Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A Word to the Wise

This week’s 5th page contains material I used last year in the Advent Letters series:

M is for Magi. I want to talk about the wisemen, but I already used the W! I have always thought that outside of the baby Jesus, the magi were the most fascinating characters in the nativity story. And they are magi- not kings. I don’t know when, or really even why that song about “We Three Kings” ever became popular- because if you read Matthew’s Gospel , it says clearly that they were wisemen, not kings from the East who came to pay their respects. (Incidentally, the only reason we think of there being three is because that’s how many gifts they brought. In some streams of the Christian tradition, they talk about as many as twelve visitors.)

I like the magi because they are seeker s after truth. There are lots of sayings about how it is the truly wise who can admit they do not know everything. These wise ones serve as models for anyone who is willing to endure hardship, take risks, and literally step away from all that is familiar, and go where they have never been, in order to fulfill their quest.

The wisemen were not Jewish. Nonetheless they were interested in the birth of a child some hoped would be a Messiah for the Jews. There is no indication in the story that they became followers of Jesus. They were faithful people who were open-minded enough to look beyond their own religious traditions, to see God at work.

Part of my not-so-hidden agenda is to offer nurture to people’s minds as well as their spirits. The phrase I have been playing with is “intelligent piety”. I believe it is healthy for us to ask questions, and dig deeper into the stories of our Christian tradition.

The Jesus movement has lost a lot of great people who felt they would have to turn off their brain, or at least compartmentalize their thinking, in order to stay in the church. I had a wonderful conversation recently with a man who holds a doctorate in atmospheric physics. He said he felt like a hypocrite going to church. He thought he was expected to accept unquestioningly the Bible, and the creeds as literally true.

A former colleague makes the distinction between faith and belief. He would say that it is possible to have faith in God, and to see the sacred and spiritual dimensions of life, without necessarily buying into, or “believing” every aspect of the portrayal of God found in popular religion, the teachings of the church, and all the layers of tradition.

How about you? Do you think we can have faith, and at the same time have questions, and doubts about what we have been taught about God, and Jesus?

Here is something about which I have no doubt. Jesus taught that God wants us to bring our bodies, and spirits, and minds along for the ride, on our journey towards truth. When a religious teacher asked Jesus which was the most important commandment, he said,

"'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. 'The second is this: 'Love your neighbour as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these." (Mark 12:30-31)

That’s a word to the wise!