I was surprised to hear that you think we differ regarding “transformation by the power of God.” This must be due to the way I word things, because I do indeed believe in this transformative power. Here is how I understand the matter.
Basing my understanding of God on Exodus 3:14 where God reveals the Name Ehyeh asher Ehyeh, I shall be what I shall be, I take creativity to be an essential attribute of God.
God is forever surprising Him/Her/Itself by manifesting new and unprecedented ways of being. I think this is why God uses the process of evolution: evolution is nothing if not the on-going experiment with new and surprising life forms. I think the aim of evolution is the eventual manifestation of a level of consciousness that not can be surprised, but knows what surprise it, and sees it all around. On this planet at this time that life form is human. We are the way God gets the world to say, “Wow!”
We participate in the creativity of God when we, too, step out of our conditioned selves to be in the world in new and unique ways. This is what I take transformation to be about: not a willed surrender to a fixed way of being, but a surrender of the will as a prelude to a new and unprecedented way of being more fully filled with God and godliness. This transformation cannot be an act of the conditioned will, and must be the result of grace—the surrender of the will to God by God.
I am certainly pleased to hear that anti-Semitism is on the wane in Christianity, and also intrigued by your notion that we can assign different values to different texts in the Bible. I agree with both points, and find the second vital to salvaging biblical religion from god-sanctioned violence. The problem is that anyone can elevate any text at the expense of any other.
For example, I value those teachings of the Bible, Jewish and Christian, that speak to universal justice and compassion, and devalue those that do not. But I know Christians who value the Book of Revelation over the Sermon on the Mount, and posit a very violent Christianity that seems absolutely at odds with Jesus as I read him. And I know Jews who read the entire Torah in light of God’s promise of the Holy Land, and use that promise to excuse terrible injustice against Palestinians. And then there is the historical case of Baptists (for example) splitting over slavery in pre-Civil War times. Some cited Scripture to prove slavery is God-sanctioned and other quoted different Scripture to prove it is not. So we are left with people using Scripture and God to promote their own agendas.
This is why, for me, the ultimate value in religion and theology is “humility.” A classic Jewish commentary on Micah 6:8 (“walk humbly with your God) asks why does the Torah say “your God” rather than simply “God.” The answer is that each of us has our own idea of “God” whose purpose is to serve our egoic desires. It is this “God” with whom we have to walk humbly, recognizing that “my god” isn’t God, but only my understanding of God. You are right that we “cannot rid ourselves of theology,” but we can recognize it for what it is: me creating god in my own image for my own ends.
Last thought: focusing on the stories of Jesus. I couldn’t agree more. The stories about Jesus and the stories/parables Jesus tells are timeless and vital to anyone seeking to explore the deepest/highest aspects of spiritual transformation. I would couple these with the Islamic stories of Mullah Nasrudin, Hasidic tales, the Taoist stories written by Chuang Tzu, and a few others to create a world story bible of universal wisdom.
I will have to mull that project over for a while. In the meantime, Mike, have a wonderful Thanksgiving, and deeply transformative Advent.