Walking with the Real Jesus

I reported about my initial experience of Israel in the Old City of Jerusalem. The sense of darkness I felt was short lived as our group went to other important sites. The very next place we went to was the Church of the Visitation which was a light and lovely church commemorating the visit Jesus’ mother Mary made to her cousin Elizabeth after she learned that she was pregnant. The garden outside the church there were two bronze statues of pregnant women facing one another celebrating the life growing in each of them and the friendship they had with one another. Inside the church was a painting of the two of them. It brought tears to my eyes thinking about the women in my life who have supported me during difficult times and celebrated with me my times of joy.

Other churches we visited were also places of light. They lifted my spirits as they drew our attention to one aspect of the life of Jesus after another. We followed Jesus life in a chronological way, moving from his early days as a baby born in Bethlehem and as a boy raised in Nazareth to the man baptized by his cousin John in the Jordan River and preaching out of his home base in Capernaum. Our scholars suggested that the Bethlehem stories are symbolic rather than historic, which support the readings I have done. While I found these places somewhat interesting, my interest really came alive when we went to Nazareth and then on through the rest of the trip. These were were real historic places where Jesus walked and preached his message.

Here are a few of the highlights:


We visited the place on the Jordan River where Jesus cousin John is said to have baptized Jesus.  The place was surrounded by structure intended to protect visitors who wanted to go down into the water as Jesus had done. It was very tastefully done maintaining the natural beauty of the place. Our instructor pointed out to us the transition this experience meant for Jesus, leaving behind one way of life for another:

  • His way of praying from the traditional ways of his people to an inner contemplative prayer.
  • His work of carpentry to preaching and shepherding the people of Israel.
  • His letting go of his vocation as a man with a family to one totally dedicated to his mission of preaching.
  • His shift from his earthy family to the new community of the members of the Kingdom of God on earth.

We heard that the symbol of the dove had a double meaning. Symbol of peace and of the Holy Spirit, yes, but also of sacrifice since the dove is often used as a sacrifice in the temple where it’s neck is broken and it is burnt as an offering. I thought about the peace makers throughout history who have been assassinated because of their work, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King are two examples. What is it about a peace testimony that is so vile in the eyes of the world that there are those who seek to kill them those who preach peace?


This is what I wrote in my journal about Nazareth:

“…my favorite place so far. Streets are narrow and cobbled, up and down, twisting. The cars coming around the corners totally surprised us and we had to walk single file and press up against the buildings. Churches are light and bright, well kept by Franciscans or other orders. The symbols are more cheerful and there is more contemporary art work than in the Greek Orthodox churches.

“We stopped to visit a mill in which there is a well believed to be the one that Mary, Jesus’ mother used when she went to get water for her family. This was one of three wells, we learned, that held the same claim. The owner of the mill was a delightful man with a great sense of humor, proud of his family heritage and of the mill that had been owned by generations of his family. He described his childhood with great color, playing under the bellies of the camels and running between the huge bags of imported spices.”

Along the streets were small cafes where men sat schmoozing about God-knows-what – religion? taxes? whether the fish are biting? It seemed so ordinary and I could easily imagine Jesus sitting among them, having his own opinions on those very topics.


I will save the visits to Bethsaida, Capernaum and Bethany for another day lest I get too lengthy in my writing. As our group moved away from Jerusalem into the territories of the Sea of Galilee my spirits were lifting out of the darkness where I started into a lightness that continues to color my portrait of Jesus.

Benevolent God/Malevolent God

I am reading a book by Neale Walsch, Tomorrow’s God. I have read a couple of his others Conversations with God 1 & 2. Walsch raises questions most of us have about God or at least about the teachings we have received about God. He does it in a conversational format. He asks his questions and puts the responses into God’s mouth, so to speak. I am perfectly okay with this method. The writers of the Bible do the same thing.

As a pacifist, I have reflected on the writings in the Bible that present a God of murder and war. Like Walsch, I came to the conclusion that the Bible’s presentation of God, at least in this violent depiction, is not a god I can believe in. So I simply reject it. Many would say I am taking theology into my own hands, creating god in my own image. So be it. I like my god better than their god.

