Thursday, 6 March 2008

Bathed in Grace- What Words Cannot Express

It was the most important day of my life. The sun was streaming through the skylights and onto the light pinewood rafters. I gazed up at the light thinking that there was only one thing left to do; Jump. I was only 11 years old, but I looked up into the sunlight and cried out to God.
“I don’t feel like you are real, I don’t know you are real. But I know that I am throwing myself into you. If I fall, I fall. But God I know, by no means of explanation that I won’t. I want to believe in you, I want you to catch me.” So I jumped. I took the preverbal leap of Faith and got “Saved.”
Over the years I was baptized in a frozen lake, witnessed a healing and had visions and dreams that make no sense what so ever. Yet I knew that there was something radically other that had entered my life. My charismatic worldview was the only thing that could explain what had taken hold of me, but it was not one that held up well under scrutiny. It fell apart so easily, and it left me with very little peace.
But this collapse of my worldview does not change what I have seen; it does not change what I have experienced. It just leaves me to find a new explanation. I have been told over and over again that “those silly Charismatic Christians are faking, the gifts of the spirit died with the apostles.” It is no use though; I have seen things, felt things and known things in the depths of my being that do not equate.
So I am going to try and explain the unexplainable. I am going to try to communicate the incommunicable. What Kierkegaard called “Abraham’s silence.”
I do this knowing fully that I will fail, but it is worth alluding to. It is worth writing about even if all that I can offer is a shadow and a scent of that which is Other.
I was once by the side of a pond on a late summer afternoon in New Hampshire. I sat in what I can only call prayer, but I did not speak. I listened but I did not hear anything but the lapping of little waves against the dock. It was as if instead of telling me, God just knew me, and for that brief instant he allowed me to know his fragrance. I knew that I was being allowed into the folds of God’s beautiful Grace. Not because of words, or thoughts or beliefs but because I gave in to the spirit of God. I was at the foot of the Cross and blood flowed onto my head. I was at the table with Jesus and wine flowed over my hands. I was on the shore of a small pond and wind swept past my face. It was the presence of God, in every raw, frightful and soothing way. I was covered in Christ’s blood so that I could sit in the fire around me and not burn, but rather bathe.
It is so inadequate to call it a feeling. I was not feeling God like I feel joy or sorrow. I was feeling God like one feels the rip tides pull them under the sea. It was a fall into chaos and yet far more a fall into a fierce and unallocated peace.
In my life there have been moments of weakness, pain, desire and longing that are too great for my mind to quantify. They are too great to overcome, just as sin is far to great for me to overcome. When the whole of my created being cries out to God to be cleansed I sit and wait. When I take the Eucharist I am covered in the blood of Christ, and then emblazoned with the Holy Spirit to burn away the chafe. It overcomes my inadequacy, loosing my tongue in such a way as to express what words cannot: The beauty of Gods Grace, the pain of Sin and the utter inadequacy of my heart. It is in full submission that I am allowed the gifts of the Spirit. It is not the power of my own will, piety or faith. But rather in the lack of all of these things that the Holy Spirit can come, heal and burn.
As on the Day of Pentecost; I am overcome by the Spirit of God. In my Pride it stirs humility. In my hate it stirs Love, and in my utter destruction I am Bathed in Grace.

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

The Gospel According to Brandon...Sort of..

I am in a Synoptic Gospels class here in Lithuania. It has been a very interesting and is led by a young professor who just got his Ph.D at 29! One of the assignments was to evaluate the editing process of the Gospel authors by writing our own gospel. I know it sounds heretical, but it was really fun! It has been a great opportunity for me to processes how I see Jesus.

The following is FICTION that I have written by drawing upon various source material from the canonical Gospels as well as from the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas and my own imagination. It is followed by a comprehensive analysis. Here we go...

