Relating, Creating, Transforming

Posts tagged ‘resurrection’

Communal Seeing

Luke 24:13-16; 30-35

Image result for seeingOkay, let’s be clear here. If you identify as a Western Christian, you’re just a couple of weeks removed from April Fools’ Day—I mean, Easter. The dyed eggs are old and crusty, you’ve finished all the jelly beans, and Peeps are on sale at the grocery store.

And yet, the story in the NT Gospels is stuck on that first day of the week, you know that day when Mary Magdalene and others found a cave-tomb empty and told other disciples who didn’t believe a word of it. People are still lost in the story, mourning the death of their teacher and friend, Jesus of Nazareth. Some are locked behind closed doors for fear of the Romans or the Sanhedrin. Pretty much everyone [besides the women in the story] is befuddled, sad, confused, and lost.

And why is that? Well, think about it. Imagine you have been following a teacher or a mentor for a considerable amount of time. This teacher spoke to you in a way that moved you to action, filled you with confidence and love and encouraged you to live a full life.

You were changed by this teacher.

And you had such plans. Such plans you had. You would conquer the evil and injustice, make things right, restore harmony to creation!

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And now your teacher is dead. Gone. Nowhere to be seen. Nowhere to be felt.

The dream is over.

For those who followed Jesus of Nazareth, they had found a purpose. Prior to meeting and following Jesus, they had been asking those questions that humans often ask—existential questions that are quite annoying because they never have an answer. It’s like what Peter Rollins discusses in his book The Idolatry of God. He labels these questions as existential grievances that occupy the human heart.

Question one: why does the universe exist?

Question two: what is our role within this universe?

Those who followed Jesus most certainly were asking these questions—both of themselves and of Jesus. But in following Jesus, they embarked on a journey towards Jerusalem–a purposeful one that involved justice-seeking, forgiveness, healing, and hope. This had meaning for them.

But…things went sour in Jerusalem. And once Jesus was dead, they had the same questions. Why does the universe exist? What is my role in it?

And so, it’s no surprise, is it—that in this chapter of the story, on a road to a town called Emmaus, that ex-followers of Jesus are still mourning and wondering whether there is any purpose left and if the world really should exist at all. Neither is it surprise that all of a sudden, Jesus [although the resurrected Jesus] starts walking with them and they have no clue. They are still living in their existential crises and do not recognize Jesus at all.

I would argue that it’s because they were stuck in the old paradigms. After all, those two existential questions are circular, aren’t they? I don’t know the reason the universe exists off the top of my head. And day by day I’m still trying to figure out my place in it.

Image result for existential questionsIt’s easy to get stuck in the cycle, stuck in the fixated dreams that the Emmaus walkers had for themselves and for Jesus and now it was all gone. They felt like they had nothing left; they had no purpose. So of course they wouldn’t recognize the resurrected Jesus.

And a quick word about this whole resurrected Jesus business. I’ve gone on record to say that I don’t think it’s really, really important for you to believe or not to believe that Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead in bodily form. There’s a lot of history behind the Gospel stories about that, and certainly a LOT of interpretations over the centuries. They are all guesses.

So instead of running around in circles or taking a polarized view of resurrection, i.e. he fully resurrected or he didn’t at all—I find much more meaning in viewing the Gospels as unique stories and voices that are not necessarily trying to prove something physical or scientific. Instead, the Gospels on the whole present the resurrection of Jesus as both mystical and spiritual in nature. The focus is less on the physical body and more on what the people seeing Jesus need to see, need to touch, need to hear. But as always, don’t take it from me. Think critically and decide for yourself.

And now, back to story…

Eventually the ex-followers of Jesus made it to a village where they needed to stop for the night. They invited the stranger walking with them to come and stay. Then they sat down at the table to eat and then…they finally saw Jesus’ resurrected form. After seeing, they changed direction completely [I guess Emmaus didn’t have much to offer] and headed right back to Jerusalem. The existential, circular questions were irrelevant now. They had found purpose, a reason for being.

And they found it in community.

They didn’t find the comfort and peace they were looking for by getting their existential questions answered. They didn’t get to lean on their limited and nostalgic view of Jesus; they couldn’t see the world [or themselves] in the same way. They were pushed back to Jerusalem, the place of death and betrayal and cowardice and hopelessness and injustice.

Because that’s real. That’s life.

There were no tidy answers to make them feel better or any spiritual experience that would ease their doubts. Like Thomas the twin, who doubted freely that Jesus could be alive after dying, the Emmaus road walkers were given an opportunity—to be resurrected. To start anew. And the way to do that was in community.

For when we are in authentic community, i.e. with people who accept us as we are—flaws, scars, craziness, and all—when we are with such people, our existential questions become less important and we stop running around in circles seeking meaning and purpose. In community, around a table even—our eyes open. We see new life—in ourselves, in others, in the world. We notice the possibility of change. But at the same time, we don’t ignore the pain, the suffering, injustice, the mourning, the lack of hope.