Walsch challenges us to do just what I have done, to question what we have been taught. “…isn’t it time now for us to declare that the emperor has no clothes? When are we going to admit that we believe in a God of extraordinary contradictions, who we say loves and who we say kills, who we say creates and who we say destroys, who we say accepts and who we say rejects, who we say rewards and who we say punishes, who we say brings good and who we say visits evil upon us, who we say is the All in All and who we say is separate from everything, who we say is Everywhere Present and who we say is not in us”…or in those others.

Walsch has God responding to this: “These completely contradictory beliefs are called sacred and are placed in the scriptures of the world’s religions. The sum total of all the sacred scriptures of all the world’s largest exclusivist organized religions, combined into one could thus very well be entitled: Benevolent God/Malevolent God.

I used to hear it this way – when we talk about God as merciful and loving, we say God is Love. When we talk about God as demanding, exclusive, murderous, we say God is Just. Sounds like some kind of mental manipulation to me.

Walsh’s God says: “So long as you believe in a Two-Faced God, you will create ecstasy and terror side-by-side. You have imagined a God who is the epitome of both, and by telling yourself that you are created in the Image and Likeness of God, you have given yourself the moral authority to demonstrate both.”

I am at peace.




Then God said, “And now we will make human beings: They will be like us and resemble us.”

Geneses 1:28

“Then God took some soil from the ground and formed a human being out of it: he breathed his own life-giving breath into his nostrils and the human being began to live.”

Genesis 2:7


The search for Self
and the Search for God
are the same journey.

The discovery of the True Self
and of the One
Are the same.

For each one is
an extension of Divine Spirit,
the amount that God breathed in.

But one must accept that
To know the one portion of God
that is the true self
is the best a human being can do to know God.

Parenting and Image of God

Awkward!  A while back, someone gave me a short writing entitled “Why Is It so Important to Change Our Image of God?” I had the presence of mind to write the source on the bottom of the page: “Good Goats”. The writing was thought provoking and I imagined that I could find it on the internet and then paste and copy it for blog readers. When I searched the internet, however, I found that the piece is actually a chapter from the book, Good Goats: Healing Our Image of God by Dennis Linn, Sheila Fabricant Linn, and Matthew Linn. So much for short-cuts.

The excerpt was given to me by a person who is like-minded when it comes to our sense of God. Like me, he had received his image of God as a child in the Catholic Church and had to unwind himself from one belief about God in order to be open to another. The authors take this transition to another level in that they show a link between one’s perception of God and the way one lives in the world.

I have had two careers in my life, one as a coordinator of religious educator and the other as a parent educator. The former required me to have a degree in religious studies, the latter in child and family studies.  Even after I completed my formal education, I continued to read and, over time, I began to notice a definite link between what people believe about God and what they believe about parenting.

The Linns use the example of marriage. “The more a couple experiences God as a lover, the more likely they are to enjoy a wholesome, loving marriage (which) extends to all aspects of marriage including sexual fulfillment.” Citing a study done among those who choose celibate religious life (David Nygren and Miriam Ukeritis), they write, “The most caring were four times more likely to image God as a caring healer than their less caring peers.” They shared Andrew Greely’s finding that that the more we experience God as a lover, the more sensitive we are to social justice.

Continuing the discussion on social justice: “The Roman Catholic Bishops recently issued a pastoral on the economy which says that wealth or goods cannot be divided on the basis of what we merit through our work. Rather, they must be divided on the basis of what we need.” Then the link is made: “If we have a vengeful, punishing God who calculates on the basis of our work… we will probably choose an economic system that is also based on merit. We can easily say to those who have less, ‘To hell with you, we earned it.’” On the other hand, when one believes in a God who “gives generously free gifts to those working only an hour (Mt. 20:1-16), and even to unrepentant sinners solely because they need it, then (one is) likely to choose an economic system based less on merit and more on need.”

The third example of this human/divine link offered is that of capital punishment. “If we believe God gives up on people forever and does away with them by sentencing them to death in hell, then we can give up on some people forever and do away with such people by sentencing them to death through capital punishment. Or, I’d add, by dismissing or disowning them in one way or another.

