By Yasmeen Faris
Hearing his name, depending on the context, will elicit either a positive or negative response from anyone hearing it and, in most settings, it will be used as an expletive. At UC Santa Barbara, however, the name associated with the world’s most popular religion is also uttered in an academic context. The Religious Studies department offers a class called Jesus in Comparative Perspectives, taught by Christine Thomas, which I took in the winter of 2019.
As a Christian, I wanted to know more about Jesus and get a better understanding of what other religions have to say about him. The class involved the most reading I had ever done within a 10-week span, but I learned about Jesus outside of the context of church for the first time in my 24 years. Through this class, I was able to develop my own perspective of Jesus and become more mindful in my own spiritual journey. Now, I can put historical context to him as a person, as if I walk every day, right behind him.
I read texts from Marcus Borg, a Christian religious scholar on whom we focused heavily in the class. Not only do I continue to see Jesus as a teacher of wisdom, I now see him as a movement founder, a social prophet and a spirit man. Among the other texts we read, I identified the most with Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Monk who eloquently wrote about Jesus. His book, “Living Buddha, Living Christ,” is about the seed within everyone that can lead to peace but is attainable only when it is watered with positive actions towards the self and others.
It is up me to water my seed in order to expand my own capacity for enlightenment. Prayer for me has become a mindful act that I now use as a tool of meditation. I meditate on Jesus’s teachings within the Bible, which tells me a lot about what Jesus wanted from his followers. As one of those followers, I feel that Jesus is more focused on my actions than the words I speak. Admittedly, I tend to speak more about what I aspire to do and how I aspire to be as a person, rather than to actually act on those intentions.
Growing up in a Maronite Lebanese-Syrian household, I used to be chastised if I talked about religious perspective outside of the Catholic tradition. Discovering that Martin Luther King Jr. branched out of the confines of the Christian religion by reading about Mahatma Gandhi’s call to nonviolence and noncooperation to fight prejudice encouraged me to stop feeling like I couldn’t read about other perspectives beyond my own family’s belief system.
I still struggle with readings outside of the context of the Bible, despite having made my own decision to become a non-denominational Christian after I moved out of my parents’ house.
Jesus’s words and deeds made him one of the most impactful historical figures in the world. The gospels that tell the story of his life weren’t even written until 40 years after his death, meaning that before there were any writings about Jesus, he was talked about for four decades. Jesus’ teachings and actions moved so many people that we are still talking about his impact more than 2,000 years after he died.
Now, every time I experience a movement of the heart and I say “Jesus Christ,” the name carries with it even more historical wisdom that has travelled two millennia to get to me, right here at UCSB.
Yasmeen Faris is a Junior at UC Santa Barbara, pursuing a degree in Communication. She wrote this piece in her Writing Program course Journalism for Web and Social Media.