God became What? Humanely Human!
Forget becoming Christian! Take a radical detour to the roots of paradise lost where God created a pair of humane humans in fruit-bearing lush river bed or to Bethlehem’s manger where “God with us” appeared at home with highly placed Kings and lowly placed shepherds, with animals and nature. Away with exploitation, division and exclusion, is the clarion call of Xstmas.
Dr. James Kottoor
God became man! That is the core of Christmas. What message has it for you and me? For me it has nothing else but this: Become humanely human. But how? If you need an example, just look at the Poor Little Man (IL Poverillo) of Assisi, called the second Christ, whom the present Pope Francis is trying to exemplify in his own life by including in his loving embrace all humans and environment anywhere and everywhere and fighting all sort of cultures of exclusion, as his recent Apostolic Exhortation clearly highlights.
I have been toying with this idea for several decades and trying to impress upon others, perhaps in vain, that being a follower of Jesus doesn’t mean even becoming a Christian or compelling others to follow suit which is proselytizing. And proselytizing is “a solemn nonsense”. Papa Francis has said it.
More emphatically didn’t Jesus say: “You hypocrites? You sail the seas and cross whole countries to win one convert; and when you succeed you make him twice as deserving of going to hell as you yourselves are.” (Mt.23, 15) Definitely there can’t be a starker indictment of proselytizing.
Jesus stayed a Jew
And just think of it! Jesus was a Jew and stayed a Jew all through out – INRI (Iēsus Nazarēnus, Rēx Iūdaeōrum) = Jesus, King of the Jews, was the inscription put over the crucified. He never became a Christian. What he became was MAN = SON OF MAN (repeated 95 times in the Gospels). That is, he became a humanely human person -- an ideal man for all peoples, places, cultures and times especially befriending the poor, downtrodden, exploited, rejected and excluded by the comfortable class.
In this I have found an ally in William Stringfellow, the legendary lay theologian, Episcopalian and social critic who died in 1985 at age 56. Discussing the meaning of authentic Christian discipleship and witness in a war-mongering nation and the need to fight the prevailing Constantinian compromise -- the accommodation of Christianity to the values of the empire and the preservation of the status quo, he wrote:
“I am called in the Word of God -- as is everyone else -- to the vocation of being human, nothing more and nothing less ... to be a Christian means to be called to be an exemplary human being. And to be a Christian does not mean being religious. Indeed, all religious versions of the gospel are profanities.”
It is this ideal Francis Pappa is referring constantly when he says: I believe in God but he is not a Catholic or Christian God but of all humans. To the question: Why this Pope is not addressing Catholics his flock specifically, his answer was his mission was to shepherd all humanity, all men of good will and not "remaining shut up within structures that give us a false sense of security, within rules that make us harsh judges…..within habits that make us feel safe,” as elucidated in his recent 50,000 word Apostolic Exhortation called “Joy of the Gospel”. Why? Because he says: “I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.”
“Our Father” Excludes None
Just think of the prayer “Our Father” Jesus taught and every petition in it. The word “our” is repeated thrice in it without restricting it to any particular group of humanity – Christians, believers in a multitude of religions, not even excluding unbelievers. In the mouth of Jesus “our” included the whole of humanity. Precisely for that reason, I can never say His prayer and mean every word of it until I too can include in it all humans, even agnostics, unbelievers and atheists. The father of the prodigal never ceased to embrace his son with his magnetic love even when he was living a profligate life. That is the God of my conception, also of Pope Francis, as far as I can understand him.
For this reason whenever I have to say: “To those who love God everything turns out for their own good”, I substitute God with Good, to include all, even atheists who love Good, to show they too are equally included in God’s loving providence. I wrote this some 40 years ago. Think also of the “counter question” about God’s love for homosexuals, the Pope asked! So Pope Francis makes no bones when he says there is no Christian God but of all humans. What is important for each one, even atheists to go to heaven, if there is a heaven, is to follow the commanding dictates of one’s conscience, which is the voice of God. That has also been the teaching of Catholic theology I learned from my younger days.
This understanding of Jesus and his mission is fraught with serious consequences for the over 2000 divided churches and for the secular world of conflicting or mutually exclusive economic philosophies, each promoting selfish group agendas for self aggrandizement which literally end up as an “idolatry of money” according to Pope’s "Magna Charla for church reform".. This deviation is what is branded as Churchianity (also called denominationalism), the culture of creating divisive or conflicting churches like Latin, Syro-malabar, Malankara, Knanaya etc.
Christianity instead has to be selfless, all embracing, and universal. That is what Catholic should mean. So followers of various churches can be only as good or as bad as any other organized religions or political parties fighting for domination, thus becoming the biggest threat to peace and harmony in the world today. Jesus never founded any such new organized religion. He came to reform and redeem a fallen, degenerated humanity at odds with one another, literally exploiting one another like Cain slaughtering his brother -- homo homini lupus (Man becoming a wolf to his brother) -- due to his fall from grace, his primordial God-willed love and care status in total harmony with nature in the Paradise lost.
Today’s conglomeration of divided churches can’t be following Jesus who wanted and prayed that they “all be one”. They in reality are religious colonizers and empire builders, each blowing its own trumpet and patrimony, not of Jesus, for promoting own power, position, wealth and domination. Jesus can’t be with any of these divided churches. By sheer accident of birth or providential happening, I am born into a Syro-malabar Church community hemmed in by its own vested interests including territorial expansion. Therefore my option has to be and is to be part of Margam Koodiyavar (those who choose to follow the path of Jesus) who are a border-less people and crisscross all man-made religious borders, and not to be with any of the divided churches of today. not ready to merge into one.
