Tentatio

struggle, spirituality, absurdity

Category: Cynical Devotion (page 1 of 3)

Rick Warren, His Detractors, and the Body of Christ

The news that Rick Warren‘s son had passed away by suicide will undoubtably continue to be international news for some time, because the combination of tragedy and celebrity tends to be so tantalizing in our culture. Not that that’s healthy, but there isn’t much I can do about it.

Pastor Rick Warren at Saddleback Church.

I did notice one oddly uplifting trend as the news spread… and I say “oddly” because it came from social media, which basically draws its dark life-force from vitriol, ignorance, and hate.

Among Warren’s many critics from within the Christian world (and any supremely public figure within Christianity will, by definition, draw a zillion critics), I have yet to find one that does not consist of pure grace and empathy. I’m sure there are exceptions, but I’ve yet to find one (Westboro, I’m looking in your direction).

And there is a special beauty in that observation. Ever since the advent of Christianity, even in the months following Pentecost, disagreement and dissent has been a mark of Christian life. Dissent, regardless of appearance, is not a sign of weakness, but, rather, it indicates strength. Whenever an organization exists without any conflict, it is reasonable to assume that something unhealthy and dangerous lies beneath its surface.

In the wake of tragedy, we put aside the differences, theological disagreements, frustrations, jealousies (the guy sold, like, a billion books), and squabbles, to come together to offer support for the Warren family in the unifying center of who we are: Jesus. And if I know anything about Jesus, he does not shy away from tragedy, loss, and suffering. Actually, that is sort of his thing…

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Superhero Jesus

Everyone knows Spiderman. He flips around with web shooting out of his hands and beats up bad guys. But…if you ask how he gained all those superpowers, you might get different answers depending on the generation of the person you are asking. The older crowd knows that he was bitten by a radioactive spider, which, rather than giving him leukemia, made him a hero. However, the younger generations would answer that he was bitten by a genetically modified spider. Why the difference?

Stan Lee created Spiderman in the early 1960s. In the cold war era, when it seemed like nuclear war was both inevitable and imminent, radiation and nuclear fallout had Americans shaking in terror. Spiderman being bitten by a radioactive spider spoke to an underlying fear that resonated with many.

Spiderman’s popularity experienced a resurgence in 2002 with a new series of movies. This time it wasn’t radiation. A genetically altered spider bit Peter Parker, which makes perfect sense. In 2002, the Human Genome project was about a year from being completed, with rough drafts of the entire human genome already being disseminated. It was an amazing accomplishment. At the same time, our culture was becoming more aware of the possibilities and dangers involved with genetic modification. It wasn’t the radiation of the 1960s, in part because we were doing it to ourselves (and our food).

This is a small example, but it shouldn’t be too surprising. Artistic expression often works with themes that resonate in culture, even when those themes aren’t obvious. In fact, I have a hunch that literature (and I use this word very, very loosely) often speaks to a culture most powerfully when it works with themes that are under the surface. When an unexpected nerve is hit, it hurts worse.

Aside from interesting cultural analysis, the kinds of stories that our culture finds compelling can also tell us a lot about ourselves. Consider the biggest blockbusters over the last few years. What do they have in common? Have you noticed that there have been nauseatingly large quantities of superhero movies? You haven’t? Oh…I see. You live in a cave.

What kind of hero do we want? Let’s leave Spiderman behind and look at two of the biggest superhero franchises over the last few years: Ironman and Batman. Both movie franchises made gobs of money, and most of the movies were fantastic (except for Ironman 2 – that was awful). There are some eerie parallels between these two.

Both are the alter egos of wealthy billionaire playboys who use technology to gain an advantage over their enemies. And both commit acts of subjective violence, underscoring our deeply held belief that violence really can solve the world’s problems. This isn’t a commentary on violence per se, but it does show perhaps who we really trust in our society. We look to the billionaires and entrepreneurs, and especially to science and technology, to solve the problems that we face every day. We hope that through the use of money and technology we can actually even address the great evil that works its way through our world.

This really makes a lot of sense. To whom does our culture look up? We idolize people like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, those wealthy, brilliant innovators at the forefront of technological advancement, and we hope that through their innovation our problems will be “solved.”

I’m not intending simply to browbeat our culture and tell them that they’re putting their trust in the wrong thing. In fact, humans of been doing that for as long as there have been humans. But I do see some interesting parallels between our desire for a superhero and Jesus’ experience of the people he encountered in the Gospels. Everybody was looking for a hero to save them from the Romans (they called that hero “Messiah”). And so Jesus had to confront the people’s expectations while at the same time reshaping their desires. God was going to do something very unexpected.

