Monday, April 30, 2012

FRESH: Gourmet Vegetarian in Toronto

Michelle and I spent all day walking around West Toronto neighborhoods - through High Park, Roncesvalles, Parkdale, Queen West Village, and the Annex on Bloor Street. After roaming nearly 12km(!) we were slightly more than hungry. So we found one of the best spots for a filling, healthy, and delicious lunch.

Fresh is a vegetarian's dream (with gluten-free & vegan options as well). Their menu is extensive and offers everything from smoothies and specialty drinks to salads, soups, burritos, and gourmet veggie burgers. Here's what their own website has to say:

"Fresh is located in the heart of Toronto, a cosmopolitan food lover’s city. Providing our customers with fresh food, flavours and recipes is at the heart of what we do. Our passion for researching current food trends and updating our menus with unique ingredients has kept us at the forefront of the healthy food movement since we started out in 1992. Responsible and sustainable business practices have been the underlying principle of our success." 

Along with the best sweet potato fries I've ever had, Michelle and I split two little treats, the mushroom&onion veggie burger and the black bean burrito. How do you spell yummy? F-r-e-s-h.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A Messy Family...

I think Anne Lamott gets what the church is supposed to be...

"Things are not perfect because life is not TV and we are real people with scarred, worried hearts. But it's amazing a lot of the time. Where there was darkness, silence, and blame, there's now a family, and that means there's mess and misunderstanding, hurt feelings, and sighs. But it is a family..." 

{Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith, 40}

Monday, April 23, 2012

Caputo on Faith, Hope, and Love

"Think about faith, hope, and charity singled out by St. Paul. When is faith really faith? Not when it is looking more and more like we are right, but when the situation is beginning to look impossible, in the darkest night of the soul. The more credible things are, the less faith is required, but the more incredible things seem, the more faith is required, the faith that is said to move mountains.

So, too, hope is hope not when we have every reason to expect a favorable outcome, which is nothing more than a reasonable expectation (the virtue of a stockbroker), but when it is beginning to look hopeless, when we are called on to "hope against hope," as St. Paul says (Rom. 4:18), which is a magnificently deconstructive turnof phrase. 

This is above all true of love, where loving those who are lovable or those who love you makes perfect sense. But when is love really love? When does love burn white hot? When we love those who are not lovable or who do not love us - in short, when we love our enemies. 

In other words, we are really on the way of faith and hope and love when the way is blocked; we are really under way when the way seems impossible, where this 'impossible' makes the way possible. It is precisely the 'not' that makes the 'path' kick into high gear."

- John Caputo, What Would Jesus Deconstruct?

Friday, April 20, 2012


Today is the Day of Silence, "a student-led national event that brings attention to anti-LGBT name-calling, bullying and harassment in schools."  All around the country people have taken a vow of silence in order to bring attention to a matter that cannot go unnoticed.  For too long my brothers and sisters of the LGBTQQ community have been silenced, overlooked, and excluded, especially by Christians. So while I remain silent today out of solidarity, I also vow to use my voice to speak up for my brothers and sisters.

You might say that up until the age of 25 my whole life was a "day of silence."  I grew up in a fairly conservative evangelical atmosphere.  Traversing the topic of homosexuality was like navigating a field of land mines in a shopping cart.  For the most part I avoided the topic altogether; a luxury that I could afford since I am heterosexual.  Thus, my life contains no drama of heated exchanges, protests, parades, or scandals.  Yet after years of ignoring the issue, I now believe that my life's silence on the topic of homosexuality actually declares a loud and important message, especially since I am a follower of Jesus.

It wasn't that I grew up in a town where people consistently raged in protest against homosexuality. It's just that my community never talked about it.  As far as I knew, there were no homosexuals in my community (though statistics state otherwise!). It just happened that diversity in race, religion, or sexuality was as distant as the nearest shopping mall some 70 miles away. Put simply, nobody knew any homosexuals so nobody had to take the matter seriously.  It was not an issue concerning real human beings in our community; it was more like an opinion about Coke or Pepsi. I learned at an early age that it was okay to neglect issues that did not directly affect me or my community.

