Telling and Hearing

road to emmausIf someone set out to fabricate Jesus’ Resurrection story, concocting a seditious narrative that would rival Rome’s pagan gods as well as establishment Judaism while catapulting their inner cadre to prominence, the stories they gave us were a piss-poor job.

As rumors of Jesus’ Resurrection spread, there are no brave disciples overturning chariots and marching into the streets. No one says, “See, I told you so.” We don’t have so much as a quiet dinner party with one of the Sons of Thunder popping a bottle of bubbly. Rather, we find disbelieving apostles, frantic disciples sprinting back and forth to the tomb, dumbfounded (though, thankfully, courageous) women and poor Thomas who will never live down that one cynical line, especially since Carvaggio put the image to oil and canvas. Needless to say, the early days of the Resurrection do not offer us a jubilant bunch of Jesus’ followers feeling vindicated and revved to spread the message. They were too busy picking their jaw off the floor.

Two weary, disappointed disciples experienced one of these first Jesus-sightings as they traveled home to Emmaus. Jesus walked up beside them and whether by miracle or grief, we don’t know – but they didn’t recognize their master. When Jesus asked what they were talking about, Cleopas (whose emotions were surely coiled tight) flashed his irritation. “Are you the only one who doesn’t know what’s been going on in Jerusalem?” While it’s likely there were many who paid little attention to this supposed failed prophet’s fate, the irony is that the one receiving the irascible jab was the only one who knew in precise detail exactly what had transpired, all the horror and glory of the preceding hours. To this day, we still ponder what exactly Jesus did in those grey hours, what it means when the Creed announces that Jesus descended into Hades. What loss did Jesus know? What grief? What war did Jesus wage? What love sustained him?

Yet I can’t help but snigger at Jesus’ reply: “What things?” This is Jesus saying, go ahead, tell me about me. Jesus, as is his way, asking a question and opening a conversation.

They did. They told what they knew. A cruel death. Their hopes for a new Israel buried in a hole in rock. We had hoped, they lamented – and those words buckled under the weight of a long, tattered history of tears. Then, an empty tomb. “But no one’s seen Jesus,” they added. The vacant grave was a mystery; but as they saw it, only another cruel blow.

Then Jesus told the broad story, the story as he alone knew it. Jesus unfolded the great drama. Tracing the tale from the writings of Moses and through the writings of the prophets, Jesus sketched what the whole of Scripture had narrated: that One would come from God who, through humility and sacrificial love, would rescue Israel and the world.

The disillusioned disciples needed to tell the things they knew, and these sorrows were excruciating, grievous things to tell. However, even more, they needed Jesus to tell the things he knew because Jesus himself is the story of hope and life.

In our places of rage, fear, desperation, egression or ambivalence, we need to tell what we know, what we’ve experienced, the things that sit heavy on our soul. But even more, we need to hear the story Jesus tells, the story Jesus lives. Our story, left to itself, is not large enough or imaginative enough to envision the full scope. Resurrection happens all around us, but we often need fresh vision to catch sight of it.

Rust Gets a Shine

When we moved to Charlottesville, we hoped for an old house in an old neighborhood. We didn&#39t want a fixer-upper (anyone who knows me knows what a disaster that would launch), but we wanted something with scuffs in the wood floors and a couple good creaking spots in the staircase and a grand front door with a large stained-glass window gathering the sunlight and streaming the rainbow shafts into the foyer where, in warm months, we&#39d welcome all our friends with glasses of wine and Miska&#39s yummy hors d&#39oeuvres. We hoped for a yard with green grass, grass that had reached into that plot of soil so long and deep that it owned the place. We were simply guests. We wanted trees with kid&#39s names from numerous decades scratched into the bark, trees with sturdy barrel-sized branches to undergird the fort we&#39d build for the boys.

Unfortunately, our dream outstretched our pocket book, and for some odd reason the bank wanted to hand us a loan they thought we could actually repay. We do love the house that&#39s become home. Still, we have flashing fancies of living in something old, something old that is – with love and care and joy – made new again and again.

When I was a kid, I mocked the so-called rust belt cities. I believed them to be used up and burnt out. I was ignorant. Now those very places, like Detroit, Pittsburg and Cincinnati, fascinate me. I gobble up their stories. I&#39m eager for all the signs of renewal. They say that in some Detroit neighborhoods, you could buy up a block for the price of a single dwelling in a major East Coast town. My, wouldn&#39t that be fun – the chance to grab a few friends and resuscitate an entire city block.

