Christ the Center: Freedom of Thought

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All the hoopla around the country is about free speech which only elicits pondering Milne, then reflecting on Kierkegaard’s more apt reflection:

People demand  freedom of speech as a compensation for the  freedom of thought which they seldom use.

I could give you a thorough analysis as to why this is…but forget it. Enough talk about what is wrong. If people are investing in commercialized models of the “Gospel” – either a “Gospel of Betterment” (megachurches) or then the more private tastes of a personalized “Boutique Gospel” (which is sort of a mildly skeptical “pick and choose” ala carte that might include some Borg, Ehrman, Crossan…bits of Gnostisism (known or unknown ironically), some Eastern Mystism and pop psychology, and lots of hip social action/posturing) it is only because its really pretty much the only thing available.

No “thinking” version – which is truly Christocentric, socially conscious and billed as a “death” to what novelist Walker Percy aptly described as “The suck of self” in favor of complete “Transformation” (meatnoia) into the image of Christ has ever been put forward in my lifetime.

It just wouldn’t sell.

So I have watched a seeming endless cycle of “new theologies” with their anthropocentric “centers” come and go.

It is time for new direction and vision.

But at once we seem to have a problem – and this is where the ballgame is always lost – the “exception to the rule.” The second we make a declarative statement it is assailed by either an exception or by some parallel consideration that is, in fact, valid.

The error is not in eliminating the exception or parallel considerations (in fact, in due time let them ALL in). The error is in assuming a “one size fits all” approach to begin with when it comes to “Gospel.”

What do I mean by this term? I will simply say “Good News” and keep as close to that as possible. The more we veer away from it being “Good News” the less interested I am. If it is “Bad News?” Reject it outright.

If you wish to preach Bad News by all means do so: to yourself. For others? I take Peter to be spot on when he said we are to be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks us about our “hope, yet with gentleness and reverence.”

Anthropocentric centers have not worked and won’t work for Gospel. You all know the definition of insanity – so “sane up” and let’s get to work.

As Christ is the “Center” (and you can see my “math” elsewhere) I will just go directly to His pretty much never seeming to ever do anything the same way twice. There seems to be no discernible pattern for the healings (“here’s mud in your eye” in one; in another He heal’s long range with just words; in yet another He casts a load of demons out of a man into a herd of swine. Now that is variety.) Jesus seems directed by His Father, but at times “out of the loop.” Taken as a whole it is not the sort of thing any truly thinking person could build a “systematic theology” around – which is probably why it really wasn’t much attempted until the 18th Century and has been botched badly and routinely.

It doesn’t work. Why? Well I’ll give you at least one good reason: God is not systemic.

And one big result is that no new theology has really been done since C.S. Lewis kicked the bucket in 1963. I mean I like some folk for reiteration…but not a lot of original new thought or fresh exegesis because most folk have allowed themselves to be drafted into a protracted culture war (“War of the Fictions”).

I feel true compassion. The Reality of Christ as True Center is not something we easily adjust our eyes to for any length of time. I think that is why – while it is called for all over the New Testament – it is done so in a gentle manner. 

In the three places where Christ’s glory are held up most intensely (John 1; Colossians 1; and Hebrews 1 by my reckoning) it is in a near blinding swift flash…then all quiets down. Paul, when he is practically applying his cosmological view of Christ makes warm realistic statements like “we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him ” (2 Co. 5:9)

Now that is not so complicated is it?

We also appropriate a lot of things best in song and via worship it would seem. Thimas Merton would add contemplation/prayer and he would be right. 

Einstein said “things should be made as simple as possible but not simpler.” The Universe was created in, through and for Christ (Col.1) but my simple joy today is to simply be “pleasing to Him.”

Our theology and new work is grounded in Christ the Center Who is alive – right now – and animated by the Holy Spirit. We are not limited to categories of left and right anymore than the places around the rim of a tire are at odds as they are held in tension to the Center-Hub. Our problem has been that we have tried to keep started from those rimmed areas.

Well, don’t. Anthropocentric centers have not worked and won’t work for Gospel. You all know the definition of insanity – so “sane up” and let’s get to work.

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The Centre Holds: Beauty, Art & the God Who is There.

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“Drakes Bay” ceramic version of oil painting of God’s original creation.  Christopher MacDonald  ©2002 Azotus Arts. 
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
The Second Coming
William Butler Yeats

 

It is easy to misread the words of the poet in several ways. One can take a look at the world around us now – as many do – and quote this poem as a prophetic utterance. Things seem to be unraveling with innocence drowning, anarchy on the rise, the Good set to the sidelines and the Bad set center-stage in all their fury.

Or, one might approach this theologically and note that as the pursuit of God as Centre has dimmed over a few hundred years – replaced more and more since the Enlightenment by humanity – “the falcon cannot hear the falconer,” the centre cannot hold because it is not recognized as such and there is a certain quiet dignified anarchy to all of our denominationalism and separatism that says that we will decide – we will be ‘the centre.” Er, centres not only outside the Church , but within it as well.

But we turn from this only to find we cannot manage even our own lives – not to mention the world.

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Yeats was an inverted Conehead. 

William Butler Yeats had none of this in mind of course. He was writing in the context of the end of the First World War and personally saw history and destiny itself is “conical,” (see graphic) with the “widening gyre” simply ending in destruction and being replaced with something like it’s opposite impulse.

