Sunday, March 31, 2013

Jesus: The Revelation of Oneness

The Wild Reed's 2013 Holy Week series concludes with a fifth and final excerpt from Albert Nolan's 2006 book, Jesus Today: A Spirituality of Radical Freedom.

Along with excerpts from Nolan's book, this series has also included artistic depictions of Jesus which many people might consider unconventional, even challenging. Why? Well, as I discuss in Part 1, this is because many of us have become overly familiar with depictions of Jesus that are the product of the white American popular imagination. Seeing a non-European looking Jesus, such as the depiction above by an unknown photographer, has the potential to turn upside-down our thinking and perception of Jesus and, by extension, of those around us whom we might consider as 'other.'

With today being Easter Sunday, I thought I'd share an excerpt from that part of Nolan's book that focuses on Jesus' oneness with God and all creation. For the disciples of Jesus, the Easter experience was profoundly transforming. It made them aware, in a radically new way, of Jesus' oneness with God and with them. It is a oneness that encompasses all creation and extends beyond even death. I also think it's fair to say that this post-resurrection awareness was projected back onto the Jesus whom we read about in the gospel texts. That's how powerful and important the post-resurrection experience was to his friends and disciples.

Full participation in the spirituality of Jesus would have to include some experience of our oneness with the universe. Jesus' extraordinarily profound union with God manifested itself not only in his identification with all human beings, but also in his oneness with nature. Because he lived in a pre-scientific and pre-industrial age, he did not experience nature as a resource to be exploited or as a machine to be manipulated. Jesus experienced all of nature, including humans, as God's creation.

Nor would Jesus ever have imagined that God had created the universe in the beginning and then left it to carry on by itself. For Jesus, God was actively caring and providing for all of creation, every day. God feeds the birds, clothes the fields with flowers, lets the sun shine and the rain pour down on the just and the unjust alike (Mt 6:26-30, Mt 5:45).

. . . Oneness with God, with oneself, with others, and with the universe forms a seamless whole. Any attempt at union with God while remaining alienated from other people and from nature would be pure fantasy. Likewise, an experience of closeness to nature that excludes human beings and one's own personal wholeness would be incomplete and ineffective. A genuine experience of oneness with everybody and everything, however, would include oneness with God, even if one is not fully aware of God's presence, because, as [Jesus said] "whatever you do to the least of these you do to me" – whether we are aware of it or not.

What we are talking about here is one seamless experience of moving out of self-centeredness and isolation into union with all that is. It is a movement from separation to oneness, from selfishness to love, from ego to God. And while much of it may sound abstract, convoluted, and far removed from the problems and concerns of everyday life, it is in practice an experience of beautiful simplicity – the simplicity we see mirrored in Jesus.

The mysterious author of the Fourth Gospel was clearly a mystic who saw that in the final analysis Jesus was the revelation of oneness: his oneness with the Father, the Father's oneness with him and with us, our oneness with one another and with him and with the Father (Jn 17:21-23). Paul spoke of this too, albeit in a very different way, recognizing among other things its cosmic dimensions: ". . . through him [Jesus] God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven" (Col 1:20). "So that," he says in another place, "God may be all in all" (Cor 15:28).

– Albert Nolan

For the previous installments of The Wild Reed's 2013 Holy Week series, see:
Jesus: The Upside-down Messiah
Jesus: Prophet and Mystic
Jesus and the Art of Letting Go
Within the Mystery, a Strange and Empty State of Suspension

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
And What of Resurrection?
Jesus: The Breakthrough in the History of Humanity
Resurrection: Beyond Words, Dogmas, and All Possible Theological Formulations
The Passion of Christ (Part 11) – Jesus Appears to Mary
The Passion of Christ (Part 12) – Jesus Appears to His Friends
The Triumph of Love: An Easter Reflection

Related Off-site Link:
Easter Sunday: Jesus Is Risen! Alleluia!Bondings 2.0 (March 31, 2013).
Easter: The Celebration of the Sacrament of Transformation – Joan Chittister, OSB (The Progressive Catholic Voice, March 31, 2013).
To Practice Resurrection – Marcus Mescher (Millennial, March 31, 2013).

Image: Photographer unknown.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Within the Mystery, a Strange and Empty State of Suspension

It's a grey, overcast day – cold, damp, and dismal; a fitting state, it seems to me, for Holy Saturday, when we remember that space of time between Jesus' death and when he was seen, touched and experienced once again by those who knew and loved him.

I don't like imagining what his friends and disciples were going through during this space of time. The feelings of loss, grief, disillusionment, and emptiness must have been overwhelming. We know from the gospel accounts that the disciples were also fearful. How separated they must have felt from their lost friend to be now living in the exact opposite way he'd so often urged them to live. Indeed, the memory of Jesus' call to "Be not afraid" must have felt like a mockery to his friends in their current state.

Of course, in commemorating the events of Holy Week we hear a lot about "God's will," with the implication being that the suffering and death of Jesus were all part of God's plan, that God willed these terrible things to happen. I've always found this way of thinking problematic. I think what God wills for each and every one of us is that we experience abundant life; "life to the full," as Jesus said. I don't think of things like earthquakes, cancer, and tragic accidents as being God's will. Neither do I see the selfish and destructive ways that some choose in order to prevent others from experiencing fullness of life – greed, racism, sexism, war, torture, murder – to be the will of God.

But can't good come from these terrible things? Might they not be capable of being used by God in some way beyond our comprehension? Without doubt we are free to choose how we respond to the events of our lives – including those that are difficult and painful. And I firmly believe that God's transforming presence deep within us and mediated to us through the loving words and actions of others is capable of helping us cope with difficult and tragic events. Inspiration can definitely be gathered from the way that many have embodied this presence to overcome adversity or to simply get through a difficult time without becoming embittered. But to say that God willed the adversity or tragedy in the first place is something I cannot accept.