The Linns don’t talk about parenting in their piece, but in my mind, the link between image of God and parenting is even more obvious. Those familiar with the Bible know that a large portion  presents God as a father figure and in the Old Testament story of his forming a people, we see that any actions contrary to his law are considered acts of rebellion worthy of severe punishment. There is more than a theoretical link when it comes to parenting. There are passages that directly admonish parents to be severe with their children and children are meant to accept such punishment and honor the parents who dole it out. Doesn’t it follow that a person faithful to a harsh God would want to emulate this God and follow God’s teachings in the scriptures? The opposite is true. Parents who are gentle and accepting of their children and are quick to forgive are more likely to believe in a loving, forgiving God.

My belief in the parenting/God link is not just based on my studies. I have learned a lot from the families that I encountered in my church work and from the parents I taught in parenting education classes. But my real conviction is gut level.  My husband and I were both raised believing in a God of judgment and retribution. While I did not use corporal punishment as a mother, I believed what I was taught – that children are bad and rebellious by nature. I saw my role as convincing them that they were such. This belief was reinforced when I left the Catholic Church for a time to join groups who believed in a literal interpretation of the Bible. It took a long time for me to change my beliefs about parenting, but it did change parallel to the change in my image of God. I suspect that if you were to ask each of my four children about the kind of mother I was, their responses would be quite different. They were not aware of the spiritual growth happening during those years.

I am done parenting children but I have been given the gift of many grandchildren. Their main caregivers are their parents, of course, but because my image of God has changed, I am present to them in a much different way. For me, changing my image of God was more dramatic than the word “important” shows. For me it as dramatic as is moving from death to life.

Patriarchy Talk

I am following a long discussion on Facebook about Patriarchy in families as supposedly taught in the bible. It is refreshing to see the light go on for folks who have lived in homes where the father was head of the home, wives submitted in all things, and children stayed home in obedience until marriages could be arranged. (That is probably an extreme of what I am reading.)

I have to say that it is my generation that has had the task of wiggling out of this way of being in relationship. The fact is that the biggest problems between my husband and I over the years have come because I have tried to exert my power where power was not welcome. Often these were situations where I was better informed or was more gifted than my husband. A whole genre of jokes have emerged, known as male-bashing, that have helped women to maintain a sense of humor when things were difficult.

I find the discussions interesting, but there is one part that disturbs me. The participants often defend  their rightness by quoting the Bible and it never sounds pretty. There is a passage in the Bible that likens the word of God to a sword (Eph. 6:17).  Sword indeed! I wish they would to look less at what someone else says their relationship should look like and open their eyes and see tell the truth about just how they are doing in their relationships. This is what my husband and I had to do. And the truth was, Patriarchy, no matter what color you paint it, was harmful to both of us.

Jesus’ Lost Years

The title of this blog is a reference to Jesus between the ages of about 13 and 30. Jesus was not lost, of course. It is just that we don’t have any written records that tell us what he was doing during that time. “Lost” might mean that there are records that have been lost. Not quite sure.

There are a few ideas floating around about Jesus’ life during his young adult years that I think have some merit. Some people believe that Jesus traveled to the east during his young adult years. A man named Nicholas Roerich traveled to India and Tibet and claims to have found ancient manuscripts that tell of a Saint Issa who studied in India around the time of Christ. That, plus oral traditions of the area, convinced him that Jesus had been there. Whether Jesus went there or not, scholars note the similarities between the teachings of Jesus and those of other religious teachings such as Hindi and Buddhist. I have noticed these similarities myself as I study other religions.

Some scholars note that Israel was a crossroads where people of many different beliefs traveled. Consider the story of the three wise men who are said to have visited the infant Jesus in Bethlehem. The New Testament doesn’t gloss over their religious belief that one can be guided by stars. In my thinking, Jesus would not have to leave Israel in order to encounter the religions of the east.

Jesus was a seeker. I understand this characteristic because I, too, am a seeker. I have an insatiable curiosity about things that sends me into ridiculous directions. I have read books most people would not consider reading. It is one reason I can find them so cheaply. I once paid one penny for a resource book that was probably worth $50 at one time. I envision a book seller just wanting to get rid of it.

