Friday, May 21, 2010

A Gospel of the Earth

This is one of my favorite gospels. Here are a few selections from it.

The beginning of the good news of Jesus of Nazareth, child of the earth, as it was written in the Torah, "Before a plant of the field was in the earth, before a grain of the field sprouted--Yahweh had not spilled rain on the earth, nor was there man to work the land--yet from the day Yahweh made earth and sky, a mist from within would rise to moisten the surface. Yahweh shaped an earthling from the clay of this earth, blew into its nostrils the wind of life. Now look: man becomes a creature of flesh."
John was a man of the wilderness; there he preached a reverence for the wild and untamed. He urged people, urban and rural, to give themselves over to the greater forces of life, to cleanse themselves and their environment of the poison of growth and development, to search out and live in their place given by God for the glory of all creation. People flocked to him from the large urban centers; but he warned them that it was the barrenness in their own environment that needed attention. "Do not come here to the wilderness expecting it to save you from the emptiness of that place where you live now. If you bring to the wilderness only need and an urge to possess , it will destroy you, not give you life." And he told them of the one to come. "I am a child of the wilderness," he said; "but he who comes after me is truly a child of the earth. I can show you how to live here; he can show you how to live on the whole earth."
Jesus of Nazareth came to John in the wilderness, seeking to be inspired by him, to be cleansed of the pollution of empire and theocracy and progress, to begin anew a life dedicated to giving back some of what he had received from his parents and from the village that had raised him. Almost at once the cleansing became in Jesus the work of God more so than of John. Indeed, it was God's spirit that led Jesus further into the wilderness than even John had been. There he prayed and fasted and fought the demons of domination and control; demons who were as strong there in the heart of the wilderness as they were in any seat of commerce or government.

They came soon to the town of Capernaum, where Jesus entered the synagogue, since it was the Sabbath. He stood up to read and they handed him the scroll of the Wisdom of Solomon. He unrolled it until he found where it was written:
Like all the others, I, too, am a mortal man,
descendant of the first being fashioned from the
I was modelled in flesh within my mother's womb
in a ten-month period--
body and blood, from the seed given
and the pleasure that accompanies marriage.
I, too, when I was born, inhaled the common air,
I fell on the same ground that bears us all;
wailing, I uttered the first sound, common to all.
I was nurtured in swaddling clothes, with
every care.
No king has known any other beginning of existence;
for all there is only one way into life,
just as there is one way out of it.

Jesus then rolled up the scroll and handed it back to the assistant and sat down. All in the synagogue had their eyes fixed on him.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

"The Book of Jesus"

Pope Benedict is getting closer and closer to admitting the "sin" of the hierarchy: enabling and covering up the sexual abuse of children. But he is not there yet--it is still the sin of the priests. At least he has moved beyond blaming it on the media! or the "enemies" of the church! I am still waiting.

In the meantime, it's back to the gospel project. Here is a copy of the whole introduction to "The Book of Jesus." I will be posting excerpts from the gospels over the next weeks, months, years.


The Book of Jesus: Renditions of New Testament Writings is a collection of four new gospel renditions and one of The Book of Revelation. I have chosen to call them renditions, rather than translations, for obvious reasons. Foremost among these reasons is that I wanted to write different gospels for different audiences, and therefore I needed to take some liberties with the texts.
Let me explain by giving an example. The very first lines of this project I wrote were the rendition of the Prologue to the Gospel of John. I had picked up every new translation of the New Testament that had come out in the last thirty years or so; and every single one of them began this Prologue with the phrases, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." The commentaries always offered the necessary explanations. But I waited in vain for a translation that would need no commentary. I would have kept right on waiting were it not for the new translation of the Tao Te Ching by Stephen Mitchell. When I read these opening lines,

The tao that can be told
Is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be named
Is not the eternal Name.

The unnamable is the eternally real.
Naming is the origin
Of all particular things,

I realized right then and there that I would never look at the Prologue to John's Gospel in the same way; for what John was writing about was exactly the "naming" of the Eternal and the creation of "particular things." So, armed with that sensibility, that understanding, that awareness of the tension between silence and speaking, I rendered the Prologue anew,

This is how it began:
When the Eternal, the Unnamed,
Uttered the word 'God,'
That word, too, was God.

God was the first to name God.
Before that, there was only silence and the unnamed.

Thus it has gone with all the renditions below. I have not tried to imagine an evangelist living today, writing to an audience living today. Rather I have tried to imagine us and the evangelist, alive at the time of Jesus and/or shortly thereafter, armed with the sensibilities we possess today. A sensibility is simply a way of looking at things, an orientation, a disposition toward one or another point of view. We know them particularly in their worst manifestations. There is the "conspiracy nut," for example, for whom everything explains or is explained by a conspiracy. Or there is the "bottom line guy," for whom every thing is reduced to the economic dimension. I have tried to pick some of the more neutral and/or uplifting of the modern sensibilities.
For the eco-conscious among us, and for the eco-awareness we all possess in our day, I have rendered "A Gospel of the Earth." For those among us who continually search for the wisdom of the ages, who read the great masters, who seek the depth of being--in short, for those for whom there is always something more-- there is "The Hidden Gospel." On the other hand, for the doubters, the questioners, for those who are not quite so sure that everything is always perfect, about themselves or about the world, I have rendered "The Dark Gospel." Finally, for the intensely personal and individual, for those who want right now to be attended to in their need, there is "The Testimony of John." To these four gospel renditions I have appended a new rendition of "The Book of Revelation." The sensibility here belongs to those among us who are the real poets, the seers, the visionaries--the ones who deal with it in words.
The true test of the worth of these renditions will be if they inspire the reader to create another rendition. For I have always been of the mind that instead of longing for that one, perfectly harmonized gospel, we need instead as many more as there are seekers after Jesus.