Friday, November 9, 2012

Healing, Chapters 5 and 6

Here are some observations about these chapters -- some ideas that I think are important.  See what you think!

Chapter Five – The Company of Strangers

A call for the renewal of the “public life” – as in a “pub” where hospitality is offered to all.   Palmer encourages “free spaces” “where ordinary citizens can act with dignity, independence, and vision.”  (p 96)

Palmer here lays the foundation for “democracy circles” that are central to his hope that the divisions of our society can, over time, be bridged.  The solution is not found in large-scale programs, but in grass-root circles of people talking to one another with respect.

The physical divisions of society – gated communities, with guards and entry codes being perhaps the most stark symbol thereof – need to be somehow reconnected.  He writes, 
“As I watch some of our elected leaders slam into each other and shove each other aside, escalating the verbal violence that helps makes our political life toxic, I wonder if walking to work every day might make them better leaders. As I watch some ordinary Americans behave in a similar style—often the most privileged Americans who need not mingle with the hoi polloi—I wonder if some long walks in the city might make better citizens of them.”  (p. 99)

It is not only the superrich who are isolated from people who have very little.  I as a “middle class” person have little direct contact with the poor.   And thus little understanding and empathy for their plight.

The “private” thus cut off from the “public” is not healthy for society as a whole.  He writes:  “We are so obsessed with our private lives that we are largely oblivious to our public diminishments.  (p. 102)

Chapter Six:  Classrooms and Congregations

In light the recent ascent of evangelical churches into the political realm, Palmer’s look at the role of congregations in the revival of public life is especially important.  He cites Tocqueville again in this regard:

“Tocqueville is one of many who have wondered whether religious communities can serve American democracy well. It is true that religious convictions have sometimes divided us. But divisiveness is far from the whole story of religion's role in human history. [Emphasis mine.] In light of the fact that religious communities have been our most prominent form of voluntary associational life from the Plymouth Colony to the present, congregations must rank high on any list of settings where Americans develop their habits of the heart.   (p 121)

On the connection of the classroom and the church Palmer notes, “ However, I am equally passionate about not wanting to violate the deepest needs of the human soul, which our educational system does with some regularity. An education that pretends to explore only the outer world is disingenuous and incomplete."   (p 123)

Another great quote, that includes another great quote:

“My core religious beliefs include this simple article of faith: the God who gave all of us life wants us to do the same for each other. When people or groups who claim religious motivation make their points by using violence in any form—spiritual, psychological, verbal, or physical—it seems clear to me that they are driven by fear rather than faith, committed to control instead of trust in God. The writer Anne Lamott says, “You can safely assume you've created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.” (p 136)

A challenge to our own congregation:  what does “diversity” mean for us – and how open do we dare to be with one another?  On page 138:

“My response to the requests I get to help such congregations “diversify” is simple: “There is no such thing as a ‘homogenous white congregation.’ There are only groups of white people pretending that they have no critical differences among themselves for fear that their ‘community’ would crumble if they opened their real lives to one another. Why would anyone with a visible difference want to join a group of people who look like each other but cannot embrace their own invisible differences?”
Further – another good question for self-reflection:

“When a congregation is profoundly clergy-centered—when the pedagogy consists of a clergyperson (performer) downloading information and inspiration to parishioners (audience)—the game is rigged. The theological message may be one of community, but the lived experience is one of dependence on an authority. Under those conditions, not much can be done to build the communal trust that allows compassion to flower, no matter how benign the leader is.”

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Healing the Heart Three

One phrase, in the opening quotation by Terry Williams, captures a great deal of the problem of our political process these days:  Can we listen with our whole beings, and not just our minds, and offer our attention rather than our opinions?”  On the one hand, the political ads we are seeing appeal NOT to our minds, but to our emotions – especially the emotion of fear.   The information begin offered is questionable at best, and the graphics unfailingly mock the victim of the ad.  And so I hope for more mindful appeals – reasonable, factual, honest.   But Williams is saying that emotion too – the heart, in Palmer’s parlance – must be in play.   Mind and heart . . .

Having said that, I do think that most people’s “opinions” so freely offered and so seldom supported would do well to include honest, thoughtful analysis of the issues at hand.

