But that is another few sermons ahead, I am sure.

For today we might restrict ourselves to being a recognition that story and poetry, image, intuition and imagination are important and culturally influenced as to their proximity to a truth.

So, it is probable that we can be clear that the heart of this particular Jesus story is not about some pre-scientific form of space travel… Neither is it about a past moment in time, nor about some possible future event, usually called the Second Coming. It is primarily a story about our calling to engage in the reality of our world in order to heal and transform it. Thisworld and not some other. The call is to live in the world that is never as it seems, never about certainties, never discovered by reasoning nor fantasy but rather always that which is becoming. The call of the Ascension story is to look beyond the assumed, the presenting reality and to live faithfully in this life on the journey that Jesus chartered.

Likewise, when we are engaged in our God-talk it too needs to go beyond our traditional literal images. Images are far too important to be limited to rationalization. One person who has attempted this is Shirley Murray among others who as contemporary composers whose work invites us to imagine God or the sacred, differently, and to experience faith with some different accents.

We know of some of Shirley’s creativity as her contemporary hymns are often included in many Progressive services of worship. We are also reminded of the creative work of Miriam Therese Winter, a Catholic sister and theologian whose continuing invitation to us all is to consider the feminine image of God. Not in some cheap Hallmark Mother’s Day card theology, but addressing God in relational ways.

In one of her many reflections, she offers this: The God of history, The God of the Bible.
is One who carries us in Her arms after carrying us in Her womb, breastfeeds us, nurtures us,
teaches us how to walk, teaches us how to soar upward just as the eagle teaches its young
to stretch their wings and fly, makes fruitful, brings to birth, clothes the lilies of the field, clothes Eve and Adam with garments newmade, clothes you and me with skin and flesh and a whole new level of meaning with the putting on of Christ…
 (Winter 1987:20).

At one level this is an issue of justice in a culture of patriarchy. What is clear is that in our time the issues of exclusive language, human rights and gender equality are still with us. We are still influenced by the historic question of power and control and hierarchy of influence. And at another level this is about a different way of thinking theologically and imagining God. What we need to be careful of is that in reality this is not a not a very new way, because the feminine image of God has been around for generations. It can be claimed that the feminine was successfully buried by church patriarchy as ‘pagan’.

So, thinking theologically, which the biblical stories of the Ascension demands that we do, means more than just interpreting our given orthodox biblical tradition and creedal statements. It also means being willing to think differently now than in the past! And to take seriously that this can be dangerous stuff. Jesus proclaimed good news yet this was in the main, rejected.
Not because it was good, or bad, but because it was new in his context.

So, this day, as the season which celebrates new or changed life comes to a close, maybe we could imagine the ‘womb’ of God’ or ‘the Sacred birthing of us’ to be wonderful,
creative, and caring human beings… Born in the image of the One who has borne us.
Pilgrims along the way – on a not-so-easy journey which Jesus first chartered.

Robinson, J. A. T. But That I Can’t Believe! London. Fontana Book, 1967.
Winter, M. T. Woman Prayer Woman Song. Resources for Ritual. Oak Park. Meyer Stone, 1987.

A God that Lives and Comes to Wonderful Expression in Us.

Mother’s Day, or Mothering Sunday comes around once a year and amidst the wrestle with inclusive language and the need to avoid inferring that Mother’s, are only the functions they perform in the procreative imperative, or assigning being to doing when we know that ones being is more than the sum of ones parts or of ones actions, and in the current environment of a search for a gender neutral designation many clergy avoid the day or pay lip service to the commercial worlds use of it. A harsh and simplistic critique that may be but it touches on issues of justice, harmony wisdom and learning.

Last week I spoke about the words put into the mouth of Jesus by the storyteller John:
‘I am the way and the truth and the life’, and the interpretation I offered, may have been challenging to some of you. One parishioner at a Sunday service I was at was adamant that it was a waste of time talking about such issues that had no interest in most people’s world. However, it is often the subject of debate in the wider world that speaks against religion and Christianity.

For those of you who didn’t read my words of last week I should probably recap a little. The question was: ‘how can we make sense of the claim: ‘I am the way and the truth and the life’.