The Gospel According to Brandon Walsh
A follower of Jesus

It was in the second year of Jesus ministry that he took the twelve to the Jordan. As they walked Philip came up to Jesus and asked him:
“Why is It that you do not mind the company of Gentiles, are they not unclean?”
Jesus Replied: “We have lived in a time where the purity of ones hands has defined their righteousness, but in the Kingdom of God it is not filth on ones hands that makes one unclean but rather the wickedness that has taken hold of their hearts. I tell you the truth that in the coming age the gentile will be grafted into the lineage of Abraham and receive through faith brotherhood among God’s people. For the Gentile will now be offered new life, Just as it is written:
“Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!”
So too will the Gentile may enter into the Kingdom if they repent. After saying this Jesus walked to the shore and cried out; “ Come here and listen to the words of the LORD your God . Stand in the river and I will show you how the Kingdom will come.” So the twelve came down to the river, but the current was very strong so the disciples call out to Jesus saying to them, “ Jesus, the current is too strong, we will surely be swept away if we enter it.”
Jesus turned to them and said:
“ The Kingdom will not be calm and cool water, it will be violent and threaten to tear at your flesh. Yet only those who offer themselves up to the promises of God will be able to obtain it. “
Peter threw his cloak around himself and entered the stream. The water surged and tossed him under its foaming waves. The other disciples called out in agony but were too afraid to help him. In a loud voice Jesus parted the river and the water heaped upon it self. There at the bottom lay Peter. Jesus walked over to him and said loud enough for all of the disciples to hear.
“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” With this he breathed on Peter and he was raised from the dead. All the Disciples now were amazed and rushed to Peter and after embracing him fell at Jesus feet.
Jesus told them : “Just as Joshua has parted this river to lead his people into the Promised land I separate it to bring you into the Kingdom of God. Just like Peter you must be willing to suffer. For whoever loses his life will gain it, but those who are not willing to suffer will not be able to enter into life eternal.”
After this Jesus and the disciples began their journey to Jerusalem. It was a long and hot day when they came through a small village. They stopped there to eat, and drink from their well. As they were sitting in the shade Jesus said to his disciples, "Compare me to someone and tell me whom I am like."
Simon Peter said to him, "You are like a righteous angel."
Matthew said to him, "You are like a wise philosopher."
Thomas said to him, "Master, my mouth is wholly incapable of saying whom you are like."
Jesus said to him, “Are you intoxicated? Have not you walked with me for two years now, listening and seeing what acts the Son of Man has performed to proclaim the coming Kingdom of God!”
Jesus told them this story.
“ The Greeks have many false gods and tell tales of their ‘greatness’. One story is of Prometheus . A god who looked down on mankind and saw that they were without protection; without claws to hunt or fur to stay warm. Prometheus went to Zeus and asked permission to give man fire in order that they might live in light and not darkness. Zeus refused to allow man to have fire, to let man have light. But Prometheus brought fire to man anyways, for this act he was tortured and endured great suffering. This world is based around the power of the strong dominating the weak, just as Zeus has dominion over man in this Greek myth. In this world the Son of Man has come to bring light unto the world and release the hearts of men from their greed for domination. Just as Prometheus I will be persecuted by the powers of this world and will suffer the most brutal death.” He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter.
"Get behind me, Satan!" he said. "You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men."
Then he called a crowd to him along with his disciples and said:
"If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father's glory with the holy angels."
After hearing this Jesus’ disciples were perplexed, and did not understand what he was saying. So Jesus looked at them and said.
“I have not come to overthrow Rome but to overthrow something that Rome bows to. Adam and Eve brought sin into the world, that sin which makes brother kill brother and gives man the desire to dominate one another. It is this hierarchy of Power that I have come to negate. My teachings are a manifesto to the Kingdom of God, which inverts this fallen power structure and reestablishes right relation from man to fellow man, and from man to God. I will die to this fallen flesh and rise again as the first new creation, bringing to reality what will be made in full at the end of the age.

