Jesus in the Real World? Part Two: Jesus de Montreal

Wednesday, 2 May 2012 06:10 by sao001

Jesus de Montreal is another metafictional portrayal of the life and teachings of Jesus. However, this portrayal of Jesus is inexplicably connected to this world and the present moment. This is barely a story about who Jesus himself really was but it is a story about people who find something in the story of Jesus that is similar to their own stories. While not necessarily outcasts, at first, this group of people were average and stuck in the ordinary pointlessness of their lives. Daniel Coloumbe, our apparent modern day Jesus, is a reticent but charismatic figure who elevates these average people into the public spotlight. These modern bohemians fishing for a decent job suddenly put on a play that brings a crowd's attention to their lives portaying the life and times of Jesus.

While in the beginning these people are able to disconnect and walk away from their characters, as the movie contines the characters are becoming more involved in the story and are unable to participate in the reality of their modern world and their modern lives. One example is the woman, who plays "Mary Magdalene", becoming unwilling to sell her body as she has before and Daniel trashing her commercial audition set just as Jesus threw the money changers from the temple. These people become unable to exist without the show. 

One of the larger concepts, so I think, this movie tries to portray is a dichotomy of hope. There is the hope that the church offers and the hope that Daniel seems to offer to his fellow actors. The priest sees humanity as full of broken people. What these broken people want more than anything in the world--is comfort. They are not seeking for truth or for eternity. They want to come to church on Sunday morning and walk away knowing that their sins are forgiven. That is Christianity. That is hope. 

Daniel, on the other hand, brings to life a revolutionary Jesus who charges for truth. Just as the church brings in thousands of parishoners throughout a service, Daniel's play brings a crowd as well. All of these people are searching for a portrayal of Jesus--but are they all searching for hope? Are they searching for truth? Are they just looking for another show to take them away from the world for awhile? 

Honestly, I think that Jesus would certainly question the theatricality of both this presentation and the aforementioned Jesus Christ Superstar. The advent of Christianity was the appearence of a personal God. Neither of these Jesus' are terribly personal. They are surrounded by people, they seem to have friends and arguably appear to have romantic relationships as well; but both Jesus' feel so distant and untouchable to me.

I think that the best portrayal of Jesus is real people who are found living out their faith in whatever world they are participating in. Both of these movies portray a select group of people putting on an elaborate show. They are all disengaged from real people and real problems. None of these actors are doing real things to help real people find Jesus. While I believe that Jesus functions however one is in need of him, I also know that those who do know him need to share him with those who do not. Christians need to place themselves where they can be seen just being in a real and personal communion with God. These Christians portrayals are on a stage, on a show, not a sacred space.

Arguably, and controversially, I think that Judas and the priest may be there "hereos" of these stories. I encourage you to watch these films and experience for yourself the role reversal that I felt. These are men who find themselves asking "What do the people need" and "How can I give that to them".  

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Jesus in the Real World? Part One: Jesus Christ Superstar

Monday, 30 April 2012 23:12 by sao001

For my Search for Jesus class, we are developing a thesis based upon how Jesus takes part in, is developed by, and undeniably changed by his cultural situation. While we were assigned textbooks and ficitional literature to read, we were also assigned two films that portray Jesus in a relatable culturual context. While relatable, we must also ask how authentic are these portrayls of Jesus?

In the film, Jesus Christ Superstar, we--the audience--are immediately confronted with the literary device of metaficition. That is, we are confronted with the story of Jesus being told as a story within a story. The first scene envisions a bus full of people and a jubilant attitude that seem out of place in that vast arid expanse of on site filming in the Israeli desert. The modern garb and transporation are a glaring testament to the fact that this is not real. The time is now and not first century Palestine. These men and women are counterculture hippies and not revolutionary 1st century untouchables/outcasts. 

Yet, there is one figure that the audience does not see as a distant traveler departing the profane reality of the bus--Jesus. While we can identify the faces of the soon to be Judas, Mary, Peter, Herod, and Pilate, we cannot identify the face of Jesus among the crowd. Does this mean that Jesus is absent from the story outside of the story? Or is Jesus greater than this one story being told?

(Because I am who I am, I am immediately drawn to Eliadean concepts of sacred and profane.

For now, I see this as Jesus not being a part of an elaborate act that the rest of these men and women are putting on. This is a show. These people are actors. This story is not the real story. Therefore Jesus cannot be found entering with the other actors because he is more real than they are. Jesus is sacred We cannot find Jesus in the crowd because of his realness in opposition to the profanity of the crowd putting on a play in the desert that just happens to be about Jesus arriving on the bus, they would know that he was not really Jesus and that this was not the real life and ministry of Jesus. However, because Jesus does not arrive on the bus with the others, he is separate from them he is sacred and he is real (or so the movie would have us believe).