So one imagines if Yeats is correct, a scientific, democratic and expansive/popularist approach in the West would now break apart and be replaced by something very opposite: non-scientific, authoritarian, exclusive and  isolationist.

I don’t care for two reasons: 1) I am not really political and that is all really beyond me; and 2) the issue Yeats’s poem brings out (unbeknownst to him) is larger.

Sometimes the poet speaks beyond himself and his philosophy. No one takes Yeat’s view of “Conical” history seriously at all – but this is one of the most quoted poems in the English language – especially right now.  Why?

Simple. We know we as a people are lost and before you leave thinking I am going to launch off into a typical rant let me assure you it is NOT COMING. You don’t need that and neither do I. We know, don’t we?

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“Drakes Bay” (partial) oil on treated board 4′ x 8′ Christopher MacDonald © 1997 Azotus Arts

Why don’t we talk about solutions to this mess instead? 

Okay, cool.

“The falcon cannot hear the falconer”

How can we hear in the ever-widening gyre as things are falling apart?  

Well first we have to know Who we are listening to.

We are listening to God.

We are not listening to Religion, our family of origin’s idea of God, or our upbringing (our stunted “whenever we stopped learning about God”-age ideas about God*). We are listening to the God of love Who is there and Who has chosen to freely communicate in specific ways that are simple (“to him who has eyes to see and ears to hear,’ says Jesus on many occasions.)

You are not sure God is there? That is okay. You only have to be open. People talk a lot about “finding God” and I do see “seeking” reflected in Jesus’ parables. But I also see Jesus “finding us” and not the other way around. Be open and willing to be found. 

What are some ways to see and hear?

The simplest way is through nature, though it is the least specific. It is through beauty and art that you can begin to re-calibrate your eyes and ears to hear and see God in the midst of this , well….maddening world.

Beauty and Art are major ways of seeing and hearing. These are always couched in Creation (in some way) and the fecundity of God the Master artist who creates for sheer joy; both God’s and yours. Let God speak to you via nature.

In Art, learn to see both the reflected glory of God in the women and men who make/create it and also their longing for God in it. It’s okay to see them arguing like the Psalmist with God – sometimes bitterly so– with God. This is what I call the “running argument with God.” Even their depictions of so-called “hate” against God are just misplaced love and the energy they use to produce these works comes from the True Centre Himself- Christ.

Beyond just viewing art, doing art (in whatever form you can) opens up God-given inner places of the heart, mind and body that are reflective of your being as created in God’s image. If open, you may experience yourself as someone who creates beauty in a way reflective of God. And it does not matter whether it is fine art or chalk art. Bake something that looks delightful.

Artist and theologian Makoto Fujimura, in his important book Culture Care, writes of “generative thinking” saying it is ,

“fueled by generosity because it so often must work against a mindset that has survival and utility in the foreground. In a culture dominated by this mindset generosity has an unexpectedness that can set the context for the renewal of our hearts.”

These simple words need to go on a lot of refrigerators… seriously.

We are not talking just about the survival and utility dominating those at the bottom of our socio-economic situation in America. In the Bay Area, we are talking about people in “Golden Handcuff” corporate jobs working 60-plus hours a week under duress and with no small measure of fear given the subtle and not-so subtle evaluation systems put into place to keep them slavishly and doggedly hammering away at tasks.

At times, I am almost tempted to call it a “Digital Gulag” but I know better. 

God Speaks More Specifically

I was recently in a theology class in seminary where the question came up for the first time: “what is theology?” That may sound funny – especially as it is my third year – but most theologies are so anthropocentric these days (and have been so for a very long time – this is not new) it is difficult not to adjust to the times while trying to address them.
 

My only contribution was a bit of a departure: “No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.” (John 1:18)

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I love this book so much I have both a hard copy and the Audible versions. 

It is an odd statement if you look at it (which is why I like it). Like Fujimura’s view of art as generative and generous (to an extreme), God has come down and become flesh that we might know Who God is – that God might be explained and seen. 

As Jesus says later “If you have seen me you have seen the Father.” (John 14) 

God has revealed God’s own Self in Jesus. How do we appropriate that? I would contend that as He is resurrected you can do this directly – but this is often a process of coming into relationship. More often this begins by reading the words of Jesus. It also comes via prayer.

People will come at you from a variety of angles on the Bible – all of which will suspiciously keep you from actually just reading and exploring it for yourself.  Like art, it is best to just experience it for yourself, then explore it with others who love it. I am not sure I would explore art with people who hated it, thought it a waste of time or disparaged it at every turn. I am not sure that would make sense to me – so why would I do that with God and scripture?

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One advantage of a digital age is when you do need or want art, or to take an imaginative trip it is readily available. I use Pinterest because I can save the art to “boards.” Here I did a search and come up with a host of tours I could take and pieces of artwork to view…including my own!

Someone asked me recently what my view of the “inerrancy vs. infallibility of the Bible” debate was. I told them it was a 30 year waste of time not worth comment – and isn’t. Read the Bible for yourself and see if it resonates as the Word of God.

Lastly, God speaks through people. Jesus gave a plain directive (as recorded in Luke and also here in Matthew 7:17-20):

“So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit.  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits.”

