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I have spent thirty years reconstructing the historical Jesus. I have done so self-consciously and self-critically and have tried to do the same on reconstructing myself. But what justifies this memoir is how my own personal experience, from Ireland to America, from priest to professor, from monastery to university, and ... from celibacy to marriage, may have influenced that reconstruction. Where has it helped me see what others have not, and ...
I have spent thirty years reconstructing the historical Jesus. I have done so self-consciously and self-critically and have tried to do the same on reconstructing myself. But what justifies this memoir is how my own personal experience, from Ireland to America, from priest to professor, from monastery to university, and ... from celibacy to marriage, may have influenced that reconstruction. Where has it helped me see what others have not, and where has it made invisible to me what others find obvious?
-from A Long Way from Tipperary
From his upbringing in Ireland to front-page coverage in the New York Times and mention in cover stories in Time, Newsweek, and U.S. News & World Report, John Dominic Crossan-who has courageously pioneered the contemporary quest for the historical Jesus-has dared to go his own way. In this candid and engaging memoir, the world's foremost Jesus scholar reveals what he has discovered over a lifetime of open-eyed, fearless exploration of God, Jesus, Christianity, and himself. Crossan shares his provocative thinking on such issues as how one can be a Christian without going to church; whether God is vengeful, or just, or both; and why Jesus is more like Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr. than like the Pope or Jerry Falwell.
Raised in the traditional Irish Catholic Church, Crossan inherited a faith that was "accepted fully and internalized completely but undiscussed, uninvestigated, and uncriticized." A dauntless spirit whose imagination was ignited not by piety but by the lure and challenge of adventure, he became a monk to travel and explore the world, unaware that his most thrilling quests would be scholarly and spiritual. "God had going the best adventure around," Crossan confesses.
Because he could never subject his theological convictions and historical findings to the restrictions of the Church, Crossan chose to leave the monastery and priesthood. Speaking of this time in his life, Crossan writes, "Not even a vow of obedience could make me sing a song I did not hear." But he never abandoned the Roman Catholic community or tradition and never lost his faith. He has devoted his life and career to a reexamination of what he calls "necessary open-heart surgery on Christianity itself."
A Long Way from TipperaryChapter 1The Most Exciting Game Around
In 1944 I turned ten and never again spent a full year at home. After that it was boarding school, monastery, America. In questions during lectures and interviews with journalists I am never asked about that boarding school, but often about that monastery. That is a first mistake. And I am seldom asked why I became a monk, but rather why I became a priest. That is a second mistake. But that question comes up at some point in almost every interview: Why did I become a priest? It is a question to me at sixty-five about me at fifteen, but also a question from the American late 1990s about the Irish late 1940s. And quite often the question is prompted by one or more of these three inquiries.
Was I particularly pious as a boy? No, at least not in any sense of that word I knew then or have come to recognize since. I did become an altar boy at the early age of eight, but I recall that choice primarily in response, as it were, to a series of dares. Could I learn by heart the Mass responses in a Latin I did not then understand? Could I handle the thurible at Benediction so that the priest got the incense on the hot coals and I did not get the hot coals on him? Could I light the tall (very tall) candles on the high (very high) altar by stretching the lit taper one-handed above my head to connect with a wick I could not see, preferably without setting any altar linens on fire in the process? It may have been piety, but I thought of it as fun, as adventure, as seeing the inside of something mysterious, and maybe even, at eight and after, as a sort of instant adulthood.
Were my parents influential or evenforceful about my becoming a priest? Wasn't it an honor to have a priest in the family, especially for an Irish mother? No doubt, but before I left for America, my father said, "Just remember, if this doesn't work out, your home is here and you can always come back home." By fifteen I had already lived away from home for four years at boarding school, and my family accepted the independence earned by that experience. I made up my own mind about the priesthood, and they supported me with a respect I did not appreciate fully until nineteen years later.
