Thursday, June 25, 2009

Tell Me It Is Not Summer

My favorite bush is my snowball hydrangea. And when it blooms, it means summer is here. Too soon. Too soon.

You turn around and 40 years have slipped by. I’m going to attend at least part of the Asbury reunion this weekend. I’m wondering if I’ll have a chance to greet our college president, Dr. Dennis Kinlaw. In 1969 when Terry Shaw and I graduated, proud Knights, Dr. Kinlaw was 46 years old. How is that possible? I discover that I am now 15 years older than Dr. Kinlaw was when we graduated. Wow. We were his first graduating class. Anyway, if I see Dr. Kinlaw, I’ll be able to tell him that I’ve read his latest book, “Let’s Start With Jesus” and that I’ve written a response, copied below.

I want to make it to Rome this summer.

When We Reject The Gods Of Our Childish Imaginations, What Remains?
I wrote here that this weekend is my 40th college reunion at Asbury College. My college president, Dr. Dennis Kinlaw, is now 86 years old and is still writing books. As a 17 year old, when I first met Dr. Kinlaw, I was impressed by the generosity of his spirit, by his demeanor, by his good humor. He is an extraordinary man who has inspired and helped the spiritual growth of many individuals. I love the fact that he is still among the living. I have read his latest book, “Let’s Start With Jesus” with great care, mostly at Lakeside. I wanted to write this article before the reunion, so I’m barely under the wire. What follows is not so much a review, more of a response and reaction.

It seems strange to believe that occasionally the universe, karma, God, gives us great favors. But I’ve come to believe that such is true. Science keeps discovering how everything is intrinsically intertwined with everything else, and how reality in its essence is astonishingly weird. I like the phrase used by St. Paul, that now we “see through a glass darkly,” and his promise that someday we will know as we are known. It is interesting to suppose that someday humans will come to understand the universe and even understand humans.

I like the image provided by Isaac Newton, that he felt like a child on a seashore, noticing now and then some beautiful pebble of understanding, “whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.”

What is it that we call God? Dennis Kinlaw in his book, “Let’s Start With Jesus,” relates the notion that students who embrace atheism, often do so as an effort to reject gods thoughtful Christians also reject. When we reject all of those gods of our childish imagination, what remains? The rise of religious fundamentalism and fanaticism makes it pretty important that people who value rationality have some thoughts about this overall subject.

For myself, I find it increasingly difficult to believe in a God that is supernatural -- outside of nature. Certainly, when humanity arrives at a more perfect understanding, and sees reality, in Paul’s words, “as face to face,” we will have a very different view of consciousness, personhood, karma, God, and nature itself. I’m inclined to believe that some day, spiritual truths will be understood in scientific terms. There are many more dimensions of understanding than what have been codified and if the human race survives the next 200 years, it is likely that there will be transformative change in our basic understandings of many matters, some of which are now considered spiritual, or religious.

Deepak Chopra’s idea in his recent book,"The Third Jesus," is that the first Jesus is the historical Jesus, the second Jesus is the Son of God, the Jesus of theology, and the third Jesus, is the cosmic Jesus. One reviewer says, "The cosmic Jesus is the spiritual guide whose teaching embraces all humanity, not just the church built in his name. The third Jesus invites us to join him on a higher spiritual plane, invites us to achieve enlightenment."

According to Chopra, the historical Jesus was a gifted teacher, an enlightened being, whose mission was to bring individuals into a realization of their spiritual potential. This view of Chopra’s is not so contradictory of scripture that speaks of being “conformed into the image of Christ.” Paul says we are to “grow to the measure of the full stature of Christ,” and that we should be “transformed by the renewing of our minds,” that "the Mind that was in Christ should also be in you.” Chopra is using different terminology, but he seems to be talking about the same reality as New Testament writers whose thinking and spirit were transformed by the risen Christ. It is this risen Christ who transformed St. Paul's life and thinking. It is this risen Christ Chopra refers to as the "cosmic Christ."

