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The king is dead! Long live death and destruction?

Aragorn, the king, has returned. Let the rejoicing begin! Victory is here!

But, suppose that the story unfolded a little differently. Rewind the tape a little. Go back to the part of the movie where Aragorn jumps off the ship—black cloak flapping in the wind, dark eyes fixed intently on the orc army, grim face promising death to all who stand in his way. The promises of the kingdom in his hands. The hope of all humanity on his shoulders.

And an arrow hits him right between the eyes.

Knocked back against the side of the ship, he slowly collapses to the ground in a bloody heap at the feet of his shocked companions.

The king is dead!

Without Aragorn, the ghost army has no reason remain. So, the ghosts all head back to their home under the mountain. There is no dramatic rescue of the humans trapped inside the city. The orcs win and the humans are all massacred.

No kingdom, no blessings, no shalom. Only shoah. The king is dead and all hope is lost.

Now, suppose that you’re the orc who shot the arrow.

I’m sure you really didn’t understand what you were doing. You’re an orc. So it’s not like you’re all that smart. You saw some dingy-looking guy dressed in black and holding a pretty wicked looking sword. He scared you a little. You’d heard that he was supposed to be some great king who would restore peace and order throughout the land, but you didn’t buy it. You thought he was the enemy. So, you killed him.

You killed the king.

You killed the only hope for the world.

Oops.

And, that’s exactly what happened in our story. On the Day of Pentecost, Peter had to stand up in front of an entire crowd of people and deliver some bad news. The Promised One returned. He came with all of the blessings of the kingdom: life, Spirit, peace, forgiveness, purity, new creation, healing—shalom. After so many long centuries of waiting, after all the uncertainty and doubt, after so many false hopes and broken dreams, the King came to restore the kingdom.

And you killed him.

Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified. (Acts 2:36)

The King came, and you killed him. The hope of the world, nailed to a cross.

Now what do we do?

[You can read the rest of the posts in this series on the Gospel book page.]

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I am the master of my fate…or not

“I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.”

What a crock.

I can’t even control whether I get to work on time. Just think about all the little things that have to go just right for me to make it on time. At the very least, my alarm clock has to go off, neither of the girls can have an early morning crisis, the car has to start, everyone else has to successfully avoid crashing into me (or each other) on the way there, and countless other details. It’s scary at times to consider how little control we have over the most mundane aspects of life.

Master of my fate? I can’t even get the cat who lives in my house to do what I want.

And, I’m certainly no master of anything bigger than me. I’ve tried commanding the wind a couple of times. Wind can be quite annoying—especially if you’re sitting next to a campfire and it insists on guiding the smoke directly into your eyes regardless of where your eyes are actually located. So, I’ve tried forcing it to stop. It doesn’t work. Sadly, even if I hold up my hand and yell “Stop!” in a really commanding voice—and I can do a pretty good commanding voice when I want—nothing happens. It just ignores me. I’m pretty sure it’s really laughing and insulting me in its deviously soft wind-language. And, if you’re curious, using the force doesn’t help either. Wind is impervious to Jedi mind tricks.

A master of the universe I clearly am not.

Jesus is.

“Peace! Be still!” Just a few simple words. And yet, when they sailed from Jesus’ mouth, the universe listened—the wind slept, the waves relaxed, the raging storm ceased. Before the voice of the master, the cosmos bowed.

And the disciples were terrified. Until now, they still had not really understood who they were dealing with. Sure, they thought he was the Messiah. But this? This is something else entirely. This is someone who commands creation itself.

What’s going on here? Is Jesus just showing off so the disciples will get a clue and start to realize who he actually is? Maybe a little. But, there’s definitely more to it than that. This is the Promised One, the One who will restore God’s creation so that it again serves as the theater of his glory. This is the One who will pour the Spirit out on all creation so that it again pulses with life, sheltering and nourishing his people. This is the One with the power and authority to make everything the way it was supposed to be.

This is the voice of the master calling forth shalom.

