Total Pageviews

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

On Thanks and Trust and other things...

Our e-mail is working again, though I need to be taught how to retrieve everything that was in my box the day of the changeover to a new provider. Living without e-mail (outgoing) has taught me how dependent I am on e-mail. One problem with life is the innovations which allow us to be more efficient (time to call people vs. an e-mail to many at one time) has also increased our work load. Like the Hebrew slaves we read about last week at Morning Prayer, we have to keep the quota up for building, but suddenly, without e-mail, I felt like we were 'making our own bricks' too! Admittedly a minor inconvenience. Yet a moment of insight.

Taking things for granted is not something we do with children that have special needs. Walking and talking is a miracle and their is much relief when a child 'with challenges' is able to reach a milestone, even if it is a year or more behind. Pondering that made me think: it really is a miracle that any child can walk or talk, or learn piano, algebra or how to play second base. So much is taken for granted (by me and perhaps you) because we just do not think about how amazing it all is. Sadly, in my "efficiency" mode I often fail to grasp such moments and savor them. How different (better) would our lives be if we actually were aware and grateful?

I got to read for 'fun' the last two days, a rare treat. I have already read, "How the Irish Saved Civilization" and it is wonderful to go through it again. Cahill may be the most readable historian ever. The chapter on St. Patrick was amazing. In a most poignant statement, paraphrased here, Patrick declared that he did not fear the physical threats (Celtic Ireland was very violent at the time) because he believed in God's promises. Reading that gave me pause. I often preach on faith and trust, but I heard a purity of faith in Patrick which is sometimes lacking in myself. I think of my myriad worries and concerns and my list of activities. Then I thought of Patrick in the difficult place and time in which he lived. He really trusted God and acted in that faith. wow!

Cahill did an interesting comparison between St. Augustine and St. Patrick. The differences are as stunning as their shared faith. The church debates on sexual morality, an Augustinian concern, seem to have been non-existent in the Celtic regions. It seems that "free love" was a culturally accepted fact and even in the church there was no lack of non-marital coupling. [Though 'description' is not 'prescription,' and no culture is without its blind spots and errors.] If it led me to pine for the more earthy, less uptight spirituality of the ancient Celtic church (and gave me pause for my strong stance on the issue in our church debates the last decade), ironically, it was not long before I encountered the proverbial "other side" of the issue.

It came when I was doing research on leg exercises and went to one of the websites that is focused on such things. I did something I never have done before. Usually I just type in topics (like deadlifts) and find matches with articles; yesterday I opted to just go to the Forum and see what was there. I was rather stunned to see how much of it was not related to exercise at all. One stream was about how many dates a man should take a woman on before they copulate. The general consensus was none (you date AFTER you have slept together, if it is good), one or two. The guy who said two received much criticism from others on waiting so long. I was happy when someone finally took the others to task, it was, not surprisingly, a woman. Then a married man, though very apologetically, offered an alternative view. Clearly, this was similar to the Celtic ways I read about, but reading the posts made me uncomfortable and sad. The general disdain for woman as humans was pretty transparent. I am a father of a daughter and I only pray none of those men ever meet her. I decided to move on from that stream after a few minutes....

In my prayer and Scripture reflection I encountered Jesus who says: abide in Me. I found it comforting and challenging. Another book I was reading included a chapter on Jesus the true image of God. Our real identity is revealed in Him. To abide in Jesus, at some level, would seem to include thinking about Him and measuring my choices against that. So I tried to do that.  Jesus reveals humanity to us. Revelation of our own identity in His identity is a grace of God.

If this is all disjointed and rather random it is because it is a reflection on my life. Each day is filled with numerous moments, some flowing easily together, others suddenly appearing and leaving their mark, only to quickly disappear. What came of it all for me was a sense of the need to be aware, to be thankful, to be trusting and to understand that the struggles to be faithful are, at their core, a need to open our hearts to Jesus and let Him live in us, and to live in Him. Life is random and disjointed, but there is a core that holds. I pray our hearts and our civilization would find a way to abide in Jesus and open our hearts for Him to abide in us.

for a variety of reviews on Cahill's book see

Friday, April 25, 2014

What KInd of Body Is It?

During Easter week the readings are especially timely. The Pauline texts from 1 Corinthians includes his pondering the nature of the resurrection body. As is often the case with Paul, he tends to be somewhat dismissive in answering what appear to be reasonable questions. (15:35-36) With what kind of body do they come? Fool! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies...

Paul follows the (Hellenistic) rhetorical practices of his time [see Ray Collin's (my thesis director) commentary on 1 Corinthians, a huge volume in Sacra Pagina]. The use of the harsh word "fool" is similar to the Stoic Cynic diatribes (a reminder that "the plain meaning of the  Bible" is that plain meaning in its original context; hence a thorough understanding of the laws of rhetoric would go a long way to broadening and deepening our understanding).

