Sunday, November 22, 2009

Incarnational Theology 101

I know that Incarnational Theology is quite deep, but given the approaching holiday season that aims to celebrate this historical event, I thought I'd share a thought regarding one of the more simple deductions to made from the Incarnation.

All four gospels include the baptism of Jesus. This ought to give readers a clue to this event's significance. It is recorded that the clouds opened and God said, "Here is my Son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased" (or a version of this). Also recorded is the sending of the Holy Spirit to live within or upon Jesus.

What is it about this seemingly minor event that contains so much theological weight for us?

In John 20:21 Jesus says, "As the Father has sent me, even so I send you." It's that tiny, little preposition that reveals the secret: "As the Father sent me, so I send you." It's like saying, "In the same way..." or "Just like I was sent..."

This is huge. This would perhaps seem to maybe imply that somehow we might possibly be somewhat encouraged to somehow be .... like Jesus!? Wuhhh?

What on earth is John getting at? Oh wait, yea, now I remember: Jesus sometimes asked people to "follow him" (or literally "immitate" in the Greek); the gospel writers did seem to encourage that an awful lot; as did Paul in his letters (cf. Romans 8:29).

Ok, so being like Jesus... yea it's a funky concept. Love and all that. So what?

John also wrote about Jesus' promise to send the Holy Spirit to live in us, guide us, and advise us (John 14:15-17). And then John recounts that promise happening to the disciples in John 20:22.

This whole sending of the Holy Spirit sounds a lot like Jesus' baptism. Which brings me back to the above said deduction about the Incarnation.

God's proclamation, "This is my Son, my beloved," is not just for Jesus. It's also for us. When Jesus invites us to be like him, to go AS he went, it's because we're being invited into the family of God, just like Jesus! God proclaims a cosmic "yes" to us as God's children. We are God's beloved.

Isn't this why Paul emphasizes our status as God's adopted children? Ephesians 5:1-2 reminds us, "Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us." (cf. 1:5 and 3:6 of the same letter)

This is the scandal of the Incarnation: It validates the worth of every human being in the world. Why? Because God looks at them and says, "My Son/Daughter, my beloved!"

But from the Gospels we learn that God does not stop there. God says something else about humankind in addition to claiming us as "Beloved." God also says, "My Son/Daughter, you are worth dying for."

This may seem relatively simple, but it's the basic theology of the Incarnation. It's what makes Christianity so unique and, in my opinion, so damn promising. It's all about realizing that I'm God's beloved. And so are you.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Thanksgiving Prayer

Abba, our Father
Amma, our Mother,
Creator, our God,

We thank you for the opportunity to gather together and celebrate life -
To reflect upon the joys of life lived together,
and to give thanks for all of the blessings we receive from you.

We thank you, O God, for creation.
For the faithful rising of the sun,
For rain and waters that bring forth vegetation,
For the fruit of the land and the harvest of the field.
We thank you for the entire created order, upon which we depend.

We thank you, O God, for community.
For family and friends who bring us joy and support us,
For friends and family with whom we share bonds of love so strong that
they cannot be broken by even the darkest of life's circumstances.
We thank you for our sisters and brothers here at this table and around the world.

We thank you, O God, for our health.
For the well-being of our bodies and your breath of life in us.
For meeting our physical needs in the midst of our frailty.
We thank you for sustaining us in health and wellness.

We thank you today, O God, for the passing of another year.
For bringing us to this table again as a symbol of both your providence
and of our commitment to one another.
For the past year's experiences, new relationships, and new beginnings.
We thank you for the journey.

We thank you, O God, for the food we are about to eat.
And for the laborers who have played a part in every small detail of this celebration.
For the workers of the fields and the employees of the factories;
For the drivers of trucks and the farmers of crops.
We thank you for all the people responsible for this meal.

For all of these things we thank you, O God,
As they are all evidence of your steadfast love,
Your overflowing grace,
and your faithful presence in our lives.

Thank you.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Sex is RAD!

This past week I ventured into the deep, murky waters of a conversation that is routinely feared by most human beings, especially parents of teenagers. For many, many people the topic of sex is a personal matter and does not behoove public discussion. Unfortunately this is also the case in most churches today. Talk about sex is very hush-hush. But this was not the case last Thursday night when I sat on a couch in the youth room at St. Christopher's (where I work) and engaged in a valuable conversation about the connections between sexuality and spirituality.

We began with the most logical analogy there is for sex: driving a car! I asked the boys (there were no females present) if they could name something that can be done both well and poorly. The first suggestion was driving (cars - a very manly place to begin). We charted out all of the ways that driving is done well and all of the ways driving is done poorly.

We then moved to sports (even manlier!). We charted out how both soccer and lacrosse are meant to be played. Things like teamwork, selflessness, following the rules, playing within the boundaries, not cheating, and playing with skill were mentioned. We also charted the ways that these sports are played poorly - that is, the way they are not meant to be played.

