Author: Robert D. Brinsmead
“I have a dream…” Martin Luther King Jr.
“You may say that I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one…” John Lennon, Imagine
I too have dreamed…
There was a tribe that lived happily together in the rainforest. They were like one big happy family who worked, played and sang together under the stars.
One day a shaman arrived declaring that the Great Spirit of the forest had a plan to bestow his endless favours on everyone who put devotion to the Great Spirit above everything else, even above family or friends.
The shaman said that the great One had set aside the beautiful white sandstone rock from the cliffs beside their river as a sacred symbol and reminder of the great One’s presence and promise. Every family in the village should now set up an uncarved slab of this rock before each family hut as the sign of devotion to the great One and as a sign that they were the great One’s special people on earth.
At first it made the tribe very happy to think they had this sign and sacrament of the great One’s presence among them. And they dedicated themselves to the great One’s praise and devotion.
After the passage of time, someone discovered that there were two distinct kinds of sandstone rock that could be hewn from the great cliffs that rose up beside the river flowing through the village. One had a yellow tinge containing what looked like tiny flecks of metal. The other sandstone had an off-white texture with a light greyish tinge.
An argument developed in the village about who had the right kind of rock. Some of the villagers had one kind of rock and some another. Some of them were persuaded to change their rocks, but others clung tenaciously either to one kind of rock or the other. In their zeal to honour the great One, some began to accuse and criticize those deemed to have the wrong kind of rock. They even said that those who did not have the right kind of rock should be expelled from the village.
Still later, it was discovered that not all the yellowish or the greyish sandstone was the same. At least a dozen different kinds of sandstone rock were identified. The tribe became divided according to how many kinds of sacred rocks were identified. It seemed that the more dedicated the people were to the great One, the more divided they became over the issue of the right kind of rock to use as the symbol of the great One’s favour and presence. Discord about the sacred rocks led to strife, endless arguments, mutual hostility and shunning of those judged to have the wrong kind of rock. In some cases it even came to bloodshed.
Because their zeal to honour the great One was done in the great One’s name, no one felt guilty about hurting their own tribespeople in this way. They were simply putting the great One first and making devotion to the great One take precedence over all human relationships. Each group within the tribe said that they alone had the true sacrament of the great One’s presence whilst the others were either deluded or disobedient. The once happy tribe was racked with bitter divisions and hatreds over this issue of identifying and distinguishing what was supposed to be sacred rock and what was supposed to be common rock.
And so it came about that the very thing that was supposed to unite them only succeeded in dividing them.
Violence in the Name of the Sacred
I dreamed again…
All over the earth it seemed that people were divided by a multitude of sacred things. Whilst some were divided over the issue of sacred rocks, others were divided over the issue of sacred animals. Others again were divided about sacred places. Then there were sacred times, sacred food, sacred water, sacred ceremonies, sacred garments, sacred books, sacred dogma, sacred mediators and all kinds of sacred institutions to guard and promote whatever was deemed to be sacred.
All over the earth people were condemning, despising, banishing, imprisoning and killing other people whose sacred things were different. It seemed that the more devout people were, the more they mistreated those deemed to have sacralized the wrong rocks, animals, places, times, and water, food, garments, dogma, books and what have you. And all this inhumanity, of course, was done in the name and for the honour and glory of their Transcendent One.
It seemed that those who were religiously committed were not civil, and those who were civil were no longer religiously committed.
Then there arose a sage of obscure parentage from an obscure village in an obscure province. Except for having a simple and remarkable wisdom, he was a very ordinary man who refused any title of honour except to be called ben Adam in the Hebrew tongue of his ancestors or bar nasha in the Aramaic tongue of his people. In either case, it only meant that he was just a son of [ordinary] humanity. His full name was Joshua ben Adam in Hebrew or Yeshua bar Nasha in Aramaic.
Josh or Yesu began teaching a strange new thing called the good news of the kingdom of the Abba. (Abba was another Aramaic word which meant dearest papa or daddy). Anyhow, this was a message about a new kind of universal brotherhood. He invited the somebodies and the nobodies, the politically correct and incorrect, the insiders and the outsiders, the elite and the marginals to celebrate its arrival with eating and drinking together, without distinction of creed, class or gender, and without any of the old animal-like pecking order of superiors and inferiors.
