Friday, May 31, 2013

Parasails, Little Boats, and Submarines: Little faith - big ocean

The ocean is really big and filled with stuff. It moves in waves, currents, and tides. Waves can be little laps of water on a sandy shore or tsunamis that swallow cities. Currents can be invisible, but carry objects thousands of miles. Tides rise and fall and there is nothing that can stop them. Furthermore, there are creatures in the ocean that are either massive in size, countless in number, or dangerous in nature. The power of the ocean is unstoppable, uncontrollable and unpredictable.

At the same time, the ocean sustains us with food. It regulates air quality, weather patterns, the recycling of water. Even for people in Minnesota, where I grew up, the ocean is an essential part of life and is unavoidable. We cannot not engage the ocean We cannot survive in its absence. It is essential to all life.

The ocean gives life. The ocean takes life. We are certain that we need the ocean as we would all die without it, but at the same time, the ocean itself is uncertain in how it will treat us. We need it, but we cannot trust it. We live dependent on it, but we cannot put our faith in its care for us.

We must engage the ocean while having faith in something else.

Sometimes the ocean is fun and we para sail over it. High above the waves and currents and tides, there is quiet and calm, and we gently hover over the waters, seeing almost everything up so high. Although somewhat precarious being so high, we para sail in peace.

There are times of faith that feel like this. Confident and peace-filled. We see everything and it all makes sense. There is no sense that much is wrong in the world and we feel the joy of being above it all. These are good times of faith. We feel strong and mostly in control of things. Yes, we know that we could fall, but we don't fall.

But we don't always para sail. In fact, it is something we hardly ever do. Mostly we float on the ocean. Some people have nice yachts, but most people can't afford huge boats like that. We have our little boats. They float, but they are moved by waves and wind, by current and tide. Little boats on the ocean prevent us from having to tread water, but also shake when the ocean flinches.

There are times when our faith feels like being in a small boat in the huge ocean. It is a faith that keeps us afloat, but in such a way that we feel everything. Waves may splash over the side of he boat and get us wet. We could be carried away by a current. We rise and fall with the tide. Our little boat does not stop the ocean; instead, it helps us live in the presence of the ocean. Faith is not something that protects us from the world as much as it helps us live in the world. Faith is not an escape plan, it is a means of engagement. It is not a way to be unaffected, but rather a way to process the affect.

And sometimes we have to go under. We must get completely submerged into the ocean. Sometimes the ocean just wants to swallow us for a while and we have to go under. Of course this cannot be done by holding one's breath, at least not for long. We need to take extreme measures and climb into a submarine. Inside a submarine, so little can be seen. There is so much unknown and unseen being submerged.

There are times when faith is the only thing keeping us going, keeping us alive. Without it we would be drowned immediately. The submarine faith is powerful, protective, and persistent, but at the same time requires a lot of resources. In fact, it requires everything we've got in order to breathe. one small breach in the hull and there is absolute crisis. It must be strong. It must not fail.

Faith is dynamic and responsive to an ocean that is massively powerful and filled with creatures. Faith is going to look and feel differently depending on the situation. A strong faith is not deciding which situation to be in or what it feels like in that situation. A strong faith is one that addresses the situation, even if it feels like it is precarious. The strength of one's faith cannot be measured by the behavior of the ocean, but by the response of of the person.

Nurturing one's faith is making sure there are no tears in the para sail, leaks in the boat or breaches in the hull of the submarine. 

Sunday, May 26, 2013

More familiar than home (A theological hack imagines Heaven)

I got it. I got it. I finally got it. From this perspective it is hard to see how I could have missed it for so long. For my whole life, or what I thought was the entirety of my life. The answers, all of them, were right here in front of my face, but for whatever reason, they did not feel like answers. It was not that I did not have access to the answers all along, but instead, the answers were too great for me or I was too confused to know them for what they were. But now that I am here I see that the answers are here, ready for me to grab and taste and touch. Now that I am here I must learn these truths and understand them.

For so long I just didn’t know and never believed much was even knowable. But now I see clearly that all is knowable and always has been. Yes, I must pursue these answers.

What’s it like here? Well, one thing I can tell you is that the ringing in my ears has stopped. It is gone. I never realized how loud it was. I never realized how quiet life could be. What a relief. And yet, the ringing is not replaced by quiet, but rather the excited hum and buzz of masses of people anticipating something great. And yet, it doesn’t feel like masses of people. There is plenty of space in this city and no one is in a hurry. Yes, the ringing is gone and replaced with anticipation. I can hear it and see it and feel it – something great is going to happen.

What else did I notice here? That weight, that weight of ambiguity is absent. My God how heavy that was. What’s different? Oh, it is so clear to me now. There are no competing messages. This is a place absent of lies. Wow. There were so many lies. OK, I understand, when there are so many lies, truth can be difficult to see. It has always been right here, but the lies tried to look like truth. Now the lies are gone and the truth remains. THAT is why it is familiar here. I have always seen truth, but did not know to name it as such. I could never be completely sure of all truth, but now there is no other way to see it. I still have choice whether to believe this truth, but now the choice is so obvious.