Paul employs analogies for insight. Analogies are the best tool in trying to understand something we have never encountered (like resurrection). Paul's point is that the seed does not look like the grown plant. By extension, while the human body does maintain some characteristics as it ages, one can also see very dramatic changes take place as a body ages. The most fearsome warriors and accomplished athletes were once helpless toddlers, and given enough time will be reduced to a broken down shell of a man at some point.

The issue of bodies is less mysterious to us thanks to the advances of biology, chemistry and physics. Yet, in a sense, it may be even more mysterious. We know that human bodies consists of organs, cells, molecules, atoms--which makes the question "Who/what am I?" all the more difficult to answer. As I pondered the readings I found myself thinking; humans are made up mostly of water (or so I have heard most of my life). That means we are  H20 (two hydrogen and one oxygen) so  Christian is arguably made up of holy water (sanctified and set aside) which is pretty interesting.

The endless coming and going of cells and molecules (I read once every seven years we totally recycle) raises the question of continuity in identity. Am I me when my body is no longer the same? (in an age of sex change operations such a question is even more pressing) So what is being resurrected? In Jesus' case it was a fairly short cycle time, dead on Friday, alive in a new body on Sunday. The interesting thing to me is the scars He had. It was Him in continuity with His earthly life. This was not a disembodied soul appearing as a ghost. It was a physical body which could be touched and examined (and yet capable of appearing and disappearing, passing through doors yet able to eat fish). Theoretical physics often says that reality is mostly empty and apparently the physicality of the resurrected body includes some mechanism for controlling the materials of which the body consists.

We do not know exactly what happens. We know that there is reason to believe our "soul" or "spirit" exists in and through the body (hence the continuity of identity). Some report experiences after clinical death which support the idea the soul's life after death. However, the Christian faith is about "Life After life after death." (see NT Wright for extensive books on this theme). In other words, at the end of time all the ghosts/spirits will rise again and be re-enfleshed. This means that our every day life matters because it is the stuff of the resurrection body.

The tendency to spiritualize and to denigrate the bodily existence is not Jewish and it is not Christian. It is actually influenced by Greek beliefs of the pagan world. Too often, trying to be "spiritual" we ignore the FACT that Christianity is both spirit and body. It is the body that is raised. Even Jesus' body did that. It would have been possible for Him to reappear as a pure spirit, shed of the skin and bone of this earthly life. He did not do that. Instead, in graspable flesh, carrying the scars, He entered into the new mode of existence. One is led to think that this is God's intent for our existence: physicality.

Something to keep in mind the next time we think that this old body does not matter or that real life is something unrelated to our earthly existence. This life and this body are what God redeems and raises. A good reason to take seriously how I am living.....

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Why It is Reasonable

We celebrate the Easter Season in my church: fifty days of focus on the central event of Christian faith. Many place prefer the "one and done" approach, seeing Easter as a day in the year. With our culture's preference to "move on" it is probably considered bad form to be talking about Easter "after the day"--we prefer to anticipate things and celebrate early (hence, the eggstravanganza events on Good Friday or Saturday. And in one stunning case, the Friday before Holy Week!)

For me, it is nice to have a long time (forty days) to prepare and focus on repentance in anticipation of the Holy Three Days (Maundy/Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Sunday). However, it is fitting that we have fifty days to ponder and consider the meaning of Easter. And in fifty days, the Great Feast of Pentecost (the coming of the Holy Spirit and 'birthday' of the church)

I want to consider a few questions, but the most pressing is, "is it reasonable to think Jesus rose from the dead?"

Our reasons for believing it, in the end, fall upon the reliability of witnesses; in this case, ancient witnesses, long since dead and unable to speak for themselves. There are four written sources about the events (the Gospels) and several others which refer to it (Letters and Apocalypse). Ironically, the accounts are inconsistent in places which lends credence to their veracity. In general, eye witness testimony should be a bit uneven. When four people recount the exact story it is usually an indication that there is collaboration. We may look at those 'uneven' spots in the testimony later in the days ahead.

Suffice to say that the human documents (setting aside the Christian claim of Divine Inspiration) attest a similar story. Jesus was crucified, something which He expected and even predicted, by the Roman authorities. Some disciples, mainly women, observed his death and his burial. They came back after the Sabbath (keeping faithful to the Law) and discovered an empty tomb and at some point messengers (men or angels) tell them Jesus is alive. Some disciples may also have come to see the empty tomb, or at least Peter did. At some point Jesus encountered Mary Magdalene (perhaps with others) and comforts her. Eventually Jesus appears to Peter and others. St. Paul, who had his own surprise encounter with Jesus, provides a ledger account of the individuals so blessed. the Gospels seem to choose incidents which serve as types of all the events, leaving us wondering as to all that went on in those days following Easter.

