Are We Still Waiting?

Peter Rollins tells a parable in his book The Orthodox Heretic.  In this story Jesus finally makes his second coming.  When he does he goes largely unnoticed.  Finally he decides to approach a group of faithful people who have still followed his teachings.  He goes into a small church where a group of people are weeping over the suffering in the world and working day and night to bring aid and an end to this suffering.

When Jesus goes in to this church and reveals himself to them the people there greet him warmly.  There is much excitement at his return, but the people are left with one nagging question.  They approach Jesus and say, “Lord, we have but one question left to ask of you.”  Jesus, knowing already what their question is, allows them to ask.  They say, “Lord, we have been waiting and watching for your return for many many years.  We have this one last question for you.  When will you arrive?

Upon hearing this question Jesus simply smiles, and then settles in to working with the people in this church on their efforts and tears to rid the world of suffering.

There is a very real sense in which we must face the teachings of this parable.  We have to understand that there is a sense in which everyone who is right here with us is, in some profound way, still yet to come.  In some way we have to recognize the danger we have in assuming that we fully grasp anyone.  This is especially dangerous when we think we fully grasp Jesus.

In many Christian traditions we speak of salvation and the Kingdom as the “already…but not yet.”  This is a beautiful tension to live in.  But often this same way of thinking does not carry over into our understanding of Jesus.  It does not carry over into our understanding of God.  We begin to think of them as a series of propositions that we can affirm or deny, and if we can just do that with just the right phraseology then we will somehow grasp God in a more perfect way.  So often we replace moral legalism with a legalism of right belief.  It is this sort of legalism that Rollins so eloquently counters with this parable.

But there is an opposite danger.  When there is a tension to be lived in, then we can easily come down on either side, throw stones at those opposite us, and pretend to ourselves that our static position is somehow the tension where the Truth lies.  In other words, if I come down on the side of the “not yet” then I miss the truth of the “already” and vice versa.

In The Stages of Life Carl Jung says it this way,

“Whoever protects himself against what is new and strange and regresses to the past falls into the same neurotic condition as the man who identifies himself with the new and runs away from the past.  The only difference is that the one has estranged himself from the past and the other from the future.  In principle both are doing the same thing: they are reinforcing their narrow range of consciousness instead of shattering it in the tension of opposites and building up a state of wider and higher consciousness.”

I say all of that in order to say this…

My family has just begun exploring the liturgy of advent.  For those who, like me, didn’t grow up knowing too much about advent, it is basically a way of experiencing the waiting for Christ to come.  It is the source of all those beautiful minor key Christmas songs like “O Come O Come Emmanuel.”  It speaks of the pangs of longing for a Savior who will come and set things right.

But then comes Christmas.  And it is in Christmas that we celebrate the coming of that Savior.  In advent we allow ourselves to experience the “not yet” but in Christmas we celebrate the “already.”  It’s so easy to lose that in all of the things that Christmas has become.  But leaving aside for now the critique of modern consumerism as it relates to Christmas, I think this is a far more insidious danger that lurks beneath the surface of our holiday celebrations.  We take this one day, and even if we do it right – even if we truly celebrate the joyful news that in Jesus, God became one of us – we somehow lose it by a day or two later.

We go right back to waiting.

I do not ever want to be guilty of saying we shouldn’t think of God as “yet to come.”  Even the Bible teaches that “no one has ever seen God.”  It is an integral part of the Christian faith to acknowledge the fact that we long for the full realization of God’s presence.  There is only the thinnest whisper of a veil between us and God, but that whisper is at the exact same time an iron curtain that is light-years thick.  I do not wish to downplay that.  The health-wealth-prosperity “preachers” will tell you till they are blue in the face that God is so present among us that it must be your fault if you aren’t driving a BMW right now.  That teaching is a lie.

But let’s not be so cynical that we throw away the truth that makes that lie seem real.

Because we can very easily go the other way.  We can spend a day celebrating the arrival of Jesus.  But then we have placed it in a place in our minds where it is so far removed from our lives that it sits right there on the shelf beside of Santa Claus.  It’s a nice story we tell once a year.  There are some shepherds, and there is a baby in a feed-box.  There’s a pregnant lady with a blue thing on her head sitting on a donkey with a very confused carpenter leading her to Bethlehem.