This instinct, to breathe new life into old and discarded things, is an expression of Easter hope. Resurrection does not announce a creation ex nihilo. Something out of nothing happened once, at the origins of our cosmos. Ever since, creation always comes from something, out of something. Jesus’ body came back to life – he wasn&#39t granted a new one. Still evidencing the scars from his wounds, Jesus’ body, his old tissue and his old bones, were made perfectly new. This is how God breaks resurrection loose everywhere. God&#39s New Creation, inaugurated in Jesus, takes ramshackle villages and ramshackle stories, tired words and tired souls, limp hopes and limp hearts – it takes all those things that are used up and rusted out and announces: Rise up. Live.

Easter Light

We have stepped into the bright land of Resurrection. Whether we feel it or not, Resurrection has come. Easter is not our annual occasion for turning a naive eye away from the truth, all the while humming and smiling and refusing to stare reality in the face. Easter is the season where we yield to the Story that begins to make sense of all this madness, all this glory, all these dreams and disappointments that are forever colliding, forever giving us existential whiplash.

Easter doesn’t deny death or ruin. Easter says that death is so powerful, such an enemy, that God entered the fray. God still enters the fray. Easter tells us there is reason for joy. Easter reminds us that while we certainly have reasons for tears, we also have much reason for laughter. Easter insists that we refuse despair, we kick cynicism to the curb, we pick up our saggy bones and dance.

With Easter, we have an invitation to come out into the bright light, to believe that the God who raised Jesus from the dead can (and will) raise every kind of thing from the dead.

The Saturday Between

On this day of stone-silence,
We sit fixed in the Saturday between.
Between tears and joy.
Between poverty and plenty.
Between ruin and triumph.
Between despair and delight.
Between forgotten and welcomed.
Between fearful and joyful.
Between war and war no more.
Between dark and light.
Between gloom and glory.
Between tears and laughter.
Between death. And life.
We sit fixed, riveted, in this Saturday between.

And this moment
Casts a pale, hallow light
Over the Long Saturday,
The many days
Where the world waits. Between.

But between is not the end, never is.
It is only between.

To Live {why the church.5}

He felt…another kind of awake. {Colum McCann, Let the Great World Spin}

Jesus is our shalom…creating within his body a new humanity, a new way of being human. {St. Paul}

In these bodies, we will love / In these bodies, we will die / And where you invest your love, you invest your life. {Mumford and Sons}

Perhaps the plainest way to say it is this: the church exists because Jesus rose from the dead.

Easter happened, and Easter is the prototype for all God’s intentions for the world. God did not raise Jesus into the spiritualized psyches of his followers. God did not raise Jesus by enshrining Jesus-ideals into an ethical philosophy for cultures to emulate. God raised Jesus’ rotting, blood-crusted flesh from a dark, musty cave. Dead Jesus lay in the tomb, but alive Jesus walked out.

So now, whenever we hear the prophets and the apostles speak of God’s cosmic project of New Creation, we know what they are talking about. Dead things coming back to life. Old things restored, new. Not ideals, but a reality. Physical. Present. Body, God’s Body.

The church is what happens when resurrection gets to work. Humans are communal creatures. I feel a bit silly pausing to make this obvious point, but… Without friendships, we are lonely. Without a love or a child or an intimate relationship, we are not whole. When we call someone a hermit, we aren’t passing a complement. We are hardwired for committed, intentional, sustained, I’m-with-you-even-when-I-don’t-like-you relationships. Against this, though, we all have horror stories and vast mounds of disappointment. Maybe we’ve given up. Maybe we’ve settled for something shallow or cheap, imitations. Maybe we’ve grown cynical – perhaps the most damaging turn of all.

But resurrection happened, and now we’re discovering what it means to be alive. In other words, we’re learning anew what it means to be truly human. And to be human means, at least in part, to live a physical, particular, embodied life within God’s physical, particular, embodied community, the church. If God were only trying to elevate disembodied souls into distant heaven, perhaps the church wouldn’t matter much (other than to organize, strategize and get this work done efficiently – but I think I’ve sufficiently run that horse into the ground). However, if God is reconstituting (resurrecting) the whole of his good and beautiful creation, well then, the church (the physical, embodied people of God) becomes ground zero.

Knowing this, we could never act as though the community of God is merely a means to something God is doing. Rather, the community of God rests at the heart of what God is doing. And God is doing a heck of a lot. God’s mission is to rescue and love and remake and welcome and forgive and embrace and basically overrun this whole sorry mess with the wonder of resurrection. The old Hebrew word works best: shalom. Wholeness. Well-being. Utter, comprehensive goodness.