Were the priests who ran my boarding secondary school significant as mentors or models for my decision? That question, posed by a Canadian journalist with an Irish Catholic background, stopped me cold for a moment. I realized, only at his question, that I had never, ever, considered becoming a diocesan priest like my teachers at St. Eunan's College in Letterkenny, County Donegal. I both admired and respected them as good teachers and fair disciplinarians, but I never imagined myself like them either as parish pastor or schoolteacher. It was somewhat of a shock to realize, and only from that prompting question fifty years later, that becoming their type of priest had never entered my mind for a moment. Yet those were the priests I knew best over seven years from altar boy to schoolboy.
Why I became a priest is actually the wrong question, although I only realized that after I tried to answer it. What I wanted was to enter a monastery and become a missionary, to become a monastic (priest) and a missionary (priest). Monastery and mission were in the immediate foreground, with ordination and priesthood as necessary and accepted concomitants. The diocesan priesthood that I knew best from everyday experience was never of any interest to me. Not piety but adventure was what fired my imagination at fifteen years of age. If somebody had told me that I was giving up my life to God, and I don't remember anyone ever doing so, I would not have been impressed. If somebody had told me that I was giving up my life for others, and I don't remember anyone ever doing so, I would not have been impressed. What impressed me was that monastic life meant challenge, that foreign mission meant adventure, and that God clearly had the best game in town, the most exciting game around (still does fifty years later, though the field has changed). That was what attracted me, moth to flame.
It might be more seemly to invoke personal piety, spiritual commitment, or religious dedication as driving forces in that long-ago teenage determination. But my clearest recollection suggests none of those emphases. The attraction was that of adventure, divine adventure to be sure, but adventure first and foremost. The diocesan or parish priesthood was not an option because that was never my idea of adventure. And, already from long before, it was as the lure and challenge of adventure that I had begun to see life itself.
In spring 1998, American public television aired a program, "From Jesus to Christ: The First Christians," and I was one of a dozen scholars interviewed and identified on camera. A priest from California wrote me a few days later with this question: "I am very curious to know if you and I were in the sixth class with Brother Grennan in 1943-44 in Naas, County Kildare. Was your father Dan, who worked in the Hibernian Bank with my father Stephen? If it's the same, you have a brother Dan and a sister Aileen." I replied affirmatively, and we continued reminiscences by e-mail. What struck me was how much he remembered and how little I did about our years together in primary school during the late 1930s and early 1940s. He recalled the names of each year's teacher complete with details about his teaching abilities and caning proclivities. "Kindergarten, first, and second grade were in one room," he recalled. "Everything was in Gaelic, even English as far as possible." That I had totally forgotten. In fact, I had only a few random and fragmentary memories of any classes in the Christian Brothers' school at Naas...A Long Way from Tipperary. Copyright © by John Crossan. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Posted June 28, 2002
John Dominic Crossan has led an adventurous life which included twenty years spent as a Roman Catholic monk and thirty years reconstructing the historical Jesus. The challenge for me in reading this book is searching for clues as to what factors in his background have influenced his studies and conclusions. His descriptions of his parents, boyhood teachers and youthful life in an Ireland recently freed from its colonial past are fairly interesting but too superficial. More intriguing are those parts of the book which deal with his profound anger directed at the church hierarchy and the chapter which describes the evolution of his early research on the sayings and parables of Jesus into a wider quest focusing on the life of Jesus.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 28, 2002
A LONG WAY FROM TIPPERARY is aptly titled. Crossan left home for boarding school at the age of eleven in 1945. He left Ireland for America in 1951 to study for the priesthood. He resigned from the priesthood after twenty years in order to get married. Crossan later lost his first wife to heart disease. On top of all of this he embarked on a sometimes lonely journey as a scholar which has left him at odds with mainstream academia much of the time. Crossan seems to have enjoyed his role as a maverick and above all else has proven himself to be resilient. I have enjoyed this book and at the same time have acquired a deeper appreciation of Crossan as a courageous seeker of the truth.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 27, 2002
I have great respect for the intellect of Crossan and never fail to be impressed by his many insights about the historical Jesus and the birth of Christianity. In this regard A LONG WAY FROM TIPPERARY does not disappoint but I cannot shake the impression that Crossan is at heart a wounded cynic.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 8, 2011
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Posted October 18, 2010
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Posted December 18, 2010
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