All of this is quite Eliadean.

My final Eliadean construct...may be slightly in opposition to what I've said before. I can see another way in which to view the movie and it's portrayl of Jesus.

In the metaficiton sense, there is a story within a story, an overwhelming number of smaller stories that in turn create the larger story we refer to as "history". Eliade's methodology was very focused on myth and a participation of Sacred Time and History.

The act of participating in ritual is not confined to the present moment. For Eliade, sacred time is reversible. To participate in a ritual, according to Eliade, is to participate in the original time that the ritual itself existed in. Throughout the movie I could see how these men and women were no longer counterculture flower children of the 60s/70s, but really were struggling 1st Century Jews. To be an actor and to play a role, one does become a part of the story that one is telling. The willing suspension of disbelief is one of the greatest theatrical techniques for both the actors and the audience. These men and women really attempt to participate in a semi-authentic retelling. The present moment, however, is never fully dispeled and we see the traces of it in costume and props that the modern is never fully escaped. Of course, Eliade recognizes historical context so maybe it isn't a question of dispelling all modernity as much as recapturing the reality of the archaic ritual and "religion".

In the end, just as the players arrived on a bus, they must depart on the bus. They return, clothed in modernity, and leave the arid desert behind. Again, the face of Jesus is absent from the crowd. Just as Jesus did not come from the world or from the confines of time; Jesus does not return to the world. Christ is in the world and his story is a part of our story but not of our world. Jesus is sacred and more real than the one story told by this group of players. 

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Gender Construction

Thursday, 19 April 2012 17:59 by sao001

Honestly, tackling this article in my "Method and Theory" class was a challenge I was not expecting. The theme was hard for me to follow and grasp. I was confronted with the huge undertaking of explaining how I would construct gender. 

The beginning of the article entitled, "Gender", by Daniel Boyarin seems to postulate the sex and gender are not social sexual constructs but instead are socioeconomic necessities. Male and female are categories that lend themselves to creating a society that can self-populate through the means of sexual reproduction. The difference in sex is needed to create the desire necessary to partake in reproductive activities and therefore establish a population that can be divided into a class system. From the creation of a population that can be divided into class systems, then comes the need for social constructions reliant upon gender divisions.

I have never contemplated that gender and sex are constructs of a socioeconomic need but now that the article presents the question I understand the viability of such a theory. In other times and other cultures, unlike modern day oversexualized America or the established sex tourism of some European nations, where sex was merely tolerated as a way in which a civilization survived. Dynasties were carried on by the birth of male children who would be molded into productive elements of society. Sex was a duty shared by men and women. Men made sure that their bloodline continued and women were shaped to be subservient broodmares in which humanity continued.

Gender distinctions regarding the nature of sex ensure that successive generations continue and that society and civilization do not die out. Male and female are constructs created to ensure that there will always be a new generation to continue the work of the past generation. That human ingenuity is constantly replendished by the addition of productive members to the population. Male and male or female and and female cannot ensure the survival of the physical society. These constructs are also unable to add to the productive population of people.

On page 118 of the article, the reader is asked to contemplate whether there "has ever been...a culture within which gender did not operate in this way to produce so-called natural sex"? While it is hard to identify anything existing in a pure state, I do believe that there are some examples of communities that create disturbances in the role of gender construction for the sake of reproduction. 

First of all, the article sets forth that the original creation of "human" by God was an androgynous character that possesed neither the male nor female construct but a male-femaleness that transcended body gender. According to the article, which cites Philo, by analyzing the two different accounts of creation we see that "the first Adam is an entirely spiritual being" while the second Adam was a physical being dependant upon sexual distinction. However the hierarchy insists that the first story take precedence in analyzing the origins of man and as such shows that in the original state "human" is not defined by natural sex because there is no such thing as a natural sex. 

"Sex" and '"gender" are direct consequences, instead, of falleness. It is only in being seperated from the purely spiritual state that humanity is forced, as the article seems to portray, into the "natural sex" and "gender" states of being. This argument continues, so it seems, into the early Christian mindset as the article cites the letters of Paul and their stance on marriage and sexuality. 

