Of Violence and Idiots

This week saw a first in the sports world – a male athlete going public with his homosexuality.   And as expected, there has been side drama.  Of interest to me was when a sports commentator went public with his belief that active homosexual practice is not consistent with the Biblical definition of a Christian.  Cue the predictable.

Without commenting (right now) on the whole homosexuality issue or Biblical Christianity (both bantered at length on this blog), can I just comment on one response to Chris Broussard (the commentator)?  Eric Goldschein, the managing editor at sportsgrid.com took the opportunity to “applaud Chris Broussard for exercising his right to be an idiot.” And the reason for labeling Chris an idiot?  Well, “For thousands of years, religious doctrines around the world have been used as the basis for discriminating against and subjugating people.”  He goes on.

As we look back in the history of this country and the world over, we see that many people have used…arguments and justifications [based on Biblical interpretations] to refuse to accept other groups of people that make them, for whatever reason, uncomfortable. This is a terrible, hurtful, shameful viewpoint, one that will not be vindicated in the history books. 

Point taken.  Bibilical interpretation has been used to defend wicked discrimination and subjugation in history.   So…Chris is an idiot for bringing Biblical interpretation to bear on the issue of homosexuality and the events of this historic occasion.   Since the Bible has been used to endorse violence, lets leave it out of the discussion.

But there’s a problem.  The Bible isn’t the only tool in the shed of the violent.   Yeah the Bible as been used to endorse war and discrimination, but so has fear, revenge, faulty justice, oil and territories, plus a whole host of rational and secular ideologies like evolutionary science or 20th century communism.  So yeah, violent Christians have a knack for using the Bible to support their warfare.  Violent racists have had a knack for using science and fear-mongering to support theirs.  The gluttonous have used oil, land, beer, spices, etc.  A simple study of history would show that the problem is not so much with the tools as it is with the ones who wield them.  In other words, perhaps its not the Bible or science or oil that makes people violent.  Perhaps its that we by nature are violent people, that violence is our default response to fear, loss of power and privilege, discomfort etc (anybody pay attention to the civil wars happening around the globe, our own political circus this past year, or even the staggering statistics of wounded and ruined relationships in our families?).  Violence is endemic to the human condition…to my condition!  And anyone who disagrees with me is an idiot and should be cast out of the intellectual marketplace, rarrrrrr!!!

To me, Goldschein’s whole basis for calling Broussard an idiot is an attempt to avoid that reality.  Its an exercise in blame-shifting:  blame shifting on par with my kids when they follow the example of the youngest in errant behavior, blame shifting such as when I yell and name-call and blame it on those who’ve transgressed the laws of my comfort system.

So all I’m asking is, should we maybe first wrestle with our violent nature, our lust for war, before callously blaming and discrediting whatever tools our hands latch on to in justifying that nature?  Or even more, should we really be so quick to label and name-call those trying to find a solution to violence outside the collective opinions of a violent culture?

What If? (part 2)

…this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.  God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death,

Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.

All who believed were together and had all things in common.45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.

(selections from Acts 2 – ESV)

Jon Stewart (of Daily Show fame) once waxed satirically on this passage to insist God was a socialist.   Perhaps?  Hmm…fun debate.  Much more dangerous in the story, I think, is the sequence of resurrection to loose fingers.   Christ is raised, and the Church starts living as if death lost its claim.  Those things previously held tight to chest because, hey, life is short, now gets tossed around rather recklessly.   The stuff kings and the professional elite took to the tomb to enjoy in the afterlife is here given to those in need.  Because…resurrection.

Flannery O’Connor gives good commentary on this in her short story, “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.”  The Misfit broods over his soon-to-be victim, gun in hand, and ironically plays the sage theologian, explaining the life-altering implication of Jesus’ resurrection.  “He thrown everything off balance. If he did what he said then it’s nothing for you to do but throw away everything and follow him, and if he didn’t, then it’s nothing for you to do but enjoy the few minutes you got left the best way you can.”

There’s the what if?  If Christ is raised, the occasion for so much fear and anxiety (death), fear and anxiety that holds tight to the treasures of this life, has been swallowed in victory.  The sting is gone.  In a way, my fear of losing out in this life, my anxiety over treasures in constant threat exposes a certain disbelief.   Or, better put, I’m living out of the wrong story.   I’m living out of a story that ends in the very thing Christ defeated.  I do this every time I go to war with those who threaten my peace and comfort in the here and now, or lament the “best years” that I’ll never enjoy again, or pray to the God of personal creativity and over-work to give me a name or reputation that might outlast death.  But if resurrection, then all the treasures that outlast death are already mine in Christ.  They are spoils of war, generously shared by the victor.

Yes, the God-is-a-socialist debate is actually a good one.  There is something about resurrection, or God’s future invading the present, that compels people to dramatize that future in the here and now by filling in the holes, erasing the needs of the needy, mending the broken places, etc.   But what grips me when I read it today is more the simple liberating power of resurrection.  Resurrection should free me to hold with looser grip money and possessions, and also the more prized things (at least for me) like success, reputation, time, comfort, etc.