A disturbing truth:  Not only does an appeal to the emotions almost always trump an appeal to intellect, but presenting facts that contradict deeply held beliefs is more likely to reinforce those beliefs than compel people to change them.   (p. 51)

This begins a fascinating section about how “the heart” – the non-rational part of us – is really the ruling part in so many circumstances.   Realtors will tell you that people buy homes largely because of emotional reasons.  They are not void of reasonable analysis of the purchase.  But in the end it is the heart that “simply loves it,” and the purchase goes through even if it may mean a financial stretch.

Palmer cites Alan Greenspan’s shock when financial leaders chose the way not of the good for all, but the good for themselves, or the perceived good, that is personal financial gain.  He had believed – as a disciple of Ayn Rand – that the free market would avoid such things as the collapse of 2008.  But reasonable people in charge of lots of people’s money, for a number of years made foolish and selfish decisions about that money.  Thus, their “heart” ruled over their minds.

The answer to our problem, says Palmer, is not a coldly intellectual, purely rational approach to issues – that would deny the reality that we are creatures of head AND heart – but an engagement of the whole person (mind and emotion, head and heart) in the challenges of the world. 

So Palmer invites us to find commonalty in our common heartbreak of these times.  Not that we are all heartbroken for the same reason – Tea-Party folk and progressives do not share the same cause for their broken hearts.  But the experience we have of heartbreak – disappointment, disillusionment, lost dreams, anger – is the same.  And perhaps in that agreement we can begin the long process of  mending our hearts and our society.

The last sections of the chapter make some excellent observations about how many of us deal with our “Heart Disease.”  Rather than “going within” to the real heart of the matter, we salve our souls with  “toxic consumerism,” while placing the blame for our pain on “the other” – by scapegoating.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Healing the Heart Two

Prelude . . .

            “Hearing each other’s stories, which are often stories of heartbreak, can create an unexpected bond between so-called pro-life and pro-choice.” (p. 5)

This is a key assumption of Palmer’s work – not only do we need to be “in touch” with our soul within, our authentic self, but also with others, especially, perhaps the “others” who are not like us.   The walls that we build so quickly and so well rest upon false ideas of who the “other” is.  Talking to one another (and that requires patient, careful listening to the other) is the means by which we hear the stories of those we think to be our enemies.   
Palmer will talk more about that:  listening to their stories without judgment,  and in an attitude of unconditional acceptance not of their ideas (which may be radically and dangerously opposite of ours), but of the person – a “child of God” we would say, giving them the ultimate praise.   When we listen, and then are listened to, there is an opening for understanding and for peace.

Chapter 1 . . .

            Palmer talks here about the “confusion” that is necessary in a democracy.  A dictatorship has the attraction of order in a society.  A citizen may not like that order (especially if the order rigs the odds against them), while another may like it a lot – if they are near the top of the heap held in place by the power of the dictator.  There is some comfort in having one’s options limited, or decided by others.  Indeed some people coming out of oppressive regimes my at times wish for the days when they didn’t have to think very much.  The Israelites, once they had escaped the slavery of Egypt, had times when they longed for the days of slavery when at least they had food to eat.
            So democracy is “less efficient” and full of tension, not unlike a prairie.  The trick is handling that tension.   Here Palmer distinguishes between good bad stress (“distress”) and good stress (“eustress”).  The former is negative and destructive, while the later is healthy – so long as we learn to use it for dialogue and for growth.
            On page 14 he lists “our key civic capacities.”  How many of those do we live out in our political process? 
            Palmer’s book is not about mere “techniques,” as helpful as they can be at times.  Instead of those, he says, “we need insights into ourselves and our world.” (p. 15).
            At the end of Chapter One he sketches out the structure of the book, beginning with . . .

Chapter 2 . . .

            A starting place is the truth that “Whatever is in the common good is, in the long run, good for me and mine.”  (p. 31)   One wonders, then, at the key question that many politicians use in their campaigns:  “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?”   Shouldn’t a better question be, “Are WE better off now than WE were  four years ago?”   A nation of individuals concerned primarily about their own lives, it seems to me, is a nation destined to decline.  It seems inarguably clear that unless we all prosper, none of us will in the end.  That is Judeo-Christian principle, and a perfectly reasonable one too.
            The story about the Sunday School class Palmer witnessed in 1974 is a moving one about people who value deeply and seek to live out the gift of political freedom – “Learning how to listen well, speak clearly, and follow procedures in the larger, more diverse, and conflicted world of American politics.”  (p. 38)
            The chapter ends with Palmer’s “Five Habits of the Heart” that he says we need to cultivate in our community and political life.   They are under two general categories:  Humility and Chutzpah.  See the first blog on this book for more on the habits.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Healing the Heart of Democracy -- One

Parker Palmer's book, Healing the Heart of Democracy, is a provocative and I would say even profound analysis of our nation's present toxic political landscape.  Provocative because of his observations about "the things we do" like our most cherished pastime, namely, amassing possessions.  He writes well, with sharp wit and also humility that admits his own complicity in the faults of American society.  Profound because he is asking deep questions about us . . . about our hearts and the habits of the heart we cultivate.  He does not offer quick, and surely not easy answers to the divisions that hobble us.  He does invite us to ask some difficult questions of ourselves.