Now Paul was a celibate apostle and he did encourage that men and women remain celibate like him, however, he also stated that such commands came from his own heart and not from God. The cultural context that Paul was writing in provided for the necessity of remaining unattached. Christians were under persecution by Rome but Paul was also convinced that Jesus was coming again and that he was coming again soon. Paul was preparing for the end of days and not for the survival of the physical humanity. Paul also said, if marriage kept you from sin, then marriage was what you should do.

Ancient Rome and the end of days are characterized by modes of torture and a life of intense pain and suffering for Christians who will be persecuted. When a man or a woman is only involved with him self or her self it is easier to die for a cause, but when the enemy takes possession of a loved one be it spouse or child, the good fight gets lost in human need. Paul knew that relationships could be used against Christians to persecute them but celibacy ensured a spiritual goal.

My question to the author, and perhaps even to Paul, is if man is made in the image of God and God is a god of creation; then should not man be made to create. In order to create humanity needs to possess gender and sex distinctions that allow for desire and reproduction to ensure survival. The ability to reproduce and repopulate bloodlines plays a vital role in authorizing so many biblical figures. Jesus is given his Messianic authority in Matthew by tracing his lineage back to David--the root of Jesse. In moments of war and expansion, the most thorough way to conquer an opposing force or to eliminate a kind of people is not just a matter of conquering them but also of assimiliating them until no pure bloodlines remain. 

More importantly, if man is androgynous in his pure state, how long did God really intend for humanity to exist? Is civilization's enduring element merely the consequence of falling from God? Why hasn't God put an end to all the troubles of gender and it's construction then?

And thus I end my grapple with gender and it's flaws.

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Crossan Lectures: Imminence vs. Present

Saturday, 24 March 2012 23:18 by sao001


"Lord, Savior, Divine, Son of God"

Jesus, right?


Well, Caeser Augustus and 1st Century Rome would understand this terminology differently. Jesus was not the first figure in history to hold a familial relationship with God. It was understood that these terms applied the Caeser and for Jesus, a Jewish peasent, to be lifted in exaultation meant one thing to Rome--treason.

John Dominic Crossan in his book, God and Empire, takes the story of Matthew and pulls out a parallel parable in Roman history to emphasize the political message being sent by early Christians. Just as scholars may debate the supercession of Christianity over Judaism, or one covenant over another covenant, or the Noahdic solution over the Abrahamic solution; the Matthean tradition was laying the framework for Jesus to supercede Herod and for Jerusalem to supercede Rome. The historical value of three wise men may always be up for debate but Crossan is quite assured that the political message the Matthean tradition is sending is evident enough.

Augustus claims his lineage back to the time of the Trojan War, about a thousand years, the implication of three travellers guided to Troy is evident in Crossan's explanation of Matthew's political agenda. Jesus, however, if he is born in Bethlehem, is able to trace his geneology to Abraham in Matthew, adding to his authority and his timelessness. The star that led to Troy and the line of Augustus now pointed to Bethlehem and a cave where a Jewish peasent child was born suddenly succeeding Roman myth and royalty in the beloved story that we read at Christmas. It isn't the historical accuracy of the wise men, of the story, or even the birth of Jesus being questioned but instead we see the heart of a revolt against Rome in this story. Matthew was well aware what it meant to write his message in such a way.

Crossan's matrix then turns to the understanding of Jewish eschatology and the power of the message of John against/in conjunction with the message of Jesus and the different characterizations of God's kingdom. 

John's understanding was imminenece. There was a time to repent and that time was now. The Jewish community was caught in the same trap of sinful existence and enslavement they had experienced in the Old Testament. God did have wrath and the community needed a sacrifice to endure Crossan's "Great Divine Clean-Up" or the method of which God chooses to correct/redeem humanity. Many of the gospels place their own assumption that John the Baptist was speaking of the imminent presence of Jesus but only the gospel of John identifies Jesus as "Son of God" or "Lamb of God" in baptism. Jesus, however, made God's kingdom a present kingdom and not an awaited institution.

During the Crossan lectures when he was trying to parallel parts of the Abba Prayer--the Lord's Prayer--the distinction between "so on earth as in heaven" and "on earth as it is in heaven"; I started to question my own understanding of how I would act in conjunction with each interpretation. My question involved my understanding of Judaism in my studies at LVC. Crossan postulated that Jesus message developed "from the heart of Judaism, on the lips of Christianity". From my classes here I am under the impression that the people of Israel had very little eschatology before exile and, when they returned from exile, while they held an awareness of end time philosophy it never quite developed into a true codified eschatological understanding.

