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!

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St. Athanasius: A Man for All Seasons

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St. Athanasius

ATHANASIUS: THE TRUE MAN FOR ALL SEASONS

By Christopher C. MacDonald  

As impressive as Paul Scofield was in his portrayal of Thomas More in the 1966 film A Man For All Seasons, the man of conscience depicted there cannot really hold a candle to St. Athanasius who was once known as “Athanasius Contra Mundum (Latin forAthanasius Against the World).”[1]

My assertion is that in the middle of our relativistic Postmodern landscape in which we have either commercialized Jesus into a form of “Betterment Gospel” or dispersed him in some form of idealized semi-Gnostic way it is exactly with Athanasian clarity that we need to re-frame – or at least refresh – our Christology in significant ways.

The following are four short snapshots from Athanasius’ brilliantly compact booklet entitledOn the Incarnation. Each was selected expressly for its relevance to the current Postmodern situation.

Let us admit from the outset that while Athanasius had enemies it was a smaller pool. He did not have to answer an unending number of critics coming from all sides. Nor did he have to deal with the legacies of centuries old “theologies” and traditions (as he was writing in the Fourth Century.)

Context

Athansius sees the controversy or question over the “Word made flesh” in terms straight out of 1 Corinthians 1:18-23 concerning the wisdom of the world and the wisdom of God:

Now, Macarius, true lover of Christ, we must take a step further in the faith of our holy religion, and consider also the Word’s becoming Man and His divine Appearing in our midst. That mystery the Jews traduce, the Greeks deride, but we adore; and your own love and devotion to the Word also will be the greater, because in His Manhood He seems so little worth.[2]

 

Firmly rooted within St. Paul’s rubric which understands an inherent blindness on the part of both Jews and Gentiles to the “mystery” of  Christ’s true dual nature, Athanasius sets out to boldly make the case to both audiences nonetheless. The motive seems to be adoration, devotion and truth-telling.

  1. The Word Incarnate is the Agent of Creation and of Salvation

Athanasius is utterly clear where we are so utterly vague and confused on the utter connection between Creation and Redemption:

“the first fact that you must grasp is this: the renewal of creation has been wrought by the Self-same Word Who made it in the beginning. There is thus no inconsistency between creation and salvation for the One Father has employed the same Agent for both works, effecting the salvation of the world through the same Word Who made it in the beginning.”

 

One of the things which is striking in reading Athanasius is how he weaves scripture artfully through his presentation – not proof-texting as we so often do (like hanging a hat on a peg), but rather lacing his presentation with strains of well-chosen passages that are placed almost organically within his argument.

 

He sees the beauty and seamlessness of Christ as the Agent of Creation Who now is also the redemption of that Creation once fallen.

 

  1. Human History has Meaning and Corruption is Thwarted.

Naturally also, through this union of the immortal Son of God with our human nature, all men were clothed with incorruption in the promise of the resurrection…You know how it is when some great king enters a large city and dwells in one of its houses; because of his dwelling in that single house, the whole city is honored, and enemies and robbers cease to molest it. Even so is it with the King of all; He has come into our country and dwelt in one body amidst the many, and in consequence the designs of the enemy against mankind have been foiled and the corruption of death, which formerly held them in its power, has simply ceased to be. For the human race would have perished utterly had not the Lord and Savior of all, the Son of God, come among us to put an end to death.[3]

 

When the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14) human history had been more than simply “tampered with.” Any talk of a Creator winding up Creation and walking off to let it do its thing was off the table. This was a God willing to gestate in a womb for nine months and spill out of a womb. This was the Word willing to take on sin, the devil and death. What happened in time and space mattered because as T.S. Eliot so eloquently would later write:

Then came, at a predetermined moment, a moment in time and of time,
A moment not out of time, but in time, in what we call history:

transecting, bisecting the world of time, a moment in time but not like a moment of time,

A moment in time but time was made through that moment :

for without the meaning there is no time, and that moment of time gave the meaning.

Then it seemed as if men must proceed from light to light, in the light of the Word,
Through the Passion and Sacrifice saved in spite of their negative being;[4]

 

Biblical faith is one of incarnation not reincarnation. That God came into the world as flesh and blood in time and space means what happens here and now matters. IT also demonstrates the extraordinary love of God.