I have gone places many Christians I know have not. The course I took on world religions in college included field trips to local places of worship for members of the religions we studied:  a Jewish mosque, a Buddhist temple, a Sikh prayer community (Muslim). I think that experience got me launched because it took reduced any fear I had of stepping into the unknown.

If I could rewrite parts of my life, I would have loved to travel to far corners of the earth where these religions had their birth. Somehow I don’t think that will happen, though one never knows. I still have a few years ahead, I think. I am waiting until Scotty can beam me up so I don’t have to sit in an airplane for hours on end.

Whether these stories of Jesus are true or not, I am quite sure he did not simply pound nails for the 17 years about which we have no written record (so far). We don’t have the writings Roerich claims to have found; we have only his word. So in the end, it is one’s guess. I agree with the scholars who see the similarities between Jesus’ teachings and those of the eastern teachers. There is nothing in the writings we do have to contradict the idea of his traveling. In fact, given what we know about his disciples’ travels after his death, I think it is quite likely.

I don’t know about you folks, but I find this fascinating. I don’t want to stir up too much interest, however, or I might see the books I buy on EBay skyrocket.

Sylvia Browne and Jesus

I am a little embarrassed to admit this. Someone gave me Sylvia Browne’s book The Mystical Life of Jesus.  It has been years since I read anything written by this self-proclaimed psychic. Maybe I have read two books, not sure. One I remember was about her traveling to heaven. I recall thinking, “If that is heaven, I sure don’t want to go there.”I am sure she described heaven according to what would appeal to her.

I am even more embarrassed to admit that I think I will finish the book, which Browne says she was asked to write. A part of me says I should be open to anyone’s interpretation of Jesus. Browne mentions scholars throughout the book, but she sure has left a lot of scholars off of her list. The “revelations” with which she expected to shock the world are somewhat commonly known today, albeit rejected by some bible-thumpers among us.

I want to say this: Sylvia Browne, as far as scholarship is concerned, is lazy. It is as though the request to write the book was an interruption in her busy schedule but because it was such an ego rush, she went ahead with it anyway. Browne has something few of us have. She has a spirit guide whose name is Francine who came into her body one day. I am not one to deny someone else’s spiritual experience. I have very respectable friends who believe that they can have communication with those who have died as well as angels. If I sense they are sincere, authentic people…and loving…I accept their claims until new information tells me otherwise. I will confess, I have had my own experiences that could be described using the language of angels.

But that is neither here nor there. Sylvia Browne, in writing her story of Jesus, deals lightly with scholars (very lightly) and the rest she attributes to Francine’s telling of the story. Francine told her, for example, that Jesus was of a wealthy class, not poor. I think he was of a class that today we would call “blue collar”, based on what I read of carpenters of the time and actual references in ancient scripts. Browne’s heaven’s streets are paved with gold (scriptural) and Jesus fit right into that world. There are many scriptural passages she says are simply not true and totally blames the patriarchal church for twisting words and conspiring to cover up the facts. This woman has a real chip on her shoulders.

As I study, I am coming to realize more and more the truth that Jesus came to preach the kingdom here and now. I could fill a pages with things he taught to make this point. Browne fits right in with all those evangelicals who look to the future to find heaven. She claims that it is not true that we have to believe a certain doctrine or repent of our sins in order to go to heaven. I sort of concur with her, though I would word it totally different. For me, sin stands in the way of seeing the kingdom already here. And sin continues to inhibit our expressing the love that characterizes kingdom people. And for me, Jesus shows me the way. He takes me by the hand, you might say.

The pages I am now reading are about the crucifixion. She has hinted at what she will reveal…I suspect it is that Jesus did not really die. There is actually some scholarly basis for this that I came across the other day in my studies – basis not for the fact that he didn’t die, but that there were writings attesting to the fact. These have been deemed to be fakes. Sylvia can talk to Francine about this. I suspect Francine will tell her – another conspiracy of the Catholic Church.

Yes, I will finish the book. I am almost done, anyway.

Poor Sylvia. No, poor followers of Sylvia. There is so much more to the message of Jesus that I am afraid you may never understand.