Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Would you buy insurance from this man?

“As corpses the meant to live; in black they decked out their corpses; out of their speech, too, I still smell the bad odor of death chambers.  And whoever lives near them lives near black ponds out of which an ominous frog sings its song with sweet melancholy.  They would have to sing better songs for me to learn to have faith in their Redeemer: and his disciples would have to look more redeemed!”

Friedrich Nietzche

Thus Spoke Zarathustra (The Portable Nietzsche)

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.

Romans 8:18-21

One of my beefs with contemporary Western Christianity is the way it often reduces the Gospel to only one domain, fire insurance.   The Good News is apparently only applicable to something totally unfalsifiable, the afterlife.  To quote Dr. John Macarthur, Jesus "didn't come to fix life here. He didn't come to eliminate poverty. He didn't come to eliminate slavery."  I remember hearing some of my pastors saying that Jesus was “born to die” and that his only purpose was to die for our sins that we might be saved. In short, apparently Jesus didn't come to change anything that can actually be seen, heard, tasted, touched, or felt.  He only came to save us from Hell, which none of us has ever seen, and send us to Heaven, which none of us has ever seen.

Here's where my skeptical brain kicks in.   How do we know we're not just being sold a bill of goods?  Snake Oil?  “The Balm of Gilead”? (a nod to my friend Little Miss Mortis) Do we just trust those that tell us we can be “saved” while life, our life, their life, goes on otherwise unchanged?  We still go to the same job, eat the same things, dress the same way, spend our leisure time on the same activities, but now we've got a really killer retirement package that we “receive by grace through faith”?

If this is only thing that the “Gospel” is about, doesn't that kind of make a good deal of Jesus' teaching kind of pointless filler?  If the Gospel, in it's totality, is about going to Heaven by appropriating God's grace by belief in Jesus' death and resurrection what the heck is the point of the parable of the Sheep and Goats (Matt 25:31-46)? Why worry about most of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7) if I've already got all the Gospel has to offer?  Apparently, being a peacemaker (Matt 5:9) isn't actually what makes you a child of God. (To be fair, the text does say “Shall be called” not “Shall be”.  I guess you can be called one and not be one.  I wish Jesus was less confusing on this issue).  Are all the interpersonal, social, and moral aspects of the New Testament like optional equipment on a new car, nice to have but not necessary to get you from point A to point B?

I'm thinking this is where I kick the platonic assumptions to the curb.   I do believe that Jesus saves us from our sins, but I think He intends to do so in the here and now as well as the sweet by and by.  I believe he intends for us to be free from the bondage and consequences of our addiction to consumerism, noise, drugs, lust, the mindless consumption of electronic media, the economic ease and privilege of living at the center of the Empire, etc. now, as well as later.  

I refuse to serve a neutered Jesus that has been made in our image and is safe for mass consumption.  I don't need a smarmy platitude-spewing Lord that is simply there to give me an eternal pass on all my instances of wrath, greed, apathy, or elitism.    I want him to be fierce in my life.  Like Aslan in Narnia, I pray that Jesus is good, but not safe for me to spend time with. I want him to destroy my apathy and self-deception to reveal what His Kingdom, what His Gospel is truly about.  I want to see the Gospel, the declaration of the ascendancy of a new King, turn the world upside down again, to save people here and now.  I want to see Jesus save addicts, mend broken families, reconcile communities, and bring peace to nations. I just pray that I have the courage to walk into that new land when I'm given a glimpse of it.  Then, after a long hard fight, I'll take that retirement plan. 

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Ashes and the Incarnation

There are fires in Northern California again.  They are threatening the East side of Paradise this time.  Last time we sheltered at my in-laws house on the East side while we were under evacuation.  This time they are under evacuation and staying at a motel while we dog-sit and house some of their sentimental valuables.  

The air is horrible. It's consistently rated as hazardous and visibility in the mornings is probably less than a mile.  It's hard not to cough breathing the morning air.  By afternoon it starts to thin out a bit and it starts all over again at night.   Ash is falling from the sky like a light snow.  Not so heavy as to cut down on visibility, but enough to always be able to see something falling.  It's mostly white with occasional black pieces.  

The worst part is the stress.  While I'm much better off both physically and psychologically this time it still takes it out of you.  My home is relatively safe this time, so I'm still going to work every day.  That being said I'm always mindful that things may change at a moment's notice and I'll have to run home (half an hour if I'm at work), grab some clothes, our cats, and the pictures and mementos already in boxes, and get out of town.  It makes it hard to relax or really even focus on anything.

One of the things I've noticed is that hearing about something like this on the news does it no justice.   When I've heard about wildfires before I've felt compassion for those that were experiencing the crisis, but had no idea what the actual experience was like.  I had a fleeting thought about something unpleasant, maybe said a little prayer, or on a really good day make a donation, and then went on with my day.  I have to wonder, is that the way I should react to the pain and suffering of others?  I imagine that a reaction like that is normal, but does that mean it's the right reaction?  These aren't just rhetorical questions.  I really don't know the answer.


Is this part of what the Incarnation is about?  Was God not willing to just have fleeting thoughts about human suffering that inspired periodic event of compassionate action?  Did He find it necessary to enter our world and experience our suffering first hand to truly do right by us?   I'm reticent to say that God must do anything, but I wonder.

Thursday, July 3, 2008


My sunflowers started blooming today.  :)