It’s a cute story, but if it’s just something that happened a few thousand years ago in the middle east then I’d rather watch “A Christmas Story.”

It is only in so far as we don’t really believe it that we treat it as a history lesson.  Of course there is a place for understanding that there was a historical person named Jesus.  He was born in a barn in Bethlehem to a teenage girl named Mary and her very confused but supportive teenage husband Joseph.

But we make a fatal leap.

We jump straight from that history into the waiting for the second coming.  And in doing so we treat this entire life as a giant waiting room.  There’s boring muzac on the speakers.  There’s some dull and lifeless conversation between some people who aren’t too introverted to avoid eye contact with strangers.   But the whole point is the waiting for something better (or possibly worse) than what we’re in right now.

So, the point of all of this is to ask you, and me, and everyone else to please, don’t lose track of the point of the story.  It is important to see that this thing happened historically sometime two thousand years ago.  But the point is not the story.  The point is that the baby who was born in that feed-box grew up and said, “I have come to preach the good news to the poor…”  That baby was God come to set things right.  That baby grew into a man who taught us to love each other, and who said that the Kingdom is already here!

If that doesn’t make you want to grab the person next to you by the collar and scream, “Hey!  Have you heard this?!?!” Then maybe the problem is that we keep moving from waiting to waiting, and skipping out on the point of the waiting.  Christmas is about New Year’s!  It is about the coming of the one who starts things over fresh!  We don’t have to wait till next year to start living like the Kingdom is here.  The Kingdom is here!  God is with us.  Love wins.  Death loses.

Now, if you want a New Year’s resolution, let it be this:  Live the rest of your life as if you believe this is true.  And when you see suffering and pain and disease and sadness; expose those liars for what they are!  Work and weep and sweat and pray.  This is your sermon when you go out and preach the good news to the poor.  The Savior has come, and is here.  That pain is real, but when it tells you it will always be, it is a liar.

Love is the Word.

Believe.

Love,

-A

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Scripture, perception, and walking in through the out door…

There are many facts which are up for debate.  But one thing is absolutely certain.

Often the way my mind works is a little off…

Now that we all agree to this obvious point, let me explain why I bring that up.

I work in a restaurant.  It is a corporate chain restaurant which will remain nameless.  I stand in front of the grill all night.  Recently the fine folks in the corporate headquarters have begun trying to keep a better handle on the workings of the restaurant.  For example, we aren’t allowed to have drinks on the cook line.  Instead we get 5 oz portions in little sno-cone cups, then wash our hands and return to the line.

Brilliant.

Anyway, another of these rules is that they have decided to post “entrance” and “exit” on the appropriate side of the double doors leading from the front-of-house to the back-of-house.  You know…because no one knows that foot traffic moves like car traffic, and you keep to the right side of your path so you don’t slam into anyone…especially when going through double doors carrying large trays of food.

Okay.  So, far we are at the level of mildly insulting and annoying.

But here’s where my mental issues come into play.  When you start toying around with the idea of perception and preconceived notions, even with the clearly labeled doors, this “entrance” and “exit” conundrum gets a lot weirder.  Say for a minute that you’ve never driven a car.  Say you hire two people who come from a foreign country that has no protocol for which side of the pathway to walk on.  We’ll say one of them is hired to work in the kitchen, and one is hired to work on the waitstaff.

Imagine for a minute you are the person hired to work on the waitstaff.  When you approach double doors that go between the kitchen and the dining room – one saying “entrance” and one saying “exit” – how does your job affect your perception?  Are you exiting the kitchen into the dining room?  Or do you go through the door that says “entrance” because in your mind the dining room is the main part of the restaurant…therefore you are entering the dining room?  And the same with the kitchen staff.  If you walk from the dining room into the kitchen, do you go through the “entrance” door because you are entering the kitchen?  Or do you walk through the “exit” door, because you are leaving the dining room?

If we strip away the cultural context, we are still left with our own personal perception of what is most important, where the priority lies, and into what place we personally find ourselves fitting.

The same thing happens when we go to interpret scripture.

