Thursday, April 28, 2011

Scot McKnight on the meaning of Easter!

Scot McKnight, a new testament scholar, poses some great thoughts about Easter. I love the opening question and think every Christian and church should have to answer it:
We tend to be Good Friday in our gospel: Jesus died for us.
We tend to be Good Friday Christians too: my sins are forgiven.
What good is Easter? What difference does the resurrection make for life today?
The church is decisively Good Friday... it is when the church can answer and live out the question at hand, then we will move beyond this rut we're in.

Happy reading and blessings!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Treatise on Easter: What the Resurrection is all about!

Today is Easter, the celebration of the anniversary of Jesus raising from the dead. I am not going to spend significant time trying to convince anyone that the resurrection happened. I am assuming either you believe it or you don't. Though, I do believe that any student of life should honestly seek the validity of the claim. There are a lot of reasons to believe that it happened and only one to believe it didn't and "It's too mind blowing" isn't a good enough reason to dismiss it.

Let's begin, rather, with what the Resurrection means.

Resurrection is an interesting idea in itself. First, we have little to no information about it in the Old Testament (before Jesus). In the Old Testament the death/ end times scenario was pretty basic. There was a place called Sheol. Every single person went there, good or bad. There were glimmers about being with God. The Psalms talk of it, Elijah was raptured to it, and a few other occurrences, but basically sheol was the land of the dead ones. We even see the prophet Samuel being channeled by a medium out of Sheol to council King Saul (1 Samuel 28).

Somewhere in the inter-testimonial time (the 400 years between the Old Testament and Jesus) this whole idea of resurrection sprang up. For some strange reason we left off with Sheol and then all the sudden resurrection is the current idea. The Pharisees and the Sadducees have a long standing disagreement with each other over it of which Paul uses to his advantage. We even have a peculiar interchange with Martha and Jesus just before Lazarus is raised from the dead (which is definitely different than resurrection, more below) (found in John 11). Jesus makes a statement, "Your brother will rise again!" to which Martha responds, "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day." WHAT!?!? How does she know this? We left off with Sheol and now common women know all about resurrection. If this question is plaguing you, N. T. Wright has done some fabulous work on the resurrection, but we will move past it.

It seemed to be common belief that resurrection would happen with a decree from God. Then all the righteous would be raised. All the great heroes of the faith were supposed to rise. The only problem, "there is no one who is righteous, not even one" (Romans 3, Ecclesiastes 7). At least, there wasn't anyone righteous until now.

Jesus shows up on the scene. He brings his Kingdom, the inbreaking of God's dominion into human history. He lives the example and teaches the ways of God. He is the face of God revealed to us. He is the fullest expression of God. At one point fully human, at another fully God. He commits no sin. He dies an unjust death on a rebel's cross and is buried in a tomb. We will discuss the scandal of the cross for the messiah during another post, but know that is was crazy talk to have a dead messiah, especially in light of current ideas about resurrection.

But then, from out of nowhere, Jesus is resurrected. He is the only one righteous. On the one hand, it isn't so hard to believe. He told us numerous times that it was going to happen. On the other, it is so amazing, so fantastic, that it has to be a wishful thinking. Jesus defeats death and brings a myriad of other good news to the table.

So, what does resurrection mean?
Death has been defeated. Death doesn't get the final word. Jesus says in Revelation 1:17-18, "Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living one. I was dead, and see, I am alive for ever and ever; and I have the keys of Death and of Hades." Jesus has the keys, death has been defeated. And at the final judgment, it will be completely destroyed. St. Paul says it this way, "‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’"

Jesus says something super convoluted unless seen through the eyes of faith, "Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die." What?!? You just said that we will die, but live on, but never die. Through Jesus, The Resurrection and The Life, death has been defeated.

Another thing is that God is bringing about New Creation. By new creation, we mean that God is going about restoring all things to their original glory, the way he originally made them. The evidence for this is a little more buried but there.

God, on the first few pages of scripture, creates the heavens and the earth. He loved his creation. It was all good. He creates man to bear his image and to tend his garden; Adam and Eve. The serpent and the fruit and the rebellion and the fall. The fall brings separation. Humans are separated from God. Man is separated from Woman. Humans are separated from the earth. Romans 5, in all the doom and gloom  about the human condition (fallen and on path to death) has some really beautiful passages. We see Jesus compared to Adam, "Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all." Adam brought corruption, Jesus brings something else. But even the idea of Jesus being compared to Adam shows that God is bringing new creation, starting over per se. All the divisiveness (between God, us, each other and nature) is vanished. "For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation" (Romans 5). Reconciliation!

