Thursday, March 31, 2016

The resurrection isn’t an argument. It’s the Christian word for defiance

On Friday, all was lost. Richard Dawkins and his smirking acolytes had got it right, blast them. I know the atheist recital better than most. Religion is a busted flush. The dream turned out to have been a fantasy. Perhaps we all got carried away by the charisma. But now, it seems, the one we had followed had over-promised. So it’s time to pack up our chalices and do something useful. Time to admit the truth: it had all been a lie and a waste.

But that was Friday. On Sunday morning, just before dawn, a group of us gathered outside church and kindled a small bonfire. From there we passed the flame to a large candle and processed it into the nave – the tentative, flickering light illuminating the dark corners of the building. And from that large candle, we all lit our own individual candles, passing the light from one to another. Everything now starts again. Hallelujah, Christ is risen. Without this, the whole Christian faith is nonsense.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Practice Resurrection! How?

Easter is all about newness, victory, resurrection. Yet after all the hoopla things go back to normal and we face the prospect of Low Sunday a week later and a world that seems not to have changed. How do we “practice resurrection” (Wendell Berry) in the ordinariness and opaqueness of life?

1.    The world often (always?) seems more darkness than light.                                       The best I can do is trust that God has this whole mess completely under control. 

2.    There’s not much I can do about this mess.                                                          Except use each day and its opportunities to do what I can. 

3.    Optimism is hard to come by.                                                                                      I have to choose hope and affirm life and the world. 

4.    I make mistakes often, errors of both omission and commission.                                Ann Lamott is right – shitty first drafts are necessary. 

5.    Life is busy and hard with little enough time to what we think God wants us to do. Therefore, Sabbath is necessary.

(Adapted from

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Easter! Now What?

          Lent is over. Easter is here. Hot Cross buns have been eaten. Pageants performed. The great Easter hymns sung. But what’s next? Where do we go from here?

          Life seems to return to “normal.” But the Easter message is that the Risen Christ has made all things new. What is this newness and how do we identify and participate in it?

          Fortunately, C. S. Lewis has given us a wonderful fictional depiction of our participation in Christ’s resurrection triumph. In Prince Caspian, the second in the original published order of the Narnia Chronicles, the four Pevensie children from our world have returned to Aslan’s world of Narnia. There are a great kings and queens. They have been called to aid Prince Caspian, a young royal whose scurrilous uncle had his father killed and claimed the throne of Narnia for himself. Having no male heir, Uncle Miraz had adopted Caspian and ruled in his stead till the young man grew into his adulthood.

          However, Miraz’ wife has become pregnant and given him a son. Now Caspian is a threat to Miraz. Warned by his old nurse, Caspian flees. He undertakes to the lead the forces of Old Narnia, whom Miraz has suppressed and outlawed, to retake their land and clam his rightful rule.

          Aslan, the great lion and Christ-figure, joins them. His resurrection is in the first story The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe so he joins this story as the resurrected one. He advises Caspian, Peter, Edmund, and the creatures of old Narnia in battle against Miraz and his forces and leads a victory procession through the land restoring it to its proper order. This double-sided task, battle against the enemy (Eph.6:10-20) and leading a movement of liberation and restoration captures perfectly the post-Easter life of Christ’s people.

          As we take up our post-Easter life again this year, may Lewis’ tale stir our imaginations to embrace both our struggle against the “principalities and powers” and ministries of healing, restoration, and hope in a world still bound by the lies and illusions of the evil one. It begins at the conclusion of the battle against Miraz and relates in detail the victory procession.


But almost before the Old Narnians were really warmed to their work they found the enemy giving way. Tough-looking warriors turned white, gazed in terror not on the Old Narnians but on something behind them, and then flung down their weapons, shrieking, “The Wood! The Wood! The end of the world!”

But soon neither their cries nor the sound of weapons could be heard any more, for both were drowned in the ocean-like roar of the Awakened Trees as they plunged through the ranks of Peter’s army, and then on, in pursuit of the Telmarines. Have you ever stood at the edge of a great wood on a high ridge when a wild southwester broke over it in full fury on an autumn evening? Imagine that sound. And then imagine that the wood, instead of being fixed to one place, was rushing at you; and was no longer trees but huge people; yet still like trees because their long arms waved like branches and their heads tossed and leaves fell round them in showers. It was like that for the Telmarines. It was a little alarming even for the Narnians. In a few minutes all Miraz’s followers were running down to the Great River in the hope of crossing the bridge to the town of Beruna and there defending themselves behind ramparts and closed gates.

They reached the river, but there was no bridge. It had disappeared since yesterday. Then utter panic and horror fell upon them and they all surrendered.

But what had happened to the bridge?

Early that morning, after a few hours’ sleep, the girls had waked, to see Aslan standing over them and to hear his voice saying, “We will make holiday.” They rubbed their eyes and looked round them. The trees had all gone but could still be seen moving away toward Aslan’s How in a dark mass. Bacchus and the Maenads— his fierce, madcap girls— and Silenus were still with them. Lucy, fully rested, jumped up. Everyone was awake, everyone was laughing, flutes were playing, cymbals clashing. Animals, not Talking Animals, were crowding in upon them from every direction.

“What is it, Aslan?” said Lucy, her eyes dancing and her feet wanting to dance.

“Come, children,” said he. “Ride on my back again today.” “Oh, lovely!” cried Lucy, and both girls climbed onto the warm golden back as they had done no one knew how many years before. Then the whole party moved off— Aslan leading, Bacchus and his Maenads leaping, rushing, and turning somersaults, the beasts frisking round them, and Silenus and his donkey bringing up the rear.

They turned a little to the right, raced down a steep hill, and found the long Bridge of Beruna in front of them. Before they had begun to cross it, however, up out of the water came a great wet, bearded head, larger than a man’s, crowned with rushes. It looked at Aslan and out of its mouth a deep voice came.

“Hail, Lord,” it said. “Loose my chains.”

“Who on earth is that?” whispered Susan.

 “I think it’s the river-god, but hush,” said Lucy. “Bacchus,” said Aslan. “Deliver him from his chains.”

“That means the bridge, I expect,” thought Lucy. And so it did. Bacchus and his people splashed forward into the shallow water, and a minute later the most curious things began happening. Great, strong trunks of ivy came curling up all the piers of the bridge, growing as quickly as a fire grows, wrapping the stones round, splitting, breaking, separating them. The walls of the bridge turned into hedges gay with hawthorn for a moment and then disappeared as the whole thing with a rush and a rumble collapsed into the swirling water. With much splashing, screaming, and laughter the revelers waded or swam or danced across the ford (“ Hurrah! It’s the Ford of Beruna again now!” cried the girls) and up the bank on the far side and into the town.

Everyone in the streets fled before their faces. The first house they came to was a school: a girls’ school, where a lot of Narnian girls, with their hair done very tight and ugly tight collars round their necks and thick tickly stockings on their legs, were having a history lesson. The sort of “History” that was taught in Narnia under Miraz’s rule was duller than the truest history you ever read and less true than the most exciting adventure story.

“If you don’t attend, Gwendolen,” said the mistress, “and stop looking out of the window, I shall have to give you an order-mark.”

“But please, Miss Prizzle—” began Gwendolen.

“Did you hear what I said, Gwendolen?” asked Miss Prizzle.

“But please, Miss Prizzle,” said Gwendolen, “there’s a LION!”

“Take two order-marks for talking nonsense,” said Miss Prizzle. “And now—” A roar interrupted her. Ivy came curling in at the windows of the classroom. The walls became a mass of shimmering green, and leafy branches arched overhead where the ceiling had been. Miss Prizzle found she was standing on grass in a forest glade. She clutched at her desk to steady herself, and found that the desk was a rose-bush. Wild people such as she had never even imagined were crowding round her. Then she saw the Lion, screamed and fled, and with her fled her class, who were mostly dumpy, prim little girls with fat legs. Gwendolen hesitated.

“You’ll stay with us, sweetheart?” said Aslan.

“Oh, may I? Thank you, thank you,” said Gwendolen. Instantly she joined hands with two of the Maenads, who whirled her round in a merry dance and helped her take off some of the unnecessary and uncomfortable clothes that she was wearing.

Wherever they went in the little town of Beruna it was the same. Most of the people fled, a few joined them. When they left the town they were a larger and a merrier company.

They swept on across the level fields on the north bank, or left bank, of the river. At every farm animals came out to join them. Sad old donkeys who had never known joy grew suddenly young again; chained dogs broke their chains; horses kicked their carts to pieces and came trotting along with them— clop-clop— kicking up the mud and whinnying.

At a well in a yard they met a man who was beating a boy. The stick burst into flower in the man’s hand. He tried to drop it, but it stuck to his hand. His arm became a branch, his body the trunk of a tree, his feet took root. The boy, who had been crying a moment before, burst out laughing and joined them.

At a little town half-way to Beaversdam, where two rivers met, they came to another school, where a tired-looking girl was teaching arithmetic to a number of boys who looked very like pigs. She looked out of the window and saw the divine revelers singing up the street and a stab of joy went through her heart. Aslan stopped right under the window and looked up at her.

“Oh, don’t, don’t,” she said. “I’d love to. But I mustn’t. I must stick to my work. And the children would be frightened if they saw you.”

“Frightened?” said the most pig-like of the boys. “Who’s she talking to out of the window? Let’s tell the inspector she talks to people out of the window when she ought to be teaching us.”

“Let’s go and see who it is,” said another boy, and they all came crowding to the window. But as soon as their mean little faces looked out, Bacchus gave a great cry of Euan, euoi-oi-oi-oi and the boys all began howling with fright and trampling one another down to get out of the door and jumping out of the windows. And it was said afterward (whether truly or not) that those particular little boys were never seen again, but that there were a lot of very fine little pigs in that part of the country which had never been there before.

“Now, Dear Heart,” said Aslan to the Mistress: and she jumped down and joined them.

At Beaversdam they re-crossed the river and came east again along the southern bank. They came to a little cottage where a child stood in the doorway crying. “Why are you crying, my love?” asked Aslan. The child, who had never seen a picture of a lion, was not afraid of him. “Auntie’s very ill,” she said. “She’s going to die.” Then Aslan went to go in at the door of the cottage, but it was too small for him. So, when he had got his head through, he pushed with his shoulders (Lucy and Susan fell off when he did this) and lifted the whole house up and it fell backward and apart.

And there, still in her bed, though the bed was now in the open air, lay a little old woman who looked as if she had Dwarf blood in her. She was at death’s door, but when she opened her eyes and saw the bright, hairy head of the lion staring into her face, she did not scream or faint. She said, “Oh, Aslan! I knew it was true. I’ve been waiting for this all my life. Have you come to take me away?”

“Yes, Dearest,” said Aslan. “But not the long journey yet.” And as he spoke, like the flush creeping along the underside of a cloud at sunrise, the color came back to her white face and her eyes grew bright and she sat up and said, “Why, I do declare I feel that better. I think I could take a little breakfast this morning.”

“Here you are, mother,” said Bacchus, dipping a pitcher in the cottage well and handing it to her. But what was in it now was not water but the richest wine, red as red-currant jelly, smooth as oil, strong as beef, warming as tea, cool as dew.

“Eh, you’ve done something to our well,” said the old woman. “That makes a nice change, that does.” And she jumped out of bed.

“Ride on me,” said Aslan, and added to Susan and Lucy, “You two queens will have to run now.”

“But we’d like that just as well,” said Susan.

And off they went again. And so at last, with leaping and dancing and singing, with music and laughter and roaring and barking and neighing, they all came to the place where Miraz’s army stood flinging down their swords and holding up their hands, and Peter’s army, still holding their weapons and breathing hard, stood round them with stern and glad faces. And the first thing that happened was that the old woman slipped off Aslan’s back and ran across to Caspian and they embraced one another; for she was his old nurse.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Holy Saturday

            Holy Saturday is a day of mourning and waiting. There’s nothing to do. It is, after all, Sabbath. Holy Saturday is a postscript to Good Friday and a preface to Easter Sunday. Whether postscript or preface depends on where one enters it spiritually. Some years it will be the one and some the other. I share this for those (like me) entering from the Good Friday side this year. The Smashing Pumpkins song “Tales of a Scorched Earth” definitely parses Holy Saturday in a postscript mode. It’s an anthem for this day when it is experienced as the “end” for Jesus and also for us.

“Farewell goodnight last one out turn out the lights
And let me be, let me die inside
Let me know the way from of this world of hate in you
Cause the dye is cast, and the bitch is back
And we're all dead yeah we're all dead
Inside the future of a shattered past
I lie just to be real, and I'd die just to feel
Why do the same old things keep on happening?
Because beyond my hopes there are no feelings
Bless the martyrs and kiss the kids
For knowing better, for knowing this
Cause you're all whores and I'm a fag
And I've got no mother and I've got no dad
To save me the wasted, save me from myself
I lie just to be real, and I'd die just to feel
Why do the same old things keep on happening?
Because beyond my hopes there are no feelings
Everbody's lost just waiting to be found
Everyone's a thought just waiting to fade
So fuck it all cause I don't care
So what somehow somewhere we dared
To try to dare to dare for a little more
I lie just to be real, and I'd die just to feel
Why do the same old things keep on happening?
Because beyond my hopes there are no reasons”

Holy Saturday may and at times will be a postscript for Good Friday more than a preface to Easter. When all hope seems to amount to is a life “Inside the future of a shattered past,” Holy Saturday is a postscript to Good Friday. And when it is, we can only live with it, pensively, realistically. It is feels like death to us, it should. For death is the only place where resurrection blooms. 

Friday, March 25, 2016

“The Three Days”/Triduum Lite – A Reconceptualization

          A number of churches in North America have regained a sense of the Church Year since the 1960’s. And that is a good thing.

          However, lumping the three days of Easter weekend together under the rubric of “The Three Days” is, in my judgment, less helpful than it might be. And that’s because this rubric covers three days of very different theological and historical valency. Being under one rubric, however, tends to obscure the critical differences between them and inclines us to treat them as simply days on which things important to the Christian faith happened. I suggest this is a woefully inadequate approach. And combined with the near universal neglect of Holy Saturday divests what happened on this weekend of much of its meaning and power.

          Good Friday-Holy Saturday-Easter Sunday are “The Three Days” of Easter weekend. Usually reduced to just Good Friday and Easter by ignoring Holy Saturday we dilute the power and potential of this great celebration as a time and tool of Spirit-ual[1] growth. Add to that our individualist mindset that shapes our concerns around what happens to and for us as individuals. What we have here is usually is a Three Days or Triduum Lite.

          We can rethink these days, though, if we attend to the full theological reality of Jesus as Lord. As such, he is not dying only or even primarily to save individuals. No, the scope of Jesus’ death is far more than that. In fact, it’s nothing less than a cosmic act of redemption played out in the key of death and resurrection.

          Good Friday, then, is best conceived, I suggest as “the end of the world as we know it” (R.E.M song). And I mean that in the most realistic sense possible. Paradoxically, this is “Good” Friday precisely because it is the end of everything. Jesus’ death robs this world of its reality. In putting him to death, the power of sin/evil/death reached its irrational and suicidal peak. Jesus’ body, hanging bloodied and dead, is its suicide note!

          If Good Friday is in reality this cosmic ending, we are at an end too. For we are part of this sin/evil/death complex. Its suicide is our suicide too!

          That brings us to the much-neglected Holy Saturday. We usually pass over it in incomprehension. But if we consider it as the time after “the end of the world as you know it” Holy Saturday takes on a whole new feeling and significance. After this “end of the world,” we, the living dead, are literally nowhere. Holy Saturday is a time of liminality. A time what and who we were and did and what and who we will be and will do. A time of ambivalence, uncertainty, lack of direction, fear. The cry of the heart in liminality is well-captured by U2 in their song “Wake Up Dead Man.”

Jesus help me
I'm alone in this world
And a fucked up world it is too
Tell me
Tell me the story
The one about eternity
And the way it's all gonna be
Wake up
Wake up dead man
Wake up
Wake up dead man

I'm waiting here boss
I know you're looking out for us
But maybe your hands aren't free
Your Father
He made the world in seven
He's in charge of heaven
Will you put a word in for me

Wake up
Wake up dead man
Wake up
Wake up dead man

Listen to your words
They'll tell you what to do
Listen over the rhythm that's confusing you
Listen to the reed in the saxophone
Listen over the hum of the radio
Listen over the sounds of blades in rotation
Listen through the traffic and circulation
Listen as hope and peace try to rhyme
Listen over marching bands playing out their time

Wake up
Wake up dead man
Wake up
Wake up dead man

Were you just around the corner?
Did you think to try and warn her?
Or are you working on something new?
If there's and order
In all of this disorder
Is it like a tape recorder?
Can we rewind it just once more

Wake up
Wake up dead man
Wake up
Wake up dead man

Wake up
Wake up dead man

          This is the harsh and gritty reality of Holy Saturday. As we today move through these days prior to Easter we cannot act as if we do not know what happens next. But in Christian faith the phenomenon of “remembering” is not simply mental recollection but rather a “representation” of what is remembered such that it becomes present to us. This, I think, is the way we can engage Good Friday and Holy Saturday with integrity and feel something of the grim reality they embody. A prayerful openness to the terror of the end of our world and the liminal time beyond may hold real possibilities for our journey through the Three Days this year.

The Easter Vigil ushers us into Easter. But this Easter is far more than just the dead Jesus coming back to life. Far more. Neither is it simply a miraculous event that proves that God is powerful enough to do such a thing. But the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is:

-new creation: The old world, dead by its own hand, is astonished by Jesus because beyond death Jesus is present with them again as and in a new creation.

-new life: Jesus’ resurrection includes all of us in his new creation. That old world has and is passing away. It’s hold on us broken and are now “in Christ.” Henceforth, who we are and what we are to be about in the world is to live as God originally intended, as his image-bearers, stewards, royal priests in God’s temple of creation.

-new destiny: Jesus’ resurrection is far more than individual forgiveness. Rather, as Paul tells us, he has reconciled “all things” to himself. Everything that has gone wrong in people and creation has been made right. This creation intended to be God’s home with us creation forever has been made that place of habitation through the resurrection. Till then we will live into that newness coming fully with Christ’s return by caring fir and treating the earth and its creatures as the privileged place it is and will be – God’s home!

Something new even happens to God in Jesus’ resurrection. As the risen and soon to be ascended one, we realize that a human being will forever be a part of God. And he will forever be one of us. As he has always wanted and intended from eternity. The closest of identification, solidarity, and communion now exists between God and humanity. We have no real idea of what that means at this point, but that’s a big something to look forward to!

