First of all Merry Christmas or Happy Whatever Holiday you are celebrating.
It may not look like it from the outside, but internally 2015 has been quite a wild ride for me, a year of faith exploration that has taken me in directions I did not expect. On this eve of the day we celebrate the birth of the founder of my faith, I sit down and take stock of where my faith has actually landed. More than ever I believe the birth of Jesus ushered in a new era for humankind, but my understanding on what that means has changed and expanded.
Of course this all this understanding has to do with reading. Books are always my lights through the dark forest of life. I think it started with reading a classic I’d been putting off for a while: A Confession by Leo Tolstoy. That was in March and that book affected my so profoundly that I can hardly believe it has been less than a year since I read it. Some people think it is just a description of Tolstoy’s personal mid-life crisis, but for me it cracked open the secret door in the wardrobe and sent me blinking into a vast new world. It led me to read several of Tolstoy’s subsequent works: Resurrection, his final novel, What I Believe, and The Kingdom of God is Within You. Each had an equally mind-expanding effect on me that I have barely begun to process.
Jesus did indeed teach us exactly how to usher in a world of peace and good will. The most concise summary of his teaching is the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew Chapter 5. His life and further teaching support what he told the crowd at that time. From his reading of the Sermon on the Mount Tolstoy (in What I Believe) derived five new commandments of Christ:
- “Be at peace with all men, and never consider your anger as just. Never look upon any man as worthless or a fool, neither call him such. Not only shall you never think yourself justified in your anger, but also you shall never consider your brother’s anger as causeless; and therefore, if there is one who is angry with you, even if it is without cause, go and be reconciled to him before praying. Endeavor to destroy all enmity between yourself and others, that their enmity may not grow and destroy you.” Matthew 5:21-26
- “Take no pleasure in concupiscence; let each man, if he is not a eunuch, have a wife and each woman a husband; let a man have but one wife, and woman one husband, and let them never under any pretext whatever dissolve their union.” Matthew 5:32
- “Never take an oath under any circumstances. Every oath is extorted from men for evil.” Matthew 5: 33-37
- “Never resist evil by violence; never return violence for violence. If anyone strikes your, bear it; it anyone takes away what is yours, let him have it; if anyone makes you labor, do so; if anyone wants to have what you consider to be your own, give it up to him.” Matthew 5: 38-42
- “Never consider men of another nation as your enemies; look upon all men as you do toward your fellow-country men; therefore you shall not kill those whom you call your enemies; love all and do good to all.” Matthew 5:43-48
So far the human race never actually tried to do what Jesus taught, at least on a large scale. Of course there were pockets of those who got it – especially in the early Christian era but also among certain groups in later history. Throughout history there have been individual who tried to live accordingly, some with success. These people have always stood out as extraordinary and were often recognized as saints.
Going to church and singing hymns of praise are good things. These activities preserve the great hope and pass the tradition to the next generation. They may even make us better people. But as long as we keep returning violence for violence, or (and here’s the real rub) keep participating in systems that operate based on fear and violence, peace on earth will remain a hope and a dream.
Following Christ’s teaching begins with the individual. You cannot make other people do it, at least not if you want to follow the spirit of Christ. Force of any kind cannot lead to peace on on earth or even peace in your own home. Each person who sees the truth must simply follow Christ’s teaching to the best of their ability.
We must not even judge the Christian Church for all its faults. Judgment of anyone other than ourselves is not part of the new way. Humankind has not been ready for the radical change in structure and mindset inherent in Christ’s revolutionary approach to living on earth. Maybe the time is now and or maybe we will struggle on in our fear and violence based systems for a few more centuries, but as time goes on it will become more and more apparent that humanity must recognize the way of peace or perish.
I have written several posts on different sections of What I Believe. You can find these posts in the main menu of this blog. This year I will be adding to these posts.