I add this clarification because my silence on the matter of homosexuality was the natural result of my social and geographic location.  Therefore, I don't believe that my silence is something that deserves blame per se.  We cannot help where we are born and in what kind of community we are raised.  I do, however, believe that following Jesus demands that I reflect critically on the blind spots in my own life - those areas of silence and neglect.  The more I reflect the more I am convinced that my silence on the matter of homosexuality opposes the mission of the church, the mission of Jesus.

I began reflecting more on this particular blind spot during and after college as I experienced more metropolitan culture. I remember one particular trip to Philadelphia to visit my sister and the embarrassment I felt when she admonished me for using the word "gay" as a synonym for "stupid" - a habit that I and many others had picked up in casual parlance on a "Christian" campus.  As one who has worked with teenagers for over 5 years, I can tell you that teens, mostly boys, still use the word "gay" as a synonym for "stupid."  I can't imagine how hurtful it would be if someone started using the term "hetero" to describe things that are ugly or worthless.  For me, it took my sister, living in Philly and having gay friends, to begin putting faces on the concept of homosexuality.  It was only when the issue became human that I saw how hurtful my language was.

Over the past four years in Philadelphia I have encountered more and more faces to associate with the term "homosexual."  But not just faces: I have learned names, voices, personalities, laughs, and the unique spirit residing in each of them.  Perhaps the most powerful of my experiences came this past summer during my 11-week internship at UPENN Hospital.  For 11 weeks I served as a chaplain and faced some of the most challenging and intimate moments of my life.  This was the kind of experience where you don't just want friends, you desperately need them.  And for 11 weeks, walking close by my side, I had not one but two gay men - one of whom was my supervisor; the other a fellow chaplain.  My CPE supervisor, a gay black man, cared for me like a son.  He taught me more about myself and what it means to live in Christian community than I learned in three years at seminary.  And the other man became a kind of big brother to me all summer.  He noticed when I was down and made sure that I was OK.  His gratuitous care for other human beings in the hospital was beautiful. He is indeed one of the most compassionate men I've ever met.   What is more: both of these men are self-proclaimed Christians; one ordained Baptist and the other a faithfully married seminarian working on his M.Div.

These experiences tested my own view on homosexuality. For some time I've considered myself to be "affirming" of the LGBTQQ community.  I considered it sufficient to "affirm" people of different sexual orientation; to practice a kind of humane acceptance. For years I was content with this opinion and simply stored it away in my theology somewhere for the day that I might actually have to put it to use.  It allowed me to feel good about not being a "hater" and I considered myself a better follower of Jesus for holding such a loving opinion.  The problem, however, was that it was just that: an opinion. 

Just recently I have come to believe that my approach to simply "affirm" homosexuals is not sufficient.  In fact, I'm not even sure if it's Christian.  What good is an opinion if it has no hands or feet or voice?  Didn't Jesus say that salt with out any taste is worthless? And that a light that has been hidden is also useless?  So what good is my love and "affirmation" toward homosexuals if it doesn't provoke me to act?

This is where my heart is at on this Day of Silence 2012. I believe that my love for those of all sexual orientations should provoke me to stand up and act. I am no longer content to simply "believe" something in my head and sit idly by as gay teenagers commit suicide because nobody will advocate for them. I cannot be a part of a church that sits comfortably in its homogeneous heterosexual community while my homosexual brothers and sisters are neglected, persecuted, and excluded.

My shift in thinking about homosexuality has been caused by many different experiences; but all of them involve coming face to face with real human beings and hearing their stories.  Reflecting upon this blind spot in my life reminds me that you cannot love what you do not know.  But I believe Jesus challenges us to know and love everyone.  After all, Jesus does not allow us to maintain the impersonal category of "them" or "those people."  Jesus' radical way challenges us to see everyone as "Neighbor." Perhaps Jesus knew that we cannot love others until we meet them face to face; until we see them as our neighbor.