Now, many modern people assume that ancient folk are singularly ignorant and prone to believing things which are not true. In contrast, we moderns think we are much less likely to be led astray. There is much to say about that but here is my single response. Do you find that "simple" people bury the dead without understanding that the bodies will stay dead? There is no indications that the women went to the tomb to see if Jesus had risen, we are told that they bring the spices, etc. used for dead bodies. Here is the expectation that they had, dead Jesus will start stinking soon. Corpses were left in caves (burial chambers) to decompose. After the bones alone were left, they were gathered up and placed in an ossuary,or bone box.
(see this for a story about "James, Jesus' brother's ossuary)
Ancient people were very familiar with death. It was constantly present among them and there was no  sanitized medical care or funeral home. They were not naive about dead bodies and had plenty of experience burying corpses.

The Jewish belief at that time was similar to our own: that at the end of time God would raise the dead for the final judgment. What they expected would be the same thing we expect. Someday everyone will rise, but for now, dead is dead. There was NO EXPECTATION that anyone would rise and appear before that. NONE! In fact, had Jesus been a martyred prophet or holy man, his death would have been sad, but viewed as normal. Instead, the Christians thought Jesus was Messiah. This is a belief in something different, something which meant God's victory over the pagan/Gentile oppressors.

Jesus' death was not a problem in general, but it was in particular for the followers of Jesus who expected a different turn of events. False Messiahs were not uncommon. Jews were accustomed to judging by outcomes (prophets and Messiahs both). The failure of a man to come through labelled him a pseudo- or false prophet or Messiah. So Jesus death, however shocking, was a brutally concrete and real event which would have left no doubt that He was dead and gone. Remember it is women at the grave, people already in an outsider position. Perhaps their love for Him was bigger than Messianic hopes. And woman are not considered reliable witnesses at that time (recall the apostles blow them off) so no author would fabricate women as the source of eyewitness confirmation. (Any more than we would make up a story and claim a five year old is the key witness)

The risen state of Jesus on that morning was unexpected by everyone (except Jesus apparently). The belief in a general resurrection at the end of time did not include any early singular events. Hence, there is no reason to think the ancient folks were predisposed to think He would. The stories have eyewitness characterization (like a foot race and who won, or standing around crying, or a reference to a carelessly discarded face cloth rolled up in a corner by itself, or Jesus redirecting reactions toward more appropriate goals). The stories portray the disciples as clueless, afraid, shocked, and otherwise unimpressive (though consistently human). It sounds true, but it does not sound made-up.

The biggest reason most of us doubt the resurrection is because it has never happened before or since. Yet, the resurrection is unique, something which precludes happening over and over again. The uniqueness means that we cannot find a precedent or a later confirmation. It is like a snowstorm in July in Memphis. We would take note of such a thing because it was unexpected. And being unexpected it makes sense that it did not happen before or since.

The claims about Jesus were announced throughout the Empire by men who often met brutal deaths. The motivation for such a thing is hard to fathom. To lose everything in order to tell fake stories about a man who had died brutally as a false Messiah and to suffer deprivation and death in order to maintain the fallacy seems much less reasonable. There would have been no pay off, no TV appearances or book deals. Only long days and nights living a deprived life in order to move around telling people a remarkable story which you knew was not true and eventually being tortured and killed for the telling. (Just not a reasonable explanation to me) The reason why they did it is clearly they had an experience which made them brave in the face of all opposition. That courage is something which they self report in the Gospels that they did not have. They describe themselves as inept followers of Jesus, men of weak faith and little insight into Who He is and what He calls us to. The best reason for this radical transformation would seem to be that Jesus rose and He talked with them.

Did it happen? I believe so, but this is outside the realm of proof. However, making sense of all that transpired after the crucifixion, it seems the most reasonable explanation is the one which had universal ascent in the earliest Christian documents. Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate, suffered, died and was buried, and on the third day He rose again (according to the Scriptures---which by the way no one had interpreted that way until Jesus explained it to them after the resurrection)

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Whom Are You Seeking?

