In our faith walk, there is much to celebrate, but insistently characterizing life as a triumphant march from glory to glory can alienate people who don’t find life quite as sunny. Church culture can feel painful for people who deal with various health issues or certain kinds of inner suffering that make it difficult to sense God’s presence. There’s little discussion in church of the “dark nights” that are a normal part of the faith journey, or the fact that such nights can last for years in some cases.
The semantics are important to understand because the different terms present two completely contrasting paradigms. One is based on textual interpretations and opinions, while the other is founded upon the words and actions of the living savior of the world. If you’re a Christian, you should always err on the side of Jesus. But if we’re not careful, it’s easy to idolize the bible while simultaneously ignoring the very message of Christ.
THE SENSE OF SMELL is intimately enmeshed with memory centers in our brains. Humanity’s experience of the evocative power of scent is not fanciful. The bereaved hang on to their loved one’s clothes, to inhale their unique scent, to flood themselves with recollection.
As we celebrate Holy Week, we can evoke the memories created by Mary of Bethany when she anointed Jesus with luxurious nard, six days before his final Passover. “The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume,” we will read in John 12. Her lavish gesture, wasting this fabulously expensive Indian cosmetic, was to be ever linked with the excessiveness, the far-too-muchness, of Jesus’ own willingness to throw his life away on the cross. The theme of excess is taken up in John’s pointed note about the vast quantity of spices—a hundred pounds!—lavished on Jesus’ corpse before burial. When the disciples entered the empty tomb at dawn, the gorgeous aroma must have been overpowering. Perhaps the reluctance of so many to accept the empty tomb and the implications of the apostles’ testimony is related to a reductionist instinct, a recoil from divine excess. Judas was disgusted by Mary’s excess—and there are those who think that the bodily resurrection is incredible because it is over the top. Surely, they say, the idea of the exaltation of Jesus’ spirit, the resurrection as strictly metaphorical, seems more than satisfactory without anything actually happening to his corpse! But God exceeds through excess.
Christ, your words of love confound us,
even as we give you praise,
for the lessons that you teach us seem
so far from this world’s ways. How can we love those who hate us?
How can we love enemies?
What of people who abuse us?
How can we love even these?
And I can’t help but think about my friends on “life” row who live daily in that space. They know that their execution dates can be set at any moment, but they also know that they are alive now and have to live into as much of the fullness of the day as they possibly can. It can be difficult, at times, to sit in the liminal space with my friends, as I never know which they will choose — will they choose life or will they choose death to discuss? And the truth is that they pick both. They need to process their death while they are living. And they have to process their living while they know they face a certain death.
Rigid gender performance is a cultural construct, not a divine decree. Truly, if we are created in the image of God, we are made to transgress narrow definitions of “masculine” and “feminine” behavior. The God of Scripture is neither male nor female, transcending human conceptions of gender altogether. Though frequently referred to with masculine pronouns, at other times God is described in the feminine, as a comforting mother (Isa 66:13) or a hen guarding her brood (Luke 13:34). As Patrick Cheng notes in Radical Love, “God is fundamentally queer,” breaking through any human attempt to restrict God’s gender expression — this is also why Morse’s attempt to lift Jesus up as masculine exemplar rings so hollow; if God and Jesus are one, then Jesus’ “maleness” is purely incidental.
WILLEM DAFOE is my favorite onscreen Jesus, and since The Last Temptation of Christ’s release three decades ago, he’s been indelibly associated with that role. His Jesus was a corrective to the over-mysticized versions in epics such as Ben-Hur and The Greatest Story Ever Told, which portray Jesus as a kind of magician instead of a person.
Dafoe’s Jesus (which is also the Jesus of novelist Nikos Kazantzakis and Paul Schrader, who adapted Kazantzakis’ work for the screen) is a serious attempt at grappling with the human questions his story demands. This Jesus is a breathing, sweating, sleeping, dancing, agonizing, raging Jesus: a political Jesus who prefers a donkey to a revolution; a compassionate Jesus who struggles to figure out his own needs amid the burdens of the world; a thinking Jesus who doesn’t emerge from the womb with a fully formed philosophy but learns by experience, scripture, and prayer.
Fictionalized Jesuses are, of course, like any other Jesus: We see all the Jesuses we’ve ever met through the lens of our own experience. The light of Willem Dafoe’s Jesus (not to mention his astonishing portrayal of Vincent van Gogh in the recent masterpiece At Eternity’s Gate) is more useful to me than the “magician” versions because I’m not sure I can learn much from superheroes.
