Who is your Jesus and how is he shaping you?

By February 12, 2015 Blog No Comments

I was asked to do some searching this week and come up with some videos that explored the question of who is Jesus.

As I swam through the ocean of material that is the internet, I was met with a whole series of different images, ideas and suggestions. There were the obligatory random vox pops, the heavily evangelistic message clips and of course the plethora of skeptic/denier videos.

In the midst of all of this I realised, from each of the productions, that the image that was being portrayed was the product of the deeply held ideas and beliefs of their creators. Regardless of whether or not I agreed with the portrayal that had been created, this was how they saw Jesus and thought was best to communicate his life and ministry with the world. Each of these productions flowed from the worldview of the individuals putting them forward. And as I evaluated them, I realised that I too was doing the same, I was judging the worth of each insight on the basis of how I perceived Jesus.

Then I started listening to a talk by Kent Dobson on learning how to approach God with wonder and he made reference to an article that had been published in the Washington Post. This article was looking at a book that examined how religion affects our brain. Dobson referred to the following quote from the book

Contemplating a loving God strengthens portions of our brain — particularly the frontal lobes and the anterior cingulate — where empathy and reason reside. Contemplating a wrathful God empowers the limbic system, which is “filled with aggression and fear.” It is a sobering concept: The God we choose to love changes us into his image, whether he exists or not.

“The God we love we change into”.

While not a new idea to me, this concept struck me afresh as I considered this question of who is Jesus.

Then, to further flood the river of my mind that was awash with these insights, I stumbled across an article telling the story of a frog who’s head exploded.

He’s an old frog who has lived all his life in a well, and one day another frog appears at its rim. They get to talking, and the strange frog tells the older one that he’s come from somewhere called the ocean.
“I never heard of that. I guess it’s about a quarter the size of my well?”
“No. More than that,” answers the other.
“OK—a half?”
“Much bigger,” the strange frog laughs.
“The same size, then?”
“No, even bigger,” says the foreign frog.
“Alright. This, I got to see,” says the oldster as he clambers out the well and sets out for the ocean.
It’s a hard road, but at last he arrives.

Unfortunately, when he sees the ocean, the shock is so great that it blows his mind and his head explodes.

The author recounting this story goes on to reflect on it’s application regarding his Buddhist beliefs.

Lately it has occurred to me that this beloved story told by the 19th-century master Patrul Rinpoche could apply to many of us in our encounter with Buddhism. Just like that frog, we have a bad case of the disease of conceit. We are so confident in the opinions that we bring with us to our encounter with the dharma that we neglect how it radically differs from our preconceptions. We are the frog before it leaves the well.
Sadly, many of us believe that we are already in possession of all there is worth knowing about Buddhism. Such a conceit has a number of causes, but chief among them is the conviction that Buddhism and our own pre-existing assumptions are identical. This belief is particularly pernicious because it blocks any genuine encounter with the dharma. We can represent this belief in the form of a syllogism: My opinions are compassionate. Buddhism is compassionate. Therefore Buddhism must be identical with my opinions.
The pride behind holding beliefs unquestioningly is one of the six stains to be avoided when receiving the teachings. As Patrul Rinpoche himself pointed out, it is very difficult to recognize the stains for what they are. Yet, unless we can dissolve them, our receipt of spiritual teachings will at best be profitless, and at worst, poisonous.

What’s required is a sense of humility, which will render us open to the teaching. The traditional analogy that illustrates this positive approach to the dharma is that of a vessel placed right side up so that it can be filled with water. This receptivity is not to be confused with credulity, nor a hurried reach for certainty when the teachings get difficult. It is rather a readiness to attend to the words and meaning of the teaching, and to persist in critical reflection until it is digested and becomes a part of our thinking.

As I read this, it struck me that in each of the instances where you read dharma or Buddhism, you could replace it with Christ and Christianity.

And so I find myself considering once again, who is Jesus and how is it that I’ve tried to contain him to my pond of understanding. Where do I need to release my prideful and unquestioned beliefs that cut me off from an ocean of such breadth and depth of Jesus that lies beyond my vision. How can I look beyond my pond to discover the ocean that awaits us of God? How can I love this God more openly and fully be transformed into their image without my head exploding!

What I do know is that with this fresh in my mind, I need to go exploring beyond my pond!