In this new brotherhood/sisterhood, no one would hold anything against anybody on the grounds of any thing, especially in regard to silly or trivial distinctions between things deemed sacred and profane, clean and unclean.
The sage said that people were the sole bearers of the image of the transcendent Abba and the only sacrament of his presence – and nothing else was sacred. Henceforth the only way to honour and serve any Transcendent reality was to honour and serve one another, but especially people who were sick, poor, ignorant, despised, lonely, forsaken, cast out, oppressed and needing any kind of human help. In this new order of humanity, the only way anyone could love or reverence the Unseen Abba was to unconditionally love, forgive and minister to ordinary people as the bearers of the Abba’s image and presence.
The teaching of this sage was deemed to be so dangerous by both the religious and civil authorities of his day that he was hurriedly executed for blasphemy and sedition. What he said could not be put to death, however, and his spirit lived on proving that there is something stronger than death. This spawned a movement that proclaimed his greatness.
At first they said he was the Messiah of his own tribe. As his fame spread to the Greco-Roman world of that day, his legend also grew. He was given the title son of God, a title that was identical to inscriptions on the coins bearing the image of Caesar Augustus. He was even said to be virgin born like Augustus, Alexander the Great and all the great heroes and divinities of Greek mythology. By the fourth century the movement that bore his name had become a great Institution. It used its full authority to proclaim that the humble peasant was God Almighty in the highest and most absolute sense
The creeds and dogmas of this great religious Institution were now totally focused on the worship of this man. Those creeds and dogmas said absolutely nothing about his message. The man had replaced the message. The iconoclast had become the icon. Soon this great Institution was condemning, banishing, flogging, burning and killing legions of people in his name with pogroms, burnings, Crusades and Inquisitions. It set up more sacred things than ever in his name. It created more sacred books, sacred creeds, sacred garments, sacred ceremonies, sacred water, sacred meals, sacred times, sacred places, sacred relics, sacred traditions and myths than any of the old shamans could have shaken a stick at. And it imposed this plethora of sacred things on millions on pain of temporal punishments and eternal damnation.
Could anything be more antithetical to this humble sage, this ordinary man – because son of man was all he ever claimed to be – than this hierarchical Institution that was so chock full of so many sacred altars on which to slaughter so many innocent people?
Then there arose a wind of awesome destructiveness. I was amazed that it did not blow down a single tree, destroy a single flower or hurt a single person. But it blew away every single myth, legend and sacred thing that had been erected in Josh’s name and every other name. The wind seemed to be laughing as it swept all this stuff up in its furious path, and I thought that it sounded like the laugh of Josh when he knocked over all that religious stuff at the temple in Jerusalem so long ago (That’s another story, that I can’t stop to explain just now).
When this wind had passed, nothing remained but the clearest light of a candle in the dark. It was the light kindled by Josh so long ago and nothing had been able to put it out. And the only sacred thing left now was ordinary human people doing very ordinary human things for one another.
ABOU BEN ADAM
Abou ben Adam (may his tribe increase!)
awoke one night from a deep dream of peace,
And saw, within the moonlight of his room,
Making it rich, and like a lily in bloom,
an angel, writing in a book of gold.
Exceeding peace had made Ben Adam bold,
And to the Prescence in the room he said:
“What writest thou?” The vision raised its head,
And, with a look made of all sweet accord,
Answered, “The names of those who love the Lord.”
“And is mine one?”said Abou, “Nay, not so,”
Replied the angel. Abou spoke more low,
But cheerily still, and said, “I pray thee, then,
Write me as one who loves his fellow men.”
The angel wrote, and vanished. The next night
It came again, with a great awakening light,
And showed the names whom love of God had blest,
And lo! ben Adam’s name led all the rest.
Henceforth, according to the prophet from Galilee, the Father was not to be found in a distant heaven but was entirely identified with the cause of men and women. Jesus’ doctrine of the kingdom meant that God had become incarnate: He had poured himself out, had disappeared into mankind and could be found nowhere else but there…The doctrine of the kingdom meant that henceforth and forever God was present only in and as one’s neighbour. Jesus dissolved the fanciful speculations of apocalyptic eschatology into the call to justice and charity.