Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Broken Hearted Savior

Alone, adrift, together are we Slowly sinkin’ in a deep blue sea But we smile and we wave And we say, "I'm afraid…and I love you…and here we go…" --Roger Clyne & the Peacemakers, “Leaky Little Boat” For all the problems I had with Her, for all of the issues that came up, I’ve recently come to realize that there was one tiny little thing about Her that I never properly appreciated. Oh, wait, you remember Her, right? That person from my oft-buried past I keep saying I’m not going to write about again? Yeah, good. At least we’re on the same page. Anyway, there was one thing she simply could not understand about Christianity. Specifically, she didn’t know why Christians weren’t just default Communists. Now, I know this attitude would cause gasping, attacks of the vapors, and the immediate clutching of pearls among any number of Christians in America. I mean, isn’t Christianity supposed to be the thing that protected us from those horrible, godless Communists for all those years? Aren’t the Christians the ones on the front lines of the attacks against an actual, viable approach to health care? Where the hell could a Christian get the idea that we’re supposed to give up our hard earned stuff so that some lazy freeloader can have something too?
And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people and the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2:44-47)
Oh. Right. That. Of course, the part about how it was the believers helping themselves only means that Christians should help other Christians and the rest of the world can take a flying leap. Right?
And a lawyer stood up and put Him to the test, saying, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" And He said to him, "What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?" And he answered, "You shall love the lord your god with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself." And He said to him, "You have answered correctly; do this and you will live." But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" (Luke 10:26-29) This is the part where Jesus says only to help those who have also professed belief in Christianity, right? Jesus replied and said, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went away leaving him half dead. "And by chance a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. "Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him. On the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, 'Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you.' Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers' hands?" And he said, "The one who showed mercy toward him." Then Jesus said to him, "Go and do the same." (Luke 10:30-37)
Oh. Well, then. But, really, what’s a Samaritan? They couldn’t have been all bad, right? The concept of the Samaritan is a bit, shall we say, muddied. They were half-breed Jews who stayed in the general area of Israel following the Assyrian break-up of the Northern Kingdom and/or the Babylonian Captivity, depending on how much of that part of the Jewish Bible is accurate to reality. According to a book I apparently read and used as a source for my project on the Maccabean Revolt (that paper, it comes in handy…), the non-Jewish half came from Assyrian garrison forces. In the books of Ezra and Nehemiah after Cyrus the Great sent the Jews home from Babylon to rebuild the Temple the Samaritans were cast as the villains. Sanballat, a Samaritan king/warlord/head honcho was the main bad guy. He was assisted by a fellow named Tobias the Ammonite. Interestingly enough, during the period leading up to the Maccabean Revolt one of the villains who intrigued on the side of the Ptolemies was named Joseph the Tobiad. It’s believed that Tobias the Ammonite was the progenitor of the Tobiad Dynasty. While Joseph was screwing around with the Ptolemies the Samaritans were cutting deals with the Seleucids. And everyone was working against the Jews. Whether or not this actually happened is kind of a moot point. The fact is that this is the history of the Jewish people, so it would have been what they were working with. The reality for the Jews and Samaritans at the time of Jesus was that the Samaritans had their own most holy place and their own bastardized version of Judaism. They were something below unclean to the Jews. In 1942 four Christians started a remarkable community in Americus, Georgia called Koinonia Farm. It was a racially integrated community of people who held everything in common and attempted to emulate the community from Acts 2. But it did not ignore Jesus’s command to help everyone and see any and all as a neighbor. Since 1976 the Koinonia community has built nearly a quarter million houses all over the world and sold them to families who desperately need shelter at no profit and no interest. You might have heard of the organization they created: Habitat for Humanity. One of the founders of Koinonia, really the man who was and still is the community's guiding light, was a man named Clarence Jordan who wrote a modern treatment of the New Testament and placed it in the racially segregated South of the Civil Rights era. This is his take on the story of the Good Samaritan:
One day a teacher of an adult Bible class got up and tested him with this question: "Doctor, what does one do to be saved?" Jesus replied, "What does the Bible say? How do you interpret it?" The teacher answered, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your physical strength and with all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself." "That is correct," answered Jesus. "Make a habit of this and you'll be saved." But the Sunday school teacher, trying to save face, asked, "But ... er ... but ... just who is my neighbor?" Then Jesus laid into him and said, "A man was going from Atlanta to Albany and some gangsters held him up. When they had robbed him of his wallet and brand-new suit, they beat him up and drove off in his car, leaving him unconscious on the shoulder of the highway. "Now it just so happened that a white preacher was going down that same highway. 'When he saw the fellow, he stepped on the gas and went scooting by. "Shortly afterwards a white Gospel song leader came down the road, and when he saw what had happened, he too stepped on the gas. "Then a black man traveling that way came upon the fellow, and what he saw moved him to tears. He stopped and bound up his wounds as best he could, drew some water from his water-jug to wipe away the blood and then laid him on the back seat. He drove on into Albany and took him to the hospital and said to the nurse, 'You all take good care of this white man I found on the highway. Here's the only two dollars I got, but you all keep account of what he owes, and if he can't pay it, I'll settle up with you when I make a pay-day.' "Now if you had been the man held up by the gangsters, which of these three-the white preacher, the white song leader, or the black man - would you consider to have been your neighbor?" The teacher of the adult Bible class said, "Why, of course, the nig - I mean, er ... well, er ... the one who treated me kindly." Jesus said, "Well, then, you get going and start living like that!"
For the record, Koinonia is still around today. During the ‘90s they experimented with a corporate structure. However they are now returning to their roots which are, well, communist… It’s really quite the place. Imagine, for a moment, what America as a “Christian nation” would look like if the people shouting loudest about the idea were pointing to a community that integrated the races in the deep South in the 1940s in the manner of the Acts 2 community instead of hollering about the black man who can’t possibly be a real Christian or a real American. Imagine if the people calling for a “Christian nation” were concerned with getting homes for the homeless instead of clutching their pearls and worrying about the message that would go to freeloaders and welfare queens. Imagine an America where those who want a Christian nation saw it as their duty to give what they had to make sure the sick and injured were properly cared for instead of saying, “Fuck you, you can rot.” Why aren’t more American Christians like Clarence Jordan? Why aren’t more American Christians looking to Acts 2 and Koinonia for inspiration? Or, more to the point, why are so many American Christians such massive, gaping assholes? I don’t know that it’s a question I can answer. But it’s one worth a moment’s meditation.