Comprehensive Analysis of The Gospel of Brandon

This Gospel provides both narrative and discourse that play into Brandon’s interpretation of the Kingdom of God and what it costs to be a disciple. The Gospel starts out with a discourse between Jesus and Philip about why Jesus eats with gentiles. His response calls on various Old Testament texts and shows clear connection to Pauline theology in the book of Romans.
Next we enter into a narrative at the riverbank of the Jordan, Where Jesus tells the disciples to go into the water. But they refuse because of the rapid current. Jesus quotes Joshua and alludes to the symbolic act of crossing the river into the holy land of Israel. After Jesus rebukes the disciples for not understanding that the Kingdom of God will be painful, Peter jumps into the river and is swept away. The disciples cry out in anguish but Jesus parts the river, just as Joshua parted the river to enter the promise land and Elisha did to legitimate his prophetic anointment in 2 Kings 2. Jesus sees Peter lying dead at the bottom of the river and brings him back to life.
Jesus then interprets his actions by telling them that just as Joshua led his people into the Promised Land that he would lead them into the Kingdom of God, and that in order to enter the Kingdom one must being willing to suffer, like peter. Jesus then leads them into a small town where he asks them a passage from the Gospel of Thomas. It is a request somewhat like the one found in Mark 8, where Jesus asks his disciples to tell him who he is. In this Gnostic version though Peter tells Jesus that he is like a “righteous angel” and the Matthew says he is like a “wise philosopher.” Then Jesus rebukes Thomas for not knowing. Brandon now adds the story of Prometheus that Jesus uses to explain his role in the world, saying that he goes against the will of the power that has dominion over the hearts of man and that by bringing them the Kingdom that he will be persecuted.
Then we see the exact words of Mark 8 transferred into this text. Where Jesus predicts his death and Rebukes Peter of denying it. Here again we see the theme of the cost of discipleship and Jesus ends the Gospel with a explanation of all of these actions. Jesus explains that he has not come to overthrow Rome but to overthrow something bigger, the fallen power structure of humanity.
This Gospel’s Genre is a mix between several different themes. It includes discourse on Jew and Gentile relations, a prophetic legitimating narrative and several discussions on the purpose of the Kingdom of God. It incorporates the narrative into this text with the discourse so that they can co-interpret each other. The discourse brings new understanding to the parting of the Jordan and the parting of the Jordan brings new meaning to the cost of discipleship teachings.
There are four distinct sources in the writing of this gospel and each is used differently to make the Gospels central argument. The canonical scriptures are used, including the Old Testament, as well as the Gospel of Thomas, Greek mythology and unique material that I will call “special B.” The OT verses used to support the prophet legitimation also provide a new way to interpret how they could be read in their original context.
The source material from the Gospel of Thomas is put in a new context to provide a new framework for Jesus’ own interpretation of who he is like, Prometheus. This element of Greek mythology is unique to this Gospel. It shows the authors interaction with Greek culture and possibly even language. This story itself is reinterpreted in order to show Jesus as the Prometheus and Zeus as the power (Satan) that rules the world.
Special B is a unique source material that seems to mix various elements of Canonical themes with modern interpretations of the meaning of Jesus. The source includes the parting of the Jordan, not found in any other source, and the final discourse at the end of the Gospel that describes the Kingdom’s new power structure.
The Christology that we see in this Gospel is not unlike Matthew and Luke. Jesus is clearly calling himself the Son of Man and performing tremendous miracles to show he is the chosen one of God, but he does not use any “I am” statements as he does in the Gospel of John. Jesus is still human enough to want to stop and get a drink of water in the village, but divine enough to raise Peter from the dead. This Christology reflects the orthodox paradox of Christ, both fully man and fully God.
The Ideology of the Gospel is one of Christ’s purposes to restore what was lost in the Garden of Eden. Jesus has come to give an alternative way to live, according to the power structure of the Sermon on the Mount rather than the strongest dominate the weakest.

What is the Church?

The Way it Should Be....