Now, in the light of Easter we can see that Friday and Saturday are indeed “Good” and “Holy,” not in and of themselves but as a result of God’s mighty act of deliverance in and through Jesus Christ. But to be a place and time of growth for us, a full and rich Three Days/Triduum, I think we must engage it in some fashion as I described above. Prayer, memory, and an appropriate view of Jesus as Lord can fit us to experience the benefits of this most holy, decisive, and important moment in the history of God’s fulfilment of his “eternal purpose” (Eph.3:10) to be for us, one of us, and with us. Forever.

This is the genuine Three Days, not the Three Days Lite as has been much of our experience in North America.

[1] Spirit-ual is my way to capture the Christian significance of a word widely used to a focus human inwardness and efforts to develop or grow that inwardness. The capital “S” indicates that the Holy Spirit is the focus and agent of Christian growth and must be interacted with if we hope to experience such growth.

Why Did Jesus Die? Baxter Kruger

 Why did Jesus die?  Who killed him?  What was his death really about?  I read the four gospels straight through looking for an answer to this question.  Given that I was brought up in Calvinism and modern Evangelicalism (both of which are quite different from the evangelical vision of the ancient church) I expected to find a series of verses that proclaimed that Jesus suffered from his Father the just punishment for our sins.  What I actually found did not fit in with my expectations.  Again and again Jesus told his disciples what was happening.  Here is what I found:


Good Friday 2016

“Who are You Standing With Today?”

Christians and Pagans, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer in July 1944:

People turn to God when they’re in need,
plead for help, contentment, and for bread,
for rescue from their sickness, guilt, and death.
They all do so, both Christian and pagan.

People turn to God in God’s own need,
and find God poor, degraded, without roof or bread,
see God devoured by sin, weakness, and death.
Christians stand with God to share God’s pain.

God turns to all people in their need,
nourishes body and soul with God’s own bread,
takes up the cross for Christians and pagans, both,
and in forgiving both, is slain.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

“Christ is Risen. He is Risen Indeed!”

Jesus stands before you. Yes, that Jesus. The one the Romans crucified on Friday afternoon. Yet he stands before alive again on Sunday morning.

          He’s the same Jesus. The real Jesus. He eats food the way he always did. The gash in his side and the holes in his hands and feet are beyond doubt.

          Yet he’s different, too. He seems able to appear where he wishes. He can pass through locked doors.

          He’s the same Jesus. The one we betrayed, before whom we are guilty. We thought he failed, disappointed us. Don’t know what to think now. Same with our despair, hopelessness, and fear. What must he think of us now!

          Yet he’s different, too. Jesus is here with no recrimination or blame for us. No suspicion or disappointment or victimization. Only happiness to see us again. Peace. He’s still willing to claim us as his people. Share the joy he has with Father with us. And use us for God’s purposes.

          If this is what forgiveness feels like, it is wonderful. Beyond words. Beyond expectation. Just “beyond”! Jesus no longer operates the way the world does, not that he ever did of course. But we didn’t realize it. Now it seems clear, or clearer at least. Real.

No tit for tat. No retaliation. No playing favorites. No manipulation. No exclusivism or hatred of others. No violence. Only generosity, sharing, caring, justice, welcome of strangers and enemies. All he was with us before his death he is with us after. Only no it makes sense, and even feels possible to us. I guess that what resurrection means!

Present with us again without any whiff of anything but freely given love, this is a whole new world. This is what God intended for us all along. A new world, a different life, new hope – but what does it all mean for us now?

Jesus bears the form of his death (that gash, those holes) in his new life. Can that mean we no longer have to fear death? That its threat to us is ended? That everything we were afraid to do or risk before are possibilities for us now?

This really is new – all of it. Nothing will ever be the same any more. [Mumford and Sons’ song “The Cave” says it perfectly:

So come out of your cave walking on your hands
And see the world hanging upside down
You can understand dependence
When you know the maker's hand.”]

          This is all unimaginable and incomprehensible, of course. So far outside the box of the “normal” and “real” (as the world accounts such things) as it is. Astonishingly, by raising Jesus from the dead God validates and vindicates his way of life as divinely approved, the way God himself lives as a human being. And vivifies us with that life as well so that this divinely approved and practiced way of life becomes ours too.

          Most astonishingly of all, Jesus’ resurrection means that God, the Almighty, the Creator, the Redeemer, the Lord, is revealed as best known to us a Victim. Yes, a victim. At least is a world or violence and victimization like ours.

            A whole new way of seeing and experiencing the world - God’s way of seeing and experiencing it – is the gift of resurrection to us. As well as all the other stuff I just said.

          And that changed everything we ever thought. Our lives with him before his death took on new meaning, as well as our Bible (the Old Testament). Remember how he told those two on the road to Emmaus (according to Luke): “Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’" (Lk 24:25-27).

