Who is Jesus?—an ominous question that is in some ways commonplace and in other way completely taboo. We live in a narcissistic world where we proudly proclaim, “Jesus, thou art mine,” perpetuating a buffet of options for Jesus, from latte drinker to mixed martial arts fighter to homeboy to co-pilot and more. Take your pick; Jesus can be whoever or whatever you want him to be. A name uttered as a curse in one breath and a prayer in another, Jesus is as ubiquitous as small talk about the weather and as off limits as discussing politics at a family reunion. Yet through it all, the all too deserving question remains—Who is Jesus?
Every answer is undoubtedly biased and incomplete. Yet the consistency and misrepresentation of the question prompts a response, albeit the perpetual first word and question in an ongoing conversation rather than the final statement or punctuation in a debate. What follows is not exhaustive, but initial.
Jesus is the divine sophia, the eternal logos.
He is the image, ikon, and avatar of the invisible God.
Jesus is the son of man, come with the clouds to display a new and our true humanity.
He is a rabbi and prophet, inviting us to find our present life as a part of the age to come, proclaiming in method and message the reign and realm of God.
He is our savior, our advocate, our ally.
Jesus is a finger pointing at the moon, directing my gaze to God and God’s work in the world.
He is the living Buddha and living Christ.
He is an archetype of suffering, death, and resurrection.
Jesus is a lightning rod on the cross, absorbing all sin, evil, violence, and injustice upon himself and letting it do its worst. The cross is not God’s penalty or punishment or any sort of cosmic child abuse but simply profoundly God’s place-sharing with a broken and fractured world.
Jesus reveals the domination system and its myth of redemptive violence, exposing our mimetic desire and scapegoat mechanisms; he is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Jesus is fully and truly human; a model and example for our inhumanity, for our life and suffering, for love and justice and forgiveness, for resurrection and New Creation.
Jesus is a pillar of cloud and fire for the people of the new exodus. He is the embodiment of the returning and redeeming action of the covenant God. Jesus was and is, for Israel and the world, that which according the Jewish people and their scripture only God could do and be: the end of exile, the forgiveness of sins, the embodiment of the Temple, the fulfillment of Torah, the year of jubilee.
All month long I clip websites, videos, and articles that I find interesting. And then at the end/beginning of each month I share them all here! (Only I missed last month — I was a bit busy wrapping up life at Mars Hill — so this is a double post.) Enjoy!
Theology is always on my mind, the natural byproduct of six years working at a church, 18 credits left in an MDiv, and a wife who is a pastor. This month I discovered Sally McFague and her wonderful work on metaphorical theology, I found a excellent post on feminine images for God (a much needed conversation in the church), and I wrote a lament called I Can’t Find Thee for my worship class (another conversation/experience the church desperately needs).
For the past few years I’ve said that I want to be a writer when I grow up. And it’s still true. (I’m currently looking through MFA programs at various universities.) In the past couple months Lifehack taught me to write, write again, and write one more time while the 99% gave me a slew of tips from writers on becoming a better writer.
While much of my life is filled with theology and writing, most of my life and work falls under the categories of creativity, design, and productivity. In the past couple months Roberto Verganti reminded me that an innovators role is making people fall in love with something they never asked for, Project Glass made me consider switching from sides in the ongoing Apple/Android battle, the 99% reminded me of the key to creating remarkable things, I caught a glimpse of J.K. Rowling’s creative process – from 30,000 feet it looks like art; from the ground it looks like a to-do list, I tripped over the obvious: design matters, I read a post that I wish all my professors would read, and Study Hacks reminded me that the feeling of flow is different than the feeling of getting better.
I’m a seven. So fun is may natural habitat. And in the past two months I found a bit of fun on the world wide web. I discovered that google can sink as well as search, hipsters can have their own (analogue) habit app, I don’t need to wait for the movie (or Netflix mini-season) for more Arrested Development fun, and this is how you get more likes on Facebook. (I should probably say something about cage-fighting nuns and tanks now.)
