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Humanizing Jesus

manger
Fellow Parkies and other Shuffling Editor readers:

I found this  gem of an essay particularly moving on Christmas Day. It underlines the deepening spirituality  that the PD journey often brings. It certainly has done that for me.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

A very Merry Christmas,

Gil Thelen, The Shuffling Editor 

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/23/opinion/humanizing-jesus.html?emc=edit_th_20161224&nl=todaysheadlines&nlid=52114048&_r=0

By Peter Wehner

Early in my Christian pilgrimage, as a young man struggling to understand the implications of a story I had only a surface knowledge of, I stumbled onto a theological insight. For followers of Jesus, salvation was based not on his life so much as his death. Jesus could have been incarnated as a man and been crucified within days. That’s all that was needed for his death to serve as an atonement, but that’s not what happened. God clearly wanted to instruct us about how we should live in this life, too. He became not just the author of the human drama but an actor in it.

According to the Christian Scriptures, Jesus had a life story — born in a manger in Bethlehem, later moving to Nazareth, and dying in his 30s, just outside Jerusalem. The fact that we’re so familiar with the story has inured us to just how jarring and unexpected it was. God came to earth “not in a raging whirlwind nor in a devouring fire,” in the words of Philip Yancey, author of “The Jesus I Never Knew,” but in humility, without power or wealth, in a world marked by strife and terror.

Jesus spent his infancy in Egypt as a refugee, Mr. Yancey points out, and the circumstances of his birth raised the specter of scandal. His life, then, was a profoundly human one, involving work and rest, friendships and betrayals, delight and sorrow. This has deep implications for how Christians should understand and approach life.

For one thing, the Incarnation dignifies the everyday. There has been a temptation throughout Christian history to denigrate the things of this world, from material comforts to the human body, viewing them as lowly and tainted. But this concept is at odds with what Jesus’ life taught, which is that while worldly things can be corrupted, they can also be elevated and sanctified.

Consider that Jesus was incarnated in a human body. He was a child in need of care and protection. He was a carpenter, a craftsman who worked creatively with his hands. His first miracle was at the wedding in Cana, where he transformed water into wine. There was joy and purpose to be found in the commonplace. The Incarnation also bestowed worth on people considered contemptible, unessential and valueless — “the least of these,” as Jesus put it.

Indeed, one of the indictments of him by the religious authorities of his day was that he was a “friend of sinners.” Jesus’ love was “undiscriminating and inclusive,” according to the writer Garry Wills, “not gradated and exclusive.” He spent most of his time with those who were forsaken, poor, powerless and considered unclean. In a patriarchal society, Jesus gave women an honored place. He not only associated with them, but they were among his disciples, the object of his public praise, the first people he spoke to after his resurrection.

The most intense confrontations Jesus had weren’t with those with loose morals but with religious leaders, the upholders of the “holiness code” whom he called out for their arrogance, hypocrisy and lack of mercy. In the Temple courts, Jesus told the chief priests, “I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.” In the words of Professor Wills, “He walks through social barriers and taboos as if they were cobwebs.”

The Incarnation also underscores the importance of relationships, and particularly friendships. The Rev. James Forsyth, the winsome and gifted pastor of McLean Presbyterian Church in Virginia, which my family attends, says friendship is not a luxury; it is at the very essence of who we are. The three persons of the Christian Godhead — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — speak to the centrality of community. When we are in a friendship, according to Mr. Forsyth, we are “participating in something divine.” That is, fellowship and friendship were present in the Trinity and are therefore of immense worth to us. I’ve experienced that in my own life, when friends served as God’s proxies, dispensing grace I could not receive in solitude.

In some rather remarkable verses in the New Testament, Jesus told his disciples: “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” God’s emissary on earth had a core group of intimate friends — Peter, James, John and perhaps his most faithful friend, Mary of Magdala. These are people Jesus confided in, relied on, celebrated with and mourned with. He not only praised friendship; he modeled it. It’s difficult for us now to appreciate the shock it was considered then — that the “image of the invisible God,” in the words of St. Paul, not only didn’t compromise his divinity by taking on human flesh, he actually found succor in human relationships.

The Incarnation is also evidence that God is not an impersonal, indifferent deity. Instead of maintaining a divine distance from life’s experiences, including its grief and hardship, Jesus shared in them. This can be seen in the moving events surrounding the death of Lazarus, the brother of Martha and Mary of Bethany. Here is the account from the Gospel of John:

When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” he asked. “Come and see, Lord,” they replied. Jesus wept. Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”

In the account in John, Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. The point here, though, is that Jesus not only had sympathy with those who were suffering but experienced grief to the point of tears. Contrary to the “health and wealth” gospel, which argues that God will deliver prosperity to those who have faith in him, Christianity does not promise an end to suffering even among the most faithful, at least not yet. But it does promise that God can bestow mercy amid our struggles, that in time he can repair the broken areas of our lives.

