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

Make a joyful noise to God, all the earth PS 66.1

Photo from the Clergy Coaching Network, September 23, 2019

I wonder if one of religions biggest difficulty is that we cannot respond to joy. We remember and celebrate our failures but do not remember or celebrate our successes. In the Hebrew bible it is the battles that are recorded not the moments of peace. In the Christian New Testament, it is the pain and sorrow that is highlighted not the holding of a child or the details of the wedding.  We live a joyless faith.

Yes, there are moments in scripture where joy can be found but if you stack them up against the moments of violence you will discover that violence tips the scale.  In Christianity the most important holiday is Easter, the resurrection, but it is Maundy Thursday, and “Good” Friday that receives the press. The return of Jesus must have been incredibly wonderful, people must have been overjoyed. But that is not what we hear.

 Why are the happy times, the good times not news? Today the only things on news shows of any kind are who killed who, who challenges who for power, who hates who.  That is not the world I want to live in, but it appears that is the world we have created from the very beginning.

Violence seems to be hardwired into who we are. Our earliest ancestors survived on meat killed by their own hand or by other predators. I get that, I understand the need to eat and feed our families, but there is always a but isn’t there, the vast majority of humans don’t need to kill to eat. Most of us can go down to the local market and get what we need.  Yes, food inequality exists, and it does so because we have people who feel they are the only ones and “hoard” resources.  There are enough resources on this planet to feed every man, woman, and child without letting anyone suffer, or go hungry.

We have that inequality because we have people who claim ownership to more than they need and we have others who will fight, even kill, to get their share. Not a pretty picture of humanity, the supposed children of God. The prophets, Jesus, Buddha, and Mohammad all tried to change us from petty, hording, selfish people. We haven’t listened, we continue to be selfish, we continue to champion and celebrate hate and violence, and we continue to destroy the planet we live on for our selfish, violent ends.  

But, again with the but, If, just if, we imagined a world where violence didn’t exist what would it look like? What if we celebrated the joy of life lived with each other, what if we celebrated the joy of living on a planet that is amazingly beautiful and filled with joy? How would that world look like, what would we look like? What would our communities look like? You know I can’t imagine it because I have no words for that kind of joy, that kind of celebration, that kind of love. Imagination doesn’t need a written word, but it does need visual ones and within our human existence there are no words, visual or written, that can describe that kind of life. That makes me sad, very sad.

So much of our lives are made up of survival, of protecting ourselves from what is outside our door that we have forgotten life in the “Garden” where fear and hate and struggle were unknown.  I hope we never make it to the stars or find people on other planets because we in our infinitely violent, stupid, selfish ways would destroy them.

All of this doesn’t mean we should stop recognizing suffering and be modern day Pollyanna’s. No that isn’t what this all about, rather it’s about ignoring the good in this world, pushing it aside to revel in sorrow, in violence, in pain, and in hate.  When we push joy aside and only focus on the non-joy (is that a word?) we make our lives smaller and we choose to live lives that are less significant.

We are approaching what should be a time of great joy in the Church calendar. Advent and Christmas should be a time filled with joy of anticipation of new life. We should be celebrating what will come from welcoming the joy of the Eternal Holy Spirits gifts. We won’t though will we? I have grown to hate Advent and Christmas because I see too much selfishness, a selfishness that locks out most of the world’s poor from a share in that joy. At this time of the year we share with those less privileged and then forget about them for the rest of the year. At this time of the year we give, often abundantly, not as an act of grace, but to clean our souls. Jesus taught the joy of giving from our abundance was supposed to happen all year long, every day, every hour. Somehow, we’ve forgotten that.

We humans are the youngest of the species on this planet and unless we change how we view the world we will not survive to be the oldest, and we will take the rest of creation with us.  I hope that will not be the legacy of the sad, strange species called Homo sapiens, sapiens, my fear is it will be.

Ruth Jewell, ©September 23, 2019