The Monday Book Study Group, meeting at St. John’s since September, has read Phillip Newell’s book “Christianity’s Struggle for New Beginnings: The Rebirthing of God” and Diarmuid O’Murchu’s book “Christianity’s Dangerous Memory: A Rediscovery of the Revolutionary Jesus.”
These two books generated a great deal of discussion and changing perspectives. Newell’s book is a gentler read than O’Murchu’s but with very similar themes and understanding. We highly recommend both of these books to anyone interested. (See below for additional books.)
The following are reflections and notes on O’Murchu’s book that we feel could be helpful to others in their faith journey as well as to our church community as a whole. Our discussion was a safe place to say what we thought and were concerned about within ourselves and the wider community. This discussion helped solidify our ideas. This book has had a huge impact on the group as a whole and has really stimulated our thinking and understanding.
What Is Christianity’s Dangerous Memory?
Dangerous memories refer to ideas and beliefs that challenge those of the prevailing religious and political institutions of Jesus’ time. These memories were implicit in the gospels, particularly in the stories of miracle healing and in the parables.
The life of Jesus was one of inclusion, empowerment, subversion, revolution, compassion and love. He taught us that The Kingdom of Heaven was here now. That the “Kingdom’ was about malkuta or The Household or Companionship of Empowerment. His life was “The Way’. It taught us how to live in tough times; how to stand up to power with truth; how to seek justice for the downtrodden; how to gain strength through prayer and healing; that God is with us; that individuals have a direct link to God; and, we are all part of and responsible for the direct maintenance and use of creation.
Unfortunately, over the centuries, these salient stories and ideas have been subverted and replaced with literal interpretations, losing their origin meaning and intent. Only those interpretations sanctioned by hierarchical power structures were incorporated and ultimately widely used to control.
Through this power structure, theology and liturgy were created to have power over every person and a direct link to God was only through Rome or other Churches. The idea that we are all sinful, that Jesus died for our sins, that we need to constantly repent and be judged was a powerful control over the people. Structures of control and a great misunderstanding of what Jesus’ life was really about still exist today.
We are being invited to go back to Jesus, to listen to what he is saying, to peel back the years of entrenched behaviours. This empowers us to be different kind of Christian. fundamentalist Christianity tells one what to believe, what to think and how to behave. Although this population is growing and this perspective is comforting to some, it does not empower, liberate, and mature effective thinking Christians who are following the teachings as shown in the original understanding of Jesus life. The call is to the fullness of life in all it’s aspects. Christ in a relational body of contemporary Christians working for justice and freedom for all.
In his book, O’Murchu is clear about retrieving the dangerous memory, and our group had very animated discussions around all these ideas.
O’Murchu’s book is about a more inclusive and clear way of understanding contemporary New Testament scholarship. Along with a growing body of reflective Christians, he is articulating afresh, that Jesus radically distanced himself from power games of his day, heavily denounced them, and offered an alternative strategy for empowerment that proved threatening, even frightening to people of his time and still remains a major challenge for Christians today. Restating Jesus in this context expands every horizon related to Christian faith and life. This opens up radically new questions about how we understand
the personhood of Jesus and ourselves as a Christian people.
It is O’ Murchu’s belief that the parables were subversive stories of inclusion and miracle stories were a means of implicating the power systems in the development of physical and mental distress.
- The abuse of power, and the call to re-vision power in a radically new paradigm is the prophetic dangerous memory of the Christian faith.
- The heart and soul of Christian faiths is to focus on the Companionship of Empowerment rather than on the individual person of the historical Jesus. Seek first the Kingdom (Matt.6:3) Jesus serves as the primordial disciple not to be worshiped or imitated but to serve as the wellspring for how contemporary Christians live out his mission in the world.
- The Companionship of Empowerment is based on a cosmic, planetary world view far more expansive and dynamic than the three tiered word view(God above, us on earth, hell below) that seems to have been prevalent inJesus time.
- O’Murchu also asserts that the Companionship of Empowerment must not be envisioned as a program created for specific time and place but viewed as an organic evolutionary, open ended system ( like all systems ofGod’s creation) to be revisited in each successive generation and adapted to contexts of different times and cultures.
- We assume that what we have inherited from the past has somehow stood the test of time and must be deemed better than the present. This contradicts the process of evolutionary growth and development and often makes the church sound archaic and irrelevant to many Christians.
- Companionship transcends the patriarchal compulsion to dominate, and use excessive use of rational rhetoric to bolster power domination.
- The shift from power-over to mutual empowerment involves liberation from all forms of oppression, marginalization and disenfranchisement.
- Contrary to our inherited Christian tradition God’s saving power is facilitated through his life not his death.
- Also in his view, the concept of the Eucharist as a sacrificial ritual disempowers humans and God’s creation, creating passivity and subservience and a patriarchal bias. Conversion ( as in life - giving communities) may be viewed as a means of redemption rather than seeing suffering as the only recourse. For Jesus, there is no doubt that the table was to be open - to everyone. The intention was unambiguously clear - radical inclusiveness for mutual empowerment.
The Book Study meets regularly on Monday at 2:00 PM and everyone is welcome to attend.
- Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time by Marcus Borg
- Field of Compassion by Judy Canatto
- The God We Never Knew by Marcus Borg
- The Meaning and Practice of Faith by Diarmuid O’Murchu
Written with assistance from by Susan McCabe and Kingsley Payne