Thursday, April 22, 2010

My New Tattoo: Multiply My Eucharist

I have a tattoo on my chest. It is a drawing of a fourth-century mosaic floor from a church in Tabgha, Israel commemorating the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. To me, it is a reminder about the significance of those miracle stories. To me, it doesn’t matter so much whether the food was miraculously multiplied or if the people were moved to share their food (by God, Jesus, and/or the Spirit) when they saw one person sharing their food. Either interpretation is meaningful and reflects God’s mighty power and love.

My tattoo reminds me the story means even more. Because the image is on my body, I remember Jesus’ use of bread as an image. Jesus’ body was broken for many, but is never used up. Even after everyone shares eucharistically in Jesus, there will still be more Jesus left over. As I share in Jesus’ body and enter into the divine relationship, I, too, share myself with others. I give a part of me to every person I meet. When that person is no longer in my life, a part of me is lost. The longer I know someone, the more of me they might get. If I ever marry, then I will still have enough leftover to give all of me to that person and continue to give in more relationships, and this whole time still be all God’s. No matter how much I give away, God provides more. And, I hope, as people look at me and how I give of myself, they will be prompted to do likewise, becoming the body and blood of Jesus, multiplying themselves in order to bless others.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

If Jesus Died to Pay for Sin, Where Does Forgiveness Fit In?

In conversation the other day, I asked a friend, "If Jesus died to pay for our sins, then where does forgiveness fit in?"


If God required something, then it isn't forgiveness.
Forgiveness requires nothing.
No payment.

The forgiveness of sins cannot require blood and still be forgiveness.
Can it?
Parts of the Bible seem to think so.

But not all.
I don't think.
What do you think?

A Hypothetical Thanks to the CSO Scholarships

Tonight I was asked to speak at the next CSO banquet. I wasn't really told the nature of what I was supposed to say, probably something about how thankful I am for the scholarship donors. You know, something to make them want to continue giving money and, even better, to give more money. I declined the invitation, because I will be out of town to attend a conference.

At first, I joyfully declined, because I tend to avoid those banquets like the plague. If someone is doing something good with their money, why do we have to spend even more money on some fancy-schmancy banquet? It seems counterintuitive to me, to be extravagant with money in celebration of those who are giving their money, to encourage luxury instead of frugality for the kingdom's sake, for peoples' sake, and for God's sake. After reflecting on the CSO, I regretted my inability to speak. I day dreamed about what I might say if I could speak about anything in front of the CSO ...

Thanks Pedro, for seeking me out for this opportunity. I am so excited to thank the donors here for their support. Sure, most of you do not know who I am. In fact, I am going to venture none of you know who I am. Maybe you know my name from the program, but until a few seconds ago, you couldn't even match the name with the face. Some of you might not want to match my face with my name in the program, since I have a piece of metal sticking in my eyebrow and a few pieces of wood in my ear. You have really taken a step of faith in donating to the CSO, putting faith that your financial generosity will help people do God's work, even if you do not agree with everything that goes on.

Nobody will ever agree with everything, but you believe in the idea of a "Christian Service Organization." You believe your money is going to something organized, not just a group of people who handle your money willy-nilly. You believe this organization promotes Christian service, or Christians and service, or Christians who serve, or Christians being served. Really, language is a bit ambiguous and I, for one, am not sure what this organization is all about, except that it is one of the financial reasons I am getting a seminary education.

To what does "Christian" apply in CSO? It isn't the service, because I am not really required to serve any one. I suppose the organization expects me to "serve" at a church. And the church will have church services. And church services serve Christians. But I don't think the CSO gives money to Christians who will, in turn, serve the Christians who gave the money in the first place. If so, the CSO wouldn't be terribly Christian and the donors wouldn't require much faith, at least, no more faith than it takes to go to a restaurant and pay your server to serve you food.

I don't think the "Christian" applies to the donors, either. I suppose most of you are Christians. Perhaps all of you are. But, the CSO likely has no application process to judge the Christianity of anyone with open wallet. What organization does?

"Christian" cannot modify the organization, either. The word "Christian" doesn't make a good adjective for non-humans. Only humans can make the choice to follow Christ.

So, I suppose the word "Christian" must refer to the recipients, the recipients who have some hazy connection to a service organization. The Christians are served by the organization and the donors, thankfully receiving funds to help them achieve an education, something for which everyone should have access. How sad it is to know that education is only available to those who can find ways to afford it. I am especially saddened to know how much biblical and theological education costs. We as Christians have cut off access to so many parts of the Bible by asking for so much money for classes and books. It is disgusting, really. Instead of turning God's house into a den of robbers, we have taken a book of God's words and turned them into a source for profits.

