Wonder (again)

Without mentioning any names, I have an acquaintance who plays drums in a pretty well-known and successful rock band. Around 2003/2004, as they were ascending the charts and their popularity was really taking off, they played a concert at the Hard Rock in Chicago, and he gave me a couple passes to the show, which was pretty much sold out. Afterwards, he met me and a buddy down in the lobby to just say, “Hi” and touch base (I hadn’t seen him in a couple years).

As I walked up to him, he just gushed with gratitude and thanks that I’d come, “Wow, it’s so awesome that you came out!”

As I congratulated him on the band’s success he continued to seem almost overwhelmed by everything that was going on, and continued to thank me for coming out to see the show.

Meanwhile, I kept thinking, “This guy is totally ‘living it,’ and just played a sold out show and he is grateful that I came… for free?!??!”

His wonder and gratitude of what was going on in his life was so childlike and innocent. It blew me away, and it continues to haunt me to today. When I think about how ungrateful I am for my “normal” life, I am convicted. When I refuse to see the wonder and beauty of my life… the moments in lifetimes—weddings, funerals, baptisms—I get to share, when I get to see people grow and become more like Christ, when I get to see people find their vocation and then embrace it… all of these things are miracles in and of themselves, yet I choose to overlook them for something else “out there”. 

It’s a rejection of grace, in a way.

One of my favorite—and most convicting—quotes about wonder is from Abraham Joshua Heschel:

“Never once in my life did I ask God for success or wisdom or power or fame. I asked for wonder, and he gave it to me.”

Which comes first? The success or the wonder? I’m beginning to think that success follows wonder, rather than the other way around.

Grab Bag: Do Evangelicals Really Understand Judaism? Do Evangelicals Really Understand Jesus?

Recently I’ve gone back to reading a lot of Abraham Joshua Heschel. He’s written a few books that have had a fairly profound impact on me (and quite a few others, I’m sure), including The Sabbath, The Prophets, and God in Search of Man : A Philosophy of Judaism (which I’m reading now).

One of the things that I’m continuously struck with when I actually take the time to study Judaism (and not just what I’m told about Judaism) is how much more faith-oriented and devotional it actually is.

I grew up Methodist, but I started getting involved in more “evangelical” expressions of Christianity in my 20s, and that’s when I began to regularly hear about how Jesus came to rescue us all from captivity to the “Law,” and how Judaism (usually represented by the poor pharisees; taking the brunt of our jabs for centuries) was a religion of “works” that failed to understand what God REALLY wanted Somehow they’d missed all the writings in the prophets where, um, JEWS had reminded each other of what God really wanted, like in Isaiah 1:

13 Stop bringing worthless offerings.
Your incense repulses me.
New moon, sabbath, and the calling of an assembly—
I can’t stand wickedness with celebration!
14 I hate your new moons and your festivals.
They’ve become a burden that I’m tired of bearing.
15 When you extend your hands,
I’ll hide my eyes from you.
Even when you pray for a long time,
I won’t listen.
Your hands are stained with blood.
16     Wash! Be clean!
Remove your ugly deeds from my sight.
Put an end to such evil;
17     learn to do good.
Seek justice:
help the oppressed;
defend the orphan;
plead for the widow.

18 Come now, and let’s settle this,
says the Lord.
Though your sins are like scarlet,
they will be white as snow.
If they are red as crimson,
they will become like wool.

But somehow we made it all work out; Jesus came to set us free from “dead religion.”

But it’s funny, when you actually read what a lot of Jews say about their faith (that’s right, I used that word), the math begins to break down. (Even Paul’s view on the Law is not quite so monochromatic as what we might think, but that is perhaps for another post.)

For instance, read this from Heschel:

The world needs more than the secret holiness of individual inwardness. It needs more than sacred sentiments and good intentions. God asks for the heart because He needs the lives. It is by lives that the world will be redeemed, by lives that beat in concordance with God, by deeds that outbeat the finite charity of the human heart.

Does that sound like a “dead, works-based religion”?

Trust me: there’s lots more where that came from.