  1. We Die a Different Death Overshadowed by Resurrection

Having set out the dilemma for a fallen and corruptible humanity in chapters 2-3  Athanasius begins to turn to the results of the Word made Flesh’s redemptive rescue operation saying:

We who believe in Christ no longer die, as men died aforetime, in fulfillment of the threat of the law. That condemnation has come to an end; and now that, by the grace of the resurrection, corruption has been banished and done away, we are loosed from our mortal bodies in God’s good time for each, so that we may obtain thereby a better resurrection.[5]

 

This seems a more cavalier attitude than the one we Postmoderns carry with us in our near silence on bodily resurrection as a reality and our avoidance with the rest of culture on mortality. Athanasius, along with the New Testament writers (especially Paul) see the resurrection hope as particularly powerful. Some modern authors do to. I am reminded of sociologist Peter Berger’s comment that “given the resurrection of Jesus “nothing is ultimately tragic.”[6] That can certainly be a game-changer in planning and living out one’s life and faith. What he means is simply that the power of death was sin and that died with Christ as sacrifice and then He was raised up from the dead, “Death used to be strong and terrible, but now, since the sojourn of the Savior and the death and resurrection of His body, it is despised; and obviously it is by the very Christ Who mounted on the cross that it has been destroyed and vanquished finally.” (On the Incarnation, p. 45).

  1. The Word Made Flesh leads to Peace Not War-Like Militarism

Athanasius, in his refutation of the Gentiles and his evangelistic appeal, writes something we dearly need to hear today as we attempt to join military might to religious agendas (specifically Christian):

While they were yet idolaters, the Greeks and Barbarians were always at war with each other, and were even cruel to their own kith and kin. Nobody could travel by land or sea at all unless he was armed with swords, because of their irreconcilable quarrels with each other. … as I said before, they were serving idols and offering sacrifices to demons, and for all the superstitious awe that accompanied this idol worship, nothing could wean them from that warlike spirit. But, strange to relate, since they came over to the school of Christ, as men moved with real compunction they have laid aside their murderous cruelty and are war-minded no more. On the contrary, all is peace among them and nothing remains save desire for friendship. (52) Who, then, is He Who has done these things and has united in peace those who hated each other, save the beloved Son of the Father, the common Savior of all, Jesus Christ, Who by His own love underwent all things for our salvation? Even from the beginning, moreover, this peace that He was to administer was foretold, for Scripture says, “They shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into sickles, and nation shall not take sword against nation, neither shall they learn any more to wage war.”[7]

 

One of the things that set the Gospel a world apart from the idolatrous Heathen states was How Jesus and His Gospel of love lead to peace and a new way. The Kingdom of God and Christ’s Lordship took precedence over former idolatries and one supposes even ethnic ties as the faith went world-wide. We seem to be arming-up and attaching a religious agenda (alibi) to it at exactly the point where Athanasius says Christians were laying down weapons and turning them into plowshares. To him this was evidence of God’s presence in their lives.

 

Athanasius goes on to strengthen the point saying,

 

“The barbarians of the present day are naturally savage in their habits, and as long as they sacrifice to their idols they rage furiously against each other and cannot bear to be a single hour without weapons. But when they hear the teaching of Christ, forthwith they turn from fighting to farming, and instead of arming themselves with swords extend their hands in prayer. In a word, instead of fighting each other, they take up arms against the devil and the demons, and overcome them by their selfcommand and integrity of soul. These facts are proof of the Godhead of the Savior, for He has taught men what they could never learn among the idols. It is also no small exposure of the weakness and nothingness of demons and idols, for it was because they knew their own weakness that the demons were always setting men to fight each other, fearing lest, if they ceased from mutual strife, they would turn to attack the demons themselves.”

 

It’s a point well taken (about keeping us fighting each other) . If we hope to stand out as truly different than an barbaric world which knows only violence, idolatry and fear then we have to act in active faith hope and love. Apparently the believers in Athanasius’ time did just that.

 

____________________

[1] Wikipedia article on Saint Athanasius,https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Athanasius_of_Alexandria.  Cited on 12/8/2015.

[2] Athanasius, On the Incarnation (De Incarnatione Verbi Dei) St. Mark Coptic Orthodox Church, Jersey City, NJ. 1999. Available in PDF. p. 4

[3] Athanasius, Ibid., p. 16

[4] Eliot, T.S. T.S. Eliot Collected Poems 1909-1962 “Choruses From the Rock,” (Harcourt Brace & Co., New York, 1963) p. 163.

[5] Athanasius, Ibid., p. 34.

[6] Berger, Peter L. The Precarious Vision. Doubleday & Co., 1961

[7] Athanasius, ibid., p. 82-83.

Christ in “The Haunt of Jackals”

The Haunt of Jackals

No.1

Imagine a society where, instead of baking bread for hungry people, they produced mass quantities of pictures of bread and posted ads for them at every corner, and handbills were given out with pictures of different types of bread, hundreds of different types of bread. Pictures of wheat bread, pumpernickel, Jewish rye, banana bread, croissants, sheepherders bread, bread sticks, garlic bread…heck, even melba toast.

Now imagine that these images of bread not only became the dominant mode of exchange (some hoarding these pictures, others spending them as fast as they could get them), but were actually consumed on a daily basis despite the fact that they had no nutritional value whatsoever.