Jesus was not a systematic theologian; that work was left largely to St. Paul and others. While he certainly argued for the importance of righteousness, Jesus was far less concerned about rules than he was about relationships and reconciliation — with one another and with God. For some of us, Christmas is a reminder that while moral rules can be issued on stone tablets, grace and redemption are finally and fully found in a story of love, when the divine became human. I didn’t enter Jesus’ world; he entered mine.

Peter Wehner, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, served in the last three Republican administrations and is a contributing opinion writer.

 

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The Night GPS-Navi Smacked Me Down

soul-in-a-pit

“Wake up, Babe. The wrecker just lifted your SUV out of the pit,” said Struby, to her husband, customarily The Wily Old Editor. It was a little after midnight.

So ended the GPS-Navigation system’s assault on The-now-not-so-Wily Old Editor and his ride, a beautiful red Mazda CX-9, “Soul Red.”

I had reached the outskirts of Ocala about 5:30 PM, driving home from Jacksonville on Central Florida back roads. I had not yet deployed the Navigation system (Navi for short). I turned it on for guidance to I-75.

Trouble ahead.

Navi sent me in circles, twice leading me through The Villages retirement community. For over an hour its voice demanded travel on US-301, not nearby I-75.

I had had enough. I veered away from the 301 “force field” and followed the blessed “To I-75” sign, turning west on Sumter County 470.

Navi appeared to give ground. It allowed my deviation from its preferred route, signaling I-75 was scant miles away.

Still More Trouble Ahead

Next was the “Road Closed” sign and haphazardly placed orange barrels. The barrels did NOT close my lane, just directed me into an oncoming traffic lane.

I slowed to 10 MPH. Next a dramatic drop on the right and a loud, grinding stop. Soul Red and I were stuck. The instrument panel indicated we were operational but listing right, 37 degrees to horizontal.

Soul Red’s left wheels remained on the road pavement. Her right wheels were off the pavement, dangling 2 feet over the roadbed of a lane under construction. Time 7:00.

Lovely Soul Red was beached like a steel whale.

The skilled tow truck operator arrived about 10:30, some 2 hours after my wife dashed up I-75 in case my car was no longer drivable. He surgically extricated Soul Red 90 minutes later, using makeshift wedges under the fallen right wheels.

Explanatory Notes

*A BMW toppled into the pit, just moments after I had.

* The night manager at the nearby Texaco station said at least one car a night had taken the plunge.

*A Sumter County Deputy Sheriff agreed with the tow man that “this was the worst marked detour” ever. DOT “had a lot to answer for,” the two opined.

Navi’s Aversion to Interstate Highways
An instrument setting that permits “freeway” (as in California?) travel was not “on.”

Was the incident Navi’s revenge on The Wily Old Editor for refusing to go in more circles on US 301? 

Postscript

Soul Red’s underside and dignity were scratched. She was otherwise sound and quite fit to drive.

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Stripping The Clutter

candy

This is an unusual offering from me, a universal truth for a blog focused on the peculiar, paradoxical and mind-bending Parkie experience.  

It does, however, speak to the stirrings in Parkie souls as we face the inevitable end of our journeys. We seek to strip away all pretensions that may clutter our true course. 

My Parkie watchwords are Love, Laugh, Hope. They are captured magnificently here in “The Valuable Time of Maturity,” by Mario de Andrade, a Brazilian poet, novelist, musicologist, art historian and photographer.

A fellow Parkie brought De Andrade’s lyrical piece to me.

Enjoy. 

“I counted my years and discovered that I have less time to live going forward than I have lived until now.

I have more past than future.

I feel like the boy who received a bowl of candy. 

At first he just gobbled up the sweets, but when he realized there were only a few left, he began to taste them deeply.

“I do not have time to deal with mediocrity.

I do not want to be in meetings where inflamed egos parade. I am bothered by the envious, who seek to discredit the ones they admire, to usurp their places, coveting their seats, talents, achievements and luck.

“I do not have time for endless conversations, futile to discuss the lives of others who are not part of mine.

I do not have time to manage the sensitivities of people who, despite their chronological age, are immature. I cannot stand those struggling for power.

“People do not discuss content, only the labels.

My time has become too scarce to discuss labels,

I want the essence; my soul is in a hurry.

“With not many sweets left in the bowl I want to live close to humane, very humane people, who laugh at their own stumbles, and keep away from those turned smug and overconfident by their triumphs; away from those filled with self-importance; close to those who do not run away from their responsibilities, who defend human dignity and who only want to walk on the side of truth and honesty.

“The essential is what makes life worthwhile. I want to surround myself with people who know how to touch the hearts of people; people who the hard knocks of life taught to grow with softness in their soul.

“Yes …. I am in a hurry … to live with the intensity that only maturity can bring. I intend not to waste any part of the goodies I have left. I am sure they will taste better than most of the ones I’ve already eaten.

My goal is to arrive at the end satisfied and in peace with my loved ones and my conscience.

I hope that your goal is the same, because either way you will get there too.”