Who Am I As A Follower of Jesus, The Carpenter?

When I was a child my father would end the evening’s meal blessing with the following:

He has told you, O mortal, what is good: and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk with your God. (Micah 6:8, NRSV).

This what I heard every night until my father died. There was never anything said about the verse. For a number of years, I didn’t even know it came from Micah.  It was just what my father said at the end of the blessing and that was that. Yet those words, said almost in a whisper, bored their way into my consciousness.  Over the years it became kind of a mantra.  Three simple steps for what was required of me.  In time it also became the basis for a great deal of doubt in the people I believed to be faithful leaders in my church.

My family are members of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), commonly identified as Disciples. We have been part of this denomination long before it became a denomination in 1962. One of the tenets is it is every person’s responsibility to read the scripture ourselves and determine our own understandings.  That meant we were to question, doubt, and discuss scripture in a respectful way and to give all with a different understand their space to believe. However, it didn’t mean we were not supposed to evolve in our understanding.  We were also responsible for determining the truth, using all the tools available to us. And this is where I really blossomed.

As a young woman I had already begun to doubt some of the long-held beliefs I was told as a child.  Fortunately, my father had encouraged me to question those that held inflexible beliefs. My father wasn’t an educated person, he never made it past 6th grade as he was a coal miners’ son and put to work in the mines by the age of 10. But the one book he did read was the Bible and he developed a healthy, by today’s standard, questioning attitude of what he read.  He never questioned the message but how the message was presented and accepted by those around him. I inherited his questioning mind about scripture and wanted to know what was really said in the first century. I wanted to know what Jesus really said and did, and I didn’t want someone telling me such knowledge was unimportant to my belief. I was already beginning to leave behind the idea of Christianity and starting to believe more in the deeds and words of Jesus as a true belief system.

By the time I was 25 or 30 I was reading the Hebrew Scriptures and becoming more interested in the beliefs that Jesus and his earliest disciples held. I couldn’t read Hebrew, but I did find English translations. I read books on theology and spirituality that gave me new ideas about what Jesus might have done and said.  But it wasn’t until I entered the Seattle School of Theology and Ministry and became an associate of the Weststar Institute (home of the Jesus Seminar) did I really begin to understand what it meant to follow Jesus, the Carpenter of Nazareth.

Reading theology that used original material and researched the true history of the life of Jesus was inspirational and mind blowing for me. I learned that Christianity was an imperial Faith created by Constantine and maintained by Bishops who wanted power and money.  They mythologized the resurrection in-order to develop a doctrine that would allow a small group of leaders to control and exploit the people they ruled. Because rulers were not to be held accountable, they used this new ‘religion’ to use the Jews as scapegoats for their failures. They used misinterpretations to demonize anyone different from them, creating slaves of indigenous peoples and Africans. They used misinterpretations to demonize women, many of which were held in slave like positions in the family or burnt at the stake as witches.  They created systemic racism, and systemic gender bias simply to keep themselves in power. None of this would have been taught by the Carpenter from Nazareth.  None of this is in keeping with Micah 6:8.

I do not know if Jesus ever read Micah, it is not mentioned anywhere in scripture, but his life followed those three important requirements: do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.  Jesus taught and acted to right injustice.  Jesus was kind, merciful and compassionate to the people who needed his help the most, yet he was kind to those who were rich as well. Jesus walked humbly and obediently with the God he loved. He knew that fighting injustice and caring for those the political system and religious order despised would cost him his life, he did it anyway. That is what I believe. 

I must admit I don’t always succeed, but at least I am trying.  John and I have taken into our home those who need us, and we have supported the poor and the hungry.  We have been called foolish and innocents.  Most of those we have helped moved on to better lives and we are happy for them.  Sometimes the help is ignored, or people are unable to sustain themselves for whatever reason, that is life and while the help wasn’t accepted or selfishly grabbed it is ok. Maybe, just maybe, somewhere down the road in their lives they will remember and make changes.  All we can do is hope.

So, who am I as a follower of Jesus, the Carpenter?  I am someone who is trying my hardest to do and say what Jesus did and said: do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.

Ruth Jewell, ©September 19, 2020

Image: Jesus Washing the Feet of Peter, by Ford Maddox Brown, 18520-1856

Today, Yesterday, Tomorrow

There is no future, only the presence,
and the echo of the past. 
What I did yesterday
has grounded me today.
Tomorrow has no meaning,
no place in my reality.
What I do today,
based on yesterday,
will create my tomorrow.

