Sunday, March 25, 2012

Being Jesus in Nashville

Author and former pastor Jim Palmer should be dead. Over the course of a year that included two near-death experiences, as Palmer set out to disentangle Jesus from the religious machinery of Christianity, he discovered a profound and unexpected answer to the question on his mind: "What would Jesus do? " Exploring what it really means to "be Jesus" in his hometown of Nashville, Tennessee, Palmer learns that Jesus was special not because he was more divine than the rest of us, but because he was courageously more human than most. Unfortunately, this realization crystallized for him while he was hanging upside down in his overturned car, expecting to die. When Palmer was miraculously pulled from the wreckage alive, he emerged with a new courage to embrace his life as never before. In Being Jesus in Nashville, Palmer shares his personal stories, ideas, concepts, and an innovative approach to humanity as he learns that being Jesus means seeing people as they truly are; letting it happen, not making it happen; being at peace, whatever happens; putting no limitations on God; living without separation from God; following your own path; living as everyone's neighbor. With spiritual insight and refreshing theological glimpses, Palmer shares how he traded in his Christianity for Jesus and how this brought him closer to God.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

What IS Prayer?

"{…} (Many) do not directly believe in the power of prayer but rather believe in the OTHER’S belief in its power. This may seem ridiculous, and indeed when put like this, it is. However, in many respects this is the kind of behavior we all engage at some level. For instance, we can easily imagine a conversation between two people in which they agreed wholeheartedly that working all the hours God sends in order to make money to buy more goods is detrimental to our mental health and not worth the effort. Yet it is also easy to imagine that, after the conversation, these two people act as if they DID believe that working all the hours God sends to buy more goods is worth the effort. While the people do not consciously believe that this activity gives satisfaction and happiness, they act as if they believe it. Karl Marx called this activity of disbelieving in ones mind while believing in ones activities 'fetishism'. The fetish is any object that we know is not magical or special in any way, yet is treated as though it were special and magical.

In as sense, one can say that while individuals do not believe that working crazy hours for extra money in order to buy more goods will bring happiness, they have vicariously put their trust in another's belief that it does. So who is this "other" that believes on our behalf? It is, of course, not literally another person or group of people, but rather it can be described as the values expressed in the context we inhabit (the ads we watch, the books we read, etc.) While we may disavow these values intellectually, they continue to seep into our lives. While the message can be disbelieved and even ridiculed at a conscious level, it simultaneously commands our obedience at the level of our action. It is only as we change our context that we can effectively change our social existence.

Hence, the various religious practices employed over the millennia are not primarily designed to change how we think about the world, but rather, at their best, they are designed to change how we engage with the world. By developing a culture of spiritual rituals that reflect our beliefs, this new context begins to change how we operate in the world. Thus, it brings our beliefs and practices into closer alignment. We may believe very strongly in certain values, but is only as we inhabit an environment that encourages those values, an environment that also “believes” in those values, that we are able to engage in lasting change.

Concretely speaking, then, when it comes to undermining something like the superstitious belief that a certain prayer can bring wealth and healing, the primary problem does not necessarily rest in convincing the person that this view is silly; that the words are only words and not some kind of magical formula that compels God to act. The chances are that the person will readily agree with this assessment. One needs to go further and convince that person's religious structure of the fact."

Peter Rollins, The Orthodox Heretic