Wright points out that the Gospel of John makes it a point that Jesus was raised on the first day (Sunday). But the significance is not just to clarify what day it was, but that new creation is begun. This is furthered by the idea the Mary sees Jesus but supposes him to be the gardener. It is the first day and Jesus looks like a gardener. This new Adam has come to start all of creation anew. This is clearly amplified by the way John 1 parallels Genesis 1 and gives all credibility to Jesus as the creator and mediator of creation. New creation, a restoration of all things!

This is the greatest and best thing about the Resurrection; Reconciliation. We are a reconciled people. No longer does sin plague us (being wiped out in Jesus' death), but more than that, we have resurrection power for reconciliation. We are reconciled to God. We are in right relationship with him. This should trickle down through to the rest of our relationships. No longer should there be strife between people (men and women) who dwell in this resurrection. No longer should there be division between us and creation in this resurrection. We are a reconciling people. Our relationship with family, friends, neighbors should all be healthy. "Live in harmony with one another... if it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all" (Romans 12).

All creation will be restored, including and especially us. "[Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross" (Colossians 1, emphasis added).

Another pertinent thought to the resurrection has been alluded to. Jesus was the only one righteous and therefore the only one resurrected. There were plenty of people raised from the dead in scripture. This differs from resurrection because all those raised from the dead still went on to lead relatively normal lives. They got sick, hungry, sinned, and died. Resurrection is a new body. "So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power" (1 Corinthians 15). The amazing grace of God is that this happens to us as well. We all get our own Easter. Jesus' righteousness is transferred to us through faith in him.

So, if your faith story tells you that Easter is about the salvation of souls, you are hearing Gospel-lite. We in Christianity have boiled down God's good news to 'going to heaven.' Salvation is seen as only being saved from hell. I profess to you good news of great joy, that you aren't 'saved from' anything, you are 'saved to' reconciliation with God. If hell and death and sin are the focal point of our 'good news' then we miss it.

I think of it like a movie. No one watches "Nightmare on Elm Street" and says, "wow, that movie was great, really edifying." Even though Freddy is stopped in the end and the people are reasonably safe, no one is at all believing that this is the good news. No, the Gospel is better than that but people still try to sell this story as gospel. They focus so much time and effort on winning souls, avoiding hell and sin's effects on our lives that the destruction of Freddy Krueger is good news, that not going to hell becomes the best news.

The Good news is Cinderella. A woman in broken relationships redeemed at the end by her savior. The Good News is Charlie, in poverty and brokenness with his community, receiving the golden ticket, meeting Willy Wonka and eventually inheriting the whole chocolate factory. The good news saves us to reconciliation between us and God, us and each other, us and nature. Though certainly there is hell, judgment and sin to be leery of, these things are secondary to the good news of Christ our Lord and his resurrection.

What does it mean: We live in community. (1) Communion with God reconciled with him and (2) community of the church as humans reconciled to each other. As the body of Christ (the church) we live out the final implications of the resurrection; we live out reconciliation.
  • We fight against injustice, poverty and violence because they are all counter to the resurrection reconciliation. Poverty is a disease of broken relationship with community. 
  • We fight to preserve creation and the environment because we do not expect to have our souls fly away to some 'other' place. This is God's place, his heaven will merge with this earth. As agents of reconciliation, we reduce our impact on the earth, for this is our home in the future resurrection. 
  • We protect life as sacred and valuable and part of creation. We are being restored to original glory. We understand more than anyone the Image of God in our lives. This includes children, those discarded as useless, the least of these and victims of violence and war. 
  • We promote peace at all cost, even our own lives, for we know the future hope of resurrection and the defeat of death. Peace makers are the truest children of God.
  • We embrace simple living  as a means to love our neighbor and not be seduced into pursuing reconciliation through anything else.
  • And on and on...
Resurrection is the lens through which all of life must be viewed. The new thing which God did and is doing is at work in the world today. We need to get on board. We need to stop focusing on souls and heaven and start focusing on reconciliation, restoration and resurrection. We need to stop focusing on hell and death and start focusing on light and life. We need to stop looking for the living among the dead, Jesus is risen!

