Fumbling Jesus’ Legacy: We Can’t Let It Happen Again



[Author’s Note] This is an edited version of a very long email I sent to the Circle board on January 30, 2002. I had recently discovered the guidance Helen received on December 31, 1975, in which Jesus spoke of the Course growing “from infancy into a helper of the world.” This guidance electrified me because it so closely mirrored long-time guidance and thoughts of my own about the Course’s purpose in the world. And since my guidance and thoughts were also about the Circle’s role, I felt this guidance indirectly supported my sense about the Circle’s part in the Course’s destiny.


This is where I am coming from: I can’t bear to see it happen again—I can’t see Jesus show up again on the stage of history only for it all to go barreling down the wrong path. This is not just where I am coming from on this exchange; it’s where I am coming from in my life.

In my view, Jesus is a unique figure for our world. I think his attainment is not only unique, but so is his message. I used to accept the Cayce idea that Jesus was the spokesman for a universal wisdom that was taught in all the ancient brotherhoods. All those old guys knew it; Jesus was simply speaking it to the masses outside the walls of the brotherhood. Now I see it completely differently: that he is the spokesman for a view that everyone seems to have overlooked, even our greatest realizers. Jesus’ approach doesn’t even show up on their radar screen. His approach is that I wake up to God first and foremost through pursuing a radical egolessness in my human relationships, an egolessness that mainly expresses itself as forgiveness, defenselessness and generosity in the face of attack.

When I think of what Jesus means for our world, I’ve often thought of a line from the movie Gandhi, spoken by one of his close followers: “I believe that just when we needed it most, he offered the world a way out of the madness.” That is exactly what I think Jesus offers our world: a way out of the madness. In this case, though, there is no “when we needed it most.” We have always needed it, and still do.

So in my view he offers our world this invaluable gift, the greatest gift possible. Yet he is offering that gift into a place of madness, and so the gift is treated insanely. It is bought and sold and worshipped and misinterpreted, but not seen for what it is, not used the way it was meant to be. And so it is not really received.

When he came 2,000 years ago, it seems like no one really got it. Some (like Paul, who, based on what I’ve been reading, had a remarkable grasp of Jesus’ concept of the grace of God) raised their heads out of the sand of past traditions enough to see that here was something different, but no one lifted their head entirely out of the sand. And in the end human convention pulled it all down the path that all things go. His liberating message of receiving God’s unconditional love and extending it unconditionally to our brothers no matter how they treated us got lost in a cult of worship and ceremony which revolved around worshipping him.

I carry a deep sadness over what happened to his message. It’s bad enough that the world is so crazy, but it feels even worse when the truth shows up only to be immediately and decisively coopted by the craziness. I’ve often thought, “Didn’t anyone shake off enough of their own bias and emotion and assumptions to honor his message as he presented it? And if they did, why didn’t they leave a record of it for us?”

In my opinion, what the early church did has been reproduced by nearly everyone who has encountered Jesus for 2,000 years. Everyone respects and reveres him, but everyone also wants to assimilate him—assimilate him (at least to some degree) into their own belief system. Therefore, if he has something unique to offer, and if assimilation is our approach, we will inevitably miss the unique gem he is holding out to the world. I see this happening with New Agers and Eastern teachers. They seem to invariably turn him into the spokesman for their favorite brand of wisdom, as if they are unconsciously frightened of what he really had to say.

I very strongly suspect that the Course is his second appearance to the world. I am sure that he has appeared to individuals between 30 A.D. and 1965—there must be thousands upon thousands of times. But I seriously doubt that he arranged a general appearance, an appearance to the world, in that time. I think there would have been some record of it. We somehow would have heard.

So, if I’m right, this is only his second general appearance, after a very, very long gap. After so long of being silent, he is certainly not at a loss for words. In my opinion, the vision he expressed in ancient Israel through simple parables has now been expressed again in the form of a voluminous book with great philosophical depth and psychological sophistication. We now have no doubt about exactly what is on his mind. For the first time ever we can see his vision with crystal clarity. We can see in great detail just what is this singular approach to salvation, this unique way out of the madness.