Dr. Kinlaw has written and spoken about this new life in Christ in his sermons and in previous books. In fact, I just googled, "mind of Christ" and according to my search, there are 21,700,000 responses and Dr. Kinlaw's book, "The Mind Of Christ" is number one on the list. But his newest book, “Let’s Start With Jesus” seems centered on Chopra’s second Jesus, the Son of God of theology. In this book, Kinlaw’s writes about the trinity. He speaks of the formation of this concept of God -- one, in three persons -- as a breathtaking intellectual accomplishment, a watershed of thought, that reveals astounding truths about ourselves -- ourselves as persons.

Dr. Kinlaw says that Jesus was the “prototypical” human, that even as Jesus understood himself as part of a fellowship, the trinity, part of a family, so do we understand ourselves in terms of community and connections. Kinlaw says that we should not attempt to understand God simply in juridical terms -- the law, grace, vicarious sacrifice -- but should seek to understand God as revealed in the trinity, in familial and in nuptial terms. The idea is that Christ is wedded to his believers, has union with them. I find this an interesting avenue of thought. Kinlaw explains that our salvation is not simply to escape physical death and God’s certain judgment, but it is to enter into a transforming relationship. The implication is that we are to be God’s sons and God’s daughters.

But Dr. Kinlaw, in this book, it seems to me, spends too much space in rehashing St. Paul’s theology. What is sin, what is salvation, what was the meaning of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection? St. Paul was a towering intellectual of his day, a powerful writer, and he worked out a way of thinking about these questions. I’ m inclined to believe that if, as the book title recommends, we start with Jesus, then we should set much of what Paul wrote aside. Paul emphasized a view of Adam and Eve, that said, as the first humans, their sin and disobedience infected the entire human race, “without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sin,” and, that Jesus was the vicarious sacrifice for us all. Paul outlined interesting theological theories, but what Paul failed to do was to show much curiosity about the historical Jesus. He was a contemporary of Jesus and Jesus' disciples, he had the opportunity to learn everything possible from these first hand witnesses, but, he showed little interest in writing much about the actual life, teaching and ministry of Jesus. Paul seems not so much interested in Jesus, but he was absorbed into the the reality of the risen Christ, the power of his resurrection.

Dr. Kinlaw in the preface to his book indicates that he believes progress is possible in Christian theology, and that this realization of progress was a breakthrough in his own thinking. I’m thinking that the hope of humanity lies in progressing beyond Paul’s theology into a more direct understanding of Jesus. I like the scripture, “We would see Jesus.” I’m inclined to believe that our theology obstructs our view. When we see Jesus, we may begin to understand how we too may be resurrected to become a new being. I wrote a contemplation, “How Did Einstein Become Einstein?” that reflected on Einstein’s flat out rejection of the notion that humans have free will. I wrote, “Einsteins don’t just pop up. It seems to me that it is likely that Einstein grew into Einstein not through the forces of causality, but, through humility, through deliberate awareness, through a commitment to truth, and, through a conscious willingness to suffer for the sake of truth. And, is that not the path to growth that is available to everyone?”

In my view, Einstein was not inevitable and neither was Jesus. It seems a rare happening that anyone grows into their potential.

A supernatural view of God sees the birth of Jesus as a miraculous event -- God breaking through nature, via a virgin birth, choirs of angels. A supernatural view sees the return of Christ, also, as God breaking though nature in a miraculous event -- the rapture -- Jesus appearing in the sky, believers taken up. A zillion dollars has been made on the Left Behind books that develop this supernatural theme. But it seems to me a dangerous view. It promulgates a belief that however badly humanity screws up -- polluting the earth with hate, injustice, hunger, war, industrial waste -- God, in the end, will perform a supernatural miracle and save true believers. This is an irrational view that thinks it is faith to pray, “Oh God, please don’t make two plus two equal four.” A faith that sees God as breaking through history and through nature to save us from our own man-made disaster, to me, seems an immature faith and, more than that, it is a faith that has a real potential of bringing humanity to disaster.

I am wondering if the hope for humanity lies in spiritual renewal, in spiritual awakening. I am wondering if this is the meaning of the Christian hope that Christ will return. Such an awakening may be humanity’s best and only hope. The hope for such awakening, it seems to me, is found in the title of my college president’s latest book, “Let’s Start With Jesus.”

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