Thursday, February 5, 2009

Walter Wink: I Bilong You

"When people say Jesus is divine, or the Son of God, or God, I have nothing in my experience that can help me comprehend what they mean... I do not know what the word "divine" signifies. But I do have an inkling of what the word "human" might entail, because we are made in the image of God, the Human One, and there have been exemplary human beings, in our tradition and others." - Walter Wink, The Human Being: Jesus and the Enigma of the Son of Man

I am agog and swooning over Walter Wink's book, The Human Being: Jesus and the Enigma of the Son of Man. I admired his Powers books, where he talks about Jesus' program of non-violence and standing up to the "domination system", all that around us which makes us feel helpless about racism, war, sexism, etc. But I must admit Human Being has me pining for it while I do just about everything else.

I puzzle over his description of God as The Human One, based on Ezekiel's vision of God as a human being, or something like a human being, on a throne. Here we go again, I thought. The old man in the sky. Who needs it? But Wink interprets this vision, and Jesus' subsequent identifying with it by calling himself the Son of Man, as a religious call to humanness, not necessarily, divinity. He says, Divinity is not a qualitatively different reality; quite the reverse, divinity is fully realized humanity. The goal of life, then, is not to become something we are not - divine - but to become what we truly are - human. We are not required to become divine: flawless, perfect, without blemish. We are invited simply to become human, which means growing through our sins and mistakes, learning by trial and error, being redeemed over and over from compulsive behavior - becoming ourselves, scars and all. It means embracing and transforming those elements in us that we find unacceptable. It means giving up pretending to be good and, instead, becoming real.

Is this cool stuff, or what?

Jesus uses the term "Son of Man" the most often in referring to himself - never "Son of God", by the way. (His other term for himself is a question: "Who do you say that I am?") Wink argues that most people say it's just a humble way of saying "I", as in "the writer of this blog" or "this preacher". But, he says, Jesus ain't modest. Anyone who says he's here to bring forth the Kingdom of God doesn't have self-esteem issues.

The term "son of" (and now in a fairer world, "daughter of" or "child of") has great currency in Judaism. It's a term of profound belonging. Men are called Joseph bar ______, son of someone. The most biggest ceremony in a person's life as a Jew is when he or she becomes a Bar or Bat Mitzvah, a son or a daughter of the commandment. You go through rigorous training and commit yourself as well as get affirmed by a community, that you belong to God, to a people, to a worldview.

As Wink points out, calling yourself a child of God, not only indicates great belonging, but also great intimacy. It puts relationship as central to your being, to your identity. You are most fully yourself in a web of other people. Something foreign, I think, to our self-made, super-individual, I-am-totally-unique sense of ourselves in the West. In this view, relationship is usually subordinate, and mutuality is something we have to work hard to build. The ghost of this old sense of belonging, however, is present in our insults. When someone really wants to hurt you, they call you a Son of Bitch or a Bastard. It slaps your mother, and erases your father altogether. You are utterly alone. Resist as we may our obligations, to have someone forcibly remove them for us still has impact.

Jesus puts relationship to other human beings as central to who he is. In Papua New Guinea, my diplomat friends tell me, their pigeon English has a curious and charming possessive form, "bilong". So if you were going to talk about your dog, it would be, Fido bilong me. I could imagine a term for Jesus, then, as Jesus bilong humanity. And living a religious life, I imagine, means that more and more, we bilong each other.

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