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.

The Gospel According to Biff

Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore (3.5 Stars)

Moore has one of the sharpest, steadiest wits I’ve read. I laughed out loud more in this book than I have in a very long time, probably since Sedaris’ Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim. Moore’s sarcasm is potent, which makes sense – apparently his character Biff invented sarcasm.

However, at times the book drug on for me. The last 80 pages felt a bit like he was just trying to rush to finish, and I was okay with that – I kinda wanted to be done.

This may be the most irreverent book I’ve read, and if you are a person of Christian faith and don’t have space for laughing at ourselves or just wondering what an alternate story might be like (or are uneasy with some seedy scenes), then you should steer clear. But if you want to read a humor writer who will actually make you laugh – and consistently – then you can’t go wrong.

On the faith note, one more thought – Moore intuitively gets it, that Jesus was a person of compassion and justice who would subvert every sort of earthly power. We all seem to know that Jesus was a revolutionary.

Reinhold Niebuhr

Reinhold Niebuhr is much en vogue (not that he was ever out). Obama lists Niebuhr among his most influential philosophers, and certainly Reinhold left an indelible imprint on the theological and political direction of the last century (not to mention his infamy as the author of the Serenity Prayer). Eager to be a man of the times, I recently purchased Richard Fox’s Reinhold Niebuhr: A Biography (3 stars) at one of our local used book shops.

I wanted to like this book. I was engaged throughout. The book was technically near flawless, giving a full account of the various seasons of Niebuhr’s political thought (and what a roller coaster that was). And Niebuhr is a fascinating man, full of high ideals and impassioned commitments. Like the prophet Amos he loved to evoke, Reinhold always sprinted into the fray, never slow to take up an unpopular (or ultimately doomed) position. For Reinhold, if the idea was right, then consequences be damned. You have to respect a guy who, as an ailing convalescent, responded to the images of Nixon on the television screen by pulling himself up from his bed in order to spit out, “You Bastard!” As Fox said, for Niebuhr, “having no enemies meant that one lacked strong convictions.”

Yet, one of Reinhold’s certitudes was that the world was full of paradoxes. As such, he was leery of anyone who saw the world always through an ideological lense. This kept true with his religious views. “The point of faith,” Niebuhr said, “is a total attitude toward the mystery of God and life, which includes commitment, love and hope.” He resisted any faith that removed one from a lived-in reality (thus, his lifelong beef with Barth, though I think Niebuhr was on poor footting there – but that is another story…).

I also respect Niebuhr’s willingness to change his mind. From the leftist version of himself pre World War II to the right leaning version of himself post World War II, to every other philosophical space Niebuhr inhabited during the rest of his life – Niebuhr was a fellow nearly impossible to categorize. I like that in a guy.

However, about halfway through I sensed something was missing for me – and it never let up throughout. I’m not sure if I am disappointed with the biographer (Fox) or simply disappointed in the man Fox had to work with. I probably need to read another biography of Reinhold to know for sure.

I heard almost nothing of his family, his kids, his friendships (beyond how they functioned in his career and political workings). For a man who spoke often of the idolatrous evils of modernistic reason, he seemed emotionally flat. He was high on function, but seemed low on relationship. He was constantly busy, his mind sprinting from one idea to another – and his travel schedule matched. Frantic. It made me tired just reading.

I do appreciate Niebuhr very much for his commitment to justice and for his prophetic voice. I’m also quite drawn to his constant sense of paradox, along with his “Christian (political) realism” (a term revived alongside Obama’s heavy Niebuhrian influence). However, his personal life holds no appeal for me whatsoever – and the man is the life, not just the ideas. Also, in my opinion, Niebuhr was still far too beholden to modernism. As a result, theologically, he gave away the farm.

I’m thankful for Niebuhr. He offered us much, and we can learn much from his noble ideals. However, I think we ought look elsewhere for better examples of how to engage our world with grace and integrity and lasting impact. And, from a religious standpoint, I’m far more drawn to his brother Richard.

Review: There is a God by Anthony Flew

There Is a God: How The World's Most Notorius Atheist Changed His Mind {from Goodreads}

There Is a God: How The World’s Most Notorius Atheist Changed His Mind by Anthony Flew

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I had heard bits of Professor Flew’s fabled change of mind, from atheism to theism. The book purchase was an impulse buy, though, when I saw it at one of our local bookshops.

I was eager to read Flew’s story. After the introduction, I was eager to gobble the pages. Unfortunately, about midway, I realized I was going to be disappointed. I expected an emphasis on narrative, the story of Flew’s wrestling. I wanted to hear the angst and hear him tell the stories of what it was like to be a headliner in so many well known philosophical debates. I wanted to know why he had changed his mind, for sure, but I wanted it set in the context of his life, who he was as a man.

Flew, however, wrote a book that skimmed the surface of his philosophical change of heart. He quotes a lot of people (too many for my taste), and he gives a broad sketch for why, after more than half a decade leading the charge in one direction, he did an about face. It’s interesting, even helpful (though I doubt it beefy enough to change many people’s mind). It just wasn’t worth $22.

Flew describes his journey in words that explain why I found little resonance with this book (and, truthfully, little resonance with his overarching bent in religious matters): “In short, my discovery of the Divine has been a pilgrimage of reason and not of faith.” When speaking of belief in God, I’m (for the most part) happy however one happens to get there. However, some paths are more beautiful (to me) than others.

Rather, I wish Flew would have sunk more deeply into the words he quoted from Frederick Copleston: “I do not think that it can be justifiably demanded of the human mind that it should be able to pin down God like a butterfly in a showcase.”

Silence, Shusaku Endo

After I got past the Japanese use of the passive voice (“the scent of the grass was wafted over the white rock”), this simple, haunting story pulled me into a valuable conversation about the character of the gospel: what is the essence of Christian faith? How must the gospel incarnate itself in radical new ways within new, distinct cultures? How much of the gospel has been trapped in Western garb? How much can Christian faith accommodate itself to new cultural forms without surrendering its essence?

A line from the translator’s introduction, quoted from another of Endo’s essays will be on my mind for a while: “Unless there is in [Christianity] a part that corresponds to Japan’s mud swamp, it cannot be a true religion.”

From Goodreads.