This is God’s mission. Not ours. God is doing resurrection. And God will resurrect in a God-way, a Trinitarian way – forming a people who begin to live in Trinitarian love and begin to embody resurrection in the tangible spaces, the streets and dining room tables and nursing homes. It’s slow. It’s messy. Most days, it looks like an absolute disaster. But if relationship and communities, if each and every individual story, matters – then this is the only way.

Here’s the crux of why I need church. I need church because I’m selfish and cynical and proud and a shadow of my true self. I’ve lived among death for too long, and I want to live. I want to be a human alive, a human resurrected. And true humanity is physical, relational, with others, over the long haul. I need the church because Jesus rose from the dead, and I want to rise up from among the dead too. I want to learn “another kind of awake.”

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So, I’m not sure when I’ll return to this series. Might be done. However, I would love to interact to any questions this raises for you – especially if you are struggling with finding your life and place within a physical community, a church. Why do you struggle with this? What questions do you have? Why do you think that maybe it isn’t important? Email me (winn [at] winncollier.com) or post here. If it’s the sort of question I could interact with on the blog, I will. If it is more appropriate just for email dialogue, fine too.


[further why the church? posts:part one, twothreefour]

Parting Words {The Challenge of Easter}

This shared experience has been a good one. Each author has given us something unique, and I have enjoyed the reading and the stretching. Thank you, all.

I keep coming back to the basic question: why the resurrection? When everything went haywire back in Eden, why didn’t God just send in a new species to start over from scratch (maybe in a hovering ship, V-like). Why are we even having this conversation when it would have been so easy for us to simply never have been, for everything to have ended just as swiftly as it began – concluding with only an Adam and an Eve and a sly snake and a great dream gone wildly wrong?

Apparently, there is something about the sheer presence of life (even life that may seem insignificant at the moment) that God is resolutely unwilling to abandon. I imagine God understood the consequences of allowing this story to play out the way it has (and this is where we could offer the long litany of human evils), but still – here we sit. God would not abandon, never. Rather, God would rescue.

In this telling, resurrection is not the last-ditch effort of a God frantically flinging his final hope at his venture careening out of control. Rather, resurrection is the inaugural salvo of God’s decisive endgame for the redemption of his original project. Resurrection is like Normandy. After D-day, it’s only a matter of time. One day, God will again call all of his creation good. Very good.

Given this, Jesus’ resurrection does not (contrary to many versions) primarily look backward, as if it’s main function is to serve as shock-and-awe proof that we better listen to what Jesus has to say (though we should listen to what Jesus has to say). Instead, Jesus’ resurrection mainly looks forward to all the resurrection that God intends to do all over the place. In my heart, and yours. On my street, and yours. In third-world red light districts and among nuclear arsenals and even – can we imagine it – on Wall Street.

Jesus’ resurrection is not so much the exclamation point but rather the new beginning. Jesus’ walking out of the tomb was like the opening line of a novel’s climactic scene or the first note of a symphony’s rousing crescendo. Resurrection is not just what God did in Jesus, but resurrection is the prototype for what God plans to do in us – and in every nook and cranny of his creation.

So, does it matter if resurrection is, well, real? Physical? It depends. We only need resurrection to go as much into life as our world has sunk into death. If Eden and all its beauties and bodies and joys and pleasures were truly, physically good – and if God really intends to call all that good again – then resurrection had best roll up its sleeves and (apologies to Olivia Newton John) get physical.

But maybe we fudge on this whole physical thing and opt for some disembodied hope because the straight forward version just seems too good to be true. Our longings hint that we are, as Wright said, “made for relationship, for stewardship, for worship – or, to put it more vividly, for sex, gardening and God.” However, our longings seem too fanciful, too dreamy, too childish, too mythical, just too much, way too much.

Maybe. Or maybe “too much” is exactly what God has in mind.

The Challenge of Easter {5}

Retaining and Forgiving Sins
{justin scott}
On this fifth Monday of Easter, our guide for the fifth chapter of The Challenge of Easter is Justin Scott. 

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N.T. Wright spends the final chapter of The Challenge of Easter on two topics: the implications of the Easter story in our day-to-day lives and the epistemology of love. As a young Christian with a science degree and an overgrown quarter-life identity crisis, both topics are of profound importance to me. But in the interest of time I’ve chosen to focus on the former.

My journey into what it means to live the gospel in one’s vocation began years ago with a nagging feeling that as a Christian, I am just not radical enough. I believe in a God who condemns my non-believing friends. I believe in his son, who said I should pluck out my eye if it causes me to sin. I believe in saints who died on crosses hung upside down for preaching about this God and his son. I have found myself awake at night trying to reconcile these things with my average, urban, American lifestyle. Why is it that most Christians seem called to pretty comfortable lives?