In American Christianity at least by my impression of the emic's perspective, we are characterized by fundamentalism. Whether we agree or believe in it or not, it is a very large and very vocal branch of American Christian thought. Many critiques of American Christianity are against the fundamentalist view of "saving people out of the world" and a violent apocalyptic end to our "corrupt world". 

Yet, nothing really legititimates the fundamentalist view that those who are saved can just watch the end of the world from a glass box in the sky. Yet, Crossan's reading brings a different light to the Lord's Prayer eschatology.

That this world is something waiting to be fixed but it has the potential to bring the kingdom of God to its present. I see Crossan's reading of the Lord's Prayer as a reformation of, at least, American Christianity. It changes the world from a place where people are waiting for "God's Divine Clean-Up", whether in anxious awe or in anxious fear, to a place where people must ask "Perhaps God is waiting for me to create a world that welcomes Him?"

Just as Rome and Israel were faced with a choice between John and Jesus and between the Jesus of Peace and Justice or Rome of Violent Victorious Justice; now people must chose to wait for God or realize that God could be waiting for them. 

If Jesus came again, in the context of fixing up and leaving the world again without bringing the new heaven and earth promised, did he work the first time? 

If we come to Jesus, do we change the world into the new heaven and into the new earth?

I think that Crossan may be asking if, when Jesus happened, did he have the answer all along.


Real Life Religion

Saturday, 24 March 2012 22:07 by sao001

John Dominic Crossan.

Dominic to his friends and John to the advertising agencies.

So he says.

Crossan is world-renowned in biblical archaeology, anthropology and a co-founder of the Jesus Seminar. Crossan in one of the leading scholars in the search for the historical Jesus and his immense knowledge of 1st century Palestine is almost, if not, uncontested in its contribution to Jesus scholarship. 

The Jesus Seminar was a collection of over 200 scholars who debated and decided upon the historical accuracy of the figure of Jesus, Crossan being one of the many scholars who made an impact on the contemporary understanding of Jesus. As a member of the Seminar, Crossan may have been a part of decisions made over the authentication of Jesus sayings, whether Jesus actually said them or if they were sayings attributed to Jesus by early Christians. 

Alongside being a world-renowned scholar, Crossan has published many books on the historical Jesus, one such book being God and Empire which I am currently studying in REL 313 "The Search for Jesus". Apropos, to say the least.

A central theme in Crossan's methodology is the provision of a matrix. Crossan uses the term matrix to set up all the information he will need to evaluate his particular figure of study. Background and foreground leave Crossan, well, cross over the implication set by some material being more essential while other material does not interact with his subject. Crossan sets up and sets out to discover the interactions that create connections between space, time, history, and humanity that contributed to the need for Jesus.

Lebanon Valley College hosted Crossan to give a series of lectures on his understanding of the Abba Prayer. Robert Funk, the founder of the Jesus Seminar, said in Mark Allan Powell's, Jesus As A Figure in History, "Christianity as we know it is wasting away...It is time to re-invent Christianity, complete with new symbols, new stories, and a new understanding of Jesus" (Powell 73). Entrenched in his quick wit and spritely nature was an insatiable quest to understand and redefine the way Christians, and I think specifically American Christians, in their understanding of the Abba Prayer. Yet, Crossan's scholarship is so interconnected that at the heart his question always seems to draw back to the figure and the purpose of Jesus. 

Crossan's methodology in Chapter 3 of his book, God and Empire, is the creation of a necessary matrix that Crossan needs to understand why Jesus was so significant to shaping not only 1st Century Palestine but also the contemporary religio-political scheme. This matrix theme makes an appearance through much of Crossan's scholarship. His opening question is "Why did Jesus happen when he did?"

Indeed, why. 

The religio-political climate was that of Rome, the greatest empire in the known world, and quite a pagen one, against a thinly established Jewish community. Yet, the Jewish community had faced oppression beofre under other conquering kingdoms. God had given them prophets and liberation but not quite a figure like Jesus. The gospels are rich with the implications that somewhere there is a need for or lack of fulfillment in the laws. After centureies of captivity and liberation, destruction and conquest, settlement and exile; the Jewish communities law code had been fractured from commandments and priestly authority to discourse and rabbinical interpretation. Yet, the community that Jesus came to had suffered from disrepect of God's law before. God had given them kings and covenants but not quite the figure of Jesus. What made the puppet rule of Herod Antipas different from the series proceeding him? What characterized Rome as the necessary motivation for the reformation and revolution of social and religious order that was the figure of Christ Jesus?