Long ago I learned to watch what people do/did and not so much what they said. This has served me well. People who love and have grace for others in their lives? I listen to them – regardless of their religious training. God uses them in my life. I see God in them whereas, sometimes, in the religious I see nothing at all but Ego and Self-Rule.  Then I look at the fruit as Jesus instructed – not at their past (that would be judgment) but what are they choosing now- faith, hope and love in serving others and loving God; or some agenda of power and control based in fear?

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Drakes Bay © God. Photograph of live version by Christopher MacDonald. Comes complete with huge ocean and action accessories like birds, people and a red tailed fox.  

The Centre

My mentor, The Rev. Darrell Johnson, has as his motto “The Centre Holds.”  (he lives and teaches in Canada…thus the “Centre” thing instead of “Center.”) Right now, as everything is falling apart and anarchy is barking at our heels with its violence and the Church is lost in its own bad news – the Centre Holds.

This paper is the first of many papers and explorations on this theme because you; and I do mean YOU – are going to want practical, DOABLE things in this world as it runs more and more amok to both keep sane and also to retain a sense of direction and peace.

I am telling you today that you have real anchor points – rock to pound your pitons into. Beauty, Art, The Word of God, Worship, Fellowship, Service, Meditative prayer, and adoration of Christ (simple and pure devotion to the Living One).

It is okay to take some realistic stock of the chaos, but do not linger there or you will lose all hope in time. It is not a time to simply tread water…you will drown. You need to be going somewhere. You need to learn to swim. 

Next: Spokes: Your Life is like a Wheel

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* I little noted phenomenon where people stop their exploration or developmental understanding of God at some early age – often due to some crisis, but for some generations it was simply when they were first given the free choice to attend church or not. This is not to suggest they would have been given an adequate depiction or education in the nature of God from a church, only to note that developmentally their picture and understanding may be arrested at a very early time, i.e. I have met 50 year old men walking around with 13 year old boy’s notions of God and the Bible simply because that is where they stopped investigating – just like any other subject.  

Seeking the Living Among the Dead?

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Luke 24:1-12: Re-Cognition

The women at the empty tomb in Luke 24:1-12 marks Luke’s unfolding of the subsequent appearances of the risen Jesus. The rhetorical question put forward to the women, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”  stood as one of four larger rhetorical questions posed in Luke-Acts used by the author in an attempt to provide a “proper rhetorical standard when producing his narrative.”[1] Within that larger apologetic, we have this smaller and more personal crisis involving those nearest and dearest to Jesus. This study will examine those closest to Jesus and how they failed to anticipate His death or resurrection. This is evidenced in the narrative by their various actions, inactions and levels of mystification. What we find, towards the close of Luke’s gospel, is that no one expected anything but a “dead Jesus.” In Luke’s account, this failure to recognize Jesus’ true significance (which is normative in the entire narrative) or to connect the events of his passion now with his previous teachings issues in a profound ideological and theological crisis for everyone concerned. We see the first example of this crisis in the women’s response to the empty tomb, followed by Peter’s mystification when confronted at the same location.

For the purposes of this study guide, we will explore the various characters and the ideas of both recognition and remembrance which are displayed via the clarity which the women (at the very least) received in contrast with the continued confusion and mystification of the apostles. Additionally, ideological and theological crisis points are often points which lead to profound revelation —or breakthrough. If the empty tomb issued in a profound ideological and theological crisis (and it surely did) there was simply no going back to the old arguments and interpretations of Jesus with any vigor. Whatever the variety of “Messianic expectations” people had which had over-ruled the actual words of Jesus at the time he spoke, his physical resurrection swiftly revealed their irrelevancy on the third day.[2]

Luke’s Text: Luke 24:1-12

The Women Act, Find, and Remember

On this, the third day and after the Sabbath, the women arise and go to the tomb where they had seen Jesus laid dead two nights earlier (23:55-56). Their intention is to prepare the body for a Jewish burial with spices and wrappings. Luke constructs the narrative in such a way that they “find” two things in rapid succession: the stone rolled away, and the tomb empty. They are shocked.[3]

Then Luke uses a new construction for presenting Jesus. It is now, and will continue to be in the Book of Acts, “the Lord Jesus” (Acts 1:21; 4:33; 8:16, “and in Acts 2:32-36 Peter will develop the logic of Jesus’ lordship by referring to Jesus’ exaltation by God.[4] ) According to Luke, the resurrection has modified Jesus’ title to some degree.

The women are dumbfounded, but are soon confronted by two men “glowing like lightening,” who appear with a message which begins with a question: “Why do you seek the living among the dead?”  The rhetorical question still stands for us today, but the two men (later identified as “angels” (24:23) are not finished. They tell the women that Jesus is not there and proclaim that “he is risen!”

But what is the meaning of this? They continue to speak with the women, asking them to remember what Jesus had told them when he was with them in Galilee— specifically that he would be arrested, crucified and be resurrected.” (v.6-8,). “The women are urged, even commanded, to call to mind, to keep present, a prophetic message, a revelation of Jesus,” says Maria Luisa Rigato[5]. Then it says they “remembered his words”(v. 9). The Greek verb mimnhskesqai (“to remember”) occurs six times in Luke and four times in Acts, and “it always related to God or Jesus”[6]  in significant ways. They had what we can best refer to as “re-cognition” a re-knowing of what they already knew.