Many Christian teachers in my life have tackled this problem. The concoction of reformed Protestantism I grew up with went to great lengths to blur the lines between the sacred and the secular, to explain that all truth is God’s truth, to convince me that the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever—which means doing my job and loving my neighbors as best I can to his glory. With this background I come to Wright’s challenges: to bring to the world the shape of the gospel, to set up sign posts which say there is a new way to be human, to find new ways to tell the story of redemption.

And lo and behold in the third paragraph of chapter five, Wright speaks directly to me about how these things might be done:

“If you work in information technology, [I do!] is your discipline slanted toward the will to power or the will to love? Does it exhibit the signs of technology for technology’s sake, of information as a means for the oppression of those who do not have access to it by those who do? Is it developing in the service of true relationships, true stewardship and even true worship, or it is it feeding and encouraging society in which everybody creates their own private, narcissistic, enclosed world?”

I will ignore what sounds like a swipe at the internet in that last sentence and say that I wish I felt that there are good answers to these questions for me, because it would mean a profession much more inspiring than the one I’m in. It’s hard not to feel that at some level Wright doesn’t get it. I design circuits for a living. These circuits and their purposes are not slanted toward power or love. Their technology does not oppress or free others. They do not encourage a closed or open society. It’s just not that glamorous.

I wish it was. I want desperately to be a part of something bigger—something that really does erect a proverbial billboard for forgiveness and redemption. I’ve written pages upon pages on my personal blog about this, which may be just the work of a guy in his roaring twenties trying to make sense of his idealism. The truth I keep coming back to is that for many of us, our professions do not lend easily to creating symbols of redemption. What then are we to do? How then should we live?

In all my years of asking many, many forms of this question, I’ve come to only one real conclusion (which many days I still find a lacking appeasement for my restless ambition): obedience. It’s summed up well in a quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, shared with me by this conversation’s first writer, Nathan Elmore:

“We have literally no time to sit down and ask ourselves whether so-and-so is our neighbor or not. We must get into action and obey—we must behave like a neighbor to him. But perhaps this shocks you. Perhaps you still think you ought to think out beforehand and know what you ought to do. To that there is only one answer. You can only know and think about it by actually doing it. You can only learn what obedience is by obeying. It is no use asking questions; for it is only through obedience that you come to learn the truth.”

If God calls me into some vocation which reflects the undercurrent of his redemption, it is he who must call me. It isn’t my job to determine the course; it’s my job to follow. My job to spend time with him, listening for his guidance. My job to serve those he brings into my life. My job to repent. My job to love and to serve. My job to make each decision he brings with an eye towards forgiveness and generosity. My job to obey.

Such ideas are not lost on Wright. In my favorite line of the chapter, he states: “The Christian vocation is to be in prayer, in the Spirit, at the place where the world is in pain, and as we embrace that vocation, we discover it to be the way of following Christ, shaped according to his messianic vocation to the cross, with arms out-stretched, holding on simultaneously to the pain of the world and to the love of God.”

Amen.

Justin is an engineer who plays the piano. He lives with his lovely wife Erin in Washington, DC, and struggles to make sense of it all at guessworktheory.com.

The Challenge of Easter {4}

The Light of the World

{miska collier}

On this fourth Monday of Easter, our guide for the fourth chapter of The Challenge of Easter is Miska Collier. You can read the series introduction or read more about our writers. And you can catch up on the first chapter discussion here; second here and the third here.

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Theology of Gender is a six week class I’ve led a number of times over the past eight years. I adore this topic, mostly because the redemption of my own femininity is a huge theme in my story. During our six weeks together, we look at Genesis 1-3 and discuss the creation of gender, the true design of the masculine and feminine, the Fall and the way the curses are still playing out in our hearts and lives. We close by talking about the journey of redemption and what it means to reclaim what has been lost.

I love sitting in Genesis 1 and 2 and talking about how God created this world—light and dark, stars, water, living plants and living creatures, the masculine and the feminine—and how all is as it should be. All of creation is living out its true design in a lovely harmony. There is beauty, wholeness, perfect intimacy. Adam and Eve were naked body and soul and were unashamed. No shame! Can you even imagine?

However, moving from Genesis 2 into Genesis 3 (the fall and the curse) is agonizing. A heaviness settles on us as we encounter the deep sorrow of loss, the fracturing of God’s great dream and of our very souls, and the separation (from God, each other, our world and even ourselves) that we wrestle with this very day, this very hour.

Chesterton wrote that “according to Christianity, we were indeed the survivors of a wreck, the crew of a golden ship that had gone down before the beginning of the world.” Genesis 3 details that shipwreck, and we are silenced with the heart-breaking and poignant picture of God walking through the wreckage, uttering his cry of lament: “Adam, where are you?”