Getting back to the Course, here after 2,000 years he finally speaks again, making a truly definitive statement, and what do we do with it? It’s the same story all over again. We have mounds of sincere but misguided people who do not seriously reflect on what they do with it. We have the orthodoxy who wants to stamp out everyone else. It’s happening all over again—the same thing, right now, right before our eyes.

What I feel is this: Jesus is there for the world, but who is there for him, for the message he is trying to give the world? Many, many people have devoted themselves to being there for him. Many have given their lives to a degree that we ourselves have not begun to approach. But they haven’t set themselves aside enough to clearly perceive his true message, or they haven’t had the great privilege we have had of a 1,200-page clear statement of it. Anyway, on the level of really being there for his message, here is how it looks to me:

2,000 years ago, no one was really there for his message as he saw it, not fully. His greatest spokesman, Paul, never even quotes him (except once, I think). So he arranges another appearance: the Course. Now who is there for his message as it really is? Helen and Bill declined to take on a teaching role, leaving us with a lineage of teachers broken at its very root. I think only future centuries will appreciate what a blow that was to the accomplishment of the Course’s purpose in the world. He holds the key to the world’s salvation in his hands, but he can’t get anyone to really take it. The whole situation—stretching from the distortions of the early church, to everyone assimilating Jesus into their belief system, to all the rest that has been done in the Course’s name, to our own weak dedication—I find deeply saddening and wearying. He is there for the world, but who is there for him?

I know that the plan for salvation is guaranteed, but on the human level it often seems to operate like this quote I ran across: “[from] ancient times the transmission of the Dharma has been as tenuous as a dangling thread.” Sometimes it seems to hinge on very private decisions in the minds of key individuals.

I would feel great relief if I saw others out there doing the same thing, just as I’ve experienced repeated disappointment these past twenty years over not seeing that. If I did see it out there I would be urging us to link up, to pool resources, to create a coalition, so that what happened 2,000 years ago won’t happen again. But I don’t see it. And I’m not alone. My conversations with others out there and my sampling of their writing has led me to one place: If anyone is going to keep the Course from going down Christianity’s path, it’s going to be us.

So, to my mind, the situation looks like this: You are walking down an alley and you hear a baby crying. You look in the nearest dumpster and see that an infant has been deposited there. Then you look around and see that absolutely no one is in sight. What would you do? Wouldn’t the thought “if I don’t take care of this baby, what will happen?” take complete control of your actions? Anything else would be irresponsible, even criminal.

That is exactly how I feel. I feel like I’ve been standing in this alley for twenty years. The difference is, I am certain that this is the baby Jesus. Here I stand, wanting to see the baby not die in the dumpster and able to get him out. So why don’t I act? Why don’t we act?

That is what it comes down to in my mind. It’s not about how important the Circle is. It’s about Jesus needing our help. We can see that there is a need. And there is not one of us who does not respond to needs we see everyday. Our spouse is upset, our stomach is empty, our child needs help, and we respond. There is nothing unspiritual about saying “There is a need out there and I’m in a position to do something about it.”

In nonviolence movements in the 20th century people were repeatedly thrust into leadership roles who were reluctant to be there, but they saw that no one else was going to meet the glaring need they saw around them. Like it or not, they simply had to do it. So they did, and the world changed. I’m reminded of this quote from Martin Luther King, Jr.:

“In our struggles, if we are to bring about the kind of changes that will cause the world to stand up and take notice, we must be committed. There is so much work that needs to be done. It is a big job, but there is no one better to do it than those who live here. We could show the world how it should be done and how to do it with dignity.”

Those are stirring words, and we probably applaud them in their context. Could they not apply to our context as well? I think it’s safe to say that the world would be a different place if Martin Luther King Jr. had said, “Jesus has it covered. Someone other than I can take care of it.” There are times when saying, “I’ll do this job” is simply arrogant and presumptuous. I fully admit that. There are times when saying anything else means you’re OK with seeing it all go to hell.

