Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Will the Real Jesus...?

During the past few weeks, I read both Shane Claiborne’s Jesus for President and Deepak Chopra’s The Third Jesus and, although it was quite by chance, I’m glad that I read them together, since each provided a balance to what the other author missed.

In The Third Jesus :The Christ We Cannot Ignore, Chopra argues that there are the historical Jesus (who lived 2000+ years ago), the institutional Christian Jesus (who as Son of God is presented in all the religious trappings of the church) and the cosmic Christ (who isn’t interested in any specific religion but wants to embrace a spirituality for all people). And it’s the latter, of course, upon which Chopra wants to focus. Nothing new in any of this, is there? Putting a focus on the inward aspects of Jesus’ teachings found most clearly in the Gnostic gospels, Chopra presents a Jesus who calls us back to a personal experience of God and to a God-consciousness that’s both personal and collective, a consciousness very similar to the concept of enlightenment that Buddha discussed, a consciousness captured in Jungian archetypes and world myths. This third Jesus stresses that “the kingdom of heaven is within you” or, as Chopra paraphrases it “the source of reality is inside you, is your essence.” All of this is a nice corrective to institutional Christiandom and a great way to connect Jesus with the postmodern world. It reminded me a lot of the writings and teachings of Eckhart Tolle, that are quickly becoming popular with the Oprah crowd and that, generally, seem to me on target. Stay in the present. Let go of the ego, the hurts and successes of the past and the worries and goals of the future. Rely on God’s grace. All very Tolle (and though I haven’t read them, I’d guess it’s also in keeping with Chopra’s many earlier books) and probably pretty close to part of Jesus’ original pre-Christendom shaped message.

But then Chopra’s The Third Jesus weakens when he begins to talk about how to practice this spirituality of this compassionate, enlightened Jesus. The individual “experiments’ he urges the reader to try don’t go very far in capturing the radical nature of living implied by someone interested in following such a path. They’re just nice, sweet experiments, nothing close to what would be the result of practicing just the statement “the kingdom of heaven is within you”, much less the rest of the teachings that Chopra presents as from Jesus.

Enter Shane Claiborne, this time with the assistance of Chris Haw. In Jesus for President: Politics for Ordinary Radicals, Claiborne begins by taking us through the basic story of the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian Writings, looking at them through the lens of politics and empires, relying I suspect on the long line of biblical “empire” scholarship that began in the 1990s. Then he takes aim at capitalism and current politics that demand allegiance to someone other than God and God’s empire, talking about what that would mean in the typical American life and for the typical middle class American lifestyle and urging those who mean to be followers of Jesus to resist oppressive structures in active ways. In the last part of his book, he gives what he suggests are practical illustrations of how to live as a disciple loyal to God’s empire rather than other empires of any kind. He talks about how to opt out of the use of money, using the trash of a disposable society, growing your own food or supporting local and CSA farmers, donating the percentage of taxes owed that would go to weapons to a nonprofit and then alerting the IRS of that fact when paying the rest of your taxes, and much more. It’s all good stuff to conjure with, but what’s missing is all the internal work that needs to go along—or probably preceed—such changes if one is really to follow Jesus’ way, the kinds of work that Chopra was discussing in his book.

So I’m glad I read Chopra and Claiborne together. Without either, I’d have a skewed, extremely partial view of Jesus and the world he was urging us all to live toward and within.

No comments: