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Life and Death: Twin Moons Circling the Same Planet.

[I wrote this as a guest post for Matt Mikalatos’ blog The Burning Hearts Revolution. Matt is running a series of guest posts to celebrate the release of his new book Night of the Living Dead Christian, a fabulous book that I’ll be reviewing soon. If you’d like to comment on the content of this post, please head over to Matt’s blog and join the conversation there. As usual, though, I’m open to comments about the writing and presentation in this piece. So, if you have thoughts along those lines, go ahead and leave them in the comments here. Thanks.]

Hungry.

It’s been too long. I feel weak. Dizzy. Can’t think.

There. Down there. A woman. She’ll do. She has to.

Drop behind her. Cloak flapping in the wind. Didn’t make too much noise. Perfect.

Grab her shoulder. Push her head to the side. Savor the smell.

It’s time. Bite. Pierce the tender skin. Let the hot blood flow. Taste life. Feel it.

My strength returns. My mind clears. For the first time in days, my cold flesh feels warm again. I’m still dead. Nothing can change that. But, now I get to be dead for another day. She took care of that with her unwilling gift.

Blood is life.

Everything was so good just a few seconds ago. The concert was amazing and I haven’t had a girls’ night out in so long. A quiet walk home under the full moon seemed like the perfect ending to a lovely, summer evening.

Now something has changed. I can’t pin it down, but it’s not right. I’ve got that tingling feeling on the back of my neck that you get when you think someone is staring at you. But, there’s no one here. I’m probably being irrational. Maybe I shouldn’t have walked home alone.

What’s that? It sounds like a flag flapping in a stiff breeze. That’s odd. There’s no wind.

Someone’s grabbed me! I have to struggle, fight, scream, get away, anything. But, I can’t. Something’s wrong. I’m getting weak, dizzy. I can’t think clearly. Everything’s fading. Where am I? What’s going on? What’s happening to me?

I’m on the ground. How did I get here? A few bright red drops hit the ground in front of my eyes. Blood? My blood? I must….

Blood is death.

——————————–

One substance, two very different results. Life and death. Twin moons circling the same planet.

That’s how the Bible views blood. On the one hand, blood is what keeps us alive and allows us to be what God intended. In Eden, God created blood, and it was good. But, sin and evil entered the world and shattered God’s good creation. And, blood came to mean something else. Still the source of life, it also became the symbol of death.

You can see this most clearly in the biblical sacrifices. If you stop and think about it for a moment, sacrifices are weird. Imagine that you’re an Israelite and you’ve just sinned. What should you do? Why, go lop the head off some poor, innocent lamb, of course. That’s a great system. At least it is for the human; I’m sure the lamb sees things differently.

The point of the sacrifice, though, wasn’t to take out Israel’s problems on some innocent animal. That would be weird. No, the sacrifices demonstrated the devastating connection between sin and death. With clocklike regularity, the Israelites brought their animals to the priests and shed blood as a reminder of the fact that they lived east of Eden, in the brokenness of sin, in bondage to death. As Paul says later, “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 3:23). And, every time the Israelites brought forward their sin sacrifices, they reminded themselves of this truth.

At the same time, though, the blood brought a promise of life. Israel always knew that somehow it was only by shedding blood that forgiveness and life would be restored to God’s people. God promised he would forgive and cleanse his people when they brought their sacrifices to him.

But why? What is the connection between blood and death on the one hand and the promise of forgiveness and life on the other? The Old Testament never says. The Israelites just take it on faith that God will be faithful and will do what he promises.

Then Jesus came.

And, we killed him, shedding his blood on the cross.

And the truth became clear.

We still see the dark side of blood. The betrayals, beatings, mockery, loneliness, pain, blood, and death. Could there be a clearer picture? The Messiah came, and we killed him.

But the blood of Christ means so much more. Jesus died so he could break the power of death. His death was not the pointless sacrifice of a tragic Shakespearean hero. It had purpose. Jesus died so that we might be reborn as those who have the gift of life.

Blood is death. Blood is life. On the cross, both are true.

“This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

Come and drink. An invitation to vampires everywhere.

[This post is part of our series on the Gospel. Please feel free to check out the posts and let me know what you think.]

Flotsam and jetsam (1/17)

But appearances can be deceiving. In fact, as I read the situation, we are witnessing the beginning of the end of Facebook. These aren’t the symptoms of a company that is winning, but one that is cashing out.

Our self-conception is in fact based on a three-fold myth of American religious freedom that distorts the current debate about religion in public life.

I noted above that in Judges and Exodus the command is expressed in terms of avoiding treaties and driving the Canaanites out. In Joshua and Deuteronomy the command is expressed in the language of “utterly destroying them”. The conclusion we have reached is that the latter is figurative language and the former is literal. If this is the case then the command was to drive them out and it was not to literally exterminate them.

Stories are powerful. And they are nowhere put to such compelling use as they are in religious ceremonies of remembrance.

  • And, Flavorwire shows off the libraries of the rich and famous. (Somebody needs to tell them that if your books are arranged by color, no one is going to believe that you actually read them.) And, if that doesn’t give you enough of a fix for your bibliophile tendencies, here’s a site devoted to Bookshelf Porn (i.e. photos of amazing personal libraries.

A prayer for Sunday – Karl Barth

O Lord our God, you wanted to live not only in heaven, but also with us, here on earth; not only to be high and great, but also to be small and lowly, as we are; not only to rule, but also to serve us; not only to be God in eternity, but also to be born as a person, to live, and to die.

In your dear Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, you have given us none other than  yourself, that we may wholly belong to you. This affects all of us, and none of us has deserved this. What remains for us to do but to wonder, to rejoice, to be thankful, and to hold fast to what you have done for us?

We ask you to let this be the case in this hour, among us and in all of us! Let us become a proper Christmas community in honest, open, and willing praying and singing, speaking and hearing, and let us in great hunger be a proper Communion community! Amen.

~Karl Barth (1886-1968)

Flotsam and jetsam (8/20)

Flotsam and jetsam (7/28)

Relics and religious experience

Relics are easy to criticize. As Antonio Lambatti points in in a  recent post, some people do really goofy things in the name of venerating relics. (Anyone want a grilled cheese sandwich that looks like Jesus?) Such abuses, and their corresponding critiques, have been around for a very long time. The question is…why. Setting aside the question of whether there are true relics, why is the need/desire for relics so powerful that many people will participate in practices that seem (to many at least) rather absurd.

Lambatti offers the assessment that relics manifest a tendency to objectify the divine. People venerate relics out of a “need to see, to turn their idea of the divine into an object which is here with us on Earth.” And, I’m sure there is some truth to that. And, I wonder if the desire to objectify God doesn’t manifest an even deeper desire to control God’s presence so that he can be more reliably experienced. Rather than a spirit who blows where and when he wills, we have God’s presence infused into a physical object where he can be reliably encountered. I saw this dynamic at work when I was traveling in Israel. Many of the students I was traveling with were frustrated that they did not “experience” God the way that they expected when they visited certain holy sites. It’s as though they believed that these sites had been permanently infused with the divine presence such that they could expect to meet him there. They wanted a more predictable God. Now, certainly God can choose to offer a special manifestation of his presence in particular places (e.g. the temple) or things (e.g. the ark). But, that does not mean that either of these becomes a permanent locus of divine presence (note God’s presence leaving the temple) unless God covenants that it be so (e.g. communion). If I’m right, there may be a sense in which the use (and abuse) of relics has more to do with our desire to possess, and therefore control, God’s presence.

Reflecting on this a bit more, I wonder if the abuse of relics also suggests a failure to appreciate our own bodies, and consequently, the embodied nature of the church itself. People find in relics a tangible, physical expression of the divine, failing to realize that the primary locus of God’s presence in the world has always been in and through his embodied people – his “images” in the world (Adam and Eve, Israel, the Church, the eschatological people of God). That means that if we are looking for a tangible, physical point of connection for worship, we should look first to ourselves and to each other as embodied beings. Indeed, I wonder if the emphasis on relics isn’t a way of distancing ourselves from our own role as God’s images in the world. Rather than facing directly the awesome honor and responsibility that it is to be God’s physical image (i.e. idol) in the world, we can project at least some of that burden onto some other object and make that the tangible point of connection with the divine.

None of this is to say that we should denigrate the role of the physical in worship. I completely affirm that we are physical beings and that we can, indeed must, express ourselves physically in worship. And I greatly appreciate the renewed emphasis on physical worship that you find in some branches of evangelicalism. Done well, that could be a great way to deepen evangelical worship. But, if popular abuses of relics do indicate a strong tendency that humans in gneral have toward trying to control the divine presence and/or distancing ourselves from our own role in imaging God, then we would be wise to be mindful of these concerns as we deveop our own forms of physical worship.

Flotsam and jetsam (5/26)