Extra-Reading and Watching:

Ben Witherington quoting another about Resurrection. Here is another, older, post from Ben.

N. T. Wright interesting video:

Rob Bell on Easter: 

Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Friday & Psalm 22

When I became a Christian, I read the New Testament immediately and all the way through. I couldn't get enough. Christ revealed himself to me in ways unimaginable. I was forever blessed.

I had a great mentor who allowed me to ask many questions. There were a few that stuck with me for a very long time. Good Friday has one of the biggest. It wasn't until 2 years ago I found my answer.

My question dealt with reconciling Jesus' words on the Cross with his mission. He predicted his own death, even death on a cross, yet when he was on the Cross he screams out, "Eloi, Eloi lema Sabachthani?!" Which translated means, "My God, My God why have you forsaken me?!"

How could Jesus decide the God had forsaken him? Jesus knew he was going to die like this? I could understand crying out in pain. I could even understand crying out for mercy or even to be released. But concluding that God had abandoned him, that seemed like he was calling the whole thing off.

Until I read Psalm 22.

The footnotes in scripture had pointed to Psalm 22, but lets be honest, there are a lot of footnotes. Finally, almost 10 years into being a Christian, I heard someone explain that Jesus was making a bigger statement.

The people would have sung the Psalms. They knew all of them by heart and they were probably songs that people sung. There are many scholars who believe that Jesus was revealing to the people, again, that the Psalms were about him, especially 22. So when Jesus cries out  "My God, My God why have you forsaken me?" (the opening words to Psalm 22) he would have alluded to the whole Psalm.

I like to think that after Jesus cries out this great cry of pain and anguish, all the Jews around would have continued singing it and that their voices would be a comfort to him on the cross and the connection of Jesus to the Psalms would have given them a better understanding of who he was.

Compare Matthew 27 with Psalm 22 (below):

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
   Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;
   and by night, but find no rest.

Yet you are holy,
   enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In you our ancestors trusted;
   they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried, and were saved;
   in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.

But I am a worm, and not human;
   scorned by others, and despised by the people.
All who see me mock at me;
   they make mouths at me, they shake their heads;
‘Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver—
   let him rescue the one in whom he delights!’

Yet it was you who took me from the womb;
   you kept me safe on my mother’s breast.
On you I was cast from my birth,
   and since my mother bore me you have been my God.
Do not be far from me,
   for trouble is near
   and there is no one to help.

Many bulls encircle me,
   strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
they open wide their mouths at me,
   like a ravening and roaring lion.

I am poured out like water,
   and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax;
   it is melted within my breast;
my mouth is dried up like a potsherd,
   and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
   you lay me in the dust of death.

For dogs are all around me;
   a company of evildoers encircles me.
My hands and feet have shrivelled;

I can count all my bones.
They stare and gloat over me;
they divide my clothes among themselves,
   and for my clothing they cast lots.

But you, O Lord, do not be far away!
   O my help, come quickly to my aid!
Deliver my soul from the sword,
   my life from the power of the dog!
   Save me from the mouth of the lion!

From the horns of the wild oxen you have rescued me.
I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters;
   in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
You who fear the Lord, praise him!
   All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him;
   stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
For he did not despise or abhor
   the affliction of the afflicted;
he did not hide his face from me,
   but heard when I cried to him.

From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
   my vows I will pay before those who fear him.
The poor shall eat and be satisfied;
   those who seek him shall praise the Lord.
   May your hearts live for ever!

All the ends of the earth shall remember
   and turn to the Lord;
and all the families of the nations
   shall worship before him.

For dominion belongs to the Lord,
   and he rules over the nations.

To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down;
   before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
   and I shall live for him.

Posterity will serve him;
   future generations will be told about the Lord,
and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn,
   saying that he has done it.
 May you grow a deeper understanding of Christ and his action this day so many years ago. May you come to see that the pain he endured was for you. And let all the people say that he has done it/ It is finished!

The Continued explorations for good Christ-inspired music!

About once a month I stay up late to find music that I can fall in love with. My life can be altered by a great band. Most of the time... I am disappointed.

