It also might be useful, at this point, to give an illustration on two ways to look at human beings and their interaction with the divine. It could be helpful to be a little more blunt on some Christian perspectives and language on the world...
I did this as a sermon and I was shocked at the response. I thought I had been saying this all along but sometimes you just need to spell it out.
Example one: Bulb World.
Imagine a light. The light is not turned on but the bulb is sitting there. Many people live in a world where their religious job is to turn on the light in people. They come, tell them a story of a god, a prophet, or a way to live, the person believes that story and the light comes on. (Now, of course, there is all kinds of language and disagreement about who actually turns the light on but that doesn’t really matter.) The light needs to be turned on. Missionaries went to Brazil to turn on the lights. To bring something that was not there. To accomplish a divine mission.
Well mission accomplished. Once the person says a prayer, gets dunked, or whatever sign indicates that the light is on, the person whose job it is to turn on lights can move on to the next bulb that has not yet been “activated”.
If the person is starving, that is unfortunate, but at least the light has now been turned on and eternal salvation awaits! After they starve to death, but still.
Example two: Light World.
Imagine the same light. This time it is on and shining brightly. In fact, it’s shining in everyone. All humans are already lit. The lights are burning bright.
However, it’s not all “as it should be”. There are dark blankets covering up those lights. Hiding them from ourselves, from others, from the world. We do all kinds of things to cover up those lights. We cover them in shame, in “sin”, in violence, in ego, in jealousy, addiction, materialism, fear, and on and on it goes.
In this perspective, no one has the job of turning on the light, but we all have the job of removing dark things that are blocking the light.
(With this in mind, I’m definitely cool with Jesus “dying for our sins”. Jesus died for all the crap that covers the light inside of us including a sacrificial system based on shame and violence in the hopes of becoming “enough”.)
In this case, the mission does change.
Feeding someone removes something covering the light. Relieving someone of addictive behavior can remove a layer that is covering the light. There are all kinds of ways to remove the layers that block that light and these things are divine and sacred and powerful and “missionary”. When Jesus talked about feeding people and feeding him, I don’t think he meant that literally but he did mean there was something in him that’s in them.
The mystics, for what it’s worth, have generally seen things more like example two - I also include Jesus in this category. He did say he came to help the blind “see” and I don’t think he meant that literally.
With example two, spirituality becomes more about subtraction - not addition. It becomes more about becoming aware of what is real and removing the things that hide that reality. It becomes more about helping others to do the same thing. I’ve got nothing to bring, that isn’t already there.
Interestingly enough, athletes will often speak in a similar manner - what makes them great is their ability to focus on what is important and to ignore the distraction, the irrelevant, and unnecessary information.
There is a lot of distraction, irrelevant and unnecessary information in religion today that, I think, should be ignored in order to enable us to focus on what is actually important.
Seeing who we are and what we are capable of.