In community we hold all of those things together and embrace them all.
We become lovers of doubt and we embrace new questions.
We become students of people’s lives and explorers of new ways to show love and compassion, new paradigms with which to tackle the injustices all around.
And we do this in community.

I’m interested, friends: how has community helped you to find purpose?

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A Doubting Faith

John 20:19-31

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It’s the story of Thomas. Have you head it before? Doesn’t matter if you have or haven’t. Please keep reading, because I would love to discuss with you the active and essential role of doubt in our lives [feel free to comment!]. I will present to you the thought that  doubt is not something to fear. That doubt faces death, suffering, pain, uncertainty. And honest doubt leads to curiosity and beautiful questions, and transformative discoveries. And doubt can even lead to a living faith.

When we doubt, we question things. And people. It’s not about always having a conspiracy theory for everything, though, it’s critical thinking. When we ask how did something come to be or how did I get this idea we are engaging our brains in an active dialogue that leads to growth and perspective. Doubt also helps us see the bigger picture and initiates progress, because when we doubt, we question the current state of things and wonder: can it get better than this? It’s questioning the status quo.

Let me introduce you to Peter Rollins.

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I had the opportunity to see him at World Café Live in Philly a couple of weeks ago. One of his books, Insurrection: to Believe Is Human, to Doubt Divine, takes a close look at the role of doubt in our daily lives, and how obsession with life after death causes great anxiety and much trouble in the world. Rollins presents an alternative theological vision—one that nurtures a faith that is not concerned with the question of life after death but rather the possibility of life before death.

Rollins is more concerned with how we act than how we believe. He writes about our Facebook Selves. Essentially, the selves that are based on what we believe. We often think that our beliefs are who we are, but Rollins argues that our true selves can be discovered not in what we think, but in how we act. And that this should prompt us to ask questions about ourselves, like:

  • How do I spend my time?
  • What would other people say are the most important things in my life?

Such questions, of course, can provoke some uncomfortable answers.

So let’s continue our conversation about doubt and faith with a look at the difference between anxiety and fear.

Anxiety, surely a complicated subject in psychoanalysis, is broadly connected to the idea of loss. Fear, however, is directed at some thing in the world, while anxiety expresses a feeling experienced when you lose something or fear losing it.

Doubt, then, can threaten those of us with anxiety, because doubt shows us that our present worldview doesn’t give us answers; we start to wonder if any system of belief could give us answers. What we do often then, when doubt is present, is to come up with ways to erase or at least lessen the doubt, by assigning rules to life, therefore making meaning that shields us from the destabilization.

An example: a religious person becomes obsessed with apologetics [i.e. the systematic defense of a religious doctrine like proving of the existence of God or the bodily resurrection of Jesus]. See the many, many preachers and churches that coerce you to sign “faith statements” or espouse to “core values.”

A person who becomes obsessed with apologetics will rehearse arguments, gather evidence and memorize their “elevator speech” to prove their religious point. Cognitively what is happening is that this person is trying to combat the doubt they have by constructing a wall of certainty that they can build again and again when things get uncertain or anxious.

It doesn’t have to be religious. We do this in many areas of life. Have you tried recently to talk to a family member colleague, or friends about the current state of the U.S. government? Chances are, if that person voted for the administration in office today, and you didn’t–there will be a lot of back-and-forth truth claims with evidence-called-fake-news and plenty of elevator speeches thrown in for good measure. Why? Because we suck nowadays at embracing doubt. We don’t want to even consider the possibility that things are not black and white, that we don’t have all the answers, and that insistence on certainty can lead us to totalitarianism and isolation.

But what if we don’t have to combat doubt?

What if we could embrace it?

Friends, we all face personal, religious, political, and other anxieties. In other words, to doubt is human, or as Peter Rollins would say, to believe is human, to doubt, divine.

What do you think?

 

 

April Fools!

John 20:1-2; 11-18

Easter-EggsOPEN
April Fools’ Day is perfectly timed this year, don’t you think? Now look, I’ve been fooled more than enough times on April 1st—mostly by my dad, who is notorious for doing this. One year, when I was 12 years old, my dad somehow managed to put red dots all over my face with a marker while I was sleeping the night before. I woke up on April 1st, went downstairs for breakfast, and my parents said: “Gee, Josh, you look like you broke out in a rash or acne or something. You better go check by looking in the mirror.” So my 12-year-old paranoia got the best of me and I ran to the bathroom, took one look in the mirror,

AND FREAKED THE HECK OUT.