My quest is a ridiculous one, set before by my own high standard: to find Christian or Christ-inspired music that isn't awful. I know... but I assure you there is some out there. It is my firm belief that Christ followers, who have been revealed the mysteries of the deepest things of God, should be able to create some of the greatest art the world has ever seen. I refuse to give up this dream. And so, as some sort of fast-like-thing, I refuse to listen to completely secular music, even if it is fantastic. I do this not because my religion says so, but because of my own personal journey. I do not judge those who listen to secular music, I envy them for their lighter yoke. I want to be the biggest Mumford and Son's fanboy of all time, but I can't. I want to fall in love with the Freelance Whales, but I refrain. My mission is clear, their must be some somewhere.

Tonight's adventures have brought me into contact with some potentials, but nothing has grabbed my heart all the way. I mostly search the indie scenes for my particular brand. They are:
  •  #2 - Over the Ocean with "Paper House":
    • This band is almost awesome. A lot of guitar but still pretty indie. Very clean guitar leads. Unabashedly Christian (which I love). Huge dynamic changes. There is a lot of repetition, which can be annoying. These guys can hit some pretty rockin' spots, which I can definitely love if they build up to it. My biggest con for this group is the singer. I am not a fan of the lower voiced male singers most of the time. So, all in all, I like the band but not the vocals. This guy does hit some high stuff in a few tracks like (untitled). All in all I think "Everything Will Change" is my favorite.
  • My #1 choice for the night is the sweet stylings of Arthur Alligood with "I have not seen the Wind"
    • He is so close for me. A pastor and an artist. My biggest con for this guy is that he is a little more country than I want in my indie-folk; not the biggest fan of slide guitar. He has definite Christian themes but isn't so overt. His voice is pure but not always getting all the way to the notes, but that is ok in this style. The style is almost hymn-like in syntax: Not always a chorus, but always resolves similarly where a chorus would be. Will definitely be listening to more to see if it grows on me. Most definitely check out the FREE ep with the song "Hold On," it is a very good song.
So I continue my epic search for amazing music that is "Christian." Be on the look out and send me a link or two if you think I will like it.


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Movie Review: Exit through the Gift Shop

I am a pretty susceptible person. I have an over-active empathy which allows me to see the validity of all sides and want to be a part of a lot of movements. When Matt and I watched "8 Mile" I wanted to battle rap. When I saw "The Parking Lot Movie" I wanted to work at a parking lot as an attendant. These things especially happen when I watch documentaries and see some sort of injustice or counter-cultural revolution going on.

Tonight, on a recommendation from Ryan Rayome (who has never steered me wrong), I watched "Exit Through the Gift Shop." First, let me say that this movie was fantastic. Second, let me say that I had no idea the direction it was going in the beginning. A total surprise for me, which could be my ignorance of the scene or just interesting film making. Third, I want to graffiti stuff now :).

The movie starts off introducing us to a frenchmen named Thierry. He lives in Los Angeles and is selling designer clothes. His one passion in life is filming. He filmed everything but that is as far as it went. He never made movies, just filmed.

One vacation, while visiting Paris, he was hanging out with his cousin who was a famous street artist who made tile graffiti of characters from Space Invader. He filmed him hanging these up all over town and it was awesome. Therry began following all kinds of famous street artist. He even meets up with Banksy, which before this movie I had never heard of. Anyways, he follows them all, telling them he is going to make a documentary.

Through some interesting turns involving a badly made movie and street art becoming high art and selling for tons of money, Therry is convinced to become a street artist. He refinances everything he owns, hires a huge team, changes his name to Mr. Brain Wash and opens a gallery. He seems to let it all go to his head while seemingly being genuine in his attempt to be apart of the counter-culture. The whole thing is a mess. I did NOT see it coming...

The journey is a blast. Should definitely see it. Streaming on Netflix right now. I want to go graffiti something right now... probably some Casino billboards. Run time is 86 minutes, it is rated R for language and it is "A Banksy Film." There is speculation that this whole movie was a hoax, or the Thierry Guetta was a hoax, pranking the art world for spending hundreds of thousands on art slapped together by some French videographer, but it seems that the majority of the people fall on the side of it all being real. Loved this review.

The part that makes it all the more interesting to me is that I knew this cool cat going the Sociology degree with me at Chico State. He was closer to 30 and somewhat of a professional student. He was a great guy with peculiar interest, folk wisdom and a love for street art. I asked him what kind of music he was in to. He told me, "non-religious reggae." An answer like that told me that this guy knew what he wanted. Now, I knew nothing of the counter-culture and everything I do know I just learned from this documentary. I tried probing this guy on some info, but he was pretty secretive accept about his latest tags. I asked him, realizing now how foolish it was, if he would put some work down on a canvas and I would buy it. He was really cool about it, but didn't want to do his art in that kind of way. He gave me a lot of grace in my ignorance, but know what I know now, it was a pretty foolish request. Anyways, great guy...