These types of adverse and tragic turn of events are part of life. And God's place and role in them is ultimately a mystery. For me personally, it's simply not helpful to expend time and energy on trying to figure out God's complicity, if any, in things like natural disasters, tragic accidents, and the actions of individuals or groups resulting in atrocities of one type or another. I'd rather focus on how God's loving and healing presence can be embodied and experienced in the midst of the whole spectrum of human experience.

These thoughts I share this Holy Saturday remind me of that part of Albert Nolan's book Jesus Today that focuses on the reality of mystery in our grappling with different ways of thinking and talking about God. Holy Week for me is the great season of mystery. And Holy Saturday, the day when we're invited to place ourselves within that strange and empty state of suspension between death and resurrection, is definitely mysterious.

And so I continue The Wild Reed's 2013 Holy Week series with a fourth excerpt from Nolan's Jesus Today, an excerpt that explores the mystery that is God.

Mystics speak of God as unknowable. . . . [and] the word that has always been used to speak of God . . . by theologians, mystics, and spiritual writers is the word "mystery." A mystery is by definition unknown and unknowable. It can never become an object of knowledge without ceasing to be a mystery. But that does not mean that what we call a mystery is not real. We know that it is, even if we d not know what it is. This is precisely what we would want to say about God.

What matters is not how much I know about God or whether I can anything at all about God. What matters is whether God is real to me or not. A mystery can be more real to me than any of the things or people I think I know well. Experienced as mystery, God can be more real and more present to me than anything I can see, hear, smell, taste, or touch.

. . . God is not a mystery – one among many mysteries. God is the mystery – not just the holy mystery or divine mystery. That too would make God one among many mysteries, albeit a very special mystery. God is in a sense the mysteriousness of all things. You and I are part of the mystery. "Part" is not a very good way of describing what one wants to say here. To put it negatively, I m not outside the mystery of all things looking at it like some kind of observer. I must include myself in the mystery that we call God. As Paul says, "In God we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28).

I experience myself as a mystery too. We all do. The more we try to understand who and what we are, the more we face the unknown and unknowable, the mystery of you and me. . . . The appropriate response to mystery of any kind is wonder. We see how children can be rendered spellbound by the wonders and marvels they encounter. Wonder is a form of consciousness that is without words or images or understanding. When we recognize God as mystery, our spontaneous response is wonder and awe.

Somewhere at the heart of Jesus' spirituality is the awareness of God as near, very near. His use of the intimate family word abba implies that God was unusually close to him. Is that not also why he could speak of God's kingdom or reign as close at hand? One of the most important changes that Jesus introduced into religious thinking and spirituality of his time was the conviction that God was not far away. God's kingdom does not belong to the past or the future, and God is not high in the sky. The mystery of God is "in your midst." Jesus recognized God's presence in the here and now – in his present moment.

The nearness of God to everyone, irrespective of who or what they are, is basic to the teaching of the mystics. The Sufis say: "God is closer to me than my jugular vein." . . . The challenge then is to grow in awareness of God's presence and closeness. In other words, we must become more conscious of the presence of mystery in us and all around us. The mystery is very close to us. In it we live and move and have our being. Our experience of God begins as an experience of wonder and awe in the presence of mystery, here and now, in everything – including ourselves.

– Albert Nolan

NEXT: Part 5

For the previous installments of The Wild Reed's 2013 Holy Week series, see:
Jesus: The Upside-down Messiah
Jesus: Prophet and Mystic
Jesus and the Art of Letting Go

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The Passion of Christ – Part 10: Jesus Among the Dead
When Love Entered Hell
A Wretched Death, a Wretched Burial

Related Off-site Links:
Holy Saturday: The Reality of Death – Francis DeBernardo (Bondings 2.0, March 30, 2013).
Between Death and Resurrection – Susan Stabile (Creo en Dios!, March 30, 2013).
Searching for the Meaning of “Good” Friday – Sherry (Walking in the Shadows, March 29, 2013).
Lent, Easter, Jesus and the Victims of History: A Meditation – William D. Lindsey (Bilgrimage, March 30, 2013).
Crucifixion Helps Make Meaning of Pain in Church and World – Jamie L. Manson (National Catholic Reporter via The Progressive Catholic Voice, April 22, 2011).
Pope Francis Presides Over Trimmed Easter Vigil Service – Nicole Winfield (Associated Press via Yahoo! News, March 30, 2013).

Image: Australia dancer Paul White in choreographer Meryl Tankard's The Oracle.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Jesus and the Art of Letting Go

The Wild Reed's 2013 Holy Week series continues with a third excerpt from Albert Nolan's 2006 book, Jesus Today: A Spirituality of Radical Freedom.

This series also includes artistic depictions of Jesus which for many people might be considered unconventional. Why? Well, as I discuss in Part 1, this is because many of us have become overly familiar with depictions of Jesus that are the product of the white American popular imagination. Seeing a non-European looking Jesus, such as the depiction above by Janet McKenzie, has the potential to turn upside-down our thinking and perception of Jesus and, by extension, of those around us whom we might consider as 'other.'

Today is Good Friday, an appropriate time to share an excerpt from that part of Nolan's book that focuses on detachment and letting go. It should be noted that the word 'detachment' is often understood as implying aloofness and indifference. Yet within numerous spiritual traditions this is not what the word means. As Nolan reminds us, detachment, when properly understood, "means freedom, inner freedom." It also expresses an important element in Jesus' spirituality: the ability to let go. In the Christian tradition, writes Nolan, this has been spoken of as "purity of heart" or the process of becoming "poor in spirit."

Following are more of Albert Nolan's thoughts and insights on Jesus and what I think of as the art of letting go.

Detachment is not a matter of giving up everything but of being willing to give up anything when called upon to do so. That is true inner freedom. In this sense, Jesus was radically free. He was not hindered in his freedom by any attachments at all, not even an attachment to his own life. He was willing to die if that were to become necessary.