Flotsam and jetsam (1/4)

At stake in the fight between Frances and the APA is more than professional turf, more than careers and reputations, more than the $6.5 million in sales that the DSM averages each year. The book is the basis of psychiatrists’ authority to pronounce upon our mental health, to command health care dollars from insurance companies for treatment and from government agencies for research.

So how did Amazon do it? How did they compete with the Mighty Apple, when everyone was predicting they would be crushed by a more sophisticated machine? They used a four-prong strategy.

Luther’s great insight was that obedience to God which springs from faith exhibits itself in the course of our ordinary, daily vocations.

It seems then that this paradox is part of our moral experience. It is inevitable that we will sin. In an important sense we cannot but fail morally and yet we are responsible for our moral failure. On the face of it, there appears only two ways to address this. One is to deny we are responsible for our moral failures. The other is to claim that we can achieve moral perfection. But both claims seem to be obviously false and as such are implausible.

Night fell, shoah is here

[For a variety of reasons, I’ve taken some time away from working on my book about the Gospel. But, I’ve recently picked it back up again, and I’d like to start posting pieces of it here for review and feedback. Please feel free to let me know what you think. (I’ve also added a page to the blog with all the excerpts I’ve posted so far.) Tonight I was playing with this piece as a potential introduction for the chapter on the spread of sin in the world. I’d like to use shalom and shoah as balancing terms throughout the book to talk about the way things ought to be (shalom) and the destruction that results when sin enters the world (shoah).]

Shoah Has Come

Night fell.

There’s something eerily sinister about a sentence like that. If you run across it in a story, I can almost guarantee that things are about to get crazy. You could be reading a book about nice, old ladies drinking tea and playing cards, but if you see “Night fell,” you can expect vampires, serial killers, and/or giant spiders to come from nowhere and start wrecking some serious tea party havoc. Night is when evil walks free. Night falling in a story is never a good thing.

Night fell.

Nights are lonely. A while back I was talking with someone whose wife had left him several years into their marriage. He was reflecting on how difficult that transition has been—custody issues, financial pressures, and tense negotiations, among other things. But, out of everything, he said that nights were the hardest. During the day, he can keep himself busy with work and other responsibilities, distracting himself from the loneliness, pain, and bitterness. But, when night falls, there’s no more hiding. In the darkness, he’s alone.

Night fell.

Guilt and shame like the darkness. They wear it like a cloak, hiding deep within its velvety folds, safe from prying eyes. And, in a sense, darkness is liberating. People do things at night that they would never consider doing during the day. The shadows of night free us from the inhibitions and constraints of day. With our guilt and shame well covered by the darkness, we are free to pursue our desires, satisfy our needs, and soothe our lusts. In the night, guilt and shame find a home.

Night fell.

Kids seem to understand all of this instinctively. You don’t have to teach kids that bad stuff happens when night falls. They just get it. I woke up the other morning to find my youngest daughter asleep on the armchair in my bedroom…upside down, head dangling from the bottom of the chair, legs sticking straight up its back, blanket a tangled mess around her arms and chest. I wasn’t surprised. This happens a lot in our family. My daughter can play happily by herself for hours at a time. But, when night falls, she looks for any excuse to be close to someone. Nights are scary, dangerous, lonely places.

Night fell.

When night fell on Elie Wiesel, his life ended. One day, Elie was living with his family in their quaint, tightknit, and occasionally quirky community. One day he had a place to belong—family, friends, faith, and freedom. One day, Wiesel had shalom. And one day, night fell.

Elie is a Jew, and his family lived in Eastern Europe during World War II. Although they’d heard warnings about what was happening to Jews everywhere, they refused to flee. They just couldn’t leave their houses and synagogues, abandon their communities, lose everything that they had called home. So they stayed. And night fell.