Ecumenism, not a Farce?
Therefore for me, the whole talk of divided churches for ecumenism and unity will ever remain a farce to fool the public. Speaking on church unity to thronging crowds at the historic Maramon Convention in Kerala, Archbishop of Canterbury, the head of the Anglican Church had said in substance: “I am wasting my time talking to you on unity, because I fully know you are all agreed and yearning for it. I should rather turn back and address all bishops and archbishops of various churches on the Dias who alone are the biggest road-blocks as they don’t want to give up money power, positions of prominence and authority in their particular churches,” as reported by K.M. Roy recently in Mathruboomi daily.
A month ago Baselius Marthoma Dwideeyan, supreme head of Orthodox Church said as much at an ecumenical meet in Changanassery and added those who create and maintain divisions in the Church are those at the top echelons of various churches addicted to power and authority, not those at the bottom.(Sunday Shalom) When two Archdiocesan Cathedrals, one Latin and other Syromalabar, separated just by a thin wall, continue to pride themselves as Catholic what do they witness or counter witness to, for the outside world if not their addiction to Churchianity? Not to Christianity in any case! Not to unity of mind and heart but to craze for power and pelf!
Catholic and Protestant Church buildings in Germany, it was reported, are made use of, by different denominations, at fixed hours of the day on Sundays and week days, just to avoid overcrowding the land with costly churches used during morning hours only and are left vacant for the rest of the day. Can our Bishops and Archbishops think at least of such a minimum cooperation, first among Catholics – Latin, Syromalabaar or Syromalankara -- then at a wider level between Catholics and other separated Churches? In this context a joined pastoral letter issued by the Delhi Latin and Syromalbar archdioceses is an exemplary beginning.
What is more, aren’t we today witnessing at times a cutthroat competition between parishes and dioceses in putting up imposing and eye-catching Churches and Cathedrals, (even a tallest stature of Christ aping Modi’s statue of Patel) in big city centres across India in the name of one who built no churches, but drove out buyers and sellers who made such edifices a den of thieves? At the same time we never fail to preach: Homo humus, fama fumus, finis cinis (Man is mud, fame just smoke and the end of it all just ashes!)
Break down Berlin Walls
Many a Berlin walls have to be demolished before Church unity can become a reality. Fortunately the Carpenter of Nazareth never built a Cathedral and a throne in it for himself. But he built and builds living temples not with stones but with bread and butter, mercy and compassion, for the starving poor, broken hearted and stays enthroned in their hearts as king of love. It is for this purpose that Francis Pappa propounds his social gospel which is in mortal conflict with the "Trickle-down" doctrine of a laze-faire brute capitalism with its deceptive gesture to filter down part of the prosperity of the top rich to the have-nots at the bottom.
Propounded first by Ronald Regan, US president from 1981, this so-called benign face of the Super Rich pioneered and produced only just the opposite – not a “trickled-down” prosperity below but a “siphoned-upward” prosperous society at the top that made the wealthiest increase their profit by 400% while 93% of the poor become poorer -- this, despite an 80% increase in worker productivity since 1981 according to reports. The promise was, that when the wealthiest were allowed to run their business unhindered by regulation or taxation a lion’s share of their profits would be invested inevitably in the market to create more jobs and higher income for the rest of the poor jobless in society.
But facts proved that it only created a culture of comfort, prompting the rich to leap for undreamt of comforts in their “pursuit of happiness”; a culture of waste – of just use and throw away to have a taste of innumerable virgin items they have surround themselves with, and a culture of indifference towards the have-nots for whom what is thrown away would be luxury. This is the tragic hierarchical divisions, inequalities and exclusive comfort zones both in Church and society that Pope Francis laments.
Thou shall not Kill, to Politicians
Thinking specifically of the political class he even broke into a prayer: “I beg the Lord to grant us more politicians who are genuinely disturbed by the state of society, the people, and the lives of the poor!" To those not disturbed he asks: “How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?" and insists to apply the commandment “Thou shall not kill” equally saying: 'thou shall not' to the tyranny of an economy of cut throat competition creating exploitation, inequality, violence and death of the excluded from the level playing field.
So the scandal of divided churches and divided economic and political zones and world governments will continue sine die. But all can at least help reduce the sting of divisions and exclusions by following Francis Pappa’s example of addressing the concerns – economic, social, moral and spiritual -- not only of the registered members of one’s own divisive group but of all humans in and around the confines of their pastoral or political care. For Catholics it should mean ministering on priority basis without distinction of creed, class and caste to all in diocesan and parish boundaries. That is the meaning of Pope’s call to get out of the “Church of sacristy” to go to meet those in the periphery.
So what we are called upon to do at this Christmas is to redouble efforts to inflame in us those dead or dying embers of humane humanity modeled on Jesus the crass, “crazy”, “possessed”(Mk 3.21 & 22), carpenter of Nazareth -- if that is too tall an order, modeled on the poor man of Assisi who became second Christ, or at least modeled on 76 year old Pope Francis whose simple life and humble humane approach to all and sundry shows the way how to win friends and influence people for good across the globe!.
The writer can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org
With Warm Regards,
Dr. James Kottoor,
Dr. James Kottoor,