Monday, October 6, 2008

Part II: Gomes’ The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus, my past and future

The last entry about the Presbyterian Church Sunday school of my youth was preamble to Gomes’ “Scandalous Gospel,” because that book brought so many wonderful memories flooding back. I was fourteen in 1958, so I was receiving religious instruction during a period of perhaps enforced American innocence, and a time when the liberal church was still in the ascendancy. JFK was yet to be elected much less assassinated. Martin Luther King was beginning to cause a stir, and McCarthyism was a thing of the past. Hope was palpable. It was in the air - and our church was teaching us to breath that air. That religious instruction is the reason I am a liberal Democrat today.

Last week I bought Gomes’ book because of the title. I foolishly wondered how the Gospel could be so outrageous. I should have known better, and reading The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus made me feel as though I had come home. For instance on page 79 Gomes writes the following.

“The love of God is not just a sentimental obligation but the incorporation of a worldview that we respond to God as God acts toward us. To be created in God’s image – a view from Hebrew scripture that is reiterated in the Gospels – is to realize that we have been made worthy by one who is worthy. There is something of the divine, of God, in everyone of us” (Gomes, p. 79)

As I read that statement, it was as though I had been transported back in time to that Sunday school classroom. I realized that that classroom and the religious training I received there has been at the center of my life ever since. My belief in that scandalous Gospel has allowed me to do things I might not have done otherwise. It is the reason I do volunteer work. It is the reason I work with all my heart and mind not to be prejudiced against any kind of human being or for that matter to classify human beings as to type. It is the reason I have tried to give a decent percentage of my salary away to charity (not institutionalized religion) each year of my adult life. It is the reason I have pursued my ability as a teacher and talent as an artist (though not always successfully). The alternative would have been to ignore an accidental but fortuitous piece of God that dwells within. It is the reason I took on extra activities in career and life that at times threatened my health. Jesus’ teaching is the reason that I am not defenseless when faced by those who would do harm to me, including those who use their religion as a tool against me. When I have been selfless, generous, kind, and caring toward others than my family and closest friends it is in large part because of those Sunday School classes.

No, I don’t believe I’m some kind of saint. I’m a BIG TIME sinner, and I know it. However, God loves me anyway. And I do pick myself up every time I fall, and promise once again to try to do better. In fact, I’ve gotten rather good at forgiving myself because the world kicks me often enough for sins I have and haven’t committed.

Strangely enough all of this is the main reason that I believe this election year to be extremely important. It is increasingly apparent to everyone that the nation has arrived at a crossroad. Each of us must decide not only for which candidate to vote, but also each of us must decide whether to continue down the well-trodden road paved with greed, fear and hate of the past 8 years. Or do we decide to turn down the poorly paved but well marked alternative road and reaffirm the lessons learned at parents knee and our places of worship. Do we choose the road less traveled in which Jesus’ very real teaching of love and inclusion is applied to the ordinary world in which we live? Can we accept that practitioners of the world’s other great religions might travel alternate routes to the same destination? Can we create hope and change? Can we make a human planet in which we perceive the world as God’s loved creation? Can we each begin to expect all of us to demonstrate love for one another no matter what race, ethnicity, creed, religion, sex or sexual preference? Dare I hope for such a thing?

Gomes, Peter J., The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus: What’s so Good About the Good News? Harper Collins Publishers (New York) 2007.

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