Palmer is big into "paradox" -- holding in tension seemingly opposite views and values, rather than siding on one side or the other.  Out of that tension, he says, comes creativity and new life.  Breaking the tension (denying the other's perspective and needs) brings death, to the individual and to society.  But the holding of that tension -- over a long period of time, decades even -- requires diligence, patience, courage, and hope.  All of which most of us are in short supply these days.

So his call is to a new way of doing our politics, and really community in general.  He calls for us to cultivate new "habits of heart," ways of being and doing and relating to one another:

Three have to do with "humility:"

            1.  Believe that we're all in this together -- we need each other, all of us.
            2.  Develop an appreciation of the value of "otherness" -- in people different from us we learn not only about them, but about ourselves too.
            3.  Cultivate the ability to hold tension in life-giving ways -- learning how to stay with a difference of opinion, of culture, of value long enough for a new understanding, new life, to emerge.

Two habits of the heart have to do with "chutzpah," or personal confidence and action:
            4. Generate a sense of personal voice and agency -- to be able to speak, and to be an agent of change.
            5.  Strengthen our capacity to create community -- for it is in community that we can go forward  as a society, with everyone on board.

A key image throughout the book is that of a "broken heart."  The heart, he says, that center of our being where our truest self lives, is often broken.  But it can be "broken apart," leading to disintegration, separation, and ultimately death, or, it can be "broken open," to embrace others, to live compassionately and in hope.  Which way the heart goes, he counsels, depends on the habits of the heart we have been nurturing through our years as a person or as a society.  

While Palmer is always concerned with the heart of the individual, he doesn't leave it there.  The healthy soul, with a heart that is broken open, expresses itself in compassion toward the "other," toward the needs of the world.  This book includes very practical suggestions about how we can create again community -- public spaces -- where the private and the political realms can meet, where we can practice basic skills of listening to one another and to our inner Teacher, and together renew our culture and "create a politics worthy of the human spirit."

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Anyone else game?

One of our group, Steve Barney, was so convinced and moved by our last book that he has taken Peter Singer up on his invitation to do something concrete to help create a "culture of giving."  Below is his pledge to give more to save lives, at some cost to his own enjoyment.  And he has invited us to ask from time to time how he's doing!  Thank you, Steve, for giving us an example.

I PLEDGE . . . that I will make a matching donation, approximately equal to the amount that I spend on nonessential luxury items over the remainder of this year, to an organization, or organizations, helping people throughout the world who live in extreme poverty by giving it to GiveWell ( for the sole purpose of re-granting it to some of their top charities, according to their next round of charity evaluation research, without using any of it for their own operating expenses.

Steve Barney
Oshkosh, WI
June 23, 2012

PS: By making this pledge public, I hope that I am, in my own small way, "creating a culture of giving" (title of chapter 5):

"The most important reason for pledging is that by doing so you help to change the culture of giving."...
--The Life You Can Save --

This is my self-imposed luxury or consumption tax, similar to one described in Singer’s book:

"Israel Shenker, founder and CEO of the Philadelphia-based real estate firm ISS Development, is happy to tell others about his standard. He matches everything he spends on discretionary items—vacations, a luxury car, a larger house than he needs—with a charitable donation of the same amount." ...
"Shenker’s standard is a self-imposed consumption tax—if you spend extravagantly, you will also be giving substantially. But much will depend on how strictly the category of "discretionary item" is interpreted: Remember that bottle of water. On the other hand, a consumption-related standard allows those who are reinvesting their income productively to live modestly and continue to do so. The very rich, though, should go beyond merely matching their philanthropy to their consumption."...  (The Life You Can Save, p. 160-161)

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Let’s Hear It For the Arts

In Singer’s Chapter Nine – Asking Too Much? – he argues that if rescuing people from dying is the greatest good – more important than anything else one could do – then all of our resources (beyond the barest necessities of sustaining our own life) should, for us to be ethical, be given to efforts that save lives.  “My argument does imply that it is wrong to spend money on those things [gourmet food, music systems] when we could instead be using the money to save people’s lives and prevent great suffering.”   Later on that page 149, after the example of buying good stereo equipment, he asks, “Can it be ethical to live that way?”  His implied answer is surely “No.”