We recall Jesus' paradoxical statement that when we try to save our lives, when we cling to our lives, when we are not willing to give up our lives for others, we are already dead. But as soon as we are willing to die, we become fully alive – and free. Most of us walk around with the threat of death hanging over us. We cope by just trying to forget that one day we shall die. Death is, as Paul says, the last enemy. But if we can learn to embrace death, we can take the sting out of it and then be truly free.

The willingness to die is the ultimate detachment. It incorporates all other forms of detachment, because it is the ultimate letting go of our ego. . . . None of this is possible without putting one's trust in God. If it were possible to let go of everything without grounding ourselves in God, we would become like an astronaut who has let go of the spaceship and will float forever in outer space. However, trusting God and being grounded in God does not mean attachment to God. It is not as if we become detached from everything except God, so that in the end we cling desperately to God because there is nothing else left to cling to.

Trusting God, as Jesus did, does not mean clinging to God; it means letting go of everything so as to surrender ourselves and our lives to God. There is a difference between attachment and surrender. In the end we must become detached from God too. We must let go of God in order to jump into the embrace of a loving Father whom we can trust implicitly. We don't need to hold on tightly, because we will be held – like a child in the arms of its parents.

There are people who cling to God. They make God into a crutch that they feel they must lean on because they are so wounded. That is understandable enough, and we should never lose our sympathy for such people. But there is a better way. We can let go. We can surrender. We can give ourselves in wild abandonment. We can trust God. Clinging, even clinging to God, is the work of a frightened ego. Surrender and trust come from the depths of our true self.

We do not know how Jesus felt or what he thought as he hung in agony on the cross, but there is a very ancient Christian tradition that he felt abandoned by God. In Mark and Matthew he is depicted as reciting Psalm 22, which begins: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me" (Mk 15:34-35; Mt 27:46-47). The text is quoted partly in Hebrew and partly in Aramaic: "Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?" – which is unusual and in itself a good reason for regarding the tradition as very old. But that does mean that in the end Jesus did not surrender, as he always did, to the mysterious will of God. Luke indicates this by quoting Jesus' last words as: "Father, into your hands I surrender my spirit" (Lk 23:46; my translation).

– Albert Nolan

NEXT: Part 4

Recommended Off-site Links:
Searching for the Meaning of “Good” Friday – Sherry (Walking in the Shadows, March 29, 2013).
Pope Francis Leads Good Friday Services in RomeBBC (March 29, 2013).
Pope Refers to “Muslim Brothers” on Good Friday – Nicole Winfield (Associated Press via Yahoo! News, March 29, 2013).
The Death of Jesus and the Rise of the Christian Persecution Myth – Candida Moss (The Daily Beast, March 31, 2013)
No, Jesus Wasn't a White Guy – Chauncey DeVega (Salon, March 19, 2013).
The Problem with White JesusUpwrite (July 9, 2011).
See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
No Deeper Darkness
And What of Resurrection?
The Passion of Christ (Part 5) – Jesus Before the People
The Passion of Christ (Part 6) – Jesus Before the Soldiers
The Passion of Christ (Part 7) – Jesus Goes to His Execution
The Passion of Christ (Part 8) – Jesus is Nailed the Cross
The Passion of Christ (Part 9) – Jesus Dies

Quote of the Day

. . . Not everyone appreciates how the HRC has been lent high legitimacy as the organization representing the entire movement when their actions have consistently proven otherwise. Going further, some people have reservations that a large number of people – especially economically well-off, able-bodied, gender conforming, non-immigrant and white (read: relatively privileged) gay and lesbian Americans – will disengage from the many other institutional and social changes necessary for full inclusion of LGBT communities.

That may very well not be the case. But who comprises the majority of the Human Rights Campaign's staff and donor base? The same white, gay and lesbian people previously described. For many of these folks and some others, marriage equality is the last major step to becoming "fully privileged" citizens relative to their heterosexual peers (well, save perhaps for employment protections).

Just the sight of the HRC logo recalls that scary possibility of broader disengagement given how the organization has represented itself so far – and what's below only scratches the surface.

The HRC has appeared more concerned with praising corporations and financial institutions that continue to oppress the poor and play reverse Robin Hood to screw many folks (LGBT* included) out of homes and livelihoods.

The HRC has yet to make a strong, substantive appeal on youth homelessness, which disproportionately impacts LGBT communities.

The HRC has a long history of throwing trans people under the bus. Many folks still remember them dropping the "T" while attempting to push the Employment Non-Discrimination Act through Congress in 2007... and it still failed to capture enough votes to pass in the Senate and become law. They've since reverted to supporting a trans-inclusive bill, yet many still feel the sting.

The HRC has tokenized and otherwise has given lip service to issues pertaining to LGBT communities of color. Racial justice (or even an allusion to it) isn't even listed on their website's "issues" tab as part of a broader strategy. And dare we not address how that functions from within, given the racism many people experience in LGBT spaces and forums.

Yet the HRC has thrown almost the full weight of their strategy, fundraising moolah and public platform on the issue of marriage equality. And they've done it for a while now.

It's as if the organization can't make fully-voiced statements and actions to push forward other pressing issues. I'm sure many folks can appreciate that they've at least tried with employment protections and addressing bullying. But, more often than not, you won't hear HRC's voice on issues other than marriage. A quick perusal of its Facebook posts over the past year confirms that.

With marriage equality occupying so much space in the conversation, many people have grown tired of the perfunctory strategies that eat up time, money and resources to address surface-level issues rather than work intersectionally to address the root cause of systemic issues impacting LGBT communities. That's not to say marriage doesn't matter – it's indeed a big step that'll move us closer to achieving equality – but the high, high level of its prioritization is troubling to many.

When people openly express their discomfort about the red HRC logo heavily populating their Facebook and Twitter news feeds, they're doing more than simply raging against the Gay Inc. machine. Scrutinizing marriage as an institution and acknowledging broader community issues while supporting marriage as an option for all couples are not mutually exclusive ideas or actions.

