dying to hostility

In his recent book, Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? Brian McLaren explores the crisis of religious identity.  He speaks as a Christian for Christians, although the essence of his thesis could be used for religious folk generally.  He describes the continuum along which most Christians find themselves. At one end of the continuum are those of us with a strong Christian identity but with hostility toward other faiths.   At the opposite end of the continuum are those of us who have a weak Christian identity combined with a benign attitude toward other faith traditions.   Many Christians find themselves somewhere in between, conflicted, not terribly satisfied and, in many cases, they simply walk away.  He reminds us of the history of this hostility, that it is common among those who feel threatened, prompting a desire to lord power over others.  He explains that this hostility is a direct inheritance from Christianity’s assimilation with the Roman Empire, who forced baptisms at sword point, and not from Jesus, who proclaimed Love.

At the Adult Forum on Sunday, we shared a wonderful conversation about the different experiences people had growing up and even today with this inherit tension.   McLaren poses a welcome alternative framing to this dilemma: What if you had a strong Christian identity grounded in solidarity with others in place of the hostility so many inherited?  What if, he proposes, rather than seeing other faith traditions as wrong, or in opposition, we held this conviction:

Solidarity: My understanding of Jesus and his message leads me to see each faith tradition, including my own, as having its own history, value, strengths, and weaknesses.  I seek to affirm and celebrate all that is good in each faith tradition, and I build intentional relationships of mutual sharing and respectful collaboration with people of all faith traditions, so all our faiths can keep growing and contributing to God’s will being done on earth as in heaven.

For some people, this notion of strong Christian identity combined with a commitment to solidarity to others comes as naturally as breathing. For others, it marks a major shift from the way they were raised (which could be on either end of the spectrum).  Do you struggle with this dilemma?  Where do you find yourself on the spectrum?  Where on this spectrum was your family of origin?

As we approach Holy Week and prepare to hear again the passion of Jesus, one of the things that stands out is the way Jews are characterized in some of the gospels.  For many of us, it is a terribly uncomfortable and painful moment, especially in light of all the atrocities perpetrated by Christians on Jews and others who differ from them over the millennia.  We can forget that Jesus himself was Jewish, and that the gospel writers had particular contexts in mind that they were addressing. They were completely oblivious to the fact that we would be reading these stories all these years later and, throughout history, acting out our hostility in self-righteousness.

This Holy Week, hear the story of the passion with a commitment to solidarity (which is what Jesus lived and breathed and taught and emulated).  Notice what you think and feel, what questions you have as a result.  At the 10:00 a.m. liturgy this week (Palm/Passion Sunday), the structure of the service is radically rearranged.  The flow of Maundy Thursday will be different than we’re used to as well.  Allow yourself room to stretch and learn and grow in and through this Holy Week, in and through all of your life experiences.  Wherever you are and however you journey this week, be filled with courage.  Allow hostility, to yourself and to others, to die, so that we may all be set free in Love.