Jesus: God's Failure
I'm keeping my word. I've posted a video to YouTube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cyqh6-nga-Y
of me performing a song I've written called Late Night Drive. This is harder than I thought it would be.
The Lyrics and another link are on the page "Songs" in the Sidebar, that's where I'll be posting any future videos of my songs.
Friday, July 20, 2012
If you want to understand my theology; and really, if you want to know me, I guess this is where you should start. You see, I believe that I’ve found the answer to life, the universe, and everything; and, don’t panic now, it’s not 42. The answer is peace.
What is Peace? Etymology is very interesting to me and an interesting way to look into word meanings. My favorite etymology dictionary is www.etymonline.com (I highly recommend it) and it says this about peace:
“mid-12c., "freedom from civil disorder," from Anglo-Norm. pes, from O.Fr. pais (11c., Mod.Fr. paix), from L. pacem (nom. pax) "treaty of peace, tranquility, absence of war" (cf. Prov. patz, Sp. paz, It. pace), from PIE *pak- "fasten," related to pacisci "to covenant or agree" (see pact). Replaced O.E. frið, also sibb, which also meant "happiness." Modern spelling is 1500s, reflecting vowel shift.”
I find it very interesting that our English word for peace is linguistically related to the word pact and comes from a Latin word for treaty. This seems to confirm what I find to be the common modern usage of the word to describe the absence of overt conflict. In English, peace means “There is no one currently trying put holes in me or lop off any vital pieces.”
The Hebrew word for peace, shalom, represents a different take on the idea of peace. Historically, it seems to have been connected with the idea of wholeness or completion. Derivatives of the word pop up in ancient literature describing completed financial transactions, filling, and delivering. This idea then seems to have migrated to a physical sense meaning “No one’s trying to put any holes in me, and all my previous holes have healed. I am complete.” This idea was then metaphorically tied to prosperity, psychological and relational well-being and wholeness. It is a state of completion and fulfillment.
If we take the Hebrew definition of peace seriously, though, we come upon a new implication. You see, to say that something is complete is to say that it meets a standard of what it is supposed to be. So let’s pretend that I ask you for ½ cup of sugar; now my sentence is meaningless if there is no standard of what a cup is. It makes no sense to speak of something as being complete if there is no measure of what completion means for that something. If we don’t know what a cup is, how will we know when we have half of one? The world works in the same way. We understand that people should not be discriminated against, that the weak should not be enslaved, that people should not have to go hungry, thirsty, or be forced to suffer because of poverty. How do we know? Because even if it’s not explicit, we know in our guts that the world isn’t supposed to work like that. There’s a standard, and those situations don’t meet it.
So Shalom stems out of an idea of completeness; and the idea of completeness is inherently tied up in the idea of a standard. But standards don’t simply exist in and of themselves, they must be put in place. If no one establishes a standard, then any notion of completion is meaningless. Therefore, standards are dependent on personalities, and absolute shalom must depend on the absolute Personality. Shalom doesn’t simply mean complete, it means complete according to the design of God. Shalom is the world as God meant it to be.
In the beginning, in the garden, as it were, humanity existed with God in perfect shalom. We had peace because we lived in perfect relationship with God and others just as God intended. And the whole universe functioned perfectly according to God’s design. But there is another important word in the Bible; this word is used for evil, it is the Hebrew word Ra’a. Ra’a comes from a root word that means broken. When humanity said no to God’s plans, we broke shalom. We broke our relationship with God, we broke our relationships with each other, we broke ourselves, we broke the world, and we broke peace.
Shalom becomes, then, one of if not the most important ideas in Christianity, even in all of human thought, because it is what the entire Divine-human story is about. Shalom is the Eden from which humanity fell, it is the Canaan for which the Israelites searched, and it is the Heaven for which all humanity longs for. Isaiah, by defining shalom as our salvation paved the way for Jesus to be shalom. The Christ, therefore, was not only the means to peace, He embodies Peace. For centuries, people of all races have chased after this idea. Its shadow can be seen in Avalon, Camelot, Shangrila, Eldorado, and the Illysian fields. It is the purpose for which revolutions have been ignited, manifestos written and utopias dreamed. Every word, sentence and paragraph in the Bible revolves around this one single idea: the healing of all relationships, the consummation of peace.