Often we hear people say that the Bible constantly contradicts itself.  They insist that the Bible simply cannot be trusted because of these obvious contradictions.  See Isaac Azimov’s guide to the Bible for a million examples.

Others insist that any contradictions in the Bible are merely apparent.  In other words, if we read one part of the Bible that seems to contradict another part, then we must be misinterpreting the contradictory passage.

That’s fair.

But there’s a problem…

The “all contradictions are merely apparent” faction tends to explain the contradictions with a somewhat misleading phrase.  They say, “scripture interprets scripture.”  To my odd little mind this seems a bit like saying that you can use the entrance door to interpret how you interact with the exit door.  In other words; it works, but only as long as everyone agrees to the same set of rules ahead of time.

And this is where the factions of the Church come into play.

We each come to the scriptures with our own agenda, preconceptions, biases, and preferences.  So, one group favors the Biblical concept of Grace over works.  They favor the idea of Christ as substitute for each of us on the cross.  They favor the idea of the depravity and utter helplessness of humanity against our own broken nature.  Each of these concepts has a very strong Biblical basis.  But then we see another group which favors the Biblical concept that “faith without works is dead.”  They understand the Bible to be a revolutionary book calling for social justice, non-violence, and equality for every living being.  They understand Christ’s death and resurrection as the ultimate victory over sin and death.  Each of these concepts also has a strong Biblical basis.

But then we treat them as mutually exclusive.

So, what if we are finding a group of like minded people who are reading the text in the same way as us?  What if we are having conversations with them to determine the best way to explain away the passages of scripture that contradict our agreed upon conclusions?  Of course we would never say as much.  But it seems to me like this might  be exactly what is happening.

But I would argue that this is counter productive.  The humble, Christian way of looking at this would be to open a space for conversation.  Paul teaches that we can come to a place where we choose a teacher and exhort them above the material they are teaching.  In the context, he tells the Corinthian church not to distinguish between the theology of himself versus a man named Apollos.  He says it is God who makes the faith grow.  And this applies to the debates between Calvin and Armenius, the Pope and Luther, Bell and Driscoll, Piper and McLaren.  What if the question really comes down to whether we are “front of house” or “back of house”?

What if the entire point is for us to wrestle through these questions together?

And what if the sacrifice of Christ…whether is be substitutionary atonement or victory over death and hell…what if that is what actually binds us together?

I argue passionately that it is this very sacrifice…it is this very Love…that binds us all together on this journey of faith.  And it is to our own peril that we lose the conversation in favor of the debate.  It is our own throats that we cut with our swords of truth.

It is my prayer that we can enter into a conversation.  It is my prayer that we can walk together in this journey.  And let those who favor Calvin, and those who favor Armenius, and those who favor Ekhart, and those who favor Schaeffer…let us all take our place in the Body of Christ.  A pinky toe and an ear lobe are equally important, but it is rarely necessary for them to walk side-by side.  But neither the pinky toe nor the ear lobe will ever get more than a few feet if they don’t agree to be in different places, and then move ahead together.

This is my prayer for the Church Universal.  I pray that we walk this path together whenever possible.  And I pray that we separate while maintaining unity.  Let the Love of God be the sinew that binds the bones in the Body of Christ.

Love,

-a


if i kick out my devils, my angels might leave…

“If I kick out my devils, my angels might leave.” – Iggy Pop

I once heard a preacher say that we should deal with our sins like we are weeding a garden. What I think he meant was that we should be diligent in plucking out the weeds one by one.  We ought to constantly be looking for anything that isn’t what we want to cultivate, and we ought to rip it out.  I agree that we ought to approach sin like weeding a garden, but I think that we need to reevaluate how we weed our gardens.

Let me explain…

Most people I know charge into their garden with pesticide.  They take these chemicals that are formulated to kill off the weeds, but let the plants grow, and they spray them all over everything.  And the chemicals do their job.  Don’t get me wrong.  These chemicals will choke down every single unwanted weed in your garden, and they will allow your vegetables to grow up big and strong.  This is especially true if you use them in conjunction with a few chemical fertilizers.