Likewise, he says, giving to the arts is, in our world, “morally dubious.” 

Singer, of course, does not think many people will live by his argument that any expenditures beyond our basic needs should be given to help the extremely poor.  He realizes that, in fact, few of us will.  He contents himself to challenging rich people to give away a mere 5% of their income, and the rest of us perhaps 1%.  His challenge is quite modest, and achievable. 

As compelling is his logic, and as informative are his statistics (about poverty and about the super-rich), however, it seems to me that he neglects the human need to create.  We do not stay alive merely to stay alive.  There is something within the human spirit that longs for beauty, for joy, for creativity – the arts.  The world, of course, could easily do both:  pay for amazing artistic activities, and save the dying too.   If only the rich would just spare the rest of the world some change.

For our part we can donate to efforts that seek to save lives. But we can’t do that if we neglect other parts of the soul – community, art, joy, leisure, rest.   A culture that neglected these, I think, would soon care little for the dying, or for each other either. 

Is it possible that a dying soul is as bad as a dying body?

Monday, June 4, 2012

A New Standard of Giving . . . New?

I had a great aunt who in 1901 sailed as a young single woman for Africa, headed for 70 years of missionary work – in health care, as she was a nurse.  There she met and married Emil, a young man who felt called of God to bring Christianity to that continent, who (while Marie kept the home fires burning, literally, and cared for their children and operated a clinic) would leave home for months at a time seeking out villages who had never heard of Jesus.

Their own children, once they were old enough for school, spent their formative years in missionary boarding schools, and in fact Marie and Emil didn’t attend any of their weddings, that being expensive (they had little money) and they were busy serving people, and offering salvation.   Marie and Emil left everything because they were convinced that their “higher calling” was to God, and indeed missionaries made great personal sacrifices because they believed that people would be lost eternally if they the missionaries did not warn them.

I see a similarity here to Singer’s argument that we who have so much should give up (nearly) everything we have in order to save as many people as possible -- not from spiritual death, but physical death.  Emil and Marie valued other people’s children as much as their own – because their worldview told them that people were lost without God.  And because God had called (commanded) them to give up everything to act on that belief.   Their motivation was twofold:  emotional (thinking about people lost forever, in hell, moved them to act, to save them from such a horrible fate) and rational/volitional (given what they believed about God and eternity, it made sense that they do everything possible to tell people about God’s love.  What is even a great sacrifice in this short life compared to eternal joys to come in the hereafter?)

Singer has made a careful, convincing, logical, argument about the need out there.   And that we who have much can give a whole lot more than we do without much of a personal sacrifice.  Logically speaking, how can I justify any expenditure beyond my most basic needs?  If my round of golf means one more person dies . . .   Logically, I’m had, aren’t I?  

But what of the emotional motivation needed?  Here is the harder part.   How do you feel badly about millions of people? Have can I care enough to do something – a lot, or anything -- about millions of needy?   Emil and Marie had the advantage of having the need constantly in front of them.  People dying all around you, in body or in spirit, would provide the emotion needed, although compassion fatigue is a hazard of any helping profession.  As for me, I have stories about poverty, and photographs . . . but doesn’t one become numb to the enormity of the need, even if it’s "only" on TV?

Wiser, more compassionate ones:  enlighten me!

Friday, May 25, 2012

"The Life You Can Save," We Sing of Thee

We have begun reading Peter Singer's excellent and challenging book, The Life You Can Save.  It is the first book we've read that will be pressing us to DO something about what we read  . . . sign the Pledge at the front of the book.  Singer has been called by The New Yorker "the most influential living philosopher," and while I can't verify that that claim, he is surely providing good fodder for our discussion.

Thus far Singer has documented what we suspected:  that the wealth of the developed world is way more than the rest of the world -- the newly-minted Facebook millionaires/billionaires would be another example of the kind of resources are floating around out there!  That is, we in this country (many if not most of us) have money that could address the sources of poverty. 

And he has raised and objected to common objections of folk who argue against helping the desperately poor of the world.  