If anything, it's a plea for recognition that the marriage issue is one part of a larger strategy for equality and not the ultimate end goal. . . .

– Derrick Clifton

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Seeing Red
A Lose/Lose Situation

Related Off-site Links:
Gay Marriage Equality Box Spreads on Social Media – Leanne Italie (Associated Press via Yahoo! News, March 27, 2013).
I’m Going To Rant About Those Little Equal Sign Facebook Profile Pics Now – Mira (, March 27, 2013).

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Servant Pope

Will you let me be your servant,
let me be as Christ to you;
Pray that I may have the grace to let you
be my servant, too.

We are pilgrims on a journey,
we are trav'lers on the road;
We are here to help each other
walk the mile and bear the load . . .

– Richard Gillard
The Servant Song (1977)

Writes Philip Pullella of Reuters:

Two young women were among twelve people whose feet Pope Francis washed and kissed at a traditional ceremony in a Rome youth prison on Holy Thursday, the first time a pontiff has included females in the rite.

The pope traveled to the Casal del Marmo prison on Rome's outskirts for the traditional Mass, which commemorates Jesus' gesture of humility towards his apostles the night before he died.

The ceremony has been traditionally limited to men because all of Jesus' apostles were male. The Vatican spokesman said two of the twelve whose feet were washed were Muslim inmates.

While the former Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio included women in the rite when he was archbishop of Buenos Aires, it was the first time women had taken part in a papal Holy Thursday ceremony.

Taking the ceremony to a youth prison was also a papal first and Francis, who was elected only two weeks ago, said he wanted to be closer to those who were suffering.

All popes in living memory have held the service either in St. Peter's or the Basilica of St. John in Lateran, which is the pope's cathedral church in his capacity as bishop of Rome.

In a brief, unscripted homily, the pope told the young inmates that everyone, including him, had to be in the service of others.

Meanwhile, Katie McDonough of Slate writes:

As part of a Holy Thursday ritual, Pope Francis washed the feet of a dozen inmates at a juvenile detention center in Rome, including two young women. Some in the Catholic Church see the pontiff’s decision to wash women’s feet as symbolic break with male-dominated tradition, as current liturgical rules restrict the ritual to men. Previous popes had only washed the feet of priests meant to represent Jesus’ male disciples.

. . . Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest, calls the act “hugely significant,” explaining that “including women in this part of the Holy Thursday Mass has been frowned on – and even banned – in some dioceses.”

And finally, there is "Prickliest Pear"'s insightful observations as to why so-called traditionalists are upset by the pope's Good Thursday washing of women's feet. (Note: The following was left as a comment to this post on William D. Lindsey's blog Bilgrimage)

So why do the traditionalists get it so wrong? Their thinking begins and ends with the priesthood, not with the foot-washing ritual. Their vision of the cultic priesthood as an exclusive channel through which they receive the grace of God has to be kept in mind. It is what they believe the Church is most centrally about. If they read scripture in connection with this ritual, it is to find support for their particular understanding of the priesthood. They believe that the stories of the Last Supper in the Synoptic Gospels show where Jesus instituted the Catholic priesthood--this is reading a LOT into the text that isn't there, but when you're desperate enough to see something, sometimes you'll see it.

But what about John? The Gospel of John lacks that all-important institution-of-the-priesthood scene. The scene with the foot-washing is in it's place, and so, their thinking goes, it must be connected to the priesthood, too. It doesn't say that anywhere in the text, but they're not interested in the original meaning of the ritual, they're interested in how they can interpret it to support for their understanding of the priesthood.

And of course this requires them to misinterpret it, because that wasn't what it was about at all.

Related Off-site Links:
Pope Washes Women's Feet in Break with Church Law – Nicole Winfield (Associated Press via Yahoo! News, March 28, 2013).
Francis Washes, Kisses Feet of Two Women, Two Muslims – Thomas C. Fox (National Catholic Reporter, March 28, 2013).
Washing Women's Feet: New Pope Captures Media Attention (and Infuriates Catholic Traditionalists) – William D. Lindsey (Bilgrimage, March 29, 2013).
Pope's Foot-Wash a Final Straw for Traditionalists – Nicole Winfield (Associated Press via Yahoo! News, March 29, 2013).
"Francis Set a Bad Example by Washing the Feet of Two Women" – Alessandro Speciale (Vatican Insider, March 29, 2013).
Pope Urges Catholic Priests to Help Poor, Shun Careerism – Reuters via, March 28, 2013).
Francis: Priests Should 'Have the Smell' of Their People – Joshua J. McElwee (National Catholic Reporter (March 28, 2013).
Francis Criticized Vatican at Conclave; Warned Bishops of the "Dangers of Stagnation" – Andrea Rodriguez (Associated Press via The Progressive Catholic Voice, March 26, 2013).
Pope Francis Rejects Apostolic Palace, Will Live In Guest Apartment – Christopher Hale (Millennial, March 26, 2013).
Seven Fascinating Things We've Learned About Pope Francis – Peter Weber (The Week, March 28, 2013).
Holy Thursday: Radical Call to Be Served and to Serve – Mike Jordan Laskey (Millennial, March 28, 2013).
"He Took the Form of a Servant": Holy Thursday and Jesus' Gender Transgression – William D. Lindsey (Bilgrimage, March 28, 2013).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Gospel Leadership
Bishop Gumbleton: A Priesthood Set Apart and Above Others is Not the Way of Jesus
Rosemary Haughton and the "True Catholic Enterprise"
The Passion of Christ (Part 3): The Last Supper
Trusting God's Generous Invitation
Compassion, Christian Community, and Homosexuality

Jesus: Mystic and Prophet

The Wild Reed's 2013 Holy Week series continues with a second excerpt from Albert Nolan's Jesus Today: A Spirituality of Radical Freedom. In this excerpt, Nolan looks at Jesus as both a prophet and a mystic.

Prophets, Nolan reminds us, are "people who speak out when others remain silent. They criticize their own society, their own country, or their own religious institutions."