So now we’ve got no weeds, and we’ve got giant tomatoes…what on earth could my left-wing hippie mind find wrong with that?  Well, if you have to ask, then you obviously don’t know any left-wing hippies…we can find something wrong with anything.

Here’s the problem:

Most of the weeds we have killed are medicinal or are better for food than the plants we are putting in their place.  The lambs quarters you sprayed down and ripped up are way better for you than the spinach you planted in their place.  And the chemicals we spray on the weeds are now in our food.  The soil we are growing the plants in has been monocropped for so long that it has no nutrients left.  The chemical fertilizer we sprinkle on the ground will make the plants grow, but it won’t give back those nutrients.  So, we can make perfect little flavorless, nutrient-free tomatoes that look nice on the vine, but that beyond that will do nothing but cause heartburn and cancer.

And once…

several thousand years ago…

this hippie named Jesus said that a plant is known by its fruit.

So, what if we are doing something very similar in our churches today?  What if we are monocropping in dead soil?  What if we are spraying down and ripping up weeds that might just be better for us than the plants we are trying to force to grow?  What if the fertilizer we are putting down is just making pretty fruits that are flavorless and devoid of nutrition?  What if these fruits that we are growing look perfect on the outside, but they’re really causing heartburn and cancer?

I would argue that this is exactly what we are doing.  We are monocropping in dead soil.  Our denominational politics are seeing to it that nobody with a different viewpoint can speak up in any church.  When they do, they are sent out to find a church where people agree with the things they are saying.  This is not good for the people, and it is not good for the the churches.  It turns churches into echo chambers in which everyone sings the same tune, or at least they learn to fake it really well.

We are spraying down and ripping up weeds that are better for us than what we are trying to grow.  We discourage questioning, doubt, and ambiguity in favor of answers, facts, and rules.  By doing so we cram God into a box.  Anytime God climbs out of that box, we explain it away.  If we are in a “spirit” church, and something intellectual comes along that challenges our thinking, we chalk it up to the devil making those who claim to be wise into fools.  And if we are in a more reformed, cessationist church, then when the Spirit shows up we say, “um…excuse me…can you go sit in the back…it’s just that we have an order of worship here, and you make it difficult to stay on task…”  Sometimes it is the very thing that challenges the core of all the we believe and cling to that we ought to be embracing.

And this fertilizer we put down is making pretty fruit that is empty.  We study all the books that affirm our beliefs.  We listen to music that always has an uplifting message.  We say things like, “scripture interprets scripture.”  But what we really mean is that the scriptures we believe are used to interpret the scriptures we don’t really believe.  Everything is set up so that what we are growing in is pure, bright, white, and clean.  And we produce fruit that is as bland and flavorless as those genetically modified, chemically grown tomatoes.

In actuality what makes a real, delicious, nutritious fruit is something completely different.  We take heirloom seeds, passed down from generation to generation.  Seeds that have seen abundance, but also drought.  Seeds that have survived through good times and through times when it looked like those seeds could never grow.  And we put them in soil that is full of death and decay.  Soil that is mixed in with rotten, decaying, used up things.  These are the things that give the soil its substance.  The things that have been sacrificed.  We give them pure water and bright sunshine.

And sometimes we pray for rain.

And there are “weeds” we allow to grow.  We mix flowers in amongst the plants.  We don’t put things in straight lines, because that’s what the predators are looking for.  We let things be messy and sloppy, and not technically correct.  And the fruit we produce may be ugly.  It may have lumps and dark spots.  It may have a place where a worm had lunch.  So be it.  Cut it off, and enjoy the rest!

This imperfectly perfect fruit will be the greatest you have ever tasted.  It will give you life which springs forth out of death.  It will give you joy that springs out of the pain of labor.  It will surprise you.  It will shock you.  It will leave you standing in gape-mouthed wonder at the beautiful flavors that can come from something so plain.

But it will never…

ever…

be bland.

Love,

-a


Uniformity vs unity…

There’s a story we tell in churches.  Maybe not in all churches, but in most.

It’s a story about belief.

Often we stand together, and we read off a list of things we believe.  We read an apostle’s creed.  We read puritan prayers.  We run down lists of propositions, and we nod our heads and affirm each item on the list.