Traditionally, these words have often been used, and come across, as exceedingly exclusive.
As if Jesus, in the guise of a benevolent but first century ‘Terminator’, is making an ambit claim against other religions. Or is some kind of heavenly bouncer, keeping people away from God.
Especially those without faith. Those with not enough faith. And those who express their faith differently.

My sermon was about the opposite of this. Jesus is not the way in the sense of a dogmatic guide or a model of leadership.  I suggested that he was and is the path-way into the depths of the God/self/neighbour relationship… This is in keeping also with the central theme to all the gospels and that is a concern for the Kingdom of God or the realm or God which is different from the realm of human power and control. Simply it is a reigning of loving. The serendipitous, so-called weak theological power process is the realm of God, not the dogma driven one we belong to then and still now. The Jesus Way is a way of being and doing that is the discovery of the ever-present mystery of our common existence. It makes sense because it is real, it reflects our relational being, it affirms our experience and it invites us into a hope and a peace beyond understanding. As Jack Spong suggests I think, we are encouraged to love wastefully.

Jesus is the truth about that common existence. Uncovering what is hidden, and bringing to light another dimension of human existence. He is speaking into a culture where the Greek and Roman philosophical thinking is grounded in reason and human control of certainties. Ceasars’ are Gods. Sadly, as the Gospel engaged the Gentile World its need for distinctiveness and difference led to the assumption of ideas of supernaturalism and deism that claimed superiority for the Jesus Way distorting process into the power of certainty over difference.

Jesus is life because he is the way and truth by which God, self, and neighbour, break their isolation and flow into each other. So, the challenge for those of us who live comfortably with the title ‘progressive’, and that’s not everyone who attends progressive churches, is not the existence of other faiths claims. For the most part, most of us happily embrace religious pluralism and spiritual diversity as part of our reality as human people who think. The challenge, it seems to me, is our surrendering of the Christian story to exclusive cults and preaching gurus, to fundamentalists and members of the ‘religious right’, and to the new neo-conservative evangelicals. They are not religiously different. They are driven by the dogmatic obsession with certainty and power and control. In my view they deny the cross and thus the humanity of Jesus. But that was last week.

One way into this week is to wrestle with the differences between the religion of Jesus, and
the religion about Jesus. The sometimes-subtle difference is that the religion of Jesus is found in the echoes of the sayings he spoke and the stories he told, not as law, but about how to live, how to treat one another, how to re-imagine the world. In another sense to seek to value being human and to establish values as the basis of being human. An engagement in the process of becoming rather than ticking of the boxes achieved to become. The religion about Jesus has often been the religion of literalism and fundamentalism. And when the story is about Jesus it becomes the believing a certain story about an interventionist God, with the promise that if you do believe, you’ll be saved some day after you die.

The religion of Jesus is not a ‘supernatural’ story. It is not a story that has to wrestle with magic and superstition. It is about how you can be made more whole, here and now, and how you can help make the world more whole, here and now. From our very best guesses (thanks to the work of amateur sleuths and scholarly critics), we can say the message of the religion of Jesus was one of liberation and empowerment and compassion. Of providing new or different pathways to experiencing and serving God or the Sacred in daily life, Participating in the process of sacredness in this life. And from all we have puzzled over and learned, we can also say that the message from the religion about Jesus was one too often aimed at
frightening or controlling people, hating gays or assertive women, or supporting a war against people who disagreed.

The religion about Jesus emphasizes the ‘noun’ locking it into the world of grasping, controlling, owning, and having, whereas the religion of Jesus emphasizes the ‘verb’, inviting us to walk the Way, to celebrate the differences as part of the whole, as contributions to harmony and human flourishing. As a web site colleague has said: The religion about Jesus is ‘Easter’.  The religion of Jesus is ‘eastering’. “It’s about the miracle of new life coming from old, life out of death, right here and now.  Nothing supernatural, though it feels so magical when it happens…  Life is about honouring that spirit of life that comes and goes as it likes, but when it comes our way, it can make all the difference between feeling dead and feeling alive…”. (Davidson Loehr UUAustin Web site, 2008). 