If I had to boil it down, I’d start perhaps with these statements:

  1. Judaism has many different strands to it; some are more focused on the Law than others.
  2. On the whole, Judaism is as Spirit-focused as Christianity; conversely, it’s possible to find some strands of Christianity that are as works/law-focused as our (incorrect) vision of Judaism.
  3. In essence, this is what Paul is condemning: He doesn’t condemn the Law, per se, he condemns trusting the Law for salvation.
  4. Jesus still came, lived, died and was raised to set us free from sin.
  5. A huge (and still woefully overlooked) implication of this is that the Gentiles (that’s me) could be included in the people of God.
  6. Which is the Church.

Should this shape the way we live? Absolutely. We should take the Law (which we really should understand as, “The Instruction“) seriously, not just as the prequel to Jesus.

Should this shape the way we understand Judaism? Yes. Though we still disagree in regards to who Jesus was/is (and this is no small thing), we are closer in our faith (there’s that word again) than perhaps we’d like to believe.

Should this shape the way we preach? Yes, yes, and yes. In my opinion, Christians—and Evangelicals in particular—are constantly inventing “enemies” to preach against. Whether it’s the law, the liberals, the conservatives, or the fundamentals, we seem to thrive on false enemies. We need to release the Law from our expectations, and try to understand it more from a wider perspective. Though we’d lose this “enemy” we may actually find ourselves free to pursue a more constructive agenda in the world (though one that requires much more work and creativity).

Living the Resurrection :: The Calling God

As I’ve written before, contrary how most of us experience Easter, it’s actually a season of the Church, and not merely a day. It’s not meant to be blown by and then remembered in the rear view mirror by its exhaustion (hello, church-workers), chocolate consumption (or Peeps), and communal meals.

Just as Lent prepares us to think about the Cross, Easter now prepares to live the Resurrection Life…

… The reason that it’s a season is that this not as easy as it seems.

So over the next few weeks, I’m going to offer some thoughts on “Living the Resurrection”, and maybe we can figure this out together.

….

In contemplating the empty tomb yesterday morning, I was struck by Jesus’ activities after he is raised.

Assuming that the resurrection was a pretty big deal in those (any?) days, did you ever wonder why Jesus doesn’t just set up shop in the tomb and wait for everyone to come and see him?

Instead, he hits the road.

Matthew tells us he goes up to “the mountain” (one of his favorite places in Matthew) to give some final instructions to the Twelve.

Luke tells us that he joins some disciples on the road to Emmaus, then shows up later at dinner.

John says he crashes a (really, really depressing) party that the disciples are having, and then later to Thomas, and eventually has a really important conversation with Peter before departing.

Paul tells us,

He appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve, and then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at once—most of them are still alive to this day, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me, as if I was born at the wrong time. (1 Corinthians 15v5-8)

In other words, even after the Resurrection is still really busy. 

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel says that one of the essential characteristics of God is that He pursues us:

This is the mysterious paradox of Biblical faith: God is pursuing man. It is as if God were unwilling to be alone, and He had chosen man to serve Him. Our seeking Him is not only man’s but also His concern, and must not be considered an exclusively human affair. His will is involved in our yearnings. All of human history as described in the Bible may be summarized in one phrase: God is in search of man.

Jesus—even after Easter—continues this tradition of the calling, seeking, pursuing God.

He is not content to only wait and allow people to seek Him out; He goes in search of folks.

… Of Mary, who loved Him but could not save him…

… Of the Twelve, who couldn’t stay awake with him or stay loyal to him…

… Of Thomas, who wasn’t even sure he believed he was really alive…

… Of Peter, who denied that he even knew him…

In other words, not only is Jesus on the move, searching people out, but the very folks who let Jesus down, who weren’t sure about him, who deserted him, who were helpless: those are who he goes to find. 

The Resurrected Christ is looking for you. No matter what you’ve done, no matter what you “lack”, no matter how you think you may have betrayed him, he is still seeking you. He’s not afraid of you. He’s not ashamed of you. He’s not embarrassed.

So maybe this Easter, stop running. Or just slow down.

*e