“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in this same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
– Jesus (MT 5:3-12), from The Sermon on the Mount, “The Beatitudes”
To prove to Jesus that I would be able to channel Liberating Jesus, my spirit guide developed in me a fascination with Thomas Jefferson. It wasn’t hard to do. That whole period of American history is charming beyond reason, and so much of it has been preserved in place that you can tour and enjoy it at your leisure. My Thomas wanted me to write a channeled account of Jefferson’s ten-year marriage, which conveniently spanned the Revolutionary War, and that book eventually became My Thomas. It is the finest piece of writing that I ever will do, and I can say that since it is Thomas’s work and not my own. But since Jefferson had been a slaveholder, before I would have anything to do with his book, I had first to do considerable research into better understanding his attitude and practice toward his slaves. And I ended up reading everything that Jefferson ever wrote before the aged of forty. It was a remarkable tour of the mind of a complex and undeniably brilliant man.
Thomas Jefferson inherited slavery, and with it he inherited more than two hundred slaves. He hated slavery, but he couldn’t do much about it while he was busy with farming and rearing his family, so his only practical option was to treat with kindness and respect all the slaves he had inherited. His farm became a cooperative effort, with a trusted slave as its manager. You and I have inherited a society that is similarly screwed up in lots of ways, and in America at least, history will judge us harshly for not altogether replacing our horrible criminal justice system and our decrepit system of public education. But that is not the subject of this post. Although I do admit to a fascination with Jefferson’s facility with words, at a time when highly educated gentlemen were dirt-farming on the edge of the continental forest as they tried at the same time to forge a nation. And what especially fascinates me about Jefferson is that you and I know why he was drawn to studying the Gospel words of Jesus, and we can wonder at the part that his personal relationship with Jesus played in the founding of the Republic. Knowing how close they were, I am sure that they consulted very often at night, even though the usual lifetime amnesia must have kept Jefferson himself from ever knowing that. I can see it in the gentle and courteous way that he treated his slaves, some of whom were his family members, and in the way that he changed what had always been the standard right to “life, liberty, and property” into “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” in the United States Declaration of Independence, and he thereby avoided giving support to slaveholders while he offered hope to slaves. He was a wordsmith without peer.
But what Jefferson and his generation were all about was gaining their own freedom, and sometimes that takes more than words. He was never good at fighting. He did poorly as a wartime governor of Virginia, and he was so careless of his personal safety that he was nearly captured several times. Writing about the way that he insisted on finishing a leisurely breakfast at Monticello as “Bloody Ban Tarleton” was even then riding into Charlottesville bent on his capture made for suspenseful reading, but I made none of that up. It seems apparent in the mild and egalitarian way that he lived his life that he was patterning it after the teachings of Jesus. Thomas Jefferson was one of the few Christians in history who have bothered to study the Gospel words closely. And in four languages, no less! Even though during his daily life as Jefferson, he clearly never knew why he made the Gospels such a focus.
In his inclination toward the Gospels, Thomas Jefferson reminds me of another of my favorite people. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was the greatest American of the twentieth century, and he rose to be that in significant part because he modeled his public life after the most difficult and confounding of Jesus’s teachings. Dr. King started out as a potential firebrand. Like Jefferson, he was a charismatic wordsmith. He was perfectly born for that time and place, and he could use words like no one else. And like Jefferson, he had studied the Gospels. The Lord said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak also” (MT 5:38-40). Those words shaped Dr. King. He found echoes of them in the teachings of Gandhi, but even as a little boy growing up the son of a Christian pastor, Dr. King’s inclination was toward peace.
There can have been no more obvious injustice than what was being perpetrated in the nineteen-sixties in the American south! We look at it now, at all the dual facilities from schools to drinking fountains based purely on the shade of people’s skin, and with all the facilities that were dictated for the descendants of slaves so obviously inferior as to break your heart, and we wonder that such conditions can have existed within living memory in the United States of America. If ever a cause deserved a righteous war, then Dr. King’s was that righteous cause.