I could tell you some other stories, but that’s enough triggering for now. This is also what I like to call “low-lying-fruit-for-lazy-pastors-who-think-they’re-funny” day, because I guarantee that there are thousands of sermonizers leading with an April Fools’ prank or joke of some kind, and then the inevitable statement at the end that God played the ultimate April Fool’s joke by raising Jesus from the dead…blah, blah, blah….

Image result for jesus april fools

Image result for jesus april fools

I just couldn’t resist.

Ok, now that that’s out of the way, I’d like to talk with you about resurrection and how it pertains to your personal story being sacred in and of itself, and how we are given a chance [if we risk it] to resurrect/reinvent ourselves periodically.

But let’s back up for a moment.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how we give meaning to things.

You know what I’m getting at? Example: you slip and fall on the ice and bruise your tailbone [ouch] and miss a couple of days at work or school. You think, while your bum is healing, about what it all means. Did I fall because I was distracted? Is this supposed to teach me something? Am I supposed to slow down, work less, appreciate the small things more? Should I get different shoes?

What does this mean?

And so, you assign meaning to the fall on the ice. But really, if we’re honest here, did it mean anything? You slipped on some ice that you probably could not see and anybody walking that same patch of ground would also slip. You fell because your feet whipped out from under you, causing you to try to get back your balance, and you ended up falling on your rear end as a result of it, because your body and mind prevented you from hitting your head [which would have been much worse]. You simply slipped and fell on some ice. That’s what happened–if we don’t judge the event or try to give it meaning.

We assign meaning to things all the time, don’t we? And we certainly do it in the sacred/religious stories that we have heard for a long time, don’t we?

Case in point–I’m guessing that all of you have differing views about the stories in the NT Gospels [in this case John] about Jesus of Nazareth’s resurrection. Your meaning-making started the first time you heard this story and hasn’t ended since then. So let’s have some fun. Let’s look at John’s story like the slip and fall story on the ice, shall we? What actually happened?  Let’s address that first, and then we’ll circle back to meaning-making later.

First, Jesus died. He dead body was put inside a cave and wrapped in burial clothes.

It was the first day of the week [could be Saturday or Sunday in our calendars], still dark before sunrise, and Mary Magdalene, one of Jesus’ followers and friends, went to the cave. She noticed that the stone that was supposed to cover the entrance to the cave had been removed. She found some other friends of Jesus like Simon Peter and told them what she saw. They immediately assumed some people who didn’t like Jesus took his body out of the cave, and now they didn’t know where to look.

Mary then went back to the tomb and started crying. Through her teary eyes she did notice that two figures dressed in white were sitting where Jesus’ body used to be. They asked her why she was crying. Mary repeated the new version of the story that the men came up with: “Some people took Jesus’ body and we don’t know where!”

Just then, a gardener showed up and also asked her why she was crying and who she was looking for. Mary assumed that this gardener might have had something to do with it and so she asked him for the location of Jesus’ body. Then the gardener spoke her name:

Mary!

And Mary realized that she was looking at Jesus of Nazareth. So she called him by his name: teacher, which was what he was to her. Jesus told her not to hold onto him [literally, let me go] but to tell her friends that Jesus was going to be with Abba God. Mary Magdalene went and told everybody that she had seen her teacher Jesus and all that he had said to her.

Now, back to meaning-making.

I will challenge you and encourage you to assign less meaning to the story, less meaning to this day called Easter, and more meaning to your everyday life.

Image result for heresy christian meme

The thing is, dear friends, when we assign great meaning to one thing or one day, other things [and people] become less meaningful.

Let me give you an example. Let’s say you go to a beautiful sanctuary or basilica or temple with the sole purpose of experiencing God. Well, if the place is awe-inspiring to you, the place will have great meaning for you. Outside of that building, though, you will assign less meaning to your daily experiences of work, school, home, etc. It applies to any and every religious ceremony or worship experience—if the music or the message or the ritual or the atmosphere make you feel the presence of God much more than other times and places, you assign great meaning to that worship service or ritual. And other times and places have less meaning.

And I will argue that this is contrary to what Jesus taught and lived and contrary to what resurrection is all about.

Consider that at the last meal Jesus had with his friends, they shared bread and wine and community, and Jesus pretty much said goodbye and now do this on your own. Love one another. Seek out those who are lost and suffering and love them too. Share your bread and wine and sit at table with them. It wasn’t about feeling some intense emotion about the ritual of Communion each time you eat crackers and drink grape juice. There was no more meaning in the ritual than brushing your teeth.

And it’s the same for resurrection.

Resurrection is meant to be a daily, ongoing activity. It’s not a one-shot deal, a one-time event. It’s not a thing reserved for religious myths and stories, Easter parades and hymns, or special prayers and ceremonies. Resurrection, this beautiful-amazing-chaotic-universal idea is in seeing yourself as new. It is about not ignoring the suffering or pain you’ve experienced or are experiencing. It is embracing all of it—all that you are and feel and experience–as holy. In this way all the places and times in your daily life are meaningful. And God is present in all of it—in the crap, in the darkness, in the pain, the doubt, the melancholy, the joy, the laughter, the tears, the coming out, the staying in, the celebrating, and the mourning.

Because notice in the story that those who followed Jesus of Nazareth “saw” the resurrected Jesus in many different ways, according to who they were and where they were. But in every case, the resurrected Jesus told them to let go of the past and to start to live their lives as resurrected people.

This is the shift in paradigm and in meaning-making. Resurrection isn’t limited to a sacred book or a story or one person or one day. Resurrection, like the Spirit, is loose in the world, and is happening in each of us.

We don’t have to be the same every day.

We don’t have to be loyal to old paradigms. We have the freedom to let our curiosity run wild, to explore and to discover more about ourselves and what living is, no matter what stage of life we are in.

So may your hours and days all have meaning. May your sacred spaces be everywhere you roam. And may you embrace the possibility of resurrection as an ongoing process, surprising you and shaping you. And may you recognize the daily lives of others as sacred and holy and meaningful—all of it.

Come Out & Come Spring Forth

Matthew 28:1-10

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The season of spring is one that many people point to as their favorite season–at least for those who live in places where winter cold is a reality and the arrival of spring’s warmth and sunshine is a welcome change. Even in other places where the weather doesn’t seem to change, like in Honolulu, Hawai’i where I once lived, one can sense the change. Though on the island of Oahu I never experienced cold weather and grey skies, I did experience a rainy season that eventually gave way to sunshine…and rainbows. I’ve also been to a place called the city of eternal spring or la ciudad de la eternal primavera, Cuernavaca, Mexico.

1280px-Cuernavaca_c274_oCuernavaca is located in a tropical region, but its temperature stays pretty much in the 70s Fahrenheit, because it is situated on the southern slope of the Sierra de Chichinautzin mountains. When you wake up in the morning in Cuernavaca, warm air flows up the mountains from the valley below. When you’re having a coffee in the late afternoon, cooler air flows down from the higher elevations.

Spring as a season, of course, is full of symbolism. Rebirth, new life, flowers blooming, etc, etc. Across religious traditions there is a rich tapestry of spring-like themes and expressions. In the Christian tradition we read a story each springtime about Jesus of Nazareth disappearing from a tomb where a body was supposed to be, and then varied experiences of people seeing or hearing Jesus alive. It’s impossible for me to address all of the nuance and history of the resurrection stories in the four Gospel accounts. For the sake of our conversation, I’ll simply remind us all that each of the four Gospel stories about Jesus’ resurrection are different. The original story, in Mark, is really short and contains no actual appearance of the risen Jesus. Luke and Matthew expand Mark’s story, and John has a different take. The fact that all four stories differ from each other tells us that there was no established narrative about Jesus’ resurrection in the 50-100 years after Jesus’ death.

We are looking at Matthew’s version, a story that includes Mary Magdalene and the other Mary going to the tomb, but without spices and ointment. A great stone stood between them and the inside of the tomb. Matthew uses the word “behold” a lot in this version. Behold! A great earthquake! And behold! One lonely angel of the Lord [same wording Matthew uses when Jesus is born]. The angel is like the Incredible Hulk and thus able to move that great stone out of the way, and feeling quite pleased, the angel plops down on that great stone and takes a seat. The angel is wearing shiny, white clothes and looks quite like Jesus did in Matthew’s transfiguration story. A little resurrection bling-bling.

discoJesus

Kudos to the Disco Jesus creator.

Anyway, the Roman guards, symbols of power and strength and the military, are scared out of their minds and are shaken. They become like dead ones. Not so powerful now are ya? The angel, with a play on words, says to the women: Fear not! He is not here, he has been raised.

For the women, this would have been good news for many reasons. First, because they were all still upset about what had happened to Jesus. Also, the fact that Jesus had been raised to life meant that the work and words of Jesus would also not die, i.e. the way of compassion, gender equality, acceptance of the unclean, the sinners, and the marginalized being embraced.  The women are invited by the buff angel to look closer in the tomb to notice where Jesus once lay. But then, they are instructed to go right away and tell the others who followed Jesus. The angel must have a limited vocabulary in ancient Greek, because the angelic hulk keeps saying: Behold! He is going before you into Galilee, Behold! I have told you…and then Matthew adds one more in there: Behold! Jesus met them…

The women aren’t afraid and leave quickly to spread the news. And Behold! Jesus appears to them and greets them with xairete, a common phrase that was an everyday greeting. Funny, isn’t it? In spite of the earthquake, a great stone, an angel, and lots of Beholds! Jesus’ first words to the women are akin to: hey, what’s up, how you doin? The women are smart and go right for the feet of Jesus. And no, that’s not weird. You see, Matthew wants us to understand that this resurrected Jesus is not a ghost.