This same phenomenon happens to the men who spent time with Jesus on the road to Emmaus. Only after the breaking of the bread do they “re-cognize” Jesus (and it should be noted that the witness of the women had gone out beyond the immediacy of the apostles by word of mouth (v.22-24). Curiously, the evidence suggests that while the apostles did not believe the account given by the women, it did not stop them from spreading it.

Setting aside the confusion of the men, the “penny had dropped,”[7] for the women after they connected what Jesus had previously taught in Galilee (for example, Luke 9:22 and 18:31-34), with his arrest, the empty tomb, and the proclamation by the men who suddenly appeared to them.  Luke gives us no information how this conversation wrapped up, only that the women at the tomb reported back “all these things” to the apostles. This “cannot but include the message they had received from the angels, so that the men were given access to the significance of recent events.  The dismissive response of the men is therefore better explained with reference to the fact that those reporting are women in a world biased against the admissibility of women as witnesses.” [8]   The women now understood the connection between Jesus’ teaching and his arrest, trial, death and resurrection, but the men did not, or would not, comprehend it. The best that can be said for the men is that one of them, Peter, is found at the end of this narrative confused and bewildered by events. But he had not come to the understanding that the women had come to understand and were then able to articulate in full to the apostles (v.11).[9] As Joel Green surmises about the women’s move from perplexity to clarity, in contrast with Peter’s confusion: All of them arrive at an empty tomb and find the body missing, but only the women “receive heavenly communication about the goings-on…so only they receive insight into their significance.” He goes on to comment simply that Peter lacks what the women now possess: faith and Jesus’ key to interpreting the events.[10]

It is here that Luke is careful to name the women specifically as Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James “and others.” Ironically, in our age, such testimony by women in a First Century context actually adds weight as unfounded accusations of biblical document selections to support the status quo make little sense when the documents themselves put forward bumbling male disciples, and women as primary witnesses (come what may, for it is the apostles who look foolish and spiritually inept).  Case in point, in Luke’s account we end with the women having faithfully discharged their duties as followers of the risen Lord Jesus and entrusted with the message by angels while ten of eleven apostles are in the dark and the eleventh one is wandering around mystified and guilt-riddled.

Where are the Disciples?

No mention is made as to what the disciples were doing on the morning of the first day. The last we heard from them in Luke’s gospel they had been fighting over who was to be “greatest in the kingdom” (22:24); the intimate few had fallen asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane instead of standing watchful (22:39-46); Judas has betrayed Jesus with a kiss (22:47-48); and Peter had denied Jesus three times (22:54-62) in public then run off weeping. We do not see this pitiful lot again in Luke’s account until the women report back to them in hiding.

Where they prepared for Jesus’ death? It would be hard to suppose they were even prepared for his arrest given what is noted above by Luke. In John’s account we learn that it was Joseph of Arimethia and Nicodemas, two secret disciples of Jesus, who took charge of the body of Jesus after his death —not Jesus’ own apostles (John 19:38-42). It would seem a fair assumption that Jesus’ core entourage were not made aware of this as the women knew the location, but still showed up two days later to fully anoint the body. The apostles? They did nothing at all. It would seem they were huddled together somewhere “safe.” So, two relative outsiders (Nicodemas and Joseph of Arimethia) were more prepared for Jesus’ death than all of his closest allies: the chosen apostles and the women who had been his early financial supporters and followers (Luke 8:1-3). All of them had constant exposure to his teachings. This is not the first time that Luke clues us into their cluelessness.

Peter had denied Jesus three times and was riddled with guilt. The next we see Peter; he is with the other apostles hearing the report back from the women. He doesn’t believe it. But at least he sets out to investigate based on their report.  In an interesting side note, Peter’s first interrogator after Jesus’ arrest (by the fire) is “a servant girl” (22:56). If the witness of women had no power at all, why does Luke record this servant girl rattling Peter so?   All Luke tells us is after going to the tomb and finding it empty with the strips of linen lying about Peter “went away, wondering to himself what had happened.” (24:12).

Conclusions

Jesus’ arrest, trial, execution, burial and resurrection leave his closest followers and chosen apostles flat-footed and in various states of confusion and disarray. His appearances, which are enigmatically inaugurated by his non-appearance at the tomb, nonetheless begin the process of connecting the significance of his death and resurrection with all that he has previously warned them about. But it is only the women for whom the penny drops. Prior to being shocked by the empty tomb and being challenged to remember and recognize Jesus in a new way the women are stuck with a dead notion of Jesus — one where the appropriate response is to arrive with spices to anoint a dead body. Everyone’s concerns are anthropocentric. There is no Kingdom of God.

There are many ways to seek the “living among the dead” — to seek a dead Jesus instead of a living resurrected “Lord Jesus” as Luke begins to specialize the name. In the last Century good men like Albert Schweitzer insisted Jesus was not raised from the dead. They had a dead Jesus who was an ethical, but tragic hero of their own imagining—picking and choosing what they wished from the gospels to include/exclude according to their ideology.   A dead Jesus is far more manageable than a living one. It is still that simple.

Robert Tannehill sees in Jesus’ words a “path from rejection to glory,” marked by the word that is used in v.7 – “must,”  which means “it is necessary.” He notes that in two other post-resurrection appearances Jesus uses this in reference to scriptural fulfillments (v. 19-27; 44-49) concerning himself.[11] It is time for everyone to catch up to the reality of the risen Lord: “The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.” (24:7). This is where the penny either drops or it doesn’t.