They are also people who can foretell the future, not as fortune-tellers, but "as people who have learned to read the signs of their times."

Writes Nolan: "It is by focusing their attention on, and becoming fully aware of, the political, social, economic, military, and religious tendencies of their time that prophets are able to see where it is all heading."

Reading the signs of the times, Nolan says, was an integral part of Jesus' spirituality. He boldly and radically spoke out against the assumptions and practices of the social and religious establishment of his time. He "turned their world upside down," Nolan reminds us, and "the conflict that this created became so intense that in the end they killed him to keep him quiet."

Jesus was also a mystic, a person who longs to experience oneness with God. Because he was both mystic and prophet, Jesus, says Nolan, was rooted in a mystico-prophetic spiritual tradition. His life was a powerful example of prophesy and mysticism forming an inseparable whole. Nolan highlights others who have similarly recognized prayer and justice as two sides of the same coin: Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day, Oscar Romero, Hélder Câmara, Dorothee Söelle, Mahatma Gandhi, and numerous others of different faith traditions.

Following are more of Albert Nolan's thoughts on Jesus as mystic and prophet.

I have always felt that there were two histories of the Christian Church: the history of the institution with its popes and power struggles, its schisms, conflicts, and divisions, its heresy hunting and bureaucracy; and the parallel history of the martyrs, saints, and mystics with their devotion to prayer, humility, and self-sacrifice, their freedom and joy, their boldness and their deep love for everyone and everything. The latter we have come to refer to as the mystico-prophetic tradition, and the former I have chosen to call the tradition of institutional authority.

There has always been a certain amount of overlap between the two, but on the whole these two histories or traditions have run parallel to one another with no small measure of tension and conflict. . . . Mystics, like prophets, are not appointed by any religious authority to fulfill their role as mystics. The authority of saints, mystics, and prophets has always been based upon their holiness or closeness to God – their experience. And institutional authority has always found it difficult to deal with such freedom of spirit.

Another notable characteristic of the mystical tradition has been the very large number of women who feature prominently in it, women who wrote extensively about their mystical experiences and acted as advisers and counselors to men and women of all kinds. We have only to think of great mystics like Catherine of Siena, Teresa of Avila, Hildegard of Bingen, Julian of Norwich, Mechthild of Magdeburg, and Catherine of Genoa. On the other hand, the institution has remained solidly patriarchal. Those in authority have been, and still are, men.

What we need to notice about Jesus is that in the conflict between the mystico-prophetic tradition and institutional authority within the Judaism of his time, he was par excellence a representative of the mystico-prophetic tradition. He was not a priest or a scribe. He was a layman – and, to cap it all, a peasant. Institutional authority was represented by the scribes and the Pharisees, the chief priests and the elders, the Sadducees and the Sanhedrin.

But it would be wrong to think that Jesus rejected the religious institution of his time out of hand. He respected the institution as such, "Moses' seat" (Mt 23:2), and he can even be said to have loved all who were part of it. But he totally rejected the way it was being used and abused to oppress the people (Mt 23:3-4). This has been the role of the prophet and the mystic in all religions and faith traditions in all times and places ever since there were religious authorities of any kind.

Both the mystico-prophetic tradition and institutional authority can be misused. Institutional authority can be used to dominate and oppress. On the other hand, charlatans can pose as prophets, mystics, and saints.

. . . Anyone who wishes to take Jesus seriously would have to be prepared to become a prophet and a mystic. In the history of Israel before Jesus, prophets were rare individuals. Jesus' aim was to open up the spirit of prophesy to everyone. Anyone can and should read the signs of the times, just as anyone can read the sky and foresee tomorrow's weather (up to point!) (Mt 16:1-4).

Then too we can all become courageous enough to speak out like prophets. This was the experience of the first Christians after Jesus' death. The outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost and after was an outpouring of the spirit of prophesy.

. . . We can also become mystics. In fact . . . prophesy and mysticism go together. Mystical union with God is not an experience reserved for some very special and privileged people. It is true that everybody does not have the same opportunities for exploring such a possibility. But Jesus did not think that he alone could experience intimacy with God as his abba.* God was the abba and Father of all: "My Father and your Father" (Jn 20:17); "Our Father" (Mt 6:9). We can all experience some measure of intimacy with God. . . . According to the frequently quoted prediction of the great twentieth-century theologian, Karl Rahner, "the Christian of the future will be a mystic or will not exist at all."

– Albert Nolan

NEXT: Part 3

* Writes Nolan: "One of the strongest memories Jesus' disciples had of him was that he addressed God with a familiar family word, abba, rather than any sacred religious word, and that he taught his disciples to do the same. This was so striking and unconventional that the original Aramaic word used by Jesus was sometimes preserved alongside the Greek in the New Testament, as in "abba Father" (Mk 14:36; Gal 4:6; Rom 8:15). As a way of addressing and referring to God, it was unique. . . . The significance of [Jesus'] use of the term abba is not that it is masculine or that it is the word a child might use, but that it expresses intimacy. God is being spoken of as a loving parent who embraces, holds, and protects his or her child. And, like the love of any good parent, it is warm, unconditional, and totally dependable. Some might associate this more with a caring mother than with a father, although warm, caring fathers are not uncommon these days nor were they in the past."

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Jesus: The Upside-down Messiah
"Who Is This Man?"
The Most Dangerous Kind of Rebel
Why Jesus Is My Man

Image: Horseman.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Seeing Red

Earlier this week a call went out for people to wear or display the color red in support of the two marriage equality cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. Red was chosen as it's traditionally associated with love, romance, and passion.

Outside the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., lots of folks wore red during the vigil yesterday and today for marriage equality . . .

. . . and various red symbols have spread across social media during the past two days, often accompanied by statements of support for marriage equality.

Things really picked up when the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) released a red version of its logo (left). Many people on Facebook quickly adopted it – or creative variations on it – as their profile picture. Even some corporations jumped on the bandwagon.