Imagine that, besides the handbills, posters and billboards which depicted the pictures of bread, the evening television news consisted of discussions and international debates over which of these pictures of bread were worth the most, and which were declining in value or had become disreputable as a true picture of bread. Imagine witnessing special interest groups arguing and protesting the advantages and disadvantages of consuming their particular type of bread-pictures. And, of course, in such a world, litigation would be intense over who had the actual rights to each type of bread picture, and there would often be disputes over counterfeit pictures or poor foreign copies had infiltrated the market.

And the entire time that men and women were viewing these billboards, wheat was growing up around the posts. And wherever they stapled posters, streams gurgled by with yeast cultures forming in the shallows and the sun.

What would you make of such a society?

No.2


Hold that thought while we look at another hypothetical situation… (for more go HERE)

Christ the Center: The Names of Christ

The Word spoke the cosmos into being as Agent, redeems it as sole Mediator, and is it’s consummation as Bridegroom. All “naming” –  human’s most profound and special gift, is derivative from the Word in Whom, through Whom and for Whom creation exists and his held together (Colossians chapters 1-2 in their totality).

As such, this One whose name is “above all names” has seeded Himself deeply not only in Creation, but in all the ways we approach it through language and try to understand and appropriate it. This Word (logos) is inherent in the multiplicity of interconnections that exist in Him. Yet, in His wisdom, the Word has come to us in the flesh (John 1 in it’s totality) and has explained the very character and intentions of God toward all Creation.

This God, who has a passion to be known via self-revelation, plants these resonate notes within our beings, then in grace overtly sounds those clear notes via the names that are so evocative of Him.

In the Old Testament,  these names are both deep  and expansive. In the New Testament we find new names given by Jesus to Himself that are even more viceral. Do you need bread? Do you desire wine? Do you need light, Peace, Rescue, Comfort, and/or Truth?

Unlike other great teachers we respect, Jesus presents Himself not just as Messenger but also the incarnate Message.

Know that this God is passionate about revealing Himself to you in Christ. God becoming flesh is the ultimate demonstration in time and space of the love of God. That this One would then die in our place for evil and human brokenness is almost too much to fathom. That this same Word incarnate is then raised tangibly from the dead and promises us the same is a glory and love we can never understand…only respond to and be thankful for.

These are but a few (a short list) that we will explore in the days to come.

Name above all names

The Alpha and the Omega

Author and Perfector of Faith

Wisdom of God

Image of God

Captain of Salvation

Chief Cornerstone

Head of the Church

Bridegroom

Chief Shepherd

The Way

Lord of the Living and the Dead

The Truth

Only Begotten Son

The Life

Light of the World

Sun of Righteousness

Savior of the Body

Sure Foundation

True Vine

True God

Word of Life

Prince of Peace

Bread of Life

Prince of Life

Master

Lord Jesus

Lord of Lords

Lord of Glory

Lord of Righteousness

Lord of the Church

Lord God Almighty

King of Kings

This just scratches the surface.

In an age that would deconstruct such a One (every Christmas season in Newsweek and Time); and a commercialized Christendom that would make The Living One “commemorative”  or part of some formula for personal salvation alone, these potent “names” for the Living One stand outside calling for depth, relationship and new ways of seeing reality and the Love of God.

_____________________

If your church is hungry for in-depth study of, and meditation on Jesus feel free to contact me via email and I’ll get right back with you. Weekly series for exploration are available in the Santa Cruz area. Weekend seminars are available to churches or groups in the Greater San Francisco Bay Area.

Kierkegaard’s Christmas Director’s Cut

 

“O Lord Jesus Christ, I long to live in your presence, to see your human form and to watch you walking on earth. I do not want to see you through the darkened glass of tradition, nor through the eyes of today’s values and prejudices. I want to see you as you were, as you are, and as you always will be. I want to see you as an offense to human pride, as a man of humility, walking amongst the lowliest of humanity, and yet as the savior and redeemer of the human race.”


Kierkegaard’s Christmas 2000

Let me give you an example of what Kierkegaard is suggesting.

For the last 25 years I have heard Christians say, “Two thousand years ago..blah blah blah…” And, of course, they were rounding up or down time-wise.

But today is December 25, in the Year of our Lord 2000.

It is the ONE and only day we can say, “Two Thousand years ago TODAY, God…”

Yes, 2,000 years ago, today, the Creator of the Universe decided to crash the Human Party, which had turned damned ugly. If listen those who were there, they claim that God Himself, came bumping and birthing out of a young girl’s womb and spilled into the riot that is this world.

But it is right here that the folk Kierkegaard is talking about start to shout, “But Jesus wasn’t born in December! That was the way Christians appropriated the pagan holiday..blah blah blah…”

Or, gasbag scholars (with tenure) will go on and on about how Jesus was “more likely born 4 years prior to the date that was used in the formation of our current calendar” (thus Jesus was probably born in the spring of 4 B.C. …yea, yea…he was born four years before he was born.)