I want resurrection-freedom.  God help my unbelief.

(Postscript) I can’t help but notice too that this life of liberty is a corporate thing.  The Church lives it together, encouraging belief and reminding one another to live in God’s freedom via active demonstrations.  Plus, it is only together that they can live as a shocking example of freedom to a world spellbound by death’s shadow.

Chimichurri Portobellos with Pico de Gallo

(picture is not mine!)

Since this blog has occasionally probed the orthopraxis of barbecue, and since it is Lent, figured I’d pass along a satisfying meal for any meat lovers sacrificing said love as a way of learning the sacrificial roadways of Christ.

If I close one eye, add enough smoke, pile enough stuff on top, and include a little red wine with the meal, I can almost fool myself into thinking grilled portobello strips closely resemble thinly sliced steak.  I’m trying anyway.  So…here’s my “stuff on top”.  Chimichurri sauce and Pico de Gallo.

Basically, find a recipe for Chimichurri sauce (basically a garlic and parsley sauce) that appeals to you.  I used one similar to this.
6 cloves garlic, minced
3 scallions sliced (both white and green parts)
2 cups fresh flat-leaf parsley (or substitute mint for more brightness)
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
splash of water (only if it comes out too thick)

Puree the ingredients in a food processor or blender.  Then pour over 6 portobello mushrooms and let marinate in the fridge for up to four hours.

In the meantime, whip up a simple pico de gallo.  Like this one perhaps…

After marinating, set aside the sauce and grill the portobellos on both sides (the way you would a hamburger) until they are gently yielding.  You can add some of the marinade when you are grilling them gill-side up.   Also…grab some crusty french bread, slice it, and spread some of the sauce on top.  Grill the slices as the portobellos are nearing completion.

Slice the portobellos on the diagonal, arrange them on a plate, drizzle more of the sauce overtop, and add the pico de gallo.  And bingo, you got a healthy, meat-substitute with enough stuff piled on top to ease the restless cravings.   Don’t forget the chimichurri toast!

The Lenten Road (Luke 12)

More and more, I look on with admiration at those able to smile at the pressures and frustrations of life.  Petty example – Amy’s and my crash-time television of choice this week has been old Seinfeld episodes.  If television is in anyway sacramental, the irreverent responses, the iconic expressions, etc, that Jerry makes in the face of ridiculous and disrupting incidents have been that for me a bit.  They expose how little I am able to do that lately.  Luke 12 does the same thing.

On a tiring journey thus far peppered with inhospitable villages, crowds of opposition, confrontation with demons, Jesus says to his disciples, don’t be anxious about your life.  My guess is that the disciples at this point are starting to notice Jesus isn’t the most popular guy around town.  Their dreams of power and palace life are likely faded.  They’ve heard striking calls to sacrifice from their master.  Perhaps they are even wondering about the journey’s end (Jerusalem…around the time of Good Friday).  And Jesus says, don’t be anxious.  I think about what needs to happen before Sunday, what needs to happen so that my kids enjoy life to the full, what needs to happen to gain greater financial stability, and…oi(!), my heart is infested with the stuff (anxiety).

The solution?  Stop for a minute and take in the wild generosity of your creator.  Notice how lavishly He feeds the ravens, dresses the lilies, tends the grass even.  Notice the beauty in extravagance that adorns the hills, fills the chatter on city streets, paints your child’s face.  And then remember, that same Creator spends Himself most liberally on those He knows and loves.

If God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith!

Beware though.  That same extravagance is often feast for idols.  For instance, there once was a farmer…

“The land of a rich man produced plentifully, 17 and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ 18 And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ 20 But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21 So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”

Here is a guy who can’t even handle the grace of God.  His storehouses are too small.  So he has two options: (1) participate in God’s giving-festival, flood the market with the excess crops so neighbors can enjoy them at cheaper price, or (2) build a bigger barn just in case next year the grace is not so overwhelming.  Live in freedom that participates with grace-ventures, or live in fear and feed the idols of worry and care that convince its slaves that God is cheap.

The real danger with anxiety is that it so easily keeps me from joining the activity of the giving God.  It clenches my hands tight around grace-received and closes my ear to the marketplace crying for the excess.  It suggests a road more broadly traveled, one without a cross (grace unhinged) at journey’s end.

“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

What If?

What if?  What if the resurrection of Christ is actually part of the world’s story?

I wonder if the Bible’s take on the event hasn’t been sanitized in our understanding, wiped clean of its head-spinning, perhaps even offensive (?) implications.   I wonder if all the anti-supernaturalism of learned folk, or the cultural demand to put religions on equal footing value-wise, or maybe even weak efforts at actually listening carefully to the Bible hasn’t nudged believers into the shallow view of resurrection-as-divine-magic-trick, a “look what I can do” sort of thing that simply validates Jesus as God.  So…what I’m asking is, what if there’s more to it?

