Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Jesus Against Christianity

While browsing the Religious Studies section at my local Border's a few months ago, I stumbled upon a book entitled Jesus Against Christianity: Reclaiming the Missing Jesus. The premise of the "true Jesus" being missing from Christianity is an issue that I have felt curiosity about for some time now, so I went ahead and picked up the book. What I didn't realize is that I would soon have the knowledge and strength to reaffirm what I had known for a long time: modern Christianity is full 'o crap. Unsure where to go with this knowledge and unsure how to break free of the mindset my childhood religion had left me with, I decided to write to the author for advice. I wouldn't normally do something so absurd, but I wasn't sure who else to turn to.

This is the email I wrote to him:

"Dear Mr. Nelson-Pallmeyer,

I am writing this email to personally thank you for writing "Jesus Against Christianity: Reclaiming the Missing Jesus" as well as to ask you for a bit
of guidance. Reading this book has completely changed my religious outlook as well as reaffirmed my belief in the need for spirituality in all ourlives.

Growing up WELS Lutheran in rural Wisconsin , I can say with little exaggeration that I was born into a poisonous worldview. Similar to the story in your book, I learned from an early age just how worthless I was due to Eve's "original sin." I knew I should thank my lucky stars that God loved me and sent a perfect sacrifice on my behalf, as I certainly could not make up for my shortcomings on my own--not in God's eyes at least. Besides my glaring, sinful imperfections I also had the audacity to be born a female; therefore, I knew I would never be able to preach in front of males, lead a household, or (heaven forbid) express my opinion on church happenings by voting! And lets not even discuss consorting with homosexuals...or worse: Catholics.

It became apparent to me that something was very wrong with these teachings when I was removed from my confirmation class for "asking too many questions." Despite inevitably being confirmed WELS Lutheran in the end, I always knew I could not commit myself entirely to a religion that not only condemned free thought and curiosity, but belittled my intelligence and my very existence simply because I am missing that all-important Y chromosome.

Since the time of my confirmation at the age of 13, I have been on a search for my own religious truth. As can only be expected, I have not found it; however, I now understand that it does not exist within traditional Christian teachings. Four years ago, I had the good fortune to move to Madison , WI with my boyfriend (now husband) to attend college and, more importantly, experience life. It became apparent to me immediately upon my relocation that there was so much more to the world than my WELS Lutheran worldview could evercomprehend: tolerance of differences, respect for all others (no matter what creed, sexual orientation, or color), and reverance for progress and change.

Bearing these positive revelations in mind, I still find it very difficult to break free of those deep-rooted notions that my many years of "God's love" have left me with. When I profess that a woman's body should be her own, when I applaud a homosexual friend for finally accepting who they are, when I do not condemn an unmarried woman for her unwanted pregnancy I fear: Do I lose sight of heaven and gain eternal damnation for having these beliefs? When something bad happens to me I worry: Is God punishing me for something I did wrong? All logic and recognition cannot seem to quiet these little twinges of my old way--they are far too deep inside of who I am.

I sincerely hope that you can help me to understand how I can free myself from the unfortunately worldview I was raised with. I want to be able to pursue my own spirituality and my own quest to live as Jesus taught, free from unjustified guilt and fear. Any insight into this struggle would be greatly appreciated. If you do not have time to respond to this email, I fully understand. Please know, however, that your book has allowed me to realize that the real Jesus has been absent in my life

Sincerely, Celia Z."

This was his response:

Dear Celia,

Thank you so much for taking the time to write to me. Your kind words are deeply appreciated and your powerful personal story both sad and inspiring. You are Inspiring because you have broken free in many important ways from the damaging religious worldview that holds so many captive and ruins so many lives. I will tell you that in my own religious journey that the Buddhist concept of mindfulness (check out Thich Nhat Hanh)—a deep appreciation for the gift of each moment and day and out of that appreciation a deep commitment to live a compassionate life—and my understanding of the nonviolence of Jesus, including the nonviolent, invitational power of God—have been very helpful. Please, anytime those old voices surface based on fear, exclusion, punishment, hatred of self andother—take a moment and remember that you/we are loved and that when weare able to affirm this love we are able to live authentic lives rooted in hope andcompassion. Don’t beat yourself up when those voices of hate surface but don’t give them any power because they are unworthy of you or God or humanity.

Again, I thank you for contacting me. I wish you well and hope I have the good fortune of having our paths cross some day soon.


Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer

p.s. You may appreciate a recent book that I coauthored with a musician friend of mine (Bret Hesla) called Worship in the Spirit of Jesus: Theology, Liturgy, and Songs without Violence."

I honestly did not expect an email back from him, but I am very glad that he took the time. Since writing the email, I learned that he actually ran for the 5th Congressional District in Minnesota in this year's Democratic primary. Unfortunately, he didn't win. Better luck next time; we need more people representing us who know religion is not a weapon.


The CDP. said...

That's really neat. And all this time, I thought we were turning into heathens down here in Madison.

Wait a minute... we don't have a problem with homosexuality? We appreciate a woman's right to make decisions about her own body? We allow women to talk and vote?

We ARE heathens! NOOO!

I'm pretty glad you're my wife sometimes.

Hathery said...

I'm pretty glad I'm your wife sometimes too.

Sherry said...

Wow... that was really, really enlightening. Ben and I were watching the season premiere of the Office, and were laughing our asses off because of the intolerence-of-gays display shown by Michael and Dwight. Our parents still think like that, and sometimes I think that most people in Green Bay think that just like back home.
When I moved up here and got my job at the Rock Garden, I had my first encounter with a homosexual named Brian. I will be forever thankful for him coming into my life and teaching me tolerance and exceptance of homosexuals. They simply love in a different way, and God made them that way. So, why should we go around budging into their lives and telling them that their natural feelings are wrong? It's so sick and twisted.
Anyway, I'm happy that I got to learn about your religious beliefs! It takes guts sometimes to tell everyone.

Hathery said...

Yep, I agree. People who make judgments about others like that are generally people who are just too scared to admit they are ignorant, and likely have never even MET the people they supposedly hate.

I'm glad that you liked the post. I really wanted to share it with my friends because I Knew they'd understand where I was coming from.

Don't worry, though. Jesus is still my homeboy :)

The CDP. said...

Green Bay = Backwards-ass Republicans. Leave now, while you still can.

It's embarrassing that we're even having this conversation in 2006. I grew up with a gay best friend, and I'm pretty sure that none of my liberties and rights (along with my butt) were ever violated.

Black people, on the other hand, still scare the crap out of me.

The CDP. said...

Jesus = Charlie Haas.

Hathery said...

Was there ever a doubt?

The CDP. said...

Someone online said they thought Haas looked like a terrorist on Monday night. Seems like a fair contrast.

Hathery said...

If by terrorist they mean smokin' hot, then yes. Yes he did.

aaron said...

After Googling "Charlie Haas", I'd like to say that I think maybe you guys watch too much professional wrestling.

Hathery said...

It depends how old the picture was. I like him now with the bandanna and beard, personally. Before he was just too clean-cut.

Google Paul will knock your socks off.