I am profoundly satisfied with my present life and also profoundly surprised. But, of course, satisfaction always trumps surprise.
The satisfaction is serenely simple: I am deeply in love with my best friend, my beloved Sarah.
The surprise is very recent — only within the last few years. When I left the Roman Catholic monastic and priestly life in 1969 I went to teach at what is now the largest Roman Catholic University in the world. And — despite several invitations — I never even considered leaving DePaul University until I retired in 1995. The reason was the clarity with which it never confused orthodoxy with integrity.
When I started there in 1969 I also started a long-term and multi-book project on the reconstruction of the historical Jesus and earliest Christianity. The first volume in 1973, for example, was called In Parables but sub-titled The Challenge of the Historical Jesus. By the way, for myself, I do not separate prayer from study. That is one of the gifts I took with me from 19 years of monastic life. Another one is my name — I am John on my passport but Dominic — which has no legal standing whatsoever — is my monastic name and I kept that as a public statement of overall identity.
My own study of the historical Jesus in the matrix of Christianity within Judaism within the Roman Empire steadily pushed me towards the left wing of the contemporary Christian tradition. This was increased — but not created — by my participation with Robert Funk as a co-Chair of the Jesus Seminar between 1986 and 1995. It is probably fair and accurate to describe that Seminar as the left-wing of Christianity in terms of its conclusions about what was factually original in the Jesus tradition inside and outside the New Testament gospels. Life was simpler then. There was only a left and a right wing with regard to Jesus.
In other words, and at least in popular culture, we ended the last century with two visions of Jesus. One vision was of the literal Jesus — the figure obtained from a careful harmony of the four New Testament gospels. The other vision was the historical Jesus — the figure reconstructed through those and other gospels, behind those and other gospels, before those and other gospels.
Then came my surprise as we moved deeper into the first decade of the new century. A third vision of Jesus started to appear to the left of people like myself and other members of the Jesus Seminar. The vision was of the fictional Jesus — the figure married in a novel (The DaVinci Code), crucified in a film (The Passion of the Christ), and buried in a documentary (The Tomb of Jesus). There is even a growing far-left-wing proposing that Jesus never existed and that it was all an early Christian conspiratorial fabrication. Not crucified on Golgotha, as it were, or even on that nearby grassy knoll.
So there are new three divergent base-visions of Jesus — the literal, the historical, and the fictional. I myself, in other words, have not changed — although I certainly have steadily developed — my own reconstruction of Jesus within the best available materials and methods of historical research. But I find myself much more in the center than on the left wing — or, of course, the right wing.
I now find it fascinating to look to my right, bemused — permanently — at that literal Jesus masquerading as the historical Jesus and also to my left, amused — recently — at that fictional Jesus masquerading as the historical Jesus. Surprise, therefore: I have not moved except forward but am now in the center and not the left wing or the right wing. Surprising, that, and also rather satisfying.