December 18, 2010 § 4 Comments
I like to think of myself as a writer.
When I was in sixth grade, my favorite homework was the writing assignments. I loved making up stories, playing with words, creating worlds where my characters could interact and accomplish great things.
Deep down, I think I understood that I would most likely never do anything truly great, so at least I could imagine other people doing great things, and live somewhat vicariously through them.
Well, Christmas is a tempting time of year for me because I still want my words to matter. At this time of year, more than any other, I want them to turn into fire.
I want them to burn when they hit the ears of those who hear me. I want to send emissaries from my mouth to invade the space between your ears; living there and colonizing your mind; breeding a society of thought that just might leave you different than you were.
Alas, like the Martians in the War of the Worlds, I understand that more often than not my words die from diseases they were never prepared to endure.
After all, your mind is foreign ground.
So “What’s tempting about Christmas?” you might be wondering. Well, it’s tempting to believe that for some reason this is going to be the Christmas that changes the world. In the church, we spend the month of December waiting. It’s what’s called ‘advent’, meaning something new has happened and is happening.
We wait for the kingdom of God, understanding it has already come and yet is not fully here. Symbolically we wait for the birth of Christ (which we supposedly celebrate on December 25), but at least mentally we know that there’s more to the story than a pregnant teen and her kid.
But in the meantime we fill our waiting with so much (pardon my language)… crap…that the meaning, the symbolism, and the mystery of the Advent become lost in the …well…crap of the season.
Instead of living into the reality of “God With Us” and all that could mean, we wage our wars about “Happy Holidays” vs “Merry Christmas”.
We’re so busy “Keeping Christ in Christmas” that we haven’t bothered putting Christmas in the Resurrected Christ who makes all things new!
Is this a theological shortcoming? Is it just ecclesiastical sloth? Does it have to do with sloppy study of scripture, bible studies that too often degenerate into nothing more than “an unedifying pooling of ignorance”?
In part, I think the answer is yes to all. It’s tempting to blame consumerism, commercialization, rampant materialism, and individualization; but the truth of the matter is that those are secondary concerns. How will our people combat consumerism when they have no idea as to why they should? How will the Advent make any difference unless people see for themselves why it matters?
The temptation is to think that this Christmas will make the difference, when the only difference that was needed in the world was made 2,000 years ago. It’s the story of God who spoke Christ into the world that makes the difference we can be a part of.
December 11, 2010 § 1 Comment
This week I’m preparing a sermon about the time John the Baptist was in prison, and sent his disciples to Jesus with the question “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”
I’m convinced that for church-going Christians, it’s a more common question than we like to think it is. We just try so hard to pretend like we’re not asking it, that we’re uncomfortable when others find the courage to pipe up. (or maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I shouldn’t be a pastor, because I find myself asking that question at least a couple of times a month, if not more often).
I think we have a lot in common with John the Baptist. I mean, we’re not sitting in a cold, dank, hopeless first century prison waiting for our impending execution–but I would suggest that far too many of us are just waiting to die.
John was put in prison for being intentional about preparing for the Advent of God’s Kingdom. He preached repentance and the kingdom of God; and he preached it to the rulers and the powers that be.
We’re putting up twinkle lights and shopping, trying to kick-start an economy wherein lies our hope.
We’re different in some pretty sobering ways, but where we’re similar is in asking the question of Jesus “Are you really the one?” (because it sure doesn’t seem like you are).
Winter is a pretty good time to be asking that question. We spend so much of the year toiling. We pour blood, sweat, and tears into our flower beds and vegetable gardens. We want them to look just right. We want them to bear fruit (or, well, vegetables). But at this time of year the weather bites and the snow covers until there is no trace of our work left.
It’s as if it never was.
Are you really the one, Jesus? Are you really the one who was to come? Or should we keep on waiting?
And Jesus never really gets to the point, have you noticed that about him? He seems incapable of just giving a straight answer. “Go tell John what you see,” He says. “The blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear.”
So it seems there are two kinds of knowledge that impact our human experience in profound ways. We can loosely classify them as science and mystery.
Science organizes the world. It brings with it a level of certainty and predictability. It seeks to minimize and explain that which is otherwise mysterious in our world.
Mystery, however, evades explanation. There is no cause and effect; there is no predictability. Science is reproduction; mystery is love.
These two kinds of knowledge are not at war,they are simply different ways of knowing. In other words, you can’t know “love” scientifically. Likewise, you cannot know ‘truth’ independently of your human experience. Truth is never objective because it matters to the one experiencing it.
Another way to look at it is the difference between Truth and Fact.
Think of a spoon. Scientifically, we can dissect the spoon. We can know it’s made of silver, or stainless steel. We can weigh it and believe that it weighs .47 ounces, that it’s 6.3 inches long and 1.5 inches wide at the widest point. We can accept the fact that anywhere in English speaking North America, this utensil is called a “Spoon”.
But the truth of the spoon is that it helps me eat. Spoons help us form meaning from our lives as we share soup together, as we break bread and share the story of our day. They form and inform how we share our love, our confusion, and our questions. They contribute to the mystery of human life.
So, for my agnostic and atheist friends who read this, what are your thoughts on knowledge? Am I wrong about Mystery and Science? How do you reconcile the two? (and I’m not that keen on the whole “love is a complex chemical biological reaction that was engineered in our dna for the perpetuation of the species”) (remember, I’m a pastor and as such, more interested in the mystery than the science)
John the Baptist struggled with the mystery of Jesus’ life, and I think many of us Christians do, too. For you Christians out there, how have you struggled? Where have you taken your questions? Can church be that place?