For instance, what if Jesus didn’t actually raise Himself?  What if He couldn’t?  Before you start picking up stones, go read the Apostle Paul again.  Whenever he talks resurrection, He describes Jesus in the passive voice.  For Paul, Jesus didn’t rise, He was raised (see Eph. 1:19-21, Col 2:12, Rom 8:34, etc).   The human Christ wasn’t exactly winning His battle against sin’s curse.  Death had a pretty good grip, such that the Father needed to come to His rescue.  If that’s true, it has some pretty wild implications.  It means the resurrection of Jesus might have more to do with his humanity than His divinity.  It makes Easter a celebration not just of God proving His God-ness, but of God powerfully removing a deadly cancer from human flesh and blood, giving a man in the middle of history a thorough renewing (1 Cor. 15:42-43).

Or what if Jesus’ resurrection was just the beginning of a much larger resurrection operation?  What if, as Paul again puts it, Jesus was a firstfruits (1 Cor. 15:20,23), the first rose to break the chill of winter in what is shaping to be a colorful spring?  (Or… because spring training is on the mind, the opening day victory in what promises to be a championship season for the Phillies!).  And even more, what if  that future harvest is already breaking lose the frozen dirt, allowing the buds of new life to sprout?  What if Jesus’ Spirit is already raising followers to share (in part) in His resurrection life (Col. 2:12-13, 3:1; Eph. 2:4-6)?

One more.  My oldest daughter recently asked me why Jesus went back up to heaven after He was raised?  It was one of those, gotta love when your daughter makes you look dumb moments.  In my defense, I was driving at the time and wasn’t totally sure where I was going. So I’ll spare you my answer for now and say that I think a more interesting question for this discussion is why didn’t Jesus just go straight to heaven?  Why did the Father bother raising Him to life here for those 40 days?   I mean…the plan is just to go to heaven after you die…right?  Well, what if heaven isn’t the ultimate goal?  Or relatedly, what if resurrection isn’t just a Jesus thing, or even just a Jesus and us thing?  What if resurrection is a Jesus and us and all the cosmos thing (Rom. 8:18-23)?

Well, now we’re close to pushing the buttons of those anti-supernaturalists, the all-religions-equal folk, maybe even those of us who’d rather our religion be a bit more tame and not so intrusive (demanding?) on our safe and routine lives.  Maybe it’d be best to retreat back into resurrection as just an inspiring display of God’s power.   Ah, but ’tis the season for thinking resurrection, new creation in the back yard,  Phillies championships, etc.  So I’ll be poking around a bit, exploring some more those what if categories touched on here.  You’re welcome to stick around and chime in!

Lenten Road (part 3) – Luke 10:25-37

As a kid, my church VBS would have a drama contest where we would break up into teams and act out some Biblical story for points.  Year after year, I would lobby my team pretty hard to do the Good Samaritan…mainly because it was fun beating on someone for five minutes.  90% of the skit would be the robbery scene, 10% the rest.  Can’t remember if we ever won.

Thankfully I see some different sides to the story now.  I notice the religious leader afraid to touch the half-dead victim, perhaps for fear of becoming ceremonially unclean.  I see both priest and Levite rushing past perhaps because they feared what or who might be lurking in the cliffs waiting to inflict the same on them.  And then there’s the Samaritan, who really has no business stopping for a Jew – his partial enemy – and putting his own life at risk to help out.  He has no business charging the wellbeing of the wounded to his own account (v. 35)…other than this is what it looks like to love one’s neighbor.

I see Christ in this, hanging on a cross, pleading before the Father to forgive those who were killing Him (translation: “Do whatever it takes to make My wounded enemies well…and charge it to My account.”)

And yeah, its hard not to notice that the path in front of me, the one with Christ a few steps ahead, just got a bit more treacherous.

On the Lenten Road (2): Luke 9:51-56

When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make preparations for him. But the people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But he turned and rebuked them. And they went on to another village.

The re-education continues.  The disciples, still captivated by the glory they witnessed a few days earlier, still drunk with thoughts of theglory and greatness surely coming their way as they buddy up to the king, now want to wield their status for violence.  They are zealous for Christ (though perhaps not yet for the right reasons).  They are certain their faith and religious perspective is the right one.  And they have no patience (or love) for whoever might differ or stand opposed…like the the Samaritans with their alternate ways of worshipping, different expectations of a messiah, different views on truth.

Jesus rebukes them…something He most often does to demons.

A friend and I were recently discussing how humanity’s default means of dealing with threat and opposition is violence.  We wield carefully chosen words, political alliances, love and affection (or lack thereof), even at times physical power as tools to wound and put into place those with different moral stances and doctrinal confessions or those who stand in the way of the life we feel entitled to as followers of the right and true.

En route to Jerusalem alongside the servant-king, disciples need to hear the rebuke.  A consuming fire from heaven is most certainly coming.  But it isn’t coming for the heretics and false worshippers, at least not on this journey.  It is coming for the righteous and innocent Son, the One who wields His status for rescue and redemption.  The impatience, un-love, and misused authority of the disciples has no place on the road the King treads and must be cast out.