Okay, I get it. Each one of us will have a different take on this story and the whole resurrection thing. Just like the conflicting accounts in the Gospels, we won’t have the same view of it all. And that’s just fine, because the whole point of the resurrection story isn’t to prove something or disprove it, the point is not to claim that one religion is better than all the others because its prophet rose from the dead; the point is to find resurrection ourselves. That’s what each person who followed this Jesus were invited to discover–the resurrection in their own lives. This idea is all around us in nature with caterpillars, seeds, and eggs–going to dark places and seemingly lifeless–only to emerge reborn and beautifully alive. So no matter how you see this story, hear this:

Behold! You and I are invited to come out, to spring forth. It can be scary sometimes to do that, to be our true selves, to emerge just as we are. But we are encouraged to do so. We are encouraged with love and with healing to trade fear for emergence, for new life. Great stones and obstacles are moved to the side and we have room…to come out, to see this day [and every one after it] as a resurrection day, as a new start, as another opportunity to say and live: this is me. This is who I am. And I am loved. I am beautiful as I am. I may have scars and wounds and I may have felt dead on more than once occasion, but right now, in this moment, I am me. It is spring and I’m coming out, I’m blooming again.

And all around us are people with great stones holding them back and all around us are people who have been wounded and mistreated and pushed to the margins, and we have this chance, every day of this life, to say to them: Behold! I love you as you are; I accept you here and now and always; and you can come out and experience love and be who you are. This is resurrection. This is every day. Come on out. Behold! Your are loved, you are beautiful, and you are made to love, and to recognize the beauty in others, and in all life.

P.S. MUST listen to this song. It’s great. It says this better than I can.

 

Feeling a Little Dead?

Luke 7:11-17

Have you ever felt dead?

Do you think that people can be resurrected during this life on earth?

Resurrect
Do you think that people can live again after being dead? Like me, maybe you don’t. Maybe you reserve that type of event for shows like the Walking Dead or Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Whatever the case, if you are at all interested in the Christian Bible, you at least have to address this question, because the Gospels tell various stories about Jesus healing people, and sometimes they were dead. And then they were alive. And, of course, three of the Gospels, in their original endings, have Jesus die and then rise to life.

So here we are in one of those Gospels, Luke.

This story follows the story about Jesus healing a Centurion’s servant and that should come as no surprise. Luke often pairs two healing stories together. Also, notice that Luke has a clear agenda to make Jesus a prophet. Check out 1 Kings 17 and the story of Elijah the prophet who also encounters a widow, at the gate of Zarephath. Elijah’s revives her once-dead son. Clear connection there, huh?

Jesus went to Nain, a town in Galilee. Jesus was followed by a large crowd, and as they entered, they encountered another large crowd of mourners, on their way to mourn the death of the widow’s only son. By being a widow and without a son, she would have been considered marginalized in their society—no money and no support. Well, Jesus “saw” her. Important, because would she be seen at all after this? After the professional mourners went away, she would be left alone. Who would see her? Then, Jesus was moved emotionally and had compassion for her. Finally, he talked to her: Don’t weep.

Then, the drama unfolds. Jesus went up to the bier, the portable frame on which a coffin was taken to the grave, and the people carrying it stopped in their tracks. Jesus touched it; now he was unclean. Jesus didn’t seem to care. He told the supposedly-dead son: Be raised! Those were resurrection words. The son stood up and he was “given” to his mother. The now-combined crowds were scared, excited, and all the rest. Luke’s author reminds us why: a great prophet has arisen among us! There’s that word again: arisen.

Okay, that’s a quick look at the story. Here’s my Twitter-sized take. I’m not one who believes in raising people from the dead. If that makes me a skeptic, so be it. I don’t think these stories are true or false either. I do believe in resurrection, but just not the kind that means zombies and stuff.

I believe that people can raise from the dead, even while their bodies are still alive.

Okay, what? Think about it. Have you ever felt dead, even though you’re technically alive? I know I have. You go through the motions—go to work, school, whatever. Wash, rinse, dry, repeat. But it’s all empty. You’re dead.

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And then, something happens. It’s different for everybody and it depends on where you are on your journey. For me, I have experienced resurrection at various times in my life. Once, it was because I realized that I didn’t have to please everyone all the time. That was killing me. I was dead. And then I was alive, because I was free to be myself and not worry so much about pleasing others. Another time, I was dead because I didn’t see any hopeful future ahead of me. I felt stuck. But then, I became alive again when someone entered my life and woke me up to the simple reality of appreciating the present moment and embracing each day. Before I knew it, I wasn’t thinking about a dead future; I was embracing now. I was truly resurrected.
Feeling-alive
So I think this Luke story [and all others of a similar nature] are about how Jesus helped people wake up to reality, to discover that they didn’t have to feel so empty and dead, that they had the ability to really be alive and renewed.

