I have often observed in fascination as people attempt to adroitly dance around the subject of Jesus. Some, of course, don’t flit around the subject at all, opting to either dismiss all things religious or even seek to trounce it altogether. But when it comes to the person of Jesus himself, people often take more care, aware that whatever he was, it was something more transcendent than organized religion.
We in the West, free of so much oppression and turmoil, continue to take our heroes out of context because we understand so little about what it takes to overcome the remarkable oppressions of politics, authoritarianism, and failure. We pick the parts we like and even quote them on important themes and occasions.
Vaclav Havel, over time, has become a clear favourite of mine in terms of how emotionally transparent he was in his writings about citizenship, government and the rule of law. Consider this gem:
We must be aware of the attractions of mass indifference, and the general unwillingness of consumption-oriented people to sacrifice some material certainties for the sake of their own spiritual and moral integrity.”
And yet occasionally Havel spoke of the example of Jesus as one of the great lessons of history on how to live an ethical life in the most confusing of times. At that point, many turn away, preferring his more secular pronunciations. Ironically, despite this penchant for removing Jesus from any context, some of our great examples of the last century refused to sequester him away somewhere in order to gain broader recognition and support. Nelson Mandela, for instance, reminds anyone who would sincerely understand how he survived the years of labour in a prison camp that the endurance and ethical vision Jesus exhibited in his brief time on earth served as an abiding example to help him fight off the temptations of loneliness and despair.
I have occasionally referred to Jesus in my speeches or writings because his ability to transcend every limitation put in his path has helped me to keep pressing for change in society or around the world even when I didn’t feel like it. I confess to having just a few noble historic figures in my life who have inspired me to overcome my weaknesses and concentrate on the need of others. Jesus is one of them.
I, too, get tired of people using the historic figure of Jesus for their own soapbox of ideas, but I have lived long enough to learn that I don’t throw democracy out because of some bad politicians, or give up on my community because some leaders put themselves before those they are intended to serve. I simply refuse to toss Jesus because organized religion or perhaps well-meaning people use him for their own ends. There is genius in his thoughts and wells of compassion in his actions.
And so, after 40 years of religious faith, and as a churchgoer, I decided to write down my own thoughts on Jesus. I had planned to do it later in life, but my recent experience with surgery and chemotherapy convinced me that sooner rather than later might be a prudent idea, for obvious reasons.
I loved writing every chapter of it, for the very exercise of writing brought out the transparent and hopeful in me. I’m aware people will shun this blog, but there are just too many places on earth where I have witnessed remarkable people on four different continents maintain their efforts to overcome oppression, fight for women’s rights, struggle for economic justice and political freedoms, in part, because of their personal sense of the worth of Jesus’ life. So I won’t shy away from what I have experienced, any more than I will overstate the lessons of my own faith.
The book is now done. The focus of its pages is on how Jesus lived his life in such a way that the human personality became inflamed with possibilities and chose to leap over the boundaries of history to build a more inclusive humanity. If anyone is interested in purchasing a copy, both hardcover and softcover are available. I don’t make any money from them, but the costs are the minimum the printing firm charged for their production.
Today is Thanksgiving Monday, and I thought it only right to acknowledge and thank one of the great influences of my life – someone I have fallen so remarkably short of emulating. Yet, like Havel, Mandela, Socrates, Eleanor Roosevelt, or Canadian poet Anne Michaels, he occupies not only a prominent place on my bookshelves but in my thoughts and best aspirations.