Now, I’m not saying that these creeds and prayers and lists are bad.  It is deeply important for us to take stock of what we believe.  We are dealing with infinity.  We are dealing with a being so vast that every aspect of the universe was created by this being’s word.  We are dealing with a being so intimate that you cannot split open even the tiniest molecule without this being’s love rushing over you like the ocean’s crashing waves.  Without some sort of system of knowledge to make some sense of this, we’d never be able to digest any of it.

But there’s a danger.

Too often we take these propositions – we take these tools – and we make them into a yard stick by which we can measure our faith.  We take these propositions and we tell everyone, “You need to agree to each of these, or else you are not fully a part of the club.”

And so we play a game.

In order to avoid being excluded from the club, we stand together and we say, “I affirm this belief.  I believe each point on this list.”  But in our minds we might actually struggle with some of it.  Maybe we even disbelieve some of it completely.  And most shockingly…maybe we’re not alone.  What if there is a whole lineage of Christians who have wrestled with the delicate balance between doubt and faith?  What if even your pastor or your worship leader or your Sunday school teacher have questions and doubts?  What if they even sit down and discuss those doubts with each other, and it is a beautiful and deep part of their Christian life?  But then they stand up on Sunday morning and say, “I affirm these beliefs.”  Doesn’t that in some way reduce faith?

Jacob’s name is changed to Israel because he wrestled with God, and with men and prevailed.  And then Israel becomes the name of God’s chosen people.  God chose a people who would wrestle, who would ask questions, who would push back.  This is what a relationship is like.

So in the church when we use our doctrines and creeds as ways of saying, “I’m in because I will intellectually affirm each point (whether I truly believe it in my heart or not), and you’re out because you doubt,” then we do a disservice to God.  We dissect God into tiny parts leaving only the corpse of an idol in God’s place.  Meanwhile the world looks at these parts of God that we are holding up and saying, “you need to worship this,” and they say, “Why?  You’re only showing me a corpse.”

In reality we are talking about a God that won’t fit inside a creed or a doctrine.  Our creeds and doctrines tell us a lot about who God is, but they are not God themselves.  The menu is not the meal.  The map is not the road.  So we can stand together, link arms, recite our creeds, and talk about how this is unity.  We can exclude anyone who does not get on board with that so-called unity.  But we are not talking about unity anymore.  When we deny our real and honest questions, doubts, and disagreements, we have moved past unity and into uniformity.  When you put on the uniform it doesn’t matter what’s inside.  We all look alike on the outside, and we keep any disagreement carefully concealed.

If this is faith, you can have my share.  If this is Christianity, I’ll pass.

But it isn’t.  Faith is a vibrant, living, breathing thing.  Christianity is a relationship.  There has never been a lasting relationship that had no room for doubts and questions.  There has never been a true relationship that couldn’t survive some real, honest discussion.  In fact there has never been a true relationship that could survive without it.

So, I ask my fellow Christians – and beyond that, I ask my fellow humans – can we please keep our doctrines and beliefs where they belong?  I would love to sit down with anyone and have a conversation that says, “In my experience, and to my understanding, this is how God seems to be…” Then we can offer feedback to each other.  But can we please stop picking up those beliefs and smashing them over each other’s heads?

And specifically to my Christian family…

Can we learn the difference between unity and uniformity?  The world does not need to see a band of robots swallowing orders and towing the party line.  If they want that, they can get into politics.  What the world needs to see is real people being real.  They need to see a different sort of society in which we can disagree.  We can even disagree about some very fundamental things.  But those disagreements do not have to be a source of division.  Maybe we can maintain our disagreements in love.  We can disagree without saying, “You are no longer welcome here” or “You have no more valid opinions because we disagree on this.”

My heart breaks with longing for a time in which we can disagree with love and respect because we know that God is bigger than our ideas about God.  Grace is stronger than legalism.  Love is stronger than hate.  And as Rob Bell says, “The Good News is better than that.”

I love you,

-A

P.s.- as usual, I am indebted to Peter Rollins for much of my thought here. If any of this strikes you, I’d suggest you check him out asap. http://www.peterrollins.net


saying one: “father forgive them…”

I am beginning a seven part series on the seven sayings of Christ from the cross.  It is my hope that in doing so we can dispel some of the myths that have sprung up around who Jesus was and is.  There is such a tangled web of ideas that span the space between scripture and tradition.  It seems to me that we can learn a lot about who Jesus is and who he wants us to be by studying these seven sayings.