Ruth Jewell, ©September 18, 2020

Image: by Ruth, somewhere in the Yosemite National Forest

I Am Not A Christian!

I am a follower of Jesus, the Carpenter

Why do I say I am not a Christian? Why do I say I am a follower of Jesus, the Carpenter? Why is the distinction important? 

After posting on social media that I was not a Christian but a follower of Jesus the Carpenter I received the above three questions from people who are curious about what I do believe, so this is an answer, sort of.  I say sort of because all of this is still fermenting in my soul, so, there is still much for me to learn.  However, I now, firmly, believe that I am no longer a Christian, I am becoming something new. Well not really new, but new to me and to many I know.  See this is complicated, which means it’s hard to define, but allows for much emotion, and feelings.  So here is my explanation.

From the very beginning I found my faith as a ‘Christian’ difficult. When I asked questions as a child the answers were inadequate and confusing. I was always told I would understand as I got older, that didn’t happen. Instead my questions got more complicated, and the answers more inadequate and more confusing. 

One of the first things I struggled with was the idea of the virgin birth. I grew up a farm kid and I learned the story of the ‘birds and the bees’ by the time I was 5. I knew you had to have a male and a female to get a baby and I knew where those babies came from.  Unfortunately, when I asked about Mary and Jesus, I was told God was the father.  I remember being hushed up at church when I asked the minister if God had sperm during a children’s sermon.  As an adult biologist I understood the concept of parthenogenesis, which is a form of procreation some invertebrates, and some plants, utilize.  By the way it usually only produces female offspring. So, the struggle with the idea of Mary birthing Jesus is an old struggle.

Still I continued to ask questions.  If Jesus’ was so important why don’t we follow what he taught? Why aren’t the parables more important than the resurrection?  Why is Paul so important when it was Jesus we should be talking about?  Did I get answers? No, I did not!  I was told I wouldn’t understand.  Yeah right.

It wasn’t until I started Theological School did I begin to get answers and found other Theologians who were asking the same questions and looking for all of the answers I wanted. It was in class discussions and discussions with professors that I finally began to discover what I had been looking for.  I began to realize that for at least 1800 years we have been misled by people with an agenda that wasn’t Jesus’s and that made me angry. I learned that Christianity is an imperial religion created in the 2nd and 3rd century. It is based on a misinterpretation of Paul and the mythologizing of the Resurrection by Greek Gentiles whose vision of God was based on their own cultural understanding of gods.

When a professor, thank you so much Dr. Cunningham, introduced me to the Westar Institute home of the Jesus Seminar I discovered people who were like me, searching, but they were also finding the answers I wanted. They were having real discussions about the real Jesus and offering anyone who was curious the means to understand the human Jesus, the teacher Jesus who taught a way of life not dogma.

Jesus as a real human was an amazing teacher and he taught in real time. His story has been lost, let’s say misplaced, by those who were enthralled by the story of the resurrection and thereby created him as a God. Jesus’ story, his historical story, is what is important and it was the story told by his 1st century followers.

The story of the Resurrection was hijacked by Constantine who used it to create his own imperial state religion and therefore control his empire. That empire needed a scapegoat for many of its failings. Christianity, a religion based on the Resurrection not on Jesus’ teaching, filled that bill. The Christian religion was used to demonize the Jewish people.

Over the years I have studied both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament and have found that it is the teaching of Jesus, and his scripture the Hebrew bible, where I have found my true faith. The dogmatic teaching that Jesus must be God has bothered me and I am now rejecting it. In the last 10 years I have been reading and studying more theologians from the Jesus Seminar who searched for the Historical Jesus and discovered an understanding of scripture I can sink my teeth into. It was in the material by Drs. Brandon Scott and John Dominic Crossan that I discovered the real Jesus who I can follow. Using first century material they delved into the parables and other teachings and, for me at least, have revealed the message that has been forgotten, or ignored.

Do I want to destroy Christianity? Well no, there is much that is good with it. I wouldn’t want to ‘throw the baby out with the bath water.” But I would take what is good, keep that and dump the rest. I want the real teaching of Jesus brought back into the forefront of our hearts and minds and lived as they should be.

Why is this distinction so important?  Well the name ‘Christian’ has for too long been used to justify everything Jesus would have despised.  People who have called, and still call, themselves Christian have used their membership in this imperial cult to justify slavery, keep women as chattel, overthrow governments, genocide, control populations, etc. For 1800 years people have bought a story that is only partly true, and it was used to keep them compliant for their rulers.  Too many wars have been fought, too many people have died, been tortured, and kept in poverty because they followed a “Christian” ruler.  So, yes understanding the difference between a ‘Christian’ and a follower of Jesus is important.

