Wildly Beautiful Practices for the Future

My daily prayer liturgy almost always leads me to a time of prayer regarding racism. Last year, one day while in prayer, I had this long, but singular thought...

I should, as a white-dude who has directly or indirectly benefitted from generations of systematic evil, go to the shores of Haiti, where slavery was essentially commercialized, and enter into a time of confession and prayer with a couple of my black friends.

The thought was followed by, well, I'm not sure how to describe it. I guess it felt like every part of my being, down to the molecular level, said, "YES," in agreement. My next thought was, OK, that's a little crazy. I'm probably not going to do that. Am I?

I didn't tell anyone. For several months. That's what you do when you have a crazy idea. Remember what Mary, the mother of Jesus, did after the angel spoke to her? She "hid all these things in her heart." It's a good model for all of us. But, after a few months, my idea wouldn't go away. One day I made the mistake of letting it slip out to someone. Ha. I knew, as soon as it left my mouth, that I was doing this. 

So, in two weeks, a couple of buddies and me are heading to La Navidad Beach in N/E Haiti where Cristopher Columbus landed (wrecked) in 1492. Haiti has never really been the same since that landing. The truth is, none of us have ever really been the same. I'm not suggesting Columbus' excursions were solely responsible for slavery. It was already happening in various global locations. However, probably no one was more influential than Columbus in establishing the trade routes that wound up facilitating, profiting, and standardizing the practice. 

So, that's where we're going. We want to acknowledge some wildly, evil practices that went on in the past, and maybe be a part of wildly, beautiful practices for the future. You should pray along with us!

 

The Reality of the Future and our Allegiance

Today is Ascension Day (Ascension Sunday, this weekend). Jesus' ascension is not about his location; it's about his vocation. He hasn't left us. He's not in heaven just sitting around waiting for the second coming. He's not in some other place. He's here. He's Lord. He's in charge. Our calling is to live, prophetically. I don't mean prophetically in the sense of getting out decoder rings and attempting to pick dates when He's coming back. I mean, prophetically, in the sense that we are to bear witness to the present and future reality that Jesus is Lord. Our lives are intended to point toward the King and His Kingdom. Merciful Lord, give us strength.

We pledge allegiance to the cross
Of Heaven United
And to the marginalized
For which it stands
One God, Supporting all nations
Indivisible
With liberty
And sacrificial justice for all
Amen.

Embodiment

I like the word, embodiment. (It means to put a mint in your body. No, it doesn’t. That’s not even funny.) It means to make something real, to take it into yourself to the point that it affects you, to embrace. I don’t know what the origin of the word is, but it strikes me as a great Christian term. It’s what God did through and in Christ. It’s not a safe, or an easy word. The implication is that whatever it is that you are doing is going to affect you, change you, make a difference in your life, in your body. We again, and again look for ways to change the circumstances around us, but the change that mostly needs to happen is internal. There’s no other way to transformation. 

Our great problem, of course, is we don’t want transformation. We want salvation. We want to be fixed. We want the magic pill or the silver bullet (or the silver pill and magic bullet).  These things really don’t exist. What does exist is the path of transformation, or as Kierkegaard said, “a long obedience in the same direction.” If there is a main reason our churches and religion are not influencing culture, it’s because we, for the most part, are not interested in a long obedience in the same direction anymore. We want a relevant, fast, strong, converting, saving, spectacular experience. BTW, it’s the same thing the world wants. We are no different. Young people walk away from the church because they intuitively understand that we’re offering the same thing! It’s the commodification of the Gospel. The world says, “Buy this toothpaste. It will make you smile better, and give you a better life. It’s what you need!” The church says, “Get Jesus. It will make you happy and give you a better life. It’s what you need!” Well, of course, Jesus is what we need, but not that kind of Jesus. We need the real Jesus. The one who helps us see that the worship of the pragmatic, and the successful quick fix is masquerading as a form of idolatry. The real Jesus doesn’t just fix us. He patiently, lovingly walks with us down the road while we embody virtues that help us to become more like Him. That journey winds up breaking more than fixing me. 