Easter 2014
The angel asks Mary: Whom are you seeking? We heard this before…
It was what Jesus asked the armed mob in the Garden. It was similar to the question He had asked the first disciples, “what are you seeking?”
They had thought that they had found what they were looking for, only to have that certainty shattered by the events of Good Friday. Jesus executed like a criminal, what could it means?
And now that empty tomb had presented a new and bewildering crisis.
Why are you weeping? Whom do you seek? She blubbers her confused response but comes to instant clarity when He speaks her name, “Mary.”
Easter is a day which raises that question for us afresh each year. Tday we begin fifty days pondering the most amazing event in history. Jesus was tortured, died and buried; now He is alive again in a new type of body!
Whom in deed are we looking for?
The uniqueness of Jesus is most clear on Easter Day. There have been many holy men, miracle workers and healers, we have found dozens of moral teachers and wise man who provide insight into God and life. There have been other great leaders and many martyrs. There is, however, only one such man who die and rose again. One. Jesus.
Whom are you looking for?
All through Lent we repeated that we were seeking Jesus. We were focusing our disciplines and practices on one task, seeking and finding Jesus. Our single minded goal was to know and love Jesus more on Easter than we did on Ash Wednesday. So how did you do?
Mary began to know Jesus in a new way after that garden encounter. Perhaps, like her, you found Him in the most unexpected place?
His victory over death is God’s declaration that Jesus is The One: He is Messiah, the Son of the Living God, the Lord and Savior.
Who or what rules your life?
What do you focus your limited resources seeking and pursuing?
We are all, like Mary, haunted by our traumas. We are sometimes terribly disappointed even by God. We can find ourselves, like Mary, wandering around confused and befuddled by life. We say “He is risen” but too often His silence feels like the grave is still occupied.
Today we are invited to hear His voice: to listen as He speaks our name.
We live by faith, not by sight. Mary’s encounter with Jesus is a moment of clarity for us. We cannot cling to Him, either. We, too, are sent out to tell others: Jesus is risen. The Kingdom draws near. Repent and believe.
The dead one is alive forever.
The rejected one is chosen of God.
The mocked one reigns with the Father in heaven.
The one who loves us is King.
He entrust us in mission.
And, o yes, He has prepared a place for us to join Him.
Rejoice in the Good News. He is risen, alleluia

Saturday, April 19, 2014

“This changes everything”

I read recently on my cell phone that the use of cell phones and other technology was changing our brains. We are so used to flitting here and there that we have lost the ability to stay focused and read extensively. I think it is true because I found myself unable to finish the article as I scanned for other stories. The irony was not lost on me. It is just so busy all the time and we are all so tired and exhausted it is hard to focus.

In our hyperbolic world where every player is called “a star” and a ham sandwich with chips tastes “awesome” it is our tendency to overstate the significance of most events.
In 2001 I recall a news report on some ghastly event, which had already been declared the “crime of the century.” Obviously, as I have forgotten already what it was, the reporters might have overstated the case.
A few years ago we were promised the advent of a new machine which was going to change the world. I remember being sort of excited by the speculation about what was going to be unveiled. Perhaps an alternative to fuel? Some thought that there might have been a quantum leap in medical care or something equally sublime. Finally the big day arrived and there it was: the Segway Scooter. It seems to be preferred by mall cops and downtown touring agencies. A convenience for those who do not like to walk, but hardly worthy of the hype.

What is worthy of the hype?
The history of salvation is the key element of our vigil. In a more perfect world, at least more perfect for a liturgical Christian, we would have gathered tonight to stay awake and ponder the Sacred texts until morning. We have only a few of the important stories tonight, but what if we could prayerfully read, discuss and pray over one after another: Creation, Adam&Eve, Fall, Cain&Abel, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Exodus, Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Saul, David, the temple, Kings, Prophets, Civil War, the destruction of Israel, the destruction of Judah, the Exile, the Return, Ezra and Nehemiah, Maccabees… and baby Jesus
Each component of the story is a microcosm of the great story of the God in covenant with His people. The God of wrath and mercy. The God of love and forgiveness, Who calls us home. The problem is for over busy people with overstimulated brains, who totter around half awake and are hard pressed to really meditate and be aware of the deeper meaning of things, even something truly awesome and amazing, the resurrection, is incapable of grabbing hold of our attention and transforming our mindset. In fact, the words "He is risen Alleluia! can be a challenge for even a faithful believer to fully embrace."

Yet, the life of Jesus encapsulates the story of the Jews and by extension our own story. He is Messiah King and Lord. In His flesh they find their true meaning and we find ours. In His flesh God finds a venue to come among us and deliver us from sin and death. Those are mind blowing facts which we would do well to ponder, meditate and think on for a long time...

The resurrection of Jesus really does change everything. Even if it seems the world is the same, the context is different. Even the worst of it, has been taken into the heart of God. Even sin and death, the worst our world has to offer, are defeated. Jesus has changed everything.

And because of that our lives are new:
He who died and risen has walked among us and given us a task.
Love one another
Believe in God, Believe in Me.
Serve as I have served
Be not afraid.
Make my joy in you be complete.
And because He left the tomb we can trust and obey Him.
That is not hype. He really has changed everything.