The story we heard this morning from John, I want to suggest, are more about ‘eastering’ than ‘easter’. It is not about bigger miracles or stricter commandments or watertight creeds. They are about a dynamic, creative, evolving, as Rex Hunt would say a ‘present-ness’ in our midst.

It is our experience that stories are conditioned and shaped by the language of their day: The earth is flat, sin causes sickness, God is all powerful and distant are just some of these experience shaped doctrines that have become dogma and thus limited and conditional truths.

But so are our stories conditioned and shaped by the language and imagination of our day. So, with the so-called Luke’s version of Paul, (the Paul taking the Jewish Gospel into the gentile world) we can claim: God is ‘not far from each one of us.’ Present and active everywhere on earth… – in the slow development of human cultures and societies, – in the growth of knowledge, – in the constant search for meaning as women and men tell stories and sharing their connectedness, and in the urging of us to love graciously and generously, to break down barriers between people, and to put an end to religious elitism and religious wars.

The gospel of Jesus invites an imagining of a better and more creative and vulnerable humanity. A greater acceptance of an ambiguous truth as opposed to a certain truth and a rejoicing in the knowledge that that which we name God is a process of becoming a living wonderful expression in all things. (Panentheism). In us!  Missing pieces, incomplete pieces and all because it’s not about certainty because biological death is the wonderful reality whereas eastering is about being born again and living, So, long live living.  Beyond belief, beyond certainty and with a peace that passes understanding. Amen.

Recognising the Jesus Shape

A young woman I know from a little time back contacted me online a few weeks back and after catching up on life events she asked me about the exclusivity of the text that taken literally make some pretty exclusive claims of Jesus of Nazareth. ‘I am the Way The Truth and The Life, and its only through me that you make it’ (Paraphrased) I remember my feelings when thinking about how to respond to her in a way that would encourage her to keep asking those sorts of questions without feeling scared of what she might learn.

Rex Hunt tells a similar story from his university days in the mid to late 1960s. He tells of a member of EU (Evangelical Union), a religious group on campus, coming up to his lunch table in the student union cafe of the university. ‘Do you believe that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life?’ he was a very intense, but earnest fellow student. Rex was a bit dumbstruck and didn’t quite know how to answer him. So, he just smiled politely, folded his meat and salad sandwich in its waxed lunch wrap, and got up to leave. The earnest friend called after him ‘He’s the way!  The only way to salvation!  Get on board before it’s too late!’

Rex left the cafeteria, angry, embarrassed and frustrated. The desperation of his certainty both frightened and angered him. Years later the sureness of conviction, and the exclusivity of it,
still made Rex feel uncomfortable. While my friend wasn’t in any way certain and she was genuinely asking because she wanted to know for herself how to deal with this text, I however felt the weight of the tradition and the hundreds of years of question becoming doctrine and then worse dogma. How does one share the good news when it is buried in historical power and control and hidden behind years of Super-naturalism, Interventionist deity escapism, ecclesiastical ordering and hierarchical posturing.

And still more years later, this issue was again raised when in 2000 a former Pope of the Roman Catholic Church issued a papal statement, Dominus Iesus, which “set off alarm bells in most other Christian communities, as well as giving offence to the adherents of every other religion on the face of the planet”. (Jenks/FFF web site).

Rex reminds us to ask this question of today’s text: Is this heavy ‘salvation’ stuff what the storyteller John was on about with today’s gospel story?

While the John story seems to have been set within the context of a debate over differences, that debate seems to have been between those who were Jewish followers of the Galilean (often called ‘revisionists’), and those who were Jewish followers of Jewish orthodoxy. They viewed matters differently.  Perhaps profoundly so. A significant challenge here to see that even among followers of the Way there was difference of thought and maybe even belief. What seems is that this story’s modern usage is been taken to extremes. So perhaps we might explore this first.

One of the learnings from examining, the text is that during his life time, Jesus/Yeshu’a resisted questions about his personal identity. And when pressed, he deflected them toward the central motif of his teaching… e.g., the present-ness of a compassionate God, and
the radical or ‘counter culture’ demands he made on human living.

