Each year we relive the story of old, translated in various ways by believers and all the denominations to mean what is convenient, inconvenient, and sometimes odd, like some of the Gnostics who believed the real Jesus separated himself from the crucified one and was above the cross, laughing.
Odd translations and odd takes on his ministry probably go back to the moments after he died. They’ve made movies where the ministry was clown-like; a hippie’s take on it all in some ways. (In Godspell John the Baptist, after being beheaded, seems to become Judas, then rejoins the disciples after the betrayal.) Then we have Mel Gibson’s take. Mel seemed to delight in the torment as if that was the main message. In Ruling Class one could argue: metaphorically, a delightfully mad Jesus finally ‘cured’ becomes Jack the Ripper. Another movie moment has Jesus getting married and living out a lifetime with Mary Magdalene: a final vision before blood loss did what blood loss does.
But I’d like to offer a wider perspective this Easter time.
The Easter story, as meaningful as it was, and is, was a regional event at the time. Yes, there were sacrifices and lessons here for the world, but at the time those lessons from that gruesome event were lost to those who lived in what became Canada, the US, Russia, China. It took mass communication and Gutenberg for these lessons to spread, unless, of course, in one instance you believe in the Mormon’s Jesus comes to America story. Otherwise the natives were as clueless to the specifics of Jesus himself as aliens on the planet Gabforbatwo were, perhaps are. Though mythology has so many similar tales not to the story itself.
And these lessons, even with mass communication, have been delivered erratically, at best. So many different ways believers focus on the ministry, and I believe, sometimes, much harm done. One of the milder examples I like to use is communion. When Jesus said, “Do this in memory of me…” how odd to even think he meant to do it exactly as he did it, or even that the savior who spoke in parables, often leaving his own disciples confused at times, meant the wine was actually blood, the bread his body.
I think it far more likely we were to ‘consume’ the lessons he taught, the path he showed, and like he multiplied the fish, the bread, spread it on to others.
That may seem insignificant, yet wars have been fought, people killed, over minor theological issues.
So here are my Easter questions: during the first Easter among the Eskimos, or those who live in South Africa, or what is now Hanoi, those who died never having heard even stories of what he said… were they damned? After Jesus we had differences between the disciples, gospels written by Ebionites, those who followed Marcion, the Gnostics: if there is but one narrow path among all the theological clutter, how can any intelligent, loving being expect us to follow? Wouldn’t it be a better plan to spread the message among the people, to be told by many messengers in many ways, so more would hear, more would understand, more might follow as well as they can? And if we all seek out these many understandings, with respect, gather them as well as we can: whether we agree or not… might that be like geocaching for the betterment of our souls?
For those who believe, it can be so hard to accept: the possibility that doubters, and those who disagree are not, at best, those who have been deceived. We all have deceived, to some extent, for not one of us is perfect. I think it more likely we need to understand how they understand the divine and they need the same from us.
As a Unitarian-Universalist who leans more towards Universalism I conceive the divine’s efforts like Communications majors understand the Tin Can Phone Effect. A message comes off garbled by the very nature of communications, for there is no perfect medium. While Jesus may have been ‘perfect’ in someways, he was also limited by his times, his culture to Aramaic, gestures, parables. It’s an absolute miracle the message has spread so far, been accepted by so many, and I credit that to those who followed.
Society is suicidal: always attempting to kill itself by killing the messenger. But you can’t kill an idea. It will simply be presented again by another oracle. Despite attempts to exterminate Gnosticism I find many of the concepts have spread, even to mainline faiths, like secret knowledge, the sacred feminine…
Throughout history there have been many stories like the Jesus story, and also those who taught similar lessons, passed on important rules about how we should treat each other. This makes sense. Every society, every person, learns in different ways.
If you were a being of immense power trying to communicate to those you created how would you do it? Would you simply force it upon all or respect the free will you gave them, the different way their minds work, how their cultures have developed? This is why, I believe, there have been so many cultural icons who have taught similar lessons from Horus to Buddha and beyond.
I believe they are like seeds planted. An, in a different way, when we choose what seeds we plant there will always be those who choose to grow poison ivy instead: envy, hate, revenge. Trying to kill away those we find disagreeable is another evil seed that grows all too well but becomes toxic to itself. The Roman Empire, like so many societies before and after, tried and look where they are now, while those they oppressed flourished.
But when we take the tragedies and the horrors, like crucifixions, redefine them: turn what’s toxic into fertilizer to grow gardens of good, of wonder, of betterment…
We become closer to the divine.
Inspection is a column that has been written by Ken Carman for over 40 years. Inspection is dedicated to looking at odd angles, under all the rocks, and into the unseen cracks and crevasses, that constitute the issues and philosophical constructs of our day: places few think, or even dare, to venture.
Ken Carman and Cartenual Productions
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