apthorpe said...

'Bible Communism' is nothing new; just look at the history of religious movements in the early and mid-1800s in New York state. Neither the Shakers nor the Oneida colonies could be called lazy. Granted, both utopian movements eventually fell apart, mostly because sex (or lack thereof) and communism don't mix - both sects had some pretty wacky ideas where soft lighting and Barry White were concerned.

My wife is fascinated by the utopian communities of the "burned-over district" as the region was called. What I didn't realize was the impact of the Erie Canal as an information conduit, a sort of 1840s Internet. Not surprising, but I hadn't thought of the Erie Canal since high school.

As starry-eyed as the Utopians were, they should get credit for creativity and living their faith. By comparison, modern US Christians are lazy, insular, hateful, and utterly uncreative.

PersonalFailure said...

That was the Jesus I loved when I was young.

I have come to realize that I never saw Jesus as a god-made-flesh. It's a weird concept to begin with: god (omnipotent, without beginning or end) made flesh (mortal, weak).

The Jesus of my youth was a man, a man of great and gentle ideas, ideas that made my soul soar: kindness, generosity, understanding, peace. To me, the Christian Right in this country will always be the heretics, the blasphemers, the idolators, the very bad people Jesus wouldn't have liked at all.

Every time some fundy idiot threatens me with hell, I smile inside and think, "Well, if there is a hell, my dear, I will certainly see you there."

Leigh said...

I had an interesting conversation a while ago about why pagans tend to live at the poverty level. Appantly it's because we give things away. We donate heavily in time and money to charities (Habitat is actually getting big in the pagan community because we have just realized that they will accept people other than Christians into their program). We open our homes to people who need help. We give food and clothes to people who need it more than we do. Why? Because it's the right thing to do. The fact that people don't get this amazes me. I'd rather be poor and know I have done good in the world than be rich and be a bastard.

bluefrog said...

Oh, the Cotton Patch Gospel! It's too bad Clarence Jordan didn't finish all of the volumes he intended before he died in 1969. They're still fantastic--maybe a little dated (thank whatever God might be,and a lot of brave people, civil rights have advanced since then), but spot on.

It's good to know that Koinonia Farm is getting back to its early Christian roots. Many Christians, at least the RTC ones, have forgotten them. How can they read the Bible and then ignore what Jesus told them to do?