Crossan also questions the geographical implications of placing Jesus. This is not a new debate in authorizing Jand making legitimate the figure and message of Jesus by calling into question his locality. In Peter Jennings' documentary,The Search for Jesus, the debate over whether Jesus was born in Bethlehem or Nazareth is a notable focus of scholarship even among the locals. In ancient times, a man was identified by his place of origin and Jesus is often, is almost always, identified as 'Jesus of Nazareth' yet the messianic prophecy seemed to require that the Redeemer be born in Bethlehem. For some this creates a dissonance between history and faith.

Does Jesus have to be from Bethlehem to be the Messiah? Does his life mean any less to the shape of human history is irrefutable facts presented Jesus as born in some other town, like Nazareth? If he was well-versed in the Hebrew tradition and the prophecies would his responsibility include advocating his birth in Bethlehem? Looking at how Jesus and his message--social, religious, and political--would it really have been a necessary self-identification?

Crossan is questioning the persistant location of Jesus and Galilee. What did Galilee have to offer to Jesus' message that Nazareth could not perform? Not only does Crossen see the image of a fishing village as essential to understanding Jesus but also to understanding his disciples.

Crossan addresses Herod the Great as the catalyst for "Romanization by Urbanization for Commericalization" but also before the time of Jesus and John the Baptist (Crossan 101) . However, under the rule of Herod Antipas, these three dynamic movements collided. 

Did Jesus happen at this intersection? 

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Road of a Religion Major

Saturday, 25 February 2012 17:13 by sao001

"Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both..."
-The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost

What one word can incite such a response in people everywhere.
The cornerstone of war and peace, of living and dying, of being and of not being.

How can one possibly study such a thing as religion?
I took my first steps on the campus of Lebanon Valley as a music major hopeful and ended my first year as english education. Somewhere between first and second semester I realized that where I was and where I wanted to be were no longer on the same road. I couldn't see myself as a high school teacher with the same material to teach to the changing faces.

So how did I end up as a Religion major?
It started with my friend Brandine. Brandine and I met through our participation in various Christian organizations on campus. Brandine has been a Religion major since the day she chose LVC. I was enthralled by her description of the department and of class material and discussion and the intellectual interplay of various professors. Indeed, I had idolized the Religion department long before I became a member. Brandine's energetic display of affection for her major influenced me to take a Religion class, despite the fact that I had already fufilled my general education requirement, and I found myself in the front row of a Comparative Scripture class. A course that would influence my decision to specialize, through the department, in Comparative Religion. As a student and as a Christian I was encouraged and challenged to stand up for my understanding of scripture not only in my own faith but in other faiths such as Islam, Buddhism, and Judaism. I was challenged to be articulate in my defense and I was introduced to a whole new way to understand how I believed and how others believed. At the end of the semester I found myself in the Registrar's Office with a new signature on major card officially declaring I was a part of one of the greatest departments on campus.

Now, being a Religion major and a Christian is something that takes strength and will but is entirely rewarding. My selection of classes has taught me how to take into account and understand the growing diversity of society around me. I am no longer in a majority when I sit in a religion class. My job is to be a objective scholar but I never have to put my faith aside. It is part of what shapes how I understand religion. It is a part of how I participate in the world around me.
Religion is the study of understanding how society is built and based on this notion of belief in something sacred. That is something I share with many. The study of religion is not a study of right and wrong. The study of Religion at LVC creates an environment where there should be no majority but an openess to understand and respect the ideas of others. You are encouraged to make an argument for your understanding. The point is not to win but to be able to show others that you can present evidence behind how you chose to understand religion. The professors encourage debate and will talk to you with rigor and zeal and appreciation for your efforts. The challenges you face make you a stronger scholar and a stronger individual, and I have even found, I am stronger in my faith.

Religion bolsters your knowledge of what motivates people. When people are motivated to write lyric, poetry, song, drama, and biography, somewhere a response to religion plays a role. When people are motivated to dance. move, resist, rebel, or comply, somewhere a response to religion plays a role. When people are motivated to be individual, to be together, to be a part of something bigger than one can imagine, somewhere religion plays a role. The major itself may be only 30 credits but those credits are so valuable to understanding how to understand what motivates so many people to be. Those 30 credits find their way into the English department, the Sociology department, the Music department, and even the Business department.

Understanding religion is understanding humanity. Scholars throughout the ages from Frazer and Tylor, to Durkheim, to Marx, to Prothero have been asking the questions "What is religion?", "What is the function of religion?", "Why does religion matter?".

That question still exists. Maybe it will always exist. As a religion major at LVC...
...I am a part of the answer

"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference."


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