When I say the word peace, then, this is what I mean; not simply the absence of conflict, but the world as it was meant to be, as God meant it to be. We must understand the Kingdom of God, the divine – human relationship, the end times, and our individual missions through the lens of peace if we are to understand them at all. You see, the answer is not 42; the answer is peace.
Friday, July 13, 2012
This past Holy Week, in a Good Friday service to be specific, I was looking at a picture of Christ at his trial, thinking about the issue when the question occurred to me again. Why did Jesus have to die? Why couldn’t He have simply skipped to the end of time, taken the crowds up on their offer and set up His Kingdom, physically, literally right there, right then? No cross needed.
Instinctively, I feel like I need a reason for why the cross was so imperative to our salvation, and I’m not the only one. There are several major theologians who have given time and thought to the question. If God is omnipotent and all loving, then why couldn’t He have saved us without sending His one and only Son through such a horrible experience? I think that one part of the answer may lie in our human freedom. You see, Jesus had to hold off fair weather.
By nature, we humans want to be on the winning side. We live vicariously through our sports teams, athletes, celebrities, and politicians, and we always want to be on the team that wins. In sports we call these people fair-weather fans. They don’t care which city name appears on the jersey just so long as they get to raise a glass with the victors and avoid the long empty losers’ walk home. Fair weather fans can also appear in other areas of life. In politics there are people who will only vote for the candidate they think will win; and there are politicians who will only support the names and causes on which public favor rests. For millennia, military men have been able to count on the favor, and support of their native land – so long as they win. These might be termed fair weather followers: people who live through the victories of their leaders.
Jesus didn’t want any fair weather followers. Jesus wants followers who are there because they love Him, and because they love His mission. He wants followers who will join Him in the hard labor of reconciling the world to God no matter the costs. So He did the one thing that fair weather followers cannot stand. He failed.
To all onlookers, the cross was the epitome of failure. Ask any Jew, Greek or Roman from AD 30 about a cross, and he will tell you. A cross meant defeat; it meant oppression and weakness; it meant you got caught; it meant that you couldn’t cut it; it meant you made enemies of all the wrong people; and if you claimed to be a messiah, a savior of the people, it meant you had failed. The cross was the public failure of a God who didn’t have the decency to fail in private.
But this was part of the design. In going to the cross, God knit failure into the heart of Christianity. Looking back, in hindsight, we can easily overlook the cross, painting over the harsh reds and dark shadows of the crucifixion with the gold, white and purple of Easter. Of course, Easter did happen; and yes, Jesus was victorious, but His victory came through failure. He saved us all by willingly clothing Himself in the tattered habit of defeat. In doing so, He set the precedent that we, as those who have taken His name, must follow. We are to be a people who lead by serving, who are first by being last, who live by dying, and who succeed by failing. Failing for all the world to see.
See, only thing is, though; I’m not ok with that.
I don’t like public failure. I detest looking like a fool in front of other people, and I hate feeling others’ condemnation. But Jesus doesn’t want followers who aren’t willing to share in His defeat. His cross forces me to make a decision: either go to the cross or turn around and walk away. So, I must become ok with wearing the mantle of public defeat, of looking like a failure to the watching world. If I am to share in His success, I must walk with Him through His failure.
So, how can I become ok with this idea? I have an idea. I have several thoughts that have been rolling around in the back of my head for some time. These thoughts are of, I don’t know what to call them, endeavors maybe? They are endeavors that I think I could succeed at, but that I’m too scared to try because I’m afraid of failing. So, over the next 30 days I am going to try some of them. In doing so, I’m facing my fear of public failure, and, hopefully, beginning to move past it. Here are the four endeavors I am going to attempt:
1. This blog – in this blog I’m going to put my thought life in the public eye to see if my ideas resonate with others. I’m committing to one blog a week, on Fridays.
2. Try to write a deep theological book on at a lay reader’s level– it couldn’t possibly be published in a month, but I’ll update you from time to time on how it’s going.
3. Talk with friends about concrete applications for theological ideas of deep and close-knit community, then apply them. I will do this at least twice over the next month.