But it is also true that when the words ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life’… have been used, they often make Jesus sound like a heavenly bouncer, keeping people away from God.  Especially from those without faith, those with not enough faith, and those who express their faith differently.  I think this is where literalization (the taking too literally) limits and distorts meaning. Recent studies of the years pre Christianity and pro Jesus movement perhaps show a wide range of differing ideas and interpretations. If we thought diversity is new then we are sadly very wrong. And this statement about the exclusivity of Jesus suggests that difference of opinion was still strong and perhaps even more so as the Gospel moved from the Jewish world into the gentile world. We note that this was a gradual slow evolutionary development of thought also. We also note that religious authorities and groups of every age and creed
have often exercised their religion in two ways: – as a weapon against others, and – by protecting God from others.

History seems full of such ‘weapon’ stories and events: The Crusades.  The Inquisition.  Sudan.  Middle East.  Indonesia.  Northern Ireland, to name but a few. And the gospel stories are littered with ‘protecting’ stories: People who brought their children to Jesus, but… Women who touched, ate with, plead with Jesus, but…

As someone pointed out just recently when talking about racism and justice in New Zealand land wat times ‘ethnic cleansing’ is just a more extreme form of this same motivation. The ownership of certainty, of fact of absolutes is a dangerous thing. So, what can we do with these words: ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life’…

Well, we need to be strongly upfront but not dogmatic or lacking in humility. Scholars tell us it is highly probable that Jesus never made this claim. That the words were put into his mouth by the storyteller/mystic John! In the 2nd century in response to his perception of the context he knew at the time. So, to hear them, we need to hear them differently from that of John’s hearers. If these words can be read in terms of relationship with the God rather than describing a content of dogma to ‘believe’ , these words can be an invitation to us to be on the journey which Jesus chartered. The Way of Jesus has great value because it is an alternative to the orthodox, a new Way of being in the world. The truth is bigger and more complex than simple fact, A different Way of relating to with and for the world. Not unlike the call of science re climate change and a sustainable planet. A Way that is aware of the dangers of making things out of values. Love is not just making oneself vulnerable to another it is that which changes things forever.

That Jesus, as sage, provides a way of passage from one place to another. Becoming and exploring and doubting, rather than condemning or belting us over the head. So being suggestive, rather than bullying Jesus into what he is not. • Jesus is not the way in the sense of a moral guide or dare I say it a preferred model of leadership. He is as ‘Way’ the pathway into the depths of the God/self/neighbour relationship which is always more than the sum of the thoughts or actions. Perhaps as Rex suggests The Jesus Way is the way… into the mystery of our common existence. Jesus is the truth about that common existence, not the exclusive owner of it. He uncovers what is hidden, and brings to light the last dimension of human existence. Jesus is life because he is the way and truth by which God, self, and neighbour, break their isolation and flow into each other. He is an example of the social interdependence at the core of all human relations

As storyteller John Shea puts it: “Jesus of Nazareth was the triggering centre of an event which restructured the God-self-neighbour relationship.  This event was not only healing and transforming but mysterious and overwhelming”.  (Shea 1978:118).

It is in this context that the words of Jesus, as suggested by John, come. ‘I am the way, the truth the life…’ And they were culturally socially a religiously and ideologically challenging and that’s likely why the author of John used them and exposed them to literalization and cultural distortion. And as Jesus challenged the dominate system of his day, so these words contend with the powers and principalities of this day.

In this person, we see a concern for the marginalized and the vulnerable (which included both the poor and the wealthy), and a rejection of the belief that high-ranking people of power
are the favoured ones of God. Empires are human organizations subject to human distortion by the search for power and control.

The good news then in this statement is, Rex suggests and I concur is that it is not about Jesus, but about that which we name God and us in the spirit of Jesus. Or as Bill Loader puts it in his comments on this story: “Trust that God is the way Jesus told us and demonstrated to us.  That means two things: we can trust in the God of compassion in which there’s a place for us, and we can know that the meaning of life is to share that compassion in the world – there’s a place for all!

But then this important suggestion: “We can join that compassion wherever we recognise its ‘Jesus shape’, acknowledging it as life and truth and the only way” (WLoader 2005/www site).

Shea, J. Stories of God. An Unauthorized Biography. Chicago. The Thomas More Press, 1978.

Rex Hunt Website