As a Christian it reminds me of how subversive Jesus' message really is. Jesus dealt with icons all the time. Even this Holy Week, we see Jesus in this light: riding into Jerusalem as a King or emperor would. Though we hold a high Christology now, this act was very much a counter-culteral move where Jesus proclaiming a better way. The way Jesus dies on a cross as a rebel through a revolutionaries death. The cross of the Roman World, reserved for the most despised of the empire, became the cultural icon for victory in the Kingdom come. The way the church hijacked empire rhetoric and used it for our own way of subversion. Instead of "Caesar is Lord" we demanded that "Jesus is Lord." We stole the word church (ekklesia) and used it for our functions where we proclaimed one King alone. Instead of the Pax Romana, we declared that there was one Prince of Peace, that there was no other name under heaven which one could be saved. The church is missing this element. We have made bed-fellows with the empire and it has been to our demise. Let us reclaim with all its original meaning that Jesus is Lord.

So, let's get the revolution started, I'll meet you at Kinkos.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Palm Sunday Reflection!

I had an 'Aha!' moment, though explaining it so far has been difficult.

I have been reflecting on the problem of the Palm Sunday. The commemoration of Jesus riding into Jerusalem so many years ago. I know a ton of facts about the event: that the Jews would have been singing the Hallel Psalms on their way up to the Passover Feast, that Jesus was making a ton of statements with his donkey, the symbolism of the Palms especially in connection with the Maccabees, Jesus as the Solomonic figure (but better) (Witherington, Commentary on Matthew), etc... There was still one problem that plagued me.

We as Christians have used the praise of the people to symbolize our praise of the risen Lord. We have celebrated with them, as it seems. My problem is that those people didn't understand Jesus and his message. They thought he was making a move for the throne, or a land grab, or some other geo-political action. "This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee" the crowds said. A prophet in the middle of the huge crowd spelled trouble.

But Jesus doesn't ride in victorious in the way the people wanted. He isn't some sort of fulfillment of a Maccabean revolution. He isn't some King with a fixed, earthly Kingdom. This whole thing doesn't seem Triumphal at all.

Adding all the more to the confusion, the crowd in Jerusalem, not 4 days later, called for Jesus execution on the cross. Peter denies, Judas betrays, the disciples sleep and Jesus is left alone, holding the cup.

The whole scene didn't add up. Why do we as Christians, who understand a whole lot more of Jesus' mission, use the praise of a people who had all the wrong motives, as our celebration? Two things made me stay with the problem: (1) Jesus never rode anything in the Gospel's before (which is interesting in it's own right about Jesus not placing himself over others) and (2) in the Lukan account, Jesus is specifically ordered by the pharisees to have the praise stopped and he says one of the most beautiful lines in all of scripture, condoning the actions of the worship; even of a people who terribly misunderstood him.

Why would Jesus accept their praise? Why does he allow them to worship under false pretenses? Why does he reinforce a negative stereotype (of the messiah)? YET, obviously something more is going on here. He is obviously meaning something with the colt/donkey/ riding into the city.

And then God gave it to me as if I had always had it. As if it were plain as day. Obviously Jesus is a King with a Kingdom and his resurrection firmly establishes it. I see the connection to the resurrection and the Kingdom of God, but God opened up Palm Sunday to me in Jesus' death.

It is through the Cross that Jesus is victorious, "And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross" (Colossians 2). It is through the cross that Jesus defeats death, sin, the yoke. The passover psalms become his psalms. He, the passover lamb, whose blood would be spilled so that the people could live; victory.

Yes, Jesus is King and has his Kingdom. Yes, the people's misunderstandings still are present in the text. But we assume their praise this day for they understood Jesus as the way to victory. They desired it, we live it. They saw it coming, we breathe it constantly. This King who rides in victoriously, dies a rebel's execution, and that's the good news, "we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son" (Romans 5).

May you find victory in the cross. May you see Jesus triumphant over death, holding the keys of Hades. May your shame, guilt, sin, depression, arguments, competitiveness be nailed to the cross. And may you embrace the cross, always seeing it as the greatest way of being triumphant over all things.