On the day of Pentecost the disciples were given the gift of God's spirit to empower, comfort, move and stir them to preach the Gospel to all nations. it was God's calling to the disciples. Saying to them that with him their faults would be compensated, their weaknesses made strength and their willingness eternally rewarded.
The Church is not just a gathering of those who believe, it is a living breathing, moving, teaching community. The Church is a people who have seen in Christ a new way to live and have dedicated their life to the proclamation of his Kingdom here and now.
I often look at the Sermon on the Mount as the "KINGDOM MANIFESTO." It was Jesus refutation of the obvious; that the strongest survive. In this Kingdom of God there is a new way to see the world, the perspective that puts all strength and power in the hands of God and recognizes his love for those we see as the least.
As the Church we should have these words of Jesus written into the fabric of our community, giving an air of quasi insanity to our actions. We are given the power to preach these words because we have the Holy Spirit to embolden us, and as we act as the Church we show the world a new way, a new truth and a new life, that can be found in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Monday, 3 March 2008

The Evangelical Hope: Misguided but not Misplaced

When I was in seventh grade a close friend of my family died. He was a older man with wrinkled hands and a knack for telling the same stories over and over again. Warren Craig was his name;  a gentle man who treated me like his own grandson, giving me his old 1890 hunting rifle and golden ring when he passed on. My mom told me after he died that he was a man who knew God. At his funereal I took one look at his body and knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that Warren was gone. I got up to speak and told everyone that I was glad for Warren. After seeing him is such awful pain for so long I was relived for his release. I said that " all that is left in that casket are the chains that held him down."
 If I were asked what it meant to die as a Christian 2 years ago I would have said: " When I die my soul will soar to heaven to be with God for eternity, and the flesh that I that was the prison of my soul will rot in the ground." I guess I had always assumed that somewhere in the Bible Jesus  sat down his disciples and said "Okay fellas here is how it is going to go down." 
Yet as I have matured in my faith and studied the Word, I did not find it anywhere. That is until I took philosophy in high school. My philosophy teacher, a bright, fun and jovial man, handed out Plato's "The Apology" as assigned reading. It was dense, hard to read and incredibly exciting. As Socrates explained how he did not fear death, I wanted to shout a loud, AMEN brother! As Plato spoke of the immortality of the soul and the prison  of the material I felt shivers run up my spine. It was not the voice of Jesus or Paul that laid it out straight, it was the voices of these Greek Pagans!  I kept wondering if Socrates and Plato were in heaven, or if they had been inspired to write the word of God just like the prophets of Israel. How exciting it was to read a defense of " Absolute Truth" or toy with the Idea of the forms. These men were my heroes and made me serious about being a Philosophy Theology major in college. 
 I had assumed the reason my evangelical faith, and the Platonic worldview matched up so well  was because I thought both were inspired by God, but I soon realized there were other plausible explanations. Namely that the Church was infected with Plato, rather than Plato being infected with the Church. It took a while but I started to see that the vast majority of the Christian Canon spoke not of some sort of disembodied spiritual Paradise, but of a physical resurrection and a New Earth at the end of the age. 
The difference between these two ideas is substantial, one says that God's creation is able to be redeemed, the other that God's creation is really just a prison for the spirit. Plato sees all of the physical world as a aberration, a false shadow on a cave wall, where Christian Orthodoxy sees Creation as fallen, but by the Grace of God able to be restored. 
Why would God create the Garden of Eden (a physical thing)  and Humans (not specters) to inhabit it if he did not want the Physical world to reflect his glory. As a Christian I look forward to the end of the age where I don't float off to some spiritual reality, but am resurrected along with the rest of the Church. I look forward to taking part in that which Adam robbed me of; and that which through Christ has been made new. 
There is one substantial difference however between evangelical's misguided hope, and Plato's hope. The hope of the evangelical is still placed on the redeeming Cross and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The hope may be misguided by Plato, but it is not misplaced in the God of Israel. 
It is true that when I looked into the casket of Warren Craig I saw the chains that held him down, but those chains were not his body in and of itself, but rather the sin that had eroded Gods good creation. And some day Warren Craig will rise from the dead, free from those chains, free from the curse of death not because of his faith in the ideal of heaven, but because of his faith in the person of Christ. 

Sunday, 2 March 2008

Singing in the Shower

The sunlight is beating on my face, and I am running barefoot through the thick, moist, September grass. Tom is sprinting next to me, and we both see the trampoline to which we are racing. He is so much faster than me, but I never give up. On the trampoline are three girls bouncing around. Catherine, Tom’s older sister, has friends over.
“Who is that girl?” I ask Tom.
“I don’t know just one of my sister’s friends I guess.”
She has long brown hair, and skin that looked like coffee drowned in cream, but she is at least five inches taller than me and two years my senior.
“Wow, let’s talk to them.” Tom is rolling his eyes like usual.
It was five years and seven months ago that I met Emily Mary Nelson. I thought she was beautiful, but I didn’t lock eyes with her, or even entertain the thought of being her friend. It was as if she were an attractive, young, elementary school teacher that I was meeting on the first day of school. She told me all about her little sister that was my age, and I ran off doing something stupid and pointless with Tom. I will never forget the side of the trampoline she was sitting on, or the way she held her hair back. I see now how important that moment was, but at the time I was a little sixth grade boy with little awareness that I had just met a person that would change me life.
I met her little sister Averill, she was fun to spend time with and stunning in her own way. Averill is now nearly six feet tall with piercing blue eyes and platinum blonde hair; she is often described as a supermodel. Yet years ago other guys used to wonder if she would ever be a beautiful as her mysterious older sister. I never noticed Emily in large groups, I never thought about her with out Averill mentioning her. She was just a girl I that stunned me along time ago. It was years later she reappeared in my life.
Emily was a quiet young girl. She didn’t talk very often, and when she did it was always in a soft tone. Her brilliant mind was never to anxious to throw itself into topics of conversation because she was too interested in what other people had to say. I wish that I could have seen Emily when she was a little girl, but I can easily imagine her big smile and frequent laugh. She was shy, but she was always comfortable with who she was and did not need a copious amount of friends to be happy.
When I re-met Emily she was not surrounded by friends in a clique or giggling with a group of boys, she was being her quiet self. I must have seen her dozens of times before at Bible study, but I never noticed her before that night. She had climbed the old wooden staircase into the warm house and was talking to Averill. Emily volunteered to lead the next bible study, and so I quickly did the same.
It took me ten minutes to get up the confidence to dial her phone number. I had dialed it to call Averill so many times before, but I could not muster up the courage to ask for Emily. Emily is completely oblivious to so many things around her so she had no idea I was fumbling over myself throughout the entire conversation. I found all my normal confidence was evading me. We planned the next bible study meticulously because I wanted to talk to her about her faith.
Emily is defined by her faith. It consumes her and is what motivates her. Her faith gives her confidence, and from an early age shaped her mannerisms. Every night Emily does two things, she reads her bible, annotating it as she goes and writes an ongoing letter to God. She calls this letter a prayer journal, but either way it is written to keep her focused on God and to spend time with him. Emily is firm in her beliefs but I have yet to meet a person who truly dislikes her. It is amazing how much everyone loves her kind way of living.
Emily Nelson is what many want to be Intelligent, beautiful, kind and forgiving. Yet few people envy her. This is because she makes others feel as though their skills, their strengths and their virtues are equivalent to her own. I have never seen anyone lead with as little effort as her; she makes other people feel so good about themselves that they want to help do whatever she needs them to.
I found myself on a two year voyage of getting to know everything about Emily. Her likes and dislikes her strengths and weaknesses. She loves to do artwork, dance to crazy 80’s music and go hiking. She also hates to waste a perfectly good night on a pointless movie. Over high school I was lost in a car with her more times than I can count and found myself singing songs in the shower. She was slowly becoming part of me through endless late night conversations. Emily never dated anyone in all her years of public education, even though I wanted desperately to be her boyfriend. She told me I was her brother, and I prayed to God that she was lying to herself.
Emily left for college last August; it was one of the blackest days of my life. I felt as though my only chance to be with her was finally being extinguished. Yet like I am about most things I was wrong. It only took Emily four months of college to decide that I was worthy of her first date. I took her out for a one horse open sleigh ride and saw in her eyes a sparkle that I will never forget. It was the gleam of Joy, not because she was impressed but because she knew everything about me, all my faults and all my weaknesses. She was not under any illusion that I was a prince on a white horse, because she had seen me as a one hundred pound sixth grader.
Emily Mary Nelson is someone who changed me. I will never be able to read my Bible without thinking of her scribbling in her own. I will never be able to sing in the shower without thinking of her sliding on my oak floors in white socks. She has taught me, without needing words, what it means to have a gentle spirit. Even on the darkest of days, when my faith seems like nothing more than myth, I think of her and know that there is a God.

