Time Swimmers

Time lost. I sent out a Tiny Letter (my bimonthly newsletter) this week exploring the notion that Easter was about more than simple resurrection. Easter was about more than empty tombs and manic disciples searching for a body. Easter is a more eternal declaration. It's the declaration that time is a failure, that it bends to something more eternal. And if time is a failure, there is no such thing as a dead end.

These are the things I believe most. And yet, there's still a harsh human reality: We swim in the experience of time. And so, how can we not mourn the little deaths time brings? The end of summer vacation. The days your children leave the nest. The moment you say goodbye to your parents. The moment you kiss your spouse for the last time. These are reminders of time's cruelty, thin though it may be.

This week, I've been thinking more and more about time. I've been wondering how I might live if I believed it were running out. I've pondered how I might be more present to my wife, my kids, and my friends. How would I pray? Would I look for signs of resurrection in the world around me? Would I try to create some of my own works of resurrection?

I don't have all the answers to these questions, but I'm working a few out. I hope you will too, because on this planet--the spinning minute hand of our solar system's clock--time is our precious reality, our waning commodity. How will you use it?

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Tuesday Reflections: The Problem With Pain (For Holy Week)

Most Tuesdays, I offer brief reflections, and for the bulk of 2016, I've been exploring the Problem of Pain. In the Church calendar, this week is Holy Week, the week between Palm Sunday and Easter. It's a week to look at the darkest hour--the hour humanity murdered God--but it's also a time to explore the promise of pain. (Psst--resurrection is coming.) Come along?

***

The Christ rode in on an ass's foal, the people lining the streets, shouting "Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!" King, King, King, they shouted, murder in their hearts even then. Jesus was a dead man walking; he was welcomed by the praises of the would-be lynch mob. He knew this, even then.

After the parade, Jesus shared a private moment with his disciples. "Truly, truly," he said, "unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit." Death and fruit; parent and offspring--this is the way of life.

I'm considering this passage of Scripture today (undoubtedly because it is the scheduled lectionary reading), and it's an unpleasant contemplation. Pain? Death? The truth is, I'd rather like to spend the bulk of my life avoiding pain. The crush of the job, the death of a loved-one, cancer, mental instability, abuse--these are only some of the daggers life has to offer. And aren't we taught to avoid the seedy bars, the biker rallies, the places where daggers might be slid through our ribs?

Life isn't that plain and predictable, though. Life hides behind every bush, jumps from alley shadows and stabs with impunity. Pain--even death--is unavoidable. It is a natural part of the life cycle.

But here come the words of Jesus. Pain, he says, is fertile soil. It is the cracking of the coat, the pushing of new life through splitting seed. It is a path--the path walked by Christ himself. Pain and death bring resurrection if we let it.

Easter is coming. Resurrection, too. They always do.

Reflective Exercise:

1. Identify a present pain point in your life. Write it on a piece of paper.

2. Consider how living into this pain, how accepting it as a gift might allow you to see with new eyes. Consider how it might bring you new life, or at least a new perspective on life.

3. How will you use this pain, and the resurrection from it to help others who might be a step behind you on the road of life? Write your answer to this question and keep it in a safe place. Revisit it from time to time.

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My Completely Irrational, Unscientific, Orthodox, Fringe System of Belief (Conclusion)

Recently, a co-worker asked whether we’ve reached the place in American culture where Christianity is seen as a fringe system of belief. I rattled off nine reasons why, if we’re honest, Christianity should be considered a fringe system of belief to those in the world at large. This Advent season, I’m exploring these beliefs and offering a somewhat surprising conclusion. Today, I'll explore the remaining reasons and conclusion. 

*****

MY COMPLETELY IRRATIONAL, UNSCIENTIFIC, ORTHODOX, FRINGE SYSTEM OF BELIEF

(Click the links for POINT 1, POINT 2POINT 3, POINT 4 and Points 5-6, and POINT 7 )

POINTS 8-9 AND A BRIEF CONCLUSION:

As if the life of Jesus were not supernatural enough,  Jesus stood clothed in his resurrected body on the mountainside, and he instructed his disciples one last time. "Preach, proclaim, and publish the good news about me," he said. "Teach people my ways. And by the way, you'll soon receive the power of the Holy Spirit." Can you see the disciples whispering to each other? "Who is the Holy Spirit? Is this another mysterious Parable?" they might have been asking. But before they could muster the audacity to wedge their questions into the conversation, Jesus spread his arms wide as an eagle and caught an updraft to heaven. Just like that, Jesus was gone.

His actions must have befuddled the disciples. Here one day, Jesus was healing the sick and casting out demons. Gone the next, Jesus was crucified on the cross. Here again, Jesus had risen from the dead and dined among them. And now? Jesus had flown the coop, gone to only God-knows-where, and left with only the promise of a good ghost haunting.

The disciples returned to the upper room in confusion, in trembling, perhaps in anger of the ever-leaving Messiah. There, as they tended to the business of replacing Judas the betrayer, the sound of a rushing wind filled the room and fire descended, licked the air over their heads. They left, filled with this new and strange fire, this Holy Spirit over their heads and in their mouths. They street-preached the secrets of God. They street-preached conversion and the spread of Christianity began.

Jesus' power was confined to his personage during his life. Risen from the dead, he could have stayed eternally, could have set up a kingdom of power and dominance. Instead, he chose ascension and left a Spirit-gift. It was his last holy conundrum--he vacated the world so he could fill it.