With that said, let’s look at the first saying…

“Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing…” – Luke 23:34

There is an image of Jesus that we have seen emerge over the past several years that I find to be incredibly disturbing.  Of course, Jesus is disturbing, and those who hold to this image will point to that fact as proof that your being disturbed shows them to be right.  But I would argue that their image of Jesus is disturbing in a very different way.

The idea that I’m talking about is this idea that Jesus is some sort of heavy metal warrior deity.  He has a sword in one hand and an electric guitar in the other.  He is ready to bring down fire and smoke on anyone who stands in his way.  It is a Jesus image concocted in the minds of people who, as one pastor said, “Cannot worship a guy who I could beat up.”

Is that what it’s all about?

You want your god to be a bigger bully than you are?

What Jesus calls us to is something completely different.  It is a different kind of strength.  It is a different kind of power.  If your faith is just about trying to find a bigger thug to do your dirty work of smashing people who are different than you are, then you might want to look elsewhere.  When you consider that the first thing out of Jesus’ mouth on the cross are the words, “Father forgive them…” you are faced with a Jesus that defies all expectation.  You are faced with a Jesus that defies and challenges the most fundamental concept of human existence.  He defies our will for self-preservation and our desire for revenge.  He exemplifies love.  He is not, as our aforementioned pastor friend called him, “a cage fighter ready to draw blood.”

The Jesus of the scriptures is one of meekness.  Not weakness, but meekness.  He totally could have gone the Rambo route on the road to the cross, and no one would have blamed him.  At any given time he could have called down scores of angels to cut down the people in his path, established an earthly kingdom, and booted out anyone who didn’t get in line.  If this were a movie written in the 21st century, that’s exactly what we would have seen.  But the Jesus of the Bible is a different kind of Jesus.  As I said, he is disturbing, but for completely different reasons.

The Jesus of the Bible is disturbing because he could have gone the Rambo route, and he completely didn’t.  The very reason that Jesus was looked over as the Messiah was because he didn’t fit the image.  He didn’t burst out with guns blazing and set fire to the oppressive Roman empire.  He didn’t come to overturn political rivals.  He came to do much more than that.

This is where Jesus becomes truly disturbing.

We are faced with an image of the Creative Word that sparked all of existence, seeing this position as something to abandon for the sake of his enemies.  So he left that position and became a human being.  Not only that, but he became a human being who blended in.  He wasn’t a king, or a rock star.  He was the son of a carpenter.  He had blisters on his hands.  He didn’t stand out in a crowd.  In fact he blended in so well that Judas had to kiss him on the cheek so that those who came to arrest him would know who he was.

The Jesus of the Bible is a humble, sarcastic, loving, challenging figure.  He is not one who backed down from conflict, but he is not the violent, angry, professional wrestler god-man that he has been portrayed to be in modern evangelical circles.  But I love what Pete Rollins said in response to this sort of thinking.  He said,

“You know what my response is?  You’re not too violent, you’re not violent enough.  Your violence is like the man who beats up his wife.  It’s an impotent violence.  It’s a violence against flesh and blood.  The violence of Christianity is a violence against principalities and powers.  Christianity is fundamentally violent.  Look at Mother Teresa.  Her pacifism is violent.  Why?  Because it completely ruptured the caste system.  The whole system of power that placed people in different castes…she came in and she looked after everybody equally.  And she ruptured the system…”

And so this is the point.  We want to get on God’s team and we can behave like the smaller kid who sucks up to the big bully because we don’t want to be beaten up ourselves.  And there is a sort of power in that, but it’s fundamentally a weak sort of power.  But as he utters the words, “Father forgive them…”  Jesus embraces a powerful weakness.  And the difference is night and day.

