* to encourage a reasoned awareness of how our beliefs impact the way we interact with the world around us
* to foster intelligent and open dialogue
* to inspire a sense of spirituality that has real meaning in day-to-day life

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

John 14: Within You

The second half of John 14 continues the message of comfort, encouragement, and empowerment. In the story, Jesus is aware of his imminent arrest and death sentence. The disciples seem not to have caught on in the narrative, so some of the words of this passage seem intended to prepare them for the events that are about to unfold. Of course, these words were written at least 60 years after the events they describe would have taken place, so the authors must have had a different reason for writing them down. Maybe it was just to tell the story in a way that had a clear dramatic arc.

We see evidence in this passage of the superstitions of the time, but underneath much of the language here, there is a message of personal empowerment. This is primarily in the bits about the Advocate or Holy Spirit. There are also a few turns of phrase here that we might consider coercive. "If you love me, you will...," is a hallmark of an anxious communicator trying not to sound anxious. We might graciously reinterpret those sentences into a clearer definition of what the authors mean by "love." Although it is a wonderfully concise way of saying a great many things, love is also a rather vague word that is subject to interpretation (or misinterpretation). Thus, we might replace it in this context with something more precise, such as, "If you trust the merits of what I have taught you and how you have seen me engage in life, you will follow my example."

The audience in the narrative have traveled with the Exemplar, they have seen him engaging authentically in living with integrity to his deep guiding principles (which were in alignment with the stated guiding principles of at least some expressions of first-century Judaism), and they have heard him explain to them how they might do the same. Still, they consider him to be uniquely qualified to live as he lives, and they are content to be less than he -- less capable, less aware, less human. The narrative is about to take a nasty turn, and the Exemplar is going to be killed for living with integrity to his principles, because this is a scary thing to people who value quiet compliance over bold authenticity. He takes these final moments with his friends to prompt them to see their own ability to live intentionally and with integrity.

The reader already knows the story, presumably. The Jesus character dies, reminding everyone reading that it can be dangerous to live according to clearly defined, deep guiding principles, even though it is the most rewarding way to engage in the fragile art of living. Then, the authors bring the hero back to life, which undercuts the very core of their message. With this supernatural act as part of the narrative, the Jesus character is turned into something beyond what any person can hope to be. Instead of feeling empowered to engage in this life fully, many readers believe themselves to be weak and incapable of doing anything good on their own. Instead of following an example of how to live with integrity, many readers spend their time waiting for a next life that they think has been promised to them. I guess it's a good thing the dead can't be disappointed.

Abundant examples among twenty-first century believers demonstrate the tendency of the overall narrative to convince people that they are weak, broken, incapable, and even worthless. Every day, people express their conviction that they need a supernatural's help to make basic moral and ethical decisions. How can such a person even consider being fully alive with authenticity and integrity? This depiction of humanity as weak, worthless, and incapable is not only a useless and lazy image, it isn't even an accurate impression of what passages like John 14 are intended to express.

The point of this part of the narrative is for the Jesus character to express the capability and power of human individuals to live fully. The promise given, to the disciples in the story and presumably to the reader as well, is that whatever you think of as divinity is within you. There is no reason for anxiety, because you already know how to be intentional. You already know how to be honest, even when it is challenging. You already know how to live with integrity to your deep values. The promised Advocate "abides in you, and will be in you." This is different language for what we might call a deepest, most noble self -- the very human qualities of truth, beauty, and creativity that help us define our principles and allow them to guide our decisions. Human beings are not weak and incapable; they have within them all that they need to live morally, ethically, and purposefully. You have within you all that you need to live morally, ethically, and purposefully.

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"If you really believe that the way of being I've demonstrated to you is the best way to live, take this business about loving one another seriously. You have access to your deepest, most noble self just as I have access to my deepest, most noble self. Pay attention to your deepest values and let them guide you, and you won't be disappointed. Other people are going to think that this is all wrong. They don't understand things that you now know to be true about how to live fully. You aren't responsible for their understanding. You're responsible for your own integrity.

"I'm not going to be here much longer, and yet you will keep seeing things that remind you of me in the world. When you see love and kindness and compassion, you'll be reminded of me. When you see justice and equity being carried out, you'll be reminded of me. When you see people paying attention to their deepest values and living with authenticity and integrity, you'll be reminded of me. I'm not really going anywhere when you look at it like that. And if you live in a way that reflects your deepest, most noble self, other people are going to see my hopes alive in you -- they will see what I care about most, made manifest in your life.

"I say this now, while I'm with you, but you don't really need me to tell you this. You know what your deep values are. Trust them. Trust yourselves. Don't be worried about what other people think you ought to do. Don't be afraid of what will happen. Just live with integrity, and place love as the cornerstone of your life. If you live into a best possible version of yourself, you can be at peace with whatever the outcome is. If you don't yet know the principles that you want to guide your decisions, you can discover them. You are responsible for your lives. You are capable. You are powerful. You are insightful. You don't need someone else to tell you what to do. You just needed someone to show you that it's possible."

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If you want to live fully, you have to connect with yourself. Whatever else you choose to believe in, you have to believe in yourself. This is not to say that you form a set of unrealistic expectations about what you can do. Belief in and of itself will not change reality. Every person has limitations. But if you want to fully inhabit yourself, you have to recognize that you are a capable, whole, powerful, insightful, beautiful, creative human being with inherent worth and dignity. You may have a few things to learn or figure out, and you will definitely make mistakes along the way. The bottom line, though, is that your vision of a best possible version of yourself is worth living into -- that you are worth believing in.

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