But we are not left with desolation. There is another picture we have now, thanks to the “unique, climactic, decisive” act of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

It’s the picture of a different garden on “the first day of the week” (conjuring up images of “in the beginning”), and a woman named Mary who thinks she is talking to the gardener. . .which, in fact, she is. It is the resurrected Jesus, and something new, something cataclysmic, is taking place.

Wright says, “Just as in Genesis, so now in the new Genesis, the new creation, God breathes into human nostrils his own breath, and we become living stewards, looking after the garden, shaping God’s world as his obedient image-bearers.”

So our first garden–and the experience there—has been and is being redeemed.

And our new vocation, as Wright notes, is to bear the image of God in this world, which means participating in the “redemptive reshaping” of His creation.

And just how to we do this, you might wonder. Well, who can really say? It’s messy and mysterious and is, to borrow a phrase from another of my favorite theologians, a long obedience in the same direction. But the essence of bearing God’s image–and the high call of Christianity–is love, and Jesus is our teacher.

In the words of Thomas Merton: “To say that I am made in the image of God is to say that love is the reason for my existence, for God is love. Love is my true identity. . .Love is my name.”

Miska is married to the best man she knows (which just happens to be the owner of this blog) and is the mom of two crazy and winsome boys. She also serves as a spiritual director at All Souls C’ville. She’s a sucker for a good story, loves motherhood even though sometimes it makes her want to gouge her eyes out, and can consume vast quantities of Diet Coke and chocolate in a single bound. Miska blogs on a very irregular basis at forthesweetloveofgod.

Rise Up and Live

A Blessing from Easter Sunday, for Easter Season

Into every dark corner of your heart
Into loneliness and fear and shame
Into despair and greed and lust
Into ruin and hopelessness and everything death breeds

Receive this: Jesus crushed darkness and death, finished and done.
Rise up and live.

Into every hopeful place in your heart
Into your desire to be loved
Into your longing for true life
Into your desire to live free and bold in the Kingdom of God

Receive this: Jesus walked out of the tomb, trampling death by death and flooding resurrection and light into your heart.
Rise up and live.

The Challenge of Easter {3}

The Gospel Accounts

{john blase}

On this third Monday of Easter, our guide for the third chapter of The Challenge of Easter is John Blase. 

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Let’s go—much as that dog goes,
intently haphazard….
—dancing
edgeways, there’s nothing
the dog disdains on his way,
nevertheless he
keeps moving, changing
pace and approach but
not direction—‘every step an arrival’.
~Denise Levertov – Overland to the Islands

Intently haphazard – Levertov’s phrase beautifully describes the dog out on a walk.  I believe it also gives us a winsome way to view those other hounds, those Gospel witnesses of the resurrection.  Wright says “As I read the Gospel accounts, I have a sense that they are saying, in effect, ‘I know this is extraordinary, but this is just how it was.’”  There is no intentional effort by the Gospel writers to turn evidence that demands some verdict; they proclaim “He’s alive!” and that was that.  And, the way I see it, they and the early church go from there intently haphazard… changing pace and approach but not direction… and so may we.

Wright encourages us to grasp the full significance of the bodily resurrection, that its not just life after death or Jesus is alive today, but that “Easter day was the birthday of God’s new world.”  I do not disagree, not one bit; however I just don’t know how to do that, grasp the full significance of something.  I seem leashed to a more day-by-day, scent-by-scent, sniffing out of what Easter fully means.  Does that hint at some doubt?  Possibly, but not necessarily.  It may hint at being overwhelmed by life’s redolence, not wanting to miss jot nor tittle.  My gut tells me Wright would allow room for such, but only as long as after a little while, I keep moving.

The chapter closes by highlighting Jesus’ word to those first witnesses – “peace be with you.”  I will not speak for you, but as for me and my thoughts, I routinely place “peace” in a somewhat military frame, bordered by cease-fires or swords into ploughshares or a chartreuse VW van from the 60s.  But with Wright’s reminder and Levertov’s imagery, I’d like to propose “peace”, at least the kind Jesus breathes on all of us shaggy disciples, as more of an invitation to a tail-wagging edgeways dance into the new creation, God’s new order, never disdaining anything along the way for each new walk is scented with possibility, but always moving, ever hope-filled, every step an arrivalintently haphazard.
Ready?  Let’s go.

John Blase lives with his wife and three kids in Colorado…there’s a Beagle too.  He edits the books of others by day and writes his own by night, sorta like Batman. John blogs regularly at the dirty shame, wears cowboy boots every day, and drinks his coffee close to the bone (black).