I appreciate the reflection that "Mira" wrote today over at Free Thought Blogs on the strong online display of red. Part of Mira's reflection reads as follows.

. . . [I]t unquestionably felt nice to see so many red squares on my screen every time I checked Facebook today. Probably not for any “rational” reason. It just felt nice to know that all these people are paying attention to what’s going on, that they care about what the Supreme Court decides and they care in the direction of equality.

Maybe most of these people really haven’t “done anything” for queer rights other than change their profile picture. That’s actually fine with me, because not everybody needs to be an activist, and it’s enough to know that all these people are part of the majority of Americans who now support same-sex marriage.

And if you’re not part of that majority, you probably went on Facebook today and saw all the people who disagree with you and who aren’t going to take your shit anymore. Maybe you argued with someone who had changed their profile picture. Maybe we even started to convince you.

I think it’s vital to embrace all kinds of activism, from the easiest and least risky to the most difficult and dangerous. It’s important not to lose sight of the concrete goals that still need to be accomplished, and especially to discuss how the conversation about marriage equality marginalizes certain people and ignores certain issues. But it’s also important to recognize symbolic gestures for what they’re worth.

Being part of a minority – and being an activist – can be lonely, stressful, and discouraging. But today I felt supported and cared for. That matters.

Following are just a few of the creative ways that red has been used online this week to show support for marriage equality.

Above: The folks from True Blood come to the party!

Right: My friend Betty is currently using a photo of herself and others dressed in red and singing at the recent St. Valentine's Day event in support of marriage equality at the Minnesota State Capitol.

Left: Liberty and Justice as you've never seen them before!

Above: If you had a Dad as supportive as this guy's,
your heart would be all aglow too!

Above: My friend Andy gets to show his support
for both U.S. Soccer and marriage equality!

Above: Here's my current Facebook profile picture. It's the red stallion coat-of-arms of the heroic Prince of Thule, who stands valiantly for causes of justice and freedom! And that's what I see marriage equality being all about: justice and freedom.

Related Off-site Links:
Why Facebook is Turning RedThe Huffington Post (March 27, 2013).
Gay Marriage Equality Box Spreads on Social Media – Leanne Italie (Associated Press via Yahoo! News, March 27, 2013).
I’m Going To Rant About Those Little Equal Sign Facebook Profile Pics Now – Mira (, March 27, 2013).
Corporations Paint Their Brands Red For LGBT Rights – Jilian Fama (ABC OTUS News via Yahoo! News, March 27, 2013).
Both Sides of Gay Marriage Fight Agree: Today Was Historic – Gloria Goodale (Christian Science Monitor via Yahoo! News, March 27, 2013).
The Gay Marriage Snowball and Political Change – Glenn Greenwald (The Guardian, March 26, 2013).
Inside the Landmark Same-Sex Marriage Supreme Court Case: Recordings of Oral Arguments, PlaintiffsDemocracy Now! (March 27, 2013).
A Boost for Gay Marriage: Justices Question DOMA – Mark Sherman (Associated Press via Yahoo! News, March 27, 2013).
In Gay Marriage Case, Justices Focus and Trade Laughs on Fertility Question – Liz Goodwin (Yahoo! News, March 27, 2013).
Gay Marriage Case's Edie Windsor: Marriage 'Magic' – Jessica Gresko (Associated Press via Yahoo! News, March 27, 2013).
Edith Windsor And Thea Spyer's Great American Love Story – Sarah Karlan (BuzzFeed, March 27, 2013).
Idea for Supreme Court: Focus on Law, Not Politics – David Siroto (Salon, March 27, 2013).
Young Conservatives Push For DOMA Repeal At Supreme Court – Amanda Terkel (HuffPost Gay Voices, March 27, 2013).
Proposition 8 Defenders Have Gender Anxiety – Irin Carmon (Salon, March 26, 2013).
Opponents of Gay Marriage Say They're Not Bigots – Richard Wolf (USA Today via National Catholic Reporter, March 26, 2013).

UPDATE: What's Behind Criticisms of Those Red Equal Signs in Your Facebook Feed? – Derrick Clifton (The Huffington Post, March 29, 2013).

Jesus: The Upside-down Messiah

Here at The Wild Reed I've developed a tradition of special Holy Week postings. Last year, for instance, I shared a number of excerpts from Cynthia Bourgeault's book The Wisdom Jesus: Transforming Heart and Mind – A New Perspective on Christ and His Message. In 2011, I shared excerpts from Albert Nolan’s groundbreaking book Jesus Before Christianity, accompanied by images of various cinematic depictions of Jesus.

Looking further back, I shared in 2010 a series of excerpts from Andrew Harvey’s book Son of Man: The Mystical Path to Christ, while in 2009 I posted a special Holy Week series featuring the artwork of Doug Blanchard and the writings of Marcus Borg, James and Evelyn Whitehead, John Dominic Crossan, Andrew Harvey, Francis Webb, Dianna Ortiz, Uta Ranke-Heinemann and Paula Fredriksen.

This year I turn once again to the words and insights of Albert Nolan, though drawn this time not, as in 2011, from Jesus Before Christianity but from his later book Jesus Today: A Spirituality of Radical Freedom.

The images that I've chosen for this year's Holy Week series are, you could say, unconventional depictions of Jesus. I opted for these after reading Chauncey DeVega's AlterNet article "Dear White Christian America: Jesus Was Not a White Surfer Dude." DeVega's piece is a critique of the depiction of Jesus in the "(white) American popular imagination." The most recent example of this depiction can be seen in the History Channel's series The Bible.

