• A Prayer for Easter Morning

    Father God,

    We come to you today as a family of the broken, the humbled, the weak and the victorious. We have walked down dark paths and through dark places. We have been wounded, we have been lost and we have been foolish. Yet no matter how hopeless or empty our spirit’s dwelling places have been, Easter morning is always there speaking victory to us.

    Where we have been overwhelmed by sin, the empty grave tells us of victory over sins that have wounded us and sins we have wounded others with. Where we have been terrified by insecurity, want and uncertainty the empty grave speaks of victory that is always secure and a future that is always certain and abundant in every good thing. Where we have been brought low by despair and hopelessness, the empty grave shines through to assure us that however low life can bring us, that is as high as God will raise us.

    Today we gather in our broken, humble, weak and victorious families to bask in the risen light of the world.  We ask that you allow the Spirit of Christ to permeate our being and nourish our souls through the season of growth and change which lies ahead.

    And when we again find ourselves in those hopeless and empty places of life, we will thank you and praise you nonetheless because you are not the God of death and sorrow and despair. You are the God of the empty grave. Our victory has been won, our future has been made secure. No matter the cross we carry or the darkness of the hell we journey through, that empty grave continues to testify to victory. Today we rejoice that our God is love and peace and joy and hope always and everywhere. Bless us, sustain us and restore us in Jesus the Christ who reigns in glory until the age of the ages.

    And all God’s people say – Amen and Amen!

  • Did God Really Demand the Death of His Son as a Sacrifice for Sin?

    As you are perhaps aware, today is Good Friday, and as I said yesterday, I’m more interested in looking to Easter Sunday than in thinking too deeply about the crucifixion this year. But I thought this would be a good time to share my take on the why’s of the cross. Why did Jesus die? Why did that result in the forgiveness of sins? etc. . . 

    One of the more poignant arguments against Christianity is that the Christian God demanded that his son be offered up as a human blood sacrifice in order for justice to be satisfied and forgiveness offered. In this view the Christian God is an angry, blood thirsty tyrant who must be sated before he becomes a loving father. Christians will of course argue that people who view the crucifixion this way are missing the point, don’t understand God’s righteous anger, are minimizing the need for justice, etc. However, I think that the real truth is that many Christians misunderstand the reasons for the crucifixion and our critics are simply making some pretty obvious observations about our own teachings regarding the propitiation of sins and the death of Jesus. I know that I’m treading on some pretty hallowed theological ground here, but if you’ll stick with me, I think you may find that my upside down world understanding of this issue is a better fit with reality than what many of us have been taught.

    Let’s start our discussion with the issue of blood sacrifice itself. The first thing to be noted is that blood sacrifice is not something which originated with the Hebrew God. It had been practiced for millennia prior and has occurred all over the world. It is a human invention. In his excellent book Ideas That Changed the World, Felipe Fernandez-Armesto offers the anthropological explanation for the pervasiveness of the practice of blood or animal sacrifice:

    Gifts are a common way of establishing reciprocity and cementing relationships between individuals and human groups; by extension, a gift should also work to bind gods and spirits to the human givers, connecting deities to the profane world and alerting them to its needs and concerns. . . During the last 10 millennia . . . sacrifice has acquired a great many meanings: as penance for sin; as thanksgiving; as homage to divinity; as a contribution to the well-being of the Universe; or as a sacrilized gift, considered as an act of worship or of imitation of God.

    One of the things which we need to understand about God as revealed in scriptures is that over and over again, God does not wait for us to become acceptable or advanced enough to establish a relationship with him. Instead, he reaches out to meet us where we are and bit by bit draws us forward towards him and away from our previous ideas and ways of doing things. The rituals of animal sacrifices did not reflect a need or demand of God. Instead, by instituting rituals of animal sacrifice God is co-opting a human institution and way of doing things and directing it back to himself with the ultimate result that the human institution drops away while the devotion to God remains. Continue reading

  • Waiting on Easter

    I was raised Roman Catholic which means that I cannot go through Holy Week without feeling the urge to do something. Go to mass everyday. Attend the stations of the cross. And, of course, Holy Thursday communion (the mass most likely to make you cry every year). Even after I left Catholicism, Holy Week continued to be a time of increased spiritual activity. Get some palm leaves. Hold a fake seder. Do a special devotional. Consider doing footwashing with the kids. Cut back on Friday’s dinner and call that sort of like fasting in honor of the day. Things like that.

    I don’t know why other people do these things, but my urge was always driven by a need to make it real. To make those strange, confusing, important events of 2000 years ago seem real. Because maybe if those things become real to me, then God could be real enough for me to be satisfied.

    The thing with religion and scriptures is that they take on this flatness after a while. We no longer understand the elements of the story well enough to really understand it, but we keep repeating it anyways. Which makes it unreal. So we try various ways of putting flesh and bones on the stories. We meditate on the cross. We dress our preschool son up as a scourged Jesus on the cross. If you’re particularly desperate, you allow yourself to be faux-crucified so you can experience it all yourself. Or watch a gory movie about it. (I’ve never seen Passion of the Christ, btw. I was raised Catholic, so I just didn’t see the need.)

    At any rate, this year, I find that my urge to participate in holy week has disappeared. This morning I wondered if I should plan something for dinner tonight with the kids and I thought, “no. It’s too sad and ugly a story to go through right now. I’m not up for sad and ugly right now.” Continue reading

  • Raising Moral Kids, Pt 1

    I thought this was a great article in the NYT about what researchers have to say about raising moral kids. A lot of it is stuff we all know is true (but hope we can find a way around). So it’s interesting to learn that some of our old parenting gems aren’t just theoretically true, but that they’ve been proven true as well. Which is particularly comforting for some of us who went against the grain, did these things and discovered that raising a good person doesn’t automatically turn them into leaders of industry. Those are two different skills sets, it turns out.

    Anyhow, the article covered a lot of ground, but I have a take-away I wanted to pass on today and one more for tomorrow. And one more the day after that. I decided that two 2000 word posts in one day might be a bit much, so I’m splitting it up.

    Besides, it’s an important topic. I genuinely believe that the way we raise our kids is what will ultimately change the world. For my part, I believe that raising kind, caring, moral children should be just as important as raising kids who can get into college. Or who can still find her purity ring to wear home from college. More important, really. But if we believe that, we have to live it. So, here’s today’s research-supported bit of parenting wisdom:

    Your kids will do what you do, not what you say.

    I know, crazy, right? Who knew? It’s not like every single one of us is walking around feeling guilty as hell knowing that our kids will inevitably struggle with many of the same imperfections as we do. And that I am completely helpless to stop it because I am simply not capable of being perfect enough to keep it from happening. So I lie to myself and think, “they’ll take my advice rather than following my instructions. After all, why would they want to end up like me? That’s got to be a powerful deterrent, right?”. . . Or maybe that’s just me. It’s probably just me.

    Anyway, the good news is that what you do right has more power than you probably realized. Continue reading

  • The Entrance Leads to the Whole

    So, know anyone with some really bad theology? Like you hear them talk and all you can hear are the lies, errors and misrepresentations they are spouting and it makes you want to scream? OK, maybe you don’t actually care about theology that much. It’s probably better if you don’t when you get right down to it.

    But, we all know people who are intensely passionate about their opinions. And hey – if just putting your theology into the category of “opinion” offends you, well, passion’s not a bad thing. But that’s not really here nor there. My point was that some people have terrible theology. Like Westboro Baptist. And . . . well, we won’t get into the rest. Let’s just say there’s no end of churches believing really wacky things.

    Of course, it doesn’t all lead to crazy land. Some people have theology that you just think is wrong. Like Jehovah’s witnesses. I had a pair who stopped coming after I told them that living forever on Earth would never, ever be desirable to me. Because until I can reside with the God of the universe, I will not be content. There’s more to the world than our little planet and our people. They were appalled that I would reject the gift of eternal life. I was going to go into the role of the mosquito in the ecosystem to illustrate that their perfect Earth couldn’t exist, but they left before I had the chance. But again, not my point.

    What I really want to talk about is why we need to stop worrying so much about how wrong everyone else is. We’ve been doing that for a while now and I’m not sure what we think we’re going to gain by keeping it up. We disagree. About almost everything. Maybe we need to get over it and start building on a different foundation. Continue reading

  • The Injured Easter Bird

    Once upon a time, there was a farmer who decided not to go to church on Easter Morning. He’d been going his whole life, but a few years earlier he had decided that he was old enough to stop pretending that what went on in church was important enough to get up early for on his only day off.

    This year his wife had harrumphed when he announced that he wasn’t even going to keep up the bare minimum of appearances required to be a Chreaster (a person who attends church only on Christmas and Easter). The whole thing was ridiculous, he said in his calm, practical way. If there was a God, which there could be, despite the utter lack of evidence, why would he or she care so much what we did? Why didn’t God just show up in the sky every few years to confirm his existence and provide some clear, practical instructions for us to follow? Why all the drama? Why ask us to believe that some guy who probably didn’t bathe regularly was actually God and that his gruesome death provides for our salvation? Ridiculous.

    He suspected that his wife thought much the same, but held on to religion almost out of superstition. Sort of like knocking on wood when you say something that could come back to haunt you. You know it can’t really do anything to protect you, but it’s such a small gesture to make. Might as well not take the risk in case there is some truth to it after all.

    So his wife rolled her eyes at his little outburst and got up for Easter service all by herself. She didn’t put any particular effort into being quiet about it, though. She knew he was a light sleeper and had been awake from the moment threw back her covers with a little extra force while getting out of bed and went to the shower humming loudly. He said not a word through her entire performance, but she knew he was only pretending to be asleep when she left. And came back in to grab something she forgot before leaving again. Just to be sure he wasn’t actually still asleep when she left.

    After the third time his wife had left, the farmer waited a long moment before peeking out the window to watch her car pull out the driveway. He’d said his piece and the conversation was over. But he knew that sometimes his wife needed a little time to adjust to not getting her way. Better to feign sleep than get drawn into a pointless argument over it.

    Just as his wife’s car drove past the mailbox, a bird flew right into the window he was looking out of. The farmer was so startled, it took him a moment to realize what had happened. He looked down and saw a small downy woodpecker laying on its back on the ground below the window. He tried looking to see if the bird was breathing. He was too far away to tell, of course. But just as he realized that he’d have to go down and look if he wanted to know, he remembered the barn cats. He quickly put on a shirt and rummaged around the top shelf of the closet until he found an old shoe box. Continue reading

  • Late Fragment

    I just love this poem.

    BTW, I wrote about this poem here, if you’re interested. And sorry about the silence around here. Our internet company has this ridiculous, oppressive policy of expecting their bill to be paid on time every month. Which normally we manage. But it’s been a long, crazy couple of weeks. If you’ve been following along for a while, you are already aware of the fact that this sort of thing happens from time to time. Like the one time I got 5 flat tires in a month. On the same car.

    Anyhow. I am beloved on the earth. Even if life is ridiculous and dumb.

  • Becoming People of the Story

    Christian theology, while it’s often thought of as an argument over who’s right and who is wrong, can actually be understood as the stories we use to explain the reality of God, the reality of human existence and how to live in right relationship with God, neighbor and self. Using the bible and varying doses of church tradition and reality, we’ve written thousands of different stories, each purporting to be THE Christian story. Except the idea that any of us has found THE Christian story is preposterous.

    Jesus said there was one narrow path to him and we’d know we’d found it by its fruit. And I can say with confidence that not a damn one of the stories Christians have told produced fruit worthy of my God. None of them is good enough. Some are clearly better than others, but all of them are wrong.

    At best, the different theologies are like placeholders, explaining the best we’ve been able to figure out thus far. At worst, they are ideological prisons keeping people enslaved to a story utterly inferior to the real one. But none of the stories deserve our allegiance. Only Christ does.

    In Islam, Christians are called “People of the Book”. Jews also call themselves “People of the Book”. I think we need to become “People of the Story”. Continue reading