One of the most profound of my neighborly encounters came about 8 months ago when I heard a young man share at a conference in San Diego.  His name is Brian Ammons and he is homosexual.  He is an ordained Baptist minister and teaches Duke University.  In a powerful testimony, he shared with us about his exile and return to the church and I'd like to share just a brief excerpt of his story here. You can listen to the FULL version here.

"I fell in love with Lazarus... who spent 4 days rotting in a tomb.  Only to hear Jeus' voice calling, "Lazarus, Come out."  But Jesus does not roll away the stone himself; Jesus does not go into the tomb and wake Lazarus up; he does not aid his friend the short journey out of the tomb (which might not seem so short to a dead guy whose hands and feet are bound).  Jesus calls on Lazarus to take the initiative; Jesus calls on his friend to practice resurrection.  Coming out of the tomb requires standing up and walking.  ... instead of taking direct action in aiding his friend Jesus  turns to the crowd and directs them to do the unbinding.  For me, this is perhaps the most significant and overlooked part of the story.  This is the part that keeps me coming back.  The last words of the story are "Unbind him and set him free."  Jesus' command is a powerful directive to the community of believers.  Jesus calls Lazarus into resurrection; but then he calls the community to overcome their propensity for spectating and get involved.  Resurrection is a communal event. It is a team sport. Unbind him, set him free.  This is Jesus' words to those privileged enough to bare witness to one emerging from the tomb. It is the work of the community to unbind and set free."

I don't know about you, but I identify with the community standing around the tomb; the people who are standing around waiting for Jesus to fix everything only to hear Jesus say, "You! You go help this man!  Unbind him and set him free." And that is what the Day of Silence is all about for me. It is about the power or Resurrection - for all people.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Land of Hope and Dreams - Bruce Springsteen

Call me "low church" but I think this needs to be sung on Sunday mornings...

Grab your ticket and your suitcase
Thunder's rolling down the tracks
You don't know where you're goin'
But you know you won't be back
Darlin' if you're weary
Lay your head upon my chest
We'll take what we can carry
And we'll leave the rest

Big Wheels rolling through fields
Where sunlight streams
Meet me in a land of hope and dreams

I will provide for you
And I'll stand by your side
You'll need a good companion for
This part of the ride
Leave behind your sorrows
Let this day be the last
Tomorrow there'll be sunshine
And all this darkness past

Big wheels roll through fields
Where sunlight streams
Meet me in a land of hope and dreams

This train
Carries saints and sinners
This train
Carries losers and winners
This Train
Carries whores and gamblers
This Train
Carries lost souls
This Train
Dreams will not be thwarted
This Train
Faith will be rewarded
This Train
Hear the steel wheels singin'
This Train
Bells of freedom ringin'
This Train
Carries broken-hearted
This Train
Thieves and sweet souls departed
This Train
Carries fools and kings
This Train
All aboard

This Train
Dreams will not be thwarted
This Train
Faith will be rewarded
This Train
Hear the steel wheels singin'
This Train 

You don't need no ticket
You just get on board (People get ready)
You just thank the Lord (People get ready)
You just thank the Lord (People get ready)
You just thank the Lord (People get ready)

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Project 28 Begins!

Project 28 has begun! My year of reading almost entirely female authors is off to a great start with three diverse works. Resurrection Psychology by professor of psychology Margaret G. Alter is a book on human personality. Alter's unique perspective is located in the intersection of contemporary psychology and the life and teachings of Jesus. Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith is one I should have read long ago. Anne Lamott offers an edgy, humorous-yet-profound look at spirituality. I'm excited to journey through this one. And lastly is a book of poems by Gwen Frostic called Beyond Time. I've never heard of this woman but I found this book in a used book store and it called out to me. The poems are all about nature and the illustrations are just beautiful. I've posted some pictures below.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

"He is Risen In Dead" - Why the Resurrection Still Matters the Week(s) After Easter Sunday

A week after Resurrection Sunday, I find myself thinking about death. I know that Easter is supposed to put death behind me and help me think about pretty things like tulips and white linens, but I just can't help but think about the complications of believing that God both died and then defeated death through resurrection.

Along with millions of others last Sunday, I participated in that historic call and response: "The Lord is risen! He is risen indeed!"  Only I botched it up big time. Instead of the typical response, I said, "He is risen in-dead."  Seriously, I'm not just making this up for an anecdote; just ask my fiance who gave me a strange look as the word escaped. The people around me heard me say it! It was embarrassing.

"He is risen in-dead."  Ever since that I have been pondering what it might mean to say that not only is Christ risen indeed, but He is risen "in dead."  

I know that Easter is all about celebrating God's victory over death, but I'm not exactly sure what that means.  If I understand Easter correctly, then God defeats death through death (and resurrection, of course).  Not exactly a cut and dry solution. Would that be like quitting smoking by smoking? Doesn't make sense.

What's even more confusing is that the resurrected Jesus bears the scars of his death. What's this all about? One would think that the God who defeats death would be "shiny and new," bearing no marks of the old reality of death. It would be like rubbing it in the face of death: "You can't touch me!"  But this is not the case for Jesus.  The One who defeats death bears the scars of death. 

This is why the phrase "He is risen in-dead" haunted me all week.  I don't mean that Jesus is a zombie or a ghost of a man because he is somehow still dead. No, the phrase simply suggests that death is somehow still a part of Jesus' being (and therefore God's being). Jesus may be risen, but his history in death is risen in him as well. The marks of the cross are forever a part Jesus, the Son. So maybe it makes sense to say that Jesus is risen "in-dead," insofar as Jesus bears the scars of death and is raised after death. If you think about it, resurrection is only possible after death. If Jesus had not died, he could not have been raised.  So perhaps death is an integral part of the Easter miracle and should not be forgotten in the midst of Easter jubilation or afterward.

I realize that associating the resurrected Jesus with death seems strange, but I think that this is the miracle of Easter. What kind of God is this? A God who does not defeat death by avoiding it, nor by overpowering it, but by surrendering to it and taking death up into God's own being. Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes that in death "God agrees to be involved in something that is not the divine will, and from now on death must serve God despite itself." (from A Testament to Freedom, 454-55)

How amazing is this!?  The Easter weekend miracle is not that Jesus "came down" to deal with death and then "went back up" to reign forever.  The Easter miracle is that God in Christ has taken up death into Godself!  "Death has been swallowed up" by the indefatigable love of God! (1 Cor. 15:54)  It is as David wrote in his song, "If I go down to the place of the dead, you are there!" (Psalm 139:8) 

The Easter miracle is not that Christ did something for us (though there is truth in this expression). The miracle is that Christ does something with us: Jesus goes with us into death and will forever be with us "in-dead." Here Jurgen Moltmann explains: "[God] humbles himself [sic] and takes upon himself the eternal death of the godless and godforsaken, so that all the godless and godforsaken can experience communion with him." (The Crucified God, 276)

Again: "It is not that through the representative work of Christ men are relieved of something of their needs, but that Christ experiences a hell of rejection and loneliness on the cross which need no longer be suffered by believers in this way... Christ experiences death and hell in solitude. His followers experience it in his company. That is no substitution, but a liberation." (Moltmann, 263, italics added)

The victory of Christ's resurrection does not rid history of death altogether, but transforms death into the victory of God through the suffering love of Christ. It takes away the sting of death's godforsakenness. Paul does not imagine that death is over and done with, but rather asks, "Where O death is thy sting?" (1 Cor. 15:55).  

The idea that Jesus is raised "in-dead" reminds me that Easter is not about avoiding or repressing thoughts about death. It is about embracing "death in God," as Moltmann puts it.  Easter empowers us to look death in the face and know that God is there with us. Peter Rollins explains the power of the resurrection similarly: 

"We must read Resurrection in its full radicality: as the state of being in which one is able to embrace the cold embrace of the Cross. If the Crucifixion marks the moment of darkness, then Resurrection is the very act of living fully into this darkness and saying 'Yes' to it. The faith that is born in Resurrection does not enable us to escape these deeply troubling anxieties, it provides the power to face up to them." (from Insurrection, 112)

This is why I believe Jesus' resurrection matters a week - and every week - after Easter Sunday. The resurrection of the One who bears the marks of the cross is nothing less than the evidence that "nothing is able to separate us from the love of God," not even death.

What does this do for those who believe by faith? I believe that it grants the power to see the world as it truly is rather than how we want it to be. It is the power to embrace our humanity - our finitude, weakness, and mortality. The power of the resurrection liberates us from the spell of the super-ego which leads to trivial self-protection and idol-making. The resurrection is the power to take up suffering in love.  In doing this, I believe that we participate in the very life of the God whose heart is found in the resurrection of the crucified Christ.

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Way (2010)

Emilio Estevez takes his 5th shot at writing and directing in The Way (watch the trailer HERE), an inspiring story about the pilgrimage of life.

Tom (Martin Sheen) is a stoic ophthalmologist who doesn't care much for adventure. He's more interested in his golf handicap than the treasures of the world. His son Daniel (Emilio Estevez) couldn't be more different. After ditching his doctoral work on anthropology, Daniel decides to travel the world and finds himself walking El Camino de Santiago (The Way of St. James), a pilgrimage route that runs 800km from France to the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Spain.

When Daniel dies in a storm in the Pyrenees, Tom decides to finish The Way for (and "with") his son.  Determined to accomplish the task before him, Tom sets out with an iron will and a brisk pace. Like the rest of his life, Tom knows how to get things done, and this pilgrimage will be no different.

But The Way is not a task to be accomplished. It is not a race to finish. It is not the avenue to a desired goal.  No, The Way is itself the gift.  And for Tom it takes three fellow pilgrims to teach him this.  Along the journey Tom discovers the irony that his entire life's vocation has been aimed at helping others see the world better - in vain.  In the end, Tom discovers the wisdom of The Way: "You don't choose a life. You live one."
In Ethics Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes, "We must travel a road, even though there is no road to this goal, and we must travel this road to the end, that is, to the place where God puts an end to it."
What makes this film so beautiful is that each of the four featured pilgrims has their own compelling reason for walking The Way.  Each pilgrim is a seeker, hoping to reach a goal. Yet, in the end, each discovers that The Way was never about escaping their problems but about learning to be broken together. The unpolished crew of pilgrims reminded me of what Bonhoeffer once said: the church can only be the church together as sinners.

Ultimately, The Way teaches that what makes this pilgrimage truly wonderful is companionship. As the poster states, "Life is too big to walk alone."

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Why Tebow Doesn't Understand Resurrection Sunday

On Easter Sunday Tim Tebow gave an interview at Celebration Church's Easter on the Hill prayer service in Georgetown, Texas. The event drew thousands of people as Tebow talked for 20 minutes during the worship service. The NFL star discussed the role of faith in public life, his new position as NY Jets quarterback, and the need to return to America's origins as "one nation under God." Faith, football, and America: all the things you'd expect at an Easter Sunday service in Texas.

But once again the lovable Christian poster boy has abused his fame and missed the mark.

First of all, Easter Sunday is about Jesus, not Tim Tebow. This is yet another example of how Tebow does not know how to use his fame responsibly. If the kid took more than 2 minutes to think about what his appearance on Easter Sunday would do to the ethos of the worship service, he would have declined, knowing that his presence would steal the show.  And that's exactly what it did.

I can't think of anything more ironic than talking about the centrality of Jesus while usurping the spotlight from Jesus on Resurrection Sunday.  It would be funny if it weren't so sad.

There is one Sunday per year that Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. If there is one Sunday to keep absolutely clear of distractions, idols, politics, and certainly football, then it is Easter Sunday. Tebow's appearance on this high holy day is a display of his immaturity and lack of understanding. Fans of Tebow need to start expecting more from the kid instead of worshipping the ground he walks on. Likable spokespersons often depose the True King and I'm afraid that is just what happened on Sunday.

Second of all, Resurrection Sunday is not about the origins of America, it is about Christ and His future!  As if Tebow's presence wasn't enough to distract the point of Resurrection Sunday, his interview remarks emphasize the exact opposite of what Easter is about.

Easter is not about getting back to the origins of a nation under God. In fact, Easter is not about any of the earthly kingdoms or nations of this present age. Easter is about the totally new kingdom of God that has been inaugurated in the resurrection of the crucified Christ. Jesus is the "first fruits" of a whole new age. The resurrection of Jesus is not about recovering the past, it is about the presence of eternity.  To look back to anything other than the resurrection is to miss the scandal of the most important moment in Christian faith. The resurrection of Jesus is the dawning of the new creation, over which Jesus reigns as Lord and King. (For more on this listen to N.T. Wright on the resurrection, start at the 2 min. mark)

  • Easter is not about the glory days of manifest destiny, it is about Jesus and His destiny.
  • Easter is not about the founding fathers, it is about the Coming Father.
  • Easter is not about America, it is about the cosmic Lordship of Christ.

It's unfortunate the Tebow doesn't seem to understand the amount of responsibility that comes with his fame.  While I don't question his good intentions, I seriously question his maturity.  Jesus said, "To whom much is given, much is expected," and I think Tim could stand to reflect on that a bit.

See also Christian Piatt's reflection on Tebow's Easter appearance.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Easter Story [Abridged]

"Abraham is looking upon the history of Israel and watching. Will God justify the ungodly? Abraham then finally sees the sending of the Messiah, a day he has been waiting for (John 8:56). Then comes the day of Calvary. "What is it that God is doing? God takes his Son, his only Son, whom he loves, and sacrifices him - the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world (Gen. 22; John 1:29). 

What, however, are his children doing? "But they kept demanding with loud shouts that he should be crucified; and their voices prevailed" (Luke 23:23). This is the moment of truth: Will God justify the ungodly? (Rom. 4:5) On this Abraham has built his faith. 

And it happens: God raises Jesus from the dead - as Israel's Messiah! Now nothing can stop the fulfillment of the promise: All nations will be blessed through his posterity."

Friday, April 6, 2012

"THIS is God, God is like THIS."

"When the crucified Jesus is called the 'image of the invisible God,' [Col. 1:15] the meaning is that this is God, and God is like this." - Jurgen Moltmann

"Christology must be done in the light of the cross: the full and undiminished deity of God is to be found in the complete helplessness, in the final agony of the crucified Jesus, at the point where no 'divine nature' is to be seen. In faith in Jesus Christ, we recognize as a law of the life of God himself [sic.] a saying of the Lord which Paul applied to his own life ('My strength is made perfect in weakness', 2 Cor. 12:9). Of course the old idea of the immutability of God shatters on this recognition. Christology must take seriously the fact that God himself [sic.] really enters into the suffering of the Son and in so doing is and remains completely God." - Paul Althaus

"It is not enough and no use for anyone to know God in his [sic.] glory and his majesty if at the same time he does not know him in the lowliness and shame of his cross... Thus true theology and true knowledge of God lie in Christ the crucified one." - Martin Luther

"If God has reconciled the world to himself [sic.] through the cross, then this means that he has made himself visible in the cross of Christ and, as it were, says to man, 'Here I am!'" - Rudolf Bultmann

"Christians who do not have the feeling that they must flee the crucified Christ have probably not yet understood him in a sufficiently radical way." - Jurgen Moltmann

"To be radical, of course, means to seize a matter at its roots. More radical Christian faith can only mean committing oneself without reserve to the 'crucified God.' This is dangerous. It does not promise the confirmation of one's own conceptions, hopes, and good intentions. It promises first of all the pain of repentance and fundamental change.

It offers no recipe for success. But it brings a confrontation with the truth. It is not positive or constructive, but is in the first instance critical and destructive. It does not bring man into a better harmony with himself and his environment. It does not create a home for him and integrate him into society, but makes him 'homeless' and 'rootless', and liberates him in following Christ who was homeless and rootless.

The 'religion of the cross,' if faith on this basis can ever be so called, does not elevate and edify in the usual sense, but scandalizes; and most of all it scandalizes one's 'co-religionists' in one's own circle. But by this scandal, it brings liberation into a world which is not free.

For ultimately, in a civilization which is constructed on the principle of achievement and enjoyment, and therefore makes pain and death a private matter, excluded from public life, so that in the final issue the world must no longer be experienced as offering resistance, there is nothing so unpopular as for the crucified God to be made a present reality through faith.

It alienates alienated men, who have come to terms with alienation. And yet this faith, with its consequences, is capable of setting men free form their cultural illusions, releasing them from the involvements which blind them, and confronting them with the truth of their existence and their society.

Before there can be correspondence and agreements between faith and the surrounding world, there first must be the painful demonstration of truth in the midst of untruth. In this pain we experience reality outside ourselves, which we have not made or thought for ourselves. The pain arouses a love which can no longer be indifferent, but seeks out its opposite, what is ugly and unworthy of love, in order to love it. This pain breaks down the apathy in which everything is a matter of indifference..." - Jurgen Moltmann

In Matthew's account of Jesus' trial there is a scene when Jesus is stripped and then dressed in a mock king outfit. Donning a purple robe, a crown of thorns and a reed in his right hand, Jesus stands before a public crowd as a joke. The onlookers shout, "Hail, King of the Jews!" and offer satirical bows before him.

What strikes me about this scene is the grandiose irony. But not the kind of irony that we normally think. That is, the irony is not simply that Jesus happens to be the True King "underneath" or "behind" the situation. Rather, the irony is that this powerless king to whom the mockers bow is precisely the image of the invisible God.

Put another way, it is not that the mockers are correct in their mocking the helplessness of Jesus and that in due time they will see his "true" power. No. It is that the mocker's understanding of reality is upside down and they're mocking bows actually reveal the truth about God.  The theological truth is revealed in a historical joke.

"But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong." (1 Cor. 1:27)

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Should Foot Washing Be a Sacrament?

I tend to think so. For the most part, the act of foot washing, which is based on Jesus' actions in John 13, contains every criteria that Christian faith has traditionally used to define the sacraments.

First of all, it involves action. The act of foot washing originates in the action of Jesus and therefore finds its meaning in action. Sacraments must be performed. When they are not performed, sacraments cease to be (i.e. they do not exist outside of their being performed). Like Baptism and Eucharist, the act of foot washing requires our action.

Second, foot washing contains a visible, outward symbol (water, feet, hands, etc.). In The Institutes Calvin writes, "It seems to me that a simple and proper definition is that it is an outward sign by which the Lord seals on our consciences the promises of his good will towards us..." (IV.xiv.1,3) Hugh of St. Victor defines a sacrament as follows: "A Sacrament is a physical or material element set before the external sense, representing by likeness, signifying by its institution, and containing by sanctification, some invisible and spiritual grace."

Third, the act communicates. Peter Lombard, who solidified the seven sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church, wrote that the sacraments are "for the sake of sanctifying, as well as signifying." The act of foot washing unambiguously communicates grace. It is a 'speech-act' that proclaims the gospel in and through action.

Fourth, the act is linked directly to the Word of God. Foot washing finds its origin in the action of the Word-Incarnate, and in Jesus' command to "wash one another's feet." Regarding baptism Martin Luther said that "it is the Word of God with and through the water" that makes it a sacrament. I see no reason that the same cannot be said of foot washing. The fact that the Word of God commanded this act to be repeated suggests that Jesus' own presence might remain in the act of foot washing.

Fifth, like Baptism and Eucharist, foot washing is a unique and repeatable act. Like other traditional sacraments, foot washing has its origin in a unique, historical event and possesses the potential to be repeated in the ritual of faith.

The only reason that I can imagine to disqualify foot washing from being a sacrament is that the presence of God is located in the human being rather than the element. That is, unlike Baptism and Eucharist where the presence of God is located in the elements, the presence of the divine in the act of foot washing seems to be located in the person washing the feet. For some, this might seem to put human beings in the place of God.

But doesn't Jesus command his disciples to become means of God's grace when he tells them to "do as I have done to you." And what about in John 20:21 when Jesus says, "Just as the Father sent me, I send you"? And doesn't Paul proclaim the idea that Christians are ambassadors on Christ's behalf, carrying out the ministry of grace? (2 Cor. 5:19-20)

That the act of foot washing might convey human beings as the means of God's grace does not disturb me for a second; not when Jesus asks his followers to become agents of grace and "do as I have done to you."