So, what are you embodying? How are you taking prayer, that long, and sometimes awkward communion with God into your body? How is your serving ethic, in a context of a society that wants to serve itself, changing you? How is radical hospitality in a world of divisions and walls personally affecting you? Are you into embodiment? Or are you playing it safe? 

Jesus: The Exact Representation of God

The anonymous writer of the book of Hebrews said, “The Son is the radiance of God's glory, and the exact representation of His being (Heb 1:3). And, a guy by the name of Paul, who was as intelligent as he was instrumental in the Christian formation, wrote to some friends in Philippi that Jesus has the same nature as God (Phil 2:6). To some friends in Colossae he said, Jesus is God’s image (Col 1:5). And John, someone who probably knew Jesus extremely well, wrote that Jesus was God (John 1).  And on and on… in other words, Jesus is God. God’s not schizophrenic. There’s not a Mean-OT-God, and then a Nice-NT-God. It’s one God, and Jesus shows us who He is. Jesus is His exact representation. 

Sometimes (OK, often) you’ll find people who want to suggest that the only way God could ever have loved us, or accepted us, or dealt with us, or put up with us, was to have Jesus around to distract Him. There’s this thought that God is so turned off by sin that He can’t even stand to be around sinners. But, have you ever read something about Jesus that even remotely suggests He couldn’t handle being around sinners? Can you picture Jesus turning away in disgust, saying to Peter, “Oh, Pete, take that person away from me! I just can't bear to be around their sin?” I cannot picture this either. It was the opposite. He was, in fact, called the friend of sinners. The friend of sinners was the exact representation of God. 

The Story of Our Inheritance

1 Peter 1:3-8(NIV) - Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed...

I think this is a beautiful thought about our hope, our inheritance, and how our suffering becomes a part of the story of our inheritance. Life will ask us to suffer. Those of us who call ourselves followers of Christ, courageously enter into this suffering. I write the following in DEATH, HOPE, & THE LAUGHTER OF GOD... We don’t suffer because we enjoy it, but because we know it is the way of Jesus. We don't do it because we believe God needs us to suffer in order to love us. He just loves. This love will draw us into relationship with Him. And this love will set us on the way of suffering in one sense or the other. Not because God wills our suffering, but because in the face of such selfless love, the systems of the world will make us suffer:

• The wife, in the midst of a difficult marriage who becomes a follower of Jesus, will suffer the ridicule of her husband who says, “She’s become a fanatic.”

• The employee, who honestly reports all his earnings, suffers by paying more in taxes than those who are dishonest.

• The non-profit organization, attempting to bring attention to the plight of the world’s remote areas, suffers through the corruption and difficulty of doing so.

• The candidate, who seeks to change current political systems, suffers the wrath of those who want to maintain status quo.

I do not, in all of this, mean to glamorize suffering. Nor do I mean to perpetuate the age-old lie that for us to have a relationship with God, we must earn it by suffering. Rather, what we learn along the way, is suffering with God is inevitable. This takes great courage. Courage by grace helps us through the suffering, offers healing, but keeps us squarely on a path requiring our willingness to once again suffer. But, the suffering strengthens us, and the suffering ultimately points to Christ. When we see Christ the story of our inheritance will be at once complete, and also the beginning of a whole new story! 

 

The Tree of Holy Week from the Roots of Passover

If you follow the Holy Week story down to its roots, you’ll find the Passover/Exodus story. It comes to us in the 12th chapter of the Book of Exodus. Following Moses’ failed attempts to convince Pharaoh to free the enslaved Hebrews, nine plagues were visited upon the Egyptians. God instructed His people to prepare for the 10th plague by selecting a lamb on the 10th day of the month, to pen it for four days, then butcher, prepare to eat, wipe the blood of the lamb on their doorpost, eat as a family in haste, gather their things, and prepare to leave. The term Passover itself refers to Death’s Angel that swept through Egypt that night. Wherever a home was found without blood there was a loss of life, but for the homes with blood, Death “passed over.” Early the following morning, all of Egypt rushed to get rid of the Hebrews, which led, of course, to what we refer to as the Exodus. Passover/Exodus is the most important story in the Israelite (Hebrew) narrative. It is, so to speak, the root of all other stories. The root grew and developed. Annually, the Passover event was celebrated by hundreds of thousands, even millions, of Hebrews around the world, but the biggest celebration was always in Jerusalem. 