On a quieter note, the angel’s call to the women can also be seen as a call to meaningful biblical contemplation. Just as they made the connections between Jesus’ past teachings about himself and the realities of his death, and resurrection, we can approach the gospels as a way of doing the same. “Bible study” can be a powerful way of “remembering” (mimnhskesqai) and making fresh connections.

This contemplation on the “musts”  of the now resurrected Jesus both resolve the ideological and theological crisis constructed by a “misunderstood Jesus” (a dead Jesus) and they agree with the rhetorical question as if to say “We will no longer seek the living among the dead!” We have seen that the “musts” in this account by Luke are three-fold,  that he “must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.” (24:7). Thus, for the women, what started in bafflement ended in breakthrough or an “aha!” experience as they remembered what Jesus taught them about himself in Galilee.[12] It is important to note that this experience happened not via his resurrection presence at the tomb (at least in Luke’s account) but rather in his resurrection absence at the tomb coupled with remembrance and recognition.

Luke presents a variety of responses to the empty tomb and the announcement of Jesus’ resurrection in 24:1-12. It stretches from recognition and belief, through bafflement and mystification, and ends with some simply choosing to disbelieve the report. Sooner or later any would-be follower has to grapple with the question of Jesus’ resurrection. For Luke, there is no point in speaking of Jesus’ Lordship in any other context.

Luke records the apostles’ disbelief in the women’s report, but is swift to record that their witness went public (ten verses later). The two men on the road to Emmaus report “but also some women among us amazed us.” And then they go on with what they had reported— telling it to the “stranger” who journeyed with them on the road (24:22-27).  That Luke names these women is significant and their witness endures.

 

[1]  Prince, Deborah Thompson “Why Do You Seek the Living among the Dead?: Rhetorical Questions in the Lukan Resurrection Narrative,” JBL 135  p. 123-139. Prince goes on to say “the author employs these rhetorical questions in accordance with ancient rhetorical theory to help provide a cogent argument for the truth of Jesus’s resurrection in the face of skepticism.” .

[3] Joel B. Green notes that Luke’s account neglects a number of immediate details and questions because “he wants to move quickly to the pivotal discovery of an empty tomb.” (The Gospel of Luke, NICNT Grand Rapids: Eermans, 1997 p. 837.

[4] Ibid., p. 837.

[5] Rigato, Maria-Luisa A Feminist Companion to Luke, edited by Amy-Jill Levine (London: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002) p. 269.

[6] Ibid., p. 270.

[7] To be clear, the saying “the penny drops” is used to say that “somebody has finally understood or realized something that they had not understood or realized before.”  Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries (online: http://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/us/definition/english/penny as found April 23, 2017). Used often with anticipating a realization as one might when putting a coin into a machine and having it temporarily stall. You wait for the coin to drop. This is its meaning in all subsequent usage in this paper.

[8] Green, Ibid., p. 839-840.

[9] We know from John’s gospel that John also ran to the tomb with Peter and found the same empty tomb (20:1-10).

[10] Green, Ibid., p. 836.

[11] Tannehill, Robert C. Luke, Abingdon New Testament Commentaries (Nashville: Abingdon, 1996)  p.350

[12] It should also be noted that the resurrection shifts the concerns from anthropocentric ones “what do we do with the body of the dead Jesus?” and “how do we go on from here?” to theocentric concerns “how do we relate now to a risen Lord Jesus who has fulfilled all he said?”

Teacher is late to class..guess I’ll just…

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So the same teacher (New Testament Gospels) who is so rigid with everyone on deadlines has gone AWOL. Also, I am starting to do some research via fellow classmates and I am far from alone. No one – so far – is at all happy. Others, including actual English teachers – are being criticized for not being able to “write” and no one is getting any comments on the content of their papers. The general synopsis is beginning to become that this guy is a wingnut.

He didn’t show with this week’s question even. How hard is that – to just ask a question once you have given a reading assignment? He still has not taught us a single thing – not all semester.

I had read the textbook, a collection of scholars that are hit and miss. One writer can be amazing with new insights and much to say; the next dodgy, fearful and so full of prevarication that one wonders if they actually get out of bed in the morning or if they just phone everything in.

There is a level of utter unreality to some biblical scholarship that slips by many under the phrase “most scholars believe…” which is a giant pile of horsepucky – a game of “publish or perish” where this elitist group writes journal articles to each other in a specialized language (which they call “good writing” (it sucks big time) in an ever-tightening devolving and smaller circle (endowment monies are running out) of self-concern . True, some of these scholars actually rise above the bullshit and do great work – SAYING SOMETHING (wow), but most toe a party line and push whatever new Postmodern agenda is en vogue. Forget about exploring biblical texts at all. They are simply to be nullified. Inoculation is the order of the day.

This doesn’t bother me as the problem is self-cleaning. The seminaries these guys teach in? Dying at their own hands. Their issues? So myopic and self-referential they curl in on themselves. There is no life in any of it. “He who saves his life loses it.”

So anyway…I show up and no teacher,,,there is the virtual chalkboard….hmnnn…

I get up and scrawl:

“Of course we are all suitably appalled by his off-screen antics (life) but his early literary forays into farce were notable. I speak of Woody Allen and as I was reading Michal Beth Dinkler prevaricate at length on how scholars had possibly managed (behind the scenes mind you) to dismantle any sure footing for approaching the “Acts of the Apostles” with anything less than a long tentative stick I thought of his very funny essay called “The Scrolls.”