Writes DeVega:

The historical figure known as Jesus of Nazareth was not "white." He was not European. Based on the scholarly consensus, the historical Jesus would be a Middle Eastern Jew of medium, if not dark, complexion. . . . This Jesus would be hounded and harassed by the TSA, looked at as a de facto "suspicious" person in post-9/11 America, and be racially profiled by the national security state. The historical Jesus would likely be subject to stop-and-frisk policies by the New York police and others. If it were too late at night, and the historical Jesus was trying to get a cab – especially if he were not attired "professionally" – he would be left standing curbside because brown folks in their 20s and 30s who look like him are presumed to be criminals. Despite the "common sense" depiction of Jesus in the (white) American popular imagination, the historical Jesus Christ is not a white surfer dude with blue eyes, long flowing hair, and tanned and toned skin.

One way to move beyond the narrow depictions of Jesus produced by the "(white) American popular imagination" is by viewing the array of alternative depictions that are out there. It is these types of alternative images that I'll be sharing throughout this series of posts. Of course, most of these depictions are just as historically inaccurate as those that depict a white Jesus. For me, however, it's not so much about historical accuracy as it is about not being limited in imagining and visualizing Jesus.

Seeing a non-European looking Jesus has the potential to turn upside-down our thinking and perception of Jesus and, by extension, those around us whom we might consider as 'other.' But then, as the following excerpt from Albert Nolan's Jesus Today confirms, this is exactly what Jesus' life was all about.

It was with extreme reluctance that Jesus allowed himself to be spoken of as the Messiah. He discouraged his disciples from saying this to people because he was not a Messiah in the sense in which most of them understood that word (Mt 16:20). He had no intention of being served by the people, nor did he want his disciples to be like rulers who are served by others. He wanted to be the servant (Mk 10:42-45). It is hard to imagine how strange this reversal of the relationship between master and servant must have sounded to the ears of his contemporaries. John the evangelist captures it powerfully with his story of Jesus washing his disciples' feet (Jn 13:4-16).

Jesus did not try to avoid the crucially important role that he had been called to play. He would preach, teach, and introduce the kingdom or family of God, but he would have to do so by suffering and dying for it. His image of the true Messiah would be that of the suffering servant as depicted in the Book of Isaiah (Is 52:13-53:12).

This would be the most radical reversal of all. Jesus was not going to be the triumphant conquering Messiah who would crush and kill Israel's oppressors, humiliating them and making them into victims in order to liberate his people. He would triumph by being conquered, by being arrested, beaten, humiliated, and nailed to a cross like a rebellious slave or a common criminal – the most disgraceful and shameful death imaginable in those days.

He was the victor; he was the victim. And, paradoxically, this would turn out to be his greatest achievement. Truth and justice were on the side of the victim. In fact, that is where God is to be found – on the side of the world's victims. This is what Jesus had been saying all along.

René Girand sees the reversal of victim and victor as the final answer to the problem of violence. Instead of sacrificing someone or other as a scapegoat to save the people, Jesus takes upon himself the role of scapegoat or sacrificial lamb.

From the point of view of the world around him, Jesus was a failure. They arrested him, charged him, and executed him for treason. Nothing turned the world of his time upside down more radically than treating this kind of failure as a success. It was his willingness to fail that revolutionized the spirituality of the time. His death was his triumph.

Jesus' willingness to die for others meant that he was alive and his executioners were dead. This excruciating paradox was a very important part of his spirituality. He expressed it as a riddle or paradox about life and death that appears in a variety of forms in all the gospels. It can be summed up as: Anyone who saves his/her life will lose it. Anyone who loses his/her life will save it.

Nothing contradicts the conventional attitude with regard to ego more thoroughly than this. When we are unwilling to give up our lives for others, we are already dead. When we are willing to die for others, we are truly alive. Or, when we are unwilling to let go of our egos, we are dead. When we are willing to let go, we begin to live with an abundance of life. That is why, shortly after his crucifixion, Mary Magdalene and then the other disciples experienced Jesus as very much alive – as risen from the dead.

– Albert Nolan

NEXT: Part 2

For the The Wild Reed's 2012 Holy week series, see:
The Passion: "A Sacred Path of Liberation"
Beyond Anger and Guilt
Judas and Peter
No Deeper Darkness
When Love Entered Hell
The Resurrected Jesus . . .

For The Wild Reed's 2011 Holy week series (featuring excerpts from Albert Nolan’s book Jesus Before Christianity, accompanied by images of various cinematic depictions of Jesus), see:
"Who Is This Man?"
A Uniquely Liberated Man
An Expression of Human Solidarity
No Other Way
Two Betrayals
And What of Resurrection?
Jesus: The Breakthrough in the History of Humanity
To Believe in Jesus

For The Wild Reed’s 2010 Holy Week series (featuring excerpts from Andrew Harvey’s book Son of Man: The Mystical Path to Christ), see:
Jesus: Path-Blazer of Radical Transformation
The Essential Christ
One Symbolic Iconoclastic Act
One Overwhelming Fire of Love
The Most Dangerous Kind of Rebel
Resurrection: Beyond Words, Dogmas and All Possible Theological Formulations
The Cosmic Christ: Brother, Lover, Friend, Divine and Tender Guide

For The Wild Reed’s 2009 Holy Week series (featuring the artwork of Doug Blanchard and the writings of Marcus Borg, James and Evelyn Whitehead, John Dominic Crossan, Andrew Harvey, Francis Webb, Dianna Ortiz, Uta Ranke-Heinemann and Paula Fredriksen), see:
The Passion of Christ (Part 1) – Jesus Enters the City
The Passion of Christ (Part 2) – Jesus Drives Out the Money Changers
The Passion of Christ (Part 3) – Last Supper
The Passion of Christ (Part 4) – Jesus Prays Alone
The Passion of Christ (Part 5) – Jesus Before the People
The Passion of Christ (Part 6) – Jesus Before the Soldiers
The Passion of Christ (Part 7) – Jesus Goes to His Execution
The Passion of Christ (Part 8) – Jesus is Nailed the Cross
The Passion of Christ (Part 9) – Jesus Dies
The Passion of Christ (Part 10) – Jesus Among the Dead
The Passion of Christ (Part 11) – Jesus Appears to Mary
The Passion of Christ (Part 12) – Jesus Appears to His Friends

Recommended Off-site Link:
No, Jesus Wasn't a White Guy – Chauncey DeVega (Salon, March 19, 2013).
The Problem with White JesusUpwrite (July 9, 2011).

