My morning routine involves dropping my wife Ruth off at her World Vision office near Union Station and then driving my Prius by Capitol Hill and out Constitution Avenue past the White House on the way to our church in Fairfax, Virginia where I serve as pastor. It gives me a view of pedestrians, people on bicycles, and people in cars beginning their work day in our nation’s capital. It also gives me time to reflect on lots of things including what it means to be a person of faith in this city.
I’m a scholar of religion and culture. I did my doctoral dissertation on “the politics of Jesus,” which eventually was published as Practicing the Politics of Jesus. I seek to articulate and practice spirituality, freedom, and community as lived and taught by Jesus. I envision many blog posts on these topics. I also love being a pastor. It keeps me grounded and in touch with the lives of many different people. Besides that, I enjoy restoring old houses and am an avid organic gardener. I suspect these avocations will also sneak their way into my blog posts.
I have been contemplating writing another blog for some time and have given lots of thought about its focus and content. Two recent experiences helped me to better formulate that. One was visiting my son Steve and his family in California. Steve is a lawyer who recently read Reza Aslan’s bestselling book Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. The book generated several engaging late-night conversations. Aslan is a thoughtful scholar and an excellent writer who is to be commended for drawing in ordinary people and putting historical Jesus scholarship on bestseller lists. I, however, remain unconvinced by his portrayal of Jesus as a Zealot bent on forcefully overthrowing the Roman military occupation of Palestine.
Scholars have long debated the relationship between Jesus and the Zealot movement. It’s obvious that Jesus was a religious and political revolutionary but he also confounds attempts to clearly identify him with the various religious and political parties in first century Palestine. While he shared some of the social justice concerns and even the rhetoric of the Zealots, I’m more convinced by historical Jesus scholar Marcus Borg’s argument that the Jesus movement was the peace party in Palestine.
So what kind of revolutionary was Jesus and what does it mean to follow him in our world? The other experience that helped me shape a response to that question was teaching the course “Faith and Urban Community” for students at the Washington Community Scholars’ Center this summer. My students were taking our course while doing internships with various nonprofit organizations and government offices. One of the books we studied was Everything Must Change: When the World’s Biggest Problems and Jesus’ Good News Collide by Brian McLaren. We had thought-provoking conversations as we refracted those topics through life in this city.
McLaren depicts the Jesus movement as a “divine peace insurgency” and explores what it means for us to join this peace insurgency as we respond to the spiritual and social challenges in our world. That’s what I want to write about and am indebted to McLaren for the title of my blog. This can be controversial. Jesus’ original peace revolution was no less a threat to the religious and political status quo in his world than an armed insurrection. That’s why they executed him on trumped up charges of sedition. Are we willing to take this Jesus seriously today?