Over Darkness We Trod

With fire in his stare
He leads us, guides us into what quarrels may come
a remnant of valor that is now rare
Into this world we surge, Urged on by his voice we fight until the battle is won

It is not a battle of swords and death
Not against steel or with steel can it be fought
Our souls lock together, breathing in unison a holy breath
That breath which urges us onward into darkness that sin has wrought

Our Battle is against this present darkness of the soul
Christ leading us to live in the light, to fight for the all-consuming Holy
In this world we must let social justice Roll
In reaping the souls of those lost to a fallen world, we must not tarry

We stand a foretaste of the Kingdom of God
Through brokenness we pray and over darkness we trod

Terror in a Nutshell

I have only experienced true unshakable terror a few times in my life. Once when I was about to jump off a ten foot rope swing, once when my friends trapped me in a sleeping bag without air and once while trapped in a dark room with a crazy Asian Immigrant. I was in California with my brother Michael, when he, being the nut case he is, suggested that we go off -roading through the valley with his SUV BMW. The water was rushing and the adrenaline was pumping. There was mud everywhere, on his car, on us and in our shoes.
After we expended all of our energy, it was time for us to relax. So I suggested that we get a professional massage. I used to give my brother massages when I was little. Mike is twenty years older than me, he always lived in California, but even though he was three thousand miles away from me, he always made the times we had together memorable. I remember Mike telling me to hit his back as hard as I could, so I would curl up my little five year old fists and flail on him until I could not move. As I got older I had to learn other methods, it was just too hard on him.
Mike loved my suggestion. In my mind, a massage would mean two beautiful, blonde Californian women being masseuses and Mike and I on tables next to each other so we could talk. Unfortunately, this was not even close to the way life played itself out. The lobby was full of Asian tapestries, and the receptionist was very hard to understand because she has such a thick Vietnamese accent. I then realized that this was one of the most expensive ways I had ever heard of to relax. Yet the worst was still to come.
I was led away down the hallway. The receptionist told Mike to go into room 8 and motioned for me to go into room 5. It was a slight disappointment not to be with Mike, but for the amount of money he paid for this hour I was not about to complain. It was then that I entered a room I will never forget.
It was dark with the only light coming from the glow of a space heater. The air was pungent with the smell of incense. There was a stereo in the left corner of the room that was spilling out music. It was, as I have come to put it “Crazy Asian Music” with loud bells chiming and off tune harps twanging. The setting, however, was not, by any means frightening; it was the 60 year old Vietnamese women insisting that I “Take off all Clothes” that started to make me worry.
After telling me to take off all my clothes, in highly broken English I might add, she stormed out of the room closing the door rather loudly. At this point I am still eager to get the most for my brother’s buck so I stripped down to my skivvies, wrapped a towel around my waist and laid down face first on the table. I heard the door close as the woman came back into the room, I heard her footsteps behind me and then I felt her grab the towel around my waist and yank it away. That was the moment when terror started to sink in. She then continued her rant demanding all of my clothes, and I continuously insisted that my boxers were a necessity. It was, in the end her persistence and my bothers money that made me break. I rolled off the bed and very quickly replaced my boxers with a towel.
There was a strange sensation I had from being naked and alone in a room with an old Vietnamese immigrant, I was mortified. Yet again I tried to enjoy the experience but it was useless. She began to ask me what brought me to California. I was on a trip to see several universities in the area, so I told her I was “college shopping.” That set her off on a rant about how I need to make lots of money, even if I hate my job. Every so often she would lean in behind my ear to whisper something like “Women will think you sexy, if have money!” I told her that I would keep that in mind and just shut my eyes and prayed that the hour would soon be up, yet it was only fifteen minutes into the massage and I had not been through anything yet.
The whispering grew more frequent as the hour progressed and her voice got increasingly sketchy, like a witch trying to put me under a spell. Then she once again whipped the towel from my glutinous maximus, leaving it out in the open and completely bare. I was in a full state of shock; we are talking shaking in full terror shock like someone who has just been violated. Then I was violated. She poured oil on my butt and decided that it was a good area to massage extensively.
At one point during my butt massage she leaned into my ear to remind me to “use condom while in California!” I have no desire to find out what made her think of such a thing but it was the scariest thing and it was crossing the line! The woman then got up on the table, put her knees and hands on my body and performed some sort of full body technique I can only hope she didn’t learn from Karma-sutra.
When the hour was up I dived off the table, threw on my boxers and bolted down the hall. There was a bathroom four doors down and I took cover in it for a while. So here I am hiding in a bathroom from a short Asian woman, when I realize that I need my pants. So I have to go back into the room and put them on. I survived but will forever live with the emotional scars.
True terror comes in all shapes and sizes, mine came in the figure of a little, old and extremely creepy Vietnamese woman. I will never be able to forget that experience, it is a favorite story of mine among friends and Mike will never let me live it down. It is a story I will someday tell my kids; I will tell them that you never know what form terror my take, but the best thing to do is laugh at it when it ends.