The "S" of CSO must refer to serving the cleansing of God's words like Jesus cleansed the temple. I truly think the CSO is a great start to making education, especially biblical and theological education available to so many. But the CSO has a ways to go. Sure, it is doing a great thing, but the organization also seems to support luxury. Think about the food you ate, the table cloths, the dress code. Just because a students receives CSO money does not mean they can afford nice clothes. Just because a student receives CSO money does not mean they won't think about the people around the world who could benefit from just one half of what I ate here tonight.

Look at me. I'm about as privileged as it gets as a white male. I wouldn't be at Gardner-Webb without the CSO and other generous donors. But as the CSO reminds us, this organization is about Christians and service. I am very thankful to all of you donors, but I hope we can all give a little more thought to the CSO, what it means, what it could mean, and, most importantly, what it can become in our lives as we not only are affiliated with the CSO, but also with a CS-movement.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Roots, Memories, and Jason Mraz: One Interpretation of a Dream

I dreamt last night I was in my car, at an intersection in Shelby. It was as if I was leaving Boiling Springs, based on the direction I was driving. I was on my way to see Jason Mraz in concert. In real life, I know very little about Jason Mraz. He sings one song I recognize and enjoy. They also made fun of him on Family Guy the other night, saying he was just some guy in a hat.

I got out of my car, for some reason, even though I was in the middle of the road. Somehow I was now on the road going West, towards the concert. I got on some sort of sled-like contraption and went down the road, with my friends Dave and Dennis somehow coming along. Dave and Dennis are my two closest friends who live near me. Like friends do, I have invested a large part of me in them. I also have been thinking lately how location factors into altering friendships and how some friendships become memories and others continue. I was almost dragging my friends behind me, as if they were memories coming with me, not people.

The road stopped and we proceeded and descended, trying to get close to our destination at the Jason Mraz concert. My subconscious stole this image of the road coming from underneath us, it is a central image in a book I am reading by Joyce Carol Oates (Black Water).

The road ending, but I still continued. The path was gone, but I was still aiming for the prize. The destination was in mind, but the way uncharted and untraversed.

We didn't make our destination. We tried to grab onto trees. There were lots of tree, surely influenced by my watching of Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers last night. I love trees and the Ents are just superb in that movie. In the movie, the forests were said to contain a lot of memory and a lot of history. I tried to grasp at them, but kept missing.

We fell towards water, a river I believe. We managed to grasp roots and I helped Dave and Dennis get to safety. Did I care for them at my own expense or did I care for the memory of past friendships at my own expense? Is the latter healthy? My friends were going to help me, but I woke up before I could leave the roots and climb to safety. I was left in limbo, grasping at the roots of growing memories inside me. Perhaps the Trevar in the dream wanted to climb to safety with his friends, but the subconscious Trevar wasn't ready to move on, wasn't ready to leave the memories, even if meant his last moments of strength were spent grasping onto the bottom of what has grown into a beautiful part of him.

Struggling with memories, a pretty common struggle, I presume. At the Jabbok, Jacob struggled with the memories of his brother. In the garden and on the cross, Jesus struggled with memories of God, salvation, God's people, and self. It is easy to hold onto the roots, forgetting that the roots support and give life to the changing beauty above the ground.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Four Dreams, One Night

I woke up three times this morning. The first time I remembered the first two dreams, although I am not sure which dream came first. Then I went back to sleep only to wake up and remember the next dream, which I fell asleep contemplating. When I woke up for the rest of the day, I remembered the fourth dream. I haven't had time to do much thinking about them, but here they are.

1. Walking around a house w/guide, trying to see a person or just see people in general. It was a house where rough, street people went. At another point, trying to get a guy to take me to this house. I'm with a little girl in the busy street-house and we lose our guide. We get scared. Finally Dennis shows up with our guide, a japanese man. They came from a part of the house i dares not venture alone. ... Outside a house/cafe during a storm. A hurricane is coming, I learn. I take a little girl inside and the mother comes. We try to get away from the windows. We find a windowless room, although there is a painting or something on the wall I thought was a window. The house is swept up, as in a tornado. It is an old house.

2. I am at the Friendship Lobster Co-op's wharf. I am alone. Then later I am there with Dave and his friend Kyle. I hear them talk about wanting to do something & I tell them to do it, because I don't need all their time. The tide is wicked high. I want a soda. I go to my dad's truck up the hill for money & find a dollar. I choose to use the coke machine that is part slot/video game. After the slots (which I didn't understand) the video games is two cheerleaders shooting water through hoses at birds. A girl shows up and tries to play the game with me. I get a coke, but wanted diet. Dave & Kyle eventually come out of the house on the wharf.

