28. Follow the Leader
Lately my own theological journey has been much on my mind. (I can see the eyes rolling...bear with me.) Having just come thru a busy Lent and Holy Week I've been thinking about what it is I actually believe and at the same time realizing how very far I've come from the ideas of my formative years. As you have read here previously the Southern Baptist church was a big influence in my hometown- I guess one could even say Lubbock was a company town, with the Baptist church the company.
At the ripe old age of 8 I declared myself a sinner and "walked the aisle" to get saved. I remember my baptism clearly (by immersion) because there was a dead June bug in the water. I loved going to Sunday school, memorizing voluminous quantities of scripture and dragging the neighborhood kids to Vacation Bible School in the summer. In high school it only got worse... I sang in 2 church choirs, occasionally played the piano for Sunday night services and went on a few mission trips to save the lost. I even volunteered at a Billy Graham crusade.
I'm reciting this litany of church activities for a reason: I spent a tremendous amount of time at First Baptist Lubbock being indoctrinated with the idea that all people are sinners and on their way to hell. The only way around that is to accept that God sent Jesus to die for our sins.
I am embarrassed to think about that now and to admit my previous zeal for born-again Christianity... at some point I guess I just got fed up with the notion that everyone is inherently bad. I looked around at my family, my friends and teachers, and even myself, and I saw good, kind and generous folks. We were going to hell? One Sunday while in grad school I attended a service at the "progressive" church near the Baylor campus and when the minister began the usual rant I stood up and walked out. Other than funerals and weddings that's the last time I've been in a Southern Baptist church.
It's not that I didn't believe in a higher power or that I didn't want to worship. I just could not believe in a loving God who would condemn humankind to an eternity in hell. So I found other denominations which were not so dogmatic and which allowed and even encouraged me to keep thinking.
During Lent this year I was in a diverse study group at St. Saviour's discussing The Last Week by Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan. The Last Week was written as a response to Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. A few years ago I did see that movie: I was curious, plus so many of my acquaintances were asking my opinion that I thought I should see it. It was inflammatory and exaggerated, and I spent at least half the time with my eyes closed.
The Last Week is an account of Jesus' final week in Jerusalem according to the gospel of Mark. Borg and Crossan, both noted Jesus scholars, chose Mark because it was the first gospel written. Using Mark they present a day-by-day account of Jesus' last week and adeptly compare Mark's story to our traditional understanding of Jesus. In particular they depict Jesus not as savior of the world but as a moral hero who protested power without justice and condemned the rich who lack concern for the poor.
I cannot recap here what it took Borg and Crossan an entire book to explain, but the dozen or so in my study group were convinced by their argument. And that is putting it mildly: we were excited to the point of almost becoming evangelistic about what we discovered. The Last Week put into black and white what many of us believed in our hearts and challenged us, in 2010, to take Jesus' example as a guide for our own lives. Do we need this sort of mentor now? Do the powerful ignore justice? Do the rich prey on the poor? One needs only to recall a couple of recent events: the Wall Street debacle and the West Virginia coal mine tragedy.
This compassionate man who advocated for the little guy and challenged the status quo every step of the way is the Jesus I believe in, and I am renewed in my own feeble attempts to follow this leader.
What does the Lord require of you? To do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8