The very good question that follows;  Why don't we (you, I, and especially people richer than me!) give more than we do?  And Singer lists six weaknesses of our race -- things we probably know, but he has some psychological experiments that confirm and illustrate them.  One of those characteristics -- that we respond to emotional appeals more than to factual,rational appeals -- is especially frustrating to folks who fancy ourselves to be smart people.  On page 61 Singer says, "But of course concluding [rationally, I add] that others' needs should count as much as our own is not the same as feeling it, and that is the core of the problem of why we do not respond to the needs of the world's poorest people as we would respond to someone in need of rescue right in front of us."

Christian faith, based on the teachings of Jesus and the prophets (like Amos) before him, has since the beginning been urging its adherents to care for the poor, to give generously to those in need.  Sometimes Christians have done that, and a lot of times we haven't.  Faith adds to Singer's logic about the issue two things:  First a sense of "command" -- from God, no less.  The Great Commandment is that we love God, and our neighbor as ourself.  And Jesus commands things like giving to beggars, and giving all we have to the poor.   The second element faith offers to the task of alleviating poverty is emotional:  If God has loved us so much as to give himself for us -- Jesus' dying for us -- then surely we can love others.  That is, if one can feel God's love for us, then we are motivated (compelled, said St. Paul), to care for others.  And that care would of course include care of the poor, and helping them have the basic things of life.

Does God's command (that we care for the poor, and share all we have with those in need) and God's love (compelling us to love others) do the job of getting us to give more?   Discuss among yourselves!

Friday, March 30, 2012

Why Did Jesus Die . . . and What Happened Then?

Chapter 3 – The Cross as Futility, not Forgiveness

Meyers wants to do two things here.  First, to give some background on the creation of the gospels, focusing on Mark as the earliest of our four.   In this regard he wants us to know that Mark was written some 40 years after Jesus lived, and that, therefore, there is not a whole lot of historical “fact” to be found in it.
            He is right that as Jesus taught and worked there were no journalists following him around taking notes.  The disciples were likely not literate, and Meyers says elsewhere that Jesus probably couldn’t read or write either.  Besides, at the time no one would have been thinking about recording what Jesus said and did – he was a popular teacher, but no one could have guessed just how popular he would be 2000 years later.
            So the writing of the gospels that we have didn’t happen until (in Mark’s case) the 60s to mid-70s.  (Matthew and Luke perhaps in the 80’s, John the late 90s.)  Scholars do seem agree, though, that there was another written gospel earlier than Mark – now lost – and that there was a significant “oral tradition” before that.
            So the timeline:  Jesus dies around 33-37;  his followers very quickly experience his ongoing presence in their midst – a resurrection of some sort that convinces them Jesus sill lives, not merely in their memories, as say, we remember a favorite uncle, but within them, among them, empowering them.  
            One would think that immediately people would be telling stories about Jesus . . . “Remember the day that he . . . “   And they would have been repeating his teachings – told, remember, in parable form, and in catchy, folksy images that would lend themselves to memorization.  These stories about a revered great teacher would have been circulating through the early Christian community, for say 15-20 years before people started writing them down.

So yes, there is a gap between the living Jesus and the written stories about him.  But not terribly long . . . not centuries.  And there surely would have been a strong oral tradition formed early on.

Sidebar:  Meyers also talks about the manuscript record of the gospels, citing a book by Bart Erheman:   “ . . . the gospels we have, Erhman reminds us, are copies of copies of copies, in which all the mistakes, both accidental and intentional, have been multiplied exponentially over the centuries. In fact, there are now more known differences among our manuscripts than there are words in the New Testament. “  (p. 62)   
            This implies that the texts we have probably have little to do with the original texts produced in the first century.  But that is not the case.   I would quarrel with here in his use of “exponentially” -- typical of his exaggeration and, ironically, certainty about things that are not certain.   At times he sounds rather like the fundamentalists he attacks, when he throws in an “obvious” here and a “clearly” there for statements that are hotly debated among scholars.
           So the first point of the chapter is to sketch the origin of (and, to his mind, the historical unreliability of) the gospels.  That they were written primarily to make a theological point, and had less interest in “history” than we do, is probably right.   But just how far from history their stories are removed in not at all certain:  a lot? A little?  Some? 
            The second theme of chapter three is the meaning of the crucifixion.  And I agree with him that the traditional “blood atonement” interpretation, first, makes little sense to people today, and second, I suspect it was not the intention of Jesus in the first place.  What, then, is the meaning of the cross?  Meyers says that it reveals the futility of violence. 
“Justice was his passion. Healing was his passion. Gathering up the last, the least, and the lost and helping them to stand up straight in a world that kept them permanently bent over was his passion.”  (p. 71)       

