With our daughter moving to Seattle, I’ve been thinking about my favorite places in Washington State. East of the Cascades, for instance, is the semi-desert gorge of the Columbia River. Amid the sagebrush and basalt columns are petrified Ginkgo trees. I used to chase coyotes and ponder geology there.
Ginkgo trees evolved in the Permian period, about 270 million years ago. Those in Washington are over 15 million years old. All living Ginkgo trees are descendants of a couple isolated pockets that somehow survived multiple glacial advances and retreat in Southwestern China, on the Tibetan Plateau, kept alive meticulously for a thousand years by monks. All are living fossils of plant evolution.
I see a correlation.
Too many of our Christians siblings are living fossils of a proto-Jewish belief system. Though the descendants of the authors of that system moved on to greater thinking, too many American Christians aspire to be the fictional Israelites of Leviticus: living fossils of one Bronze Age Semitic People.
Everything evolves, including religion. We neither worship nor think about Jesus like our grandparents, let alone the founders of our faith. Most of the last 1000 years have been embroiled in wars of belief, the purpose to advance or resist new thought. Thought happened anyway. The living fossils of Christianity, therefore, are those who obsess on fragments of the oldest parts of Hebrew Scripture, because that is how far back they have to reach to find words of like-minded hate and fear.
Ancient Hebrew Scripture is unique among the historical record for how far back in time it reaches, how many historical periods it covers and the relative honesty of the authors when it comes to talking about their ancestors. The Old Testament offers sometimes-opposing accounts of the theological and philosophical history of a people who would eventually call themselves Jews. What makes the Faith so utterly precious, however, is this ancient people’s willingness to call a fool a fool, kings included. The rest of the world had to wait for the 18th Century.
Scholars have understood for more than 200 years that the first 5 books of the Old Testament are attempted history, but moreover detailed explanations by committed Yahwists about why they’re Yahwists, including the fact that they weren’t always Yahwists. It is the story of the people they used to be–Canaanites, worshippers of the gods El and Baal–and who were to become post-captivity. Ezra’s scribes inserted the Book of Deuteronomy to make it sound like a clean transition, but left the dirt. That’s the precious part, because showing dirt conveys humility and intellectual honesty.
Written in the 8th and 5th Century BCE, most of the Old Testament is Iron Age people writing about who they imagined they were and what they once thought in the late Bronze Age, 1200-1500 BCE. In other words, much of the Old Testament is about how, why and in what context one enclave of Semitic people arrived at Judaism then grew it into something as philosophically tangible as the competition.
If that is the context, then the oddest (and least credible) wing of Christianity are those who have chosen to be living fossils, our Brothers and Sisters of the Ginkgo Tree; those who look to Leviticus and Genesis as source and sum of their theology. The Jews proudly advanced their ethics beyond Mosaic Commandments, their slice of the Age of Hammurabi, past the Greeks then miles past Rome, past Jesus, past Maimonides and past Spinoza in their development of ethical ways of thinking. They are so proud of their evolution they left us their notes, for God’s sake.
Meanwhile millions of Christians understand none of this on purpose. And THAT is why I teach on Tuesday nights. I revel in living fossils, unless they’re human.
This fall we will look hard at the first 200 years of Christianity. Join us at 6:30 in the Annex and learn how we got here, theologically,
and where religion is most likely to be in a hundred years.
Because being a living fossil is unacceptable in the Age of Information.
June 12, 2019 — Jesus Christ?
While Mainline Protestant denominations attempt to figure out what it means to be welcoming as if that’s what is keeping people from their door, I contend that nearly every denomination one can name is avoiding the fact that a strikingly clear picture of Jesus has been emerging from the desert. And he looks and sounds nothing like the man we’ve been hearing about from American pulpits since 1620.
The Jesus that emerged from over 200 years of archaeological discovery, as well as historical, biblical and linguistic scholarship is at odds with what a lot of our grandfathers and mothers and priests and preachers taught us. That is, in my opinion, at the very heart of the loss of credibility and butts in seats for modern Christianity.
Some of the discrepancies are painful. For instance, the depiction of Jesus that emerged from jars buried in the sand, and history that was always available to religious leaders but was ignored for centuries would clearly take issue with how Jesus is portrayed in the Gospel of John, (starting with the fact that we call it “John”, as if it was actually written by a disciple). As we will hear all through Holy Week, if we’re listening, John’s gospel is anti-Semitic, anti-Jew through and through. It was written assuming that Christians had forgotten that Jesus was a Jew and would share the disgust of Jews.