 

Every day we have a chance to redefine ourselves and start over. Man, THAT is life! What do you think?

Next week’s teaser: “Whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears,
it is well to pay the closest attention. They are not only telling the secret of who you are, but more often than not of the mystery of where you have come from and are summoning you to where you should go next.”
Frederick Buechner, Whistling in the Dark

Do you cry easily and often, or do you struggle to cry? What do your tears mean?

Room in the Tomb, Room in Us All

Luke 24: 1-12
Empty-tomb

I’ll admit it. During this particular Holy Week and then, on Resurrection or “Easter” Sunday, I didn’t feel so up to painting eggs, eating candy, or singing hallelujah, Christ is risen! My role here is not to be a Debbie Downer–it’s just to be honest. I’m not up to it. Because, doesn’t it just seem like yesterday that people were changing their Facebook profiles and creating Twitter hashtags like #jesuiparis [i.e. I am Paris], after terrorist attacks?

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And then the attacks in Brussels. And then another attack outside of Baghdad, Iraq at a soccer game; a bomb in Turkey; and then, on Good Friday, bombs in a Nigeria mosque that take the lives of worshipers. And on Easter Sunday, a bombing in a park in Pakistan where Muslims and Christians [many of them children] mingled and played and enjoyed the outdoor festivities.

pakistanLike the Paris attacks, Brussels was trending on Twitter and on the news–along with some guy named Ted Cruz, another guy with a squirrel on his head, a Spice Girls reunion, and peeps. Lots of peeps.

peepsBut Baghdad? Turkey? Nigeria? Pakistan? Not so much. Really, I’m not bringing this up to bring you down. I’m just being honest.

So before I seemingly ruin your holiday, let me explain. This is not about despair, or pointing fingers, or whatever else.

This is about being honest and being connected.

We live in a world with many people in it, who speak different languages and practice different religions [or no religion] and who eat different things and wear different clothes. It’s always been like that. This is humanity. When we get into this kind of violence and fear is when we forget our humanity.

When we think that “our” way is the best way, or even worse, the only way, we impose that way on anyone who gets in the way.

And let’s not go down this road of accusing Muslims or Arabs for being the group of people that is doing this the most. It’s not true. Anglos in America have done it [and do it], Europeans do it, too. You can blame whole religions if you wish [though it’s misguided], because people kill others because they choose to, or are moved to by charismatic, evil-crafty leaders with authority, power, and money do it. Individual people decide to commit violence, and yes, some are desperate and destitute and coerced into it. But we can make no blanket statements anymore. When we accuse a whole religion [or cultural group] of something as terrible as these violent acts, we show our ignorance and unwillingness to embrace a difficult truth: we are all connected. So if we propagate hateful and prejudice rhetoric about ANY group of people, we are contributing to this awful mess.

So don’t do it.

This is why I refuse to stand by and watch while many people [whether religious or not] give into fear. This is the last thing we should do. Fear only creates more fear, and then more misunderstanding, less connection and cooperation, and more violence. In wake of such violence and tragedy, fear should not be an option. Understanding, relationship-building, and cooperation are the options. For as much as we move from hashtag to hashtag and headline to headline, we are not governed by these things. We choose whether or not we will know our neighbors and even those outside our neighborhood and community. We choose whether or not we shrink back in fear or whether we respond with love and empathy.

In this very moment, there is a Muslim refugee family from Syria that just arrived in the Warminster, PA area. The United Church of Christ in Warminster and other congregations and non-religious folk too will be involved in helping them get settled here via co-sponsorship, housing provision, transportation, language courses, job assistance, etc. So they feel welcome.

This is a choice.

And on resurrection Sunday, there is a story that presents a choice as well. Most of you have heard or read this story in the four Gospels, so it may seem familiar. This time, we’re in Luke’s Gospel, pretty similar to the oldest Gospel, Mark, but with its own nuances. The story begins as all the resurrection accounts do–without fanfare and quite gloomy. Women go to the tomb where Jesus’ body was placed for burial [which is a cave] and they come with spices. They see, however, that the protective stone placed in front of the tomb has been rolled away. So they go in. To their surprise, the body of Jesus of Nazareth is missing. Luke offers no details here and leaves room for us to ask questions like: was the body stolen by fanatic followers of Jesus? Was the body removed by the Romans? Or the temple authorities? Was the body ever put in that cave in the first place?

As we are asking these questions, two men in shining clothes appear to the women and ask a different question: Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here; he has been raised. REMEMBER what he spoke to you, in Galilee? It is necessary for the son of man to be delivered into the hands of sinful human beings, and to be crucified, and on the third day to rise.

