I grew up Christian. I believed in Jesus as a miracle worker, a master teacher, a son of God. I treasured his three messages: whatever works you see me do, you can do as well, and even more; the kingdom of Heaven is all around you; whatever you do for each other, you do for God. It was pretty clear. We are already one with the Creator. We, too, can work miracles. And the best way to love God is by loving other people.
His parables all said the same things, with a slight shift in detail. The Good Samaritan, the adulteress being stoned, the laborers in the vineyard -- different stories, same lesson: treat all as you want to be treated. People were simple back then. Mostly illiterate. There were no stenographers following Jesus around. The first gospels about him weren't even written till 60 years after his death. (That's like your great-grandchild knowing verbatim what you said during your heyday. Think "Chinese telephone game.") So we have to go with the feel of his lessons. Having raised myself on the book "Imitation of Christ," my feel for what he meant was this: take care of each other.
If I had to say which three values he most stood for, I'd say compassion, justice, forgiveness. He was the Golden Rule in sandals, the human melting pot of spiritual truths, fulfilling not just the covenant with Abraham, but with Buddha, the Rig Vedas, the Tao. His was the consciousness of Oneness, the awareness of Infinity coursing through the finite. He was East meets West, Immortal meets mortal. He was a human whole enough, empty enough, dedicated enough to show us how to do it, to be the light we came here to be. He wasn't here for his glory, but for ours. He came with the keys to unlock our Godness, but they hang rusting on church doors while we hold him up as Lord and refuse to take our power.
Today I watch a processional of public figures debating on television over who is most Christian and not one of them ever says I am my brother's keeper. In fact, they would call that "an entitlement program" and quickly vote it down. As they woo the Christian vote, they vow to abandon the Samaritan, to stone the adulteress, to turn their backs on the Prodigal Son. There is no language of compassion, no moving toward the needy. The focus is never on the "we," but the "me." From all my years of growing up in the company of Jesus, I trust my judgment on one thing: Jesus was no conservative. He was a radical through and through -- radically committed to the poor, the prisoners, the outcasts. Radically intolerant of the rich, the ruling class, the aristocratic clerics.
He spoke of the public welfare because he was the public -- one cell in the body politic, one thought in the Mind of God. "If I can do this, you can do this," he said over and over, but they wouldn't step up. They wanted a Master, so they kept abdicating, except that once when Peter walked on the water for awhile till he doubted and sank.
No fundamentalist, Jesus was the future calling them forward, calling the people into their own greatness. He was not tethered to a past carved in stone. He was here to shape a new world full of light and joy and reverence -- a world of celebration and miracles and revelations of the powers in our hands to heal and help. That it what Jesus was up to, and were he running today for public office, you can be sure he would proclaim an end to war, a higher tax on the rich, an overhaul of the prison system, and a dedication of public funds for the children, the poor and the elderly. That is the Jesus I grew up with and the Jesus I continue to have as my teacher and guide.
You can tell the real Christians by their acts. They are the ones serving, the ones loving, the ones sharing whatever they have. They are withholding judgment, offering compassion, being that light they want to see in the world. They are the hands and the feet of God on earth, vessels of holiness, chalices of generosity. The next time someone calls himself a Christian, look for these qualities for the living proof.