“God is the map whereby we locate our setting, the water beneath our life raft...the kind of god at work in your life determines the shape and quality of risk at the center of your existence. It matters who you think God is.” -Walter Bruggemann
I learned to drive when I was 15. I remember the first time I took a left turn and didn’t really release the wheel to come out of it, so I ended up on the wrong side of the road heading toward oncoming traffic. My dad said only, “Stop the car. Get out.”
It took some time to become a better driver. Within my first years I had no less that 5 speeding tickets and would amass several more plus enough parking violations to pay for the big dig when I lived in Boston. I think I’m a decent driver now...I’ve taken defensive driving at least a half dozen times, and I no longer end up on the wrong side of the road.
I read a meditation from Cynthia Bourgeault today that reminded me of driving. In most countries, there is a “right way” to drive. And it requires attention, peripheral awareness, and personal responsibility.
The belief in Jesus I grew up around lead me to believe that there was a singular “right way” to be a Christian. Jesus could help me in a crisis or absolve me when I messed up. His death and resurrection saved me from facing the hellish outcomes of my so-called sin. He was evoked to explain away senseless deaths, justify wars, and even unjust laws. We also see Jesus get a lot of cred when things go well. Has anyone kept track of the number of touchdowns and winning scores he has in his pocket? For sure he’s up for MVP in all major sports. Or the number of houses spared in a storm and lights turned back on afterward Jesus is responsible for? He is still working posthumous miracles.
Sure Jesus probably loves us through crisis, screw ups, and wins and losses because he loved pretty much everyone regardless of how well they played. But this kind of faith in Jesus whereby he is some sort of intermediary, a checklist to tick off (salvation—check, personal lord and savior—check, virgin birth—check, maker of wine from water—check), or even someone to have faith in rather than someone by whom we can set our path...this kind of faith is immature.
Such a belief in Jesus is like first learning how to drive. You don’t know what you’re doing so someone else takes the wheel. The whole purpose of childhood, in fact, is to develop ego strength...to learn to fail and get back up again...to stretch toward personal responsibility and agency. The ego, in a sense, sets us up to have the courage to dive inward. What I am getting at is that Jesus isn’t a set of beliefs, rather he is a set of behaviors. More than anything, he taught us the radical way of transforming consciousness. Cynthia Bourgeault frames it this way: “What does it mean to die before you die? How do you go about losing your life to find the bigger one? Is it possible to live on this planet with a generosity, abundance, fearlessness, and beauty that mirror Divine Being itself?” I think of the quote Bill read by Sarah Grant: “It isn’t The Way because Jesus walked it; Jesus walked it because it is The Way.” This Way is available to us no matter what we believe about Jesus, but his life was a dang good example of it.
Jesus is a wisdom teacher and his way demands that we change from the inside out. He is a shining star and an excellent example of living in love and connection with all that is. We have to die to the very same ego we spent so much time cultivating in childhood in order to discover our truest, most beautiful self. One cannot exist without the other. It’s not about orienting ourselves in the right direction toward a checklist of doctrinal beliefs, but about transforming our way of moving in the world. For me the question I most often ask is How shall I live? And is the way I live upholding the integrity of myself, others, and this planet? I know I’ve still got work to do, and Jesus is not going to take the wheel. At times it would certainly be nice, but it’s up to me to continually become a better driver. Maybe I’ll at least start keeping a Jesus on the dashboard so as not to lose my way.