Chapter Four – “Easter as Presence, not Proof” -- addresses the meaning of “resurrection.”  And here he begins with the assumption that a “bodily” resurrection – the resuscitation of a dead body – is simply not credible to people today.  (A whole bunch of people do in fact believe it, of course.)  But if you can’t buy a bodily resurrection, what does Easter mean? 
            For Meyers the power of the first believers – power to overcome great opposition, love their enemies, model a new kind of living, being willing to die for their faith – that came not because they thought Jesus had literally come back from the dead, but because they experienced “Jesus” in their midst.
            That is, they kept the faith by following Jesus, not by affirming a belief about him.  They sought to serve Jesus, rather than worship him.   Meyers describes this new kind of believer this way:  “They accept the laws of nature [as the scientific naturalist/rationalists do] yet refuse to live in a universe devoid of mystery or stripped of all enchantment. By following, not by believing, they remain open to the possibility of resurrection in this life, not just in the next. (pp. 94-95)

Friday, March 16, 2012

Borg Revisited

When we read Borg’s Reading the Bible Again for the First Time we were introduced to the idea that how we modern – post-enlightenment -- people use the word “believe” in our religion and how pre-enlightenment folk used it are very different.  WE associate it with the head – propositional truth, factual truth, reasonable and scientific truth.  We want "evidence" for our religion, even if that means sometimes tortuous argumentation.  A “believer” is one who intellectually assents to a set of statements, as in the creeds of Christendom.

What Borg – and Meyers after him – argues is that a “believer” in the New Testament sense is one whose heart has been grasped (Kenneth Haught spoke in this way in Is Nature Enough?) by an experience of God, a “spiritual” experience.  One does not come to it by argumentation (although that might be part of the journey), but by experience.  Meyers (p37) says,   “Marcus Borg reminds us that there are four meanings of the word “faith” in the history of Christianity, and only one of them, assensus, has anything to do with intellectual assent, or faith as a “head trip.”

 The other three meanings  “ . . . are faith as fiducia (radical trust in God), as fidelitas (loyalty in one’s relationship to God), and as visio (a way of seeing creation as gracious).

That concept is foundational to a new understanding of faith – key to what the progressive, emergent Christian movement is about.

Meyers in Chapter Two goes on to give a sketch of the historical Jesus of the Gospels (differentiated from the post-Easter cosmic Christ of the Gospels): 

“Jesus of Nazareth was born just before 4 BCE to Joseph and Mary in a tiny hamlet. He was perhaps the firstborn, but more likely not, and had at least six siblings.
. . .   It is reasonable to assume that Jesus went to school in the synagogue in Nazareth to study Torah and became a woodworker.

. . .   He was dirt poor, living just a notch above the degraded (outcasts) and the expendables (beggars, day laborers, and slaves) . . . most likely illiterate,  . . . and he knew, like the vast majority of his contemporaries in an oral culture, the foundational narratives, basic stories, and general expectations of his tradition but not the exact texts, precise citations, or intricate arguments of its scribal elites.”

Meyers goes on – 

“If his family was reasonably devout, Jesus would have been raised in the practices of “common Judaism.”
 But  one day, without question, Jesus left home to became a follower of the most famous, most eccentric, most apocalyptic wilderness preacher of his day—John the Baptist.

Even though Jesus was a follower of John, there came to be a great difference in their messages:  “John preached grim justice and pictured God as a “steely-eyed thresher of grain.” Jesus preached a God of love and forgiveness and compared him to a father who throws a party for a prodigal son. John said the hour is growing late. Jesus said it is never too late.”

The mistake of traditional Christianity is  that we have made Jesus' message to be about himself, when it was about God:  “His message was theocentric, not Christocentric—centered in God, not centered in messianic proclamations about himself. . . .   He was charismatic, a gifted speaker, and a teacher of wisdom. He taught the “narrow way” as opposed to the broad way of convention and tradition . . . . life is seen as a joyful return from the exile of law and judgment to the unconditional love of a recklessly gracious God.

In the end, Jesus had undercut the power and purpose of religious professionals, excited the poor and empowered the powerless, and quickly attracted large crowds in an occupied territory that was smoldering under Roman occupation. Then, as now, the solution to this problem was simple.  (p. 54)

That solution was the crucifixion . . . which is the subject of Chapter 3.