A Risen Lord

The Christian faith is one that has survived many eras of humanity. It has seen the fall of mighty Rome, the conquest of the West and the rise of modernism. In each period Christianity has been influenced by prevailing thoughts and social ambitions, but throughout all of time the Church has summarized, in one simple phrase, its victory. “CHRIST IS RISEN.”(Mt 28:6)
I can only imagine what it must have been like to come the tomb of Jesus, baring such sorrow as Mary did, only to find that the dawn had come and the Son had risen. The world has entered the eschatological present; a time when the Kingdom of God has been established here and now among us, and the fullness of that Kingdom is yet to come. Yet without the resurrection there would be no Christianity. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:4, that ”if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.”
I grew up in a small town in southern New Hampshire and attended a small congregational church there. The church itself is an old barn that has been renovated and I spent a good portion of my adolescence scampering around its rafters. The pastor is a man in his late fifties or early sixties, but looks young for his age. I can’t remember many of his exact lines from sermons, but I do remember one distinct statement. “Everything rises and falls on the Resurrection.” If Christ is not raised then we are still victims of death itself. The redemptive blood of Christ is made holy because it is not the blood of a dead rebel leader, but the blood of a man who darkness could not bind.
In the Garden of Eden death was brought into the world, Adam and Eve chose the knowledge of good and evil, and we as their ancestors have been paying the debt of death ever since. No matter how great the man, how pious the woman, death cannot be evaded. Yet in Christ Jesus we can find a new ancestry one of life.
“So it is written: "The first man Adam became a living being"; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven.” (1Cor 15:45-49)

