As a spiritual leader/guide/pastor, I think it’s my duty to stir the pot of truth. That’s what gets prophets in trouble—tarred and feathered, even crucified. So far, I’m still alive, have managed to stay free of feathers, and I’m still in the same place after ten years. I know I’m blessed. So why do I keep stirring the pot? I can’t NOT stir the pot. If I didn’t see things different than what they appear to others, I’d still be selling medical equipment, or something else.
I stirred it again last night at the Ash Wednesday service. I followed tradition that says this is a special moment in which we are reminded of our mortality by receiving a cross of ashes on our foreheads and hear the words, “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” It’s an important practice that stirs us from the lethargy of thinking we’ll live forever. Pots that aren’t stirred end up with burnt crap at the bottom that is almost impossible to remove.
One of my clergy colleagues (Michael Coffey) expressed his feelings about Ash Wednesday in a poetic way on his blog that’s worthy of your time. It’s called Ash Thursday.
So how did I stir the pot of faith? For four months I’ve been stirring/agitating the concept of heaven in my weekly sermons. I started it in my book, In Living Color: The Lord’s Prayer when I pointed out that the book of Genesis (1:6-8) states that heaven is the atmosphere around the earth. It really does say that. But few people believe it even though it’s in the Bible. I’ve been using Jesus’s parables about the kingdom of heaven, and his teaching that the kingdom of heaven is at hand (now) to verify the claim in Genesis.
As a side note, I’m going to collect all those things and turn it into my third book of the In Living Color series. I’m not sure if I’ve managed to convince anyone that the kingdom of heaven is at hand. But I keep stirring.
And I turned up the heat on the stove last night. I asked the question: if the Bible says that the space (firmament) between the waters above the firmament and the waters below the firmament (between the clouds and the oceans) is heaven, then …… where are you going to go when you die? When your body returns to dust (earth), where will your spirit/soul go? To heaven?
There’s one major problem with asking that question. I’m not sure I have an acceptable answer. Not having the answer in itself might get me in trouble. People want to be settled; they want answers, even if those answers are wrong. There’s security in knowing the truth, any truth, even if it’s fairy tale truth. And when you mess with their truths, the pot risks boiling over.
But settled pots result in burned bottoms and a good cook keeps stirring. If you don’t understand the Truth for yourself, your faith is placed in what others have accepted as truth. So I keep stirring.
The season of Lent starts with thinking about Jesus being led into the wilderness by the Spirit. That’s the traditional interpretation of the Greek. Who can imagine it any other way? Except that every translator is an interpreter, and every interpreter translates according to his/her theological understanding, whether it’s right or not quite right.
I happen to think there’s another way of understanding it. My translation of the text looks like this: “and Jesus was led into a desolate place of spirit.” He had just gone through a spiritual high, baptized by John in the Jordan River and was filled with a reverend spirit. But what happens when you stand on the mountaintop of spiritual euphoria and you think you know all things? You run into a wilderness of doubt, struggle - how does this fit and apply? Some things don’t make sense.
You face the devil, and Satan. Who’s that? These images may not be external entities working on you. They may be those hard to define voices within. They are the voices of tradition, of the world, of life experience that have convinced you of truths that may or may not be real. It’s okay, you don’t have to believe this. You can blame the Devil for making me think it. My point is that Jesus’s temptation in the wilderness could have been an internal struggle with all the truths he’d been taught.
What did Jesus have to face that was messing with the truths he had been given by his faith tradition? The Devil told him to turn stones into food. What did that mean? Is this a physical thing? Or could it be metaphorical? Stones might represent tablets of stone on which the commandments were written. “Make rules and commands be what fills your spirit.” Jesus knew better. “Man cannot live by bread/food alone but by every spoken word that comes from the mouth of God.” You’ll be filled and satisfied when you listen to your heart rather than the rules of someone else. God has written his instructions on your heart.
Then the Devil took Jesus to a high mountain and showed Jesus the worldly things he would gain if he’d listen to what’s been taught him by the world, religious and secular. “Follow the rules of men (most of which are found in holy books), be good, work hard, and God will bless you.” There’s a lot of migrant workers who work hard and are good people, but have they inherited the kingdoms of the world?
Jesus said to the internal adversary/opponent (that’s what the Greek word satan means), “Pay homage/honor to God – the Holy One in your heart, and serve that voice only.”
Then the Devil took Jesus to the pinnacle of the primary religious structure, and said, “Jump off – leave your religion – God won’t let you get hurt.” Jesus was self-assured enough to say, “No, that’s not the answer that will fill my spirit. I’m not going to run away. It’s more likely you can change a structure when you are part of it rather than leave it and think you can change it from the outside.”
Maybe Jesus’s truths had been stirred by Isaiah (whom he quotes five verses later). Maybe the desolation of spirit (i.e., wilderness) came because his longheld truths were being disrupted. He would have to contradict Moses. He would have to stir the pot of tradition and mess with the truth people had been accepting for a thousand years. The kingdom of heaven is now? The poor are blessed by God, not being punished? Blessed are the peacemakers? Blessed are you when religious traditionalists try to destroy you? And was Jesus trying to resolve internally whether or not he was up to the task of turning the religious world upside down?
When you mess with past truths, you can be tarred and feathered, or even crucified. But when you follow the Truth in your heart, nothing can destroy you. You will rise again.