Monday, February 17, 2014

We're All In This Together, Even Judas

One of my personal heroes is my dad. He is a man of many talents, most notably his ability to write, which has transpired into him becoming a published author. This may be why I've taken my hand at blogging--the desire to write must be in my blood.

But that's not the reason he's a hero to me.

Actually, there are many reasons I admire him so much. From the way he has loved my mom (another hero of mine) through 30 years of marriage to his quirky sense of humor, there is much to love about the man. But perhaps the reason most pertinent to mention here is how he's never been afraid to ponder, question, and, when necessary, change his beliefs.

I grew up in the suburbs of Denver, Colorado where I've lived my entire life. As a young child, we were pretty devout Evangelical Christians. My dad, who had become a Christian while in the Navy a few years earlier, was a pretty typical born-again type--a young earth creationist who believed the Bible was inerrant, and anyone who didn't believe the same was destined for eternal hellfire. Oh, and as you might expect, he didn't care too much for Mormons.

As I grew up, so did he--spiritually. He left the Evangelical Church when I was an adolescent, and our family followed suit. He left the angry God in search of the God of Love whom Jesus taught about, and his beliefs have evolved to become more inclusive, universalist, metaphysical, and one might argue, spiritual. He's no longer a Christian in the strictest sense of the word, though we both agree that his current philosophy of life mirrors the Redeemer's much closer than when he was a card-carrying member of a church supposedly built upon that man's teachings.

In my short 29 years on this planet, my journey has echoed my father's in many ways. I, too, found Christianity (after leaving the church I was raised in during my teen years), but in the form of Mormonism. I joined the church in May 2006 while a junior in college. (Good thing Dad wasn't still an Evangelical--this news may have sent him to an early grave.)

I had learned some things from him going into all this that I had taken to heart--namely, to avoid a religion that taught the concept of endless hell, which is one of the things that attracted me to Mormonism--it avoided it too. However, like most Latter-day Saints, I came to view my new religion through the lens of the authorities who, in spite of our ability to all receive revelation from God, spoke for us and could not lead us astray. It was virtually impossible to avoid the grasp of fundamentalism and orthodoxy so prevalent in LDS culture.

Once I received a testimony of the gospel of Christ, I ingested the baggage terminal of beliefs that I thought went along with that, like how God continues to guide the Church today through modern revelation to His prophets, seers, and revelators in Salt Lake City, how tithing is to be paid before any other living expense, or how killing in war is never equivalent to name a few.

Fortunately, like my dad, I have undergone a spiritual awakening as well. I may not share his beliefs completely, as I am still an active member of the LDS Church, but I no longer close my mind to the possibilities that exist beyond the walls of the Mormon Tabernacle. Through much pondering, examination, and having my perspectives challenged and changed by not only him but unconventional Latter-day Saints such as Hugh Nibley and Rock Waterman, here I am. Still a Mormon. Still a sinner. Still a man looking for answers. But someone who knows he is unconditionally loved by God. Just like you.

And just like Judas Iscariot.

I venture to say that no man in history is more associated with betrayal than Judas, the disgraced disciple of Christ, not even Benedict Arnold.

And until my dad's recent book, Friend of God: The Passion of Judas Iscariot came out, I never gave that assessment a second thought.

Friend of God is a work of historical fiction that provides an intimate look at the days immediately preceding and following Christ's crucifixion. It is told from a menagerie of perspectives--the many different people who had a role in that complex and significant story, including Caiaphas, Nicodemus, Mary Magdalene, the men crucified alongside Jesus, and, predominantly, Judas Iscariot, that traitor of all traitors.

It offers a fresh look at Jesus' ministry, with a focus on the message the humble Galilean rabbi taught rather than his untouchable majesty we tend to highlight.

We also look deep into the mind of Judas Iscariot. So often do we marvel at how he could have done such a terrible thing, we never really ask why he did it. This book addresses that.

In the story, Judas is one of Jesus' most trusted and close disciples, someone who, despite being prone to impatience and a rather serious disposition, is a true believer in the Master's Messiah-ship. The reason he betrays Jesus is not for the thirty pieces of silver he would ultimately toss back at the priests who gave it to him, but to usher in the new era with Jesus taking His throne as King of the Jews. Judas believes that while Jesus is certainly sent from God, His reluctance to begin the revolt that would bring destruction to the temple and end the Romans' brutal reign over the people needs to be given a kick start. Judas turns Jesus in to the Romans believing that would force Him to play His hand and prove to the whole world exactly who they were messing with.

In other words, Judas betrayed Christ not because he had changed his mind about him, or because he was a greedy miser, but because he had misunderstood His message.

Judas eventually learns that the kingdom Jesus was attempting to establish was one of the heart--purely spiritual in nature--rather than one of the earth. That the way of the Lord can only come through kindness, service, love, and peace, ringing true the words of Mormon: "it is by the wicked that the wicked are punished" (Mormon 4:3). That we all possess the divine spark that can build such a kingdom, not just Jesus or any other renowned prophet or deity.

I highly recommend this book, and not because my father penned it. It takes the gospel accounts and cultivates an original, neoteric narrative that is thoroughly engrossing and thought-provoking.

It really makes me think about the journey that each of us is on in life. I've made my share of mistakes, I've achieved some things I wanted to, I still have things I'd like to do, and I'm a million miles from where I expected to be ten years ago. Or two years ago. Life goes by fast, but fortunately, change can come faster.

Each story is different, each one glorious and tragic in different ways. Judas Iscariot's is no different than many others'. So rather than cast him aside as an avaricious apostate like most of Christendom has done, I now give him the benefit of the doubt, knowing that ultimately, he is indeed a friend of God. Like us all.

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