If the faith and teachings of Jesus are to survive then we must change our world vision of Jesus and his followers. We must, and I do mean must, dump the imperial, dogmatic belief that Jesus must be divine for us to believe in him. We need to hear his real story and teachings for what they are, a way of life that can change us as humans.

I don’t know if what I have said makes sense for you, but maybe it will open a pathway to discussions.

Peace and blessings

Ruth Jewell, ©September 16, 2020

Image: Rembrandt workshop, The Head of Christ, 1600. Model believed to be a Sephardic Jew

Bread of Heaven

This morning I arose early and decided I would make bread.  I wanted to give some of my home-made jam and a loaf of bread to the doctor who repaired my wrist allowing me to be able to make bread, by hand, for the first time in a year. 

The making of bread has always been sacred to me. There is something mystical about watching yeast bubble up, folding it into flour and then watching dough expand and grow. I have often listened to music or I would sing a chant when I bake but, because it wasn’t even 5 am I chose instead to repeat scripture and the Lord’s Prayer from Matthew 6:9b-15 (NRSV) came to mind:

9b Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. 10 Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us this day our daily bread. 12 And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And do not bring us to the time of trial but rescue us from the evil one. 14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; 15 but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Along with Matthew 13:33: He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”

As I chanted the verses I made them my own and, in the process, I came to a quiet point, a still point of creation.  I felt the bread take form beneath my hands. Soft dough becoming elastic and springy, and rolled into a ball Then I allowed the mystery to take place as it swelled into a soft white pillow.  Taking that pillow and forming two loaves and baking them until they looked like gold was just as satisfying as any work of art. I was given a gift in the mystery of yeast, flour, milk, salt and butter. I offered the first slice of the warm bread to John, who pronounced it yummy.

I also offered my gratitude to the doctor who made it possible, I offered a prayer for the rain, soil, sun and farmers who nurtured and harvested the ingredients that went into the making.  My bread became holy, it became the Bread of Life, the Bread of Heaven.

My Mother Spirit who art in and about me . . .
       scald 2 cups of rich milk
Sacred is your name . . .
       add 2 T sugar, 2 t sea salt, 1 T butter until dissolved,
       set aside to cool a bit

Your beloved kingdom is like yeast . . .
       dissolve 2¼ t yeast, and ¼ t sugar in ¼ cup warm (110° t0 120° F) water
       in a large mixing bowl until bubbling
       measure out 6½ cups sifted flour, set aside

That a woman mixes in with her flour. . .
       add 3 cups of flour to the bubbling yeast and the milk mixture
       beat with a heavy spoon until the batter is smooth,

And in Your Kingdom  . . .
I will do Your will . . .
       add additional flour until a stiff dough forms
       and the dough leaves the side of the dough

As together we create Your heaven . . . 
       turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface
       knead until smooth and elastic, 8 to 10 minutes.

 Until all of it was growing and bubbling with love and joy.
       form the dough into a ball and let it rest for 10 minutes
       butter a large bowl and place the dough in the bowl
       turning it so the top surface of the dough is covered in the butter
       cover and set aside, in a warm place until it has risen double in size,
       about 1 hour.

Give to each of us bread to sustain our lives . . .
       when doubled punch down and let rise again for 45 minutes
       until doubled in size.

Forgive us when we walk away from you . . .
       when doubled, punch down and divide in half
        and form into two loaves.
       place in greased and, lightly, floured bread pans,
       let rise until double, about 1 hour.

As we forgive those who in their fear and anger walk away from us . . .
       when doubled bake 35 minutes at 400°F
Do not bring us into a  time of trial,  . . .
       remove from oven and let cool before slicing

But deliver us from,
and teach us to do kindness for,
Those who would do us harm.
      
       Eat one loaf and give the other away.
Now and Forever, Amen

The bread recipe is from an old Farm Journal cookbook called Homemade Bread, A Belmont Tower Book, New York, NY, 1969.

Ruth Jewell, ©August 13, 2020

Time, Time . . .

Time, time

I washed my hair tomorrow,
it dried yesterday.
time,          time,                              
                                             time

They say time is linear
that you can’t go back
or forward

I’m not so sure

I saw Gettysburg last week,
I think the confederates won
                           this time.

I think I saw Hitler
or maybe it was Göring.
I don’t know it’s all so confusing.

