Although some don’t believe he existed at all, it is generally agreed amongst most believers, and even many non-believers, that born: most likely not on this day, about 33BC, was a person we have come to think we know, and call, Jesus.
But let’s not quibble about dates, for this is all about the meaning of Christ, not some exact date. Let’s also not quibble about which phrases in the Bible truly poured like wine from his, or God’s, lips. Let’s not quibble: for the meaning of a such a powerful life remains… whether he was mere human, as close to God as a human can be or one in a trinity. A life believers and non-believers have found meaning and inspiration from.
Surely, hearing all that has been claimed, and done in his name, if Jesus is even one tenth what so many say he was, he’d probably respond with a sad shake of his head. He would understand and repeat T.S. Elliot’s Prufrock: “Not what I meant, not what I meant at all.”
Again: let’s not quibble about which he would shake his head at. May you find your theistic nirvana… wherever.
Besides the meaning of the man whose birthday we celebrate may be found in other places, other concerns. If Jesus had one consistent message it was about how we should treat others, treat each other.
So how do you treat a friend who disagrees? Treat a lover? Treat a stranger? Can we take clues from how Jesus treated strangers: a tax man, she who some to this day think was a harlot, fishermen… or even the over quoted table tipping which, for some, seems to erase every other turn the other cheek-like statement he supposedly made? Yet even then… wasn’t tipping the tables, in part, about how those who ran the tables treated others?
If anything written about him is true then surely far more rests in how he wanted us to treat each other: turning cheeks, loving your neighbor, not turning away from them, treating others with respect.
When doubting Thomas doubted was he accused of “rejecting Christ?” Of course not. He was given evidence. He was given proof. He was reasoned with.
But since Jesus does not stand before us in the same sense, in the end this less about him than those who do stand before us and claim if we don’t believe who they say Jesus was, or is, then we are “rejecting” him. So let’s bring this all down to me and you and see how much sense that makes…
I tell you I have super powers. I can raise the dead. Walk on water. Create a lot of wine out of thin air. If you disagree with me: you are a skeptic when it comes to super Ken, does that mean we can’t be friends? If you tell me you don’t agree, have you “rejected” me? Of course not. We simply disagree. Happens all the time.
Of course I could try to convince you, for I can “stand before you.” You can see the wounds, if you’re willing to see, to look and most important: listen. But even then: you still have a right to believe I am that talented… or not. I would be rejecting you as a friend, or lover, or in casual conversation as a stranger, if I decided your disbelief is too much for me to tolerate.
I have been married for 33 years, closing in on the estimated earthly lifetime of Jesus. Even when lovers are that close: been together and that intimate that long, there are things we tell each other, things we don’t. That’s what makes love work: to be able to say, “No, I don’t agree…” “No, I don’t think that’s the true path…” “No, I don’t think your prowess is on par with Zeus.” We certainly don’t always believe what the other claims. And sometimes we simply don’t say. We should be able to say, or not say, believe. or not believe, without being slapped back by a thunderbolt, or putting each other through Hell… literally or figuratively.
In the end that’s love.
Often it’s just plain common courtesy.
So someone who insists you have to agree with such personal assessments would be the one who is rejecting you, not the other way around. If I think Jesus was mere human I reject no one. I just disagree with what has been claimed: friends, lovers and acquaintances do it all the time. Being able to do that, yet also willing to maintain any relationship, that is true love, true friendship, even just basic, proper, manners. The person who stomps away because you don’t think anyone doesn’t qualify for sainthood is the person with the problem.
For those who claim Jesus would be more childish, and less adult, in such matters… what does that say about what you think is the nature of the God you claim to be worshiping? Could you merely be worshiping your own immaturity, inability, to handle adult relationships?
There are times one must lay down one’s life for a friend, a lover… even a stranger. But if someone demands you must drink the Kool Aid to prove your love, to prove you’re faithful, prove you believe… or threatens you with anything if you don’t give up your right to believe otherwise?
Run the other way.
On the day we celebrate a birth that changed the world, let’s own up to the fact that some of those who have claimed they wished to change it in his name may have given birth to vile, disgusting, evil that no sane person would approve: certainly not Jesus. Evil we try to pawn off Jesus with phrases like, “Gott mit uns.” Or, “rejecting Jesus.” “Agree with me or else…”
This is the day we celebrate a gift that was given “unto us.” But it was “given.” Unto “us.” Not on loan. Not forced upon us. Certainly, “Believe or else,” is very much like, “don’t return my gift or I’ll burn your house down with you and your family in it.”
Too many faiths function more like Amway than something in the light divine. It’s all meant to benefit those at the top at your expense, but those at the top are all too human in the worst sense. And if what you do, “in the name of Jesus,” really does bring you earthly riches… you might reconsider whom you are really serving. True faith is hard. It can be painful. It constantly teaches. Always. There is always more for us to learn, to be, to become.
That’s the gift, 2,000 years ago or today: how we treat each other no matter what we believe: or don’t believe. Agree… or disagree.
Pass it on.
Inspection is a column that has been written by Ken Carman for over 30 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.
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