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Are Religious Labels Good or Bad?

To answer the question in the title, I say both. Like anything real, that’s where paradox is going to exist. Does spirtuality call us to claim the “I Am” that is threaded throughout the Judeo-Christian tradition, or the “I am not” as seeded in Buddhism?  Again, I think both. I gave a short sermon once to a bunch of teens, and afterwards one told me my talk was hot, and another said it was cool. They both are saying the same thing with opposite labels.

A song by Meredith Brooks says:

I’m a bitch, I’m a lover
I’m a child, I’m a mother
I’m a sinner, I’m a saint
I do not feel ashamed
I’m your hell, I’m your dream
I’m nothing in between
You know you wouldn’t want it any other way

These are questions we get a lot within Jesism too. Do we need another label? And I say yes -and no. We humans simply cannot and will not anytime soon live without labels. People may say they don’t like that politics are divided between Republicans or Democrats, but those labels are what attract people to put candidates forth. As other candidates come into the arena, they will inevitably have to choose a label if they want to survive; maybe one of those two, or maybe Green, Independent, or Libertarian, etc… Different religions around the world dedicate themselves to specific disciplines too in order to explore them very deeply and evangelize and experience their findings. And that can be very helpful to the aggregate. We don’t have to be all-in any one, and we can each choose a blend or mashup of whatever feels inspiring and beneficial. But the fact is that many times our labels and commitments help us to grow with self, community, and Ultimate Reality.

What I think is important is a non-exclusivity of labels.  You and I simply “are,” and we don’t need a label for our being-ness to have value. But we are also in part Christians, Buddhists, Agnostics, Nones, Male, Female, Gay, Hetero, Trans, Married, Single, Poly, Black, White, Brown, American, Chinese, French, tennis players, figure skaters, Etc…  Instead of trying to excommunicate our labels, perhaps the more effective path to grow is to pile them on deep and high, without too much attachment of them to our ultimate identity. The labels that feel most real to us are often the one’s that enable us to grow with our inner being. No label will be without it’s friction, because like anything that goes forward, it needs friction to provide thrust, that’s simple science.

We can allow our labels to act as signposts and symbols to connect with others of similar history and interests, but not necessarily to define the whole of who we are. We can cherish them in a way that helps us grow deeper within certain communities, but not become our only community.

So whatever labels we adopt or reject, I think the key is in the balance of the paradoxes, which will invariably exist. We will have our labels, but hopefully we won’t let them have us. We can celebrate our many unique differences and passions, but that doesn’t automatically exclude us from new experiences and novice attentions.

So yes I think labels are good -and bad 🙂  And as it relates to Jesism, my suggestion would be to claim it as a label if it feels like a tribe that will feel good to be around, but please don’t think you should commit to it as your only label. Be a Christian or an Agnostic as well if you want. Or mix ten or a hundred labels together and cherry pick the best from the buffet.  The important thing is to go to the buffet. And maybe at times it will be best to stick to one thing, like a marriage, instead of piling twenty different selections on our plate. Other times a more diverse indulgence, or an alternative single selection may appeal.

– Eric

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Common Reactions to Jesism

A 3 year anniversary note from founder Eric Alexander about some of our most common reactions to Jesism.

Over the past three years since Jesism was first created, I have had the first-hand thrill of seeing how a diverse theological and cultural populace around the world have reacted. When Jesism was first created, a certain realm of responses was not only expected, but it was sought after. A primary reason for the name and the concept was to expressly open a few paradigms and get people’s attention, and that it has certainly done. Below are a few of the macro-type reactions we’ve gotten over the past few years. Do you fall into a particular category listed?

 1) Excitement and Enthusiasm. It has been rewarding to get feedback from so many who seem to completely understand what we’re doing here with Jesism. They read it and they get it. They resonate with the 9 Guidelines and they see the potential in what it can do for the overall Jesus movement. They get that it’s not a new sect or religion, but instead a paradigm / philosophy that can be overlayed to Christianity or any other path. Those responses have by far been the predominant ones and it has helped the Jesism team to remain focused and interested in continuing along the journey.

2) Non Interest or Moved Beyond. Another group at the opposite extreme of the spectrum are those who have progressed so far to the edges of Christianity that they no longer even resonate much with Jesus, historically or mythically. They tend to like the concept and the guidelines of Jesism, but they have no real interest anymore in anything Jesus related. They still hang around progressive Christian communities, but mainly as a cathartic outlet to complete their deconstruction as they explore what lies beyond.

3) Resistance to anything that doesn’t seek to save the term “Christianity.”  Particularly in the elder crowd or those who were entrenched in the church as pastors / pastors kids, we have seen a strong interest to save the term Christianity, and they have offered feedback that Jesism seems to be competing with that. As the founder of Jesism I can say that I keep a foot in each camp on that. Sometimes I pull Christianity along to progress (and this is something I focus on particularly as a board member of ProgressiveChristianity.org and editor-in-chief of ProgressingSpirit.com). However, my main goal in life isn’t to save the term or the religion. It’s to help those who have some connection or paradigm within Christianity to relate better to the most beneficial messages and examples of Jesus, while also helping integrate other tangential spiritual teachings from other paths which are often ignored or blocked within most expressions of Christianity.

4) General Fear of Change. There is a group who seems to want to go the direction of Jesism, but their paradigm just won’t allow it yet. There is still something too extreme to them about not being explicitly in the traditional Christian sandbox, and some of the guidelines still feel a little challenging. At Jesism we don’t care much if people change their labels or terms. We are perfectly fine and glad if people keep referring to themselves as Christians who are also “Jesists.” The goal of Jesism isn’t to create a new religion or do away with Christianity, it is to add a layer on top of it that can usher in a new understanding that we think can make the world a better place, individually and collectively.

5) Complete bewilderment. And lastly, many folks in this category seem to get the 9 Guidelines and like them quite a lot conceptually, but they cannot for the life of them understand why I / we continue to care. These folks tend to have never been entrenched in the Christian paradigm (besides maybe half-heartedly as young children) and may tend to be more about atheism, humanism, or some other type of spirituality that is not Jesus-centric. They see organized religion as a hindrance (especially American forms of Christianity) and sometimes they have become quite evangelical about their new thing, so it feels foreign to them to have a layered and nuanced concept where multiple ideas can be of benefit, especially from the roots of the Jesus tradition. They also don’t tend to understand the concept of progressive Bible interpretation and can only view Jesus from the contemporary fundamentalist-evangelistic viewpoints. Or sometimes they are just so burnt out on anything “Jesus” related that they simply have no interest or bandwidth to discuss anything coming from that arena.

So these would be the five general categories of responses we’ve seen. Did you feel yourself more heavily represented in either particular category? As Jesism continues to grow as a concept I remain very curious to see if these five memes continue to hold true. The comments are closed on this page, but if this was shared on a facebook page that would be a great place to share your thoughts.

– Eric Alexander

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