While not naming Form criticism I think we can infer some connection when he wrote “The writing is a mixture of Sumerian, Aramaic and Babylonian and seems to have been done by either one man over a long period of time, or several men who shared the same suit. The authenticity of the scrolls is currently in great doubt, particularly since the word Oldsmobile appears several times in the text…”

I always try to remind myself that much of what we call “scholarship” nowadays is the direct product of Post-Enlightenment Modernity. Even our current text is swift to try and gloss over the reality that Christianity is not “Western” at all. Oh sure, it gets corrupted and used by empires in the Wast from Constantine on— but it was, and is, decidedly Middle Eastern. Any time a current commentator attempts to place all this mess back to anything prior to say – well to be safe, 250 AD (plenty of martyrdom still going on-a sure sign that that Christian faith was not on good terms with the powerful) it is just nonsense, as is “transporting” our current issues/agendas.

We might as well put Luke’s back against the wall about carbon emissions while we are at it.

You’d Think it Easy…

athomas

Thomas Merton

Easter is the hour of our own deliverance— from what? Precisely from Lent and from its hard Law which accuses and judges our infirmity. We are no longer under the Law. We are delivered from the harsh judgment! Here is all the greatness and all the unimaginable splendor of the Easter mystery— here is the “grace” of Easter which we fail to lay hands on because we are afraid to understand its full meaning. To understand Easter and live it, we must renounce our dread of newness and of freedom!

Death exercises a twofold power in our lives: it holds us by sin, and it holds us by the Law. To die to death and live a new life in Christ we must die not only to sin but also to the Law.

Every Christian knows that he must die to sin. But the great truth that St Paul exhausted himself to preach in season and out is a truth that we Christians have barely grasped, a truth that has got away from us, that constantly eludes us and has continued to do so for twenty centuries. We cannot get it into our heads what it means to be no longer slaves of the Law. And the reason is that we do not have the courage to face this truth which contains in itself the crucial challenge of our Christian faith, the great reality that makes Christianity different from every other religion.

In all other religions men seek justification, salvation, escape from “the wheel of birth and death” by ritual acts, or by religious observances, or by ascetic and contemplative techniques. These are means devised by men to enable them to liberate and justify themselves. All the other religions impose upon man rigid and complicated laws, subject him more or less completely to prescribed exterior forms, or to what St Paul calls “elementary notions.”

But Christianity is precisely a liberation from every rigid legal and religious system. This is asserted with such categorical force by St Paul, that we cease to be Christians the moment our religion becomes slavery to “the Law” rather than a free personal adherence by loving faith, to the risen and living Christ; “Do you seek justification by the Law . . . you are fallen from grace . . . In fact, in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor its absence is of any avail. What counts is faith that expresses itself in love” (Gal. 5: 4,6).

. . . This gift, this mercy, this unbounded love of God for us has been lavished upon us as a result of Christ’s victory. To taste this love is to share in His victory. To realize our freedom, to exult in our liberation from death, from sin and from the Law, is to sing the Alleluia which truly glorifies God in this world and in the world to come.

This joy in God, this freedom which raises us in faith and in hope above the bitter struggle that is the lot of man caught between the flesh and the Law, this is the new canticle in which we join with the blessed angels and the saints in praising God.

God who is rich in mercy, was moved by the intense love with which he loved us, and when we were dead by reason of our transgressions, he made us live with the life of Christ . . . Together with Christ Jesus and in him he raised us up and enthroned us in the heavenly realm . . . It is by grace that you have been saved through faith; it is the gift of God, it is not the result of anything you did, so that no one has any grounds for boasting. (Eph. 2: 4– 9)

Let us not then darken the joy of Christ’s victory by remaining in captivity and in darkness, but let us declare His power, by living as free men who have been called by Him out of darkness into his admirable light.

Seasons of Celebration
Merton, Thomas

We are always so blaming God for the situation with sin and then the situation with Religion, yet both are utterly of our making and none of His doing. And if God takes away sin and the Law in Christ giving us true freedom—what will we do? We will construct new religious rules, new obstacles, new principles and formulas to be rigorously adhered to to keep us from our freedom.

Because freedom is what we fear; and when we fear we build constructs like religious ones.

The most basic human instincts are religious – meaning to try and create life apart from God in our image – using the very image of God that God gave us. As the prophets say, we will just grab a piece of wood and carve an idol out of it to worship, using the shavings to build a fire for dinner —pretending that the shavings did not come from the idol itself we now worship.

easterYou laugh, but you pretend pieces of paper (wood) in your wallet have value and that “00’s” in accounts mean something existential (as do awards).

Today is Easter—the day the God/Man got up; the day the men stayed away timid in some upper room but the women came to annoint a body already gone…

“Why have you come to seek the Living One among the dead?” asked two lightening -clad men.

This is always the question when it comes to Religion.

The Living One speaks today, same as He always does: “My Father will raise you up the same way—sin and death have no hold over you.” This means you are truly free. No one can stop you. Not really; not for long.

So stop being afraid. We all die—momentarily—but the cycle was broken and now you too will get up. Nothing can change that now if you are found in Jesus, and joined with Him. Lay aside dead religion and the Law and run in newness of Life by the Spirit.