Time,             time,
                                                   time

I know I saw a spaceman today,
hope in time’s window.
Time moves on.

Time,            time,
                                                   time

Back and forth,
forward, retreat
slow, fast.

Does time make sense?

Does any of it make sense?

Yesterday I died and tomorrow I am born.
I fed a calf last year,
drove off a cliff today.

Do we have enough time
to save ourselves?
Do we have enough time

to save our country, our world?

Time,                time,
                                                              time

Ruth Jewell, ©August 2, 2020

I Turned Off the News

I turned off the news,
disgusted, angry, sad,
not sure what to feel.
I have tears to fit them all.
With raised arms I shout,
     I scream,
          I cry,
              
Guns do not help.
violence does not help.
silence in the face of violence does not help.
        I am at a loss to find what helps.

Ears are blocked with hate.
Hearts are blocked with hate.
Minds are blocked with hate.
    How do we move past the hate.

I hear the names;
     George Floyd,
          Breanna Taylor,
               Travon Martin,
too many to name.
Too many tears.

I see the violence,
police with guns, tear gas, stun grenades,
protestors with guns, bottles, rocks.
I understand the
     frustration,
          fear, and
               anger.
          Answers are not found in violence.
The call for peace,
     compassion,
          understanding of the other
               lost in the chaos.

Leaders call for dialogue and forgiveness
yet that seems so trite,
so little when so much is needed,
     but maybe,
          it’s right.
We need a different way,
we need to let go of old ways.
This world
can’t
wait.

Ruth Jewell, ©July 26, 2020

A Psalm of Lament

Where are you, O God.
You left me here . . . so alone.

You walked with me,
       held me in your arms.
You whispered.
     do not be afraid, I Am here

But not today, O Lord.
Today I am alone, afraid.

Come, O Sacred Sprit.
I long for Your comforting touch,
    Your sweet kiss
    light upon my cheek.

O Gracious Presence,
I hold Your words in my heart, my being.
I dance with harp and trumpet,
I shout, O my Soul
     with joy and song.
I sing Your praises in
     the Cathedrals of field and mountains.
Your grace fills me to overflowing,
     my heart swells with gratitude.

Come, O Holy One
I need, I long, for You.
I long for Your blessings.
Come dance with me.
Come sing with me.
Come hold me,
O Spirit of life.

Ruth Jewell, ©July 23, 2020

Image: Sunset, Edmonds WA, July 16, 2013, Photo Ruth Jewell

God’s Gift

God of the forest and field

God of the mouse hiding in tall grass.
God of the hawk, hunter of mice,
     food for her chick.
God of life nourishing life.

God of the coyote hunter of rabbits,
     food for her kits.
God of the rabbit, feeding on dandelions.
God of life nourishing life.

God of the creek to the ocean

God of salmon swimming downstream and up.
God of the Bear, fisher of salmon,
     food for the winter long.
God of life nourishing life.

God of the Osprey hunter of trout,
     food for her chicks.
God of the trout from cold mountains lakes,
God of life nourishing life.

God’s gift,
     life nourishing life.

Ruth Jewell, ©July 22, 2020

Olympic Peninsula, Hurricane Ridge, September 2003, by Ruth Jewell, The ‘fog’ is smoke from wildfires.

love has a fur coat

Blessed one in coat of fur
    warm body, sweet breath
    tiny paw tucked in my hand
    dark eyes gaze into mine
    ears pricked,
          listening to my voice
    small pink tongue
          licks my nose

You trot along beside me
   head held high
   tail wagging a mile a minute
You tell the world
   this is my Mom
          don’t you bother her
I may be small but mighty

Blessed small furry friend
   jumping and spinning in greeting
you have the courage of a wolf
the mind of a cunning fox
the heart of angel
you are my comfort
   snuggled close,
   warm joy in a fur coat

Blessings small furry person
who holds my heart
in his paws.

Ruth Jewell, ©July 17, 2020

Image: Louis Guido Maximillian Jewell

Remember

Remember dawns cold light,
     calves calling, cows munching.
Remember white foals,
     soft hay laced breath.
Remember buckets of water,
     heavy, cold, fresh from the well.
Remember fresh eggs
     still warm from the nest.
Remember eggs, pancakes, bacon and hot coco,
     kept me going ‘till lunch.
Remember hot, steaming, metal tubs of water,
     babies bathing first,
                             poor dad always went last.
Remember beginnings,
Remember endings,
Remember endings that led into beginnings,
Remember,
Remember,
Remember.

Ruth Jewell, ©July 17, 2020