The thing about being very young is that time is born whenever you are born. You have no sense of history. I grew up in the American north so I discovered racial wrongs on television, and at the same time I met Dr. King and his beautiful, mesmerizing voice. I fell in love with a righteous man and a truly righteous cause. And I fell hard. I have said before that I was raised in a place where I never saw a living person of any race but my own until I got to college. Which meant that my whole introduction to the racial problem came from lying on my tummy on my living room rug night after night. So where race is concerned, I was raised to be strongly on Dr. King’s side of it. And there I am to this day. I feel as Jesus does in wanting to abandon His pale church-Jesus image. The sooner we are all one race, the better. But that is not the intended topic of this post, either.
What I had hoped to address today, if I ever can get to it, is the overriding wisdom of pacifism. And what has put that topic in my mind is an insane story about two fathers playing chicken in their trucks on a highway, and they got one another so riled up that eventually one actually grabbed his handgun and shot at the other fellow’s truck. He hit the other guy’s young daughter in the leg. Which further infuriated that other driver, to the point where he also drew his handgun and shot at the first fellow’s truck, and he hit the first driver’s young daughter, also non-lethally. At which point they both pulled over, and they were deep into fisticuffs by the time the police arrived. This story is weeks old so I cannot tell you their state, but of course they were both arrested.
Jesus Himself could have told that story. It is a perfect example of the utter pointlessness of fighting. And lest you think the problem was that they both were armed, here is another recent road-rage situation, this one involving a knife, that was de-escalated by a passer-by who fortunately had a handgun. So, no, the problem was not the guns. The problem was that both drivers insisted to the point of insanity on being the one to deliver the last cheek-slap. That difficult-seeming but essential teaching of Jesus about turning the other cheek when one cheek is slapped is that it ends the violence. It begins the peace. You and your antagonist are brothers, no matter what might be causing the strife between you, and turning your other cheek lets you begin the peace right now. Because, how else does it end? It ends with two screaming children and two trucks with shot-out windows beside the road, and two fathers arrested. And all for nothing.
But let us now consider what the difference might be between Thomas Jefferson’s situation and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s situation. Why is it obvious to us that Thomas Jefferson and his friends should have fought the American Revolutionary War, while in Dr. King’s case his peaceful resistance was the better course? What was the difference between their situations?
As I think about it now, there was no difference. I have studied the American colonial period, and their rebellion was just willful brattiness before event piled fast upon event. If Great Britain had been prepared to handle those thirteen colonies with more grace the colonies would never have seen the need to unite, and peace could have been maintained, but a king does not turn his other cheek, not even metaphorically. What the colonies gained from their rebellion was a continent-wide nation with a well-thought-out Constitution where there would likely be several smaller countries today. But Canada and Australia were comparable situations, and they have also turned out well.
Dr. King’s was far the more righteous cause, and yet even when his enemies bombed his home with his wife and infant daughter inside it, still he turned his other cheek. As he said, and as Jesus might well have said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” In order to have peace, we must be peace, in all things and in everything that we do. Dr. King was the greatest American of the twentieth century and one of the greatest people who ever lived because he truly lived the Gospel teachings of Jesus. He proved that when you are fighting for a righteous cause, then perfect love is your finest weapon.
The great tragedy of Christianity is that for the seventeen centuries of its existence, it has held within it the keys to creating a gloriously peaceful and loving world that could have become a literal heaven on earth. But Christianity has never shared those Gospel teachings as they should have been shared. Instead, Christianity has shared almost exclusively its man-made and frankly barbaric dogmas about Jesus having died to redeem us from its imagined cranky God’s imagined wrath, and a lot about our need to be “saved.” (Saved from what? Saved from a perfectly loving genuine God?) All of which bogus Christian fears, the abundant and consistent afterlife evidence now confirms for us are pure nonsense. What a gloomy and mostly human-made religion Roman Christianity has always been!
So, where were the Gospel teachings of Jesus in Christianity’s past seventeen hundred years? Why weren’t they always front-and-center? I was a Christian for more than fifty years. I heard a lot in church about the religion’s bogus and fear-based dogmas, but I hardly ever heard what Jesus taught. Love and forgiveness were preached to a limited extent, but they were posed as just-give-it-a-try suggestions. What I know about the Gospel teachings of Jesus came from studying them all on my own. Dr. King was a man whose pastor father reared him on the Gospel teachings of Jesus, including some teachings that seem to us to be somewhat hard to understand. And Dr. King took it all in as a child. Then when he grew up, he used the Lord’s teachings to transform the United States. And to begin the process of transforming the world.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
– Jesus (MT 5:7-10), from “The Beatitudes”