          [This new transforming insight enabled the disciples were

“able fairly rapidly to re-read the process leading up to Jesus' death as the story of the self-giving and self-revealing victim, who alone had known what was going on. They were able to understand that Jesus' death was not an accidental interruption of a career that was heading in another direction, but rather that his whole life had been lived in a peculiar sort of way toward that death, and that he had been aware of this. It is because of this that all the Gospel accounts are focused around the Passion, as the build up to it. The disciples, then, were aware that the intelligence of the victim which they now possessed was not only a post-resurrection intelligence, but had been a pre-resurrection intelligence in the person of Jesus alone. It was an intelligence that had, all along, been guiding the life and death that they had accompanied and witnessed. What was unique was the way in which, after Jesus' death they began to be able to tell the story of this life and death not from their own viewpoint, as muddled hangers-on, but from the viewpoint of the dead man, of the one who had become the victim. It is not as though they had invented a profound new insight into Judaism to honor the memory of a dead teacher. Rather they were now able to see clearly the inner unity of the interpretation of Judaism which their teacher had been explaining to them as with reference to himself. They were able to see his life through his own eyes: that is, tell the story of the lynch from the viewpoint of the victim's own understanding of what was going on, before the lynch, leading up to, and during it.” (James Alison, The Joy of Being Wrong)]

This wasn’t just new knowledge for us, a new kind of Gnosticism (there was plenty of that in our world). This insight into the identity of God revealed that we had heretofore been self-deceived, fully invested in the competitive crush in which we used and abused others for our own benefit and well-being. Embracing self-giving love is a total transformation of who we have been into new creatures. It’s really more that we were embraced by this transforming love, not that we embraced it, now that I think about it.

And that, I guess, is what it means to say “Christ is risen.” And to that I can only reply: He is risen indeed!

(I am indebted to James Alison’s wonderful reflections on Jesus’ resurrection in his book The Joy of Being Wrong)

The Book of the Twelve for Lent 2016 - Malachi (2)

The book of Malachi ends with God's promise to send a messenger to prepare the way for his coming to his people and their temple (chs.3-4). Historically that promise was fulfilled by John the Baptist.

God keeps sending his people messengers, though. Prophets, mentors, examples, it matters little what we call them. It only matters that we hear them and heed their words, God's words, to us.

One such messenger was Oscar Romero. A shy, bookish priest, he was made Archbishop of El Salvador by the church in the expectation that he would cause no trouble and things in El Salvador would continue on as they had been. El Salvador was run by the infamous "Fourteen Families" in a highly unjust and repressive way. The people were systematically oppressed, threatened, murdered to keep them in their place.

Romero, however, as he got to know the people of El Salvador, God raised him up as a voice for the people, a voice for justice, a voice for God. The people rallied beyond him and he called ever more insistently for justice, freedom, and peace in the land. He became the troublemaker for the church and government neither expected he would.

36 years ago today Romero was assassinated by government sponsored thugs while celebrating the mass. Yet his voice still rings forth loud and clear all these years later. The messengers of God can never be silenced! The clip above is from the movie brilliant "Romero" with the late Raul Julia compellingly playing the Archbishop.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

To Love What God Loves: Understanding the Cosmic Scope of Redemption

The most well-known, and perhaps well-loved, verse in the Bible is John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (NRSV).

God so loved the world — the kosmos, in Greek. Could that mean what we mean today by the “cosmos”? God loves … this universe?

We know that elsewhere in the Gospel of John, and also in 1 John, the term kosmos refers to the social order, indeed, the corrupt, fallen “world” that humans have constructed.

So 1 John 2:15 tells us: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in them.” This verse understands human beings as loving, desiring creatures; what we set our hearts on shapes our lives. So we’re warned against internalizing the values of this corrupt world, this twisted social order. Love of the world in this sense is antithetical to true love of God.

Likewise, Paul tells us in Rom 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds.” In other words, love what God loves, which involves a reshaping of our desires.

Yet according to John 3:16 God loves the world, a world that includes people, even fallen, sinful people. This is the world that Jesus, the Son of God, came into, a world that God wants to save (John 3:17), to give life to, through his Son (1 John 4:9).

How can we be told both not to love the world (because it is corrupt and fallen) and yet that God loves the world (so much that he would send his only Son)?

Paradoxically, this world of evil and corruption stands under God’s judgment; but it also generates God’s compassion, because he sees the depth of our need.

It generates God’s love.
But why would God love this sinful, corrupt world?
Because the world (though fallen) is first of all God’s creation — God’s good creation.

According to Gen 1, after God’s first creative act, the bringing forth of light out of darkness, God saw that the light was good (1:4). Five more times in the creation account of Gen 1, we are told that God looked at what he had made, and saw that it was good (1:10, 12, 18, 21, 25). And when creation was complete, God surveyed everything he had made, “and behold, it was very good” (1:31).

