We always meet Jesus in a context – one that is shaped by our body and our relationships, i.e., the world. And our context is always alien to the historical Jesus’s context. He was a charismatic peasant Jew living in the chokehold of Roman empire, during a phase of human history that was more brutal and stupid than most of us can imagine.
Our attraction to Jesus always says more about us – our needs, hopes, dreams, biases, et cetera – than it does about him. He’s gone; what remains is a complex narrative skein that transcends religion and history. Out of it we construct a Jesus – we project a Jesus. We dream a Jesus. How could it be otherwise?
The problem arises when we believe that our projection is the right version of Jesus – that it’s not a projection at all, nor even an opinion, but rather the only possible interpretation of the historical Jesus, the Way the Truth and the Life Jesus. We all do this, we all conveniently forget that we do it, and then (tragically) forget that we forgot we do it.
But why? Why this incredibly effective internal resistance to just accepting the projection and not making a big deal about it?
Because when we can convince ourselves and others that our Jesus is the real Jesus, then we are no longer responsible for our behavior. We’re doing what Jesus would do, what Jesus would condone doing, and we are not doing what Jesus would not do. It’s out of our hands; we’re just channels.
We make Jesus an idol and then hide behind it. It’s easier.
This “hiding” can look like hyper-aggressive evangelizing – e.g., killing people who refuse to convert. It can look selfish – e.g., Jesus is giving me special messages. Or it can be fatally passive, like waiting for on a healer who never arrives. In the latter case – which is where most of us reading and writing this post are – it’s like looking in a mirror and waiting for the image to tell us what to do with our lives.
This passivity breeds a lot of pain and suffering. It is qualitatively different than aggression and self-centeredness but not quantitatively so.
I tend to see Jesus as both a historical and local advocate for an inclusive, nonviolent collectivism, emphasizing what is common rather than different in us, which tends to cash out in ideas like “be responsible for projection,” “be a servant,” “cooperate, don’t compete,” et cetera, which ideas are only doable and sustainable when one enjoys a serenely confident intimacy with Yahweh.
Am I right about that?
I mean, it’s a coherent argument right? It incorporates theology, anthropology, history, psychology and so forth. It privileges shared happiness over individual satisfaction, which raises the peace-and-joy waterline for all of us. Living in that model is difficult but not impossible. And peace is better than war, joy better than suffering.
But it’s not “right” in an absolute sense, like how non-salt water freezes at 32 degrees Farenheit. It’s “right” in the sense that it’s helpful for me, in the context in which I find myself, like how some people benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy but others prefer a twelve-step group. Others might like my Jesus, too, but others won’t, and this is not a flaw in my projection’s design but rather a light making clear that what is true is what is helpful and what is helpful varies from context to context.
Still, when the conversation moves from “is this the real Jesus” to “does this version of Jesus work,” a lot of us bristle. Suddenly the suggestion is that Jesus is just one more healng modality, no different than psychotherapy, entheogens, yoga or whatever. And for us, Jesus has to be a little different, a little more special than all those other things.
We really do want the Jesus, rather than a Jesus.
Which brings us back to the first paragraph. We always encounter Jesus in a particular context, and part of that context is specialness – ours and Jesus’s. I am using “special” here in the ACIM sense of “different, and better because of those differences,” which always produces violence (e.g., T-24.I.3:1-2).
The very fact that we project a Jesus is proof that we remain invested in his specialness and our own. There is literally no other reason for him to be here.
Again, the projection is not the problem – projecting is just the human brain doing its human thing. If you didn’t project Jesus, you’d project Buddha. Or an angel. Or this or that mode of psychotherapy. And then that would be right; that would be the means by which you double down on specialness and, by extension, on separation.
So a big part of my own Jesus practice is about accepting Jesus not as special but as helpful in the context in which I encounter him. That is my responsibility – to not use Jesus to reinforce my separation from the world and from my brothers and sisters but rather to accept Jesus as a means of remembering that I am not separate from the world and from my brothers and sisters. And then to act accordingly.
This necessarily means shifting the focus from being right to what works, which requires that I be humble, attentive, open-minded, vulnerable, willing et cetera. It means remembering that “what works” has to be inclusive. It has to be a big tent. We go together or we don’t go at all. There is no other way to practice forgiveness and know salvation.
When we want the end of separation more than we want separation (and we should not kid ourselves about how hard it is to reach this juncture, let alone act from it in authentic and sustainable ways), then Jesus becomes the exact helper that we need, helping us to the precise and intimate extent that we need help.
The help is real; the help is not an illusion. Therefore, the one who helps is real, too. He’s just not other than the one who is helped. And as A Course in Miracles says, “herein lies the peace of God” (In.2:4).