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

God Weighs In on the Gay Marriage Debate

In light of the U.S. Supreme Court's hearing of two landmark marriage equality cases this week, I share the following, courtesy of The Onion. I've actually taken the liberty of changing one small detail – a single word, in fact! The original can be found here, and if you're familiar with the story of Jesus and his disciples, I think you'll figure out what it is I've changed and why. And when you do, feel free to say so in the comments section of this post.


I Feel Very Strongly About the Issue
of Same Sex Marriage Because I Have a Gay Son

By God

The Onion
March 26, 2013

One of the most divisive issues out there right now is the debate over whether or not gays should be allowed to marry. It is obviously an extremely sensitive topic, and I certainly can understand at least some of the reservations that opponents of gay marriage have to the idea, especially from a legal standpoint. However, as someone with a personal connection to this issue, I feel a need to speak out in favor of it, and to reaffirm my belief that gay marriage is a fundamental moral right.

You see, I am a parent of a gay child. My son, who is now an adult, came out to me some time ago. When he did, he explained to me that he’d known he was gay for some time, and that his sexuality wasn’t something that he chose, but rather something that had always been a part of him. In retrospect, it was obvious. The signals were there, but I wasn’t ready to see them. Regardless, I was deeply moved by his honesty and tremendously proud that he found the courage to be honest with me.

Before my son came out to me as gay, I’ll admit that, while I didn’t think about the issue of gay rights very much, it was not something I supported. If anything, my own stance on the issue was probably influenced by a faith-based approach rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition. What made my mind up, though, was the fact that my son was the same person he’d always been. The only difference was that I now had a deeper understanding of the child I’ve always cherished. I took his brave admission as an opportunity to reexamine my own beliefs, which, I’m ashamed to say, were not particularly compassionate or well-thought-out.

Today I count that as my biggest regret: that I failed to adopt a sensitivity towards gay rights until the issue showed up at my own doorstep.

Subsequently, I wrestled with my preconceived notions about gay marriage. Did it make sense to deny loving, consenting gay couples, like my son and his life partner, a liberty that other couples enjoy, and which, if exercised, wouldn’t harm anyone? Would gay marriage actually compromise the sanctity of an institution that I believed to be the bedrock of society? Knowing that my son was gay forced me to evaluate the issue from a different angle – not simply as a Supreme Being, but that of a concerned father who simply wants His children to have the same opportunities for health and happiness that He’s enjoyed.

What I eventually decided was to follow my heart. And what my heart told me was that it is always best to treat people with love and compassion. Today, my son and I have a great relationship, because it is based on a mutual acceptance of who we are as people. How could I possibly deny my son the chance of marrying his partner and living a long, happy life with him? I couldn’t. And today, I can proudly say that nothing would bring me greater joy as a parent than to look my son in the eye and say, “Jesus, I bless this marriage, and wish you and John all the joy in the world.”

It is okay to change your mind. It is okay to grow as a person. It is okay to say, “I was wrong.” And it is more than okay to fight for what you believe in.

Thus, I urge the Supreme Court to consider this issue with empathy, and I trust that they will make the decision that will land them on the right side of history. And by the way, if they don’t, I can guarantee the consequences will not be pretty. I am watching, Supreme Court. Choose wisely.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Words of Parental Authority and Wisdom
Catholic Rainbow (Australian) Parents
The Bishops' "Guidelines": A Parent's Response
The Triumph of Love
The Sexuality of Jesus
Jesus Was a Sissy
The Wild Gaiety of Jesus' Moral Teaching
"Homodevotion" to the Body of Christ
Why Jesus is My Man
The Gifts of Homosexuality
The Challenge to Become Ourselves

Recommended Off-site Links:
How Opinion on Same-Sex Marriage is Changing, and What It Means – Nate Silver (New York Times, March 26, 2013).
Dad Overhears Son’s Plans to Come Out, Assuages His Fears with Preemptive Letter of Acceptance – Neetzan Zimmerman (Gawker, March 15, 2013).

Quote of the Day

Related Links:
Meet Edith Windsor, the 83-Year-Old Taking on the U.S. Over Same-Sex Marriage – Nina Totenberg (National Public Radio, March 21, 2013).
Meet Kris Perry and Sandy Stier, the Lesbian Couple at the Center of the Prop 8 Dispute Before the Supreme Court – Mark Sherman (Associated Press via HuffPost Gay Voices, March 24, 2013).
Edith Windsor’s Case Against DOMA is About More than an Inheritance – Joshua Gardner (, March 21, 2013).
Edith Windsor's Pioneering Life, From Portofino to the Supreme Court – Molly Langmuir (New York Magazine, March 17, 2013).
Will the Supreme Court Recognize Edith Windsor? – Amy Davidson (The New Yorker, March 21, 2013).
Reveling in Her Supreme Court Moment – Peter Applebome (New York Times, December 10, 2012).
DOMA and Proposition 8 Go On Trial – Chris McGreal (The Guardian, March 25, 2013).
The Same-Sex Marriage Cases: A Primer – Erica Ryan (GPB News, March 25, 2013).
The Supreme Court, Marriage Equality and the Pace of Change – Nathan Schneider (, March 26, 2013).

See also the previous Wild Reed post:
A Big Week Ahead for Marriage Equality in the U.S.
At the Minnesota State Capitol, Two Big Steps Forward for Marriage Equality
"It'll Be Legal August 1st"
Marriage: "Part of What is Best in Human Nature"
Jonathan Capehart: "Catholics Lead the Way on Same-Sex Marriage"
A Catholic Statement of Support for Marriage Equality
The Minneapolis (and Online) Premiere of Catholics for Marriage Equality