Monday, May 23, 2011

Putting Christ Back Into Xian

In what must have been my first stage performance, I recited a four-line poem about putting Christ back into Xmas. This felt important to me as a first grader in my one-room school in rural Kansas, both because I got to take part in my first real Christmas program and because growing up the way I did I couldn’t imagine leaving Jesus out of anything.

Today I'm even more concerned about how little of Christ or of his teachings are typically associated with concepts like a “Christian world view,” “Christian values” or our “Judeo-Christian heritage.” We may cite leaders like Moses, Joshua, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther or Daniel to support a kind of Christian nationalism, for example, but fail to even mention Jesus in the process.

I recently had an email conversation with a friend of mine in which I contrasted Jesus’ teachings about wealth with the views held by the late philosopher and novelist Ayn Rand. My friend had read “Atlas Shrugged” and knew Rand was adamantly anti-religious and believed that altruism, not the love of money, was actually the root of all evil (she was fond of wearing a pin in the form a of a dollar sign). Nevertheless he defended many of her positions as consistent with a Christian world view, based on the following:

1. The Bible teaches that those who will not work should not eat.

2. Likewise, the Bible states that those who will not support their families are “worse than infidels.” 

3. Also, the tenth commandment clearly states that we are not to covet what belongs to others, a mindset that leads to “a sense of ‘entitlement’ to what others have earned.

 4. Above all, a Christian world view teaches that charity should be totally voluntary – and only for widows, orphans, and others who are “poor through no fault of their own.”

There is much here one can agree with, but none of these particular points happens to be based on the actual teachings of Christ. This in spite of the fact that Jesus had more to say about wealth and about giving generously to the poor than almost any other single topic.

I’m not one of those "red-letter-Christians" who pays little attention to anything but the actual sayings of Jesus in the Bible. But dare we opt for a "white-out-Christian" perspective, in which many of his teachings are seemingly blanked out or ignored?

For example:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth.

You cannot serve both God and money.

If you want to be perfect, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you wil have treasure in heaven.

It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me...'

Of course many of us may find these teachings hard to accept and even harder to follow. But I don’t believe Jesus intended them to be "hard sayings." One of the gospel writers notes that when Jesus confronted the “rich young ruler” he loved him. He knew he would be liberated and blessed by  obeying his command to share his wealth with the poor, and then to enjoy vast holdings in the “treasury of heaven.”

This is the real “prosperity gospel” Jesus wants celebrated and shouted from the housetops.
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