What’s it like here? This is Heaven and there is no doubt about it. I feel relieved, safe and free.  But at the same time, it sure isn’t anything like what I thought it would be. No, it’s way better. However, naturally, I had some questions. Not that I was complaining, but I just wanted to know how I had gotten it so wrong in some of my expectations.

For example, there was always this part of Heaven that I sort of feared. It was the accounting of everything I had ever done wrong. And yet here I am in Heaven and no one asking me to explain anything. No one is explaining their sin. No one is groveling. I was so perplexed by this absence of this part of the Heaven experience that I asked about it.

“And where,” I asked someone, “where is the big video screen where I review all my sin?”

“Who told you that is what happens here? That’s what they do in Hell,” he said, “and you’re free to pay a visit there if you like, but don’t take too long, not much good happens there. There is a lot of explaining and justifying and arguing and, well, people can get really pathetic there. Hell is a sour and foul medicine that doesn’t work for an illness that doesn’t even exist.”

“Sin doesn’t exist?” I asked

“Either sin exists or Jesus exists, but not both.” 

“But I…”

“Shhhhhhhhh, believe me, Jesus exists,” he said.

That was all I was going to get out of him and he moved along pressing toward the greatly anticipated something – something that I still was not sure what it was.
I had another question about Heaven. I thought there would be all this singing of hymns. I didn’t hear any hymns. Where were they? Would we sing hymns at some point? Frankly, it wasn’t the part of Heaven I was looking forward to. I mean, Amazing Grace is, well, amazing, and Oh Thou Fount of Every Blessing is about as honest as it gets, and Just As I Am evokes a certain humility, but how was being in Heaven going to improve on what we already had going? And really, endless singing gets old, doesn’t i?. We had endless singing at the gospel meetings and Zoe Conferences, and well…

Anyway, instead of endless hymns, I heard waves of sounds of anticipation and excitement. Something great was about to happen. I did hear some songs, if hearing is what you want to call it. And what I heard certainly weren’t hymns. In fact, they weren’t even songs, really. They were like pure emotion that can be detected by all the senses. One person poured out the emotion of gratitude for being healed of AIDS. I could hear the feeling, but I could see it in full color and I could even smell it, like walking through a field of roses and honeysuckle, only way better.

Then there was another person, belting out her passion while playing guitar. The song had no words, only sounds, sounds so beautiful that I didn’t want to stop listening. I was terribly interested in what she was doing. The whole area had a bright orange glow to it with the smell of bread baking, a rich yeasty bread and my mouth watered. And then the meaning of the song came to me. She was no longer hungry and neither were her children. It was a song of praise, but not one that had even been written. It was being created as it was being performed. It was the perfect expression of her passion. It was a new song, a unique song, a song that only she could sing.

And then I recalled the church hymn, “They’ll sing in Heaven a New song.” I got it. It all came clear. We are not all singing one new song together, but rather each of us is singing a song so personal and so exact that no one else could even begin to sing it. It would not make sense performed, experienced, and expressed by anyone else. The singing in Heaven is not hymns written by other people, but rather it is the experience of expressing our deepest passions with no self-consciousness or shame. It is enjoying the privilege to really know someone else through their songs. It is the privilege of knowing everyone else for who they are.

In Heaven I am as me as I can get and that is the very thing that is desired. I am not coerced to be something I am not. I am not pressured to take on an agenda. I am not saddled with confused passions or inhibited by fear of judgment. I am me and that is best expressed in what I am calling a song for all the senses.

And then something else became clear to me. Everyone’s passion, though personal and pure was also in celebration and service of others or God or both. The person singing passionate gratitude for being AIDS-free highlighted everyone who walked with him through the shame and fear of the disease. The woman who had been hungry praised God for teaching her what it meant to want something more than anything else. It was the most honest and deep and beautiful redemption song. She understood the incomprehensible and thanked God for it.

And at that moment the songs of the masses began to swell. I could hear everyone’s song, see everyone’s song, taste and smell everyone’s song. I felt it all at once in my bones. Suddenly I was able to see everyone all at once. So many people. So many people that it could very well have been everyone. All singing. And the feeling of anticipation rose to such a height that I finally sang my song.

 And now I understood that my song was so perfectly me that I was not allowed to know it on my own. I could not know it on my own for being on my own isn’t being me – if that even makes any sense at all. Rather, I could only sing my song when God himself sang it through me. This added so much more meaning to being an image of God. I had always been an image of God in the world.  I am still in the world and I am still an image of God – but now without limits. God has ALWAYS desired to sing through me and now it is finally happening. I was finally doing what I was meant to do all along. Now I was singing something I felt like I had only fleeting glimpses of for so many decades. This was the greatly anticipated thing – that I, together with what seemed to be everyone, was finally freed to sing.

