What is the ‘essential Jesus’? What do we know for certain about Jesus that is relevant and truly helpful to everybody today? Do certain basic facts and clear certainties exist about Jesus that can form a basis for realistic objective logical faith?
The sources for knowing Jesus begin with the Four Gospels and the Book of Acts and go on to include your own personal spiritual experience and your own faith tradition, which might be helpful and might also be part of the problem. Where do you get your spiritual information? What have been your basic sources for religion, faith, spiritual direction and strength, and your vision of God and of yourself?
What have your parents, family and friends taught you about Jesus? What has your church taught and conditioned you to believe? What have you worked out for yourself? What has been the role of gospel songs and hymns along with religious art and images in shaping your view of Jesus? Many sources have shaped your vision of Jesus.
Seeing through the dark curtain
Jesus is a vague out of focus image for all of us. Too many conflicting voices claim to speak the truth. None do. The voices that most firmly demand that they have the truth are often the most incorrect and misleading. Religious groups and churches that claim absolute authority and demand absolute obedience are usually the ones that most reduce Jesus to a set of beliefs, doctrines, rules and propositions and that discourage people from thinking for themselves and enjoying the real freedom of the Spirit of Jesus in their lives.
Abusive religion is controlling and oppressive, not liberating and affirming.
I grew up in a Southern Baptist Church in South Carolina. At the age of nine, I “accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior” and joined the church and was baptized “in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Sprit.” I have spent the past 60 years trying to understand and to enter fully into whatever that means
As I have struggled through my own personal “dark night of the soul” as a Gay Christian, I have found that a great multitude of other people also share the same struggle and spiritual pilgrimage. We are “marching to Zion,” but none of us know what “Zion” means or even really care.
Who is Jesus?
Jesus is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29, 36). But, what does that mean? Multiple layers of confusion and misinformation, along with political, religious and financial manipulations, and celebrations of ignorance in the name of God for the past 2,000 years of church history have darkened our access to Jesus. We do indeed see Jesus “through a glass darkly” and not face-to-face.
Where is the shortcut to Jesus? Does a basic simple direct uncluttered vision of Jesus exist? Can we construct a brief overview of the details of Jesus that is easy to grasp and relevant to each individual here and now? Is a “Jesus for Dummies” possible? I think so.
The following “Twelve Steps” might be a helpful framework for new directions in knowing and following Jesus.
Twelve steps to recovering Jesus
Step One: Admit that you have a vague incorrect view of Jesus and that religion has misled and confused you.
Step Two: Turn to God who is already within you as your basic source for knowing and following the Spirit of Jesus.
Step Three: Take the time to learn the basic content of the Four Gospels and the Book of Acts.
Step Four: Question everything in the Jesus traditions that does not make sense or ring true to you.
Step Five: Search for and write down a list of the actions and teachings of Jesus in the Gospels that demonstrate something human and accessible that you can realistically follow and do yourself, such as accepting and celebrating your own humanity and having compassion for other people.
Step Six: Find or start a small group in your home that can provide a setting for dialogue, discussion, encouragement, learning, changing and growing.
Step Seven: Fearlessly face and challenge the misinformation and confusions about Jesus that seem to interfere most with your own acceptance of Jesus as real and relevant to you.
Step Eight: Start over in your own spiritual journey by letting go of legalistic judgmental religious literature, people and groups. Don’t listen to the ignorant misinformation of fundamentalists and other forms of self-serving religious confusion.
Step Nine: Search for and find resources from other people both ancient and modern that also have struggled with their own understanding of Jesus and have challenged the traditions and tried to cut through the gloom to see the real Jesus.
Step Ten: Accept yourself as you are, just as Jesus accepted himself, and build a self-esteem basis for being able to accept and follow the real Jesus that is beginning to emerge in your personal search and study.
Step Eleven: Take others along with you in your journey of discovery and clarification whenever you have opportunity.
Step Twelve: Act positively and with compassion on what you are learning and experiencing about the real Jesus.
Jesus is for dummies
All of us are dummies about many things. None of us completely master anything. Abandoning traditional visions of Jesus is not abandoning the real Jesus. Letting go of misinformation and confusions about Jesus is not letting go of the real Jesus. The reason that we are dummies about Jesus is because we have been dummied by religious manipulations and misinformation. The same abusive sick religion that has made GLBT people hate themselves and try to destroy themselves and each other is the source of our confusion and misinformation about Jesus.
Last week I began to use a new Dell computer with Windows XP, which is far different from what I had used before. I was really lost and confused. I immediately bought a copy of “Windows XP for Dummies” with high hopes that I could learn enough about this new operating system to do a better job in my writing and Internet ministries. So far, I am still quite a dummy, but I am learning.
High hopes for positive change
I have high hopes for positive changes in how all of us find relevant spiritual resources and healthy spirituality in a fresh look at who Jesus really is for us today in our rapidly changing world. In every area of life, we are constantly being challenged to “let go and move on.” We either: “let go and move on,” or we are dead in the water and sinking fast.
Paul in Philippians 3:1-14 described how he had to move out of one spiritual house and into another place in order to have Jesus in his life: “I count all things (legalistic judgmental religion) to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them to be garbage (literally “animal feces”!) in order that I may gain Christ.” When Paul said: “forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus,” he was letting go of abusive legalistic religion in order to know and follow Jesus.
To live is to change. To learn and grow demands and creates change. Walking through new doors can be threatening. Stepping off of familiar ground onto a new path can be scary, but staying put on trembling sinking ground can be deadly. If the traditional abusive religious images of Jesus have not worked for you, let go and move on to something that does.
The author of Invitation To Freedom and Steps to Recovery from Bible Abuse, Rev. Rembert S. Truluck served in Metropolitan Community Churches in Atlanta, San Francisco and Nashville from 1988 to 1996. He earned a doctorate in sacred theology from Furman University, serving from 1953 to 1973 as a Southern Baptist preacher. He resigned as a professor at Baptist College at Charleston (now Charleston Southern University) and became an MCC pastor after being outed to the college’s board of trustees.