When I was a kid my grandmother had prints of two paintings by Warner Sallman. They are great paintings, and serve as Icons. But they are funny to deconstruct. In both Jesus is a Hottie. He’s got a chiseled jaw, unblemished skin, high cheekbones, and beautiful flowing hair that is shinny and healthy. His robes are spotlessly white, so much so that they glow. The Sallman used nice cool purples and blues in the reflected/moonlight and warm yellows and oranges underlighting. The overgrown garden in the front works as a flawless false proscenium. Take away the door, insert a girl, and you have a perfect Harlequin Romance cover. After all Sallman was an illustrator, and illustrators use art to sell stuff. In this case he sold Jesus…and quite well. It works on me.
This is the West. We in the United States live in a Judeo-Christian country. It is everywhere, on the money, the judge’s bench, and in the pledge of allegiance. Our greatest literary works from Shakespeare to Longfellow all demand a familiarity with the Bible as a progenitor of myths, metaphors, and exemplum.
We use biblical allusions daily in our common parlance, our political cartoons, and in our blockbuster movies like “The Matrix”. To the non-initiate, phrases such as “The writing is on the wall”, “Putting out your fleece”, and “He is a good Samaritan” have no meaning without a passing knowledge of the bible. On top of that some of the stories are so poetically beautiful that they stand alone on their literary power.
The joke in Buddhism is that it is an almost scientific attempt to categorize religion. Sure there is the eight-fold path, but each of those has ten steps, and each of those has four parts, and those have 6 intentions. In the West we just don’t have the stories of the Buddha, Shiva, Vishnu, or any of the writings of Lao Tzu, Confucius, or Amir ‘Abd al-Qādir al-Jazā’irī in our collective consciousness. This is why Jesus comes up so often in my writings, yet I am not a Christian.
The bible wasn’t the first moral text in my development but rather the Fables of Aesop. I knew of the “Boy who cried wolf”, “Rabbit and the Hare”, and “Sour Grapes” fables before I knew of Christian ones. I even knew stories from the Brothers Grimm and Disney long before the bible. Moralistic tales of the “Three Pigs”, “The Ugly Duckling”, and “Three Bears” informed my childhood more than the “Passion”.
However, people don’t have devotion, fist fights, and go to war over which pig built the better house. But, our world seems hell bent on an all-consuming fight over the dogmas of religion. The powers-that-be are stoking this fire and seem to be covertly instigating a world religious war…yet again.
Given the atrocities that have been wrought in the name of Christ, why then would that archetype/metaphor be anything that I (a man of peace) want to be involved in? The reason I believe is its relevance. People still believe in one “form” of Jesus or another and most people have at least held a bible here in the west.
Having taken it upon myself to test the assertions of Jesus, the Buddha, and every other religious totem to see if there is any worth to the claims they’ve made, I can gladly report that in my own findings, the assertions by Jesus, Buddha, Lao Tzu, and Aesop seem to be true. However, as I’ve discovered, it is in the application that I’ve found most practitioners flounder. I include myself in this category as well. I still am selfish at times. I still lust. I still am greedy at times. But, my intention is otherwise. That is where I see a big difference with most of the church. They seem to struggle actually putting into practice the precepts laid down. Some live in flagrant disregard to them.
If you call yourself a Christian and Jesus said, “Blessed are the Peacemakers.”- Then how can anyone be a soldier? Jesus said, “If you have two tunics, and you see someone without one, give him one of yours.” Yet how many Christians do we all know that have vast wardrobes? Hell, going to church for many is tantamount to a runway show. How many Christians have two homes while many sleep without one? How many Christians have extra rooms never used, but step over homeless people everyday? Jesus never said a thing about homosexuality, but he mentioned, “Feed the poor” how many times??? I think this is what he meant when he said, “On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name? “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.”
How can you be a priest/pastor and own two homes? How can any city in the United States, cities who have as many churches as most we do, have any homeless? Why do we have locks on churches or no trespassing signs?
How can you be a policeman or a judge and be a Christian? Did Jesus not say, “Don’t judge”? Did he not say forgive 7 x 70? People say, “Oh no, he was just speaking in metaphor.” Apparently the people in the first church didn’t think so!
“And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them. For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales and lay them at the apostles’ feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need.”
There are entire “Christian Industries now”. There is a whole “Christian Music” industry; all making lots of money. Companies getting rich making and selling bibles, trinkets, and votives at Christian bookstores and even in churches. Isn’t this what Jesus took a whip to in the temple? Many people are quick to say, “Oh you are just looking at the flock and not the shepherd.” But is not the church supposed to be the bride of Christ? Did not Jesus say, “You will know my followers because of their LOVE for one another?”
My dear friend scolded me the other day saying don’t be so hard on the Christians. She said so lovingly and sort of as a joke. This lovely friend help provide me with accommodation as well, and she is a Christian. (Thank you again) But it is the Christians that I hold to higher expectation. They have the book, they have the teacher, and yet they don’t open their ears but rather open their mouths and close their hearts. I suppose this is always true of any religion, but Jesus was really clear:
“For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ “Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? ‘And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? ‘When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ “The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.”
If you possess the book, and profess to know what it says, I hold you to a higher standard…just as Jesus did. Most Christians never see themselves as the Sanhedrin or as the Pharisees; unfortunately the similarities are all too striking. The antidote or the blueprint is there—get out and love your neighbor as yourself.
People ask me all the time what I will do when I am going to do when I am done with this pilgrimage. I don’t know, but I’m sure in 8,000 more miles I will have a better idea of what I am to do. But for now loving others in anyway I can seems the best approach. How novel, that is exactly what Jesus said to do.