Thursday, April 20, 2006

That Radical Jesus!

A damn fine article in Sojouners Zine: SoJoNet...well worth the read.

Politicizing Jesus, That Radical

by John Brummett, Arkansas News Bureau, 4-13-2006

"I'd like to take this opportunity to tell everybody off about Jesus and politics.

Actually, Garry Wills, the eminent historian, author, columnist and Catholic, has already done the job quite thoroughly in his book, "What Jesus Meant," and an op-ed piece Sunday in The New York Times.

I'll apply pedestrianism to his academic thoughtfulness.

You are aware that we have this daunting modern Republican political force called the "Christian right." It's based in a fundamentalist and evangelical derivative of American Protestant Christianity.

It says Jesus is on its side on gay marriage, abortion, prayer in school, the teaching of evolution, the posting of the 10 Commandments, immigration, the war in Iraq, tax cuts and anything else you might have on your mind. It says you can't really separate church and state, and shouldn't.

We've seen the rise from this movement of so-called "values voters" in "red states" who have helped install conservative Republicans in the White House and Congress.

You are aware that cowering Democrats have responded by trying to expropriate Jesus.

There's this liberal preacher in Washington named Jim Wallis whose organization called Sojourners has done worthy poverty work in noble service to Christianity. Wallis says the problem with the Christian right is not that it applies religion to politics, but that it applies "bad religion." He has been called in to talk about this notion with the national Democratic leadership.

Last year I conducted a brief telephone interview with Howard Dean, the national Democratic chairman. He told me Democrats intended to embrace Jesus because Jesus cared about the poor and it's Democrats who care about the poor.

Garry Wills blasts the whole deserving lot of them.

He writes that neither side seems to understand Jesus. He writes that anyone trying to emulate Christ on politics would need to eschew the organized version altogether and pursue radicalism. He writes that to apply Jesus to politics is to trivialize his essence, which was transcendent and divine.

He writes that Jesus was all about separating church and state, telling Pilate that his followers were interested in something greater than political and governmental influence. Wills says Jesus didn't call on government to help the poor and sick; instead, he traveled personally among the poor and sick, performing a few miracles while he was at it.

Wills also takes on this popular idea that we should ask what Jesus would do and act accordingly. He says that's impractical in one sense and impossible in another.

Jesus ran away from home at age 12. He refused to see his mother at one point. He upturned tables on another.

Wills points out that Jesus sacrificed his life for a purpose. He says mere mortals - acting either individually or through governmental activism - couldn't possibly achieve a similar nobility in self-sacrifice.

Mere mortals have a powerful innate desire to preserve ourselves. (It was singer-composer Randy Newman who once said he couldn't understand why persons professing devout religion didn't drive faster.)

Wills is right on all fronts, of course, though I personally think the WWJD mantra can be useful.

If a fellow behaves better by reminding himself to do as he thinks Jesus would - though, of course, he couldn't possibly know and couldn't possibly succeed in the imitation even if he knew - then he probably is making the world around him a little nicer place.

One of my tennis buddies wears one of those WWJD bracelets, and he consistently reacts with less visible anger than I to error on the court.

I do not know how Jesus would respond to netting a forehand; I rather suspect it trivializes him for me to wonder.

But I also think I need to find something that'll help me stop yelling that certain word when I net one. I'll not wear the bracelet. But I'll try to do better by emulating the fellow who does. And that's not a bad thing."


Blogger Larry said...

Well Ike, I've tried for years (off and on) to play tennis with Jesus. It has cleaned up my language a bit and made me considerably less bitter about losing, even occasionally glad to see someone else win.


8:47 PM  
Blogger chris said...

That's why I don't wear Jesus T shirts or bracelets. I will always act in a way that doesn't reflect well on my faith. I wonder if Jesus would wear a What would Moses Do bracelet?

11:42 AM  
Blogger Pastor Doug Hoag said...

Great article! We have to make allowances for the uniqueness of Jesus' situation and admit that we cannot duplicate exactly what Jesus did. We must look at the whole Biblical narrative to see how the story is told and how Jesus told the story. Then we see the big picture in which we become participants in something divine!

7:02 PM  
Blogger Bar Bar A said...

What a great post and blog! Saw you at Rick's. I'll be back for more.

10:46 PM  
Blogger gratefulbear said...

Do they make bracelets that say "What Would Jerry Do?" (as in Jerry Garcia)?

11:01 AM  
Blogger isaiah said...


Great to 'meet' you, another fellow lover of the mountains and Hot Springs, NC!


Thanks for stopping by. Yeah, I hear ya.... too easy for someone to see you, judge you for your actions, and then go on their perfect way :)... I think some wear it as a reminder to themselves. I wear a LiveStrong band myself.


Fellow RUSH brother! But didn't Jesus say we could do as he did and even more? "Be ye perfect...", he said- would he ask us to be something we could not? Maybe "perfect" means different things to different people?


Another fellow music lover! Thanks for stopping by... Rick's writings reveal a wealth of compassion and wisdom...glad I stumbled upon his site.


They probably do make such a bracelet! What about a bracelet that reads, "What would Kato do?"!

11:49 AM  
Blogger xianchick said...

Let's forget about the Iraq war for a second... What we should do, is set up a fund for the poor and only people who spend millions on biblical archaeology can give to it. Let 'em put their money where their mouth is!


I'm a big fan of JC, but have found it's best to ask myself WWDD (What Would Dolly Do? -- as in Parton)

9:28 PM  
Blogger jim said...

totally enjoyed this post, and agree with your estimations of the matters, and i really like that picture of Jesus laughing out loud. LOL.

5:25 AM  

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