We all have favorite blogs. And my favorite bloggers threw down some pretty fantastic posts in the past eight weeks. From Rent to the breath of God to living for everyone else to a story catcher to the art of presence to a god with a heartbeat (or the 31 posts I wrote in April and May like this and this and this and this and this and this and this and this and this and this and this and this and this and this – ten bonus ninjas if you read them all; fifty if you read all 31).
I thought about categorizing all my favorite videos. Three of them are my new favorite music videos (well, one is more “unique” than “favorite”) . One is the proposal I wish I’d thought of. One is just amazing to watch. And so is the other one. You can find them all on their respective YouTube/Vimeo homes via the links in the last sentence. Or just keep scrolling down to view them all here.
Sometimes you read something that’s too long for twitter but too good to go without sharing. Something like this:
Faith is living in the light of an interpretive understanding of life made manifest narratively or mythologically. It is not primarily ‘beliefs’ about an absent (transcendent) entity called God, not propositional assertions considered true or false in some mater-of-fact way, but a mode of being, actively living out a personal story centered on such an interpretive understanding of what it means to be, a way of existing in a world. It has more to do with who we are than what we think.
I’ll have more quotes and reflections on The Inside Story by Paul Brockelman soon.
The question “Who is God?” is the theological implication of the philosophical question, “Is there a God?” Presupposing that yes, there is in fact a God and that this God chooses to and/or is able to be revealed to humanity and all of creation, one can then postulate who or what kind of God this is. Our postulation, however, is perpetually impeded and limited by the constructive confines and contextual nature of language as our meaning-making capacity.
However God is revealed, God is understood within the limits of human language. All language is implicitly abstract, a culturally agreed upon metaphor endowed with meaning. Therefore to speak of the “who” or “what” of God is always to speak within these allegorical confines. Understanding God as having “personhood” is a concept forever tainted by the water of personhood in which we swim. Yet in recognizing this linguistic limitation, one can state confidently, based on general and special revelation, who God is.
For in every beginning and still today we find God hovering over our formless and void tahom. God is my very breath, sustaining me and all of creation whether or not we know or even acknowledge it. Breathing isn’t really something that I do but something that I witness as it happens. In the same way, God is always present, always close. God is present in and experiences all suffering and celebration. God is my first cry at birth and my final sigh at death.
And sometimes God is even white, straight, and male. Because God is and is not all of the categories, compartments, labels, and boxes we create and impose. God is Creator, Christ, and Spirit, One, often understood as a social or economic Trinity, distinct “persons” of one essence or identity.
Love does not say, “look at me, I am beautiful, I am sublime, I am glorious,” but love is that which points to the other and says, “they are beautiful, they are sublime, they are glorious.” Neither God nor love are an object in and of themselves but rather the light that allows us to see all things as they truly are. And when we look close enough we can find God in all things. For God is the presence and energy that created it all and continues to create and sustain it all today.
God is known as eternally unknowable. God can barely be apprehended but never fully comprehended. God is always beyond understanding yet mysteriously and graciously within reach. God is the ocean on which we float, a lazy river and a perfect storm. God is the ground of being. God is not “a being” but is rather “being” itself. God is simply complex.
God simply is.
The only way from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday is through Maundy Thursday where we are invited to wash the feet of those who will betray us.
The only way from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday is through Good Friday where we are slapped in the face with the irony of calling a day of pain and suffering “good.”
The only way from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday is through Silent Saturday where the axiom “God is dead” cannot be refuted.
This is the journey of Holy Week. It is more than Sunday to Sunday.
The word “reformed” is tricky.
First, if you look closely at it, you see the word “form” sitting in the middle. This is what you do with a piece of clay or a painting or a sand castle – you form it and make it. The pairs of letters on either side of the word (technically referred to as a prefix and suffix) modify this root word. The prefix “re-” indicates “again” while the suffix “-ed” indicates past tense. (Yep, 6th grade grammar is all coming back to you.) When you put it all together, the word could be understood as “to be formed again” or “to be made again.” The Reformed Church is one that is formed again and again and again by God.