You would think it easy…to lay aside the two things we really say we hate most…Guilt and Religion—especially since God doesn’t want us to live in these things and has given us a living way out of them. But like people caught in violent co-dependent relationship with an abuser we have to decide to walk away.

And so many people don;t walk away.

But you? Walk away. God wants you to. Easter is the perfect day, no?

Step Away From the Door

by Christopher MacDonald

I have this sad, yet oddly funny dream about a door to a big party in heaven. It saddens me because my fellow believers so obsess on whether  or not they are “In or not.”

They are invited to the Big Wedding Party and they come. Once in the door they stand there wondering for years if they are actually inside the door. Some argue with each other about if others are actually also invited or not – the ones inside. Others just wish to know “do we get to stay?” 

More arguing. I come by occasionally and suggest they come on in and grab a plate of food and a drink (wine or a Diet coke – whatever they enjoy – free bar). They hesitate. One of them calls me a “libertarian free loader.” Okay, whatever.  I like Diet Pepsi myself…and I’ve noticed I can load up on nachos and jumbo prawns without getting fat or flatulent.  

It’s a good party. When I have actually dreamed parts of this dream in my sleep, I have met folk like Kurt Russell there. Why Kurt Russell? I have no idea. Was he what you would expect? Pretty much. Nice guy.

Other people? Ah…Steve Buscemi, Elizabeth McGovern, Lady Gaga—oh, and I played beer pong for half an hour with Tom Waits with neither of us saying a word.

Eleven years later I come back by the door and four of the same people are there worried that they might lose their place at the door. Two of them are Calvinists. I make a joke about this but neither laughs. I forgot about the humor thing and Calvinists. Three others have left to go find a better way in through another “better door” (this door wasn’t to their liking).  

There are 17 new people all crowded and worried about whether they can stay at the door. The Son of Man often walks in and out of the door. He always knocks. Once He winked at me after He did this. I laughed after He came in and walked by me. 

Every time He shows up a few go with Him regardless. Like sheep after…well, you know.  But others stay, bickering at the door. 

It’s not really that funny when you think about it. Imagine if every Believer stopped thinking about the obvious and moved on into the Reality of life in Christ daily? What if they moved away from the entry hall of belief into the party waiting for them inside?

******

spoon_simple

Simplicity & Spaciousness.

In this Lenten season, at Oak Life Church, we have been looking at spaciousness, complexities, simplicity and how we see and hear—at least that is some of what I have been exposed to in this excellent series presented by Chris, Rachel, the worship team, and yesterday by our panel on “Isolation” so well organized by Gina and Kyle. *

It is a complex world and so we must be very wise. Jesus said as “wise as serpents, innocent as doves (Matt. 10:16) – coming to faith is not the time to “check your brain at the door,” it is the time to really pick it up and use the doggone thing in right manner.

A large part of that is understanding that not everything is of equal value. A.W. Tozer, writing in 1948, could easily be describing the Bay Area right now, nearly 70 years later:

“Every age has its own characteristics. Right now we are in an age of religious complexity. The simplicity which is in Christ is rarely found among us. In its stead are programs, methods, organizations and a world of nervous activities which occupy time and attention but can never satisfy the longing of the heart. The shallowness of our inner experience, the hollowness of our worship, and that servile imitation of the world which marks our promotional methods all testify that we, in this day, know God only imperfectly, and the peace of God scarcely at all. (italics mine)

Tozer goes on to say,

“If we would find God amid all the religious externals we must first determine to find Him, and then proceed in the way of simplicity. Now as always God discovers Himself to “babes” and hides Himself in thick darkness from the wise and the prudent. We must simplify our approach to Him. We must strip down to essentials (and they will be found to be blessedly few). We must put away all effort to impress, and come with the guileless candor of childhood. If we do this, without doubt God will quickly respond. When religion has said its last word, there is little that we need other than God Himself. The evil habit of seeking God-and effectively prevents us from finding God in full revelation. In the “and” lies our great woe. If we omit the “and” we shall soon find God, and in Him we shall find that for which we have all our lives been secretly longing. We need not fear that in seeking God only we may narrow our lives or restrict the motions of our expanding hearts. The opposite is true. We can well afford to make God our All, to concentrate, to sacrifice the many for the One.

(A. W. Tozer. The Pursuit of God: The Human Thirst for the Divine (Kindle Locations 137-145). Hovel Audio. Kindle Edition.)

Blissfully, I have nothing at all to add to this.

~Mac

* I feel so blessed (“Happy is the man”) by the gifts which are weekly exercised and employed so creatively and freely at Oak Life by my brothers and sisters. Too often over four decades have have witnessed such gifted ones sit unrecognized, disenfranchised, and halted. But not here. Oh how it makes my heart sing!

The CENTER HOLDS: The Sophia of God

 

jesus_christ_at_hagia_sophia_large__copy

Pantocrater – Hagia Sophia – Istanbul

 

St. Paul’s use of the term “sophia” – “wisdom” (Greek- σόΦια) is constantly modified by the adjectives it is paired with and the general context of the passages it is couched within.

Thus, Paul prays for the Colossians “that they be filled ‘with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding’ (Col. 1:9) If the believers were not strong in the truth, they might fall prey to the ‘enticing words’ (2:4) of the Colossian heretics.” (S. L. Johnson, Jr. Bibliotheca Sacra, Oct. 1961.)

