Keeping the Baby but Changing the Bath Water

Most of you have probably heard the old expression, “throwing the baby out with the bath water.” It’s often an apt phrase, and many a reform movement in many a field of human endeavor has done precisely that – managed to eliminate the good while attempting to get rid of the obsolete. In fact, every now and then, it seems like a reform movement only manages to get rid of the good while keeping the obsolete. More often, the latest and greatest revision that is sure to revolutionize a field of endeavor turns out to be something of a fizzle that never catches on completely. Baseball fans will remember the advent of the designated hitter that was to be tried in the American League and eventually implemented in the National League, too. We’re still waiting for that day, and many of us hope that day never comes. Fashion trends are an even better example. Who among us over fifty years old didn’t believe that the leisure suit was going to revolutionize men’s fashion forever in the 1970s? What about the Yugo GV automobile, imported from then Yugoslavia in the 1980s? I was the proud owner of a Yugo GV for the non-negotiable sticker price of $3995. The GV stood for “Good Value,” which the Yugo clearly wasn’t and the car was only imported for a few years.

Christianity is in the midst of a great reform, and Christ Enlight is a part of that reform. That having been said, we aren’t prepared to throw Jesus out with the bath water. We are merely saying that we haven’t understood Jesus, or the Christ, correctly and any claim of religious supremacy – regardless of who is making the claim – is simply wrong. I still consider myself very much a Christian, even as I also appreciate the teachings of the Buddha, and Krishna, and Lao Tzu, and a host of others. When, as Presiding Bishop of The Universal Anglican Church, I have the privilege of consecrating two new bishops and ordaining several new priests – and, who knows, maybe a deacon – this Fall at our General Assembly I will be ordaining Christian clergy, even as our understanding of what it means to be a Christian clergy person may be very different from the mainline, institutional definition.

Theologian Jaroslav Pelikan said that there was a difference between tradition and traditionalism. Tradition, he said, is the living faith of dead people. Traditionalism, he said, is the dead faith of living people. I am a big believer in tradition, but for it to be alive it has to grow and evolve. For tradition to be alive we have to be open to new understandings of who Jesus was and who the Christ is and was. I would hasten to add that the latter is much more important than the former, and that all of the effort of some scholars to define the historical Jesus has entirely missed the point that it is the Christ that impacted people since long before Jesus was born and will continue to impact people long after you and I have transitioned. When we start insisting that the understandings of yesterday are the only permissible understandings for today and all of eternity we move firmly into the camp of traditionalism – the dead faith of the living!

So I am a Christian not in the sense of a sinner’s prayer praying traditionalist, but in the sense of one who has been – and continues to be – impacted by the Christ. I see that Christ having been incarnate repeatedly throughout history, some times more visibly than others. It doesn’t make me disloyal to the Christ (the Anointed One) to say that I believe that Krishna was a Christ, Moses was a Christ, Buddha was a Christ, Elijah was a Christ, St. Theresa was a Christ, St. Catherine of Siena was a Christ, Muhammad was a Christ, Dorothy Day was a Christ, Mother Theresa was a Christ, Dr. King was a Christ, and many more. Mind you, I am not saying they were Jesus the man, but I am saying that the same Spirit which lived in Jesus lived in these great men and women as well. Authentic Christianity has nothing to do with what the late George Carlin called arguing about whose God has a bigger penis, and everything to do with seeking the divinity that dwells within each of us waiting to be discovered and uncovered!

It is only by being open to new discoveries and new understandings that we can hope to have a faith and a spirituality that is honest and able to speak to our day. The July 2011 issue of National Geographic has a fascinating article about a religious Temple that archaeologists have uncovered that may pre-date humanity living in cities or towns. The implications of this discovery are staggering in that this Temple pre-dates the pyramids, the development of the wheel, and the ability to forge metal, but has smooth stone pillars with carvings of animals on then. How does one accomplish that without metal? I mention that article because it is evidence of how motivated human beings are by their spirituality, and how much potential people that are so motivated have to achieve what would seem otherwise impossible. I find my spirituality equally motivating and equally important.

There will always be those who will call people on the leading edge of reform movements heretics. If you want to call me a heretic, that’s fine with me – I am far too busy communicating the truths that I have discovered through Spirit to be worried about people calling me names. I understand the fear that accompanies letting go of our usual way of looking at things and so entertaining change, but having looked around the corner into the future I simply cannot turn back. What I’ve seen around that corner is the Christ waving me on. I’m taking Jesus with me, too.

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