God's justice is divine, meant to benefit everyone created in God's divine image. It’s not dictated by man-made laws, branches of government, political parties, lobbyists, or authoritarian officials. It's not biased towards the wealthy or powerful, and cannot be bought by high-priced lawyers. It's not fueled by populist opinions or partisan rage, and isn’t facilitated through broken systems and institutions. Instead, God’s justice is holy and unblemished, eternally seeking to free the enslaved, empower the downtrodden, and bring judgement upon the oppressors.
The Jesus story begins with a young woman who also hears many critical voices around her. Mary lives in a culture that tells women they’re more property than persons. Galilee is considered the armpit of her society. Her religion portrays God as mostly a distant and disinterested deity.
People asked him, “How can we
Turn and serve God faithfully?”
John responded, “Be the good
In your home and neighborhood.”
God has called you! Have you heard?
God has said a mighty word!
Listen, people! Turn from wrong.
Turn around and sing God's song.
Seek God’s justice! Pave the way!
God is bringing this new day.”
Every year from Dec. 16 to 24, Las Posadas begin in many Latin American countries and immigrant communities in the U.S. Roughly translated, posadas means “inn” or “shelter.” Las Posadas recalls the events in Luke’s Gospel leading up to Jesus’ birth. It’s a Catholic Christian observance with a sung liturgy that’s performed on the streets rather than in church.
A posada begins with a street procession that reenacts Mary and Joseph’s search for shelter at an inn. Those playing the protagonists of the story, Mary and Joseph, are dressed in costume and carry candles as they follow along a prescribed route, knocking on doors. At each door they ask, through special posada songs, for room at the inn. In rural areas, Mary may even ride on a donkey.
As a religion consisting of millions of voters, venerable institutions, and large organizations, Christianity is often viewed by governments and politicians as a tool to influence and manipulate. Spiritual jargon is used to lobby segments of Christians to support various agendas, often under the pretense of being “Biblical” and “Godly.” This is how faith becomes co-opted to transform into something it was never meant to be: a way to obtain votes, a method for fueling populist rage, or grounds for implementing oppressive social structures.
Lamps and debt. A friend in the night, and a sower of seeds. Wine, nets, pearls, weeds, and treasure. What is the kingdom of God like? It is like leaven and it is like two sons, like bridesmaids and sheep, like workers and judges.
In the 37 times that Jesus describes the reign of God in the Gospels, not once is the kingdom of God like a kingdom of earth. Thirty-seven times Jesus reshapes the imaginations of his followers. Thirty-seven times Jesus tells them a story to help them remake the only world they know.
Creation is all one thing, like a giant blanket. There are many threads on the blanket, all woven tightly together. When someone dies, they move from one thread to an adjacent one, but they’re still wrapped snugly around us, and not just in some metaphorical way.
Christianity transformed from a faith reliant on Jesus to a civic religion obsessed with obtaining partisan power. This co-opting of Jesus — manipulating His gospel of love and redemption to fit the narrative of an expanding American empire, specifically to maintain the colonial stronghold of white supremacy — fits a historical pattern.
Meyers: A revised prayer book could give us new ways of imagining God and understanding ourselves as children of God. It could be a real force for proclamation of the gospel to people who don’t necessarily think of themselves as Christian. I think it can give us a much deeper understanding and appreciation of creation and our role in caring for creation. We have some of that in the prayer book now, but in a time when the world is literally on fire and we are at a huge ecological crisis, it could, because of the power of language, subtly reshape our understanding and relationship to the world in which we live in a way that might enable us to take better care of it.
“It seems a new video emerges every week in the burgeoning genre of white people siccing police on nonwhite people for taking part in everyday activities … Now, some of the small but growing numbers of people featured in those videos are using the attention to run for office, become activists, form nonprofits or otherwise enter the fray of race, politics and social change.”
Why some people choose to do evil remains a puzzle, but are we starting to understand how this behavior is triggered?
A direct reboot of Bravo’s Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, which debuted in 2003, Queer Eye is, on its surface, a makeover show in which five gay men –– Jonathan Van Ness, Tan France, Antoni Porowski, Karamo Brown, and Bobby Berk –– help transform their clueless subject, or “hero,” in five areas: grooming, fashion, food, culture, and home decor. But each episode becomes more than a makeover as the men of that Fab Five break through the hero’s walls and reach the root of their low self-esteem. That’s where the true emotions rise to the surface.