Up to this point I had not even mentioned sex. And then, upon the first uttering of the scandalous three-letter word, came the bashful smiles and awkward giggles. One of them stopped and said, "Wait, really?" They were initially shocked. But why? Because I had mentioned a forbidden subject? Or because they don't expect ANYONE to talk about sex?

Why, in a culture that seems to want sex 24/7, are we afraid to have a real conversation about it?

After I convinced the boys that we were not going to talk about how to physically "do" sex well (like driving or playing soccer), we entered into a more serious state of mind and began asking the tough questions.

In the same way that we know soccer is meant to be played the right way, is sex also meant to be experienced a right way? And, in turn, can sex be experienced a wrong way? If these questions are valid, how can we determine the way that sex is meant to be experienced?

The answer lies within the fact that sex is part of our nature as creations of God. Nothing human is foreign to God! We are sexual beings and we want to experience sex. Nothing wrong there.

But the problem comes when we forget that sex, like everything else in nature, can be done a wrong way.

So the boys and I charted out what might be the right way to experience sex, what might be the wrong way, and why these might be the case. The ensuing discussion was captivating!

In the "right way" column were words like marriage, trust, commitment, honesty, vulnerability, assurance, nakedness, and covenant.

In the "wrong way" column were words like selfish, dishonest, disease, one-sided, and the powerful phrase "people get hurt."

Just like the charts we made about driving, soccer, and lacrosse, we had begun to chart out the reasoning behind experiencing sex as God intended it. But, oddly enough, there was one pivotal word missing from the dry-erase board filled with our notes. That word was LOVE.

Is this not a perfect example of our disconnect between sex and love? I held a 15-minute conversation about sex with three teenage boys without the word "love" ever coming up (at least not as a crucial element)! Sex, according to many people, is not a relationship, it is an act. Sex, as experienced by many, is not the culmination of two humans sharing love, it is a sport.

Do not so many hip/hop and R&B songs on the radio make "sex" about how long, how good, how many ways, and how many times it can be done? And don't so many of these songs turn the sole purpose of womankind into satisfying the sexual lusts of mankind?

And what about all the singers who brag in their songs about how good they are at ... fornication!? Wait, what? Is anyone ever going to stop and ask, "WHY ARE YOU TELLING ME THIS? I DON'T WANT TO KNOW THIS ABOUT YOU!"

Do not the self-aggrandizing lyrics display the broken, shallowness of these artists? How badly do you need attention if you are telling the world about the women you slept with? It's almost humorous if it weren't so sad.

But where's the love?

If nothing human is foreign to God, then I believe that God must have something to say about sex and love. And, of course, God does.

At this point I showed the boys a short film called "Flame," which is part of Rob Bell's NOOMA series. (When I said I was going to show a video clip they all got REAL scared! haha)

The film discuses sex the way God intends it to be experienced. Bell cites some of God's intentions from the book Song of Solomon, which provides some of the most beautiful poetry, imagery, and theology on the experiences of love and sex. In it the author uses three different words for "love."

The first word is Raya. This word would be translated as friendship or companionship. Or kind of like our contemporary concept of soul mate.

The second word is Ahava. This word is meant to express the intensity of love when one's heart and mind are so fixated on the other person that nothing else matters. This word is loaded with passion.

The third word is Dod. This word is the physical, bodily love that occurs when two lovers give their bodies to one another.

After the video we came to the realization that most of what our culture calls "sex" is really just Dod. Most of the "sex" we see on TV, movies, and the internet is really just Dod. And so most of the "sex" out there isn't really sex!

In fact, we even decided that the men and women who get naked together on TV aren't really all that naked after all. Why not? Because they're not TRULY bearing it all. There's no commitment. There's no Raya. There's no Ahava.

On the dry-erase board I had these three words written. Seeing the capital letters, one of the boys bursted out, "Sex is RAD!" Then following his pointing finger toward the board we all saw the cause of his outburst and realized what a great acronym was just created to remember what sex is truly meant to be.

Sex is RAD.

[For anyone who has read Rob Bell's SEX GOD or seen the above said NOOMA clip, please forgive me for borrowing so much content from him. For those of you who have not read the book nor seen the clip, I highly recommend it if you desire a greater understanding of the intimate connection between sexuality and spirituality.]

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Golden Retriever: A Parable

There was a woman who owned a Golden Retriever. Day and night, the dog lay upon the same worn, wooden floorboards in the corner of the woman's front porch. There the dog would lay whimpering and groaning but it never moved. Whenever the woman approached the dog in the corner the dog became territorial and would not allow the woman near. The woman attempted to entice the dog by placing food and water dishes away from the corner, but the dog rarely moved.

One evening, a friend of the woman saw the dog whimpering and asked, "Why is he whimpering?" The owner of the dog replied, "He's laying on a nail."