But when they go this route they are missing the whole point.

What about what happened when Jesus was born somewhere between the spring of 4 BC and our “traditional” (read “darkened glass”) date?

Kierkegaard says elsewhere that even if no historical records had survived about Jesus, he would still be the most important and central figure of human history.

Why?

Because he was God, and he willfully and deliberately dove into our mire for love’s sake. (Could it be that reality is more real than history?)

I mean, c’mon, what kind of God allows himself to become a human baby?

It’s either the most asinine
or the most beautiful thing
you’ve every heard your whole life.

The coming of Jesus, as God into our riot, is the radical opposite of religion–all of it, “Christian” or otherwise.

So, what do many churches do with this incredible miracle, this challenge to the whole way we view ourselves, our human history and our ultimate destiny and meaning?

They make a “religious service” out of it. And this is done in the most visual, audience, and entertainment-oriented culture in human history (“Damn Jim, I got 168 new channels on my new satellite dish…it’s unreal”) the Church with all it’s radical vision and devotion to Jesus does what?

The “Christmas services” many churches prepare serve to transform the naked amneotic reality of Jesus’ birth into an ethereal place of simple, rustic, “Country Home” beauty. In creating a visual and entertainment-oriented service, we are invited to sit and passively watch just like we do Will and Grace or last week’s episode of ER.

If, as Kierkegaard suggests, we should see Jesus for what he was, is, and will always be, then that would apply to his birth in Bethlehem.

So let’s strip away the “darkened glass of tradition and the current cultural prejudices” and ask, what should be up on the church stage for these Christmas productions?

The answer is obvious. Go visit a barn.

Go visit an American barn which is, by the way, a world away from a Bethlehem barn, and ask that simple question again: what should our Christmas productions look and feel like if we are to see Jesus for who he was, is and always will be?

_____________________________________________

To start with, how about manure, and lots of it?

There must be a great deal of it and stench.

Then we must add slop for the animals and dirty water troughs on the sides of the church stage to maintain any accuracy at all.

In other words, the whole church should reek of dank poverty, or, at the very least, to make a legitimate cultural bridge, reflect a modern American barn (which has shit and piss and is cold and is a good, but dirty, business).

And instead of whitewashing the event into something about us, and our sentiments at Christmastime, how about talking about the real deal and asking good questions like “Why did God choose to come this way?” “What does it mean that there was no room available for God when he came? What does it mean that he was placed in a feeding trough after birth? (that’s what a “manger” is). What does it means that instead of lying quietly in a sweet designer/manger bed, the baby Jesus was screeching his head off like every other baby..EXACTLY like every other baby…laying inside a hard and putrid feeding trough and surrounded by the dank smell of animal dung?

This is what would be needed.

But no.

We have this clean and completely nonfunctional “manger”, and then a big production which is all about us and our artistic gifts, then a short message relating the beautifully decorated Christmas tree to how Christ needs to be in our homes. And on it goes.

It’s a show. We are the audience, God is an idea, and the performers are worried about how they will perform in the show, not about the glory of God or his incomprehensible love.

Kierkegaard said elsewhere, that our worshippers/audience are really supposed to be the performers, and that the audience is not us at all, it is God.

Wow!

Imagine if more modern American churches took that seriously! (And if you know of any, please email me info).

And we’re not talking performing to “appease” God. We’re talking performing for the sheer enjoyment of God and his glory and out of gratitude that this God has such love and such a passion to be known that he would do this radical thing (and we are not even talking about the exit yet, just the intro).

So, if the audience are really meant to be the performers, who then are the people on stage.

They are the “conductors,” says Kierkegaard, as is the preacher.

God is the audience on such a day, not us. (and heck, let’s just keep doing it all year long. It’s a Theocentric universe, so why not keep acting accordingly?)

How are we supposed to feel when the greatest event in human history, and one which is deeply personal for each of us mortals, is so utterly lost and covered up with layers of denial that the very crash of God breaking into human history is made into something like the sound of a digital watch alarm going off under a pile of thick blankets?

____________________________________

Well, it’s about 9:30 PST on Christmas, year 2000. Philosophically, an interesting historical night, right?

But I’ve been tending four kids all day long, alone, because my wife is racked with a severe flu and is bedridden.

And in the meantime, our toilets all clogged up (it started Christmas eve) and so the bathrooms are plunged hourly.

This, in very obvious ways, hourly bilges up all kinds of flu-invested shit, vomit and piss. This Christmas, our normal “Country Home” existence stinks just a little like a barn.

It’s a perfect Gospel night. Just like 2,000 years ago, give or take, when God…