CONCLUSION

Like any unsolvable equation, the world continues to cast quizzical glances toward the life of Jesus. Was he a prophet? Was he a good teacher? Was he a yellow-toothed carpenter with a set of crazy eyes and enough charisma to scare up a band of followers that flouted the governments of the day? To the believer of the Christian story, the supernatural facets of his life--his birth of a virgin, his death and resurrection, his ascension, his gifting of the Holy Spirit--show him to be the diamond of all time and space. Jesus was God, and he came to be God With Us. And this, we say, has made all the difference.

Do you see it? This is why we celebrate Advent and Christmas. It is the supernatural, unbelievable, audacious story of God swinging low. And this leads us to the final question: has our western, hyper-rational society come to a point where it sees Christianity as a counter-rational, fringe system of belief? I might offer this answer: if it does not, perhaps Christians are doing something wrong; perhaps we are teaching something far less Christian than we'd like to admit.

*****

A CHRISTMAS GIVEAWAY AND A COUPON CODE

Sign up to receive my monthly Tiny Letter: A Compendium of Projects, People, Places, and Things. In December's issue, we're exploring the groaning of creation as we await the birth of the Christ with eager anticipation! And if you SIGN UP, you'll be entered into a drawing to win Preston Yancey's fabulous book Tables in the Wilderness. Though there can be only one winner (randomly selected, of course), every Tiny Letter subscriber will receive a 10% discount on the already-lower-than-Amazon price of Tables in the Wilderness, from Givington's!

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My Completely Irrational, Unscientific, Orthodox, Fringe System of Belief (Part 7)

Recently, a co-worker asked whether we’ve reached the place in American culture where Christianity is seen as a fringe system of belief. I rattled off nine reasons why, if we’re honest, Christianity should be considered a fringe system of belief to those in the world at large. This Advent season, I’m exploring these beliefs and offering a somewhat surprising conclusion. Today, I'll explore reasons 7. 

*****

MY COMPLETELY IRRATIONAL, UNSCIENTIFIC, ORTHODOX, FRINGE SYSTEM OF BELIEF

(Click the links for POINT 1, POINT 2POINT 3, POINT 4 and Points 5-6.)

Each night, we set the Christmas tree a-twinkling in the Haines' house, and last night I took a look at the ornaments adorning it. There's a baby Jesus ornament--a meek and mild one made from clay--and another baby jesus swaddled in blown glass. There are shepherds on a shelf over-looking the tree, and they're making their making their way to the baby Jesus in the creche over the entertainment center.

If your house is like mine, there are at least a half-dozen baby-Jesus depictions in your home right now, most of which adorn your tree. But do you have an ornament depicting the wedding feast at Cana, or one of Jesus driving the demons into Gentile swine herds? Do you have a Jesus-heals-the-leper ornament, or the limited edition Pool-of-Bethesda ornament from Dayspring? Do these seem like inappropriate ornaments for your Christmas tree?

Why?

The miracle of Christmas is the coming of God in human form. The miracle is that Jesus grew through infancy, toddlerhood, adolescence (zits and all), and into adulthood, where he embarked on the ministry of new life. Christmas isn't merely about a cute baby-child in a manger; instead, it is a New Genesis, the story of God returning to walk with men in his Garden of creation. It's the story of a wholly different life, one that ultimate conquered death for the benefit of all mankind.

As we saw in Parts 5-6 of this series, the stubborn wills of men murdered Jesus. But Jesus--the ever-more-stubborn God-man--bested the bunch. He rose from the dead three days after his crucifixion. And instead of bringing his wrath and vengeance upon those who'd strung him up, he instituted a Gospel of forgiveness, hope, restoration.  This is the pinnacle of his miraculous life, and so, this is the pinnacle of Christmas.

There could be no Easter without Christmas. It's the simplest truth, but one that I often forget. This being the case, perhaps we should hang an empty-tomb ornament or two from the old tannenbaum next year.

*I'd love to see an empty tomb ornament in 2015. If you would too, click:[tweetherder] Dear @dayspring, I would like a resurrection Christmas ornament for 2015.[/tweetherder]

*****

A CHRISTMAS GIVEAWAY AND A COUPON CODE

Sign up to receive my monthly Tiny Letter: A Compendium of Projects, People, Places, and Things. In December's issue, we're exploring the groaning of creation as we await the birth of the Christ with eager anticipation! And if you SIGN UP, you'll be entered into a drawing to win Preston Yancey's fabulous book Tables in the Wilderness. Though there can be only one winner (randomly selected, of course), every Tiny Letter subscriber will receive a 10% discount on the already-lower-than-Amazon price of Tables in the Wilderness, from Givington's!

*powered by TinyLetter

 

 

*Photo by Mike Tungate, Creative Commons via Flickr.

The Death of Death

"The Christian Story of the death and Resurrection of Jesus.... Here is theGod who saves us from the arrogance of worshipping ourselves, and, by having shared in our humanity, makes us glorious at the same time." ~Joan Chittister, The Liturgical Year

My grandfather used to call me every Easter morning, used to boom through the telephone receiver, "He has risen!"  It was his favorite holiday, the one adorned with khaki suits, bucks, ladies' hats, and the purple sash of eternal royalty.  More than that, it was a celebration of life.

I eulogized my grandfather two years ago.  As I finished the last of the official words that would be spoken of his life, I put fist to the podium, and with tears in my eye I pounded, "oh death, where is your sting?"

Tomorrow grandpa will rejoice with the Life Eternal and the heirs in the other world, our future home.  We'll rejoice in the empty tomb, the hope of forever.  Us and them, we'll be united, and we'll dissolve into the fullness of the resurrected Christ, the great mystery of the death of death.

Easter--this is the story that has chosen me.

[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/13127598 w=400&h=225]

Death In His Grave Performance from Christopher & Nathaniel Calnin on Vimeo.