Yet it wasn’t perfect.
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How a TV Sitcom Triggered the Downfall of Western Civilization


I want to discuss a popular TV show my wife and I have been binge-watching on Netflix. It’s the story of a family man, a man of science, a genius who fell in with the wrong crowd. He slowly descends into madness and desperation, lead by his own egotism. With one mishap after another, he becomes a monster. I’m talking, of course, about Friends and its tragic hero, Ross Geller.

You may see it as a comedy, but I cannot laugh with you. To me, Friends signals a harsh embrace of anti-intellectualism in America, where a gifted and intelligent man is persecuted by his idiot compatriots. And even if you see it from my point of view, it doesn’t matter. The constant barrage of laughter from the live studio audience will remind us that our own reactions are unnecessary, redundant.

The theme song itself is filled with foreboding, telling us that life is inherently deceptive, career pursuits are laughable, poverty is right around the corner, and oh yeah, your love life’s D.O.A. But you will always have the company of idiots. They will be there for you.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The Book of the Twelve for Lent 2016 - Zechariah (2)

The Book of the Twelve for Lent 2016

The Refiner’s Fire – Zechariah (2)

“This third I will put into the fire;
    I will refine them like silver
    and test them like gold.
They will call on my name
    and I will answer them;
I will say, ‘They are my people,’
    and they will say, ‘The Lord is our God.’”                                                                                                        (Zechariah 12:9)

          Here is the goal of God’s work as Zechariah presents it – to have a people, just a remnant (1/3 of the people according to this passage), who will claim him as their God and whom will call “my people.”

          Does this mean only such remnant will be saved? Not at all. Remember, God’s strategy since the Fall has been to have a people, just a fragment of all humanity, to be his subversive counter-revolutionary movement who will spread his blessings everywhere and to everyone. That’s what being his “chosen” people is all about – serving and being for the world!

          This remnant is God’s work, his refining work. Only he can do this in and for us and only he will do this work in and for us. He has prepared a “refiner’s fire” for them. What does this mean? In the ancient world such a process went something like this. Once a fire was built, a clump of alloyed materials with gold in it is put inside it. After a time, the surface impurities bubble up. The material is withdrawn, the impurities scraped off, and then reinserted in the fire stoked to a higher temperature. This process is repeated time and again until no further impurities remain, only the gold.

          This image of a refiner’s fire is certainly an apt one for how God takes and makes us into the people we were meant to be. The good news, the hope of Lent and the reality of Easter is that God himself undergoes this crucible for us and with us on the cross in Christ that we may become true gold in him. And then live into that new being as the people through whom God will bless the rest of the world.

          The song “Refiner’s Fire” puts this to music. Ponder all this as you listen and open your heart to what God wants to say to you.

Monday, March 21, 2016

The Book of the Twelve for Lent 2016 - Zechariah (1)

The Book of the Twelve for Lent 2016

The Branch – Zechariah (1)

          Twenty years after the return from exile in Babylon we meet the prophet Zechariah. A contemporary of Haggai, he like his fellow prophet focused on the rebuilding of the temple. This iteration of the temple, to avoid the fate of its predecessor must keep the vision of life of the Torah front-and-center. “And the word of the Lord came again to Zechariah: “This is what the Lord Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.’” (7:8-10).

The rebuilt temple will make God’s return concrete.  Even more, though, the call to live with trust in God and God’s message in Torah (and not trust in idols), and to practice justice, mercy, and kindness, especially toward vulnerable members of the community (and not gathering wealth and “devising evil” versus each other) remains central to Israel’s future.” (Grimsrud,

The faithfulness required of the people of this new temple is but the flip-side of the faithfulness of God upon which the whole project ultimately rests.

Lent moves us toward the moment when Zechariah’s prophecy is fulfilled in a way neither he nor those who heard him could imagine. That first Easter weekend and not 516 A. D. was when the temple was truly and finally rebuilt through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Jesus tells us this in John 2:20-22:       

“Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.’ They replied, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?’ But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.”

And Jesus’ followers are God’s temple in him: “In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit” (Eph.2:21-22).  As that new temple in Christ we are to declare and demonstrate the wisdom and purposes of God to the world (1 Pet.2:11-12) and even to the “powers” that think to rule the rule but whose defeat has happened in Christ (Eph.3:10-11)!

Thanks be to God!

(If these Lenten reflections have been helpful to you, would you please put a “thanks” in the comment section on the facebook page where it is posted?)

Holy Week Monday: Temple Business

March 21, 2016 by J. R. Daniel Kirk 0 Comments

There is one mystery, one paradox that runs through the Gospel stories. It’s the whole point of the story, and yet none of Jesus’ friends could ever quite wrap their minds around it.

Yes, they could all agree, Jesus was Messiah.

But no, Jesus kept insisting, not like that.