When the Lord comes to you and says, “I have seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry, and I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring forth my people out of Egypt,” the correct response is not, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt.” The Course even has a term for that—false humility. It seems to be the characteristic response when God really calls you, but that doesn’t make it the right response.

Let me utilize my baby analogy a little further. We have spoken about the danger of saying, “If not us, who?” It has even been said that it doesn’t really matter if we quit tomorrow. But would we apply that same reasoning to raising a literal infant? Would you say, “If I don’t pick him up and comfort him, or change his diapers, or feed him, someone else will? If I quit the job tomorrow, it won’t really matter. It will simply go over to Plan B, where he’ll be raised by a single parent, or he’ll go to a foster home, and that’s OK.”

I hope everyone can understand that that’s where I’m at with the Course. I have to do everything I can to keep it [us fumbling Jesus’ legacy] from happening again.

Whenever I find myself alone for any period of time I find myself burning up with the feeling “we have got to get the message of the Course out there. The world needs it too much.” The feeling overwhelms me. I have never seen ideas of such beauty and truth and practicality. They have to get out where they can do the work they were intended to do.

So I’m committed to doing whatever I can, and my commitment is growing stronger. But of course there would be a great deal more power if we were all joined. What we could do together, if we were actually motivated, is, I suspect, far greater than we would ever think. The twelve apostles changed the world. What could a united Circle do?

Two Course quotes come to mind. One says, “Look about the world and see the suffering there. Is not your heart willing to bring your weary brothers rest?” To me that clearly says, “There is a need out there. Make a contribution.” The other says, “God’s Voice…asks of everyone one question only: ‘Are you ready yet to help Me save the world?’”

I don’t know if we are all that ready yet, frankly. But I really hope we can get ready. Perhaps we are in the same boat Helen and Bill were in. Jesus said that they were being called on to help this celestial speed-up, and were being pressed into service before they were really ready. Here’s what Helen wrote:

“According to the ‘information,’ the world situation was worsening at an alarming pace. People all over the world were being called back to help….I would be using abilities I had developed very long ago, but which I was not yet ready to use again. And that was why I would have so much trouble doing it. However, people had reached a point where they were losing more than they were gaining.”

Even though she and Bill were not “yet ready,” the needs of the times were such that they were being asked to help anyway. Maybe the same principle applies to us. Perhaps the Course situation is worsening at an alarming rate and we are being called to help, even though we are not yet ready.

I really hope that we all can come to feel that same way. I hope we can together come to feel like those leaders of nonviolence who said, “There’s a need out there and so far as I can see it’s down to me.” The story of the Course so far has been one of pivotal people coming along and doing their part. Helen and Bill were obviously pivotal. Judy was pivotal—without her it very well may have never been published. Jerry was pivotal and so is Marianne. I am sure many more will be in the future. I believe we are meant to be part of this same pattern.

Let me just list a series of assumptions that I presume we all carry:

  • Jesus wrote the Course.
  • He truly wants it to reach from the paper on which it was written into the hearts for which it was intended.
  • To do so, what’s on the paper has to be accurately interpreted, and then that accurate interpretation has to get out there to all those hearts.
  • So far, this hasn’t happened.
  • We, however, have as our mission the faithful interpretation of the Course—what it teaches and what its program is – and a vision to help the Course become one of the world’s great spiritual traditions.
  • We have the ability to get our vision out there—to reach a great many hearts—if we really want to.

Do you agree with the above assumptions? If so, then doesn’t this perspective follow naturally, even necessarily? The natural conclusion seems to be:

  • Jesus is counting on us to get the Course from the paper on which it was written into the hearts for which it was intended.

I don’t think this is anymore grandiose or cult-like than Martin Luther King saying, “My people need me.”

Is this something we can unite on? I’m not attached to how we state it. I just feel that the purpose itself has to get done. That’s all I care about.

In peace,