I have been reflecting on my life, something that 75 year olds tend to do. I am delighted to find that self-punishment is no longer playing much part in my memories. Early events previously labeled as embarrassing mistakes or grievous offenses are now seen as simply the best I knew how to do given my conditioning and experience.
One period of my life, spanning from age 28 to around 50, was spent as a Christian clergyman. While studying science and engineering at the University of California at Berkeley, I one day wandered into the campus Presbyterian Church. I was moved by the philosophy and social concern I encountered there. I spent four years working for the Navy after graduation and then decided to do graduate work at a Seminary. Quite a change!
This led to an attempted career as a clergyman. I tried for 10 years to fit in that mold, but had already, due to my Taoist philosophy, begun to see Jesus through different eyes than those of the church. I remained a clergyman for another decade but went into private practice as a pastoral counselor. I confess much from those years has been pushed aside and that’s too bad. There was much to affirm in the spirit of that young man who was looking for a connection to the Numinous. The Spirit of Jesus was real to him but could not overcome his experience with the spirit and doctrine of a church which had lost its way. Looking for a life of reflection and divine connection, he was offered instead a mid-level management position in an institution whose priorities were building programs and clergy salaries.
I remember that I came to believe that Jesus, at heart, was a Taoist. He surely knew that he was a part of God and thus of the same “stuff” as God. He also knew that you and I were the same as he, also of the same “stuff” as God with no possibility of being anything else, but we couldn’t stand the intimacy of that reality so we made a god out of him and an idol out of the Bible. Placing them both out of reach so we could use them as we saw fit. So sad.
I no longer believe the premises of traditional Christianity, especially the sin/redemption model of human life. As humans, we do indeed “sin” but not because we are in any way truly separate from God, but only because we suffer from the self-imposed delusion that we are, which leads inevitably to fear, isolation, and hate. That is convenient because then we don’t have to take the responsibility of actually being a part of the Whole Thing. We can stand separate and judge this or that, pick and choose, love and hate. Were that delusion to heal we would transform the world because we would be the world. That was Jesus.
To my friends who have experience with the church, positive or negative. That model can still provide a place of home and peace, but only if it is transformed. I offer a link to a new hymn that I just discovered this morning and that led to this post, written in a flurry of memories. Whatever your tradition, you may find this song a helpful connection to the lost spirit of Jesus.