3. I helped Nana move into a house (the outside looked like the house across from my parents). I remember putting stuff in cupboards. I said I wanted her house when she was done. Even if she got married, I would get the husband out. She died and I somehow got the man out. Nana had 11 cats. They were in a car and I didn't want them to sneak out of the car when we put her stuff in it. So, we gassed them somehow. The gas put them to sleep and they fell asleep like dogs, which, in my dream, meant they lay on their sides. I went into the house and a lot of the cupboards didn't have stuff and I got tired looking, so I just decided family could come get stuff if they wanted it, because I was moving in.

4. I was in a car, riding to Rutherfordton with Todd, who was driving. His GPS was giving us directions to some Asian restaurant for which we had a menu. The GPS took us up some seriously steep hills. I was nervous about them. I remember saying it would be nearly impossible to drive up or down the road safely in the snow. The road was mostly straight, but sometimes turned sharply left. At one point, I used the steering wheel to turn the car left as we drove up, because I was nervous about the driving. The second time the road turned left, I asked Todd to turn it, because I wasn't comfortable doing it. After the last turn left, the road started to descend, but not so sharply. We looked at the shops on either side of the street, looking for our restaurant. I remember walking into a building that turned out to be a hotel, but might not have been at first. In the lobby I saw Adam Myslinski, who asked what I was doing in Rutherfrodton and why I hadn't called him. While I talked to him, Todd went to find our room. I tried to follow Todd, but he was too far away. I kept going into a hall just as another door was shutting and I kept going through those doors to find Todd. Eventually I saw Alex Lockridge and he said the same thing Adam did. When I finally caught up to Todd, he was scolding some people for being in our hotel room. He told them they should have already checked out. We left to tell the desk and I looked at Todd's papers and said he had the wrong room. He thought it said 498, but it said 428 (or 478?). We found the room, but did not go in, because some of the people he had scolded were following us. We kept walking around trying to lose them, but they kept following, like I had followed Todd. We eventually lost them after getting in an elevator that went sideways, not up and down.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Language Care and "Good" Friday

Language is important. I'm talking about which language(s) you speak or how well you speak them, although those things are important. I'm also not talking about cussing, like when your mother, a legal guardian, or a school teacher tells you to "watch your language," although that sort of language is important, too.

I am talking about vocabulary, sort of. Watching your language is wise, if this 25-year old has any wisdom. Instead of stepping into an unfamiliar pulpit and preaching against being "deaf to God's word," you might, instead, encourage people to "heed God's word." Such a subtle change in language could greatly impact how one interprets God's words on your lips. You never know who in your hearing might love someone who is deaf, but is reasonably turned off by people who constantly portray deafness as a malady. Many deaf people don't think they have a malady just because they speak a different language.

I'm not talking about being "politically correct" for the purposes of being "politically correct." I am a big fan of being "PC," but not for popularity or diplomacy, but rather because being "PC" equates to loving people with your language (most of the time).

I don't say "she or he"--or avoid gendered language all together--because it is "PC," but rather because everyone wants to be included and feel special. When I say "server" instead of waiter/waitress or flight attendant instead of steward/stewardess, I am going out of my way to include women and men. I am letting my readers know I think they are special, regardless of their genitalia.

Today, I was thinking Good Friday, seeing how it is the Friday before Easter.

I've heard people note how Good Friday isn't so good, generally followed by a sermon mentioning how Jesus' crucifixion made salvation possible, how Jesus' death satiated the bloodlust of a terrible god, the sacrifice of a loving father's son to himself (cf. naked pastor's Good Friday cartoon). After all, there is no forgiveness of sins without the shedding of blood.

Why is there no forgiveness of sins without the shedding of blood? Why are the wages of sin death? Why should these maxims make sense? Why would an omniscient God who knows for-sure the future create rules requiring the death of God's own son?

Before Jesus, God redeemed people. Without sacrifices, God redeemed people. In Micah 6, the text portrays God saying justice, love, and companionship are wanted more than the cultic rites of sacrifice and bloodshed. If God set up the sacrificial system, it was not as a rule, but as a guide. God did not need the blood of Jesus to forgive sins and redeem humankind. God is not bound, not even by God.

Today should not be remembered as a good Friday. Jesus' death is not something I look back upon and call good. Yes, good things came from the Jesus' death, but those good things do not erase the pain and suffering of Jesus. Pain and suffering are never good.

As of this morning, I will try to eliminate the phrase "Good Friday" from my language. I'll use it when appropriate, like when I have to explain to people why I don't use the phrase "Good Friday" (or when talking about someone else's theology, which is why I sometimes use the masculine pronoun referring to God).

And instead of "good," I will lean towards adjectives like "Holy" and "Black."

I hope you have a meaningful weekend and a blessed Resurrection Sunday.