A Minor Memoir of Faith Part V

Continuing excerpts from my contribution to the book entitled New Life: Rediscovering Faith:

The second way in which progressive Christianity alerted me to paradigm two faith, was through its concentration on historical Jesus research. Obviously this type of research has helped me look beyond the simple faith statements of paradigm one, as I have just explored. But it also has served a broader purpose in that it has reorientated my understanding of the way of Jesus, aligning that concept with the paradigm two understanding of belonging, behaviour and belief. 

I have come to understand the way of Jesus through the Hebrew term derek. And I have come to understand derek, in the context of Jesus’ life, to mean that which I cannot, not do. Another way to understand that would be the way I respond when I can truly listen to the holy whispers; the messengers in the relationship between my life and the whole source of life. 

To me this is quite an open concept. I am aware of evidence that Jesus was a committed practitioner of his Jewish faith. But I don’t interpret his derek as a set of rote, prescribed practices that everyone must follow regardless of context. Indeed, historical Jesus research has given me a stronger insight into how he resisted legalistic religious and political impulses, built relationships across demographic boundaries to understand other ways, and spoke about connection to source as being in the Basileia of God (a term often translated simplistically as kingdom of God, but which is actually in feminine form and hence suggests an exploration of our connection to source rather than a slavish dedication to Old Father God.)

So this idea of derek connotes for me the paradigm two definitions of belonging, behaviour and belief. It feels to me like Jesus favoured the practice of making space for people to find their own orientation to source (rather than having that dictated by patriarchal religious or political systems).   

With this understanding, my views about essential religious practice are obviously quite liberal – some may even say anarchic. And I tend to resist answering the question “Do I follow in the way of Jesus?” According to what I have written here, my answer could be a resounding “yes.” But I find that people often have a fairly set idea of belief and practice in their mind when they ask that question, and I know that doesn’t fit me. I remember someone once telling me that unless one took part in regular recitation of The Jesus Prayer, one could not consider oneself as living in the way of Jesus. Now we could have a significant academic argument about Jesus’ own relationship to that prayer. But a more fundamental response is that I think Jesus’ way was more about essence (finding the authentic connection to source for our context) rather than prescription. Perhaps my favourite quote in support of this comes from Canadian academic David Galston ,

“We simply have to learn to admit and understand that we are all human. No one knows the answer. There is no correct way to follow the teaching of ….Jesus and no correct way to do church with ….Jesus.”

“Jesus taken seriously is the permission to break the habit of Christianity. So go forward and be habit breaking.”

Which brings me back to where we started; with an address entitled “The Power of Vulnerability” and a question as to why such a challenging topic would generate a popular movement? As I read some of the reactions to that presentation it occurs to me that people – particularly western people – are looking for a circuit breaker from a current of rigidity, perfectionism, expected clarity and certainty. We are cottoning on, it seems, to the fact that these expectations are superficially imposed and don’t represent our authentic relationship to the whole. People are finding various ways to save their real lives by discarding an old paradigm of control. Progressive Christian thinking has been one of those ways for me; in fact it has been one of the most significant ways I have been able to shift paradigms. And in that way it really has been a life saver.  

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