And now, Luke’s author is making us do our homework. First, the two men in shining clothes are JUST like Moses and Elijah in the story of Jesus’ transfiguration on the mountain that Luke told in chapter 9. So it’s an identity moment for Jesus. He’s on the same level now as those great prophets.

And then, the questions. The women are asked to remember. In Luke, remembering is a constant theme. Jesus asks his friends the disciples to remember, time and time again. Now, the women are asked to remember. The son of man [i.e., the son of adam, or son of humanity] is delivered into the hands of sinful people, and crucified, and then will rise on the third day.

Consider that for the entire Gospel of Luke, the sinners were always the ones who hung out with Jesus–the marginalized, the oppressed, the left out. Now, the sinners are the authorities who led to Jesus’ death.

The women choose to remember.

So they don’t stay in the tomb, crying out of sadness. They don’t shrink away from the situation out of fear. Instead, they leave the empty tomb and tell the disciples about it. They are named: Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary of James, etc. These courageous women are met with not only skepticism, but are considered crazy by some of Jesus’ closest followers. In fact, the only guy who considers their story is Peter. He goes to the tomb [running] and finds linen burial clothes [but no body]. And he leaves the empty tomb wondering what actually happened.

Here’s what I take from this story, and I don’t know if what I say matters, but I do think the story can matter, that is, if it moves you to do things in your life that matter. Ultimately, how we decide to act–how we treat people, matters the most. So here goes:

Why did Jesus die? A question we have to ask if we plan on talking about resurrection. Why did he die? I’m not one who thinks that he had to die. I know that many, many people will disagree, and that’s fine. But I don’t think his dying was the whole point. I think he died because he was a threat–not as a violent revolutionary, but because Jesus of Nazareth challenged the whole societal system of violence and death. Jesus preached a different way of life that he called the reign of God. It wasn’t based on fear, death, or violence. Rather, it was based on faith, hope, and nonviolent love.[1]

Ask yourself: what do violent religious fanatics, power-wielding authorities and fear mongers have in common? They attempt to channel our fears against certain groups of people, separating us and creating more chaos and less cooperation. Rather than raising our children to be peacemakers and to have friends from a variety of cultural and religious backgrounds, we are told to be fearful and to shrink back, protect our own, and to shelter children and youth from the world. What killed Jesus was indeed fear.

But this story tells us that we are not supposed to give into that fear.

The resurrection story isn’t flashy at all. Maybe that’s why the bunnies and baskets and painted eggs and peeps need to be there. Because really–the tomb is empty and we’re left to ponder: what happened? The real symbol of Easter is the empty tomb. No pageants, no lights, no trumpets or angels. Nobody is exchanging gifts under a tree or singing old songs.

The tomb.

Is.

Empty.

We are left with emptiness.

The emptiness makes space for us in our distress and sadness about what’s happening all over the world. The emptiness leaves space for us to ponder like Peter: what happened? The emptiness leaves space for us to make decisions. How will we react? Will we respond out of fear? Or possibility, promise, new life? Will we react like Mary Magdalene, the one who kept on searching for the face of mercy and love, in spite of the uncertainty and despair all around?

Friends, there is room in the tomb for your doubts, your questions, and even your despair. But there is also room for your dreams, your joys, your whole selves. What will we choose? There is room. There is room. There is ALWAYS room for you. Love is that big, that wide, that accessible. So make room in yourselves for new life, for love, for mercy, for empathy, for light. Find yourself and embrace your uniqueness.

And always make room for others–all others. Make the choice to work for peace and cooperation, and empathy. Speak life to the death of prejudice and violence.

May every day be resurrection day.

[1] Ericksen, Adam, Jesus Was Killed For National Security Reasons: Good Friday, Fear, and Muslim Surveillance, March 25, 2016.

Seeing Butterflies

John 20:1-18

 

The monarch butterfly is an amazing creature.

lone_Monarch.jpegEvery year hundreds of millions of monarch butterflies go on a great journey of up to 3000 miles in their annual migration from Canada and the United States to their wintering grounds in Mexico.

monarchswarm Once they arrive in Mexico, the monarchs congregate in the oyamel fir trees in the Mexican states of Michoacán and Mexico.

Monarch butterfly wintering colony 30MONARCH

 Along their journey, the monarchs travel at an average speed of 12 mph (but sometimes get up to 30 mph); they travel 80 miles a day. They fly at heights of up to 2 miles. How does this once-hungry-caterpillar-turned-monarch know how to find its way to its wintering grounds? Scientists still don’t know exactly how they do it.

It’s a mystery.

It is a resurrection story.

And that’s why more people go to a Christian church of some sort on Easter Sunday–for a resurrection story?
If you did do that, turns out you’re not alone.

According to the Pew Foundation and Google Trends data, more United Statesians search for the word “church” around Easter than at any other time.