4. Post audio and/or video on my blog of me performing at least two religious songs that I’ve written.
This may go well, it may go poorly, but one way or another, it will go.
So, what about you? Do you have thoughts rumbling in the corners of your mind? Are you afraid of looking like a failure? To join me, think of at least one or two endeavors that are a) somehow related to the Kingdom of God, and b) things you think you could succeed at but are scared that you won’t. Post your self-challenges in the comments section along with a time-line of when you will attempt them, then post the results when you have them.
If we are to share His name, we must follow His path.
Friday, July 6, 2012
Now, don’t lie to me.
I know good and well the following sentence has passed through your cranium at some point in your life “Some people are just plain jerks.” We all know it; we’ve all seen it; some people just need to be smacked. The only problem is that, under the current legal system, you can’t actually smack the people who need to be smacked. If you do, our nation’s sense of justice has become so perverted that the legal consequences are actually worse for the smack-er than they are for the smack-ee. Travesty. Or, even worse, sometimes you might find that jerks who are willing to blatantly flaunt social convention, are also generally not opposed to retaliating to being smacked with their own counter-smack, punch, kick, or half-nelson + wedgie and/or swirlie.
Now, these are grave issues facing our society; but, fortunately, I have come up with a brilliant solution. I propose that the Department of Justice form a special body of public officials specifically targeting violators of common sense and public etiquette. These servants of the public will would be tasked with finding those people who really need to be smacked, and then smacking them. I call them the Smack Police.
Ok, so how does this work? It’s a relatively straight forward idea: if an Officer of Smack should observe some jerk committing an act of flagrant jerkity like trying to talk to someone when they are quite clearly trying to avoid being talked to, or speeding up in traffic to keep someone else from merging, or, more generally, doing anything I don’t agree with, then they walk up to the jerk, display their Smack Badge, and then smack them. It’s a fairly simple process.
Of course, there would have to be rules for these officers of the public will:
1. Officers of Smack may only smack jerks with one open handed smack, either front or back-handed; and, by implication, they may not use any kind of weapon.
2. Men may only smack men, women may only smack women.
3. Officers of Smack may only smack adults 16 and over; although, now that I think about it, some of those young jerks really need to be smacked, so, the occasional smacklette on the back of a spoiled 12 year old’s head shouldn’t be out of the question.
4. Smacks may be appealed if they are considered unwarranted; however, there are at least 10 years of bureaucracy between you and a verdict, so, really, is it worth it?
5. Any retalitation against an Officer of Smack would be treated and prosecuted as assaulting a police officer; and trying to evade a smack would be prosecuted as evading arrest; so, take it like a man wussy boy.
Now, I know what you’re thinking, “Who’s gonna pay for all this!” (Am I right?)Well not to fear good citizen. The great thing about this idea is that it would incur next to no additional costs in running the government. In establishing the Smack Police we would be giving a small body of people what amounts to a free license to smack anyone they think deserves it. That kind of privilege would be worth its weight in gold (appr. $920). So we wouldn’t actually have to pay these officials to do their job; the job itself would be its own reward; and, bonus, by forcing the officials to have everyday jobs, we’re forcing them to get out and mingle with the civilians they are tasked with monitoring.
Now, one admitted problem is figuring out how to recruit these officers. You don’t want to accidentally hire jerks and then give them license to go around smacking people. Who wants to be around some jerk with the legal privilege of referring to himself as an “Officer of Smack”? You don’t hire jerks to police jerks; so, you’d have to recruit the right type of person to do this. Personality would be a very important factor. You might try hiring only those who don’t actually want the position. Appeal to their altruistic side and tell them that it’s their civic duty to hit people. Another strategy may be to hire only people who hate conflict and fighting, like a Buddhist monk, or France. These issues, however, are relatively small and easily overcome once the idea as a whole is accepted.
In brief, I am confident that, should my idea be accepted and enacted, national incidents of jerkity would fall dramatically. We would once again be able to walk our streets without fear of some jerk taking an obvious pot shot at our height, weight, long curly hair, or lack of athleticism (not that that’s ever happened to me). So, write your congressperson, start petitions, and let’s get these jerks smacked; cause, admit it, it’s a good idea.