For the next twelve months, Elie and his father try to survive the brutality and inhumanity of the Nazi concentration camps. And, Elie describes the experiences as being like one long, brutal “night,” not the simple period of darkness that concludes each day, but the dark night of loneliness, despair, and inhumanity that had descended upon him and his family. A night in which, as one prisoner tells him, “there are no fathers, no brothers, no friends,” where “everyone lives and dies for himself alone” (110); a night where every value is inverted, perverted, and destroyed.

“Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, that turned my life into one long night seven times sealed.”

Night fell.

Among Jews, the Holocaust goes by another name, shoah, the Hebrew word for destruction. And, it’s a good word for describing the terrible reality of the Holocaust. Shoah. The destruction of community, intimacy, trust, hope, faith, love, even humanity itself. Shoah. A destruction that does not simply eliminate the good—no, that would be too easy—this is a destruction that crushes and corrupts the good, reshaping it into a twisted parody, a mockery of all that was once held dear.  Families remain, but only as a burden holding back those who would seek to survive the abyss, fighting and killing one another over mere scraps of bread. Hope remains, but only as a weapon used by guards to keep prisoners in line, tantalizing them with a vision of what they know will never come. Faith remains, but only as a painful accusation against a deity once trusted and adored. Shoah.

Once there was a boy named Elie. Once he had a family and a home. Once there was shalom. No longer. Night has fallen. Now there is darkness, loneliness, pain, despair, shame, and loss. Shalom is gone. Shoah has come.

Night fell.

Once there was a time when God’s people were naked, living in shameless intimacy with him and with one another, displaying his glory in the world as they cared for the creation he’d so graciously given them. Once there was shalom. But one day, God’s people decided to go their own way, abandoning his purpose and plan to pursue their own glory. And night fell. A night of loneliness and alienation, despair and brokenness, shame and guilt; a night seeming without end.

Once there was shalom. Now there is shoah.

Night fell.

 

Zombies need the gospel too

I have no explanation for this excerpt other than the possibility that Mary put something in my dinner last night. I was working on a section focusing on the idea that we’re all dead in our sins, but we often try to hide from that fact through various “shalom restoration projects” that only serve to mimic life without really making us alive. So, I sat down to write an introduction to that section and this is what came out.

Dead is dead. There is no mostly dead, sort of dead, or the “I’ll be better in the morning if you’ll please just hand me my head and that stapler over there” kind of dead. Dead people are just dead. Unless they’re zombies. Or, mummies. But I like zombies. They dress better.

Actually, if you think about it, zombies don’t have it all that bad. They can’t die, since they’re already dead. Apparently they can walk in a slow shuffle as fast as a normal human can run terrified down a dark alley. And, if they really get backed into a corner, they can tear off their own arm and beat people with it. How cool is that?

But, of course, in the end, they’re still dead.

They could try to act like living human beings. Put on fresh clothes. Invest in a small makeup company. Figure out some way to keep their rotting flesh from falling into their coffee all the time. With enough work, they might be able to blend in, become part of the community, part of the human family. Maybe they already have.

Very carefully, look at the person next to you. But don’t let them see you looking. Zombies are sensitive. Are you sure he or she is not a zombie? How could you tell? Maybe they’re just really good at acting like a human. Maybe they’re simply waiting for the zombie overlord to give the command for the zombie apocalypse to begin so they can take over the world. (What? It could happen.) How can you tell the difference between a regular human and a zombie in a suit?

For that matter, I wonder if it’s possible for a zombie to deceive itself. If a zombie spends enough time pretending to be human, can it actually forget that it’s really dead? (There’s an idea for a blockbuster movie lurking in there somewhere.) Which, of course, raises the question, what if you’re a zombie and you just don’t know it?

From there I’d go into a discussion of the fact that without Christ we really are zombies. In other words, we’re dead even though we’re doing our best to look like we’re really alive. And we do all sorts of things to hide the fact that we’re really dead. But in the end, dead is dead.

What do you think? Is the zombie approach too much? I had fun writing it, but it didn’t resonate with Mary. Then I made the mistake of telling her that this might mean that she’s not really in my target audience, which she took to mean that I was saying she was too old. Things went downhill from there.