Second, the word “reformed” is past tense, leading you to think it was something that was done way back when (i.e., Martin Luther and John Calvin “reformed” the church a long time ago). However, this is where grammar becomes deceiving. While the word “reformed” is explicitly past tense, it also carries with it an implicit meaning of ongoing action. It is not that the church was only reformed once way back when, but the church is still being reformed by God again and again and again.
When the Reformation officially launched with Martin Luther and his friends, they weren’t intending to start a whole new church or series of churches. Martin Luther simply wanted to “re-form” a few specific things about the Roman Catholic Church. And as the Reformation continued, John Calvin’s intent was not to create a new brand or strand of Christianity named after himself (Calvinism), but to invite the church to be constantly re-formed by God. It was precisely this re-forming, however, that has led to 230 different kinds of Reformed Churches in 107 countries today. But the Reformed Church is still being reformed by God. This can be historically seen through the origin and adoption of various confessions of faith, most recently with the emergence of the Belhar Confession out of South Africa and adopted and considered by a variety of Reformed denominations.
Because God is a living God, the church is called to always be reforming in light of the Word of God in scripture and in light of the Spirit’s work in our midst. We are called to be innovative, to try new things, to love in new ways. But this innovation always takes the history of our faith and our humanity into account. To know where we’re going, we have to know where we’ve been. As God leads us forward, God invites us to remember our story; we hold together the old and the new, knowing that God is and has been at work through it all. Instead of throwing out old practices and beliefs because we don’t like them or understand them, we learn from them and then apply or adjust them in ways that makes sense today.
Semper feformanda ecclesiata reformata – “The Church Reformed, Always Being Reformed”
Like I said, the word “reformed” is tricky, but it is also beautiful and inspiring.
The church will always need ninety-five theses. Just as Luther called the church to see herself for the cultural entity she had become, the church today must continue to hear the call of those nailing thesis after thesis to her wall. And just as Luther was met with tension from the status quo of a power-driven church that he confronted, so too will the same tension exist.
This is evident in the myriad of voices pushing against the dominate religious power. From farewell tweets to pastors condemned as heretics, thesis after thesis continues to arise. They are repainting the Christian faith, declaring a manifesto for the church in exile, and sounding the cry of the orthodox heretic. These nails often pound in the pages of publications or the pixels of blog posts. And they are often met with greater ferocity, proof that they are driving nails into the door of the ruling power.
Just as Luther’s ninety-five challenged the church, calling her to a richer and deeper life and practice, so must these nails driven today be heard and considered, invited to call the church to an even richer and deeper life and practice today.
The reformers continued to reform themselves. While one individual or community would move forward to some extent, they would find themselves challenged by others, leading to another re-forming of this new movement. From the men and women before him to the countless men and women after him, Martin Luther was but one among many in the conversation – a conversation that still continues to this day.
We are constantly reforming the reformers, precisely as we ought to be. For allowing one individual or community to write or rewrite history and theology ignores the implicit bias that always exists below the surface. While some can reform some things, others are needed for more. And while the perpetual reforming of the reformers was often a point of conflict – sign vs. symbol, free will vs. election, etc. – it consistently propels the church’s thought and action forward in an often necessary direction.
This reforming of the reformers continues to this day, where ideas continue to grow and develop, building off the history of the men and women behind them, inviting us forward into the ever-changing future.
Depending on your perspective, 1517 was a call to reform or a call to revolt. For some it was the much-needed inciting incident, forever reshaping the future of the Church. For others it was the impending civil war, the annoying younger sibling butting heads with the strong winds of tradition. It was simultaneously both reform and revolt.
It was in this tension that the first generation of reformers/revolters lived. They often risked their lives in their efforts to “stick it to the man.” From writing in hiding to debating in public to capture and condemnation and execution, this was a time marked by a challenge to the ruling status quo. For those who existed in seats of power and privilege, these “rabble rousers” were challenging their way and rule of life. But for those on the fringe of theology and existence, it was the long overdue pendulum swing, prophetically calling the Church back towards the center, inviting the voices from the fringe their rightful place at the table.
