Caught In Between

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Mark 1:5 The entire Judean countryside and all the Jerusalemites were going out to [John], and they were letting themselves be baptized by him in the Jordan River confessing their sins.
9 … Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and he was baptized into the Jordan by John.

[Scripture translation from Herman C Waetjen, A Reordering of Power: A Socio-Political Reading of Mark’s Gospel; Copyright © 1989 by Augsburg Fortress Press]
[Image:”Creative Commons Renew Humanity” by Celestine Chua is licensed under CC BY 2.0]


Herman Waetjen, in his powerfully insightful translation and commentary on Mark (A Reordering of Power, 1989), distinguishes between the baptism of Yeshua and the baptisms of all the Judeans and Jerusalemites by his careful attention to two Greek prepositions — εν (in) and εις (into). The Judeans and Jerusalemites came out to see the extravaganza of John the Baptizer. They stood knee-deep εν (in) the river, as it were with fingers crossed behind their backs, allowing themselves to be baptized by John. After all, what could it hurt? Yeshua, on the other hand, was baptized εις (into) the Jordan, the life-blood of Israel. He was all in, fully present, selling all.

To be truthful, I find myself to be caught somewhere in between εν (in) and εις (into). I’m not just a spectator to the spiritual life and all that it entails; nor am I “all in,” my every thought and action conditioned by a sense of the presence of that which we call God. Perhaps.

There seems to be some kind of a dynamic force-field in which I live and move and have my being. Many would call that God. All I can say about God at the present moment is that I continue to experience within me a persistent nudge, an insistence, in invitation, a call… something that is not just my own musing or the projections of my ego. It come as a projectile aimed at the center of who I am. I suspect that this persistent unheard voice has something to do with that which Carl Jung called the collective unconscious and which religious folk variously describe as Mystery, Divinity, Spirit, Presence, One, Ultimate Concern, Love, God…

Speculating about God (a favorite activity of mine) does not answer any of the questions or solve any of the problems associated with “God.” At best, such speculation, serves to limit the projection of my shadow (the darkness, the mean-ness, the de-humanizing, the narrowness within me), giving me poetic images, symbols, and metaphors which facilitate the living of my life and my interactions with others.

The basic question which remains, however, is “What assurance do I have that the unheard voice which insists upon me will direct me εις (into) a way which can faithfully be associated with the name of God. Perhaps. What is to keep me from acting “in the name of God” to kill Muslims, to deport immigrants, to profile Blacks, to prevent women from receiving appropriate health care, to hate gays, to marginalized the homeless, or to use gun violence as a means of proving my worth? To this question I have a much clearer (yet still speculative) answer.

My measuring stick — to evaluate, discriminate, and choose between the seductive and the promising possibilities — is the life and teachings of a small rural town construction day-worker from the backwater territory of the Galilee. His name was Yeshua. He gave all that he knew of himself εις (into) all that he was coming to understand of God.

What drove Yeshua was his passion for the underdog (the poor) who were systematically used and abused by those socially and financially privileged ones who wielded power. For Yeshua, power was a divine gift designed to produce peace and justice through compassion, not a winnowing fork that the privileged were to use for their own gain. Yeshua resisted being saddled with the elitist title, Messiah. Instead, he settled for a seemingly more mundane title — the Human One — the one who lives εις (into) his/her full humanity. In keeping with that, Yeshua promoted a kind of egalitarian messianism — that is, each person has within themselves the wherewithal to become fully human, integrated, whole and the tools to share in building the Commonwealth of God’s Peace and Justice. So, if it seems to repeat Yeshua’s Way, if it privileges the marginalized in the realms of social, political, and cultural power (even if calls my privilege into question), if supports  the construction of a horizontal society drawing upon gifts of each and distributing the benefits to all, then I trust εις (into) trust that this is the Way I must choose.

Unlike Yeshua, I am not “all in.” I am caught somewhere between εν (in) and εις (into). That which I know I must choose is not what I always choose. I must therefore depend upon and be accountable to the support and counsel of a community of those who likewise wrestle with being caught somewhere between  εν (in) and εις (into). Traditionally, a crucial place for that community was the church. For increasing numbers, the church no longer can function in this way. This is the topic for another time.

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