Yes, I think that foot washing could and should be a sacrament in the Christian Church. Like marriage, foot washing is scandalously relational and cannot be watered down into an inward, individualistic ritual (as the Eucharist so often has). In an age where we all struggle to build loving relationships, perhaps the washing of feet is a way to living relationships in the Way of Christ. But if foot washing is to have any meaning at all, it must be performed in the context of the community of faith; that is, in the Church. And there's really no better way to do this than to make it a sacrament rather than a once-a-year ritual.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Triumphant Entry or Tragic Exit?

One of the things I love about the Gospels is that they are cohesive narrative units. They're not just a collection of unrelated stories or sayings, they are each a unique narrative telling the story of Jesus from a particular angle. Because of this, we need to remember to read passages in light of the entire Gospel narrative. On this Palm Sunday many will remember the story of Jesus entering Jerusalem with songs of praise and joy. But for the Gospel according to Mark, this story reveals an especially interesting twist.

Here is the passage from Mark 11:1-11:

As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’”

They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?” They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go. When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted,

“Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.

This passage is super interesting in the context of Mark's narrative. Mark opens his Gospel (1:1-3) with an exciting foreshadowing: the God of Israel is coming...! Mark does this by weaving together two Old Testament texts: Isaiah 40:3 and Malachi 3:1. The conflation of these two texts expresses the tension that is felt throughout the entire narrative.

Isaiah 40 speaks of the eschatological return of God to Zion and the fulfillment of Israel’s hope. At the same time, Malachi 3 warns of God’s sudden visitation to the Temple and ensuing judgment upon Israel. The poignant question of Malachi 3:2, “Who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?” suggests that the coming of God may not mean blessing for Israel but rather judgment.

It is no mistake, then, that Mark’s Gospel points toward the climactic events of Jesus’ visit to Jerusalem where the "triumphant entry" reveals a tragic twist.

The scene of Jesus riding a colt from the Mount of Olives across the Kidron to the Temple mount is laden with royal overtones and certainly echoes the predictions of the prologue: at last the king is coming! While the allusion to Zechariah’s king clearly elucidates royal, even messianic, overtones, the citation of Psalm 118 provides essential disclosure of the tragic twist.

In ancient Israel, Psalm 118 was a song for worship in the Temple. The people likely began outside of the Temple and then processed into the Temple as they sang. The psalm was sung in they style of call and response, as the worship leader sang certain parts and the people sang others.

The quotation from this processional Psalm, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” (11:9), proclaims the arrival of the victorious, Davidic king to his Temple.[1] However, the psalm's responsive line, “We bless you from the house of the Lord” (Ps. 118:26b), is missing in Mark's portrayal, indicating that Jesus received no welcome from those within the Temple.

This would seem to be an extrapolation of sorts if it weren’t for the amount of surrounding support. In 11:11b Jesus concludes his ‘triumphant entry’ by returning to Bethany – outside the city walls – after finding no place in Jerusalem. If this were truly a triumphant entry in the tradition of Psalm 118, then Jesus would have been welcomed into the Temple. But he is not.*

If you were to read on in Mark's Gospel, you would find a second citation of Psalm 118 in the Parable of the Vineyard. That parable makes it pretty clear that Jesus finds no welcome in the heart of Israel's religion. Here it suffices to comment that Jesus’ climactic arrival to Jerusalem exhibits the tension posited in the prologue: the king is arriving, but Israel may not be ready.

* This is not to say that this is exactly what happened in history (in fact, we don't know what exactly happened). What we do know is that Mark, the author of the narrative, used Psalm 118 in a very interesting way. Do you think that Mark was portraying Jesus as the Davidic King who is ironically rejected?

[1] Rikki Watts, Rikki E, “The Lord's House and David's Lord: the Psalms and Mark's Perspective on Jesus and the Temple,” from Biblical Interpretation, is.15 no, 3, 2007, 313.