This is one of my favorite bumper stickers. The other one says Keep Portland Weird. If you’ve ever been to Portland, Oregon you might appreciate that. If you’ve ever really read the Bible, you might appreciate the idea that Jesus, by definition, actually was a “hippie”. Merriam-Webster defines a hippie as “a usually young person who rejects the mores of established society (as by dressing unconventionally or favoring communal living) and advocates a nonviolent ethic.” I don’t really know if he dressed unconventionally, although the New Testament describes his cousin, John the Baptist, as wearing a garment made of camel hair and a leather belt (Matthew 3:4). I also don’t really know if he lived in a commune or not but, according to the Gospels, he called a group of twelve men to follow him and it seems they were nearly always together. What I do know, however, is that he advocated a nonviolent ethic.
I know, I know. I’ve heard atheists argue that he was actually pretty violent; they use the example of Jesus withering a poor defenseless fig tree (Matthew 21:19, Mark 11:13, Luke 13:6) or knocking over tables in the temple (Matthew 21:12, Mark 11:15). By the same token, I’ve known fundamentalists who use the same Scriptures to explain “righteous anger”, saying that even Jesus got angry and/or physical sometimes so it is okay for the rest of us. The people I’ve heard say this are the same people who don’t believe domestic violence is enough of a reason to leave an abusive husband, but I digress. They also use the example of the fig tree to explain God’s wrath and punishment of the “unfaithful”. I didn’t go to Divinity School and I don’t hold a degree in theology. I’ve never even taken a class in it. So take this with a grain of salt if you want, but personally, I think they’re all wrong. To me, the fig tree parable is just a metaphor for priests and rabbis preaching to the letter of the law and yielding nothing among their followers because they had forgotten the true meaning of their own faith. The spirit of the law had long been completely lost. I see the stories of knocking over tables the same way – getting so caught up in the physical the people had forgotten what faith was truly meant to be.
It’s this “letter of the law vs. spirit of the law” sentiment that makes me think of Jesus as a “hippie”. A lot of hippies were fairly anti-establishment and I love that Jesus was too. He wasn’t completely anti-government. When asked if he thought Jews should pay taxes to the Romans, he said, “…so give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” (Matthew 22:21). The question was intended to get him in trouble with the local government. It was the religious establishment he had a huge problem with because, again, they had gotten caught up in the power of their positions and had lost the true meaning of their faith.
What does all of this have to do with modern day hippie-dom and peace and love? I also associate hippies with “peace and love”. That’s primarily what I think of when I think of Jesus. What would Jesus do if he saw the way we are in our Western Judeo-Christian society today? I sincerely believe he would cry his eyes out.
We live in a society filled with people who claim to be Christians and yet act as though Christ never actually existed beyond the virgin birth and the resurrection. It’s as if none of the great stuff in the middle ever happened. People are too busy trying to make sure they follow all the “rules” because they have to follow all the “rules” to get into Heaven. Don’t get me wrong, I’m really hoping that when I close my eyes for the very last time I’m on a list somewhere that says I did alright and I’m in. But these individuals have forgotten the humanity involved. It reminds me of a group of children tattling on each other to make sure their parents or teacher know that they did better and they deserve a prize more than anyone else. These modern-day Sadducees and Pharisees are the ones who would never use racial or homophobic slurs (at least not publicly, anyway) but are unbelievably quick to judge/condemn non-Christians, members of the LGBT community, and anyone who isn’t Caucasian. I’ve also heard feminists and other women’s groups thrown in for good measure. Honestly, every time I hear someone talk like this, it makes me want to get out my Bible and go toe-to-toe with that person. And yes, these are things I have personally heard from people over the years, not just something I heard on TV or the internet. In deciding to write this post I considered looking up verses in the Bible that backed up this particular way of thinking but really it’s a waste of time and I’m sure we could go round and round for years. It is a waste of time because some Christian groups point to certain verses to justify their condemnation of certain types of people. Other groups point to certain verses to justify watching their children die instead of taking them to get medical intervention for simple, curable illnesses. Still others will use certain verses to explain why handling venomous snakes is the surest sign of faith. There are way too many groups/examples to address and, oddly, most of these groups will point at each other and say that the verses the other guys are basing their core belief systems on are archaic or were meant as metaphors, all the while holding up and spouting off the ones upon which they base their own core beliefs. It is so bizarre to me and incomprehensible. The best part is that the very second anyone questions their beliefs and uses scripture to do it the first thing you usually hear is, “Even the devil can quote scripture.” Nice and tidy circular reasoning, isn’t it?
The bottom line is, Jesus was an extraordinary individual with a simple, yet extraordinary message, whether you believe he is the Messiah or not. Like the Buddha and many other great spiritual teachers, he tried to teach us through metaphors and parables and his actions not only that the “peace that passes all understanding” is within all of us, but how to access it. By learning to love one another – including our “enemies” – and taking care of each other we can find that peace, that divinity inside of us (Luke 17:21). It is available now, and not just in that holier-than-thou, I-go-to-church-more-than-you-do way. He taught us by example that we have a golden opportunity to pass that on to others, not through crusades or inquisitions or tightening laws to make people second-class citizens. He taught us to slow down, chill out, take a load off, get to know one another, walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, to “seek first to understand, then to be understood”. He hung out with the people most reviled by society of that time and I’m pretty sure he’d be found wandering around in 2011 with those considered to be the “dregs of society”. He didn’t complain about the helpless, the poor, the uneducated, the diseased, the prostitutes, the homeless, or anyone else. He loved them. He almost seemed to crave them. In fact, it seems the only people he complained about were the snooty self-righteous. I’m also pretty sure that in Matthew 25:40 when he said “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” that he didn’t mean only if they sat next to you in church. There are no qualifiers there. I looked, and you should too.
My hope is that one day during my lifetime people will stop hijacking my faith for their own political gain. It is truly frustrating for me and probably anyone else trying to find a deeper spirituality and connection with God. Being a Christian means being a follower of Christ. He wasn’t a separatist. He truly loved everyone and would probably face just as much criticism today from our modern conservatives as he did back then. Following Christ means treating every human being on the face of the earth with dignity and love and respect, not just the ones who agree with you.
May all of you reading this know the peace that passes all understanding. May you truly feel it within yourselves each and every day, whether you achieve it through studying the words of Judeo-Christian texts, the Buddha, Bhagavad Gita, Native American practices, metaphysical practices, or any other method you choose. As for me, I’m working on it and I’m pretty sure I will be for the rest of my life, and I’m okay with that.
Jesus was a hippie. Keep Portland weird. I think Jesus would feel right at home in Portland. I’d like to imagine him wandering around the Pearl District late on a Saturday night. Voodoo Donuts would never be the same!