Holy week, the last week of the life of Jesus, takes on added meaning when we realize that it began on the 10th day of the month, that is four days before the celebration of Passover, with Jesus, as the Lamb of God, entering Jerusalem. On the 14th, Jesus celebrated Passover with his disciples, at what we refer to as The Last Supper, where he indicated he was the Passover Lamb. That night he was arrested, tried and beaten. The next day his blood was wiped on the cross, the symbolic doorpost of the world. Jesus died, Death had its way, but… the power of God raised Jesus to life. Not only that, but the power of God will bring life to all who trust in the “blood on the doorpost.” Death no longer holds the ultimate power. 

Jesus entered into Death to gain our Life. 
Jesus Lost so we might Win.
Jesus became the Lamb for all of us. 

What all of this means, among many, many other things, is that the cross and resurrection are the REAL Passover and Exodus story. For its one thing to be freed from an earthly tyrant, as the Hebrews were when they were freed from Pharaoh, but it’s another thing to be freed from our greatest enemy of all: Death. The first Passover got the people out of Egypt. The second, and REAL Passover provides a way to get Egypt out of the people! 

In the resurrection, the roots of Passover and Exodus grow and develop into a stunning tree, the beauty of which we will never stop enjoying. 

How We Treat the Other Person is How We Treat God

I watched Hacksaw Ridge last night. Crazy story. I'm thankful someone in Hollywood, in the midst of an industry that glorifies violence, is willing to deal with the subject of non-violence a little bit. I say, “a little bit” because I don’t think the depth of the subject matter was explored to it's fullest, but I’m not complaining. It’s a step in the right direction. 

Our culture, like every culture that’s come before it, has bought deeply into something many refer to as the Myth of Redemptive Violence*. That is, the idea that somewhere along the line violence can redeem us; violence can end violence. It is, as the phrase suggests, a myth. Violence will never end itself. The retaliatory strike, whether, in the largest sense, between geopolitical super powers, or the smallest sense, between a husband and wife, is never the last strike. Violence doesn't end violence. Violence begets violence. 

I do not know what this all means. I do not have all the answers. I struggle, at times, with how to work this out in my life, and in our world, but what I do know is that Jesus shows us a different way. Jesus doesn't hit back, punch, retaliate, call fire down from heaven, order a legion of angels to fight, swear, lead a military revolt, design a nuclear weapon, or seek revenge. He just doesn’t. He shows us, in his commitment to non-violence, how to be truly human. 

When he died, on that Friday, so many years ago, something else died too: the idea that even God would have to resort to violence to set things straight. A great number of Christians, of course, don’t really accept this. Many still think the entire reason Christ lost his life was because God, his father, killed him. And there is a way to interpret the story of Jesus’ death in a way that blames God. I’ve just come to the conclusion that, at best, it's misguided and at worst, it's just completely the wrong interpretation. The story of the cross is not about the wrath of God. God’s wrath didn’t kill Jesus. Rather, God’s love, in the middle of man’s wrath, compelled Jesus to give his life away. The story of the cross is about God’s love. Love is the only story, in the history of the world, that gives us hope violence will end. (copy that. tweet that. share that!) 

My favorite part of Hacksaw Ridge is when Dawson is praying, asking God for direction on what he should do in the middle of a terrible battle. He prays, in confusion, “God, why can’t I hear you? Please let me hear you.” He concludes his prayer, and then he hears a muffled groan of agony from someone a few yards away, on the battlefield. He cannot see the man, he just hears him. He knows, at that moment, that the cry of another human is the cry of God. His prayer is answered, and he dashes off to help. 

The scene is such a great picture of prayer, and love, and God. Answers to authentic prayer almost always come in ways that we least expect. Love will always wind up asking us to sacrifice for the other person. Caring about what God cares about will always lead us to care for the other person.

How we treat the other person is how we treat God. 

*Read Renee Girard, Walter Wink, Walter Brueggemann or Brian Zahnd for more backstory on the Myth of Redemptive Violence