Every year, I fire up the Christmas music in the waning hours of Thanksgiving, and every year, I stumble anew upon Jackson Browne's "The Rebel Jesus," and it stops me cold.
The song's central message--that we who celebrate the birth of Christ, whether through religion or secular trappings, continue to fail in understanding the man's message and purpose on Earth--remains potent and disappointingly accurate.
But what I think I love most about it is just that simple title, "The Rebel Jesus." Shit, it's been two thousand-odd years since the guy was around; he's almost part of the furniture. And religions throughout the centuries have set his life in stone. There's nothing new to say about Jesus.
It helps, though, to consider every once in a while just how shocking and controversial he was in his era, and even today. We've got churches packed with Christians every Sunday, and billions of dollars pouring into their coffers. We're just a month out from an election which saw yet another conflagration in the culture wars, where a twisting of Christ's message led once again to voting based on fear and hatred. Even in the Obama victory, there's still a sense that Browne's words remain true:
But if any one of us should interfere
In the business of why they are poor
They get the same as the rebel Jesus
It's easiest when kindness, and true peace, and putting others above self are just words in a bible or lyrics to a song. You can toss a check into a collection plate or click "submit" to send a charity a donation this season, and it feels good, and it probably feels like enough. You do your part; I do my part. I've done those things and felt that way.
But we're called as humans to more than that, and we're called not because Jesus said so, but because it is right and good: "There is no greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends." That is a constant challenge to every decision we make every day, to stuff our faces and buy our iPads and drive past the homeless guy standing near the off ramp.
That's real rebellion, right there.