After Easter
April 1, 2010

When I hired my neighbor’s trusty yard man to clean up my lawn while I was sick a couple weeks ago, my flowering quince shrub went from looking like this sad, ugly old thing…

(Before)

to this beautiful masterpiece…

(After)

That’s right, he mowed right over it. Not sure exactly why…or how. The thing was 4 feet tall with 1/4-inch-thick branches, not easily mistaken for grass. I didn’t ask him to mow it down. I thought it was just fine the way it was. In fact, just a couple months prior I had spent nearly an hour pruning away interfering branches to open up space for new growth.

But maybe he had some greater insight. I did in fact trust that he had more experience with mowing than I, so I assumed he could set my yard on the path that it should go…Just like many of us do (or did) with our spirituality. We often entrust it to those we think have a higher perspective.

—————–

According to Christian tradition and its calendar, Easter is supposed to be the time when we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. It’s an emotional roller-coaster of a season that reflects reports that he endured great stress after his Last Supper (Maundy Thursday — downer), was crucified (Good Friday — worse downer), died, was buried three days, rose again (Easter Sunday — yay!), and then ascended bodily to heaven (Ascension Day – um…yay?).

So Jesus dies, and his disciples are all up in arms about what they’re going to do now. Some of his followers had held out hope that he would rise up as a physical warrior king and crush the Roman Empire to make room for Israel, apparently God’s “chosen kingdom.” Then he dies. Oh that’s great. But then he rises again and physically appears to them like, “HA!…Gotcha! April fools! I was just kidding. I’m alive!” So now their hope is restored. Maybe Jesus really will solve all our problems!

And then he leaves. Goes up to Heaven where all the saints and pretty angels are…and leaves his followers to continue his work, but he says he would be coming back soon. My hunch is that, judging by what we still do, his followers would not let themselves get down again because they knew he would return, just like he said, just like he miraculously did when he rose again. And then he really would stay a while and take care of all the outstanding issues. So they waited, and in the meantime started telling stories about him, saying that when he returns — any day now! — everything will be taken care of. Maybe they even wrote a little pamphlet declaring “88 Reasons Jesus Will Return in AD 88.” (Must see the link.)

And nearly 2,000 years later, Christians are still doing the same thing. Holding out hope that Jesus will come back any day now and set everything right. There’s nothing wrong with hope. In fact, some would say that’s what Easter is really all about…hope that someday soon all our problems will be solved.

But what about after Easter? What happens after we’ve raised our hopes to a singular high point in the year and the next day all hell breaks loose? But, Christians say, “Jesus defeated hell when he was crucified and rose again.” Well, what happens when life takes your beautiful flowering shrub and mows it down? Oh, that’s right: Just hope in our fairy God, our vending-machine God, our doctor God, our daddy God, our He-Man God, our professional gardener God…

Yes, hope can get us through those tough times, and we need hope; it’s miraculous. But I think Christians have been placing their hope in the wrong thing. I’m not saying placing hope in Jesus is altogether bad, but placing our hope in an idea that someone will magically come down from the sky and solve all our problems is fuel for an existential disaster. And in fact our world today, especially the third-world, proves that in some sense.

In his Insurrection talk at our Journey warehouse recently, Pete Rollins mentioned this concept, which is known as deus ex machina. It’s a storytelling device that artificially causes something to come out of nowhere to tie up all the loose ends in a plot. Pete used the example of J.R. Ewing in Dallas. When the character died, all the show’s rating tanked. So a few episodes later, the writers brought him back to life. “Just kidding! It was all a dream!” And the ratings soared again.

I think it bears reminding that Jesus told his followers things like, “You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world,” and “You will do greater works than these miracles I’ve performed.” Because he knew a movement couldn’t survive around one man. A true revolutionary movement has to be carried inside a multitude of men and women. As one line from an Agents of Future song goes, “The Kingdom of Heaven is sewn in my skin.”

Especially around Easter, people think we’re supposed to be all happy waiting for Jesus to come back and solve all our problems… Well, we’ve been waiting since about AD 33. It’s time for everyone to deeply realize that we embody God now. In original Pentecostal theology at least, that’s a major reason why God sent the Holy Spirit to live in us. Not just to feel all fuzzy, talk to each other in gibberish, and jerk our bodies around like we’re possessed. Jesus left it up to us. We must solve this world’s problems, not sit on our asses waiting for our deus ex machina…or a great yard man.

So this Easter — and continuing after the colorful season is over, into the heat, through the fall, and through the cold — maybe try something different: Try putting hope in yourself. Resurrect yourself. That’s the message I now get from reading Jesus’ take on how we fit into the Easter situation (Jn. 14:12). There and in other places, I read that he put his hope in us. Maybe we should try doing the same.

Digging for Lent
February 17, 2010

I grew up in a non-denominational church where we never really talked about the Christian tradition of Lent. I never knew anything about it other than, “That’s when the Catholics walk around with an ash cross on the heads.” And as far as what had been implied to me about such things, it might as well have been a Hindu event, because Hindus put stuff on their foreheads too. (as the image above illustrates)

When I went to college, even though it was a charismatic Christian college, there were at least some there who had come from more liturgical traditions, like Lutheran, Methodist, Catholic, Presbyterian, or Episcopalian, but not many. And there were some theology majors who seemed to be trying out the latest tradition they learned about from their “liberal” profs. And I had a little side gig as a singer at a Methodist church, so I started hearing a bit more about Lent.

I learned that it is part of the Christian calendar, for starters. I really didn’t even know there was an official Christian calendar other than Christmastime and Easter. But that explained some of themes our pastor spoke on when it wasn’t Christmas or Easter but it seemed like some special event was going on that I must have missed the memo about. Since then, I’ve learned a bit more about such traditions, and even though I grew up solidly Christian, it seems each year I find out something else I really didn’t know about, like Maundy Thursday and such. Anyway, I just learned a little more about Lent and I’d like to share it.

My friend Julie (julieclawson.com), the gifted author of Everyday Justice (if you’re into social justice, environmentalism, or local food, you’ll love it), posted on her OneHandClapping blog a note that straightens out something about the Lent discipline of personal sacrifice. You should read the whole post, but here’s one thing that stuck out:

“…Lent isn’t about denial, it is about transformation. It is the season in which we prepare to encounter Christ’s sacrifice by endeavoring to become more Christ like ourselves.”

Now, I still find myself quite awkward around Lent season; maybe its allergies. But even as someone who no longer affirms all the tenets of Christianity, I still want to be more like Jesus or at least try to follow his teachings. And so I’m going to try taking Julie’s advice and keep my thoughts about Lent simple: Just try to embody the things Jesus taught. Things like love and peace and forgiveness. I don’t have to be a Christian to do that. So I think an agnostic can practice Lent, and so can an atheist, or a Buddhist or Hindu…and even a Christian. I may not walk around with ash on my head, but I can try to at least walk more than I talk.