 The “Sophia” of the day was most notably split into mind/body dualistic terms with the Dionysian cult embracing the body and the Apollonians more the mind in a Platonic fashion:

Merton_Thomas600The true spiritual life is a life neither of dionysian orgy [irrational impulse, spontaneous, associated with creativity and experience] nor of apollonian clarity [as opposed to the dionysian, the apollonian seeks order, rationality, pattern and explanation]: it transcends both. It is a life of wisdom, a life of sophianic love. In Sophia, the highest wisdom principle, all the greatness and majesty of the unknown that is in God and all that is rich and maternal in His creation are united inseparably, as paternal and maternal principles, the uncreated Father and created Mother-Wisdom. … by the Spirit of Christ we are incorporated into Christ, Himself the ‘power and wisdom of God,’ so that Christ Himself thenceforth became our own life, and light and love and wisdom. [1]

Elsewhere, in Proverbs 8, it is noted that wisdom is personified of God in Creation (and patently maternal as “Lady Sophia”).

F.F. Bruce, notes the similarities between the powerful opening theologies of Colossians 1:15-17, John 1:1-4 and Hebrews 1:2-4, sayings.

All three passages have an OT background, which is seen especially in Prov. 8:22ff., where Divine Wisdom, personified, claims to have been with the Almighty at the beginning of His ways and to have been His assessor, if not His agent, in the work of creation.[2]

Bruce, following C.F. Burney’s lead, says, “The title ‘first-born’ [of all creation”], used of Christ here and in v. 18, echoes the wording of Ps. 89:27, where God says of the Davidic king: ‘I also will make him my first-born, the highest of the kings of the earth.’ [cf. on Rev. 1:5] But it belongs to Christ not only as the Messiah of David’s line, but also as the Wisdom of God.”[3]

While there is still much debate over what constituted the “Colossian Heresy” that Paul is vigorously addressing in his letter, there is little doubt about the positive things he is stating about Christ concerning wisdom:

2b…and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. –Colossians 2b-3.

As with his letter to the Corinthians, Paul sees the wisdom of the world as antithetical to the “wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1); but here in Colossians he goes a step farther by couching the wisdom of God in the very person of Christ both as the “First born of all creation” and also as the one in whom “all the treasures of wisdom (of sophia) and knowledge (of gnosis) are found.” So it really matters little what forms of σόΦια (wisdom) or γινόσις (knowledge) were being sold to the Colossians as they had Christ Himself – the ground of all wisdom and knowledge; the active source of it.

Colossians_0001_NEWBruce summarizes this well saying,   Whereas, in the Wisdom literature of the OT, Wisdom is at best the personification of a divine attribute or of the holy law, the NT writers know that, whether they speak of this Wisdom expressly or only by allusion, they are speaking of a living person, one whom some of them had met face to face. To them all, as to Paul, Jesus Christ was he incarnate Wisdom of God.[4]

After grounding them in the deepest theological Sophia in Christ, Paul then says:

Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord,  so walk in Him,  having been firmly rooted  and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed,  and overflowing with gratitude.                   -Colossians 2:6-7

This Paul places in constant juxtaposition with the false teachers and their rituals, “empty deceptions and the traditions of men,” (Colossian 2:8) trouncing again their mere ideas with the fullness of Christ’s Deity (2:9).

Now this same Living Wisdom of God and Knowledge of God who is the CENTER, and who reigns supreme now holds the Universe together. So says Paul in the same letter:

For  by Him all things were created,  both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him.  He [ b]is before all things, and in Him all things [ c]hold together. -Colossians 1:16-17

So why we are running around in fear trying to control everything – and getting either more Religious or more militant because we sense that all of our CENTERS that we have constructed are falling apart (and they are because they are not the True Center and are made-up and don’t have the power or ability to “hold” youreally can relax a but as the True Center Holds.

I know that Pat Robertson had a dream where he saw Donald Trump “seated at the right hand of God,” but he’s just a senile old man with too much money – enough to stay on the air and keep blathering on incoherently.

Moving on. This a wonderfully unique time. With all the false “centes” disintegrating” – or about to – it is time to chuch (and I mean shot-put – our anthropocentric world-views as far from us as possible and re-adopt; or newly adopt a theocentric/christocentric world-view.

The Churches of America could be revolutionized in months if they gave themselves up as their central concern and loved Jesus first and people second. And if they stopped arguing away what Jesus said and started acting on it – whoa!

And why not? Has running things YOUR way been a goo

Liveitprint8_10

“Christ Who is our Life.”

d thing? Has the Church running it its way been a good thing? Don;t you see what all this EGO, Me-ism – We-theCenter stuff has produced in the way of fruit?

 

Yeah…garbage, suffering, fear and more breakdown to come.

Nice goin gang.

Try something different. Be relieved of the bondage of SELF (and its suckage) and live free where God is the CENTER (not Religion – oh no) God. The Love and grace of God and God;s loving Truth.

Read all of Colossians – shortest book. Listen to how completely SANE it is in its completeness. Geez.

Then set aside your fear, dead religion and need to control others.

********

[1] Merton, Thomas “From Faith to Wisdom,” New Seeds of Contemplation, (New York, New Directions Books) p.141.

[2] Bruce, F.F. New International Commentary of the New Testament, (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans) p. 192.

[3] Bruce, Ibid., .” p. 194-195. See also commentary on Col. 2:3.

[4] Bruce, Ibid., p. 298