A weak power is a worldly power.  It is a power that overcomes by force.  It is the power of the cage fighter and the barroom brawler.  There is strength there, but only so far as you don’t run up against someone who is stronger.  We’re placing our bets, hoping that the “god” we get with is the strongest.  But in the end we walk around puffing out our chests and posturing.  We live in fear that someone stronger will come along and destroy the walls and fences and fortresses that we have built to protect ourselves from the outside.

Powerful weakness is a strength that is only found by letting go.  It is the type of strength that comes from not viewing even the high position of God as something to cling to, but as something to give up for the sake of your enemies.  It is a strength that cannot be broken.  It is what Lao Tzu talked about when he spoke of being like a reed that bends as the water flows over it, but therefore it doesn’t break.  It is not a weakness that says, “please don’t take anything away from me.”  It is a powerful weakness that says, “I don’t need anything that you can take from me.  All that I need is hidden away in a place that you can’t touch.”  A powerful weakness says, “You cannot take anything from me because I choose to freely give it to you.”

Weak power is fleeting.  Muscles atrophy.  Walls Crumble.  Beauty fades.  Political power is taken away.

Powerful weakness is an eternal strength.  Love is stronger than Hate.  Meekness is better than Coercion.

And Forgiveness is always better than revenge.


Hank Williams Never Saw the Light…

Before I start, let me put it up front that I am heavily indebted to Peter Rollins for much of the content of this post.  Credit being given where credit is due…let’s get going…

It is almost a misleading title I offer on this one.

I tell you that Hank Williams never saw the light.  And your temptation is to tell me that I am judging him because of his various addictions.  Perhaps I’m judging the way he died.  Perhaps I’m judging his lifestyle as it opposes his singing of songs like “I Saw the Light.”

But no.

There but for the Grace of God go I…

Instead, I am offering you commentary on the idea that no one has ever seen the light.  Though I love Hank’s song…and I sing it often…I find some very strong places in which I cannot fully support what is being said.

What I mean by this is that quite literally no one has ever seen light.

In 1 John 1:5 we learn that “God is light.  In him is no darkness at all.”  And so we are left to question why John would have used such a metaphor to describe who God is, and what that metaphor might tell us about our experience of God.

First of all let’s let it sink in that in God’s authoritative Word to humanity, the Bible, this phrase is admitted.

God.

Is.

Light.

So what do we know about light?

First of all we can discuss the speed of light.  As one pastor pointed out…If I see a car headed at me at 20 miles per hour, and for some unknown reason I decide that instead of stepping out of the way, I will run away from the car, something peculiar happens.  If the car is bearing down on me at 20 miles per hour, and I turn and run at 10 miles per hour away from the car…then the car is only bearing down on me at 10 miles per hour.

But light is different.

If I were to see a photon of light bearing down on me at – well – let’s just say the speed of light…then I decide to turn and run, then no matter how fast I run away from that photon of light – ten miles an hour…twenty miles an hour…a hundred miles an hour…a trillion miles an hour – the light is still bearing down on me at the speed of light.

So light is somehow what theologians would call “imminent.”  It is present with us.  No matter where we go, no matter what we do, Light is there.  We are surrounded by light.  One might almost say that light is that in which we “live, move and have our being.”  In fact if we see anything at all it is because light is there saying, “hey…look at this…”

So Light is all around us.  Though we have never seen it.  In 1 John 4:12 John tells us that no one has ever seen God.  This is important for us to hear.  And we might be tempted to point to God showing himself to Abraham from the back as he passed by the cleft of the rock.  But John says, “Actually…what you saw wasn’t really fully God, because no one has seen God.”  And the same can be said for light.

We may study light.  But the only way we can study it is to break it down into its component parts.  We distort it through a prism and break apart the multitude of colors in its spectrum.  But none of the colors we look at are actually the light.  They are merely aspects of the light.

And when we look at light one way we see it as traveling in particles.  But we look at it another way and we see it traveling in waves.

Sometimes it is one.

But sometimes it is several.

It all depends on our perspective.

So, everything we know about light is a distortion of what that light actually is.  It is all around us, but somehow it transcends us.  This is what theologians call transcendence.  It is present in the common idea that God is somehow separate from us.  He is off on some cloud somewhere, and we are here.  It is the aspect of God that leads to atheism.  Not the atheism of the modern atheist.  Not the atheism of Nietzsche or Dawkins or Hitchins.  Instead is is an existential atheism.  It is the type of atheism that G.K. Chesterton said Christ experienced on the cross as he cried out, “Eloi Eloi lama sabachthani” (“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”).