The juxtaposition was there for those with eyes to see during the entry into Jerusalem. While the crowds are shouting hosanna. They want the coming of the kingdom of David. They want the glorification of Jerusalem, so long promised.

But Jesus has chosen a humble mount: a claim to kingship, but a humble one.

Yes, the kingdom will come, but not like that.

Perhaps the first indication that things aren’t going to go quite as people hoped is Jesus’ anti-climactic arrival. After looking around, he decides it’s time to go to bed.

Cue the Monday morning return.

Signs of Life?


Saturday, March 19, 2016

The Book of the Twelve for Lent 2016 - Haggai (1)

The Book of the Twelve for Lent 2016

“Give Careful Thought to Your Ways” – Haggai (1)

          Haggai lived and prophesied during the time of the Persian empire after Cyrus decreed the return of all Jews who wanted to return to their homeland. A chief issue for the returnees was rebuilding the temple that the Babylonians had destroyed at the beginning of the Exile. The rebuilding started well enough. But the difficulties and the prospects of the rebuilt temple’s lesser grandeur than Solomon’s temple dimmed enthusiasm and the project lagged. A major burden of Haggai’s preaching was the people’s renewal of the temple’s rebuilding.

          Haggai sets the temple’s rebuilding in the context of God’s covenant with David (that a son of David would always rule in Israel) and God’s promises for a great future of the nation and its temple. Post-exilic Israel lives between this covenant and those promises, to wit,

-that God promises to be with this people as covenant partner the way he was with Israel in the exodus (2:4-5);

-that God’s Spirit will be among them, thus they need not fear (2: 5); and

-that God will fill the temple with the treasures of the other nations (2: 6– 8).

          All this lies right at the heart of Israel’s existence. These promises would both comfort and encouraged beleaguered nation as it returns to the ruins of its former glory to take up their life as God’s chosen people again. And since they have lagged in their temple building such comfort and encouragement is badly needed.

          It’s no stretch to imagine the church in North America in that same beleaguered condition as the returning exiles. And we are heirs to the same promises as God’s people today as they were then. What are some of big issues the church faces today in embracing these promises?

          They are basically two and are related – the identity of Christ and scripture.

1.    That ministry is incarnational and unique.

It is as “radically restorative and radically risky” (Goroncy, “Priesthood and Mission”) as it was for Jesus. It means, in Daniel Berrigan’s apt phrase, the church has to “look good on wood.” 

And it means as well that the church bears a message and a presence that no other community on earth does. This message and presence only bear the church, if it “gives careful thought for its ways” (1:5; 2:15,18). Goroncy puts it well and it is worth hearing him at some length,

one of the church’s most profound claims is that “the first place to look for Christ is Jesus’s peculiar and priestly community that is called to be that community in the world which is constituted by and for a love so radically other-person-centered that it refuses to imagine life apart from blessing those who are opposed to it. It is a community that lives “in the midst of the traffic and turmoil and conflict of the world” (Stringfellow) and that does so in such a way that it is entirely uninterested and uninvested in its own self-preservation. It is a community that throws itself entirely into the embarrassing service of Jesus and that does so not for God’s sake but simply and solely for the sake of the world. It is a community that risks the refusal to engage in the politics of violence and in the economies of human indignity, that manifests God’s orientation for every part of creation, and that ventures out “beyond the security of objective certainties, [and] worldly possessions, [and] finite aspirations and society’s approval”. It is a community that risks even its life with God so that it might “become contemporary with Christ” . . . Christians, in other words, are distinguished by their association with one who keeps odd company, who calls us to peculiarity, and who continually corrects our range of view regarding the world’s true nature . . . Only when the church has the freedom itself to be poor among the poor will it know how to use the riches it has. Only as it journeys the infrequently trodden path away from the centres of imperial power and toward the embarrassing outskirts of Jerusalem and its public scorn will the church be given the kind of freedom to be truly missional and priestly. The priestly community created around Jesus is called to lose faith in present arrangements, to be entirely undaunted by “what the world calls possible” and to trust instead in the completely irresponsible impossibilities that “exist first on God’s lips” and in God’s imagination.”

2.    That God’s Word exercises a sovereign rule over his people.

John Webster puts this bluntly and in a way the church is seldom are faced with scripture’s role and rule in its life. Scripture, he writes,

“. . . builds the church up by breaking the church open, and therefore in large measure by breaking the church down . . . Scripture is as much a de-stabilising feature of the life of the church as it is a factor in its cohesion and continuity . . . Through Scripture the church is constantly exposed to interruption. Being the hearing church is . . . the church’s readiness ‘that its whole life should be assailed, convulsed, revolutionised and reshaped’.”

“You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you odd.” So Flannery O’Connor captures both elements of our need in a striking paraphrase from John’s Gospel. The truth which makes us odd! We’d better “give careful thought” to this this Lent, I believe, sisters and brothers.