The fact that this moment in history bears predominately bears the title “Reformation” shows the success it had. While the Roman Catholic Church – that which the reformation sought to reform – still exists in great global dominance, the Church was forever changed by this group of men and women who revolted from one structure of power, reforming it to another. And now the world exists with these new “winners” who get to write (and rewrite) history. The Church today must remember those on the fringe, the voices often excluded. For their insistence is necessary today, just as it was in 1517.
There is no going back. There never has been and there never will be. We live in an ever-changing world; culture is constantly evolving, transcending and including as it juggernauts forward. There are times, however, when we reach the “stop request” button on the public transit system of our world. We want to go back to what used to be, to become what we once were, to reach an ancient standard justified by labeling it “traditional” or “Biblical.”
But we can’t. Because there is no going back. There is only going forward. As much as our culture and world has consistently been developed by and for a specific gender and race, it cannot (and hopefully soon, will not) always be. While much of the world – often white men enjoying their cushion of privilege built on the tradition of patriarchy and the backs of the non-white male world – upholds systems that oppress the perpetual “other,” we must recognize that the only way forward is to reclaim the humanity of us all, regardless of gender, ethnicity, color, or creed. This world is our future and is beginning to become more and more our present, where gender roles are seen as roles and not rules based on cultural antiquity. As Linda Lindsey says in her book Gender Roles, “Structural change has occurred. Functional change…has lagged behind.” As we live in this future-made-present, we must recognize the difference between sex and gender, the power of colors like pink and blue, and the reality of the divisions we create among ourselves.
It is not uncommon for people to cite ancient traditions or texts to support their cultural agendas. Men should do this and women should do that. The former can speak while the latter must remain silent. One is the bread-winner, the other the bread-maker. Because this is the way “it’s supposed to be,” it’s “Biblical,” or it “just makes sense.” Except that it’s not, it isn’t, and it doesn’t. It is entirely a cultural construct. It is an irreverence for the progression of culture, the reading of a cultural text, the respect of cultural traditions; it is the difference between sex and gender. It is our cultural constructs that mold our beliefs and behaviors about male and female, masculine and feminine. And it is a cultural awareness that is necessary to counteract the harming effects of fixed, biased, and oppressive gender roles.
Our culture creates normative behaviors without recognizing their cultural bias. The result are fixed images of who can be and do what. We are a world with many “pastor’s wives” and few “pastor’s husbands,” with “first ladies” instead of “first gentlemen.” This bias, however, is being rightfully challenged in our world today. Instead of perpetuating a gendered norm, children’s books like Mama’s Coming Home by Kate Banks provide a picture of a family where common gender roles are reversed, portraying a stay-at-home dad spending the day with his kids, anticipating the end of the work day when “Mama’s coming home.” Sadly, however, books like this are not the norm. Instead, culturally biased gender roles continue to be imposed, telling boys and girls what they should be and what they can’t be.
Boys vs. Girls Us vs. Us
This falsely and naively genderfied culture simply creates divisions between ourselves. The battle is not one of boys versus girls, but us versus us. It creates false expectations on both genders, forcing them into roles that exist in a cultural bubble where “fluid” is mistaken for “fixed.” It oppresses women, exploiting, marginalizing, and imperializing them for the sake of what is “right” or “Biblical.” John Stackhouse, however, challenges this all-too-common posture in his book Finally Feminist when he asks,“Why would God call entirely equal sexes to deeply different roles? Why would one role be that of leadership and the other of submission if women and men are equal not only in status and dignity before God but in every other way as well?” I beg one further question: Why do we continue to live in this world and perpetuate this cultural bias today?
I dream of the day when we stand together, united in our humanity instead of divided between who can do or become what. I dream of the day when glass ceilings are exposed as systemic injustice and oppressive stereotypes confessed as sin. And I dream of the day when the pronoun “she” is as normative as “he” for roles such as president, principal, and pastor. May we rightfully and readily bring this dream to life in our families and communities today.
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