While the highest share of searches for “church” are on the week of Easter Sunday, the lowest share of searches occur on the week of Thanksgiving each November. The second lowest search for “church” occurs in the summer months.

So if you went to an “Easter” service, did you hear a resurrection story?

Let’s revisit one—from John’s Gospel.

And who will be the main character?

Jesus?

It’s Mary Magdalene.

I guess this is reason # 12,124 why the church’s historical [and present] holding back of women is inexplicable and inexcusable. It’s clear in this resurrection story that Mary’s gender doesn’t hold her back. She is the first to go to the tomb, to see that Jesus’ body was not there, and she is the one who shares the important information with the other disciples.

Mary Magdalene is worried, though. After seeing the stone rolled away and the body gone—she worries if the body had been stolen and what would be the impact of such a thing?

Grave desecration; awful.

You see, Jesus’ followers had planned to make that Jesus of Nazareth tomb into a shrine. People would visit it from near and far and pay homage to him and pray, and remember his teachings. But now…?

So Mary goes and tells the others and then they go to the tomb and say that they believe; but what do they really believe? They don’t believe all that Mary said. They only believe that the body is gone and that this is a problem because then how will they make this place a religious shrine and now…great! What are they going to do about it? They don’t believe in resurrection. They are depressed.

So the story keeps following Mary. She’s outside the tomb, still crying, and two angels appear to her. None of the disciples with her have a clue that this is happening. Mary herself doesn’t recognize them as angels. And even after the angels tell her that Jesus’ body was not stolen but that he is actually alive, she doesn’t buy it. She cries and cries some more and still wonders who stole the body.

Then John’s Gospel gives us a literary treat. Jesus himself appears to Mary as a gardener; she still does not recognize him. Why? She is not looking for him. There is no way that Jesus her teacher could be alive, so why would she look for him? She’s looking for a missing dead body, remember?

Jesus calls her by name, [in the original language of the NT], calling her Mary, not merely woman. Hearing her own name, Mary realizes what’s up. She then calls Jesus teacher, a title of great respect. Mary is awake now. She is no longer thinking about a missing dead body but instead sees her teacher Jesus in a new way.

Do not hold on to me, says her teacher.

Go to my brothers, says her teacher.

And Mary goes and tells the others.

And the resurrection story ends—that is, if you only read it/hear it on Easter Sunday.

But I’m not convinced at all that story ever ended.
Consider: why do you think the risen Jesus says: Don’t hold on to me, Mary?
Was she clinging tightly to his feet, impressed and overwhelmed by the moment?
Or was she clinging to the Jesus of Nazareth she knew before—present in a body, limited to a time and place?

It was time for Mary to let go of the Jesus she knew.

He was indeed alive, but not the same.
And this was important and challenging news for Mary to take in.
It was important, challenging, and also good news for her to share.

It remains important, challenging, and good news for us to live.

The importance is there in the story of the caterpillar—this slow creature that travels only a few feet at a time, and then gets its cocoon on and becomes a butterfly. As a monarch, this new creature can fly thousands of miles. What a change.

A few feet to thousands of miles.

Crawling and inching on the ground and on leaves to…flying in the air.

This is change.
This is metamorphosis.
This is resurrection.

That is important, but it’s also challenging.
Because we often think that we cannot change even a little, much less a lot.
Perhaps its stubbornness or habits built up over time or just being jaded and conditioned by life experience.
Whatever the case, we’re not sure that we can undergo a metamorphosis.

We’re just not convinced that we can experience resurrection.

Maybe it is because, if you’re like me, someone rising from the dead in body and mind, is stuff for movies and science fiction, fantasy, and horror stories.

But not real life.

So the good news…

I don’t think you have to fully believe that a dead Jesus of Nazareth emerged from a tomb in bodily form and was alive again.

People keep arguing about what is doctrinally true about these resurrection stories, but no one gets it right.

In the end, friends, we should not push our brains to the side every time we read the Bible just so we can accept a religious belief.

Why?

Because resurrection won’t happen in your life because you buy into a doctrinal statement.

There is plenty of room for skeptics here.

We’ll have to see butterflies, though.

We’ll have to believe in resurrection here on the ground, on this earth, though.

We’ll have to see change in ourselves and in the lives of others. We’ll need to pay attention to the resurrection and new life in nature.

So pay attention to the important, challenging, and good news.

Do you think that you can go from squirming around slowly to spreading your wings?

Do you think that it is possible to break your routine, recharge in a cocoon, and emerge fully alive?

Each of us are caterpillars at some point, and then we’re butterflies. And then we die and then we live again. And then we’re caterpillars again. And then butterflies.

Each and every day that life cycle begins and ends.

So will you see butterflies all around you?

Will you embrace new life in the natural world and in the people you meet?

Jesus said: don’t hold on to me.

So don’t hold back.

Change, resurrect, live.

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