Heaven is not about going to a safe place to tell God how great he is. Rather, heaven is what God has been trying to do all along with me and everyone else – sing love into the world through us. The only difference is that we are no longer burdened with sorting out competing narratives.  Heaven, it appears, is Jesus singing through us expressing who he really is through the uniqueness of who we are and Hell is us trying to figure out who we are without Jesus.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Bible That Never Was

The Bible never was a
  • rule book
  • moral code
  • therapy manual
  • weapon
  • history book
  • work of fiction
  • lie
  • decent piece of literature
  • science textbook
  • reason to hate, oppress, torture and kill
  • exclusive esoteric document
  • allegory
  • proof
  • political platform
  • complete genealogy
  • philosophy
  • religious text
  • creative writing project
  • treatise on family values
  • how-to book for marriage
The Bible is a generative and progressive, multi-authored, multi-genred, creatively inspired account of a creator engaging a creation.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Buffered Belief

It all happened so fast. Jesus was dead and we were all hopeless. Saturday was the longest day of my life. I didn’t sleep very well Friday night and it felt like the sun rose early on Saturday and nearly refused to go down on Saturday. I didn’t do anything; I couldn’t do anything – it was the Sabbath. I wanted to work, to get busy, to make my mind think of anything else, but I was to rest.

 I could not rest, but I could not do anything either. So I took a walk and prayed, but it felt like a wasted effort. Why pray when your dreams have been crushed? I kicked rocks as I walked. When Jesus was here I knew for the first time what my life was all about. Before Jesus, I wondered a lot, I floundered a lot - I just kept my head above water, making it day to day. When I met Jesus, I began to see it for the first time. I began to believe that there was something worth something. I believed. I trusted. I let me heart get excited.

And then he died and all my meaning and purpose died with him. Yes, Saturday was a long day.

But then late Sunday night, some of my friends came to my house and told me that Jesus wasn’t dead. Of course I didn’t believe them; I saw him crucified. I saw the blood. I saw the last breath. I heard him say those dream killing words, “It is finished.” He was as dead as every other dead person. I tried in frustration and anger to remind them that he was dead and it was the worst thing that had ever happened to me.

But they wouldn’t let up about it. “He’s alive” they said.

“How do you know?” I asked not wanting to get my hopes up. I could not handle another disappointment.

“We saw him. We talked with him.” They said.

“I touched him,” said Martha. “I touched his hand where the nails were. It was Jesus.”

They seemed so sincere. They seemed really to believe this had happened. But I still didn’t believe them. I asked them to take me to go see him and we went and looked. We looked all over Jerusalem, in all the places we thought he might be, but we never found him. Everyone seemed to be passing on the rumors, however. I met so many people who say they believe Jesus had risen from the dead and a few people who claim to have seen him with their own eyes.

I wanted to believe them. I wanted it to be true. But at the same time, no one could find Jesus for me. A lot of people believing something was not going to override the truth that I saw Jesus die with my own eyes and dead people stay dead.

The excitement did not seem to go away. The rumors spread with more and more people believing, but I just went back home.

Then one day I went to the Temple. I went because it was Pentecost and I should go even thought I didn’t want to. I knew people would be talking about Jesus and I really didn’t want to hear about it anymore.

It was crowded as it usually is on special days. People from all over the place were here, more out of towners than usual, which meant I got hear people speak in over a dozen different languages.  It was crowded and busy that morning, but nothing unusual. Nothing unusual until a really strong wind blew in, like a storm, only there was no storm. Then there was lightning or fire or something that didn’t just flash – it lingered and seemed to hover over a few people’s head.

One of the main followers of Jesus, a man named Peter, hushed the crowd and began talking. He was one of the people the fiery light lingered over for a little while. He started to talk about Jesus. That was not the surprising part. I knew he would probably try to keep the rumor going. What was surprising is that people who did even know how to speak Greek seemed to be hearing and understanding everything he was saying.

Then more of his followers began to talk to portions of the huge crowd gathered. Like Peter, it didn’t matter what language they spoke in, everyone acted as though they heard it in their own language. I was confused and disoriented.

But Peter referred to scripture, he talked about the spirit being poured out, and eventually convinced me and whole lot of other people that it is possible that Jesus was raised from the dead. My heart could no longer resist and it hoped again. I was filled with emotion, but still disoriented. What did this mean? What should I do?

Everyone was asking the same questions about what to do. Well, we all got baptized. From that point forward, there was no turning back. Peter became a really important leader in what became known as the church. Later a man named, Saul became a follower of Jesus. No one expected this since he was one of the most outspoken opponents of Jesus. Saul traveled to many nations and made tremendous sacrifices, sometimes being terribly abused. But he never quit sharing about how Jesus rose from the dead and how he used to be a violent man, but Jesus loved him anyway.

I am old now, and it has been a long time since I saw Jesus die. I never saw him risen, not his actual flesh and blood. I do believe that he rose from the dead. At the same time, in another kind of way, I have seen him risen thousands of times. He is risen in the people who believe. He is risen in the gathering of the church. He is risen in how believers in him treat each other and how kind they are to people who do not believe. He is risen in that the hope that we will all rise and this drives us to be better versions of ourselves.

For me, he is risen in me in that my life has meant something.