Over the last 200 years the world of biblical scholarship has changed materially with the birth of the critical methods. The amount we have learned about authorship and structure of the Gospels has been largely beneficial, yet it has widened the rift between scholarship and the living Christian community. As a student who seeks ordination I want to bridge the gap between the faith I live and the theology I am taught. It has been a journey full of harsh growing pains and I suspect it is far from over. I have been persuaded to throw away some of my old convictions and embrace others. Some scholars have searched for the so-called “historical Jesus” in contrast to the Jesus of Faith assuming that there is no way they could be one in the same.
The Jesus seminar has taken the Gospels and made a mockery of them, taking upon themselves the pretension to say what is and is not possible. One of the things that they deemed myth, nonfactual and unreliable is the Resurrection of Jesus, stripping the title Christ from him all together. It is here that I have drawn my most fierce line. Without the Resurrection I see no Jesus of faith or history, just a feisty Jew under Roman oppression and a group of people who died for the substance of their own lies. I am unwilling to see the Resurrection as a “spiritual” one. People don’t die horrible deaths for metaphors they know are just symbolic, but they do die for the hope of life eternal.
My favorite resurrection account comes from the Gospel of Luke, where two men are walking to Emmaus. After Jesus has died, the disciples are disheartened because they still do not understand Christ’s words. They are confused and are certain that Israel is no longer to be redeemed by Jesus of Nazareth. It is in this setting that our story, the road to Emmaus, occurs. The two disciples, not part of the twelve but part of the seventy from chapter 10, are distraught and have as Eugene Peterson puts it, long faces . They are commiserating with one another when Jesus appears to them, yet they do not even recognize him. This is the same blindness that has been portrayed throughout Luke, and this is its climax. The disciples express their hopelessness and recount their loss to the resurrected Lord himself. It is ironic to the point of humor that these disciples accuse the incognito Christ of ignorance, while they themselves are the ones who are ignorant.
Jesus tells the disciples, “Oh how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!” Here Luke makes it clear that the suffering of Christ was necessary for him to enter into his glory. Christ then begins to share the scriptures with them, concerning himself within all the prophets, and this sharing of God’s word through God’s word was the first step towards the disciples recognizing Jesus.
When they approach the village we see a profound symbolism unravel. The disciples beg Jesus to stay with them, yet his path was set farther down the road; just as the disciples will have to bid their resurrected lord farewell at the ascension. Still Christ must fully reveal himself in what is the most theologically important part of the passage. The Lord takes bread, blesses it, breaks it and gives it. In this moment the identity of Christ is revealed and the disciples fully recognize Christ as their veil of blindness is lifted.
The Emmaus disciples spoke to each other on their way to see the other disciples saying “ were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us.” This is the message we bring forth into our lives; that even when we may be blinded to him, Christ is with us. The Holy Spirit works to kindle the flame of Christ’s everlasting love in our hearts; that we may come together as the body of Christ and share in his brokenness, and in that brokenness share in Christ’s resurrection.

The Idol of Certainty

There was once a time in my life that I wanted to know the Truth so badly. Truth was what I could measure, what I could in some way feel satisfied with: some sort of fact or explanation that could be proven. Something I could put my head around and feel content with, but I don’t think life works like that.
Is faith reasonable? I think that faith is an inescapable element of the human existence and to discredit it is to play ignorant to ones own personal experience. Every day one has to operate at certain level in order to survive, we meet with other people, sit in chairs, eat food and drive cars without the slightest thought of what it takes to perform each action. It takes faith to believe that any other people around us are not just the firing of neurons in our brain, it takes faith to drive our cars without checking every nut and bolt before traveling and it even takes faith to sit in a chair. It is completely unreasonable to live life under the constant scrutiny of the logical process, putting no faith in things, always having to prove things. The truth is that there is no way to prove that you won’t die on the highway. So in order to live we suspend total scrutiny, and only use “pure rationality” when we want to feel certain about things.
I have often heard that religion and faith are crutches for the weak. Tools of the imagination to feel safe and loved, but I would contest that the same could be said for the scientific process of knowing. It is a way to satisfy that fear of the unknown inside us because when things are “scientifically proven” we can rest assured that we, the humans, are in control. We have to power to quantify and verify and control. I don’t think that it is fear that drives me into faith and thinking that drives me into rationality, it is fear that makes me want to be in control, and faith that acknowledges the reality that I am not.
I am not saying that all science is a crutch, or that all scientists are unwilling to accept that they are not in control. I am noting that it is faith that makes the world go round, that makes us able to function. Sometimes atheists or agnostics say that Christians have “blind faith:” faith that is not based on anything logical, anything reasonable. To this I ask what evidence they have that no God exists. Some will spout out speculation, but in the end they have no proof. They don’t have any definitive answer, just faith. They can take the little information that they have and get the edge of the cliff, and without proof jump off into atheism just as I have jumped off into Christianity.
I used to think that it would be comforting to know the Truth. I thought that it would let me understand and “subdue” the world around me, but I don’t think that a Truth that could fit itself into my miniscule mind would be much of a Truth at all. So I have resorted to something braver, submission to something bigger and better than what I can cram into my finite being. So I know God the same way that I know a chair will hold me, I sit in it and find out. So far, both have caught me.