As a point of historical fact, the Church, literally 8 years after becoming the official Church and gaining that capital C began its first slaughter of Jews using the testimony of Helen, mother of Constantine, and the gospel they attributed to the Gospel of John as the excuse to begin 1600 years of murder of Jews, culminating in Auschwitz, culminating in Charlottesville two years ago.
That slaughter would be an absurd tragedy to the historical Jesus as well as the Jesus described in any of the three Synoptic Gospels. But is still a historical fact.
The Jesus that lived was an apocalypticist. He was a Jew who preached to Jews with rare and pointed exception. He understood that Roman Occupation meant the utter end of his people; and lo, he was dead right. Roman Legions burned Jerusalem and its temple to the ground and slaughtered its inhabitants. That slaughter ended in the infamous mass suicide atop Masada. Rome, Empire wiped out the Jewish nature of Christianity and left Paul’s Greek side, which the Book of Acts itself admits, was suspect to Jerusalem Church.
The Jesus you meet in my classroom on Tuesday nights is the Jesus who lived 2000 years ago and we explore modern proclamation from the living Jesuses who still speak like him today.
Jesus was a politician who fought the corporate, greed-driven takeover of his God-centric country by the most insatiable global hegemony on the planet. That should sound familiar. He debated publically the educated religious and wealthy elite of his country on philosophy and faith; pointing out what is God-thought and what is temporal blunder, greed, lust or ambition. When the religious elite chose keeping jobs and enjoying the pay raise over with wisdom of their faith and service to their people, his people, he started his own ministry.
Some of the rest we know, sort of.
But here’s something everyone should know. When our parents told us that politics and religion weren’t topics for polite conversation they weren’t thinking like the living Jesus.
Politics and philosophy was literally Jesus’ profession. That’s what a Rabbi or Pharisee was: a lawyer per se whose expertise is religion and the social order in a theocratic society. Priests tend fires and funerals. Pharisees argue philosophy and holy writ.
In response to military occupation, Jesus, the Pharisee and former refugee of Rome fought, argued, taught and reminded his flock of what it means to be Jewish, soul-wise. Step one: fight empire for all it’s worth, as always. But know that Love throws a wrench in the Empire machine like no army can.
The Gospel of John tells us that the Jews were the problem.
I believe the only future Christianity can have is through reuniting itself with the Jesus who actually lived. In order to do so we must divorce ourselves of 1600 years of bad religion beginning with turning Jesus from Jew to Greek then murdering millions of Jews and anyone else we didn’t like for the next 1600 years, all of it justified by being Christian. Then there’s 300 years of slavery and torture by good Presbyterians and Baptists and such.
Easter is a good time to get right with actual Jesus.
—April 10, 2019
These are exciting times. What Christians believe about God has been an example of flux for 2000 years, but everyone seems to feel the sand shifting beneath their feet. The Bible conveys the spiritual evolution of man from the dawn of the Bronze Age to the height of Roman Empire; the only constant being the eternal orthodox belief that a God who loves us resides somewhere we cannot see. In the wave patter of history, the world’s faithful are, once again, asking hard questions about God. What we are witnessing is the end of the fourth, roughly 500-year, cycle; the end of Luther’s age. The wide but shallow pond we all stand in has been dubbed Post-Modernism. The specifically Christian bubble of this Venn diagram has been called Post-Protestantism for practical reasons. Progressive Emergent Christians are on the move from dividing themselves up by creed and doctrine, to joining streams of people intent on palpably experiencing Grace.
Emergent Christianity began with Emerging Christianity with the rise of Pentecostalism in Southern California; although such experiential, immersive behavior can be traced to Ann Hutchinson of Massachusetts in the 17th Century, back through Frances of Assisi, through the Desert Fathers of the 2nd and 3rd Century. In other words, there’s nothing new here. What is so exciting is that the paradigm within which the future religion will operate is being written as we speak, literally, by us as we begin to immerse ourselves in discussions about who we are and whence our wisdom will come. It is also the type of discussion had every Tuesday evening in the Annex from 6:30 pm to mental exhaustion.
Join us for a preview of Christianity’s future.
All are welcome