Jesus or Trees?: A Modern-Day Search for Truth and Divinity
When I read an essay about, or an interpretation of, a gospel or the life of Jesus, I am usually fascinated by the information and feel guilty that I do not love people like Jesus did. But when I read a gospel, I become weary and think, "What a preachy bastard. He tries to make me feel guilty."If Jesus was a man of peace, the tone of the four gospels gives little indication. He may have done wonderful things and said wonderful things, but the four gospels are not a wonderful read. They do not inspire me to love or seek a life of peace. They tell me I will have a disruptive life if I follow the Lord.There is no balance of tone or rhythm to reflect the ups and downs of the Lord, his mysticism and polemics, his encouragement and denigration, his turmoil and enlightenment. When Jesus recites the Beatitudes, it sounds like an effort to convince people of what they know is not true, though it is intended to give people hope by being poetic.Jesus does not sound like somebody I would want to socialize with. He must have had a personality that reflected the love and peace he is noted for, but which I do not pick up from reading the gospels. Or he had charisma and attracted people looking for a master, no matter how preachy and abrasive he might have been.Preachers of the gospels try to show that Jesus came to sow peace. In the gnostic "Gospel of Thomas," Jesus proclaims that he intends to create dissension. His proclamation feels the same as his speech in the four gospels.I feel dissension when I read the gospels. This dissension allows me to understand why the Christian Right scares me. It seeks to sow dissension, to make people feel guilty, to force us to show God the respect he deserves, just like Jesus wanted us to.The Christian Right is criticized by its opponents for not enacting the spirit of Jesus. However, the Christian Right does enact the spirit of Jesus. It preaches that we sin and are not good enough. It is angry like Jesus was and demands others to change, just like Jesus demanded.Opponents of the Christian Right can argue that though Jesus may have been preachy, he told us to share, to love the poor. Opponents claim the Christian Right to be selfish, and that it wants to create more poor people.Opponents of the right do not realize that in order for Jesus to practice what he preached and to grow with love for the poor, the poverty and numbers of the poor needed to increase, especially if the gospel of sharing with the poor was to spread across the world. It makes sense that in order for the gospels to spread, those who spread it would have to follow pioneers who made people miserable, or create poverty as missionaries in order to spread the good news of Jesus.It is amazing Jesus did not recognize that his ability to expand upon the meaning of love to fit an increasingly competitive and anonymous world was bound to fail. Unconditional love for strangers can only be attained by a few people; and even when attained cannot, when given, replace the need for personal and communal love in the receivers. It terrifies me that Jesus put so much effort into lovin g strangers; and that so many needy people suck off Jesus, but will not trust or become affectionate with one another.JesusÕ love for strangers laid the foundation for a world of strangers, so that love becomes something dreamed about, longed for, idealized and abstracted, but not experienced with neighbors, co-workers, and even friends and family. Jesus, in his polemics to help the poor, encouraged the poor to look outside of themselves for love, thus making them politically and spiritually weaker, as well as a target for the rich who did not, and do not, like hearing the poor praised.Like the poor who look to Jesus and the rich who look to money, I, too, look outside myself for something to love. We need something outside ourselves to love. The more we love and are allowed and encouraged to pursue what we love, the less we will talk about love, the less love will be an abstract term we use to fill ourselves with hope for the feeling and habit we need but do not have.I love trees. Trees fill me with meaning and with longing. Trees make me feel life is beautiful now. They make me feel that someday I will obtain the love I long for, the people I need to see and be familiar with and trust every day.When I watch trees thrust from the ground, I feel their power. They make me feel desperate, aching to show my full and real self to the world as they do. Trees are excellent symbols, for they are growingÑliterally. They have put down roots and kept growing. Most of us put down roots and stop growing, or keep moving but donÕt have time to mature.I find it ironic that trees across the world are being cut down.People living in these forests belong to religions that are not Christian. They worship trees. These are poor people who are made poorer by rich people, and who will be forced to adapt to Christianity. These are the wretched poor, cast as strangers upon the world, who Jesus constructed his career upon. These are the poor the Christian Right will denigrate as being ignorant and lazy.I am expected to love greedy people who cut trees, who tell me nature is not divine, that I am evil for seeing divinity in trees. I am expected to love people who will hang me from a tree, then laugh as they cut it.I am expected to love poor people who mouth the words of a preachy man; who no longer have the imagination to see God in trees; to see trees as relentless specimens of freedom and beauty; to feel trees are things one can linger with or meditate upon for inspiration to grow, love, mature and be free.David Vaszko is a Sacramento writer and poet.