And beyond all this one might say that no matter who we are…no matter how orthodox or unorthodox…we all have some sense of God that is a false sense of God.  We may be Christian.  We may be Atheist.  We may hold to any number of religious or philosophical identities.  But each of us has some skewed view of God.  If God can truly be called God, then it is a necessity that our ideas of God be somehow less than who God is.

In other words, the religious person grabs their prism and looks at their idea of the “Light” and says, “Look…light is red and it moves in photon packets.”  While another religious person looks at light and says, “no…light is blue and it moves in waves.”  Then they fight.

The intellectual atheist looks around and says, “Look, you can’t see this without the tools that you bring to look at it. Put down your prisms and accept the reality that light isn’t here.”  All the while they don’t realize that the very fact that they see anything at all shows that there is light…even if they don’t see the light nor understand it.The existential atheist has seen one of the distortions of the light through their prism, and then put down the prism and stopped seeing it.  So they conclude it must have been in their imagination.  Then they walk around in this tension between knowing that light is there, but frustration that they can’t see it as it is, and then somehow doubting it was ever there to begin with.

But I would argue that existential atheism is something that, in some sense, is a part of Christianity. We can see God saying to God, “Why have you forsaken me?”  We can see David saying “If I go to heaven, you are there.  If I make my bed in hell, you are there.”  While we also have verses saying, “No one has ever seen God.”  Somehow the Christian walks in this tension between a God who is as close as our breath, but as distant as the farthest reaches of the universe.

Tillich said that “The courage to be is rooted in the God that appears when God disappears in the anxiety of doubt.”

So it is when we let go of the need to define God in some way that limits God that we can truly experience God.  It is when we kill the god of our imagination that we come face to face with the real God.  God is not angry at idolatry because God is threatened by our worship stone carvings.  God is angry at idolatry because each false image of God that we set up is a brick in the wall that divides us from the relationship we were created to enjoy.

And so, that is one of the things that separates Christianity from religion.  Religion says, “This aspect of light that I have studied is comprehensive, and anything that contradicts that is heresy.”  Christianity says, “Please learn the difference between contradiction and paradox.”  Religion says, “I have studied the scriptures and I have developed a comprehensive systematic theology and a catechism of creedal statements that will answer any question you could possibly have about God.”  Christianity says, “God is a mystery.  God is indescribable.  God is like light…whatever we know about God is only a piece of the puzzle.”

So, the question and the challenge offered here is this:  Do we compare each of our puzzle pieces to find out how they fit together, or do we continue to puff our our chests and claim that our individual pieces are all that are needed to see the whole picture?  The invitation is to a conversation.  I love you.  Let’s talk…


Parable of the Zombies…

I have two current obsessions.

I love zombie movies and the parable-ridden theology of Peter Rollins.  Given these two things, it seemed obvious that I should take a stab at writing a parable about zombies.

So…here it is…

The Parable of the Zombies…

Once there were three zombies.

Like all zombies they maintained their sorrowful existence by feasting on the flesh of those still living.  Their beastly, incoherent gruntings were their only communication.  Even this meager communication really only served to alert other zombies to the presence of living flesh to feast upon.

Through their entire dead/life none of the zombies ever really changed their ways.  None of them ever completely stopped eating people.

But…

One zombie was proud to be a zombie.  He was glad to be who he was.

One zombie was ashamed.  He ate people because he couldn’t seem to help himself, but he always felt guilty.

One zombie was indifferent to the whole question.  He simply never thought about it.  He got hungry…He ate people.  He got sleepy…he laid down and slept.  Sunrise…Sunset…never a thought.

One day the zombie who felt guilty planted a garden.  Though he still ate people, from time to time he’d eat the vegetables from his garden instead.

The zombie who was proud to be a zombie was inspired by this.  He planted a small garden himself, and occasionally ate veggies instead of people as well.  Though he never completely gave up eating people either.

The indifferent zombie was busy doing zombie stuff and he missed the whole thing…