The kingdom of God, after all, was not something that was going to be achieved by military force. Instead, a new reality invaded the world, bringing God’s presence in and through the work of Jesus himself. Or, to put it another way, God’s presence was returning to Earth. While I’m sure nobody would have objected to God’s presence, it’s hard to imagine that this is what the people thought they really wanted.

The same goes for us in the modern 21st-century. Our culture desires billionaire superheroes to bring innovative technology and scientific advancement, and we think this is going to actually save us from both ourselves and the evil that we encounter in our world. However, that hasn’t worked so far, and I really don’t think it’s going to work in the future.

Jesus is not a superhero that is here to solve all our problems. Instead, he is God’s presence that has come to confront evil and actually take the full force of that evil onto himself. This goes far deeper than merely solving problems. It actually cuts right to the core of who we are as individuals and as communities. The problem is that the line between good and evil is drawn down the middle of each of us. Neither a superhero nor Google can save us from this reality.

Thoughts on Remission

I have no idea where I am going with this but feel compelled to write. So bear with me. Or don’t, it’s your choice. That’s the danger (from my perspective) of blogging.

So I got the news that I have achieved a 3-log reduction in the presence of the Leukemia mutation. Or something like that, but I was never great with Biology. Suffice it to say, this is the goal for treating my kind of Leukemia (CML), and within this threshold the disease is considered well under control. My next step is for the mutation (actually it’s the presence of a protein, or something like that) to be undetectable by the machines that do the detecting. That won’t necessarily mean the mutation is gone, but rather that it is so low that the machine can’t find it (we are on the molecular level at this point).

It’s strange, though, because I still sense that I have a ways to go in terms of dealing with the emotional side of having leukemia. For those of you that know me well, this summer has sucked horribly. I’ve been sick and injured for most of the season, and then I was forced to try a different leukemia drug because the original one was no longer effective. Not to mention that I struggled with the side effects of that original drug.

Now I feel better than ever, and I actually have more energy now than I know what to do with. But this morning, a friend of mine mentioned in passing that he had had some blood work done and the doctor said he wanted to run another, more specific test. It ended up being nothing (except that my friend needed to lose a little weight), and yet when I heard this story being told, I almost had a small heart attack at the idea of him needing more blood work. I’ve been down that road, and it didn’t go well with me.

It was like a small panic attack induced by PTSD, or something like that. I can be a little dramatic at times.

But it did tell me that I have a ways to go. I still get depressed, and who wouldn’t? After the leukemia, the multiple deaths of loved ones, the car wreck, my cat that died, the million kidney stones, and a few other things, this shouldn’t surprise me.

It all reminds me of how messy life really can be. I get impatient with movies that have nice, black and white, neatly wrapped endings. How is that anywhere near life-like? Real life has real struggles, real joy, and everything in between – and often at the same time.

I am in remission. That’s incredibly good news, but it isn’t the end of the story, nor is it the beginning of another. My good news simply is. I will carry this damned mutation all my life, and my life will likely be long.

Learning to live in that tension takes serious chutzpah. I pray that God grants me some of his…

A Teaser…

I looked at the week that had just begun, and I swear that the events and responsibilities on my calendar were procreating. They are like rabbits, and now I am frantically trying to figure out how it will all get done – an adhd person’s nightmare. But what if these two small, almost trivial, situations were somehow linked?

Something grows inside my chest, I think, like an alien trying desperately to pop-out in an iconic (and parodied) manner. Then again, perhaps I am being melodramatic. This is such an overused scenario, where someone feels this sense of angst, pursues its meaning, discovers their purpose, ignites passion, and then everyone else becomes excited about it for a week-and-a-half. Then an alien pops out of someone else’s chest and the cycle begins anew.

Maybe that is what I am frustrated with? Cyclical cliche, evangelical theodicy, the process of rediscovery without reformation, passion without transformation, blips on radars that disappear faster than my short-term memory, or short-term mission trips that lead us to give up our iphones and televisions for at least 72 hours after we get back – until something good is on or another killer app is approved by that arcane and mysterious entity called the “App Store.”

It’s too early for a beer.

Meditation

I think it was Bonhoeffer who said that the goal of meditation ought no to be focused on gaining profound intellectual insights or even deep spiritual experiences. Even if he didn’t say that and I’m really thinking of someone else, it sounds like something he would say. Instead, the goal of meditation is oriented around the act itself – the discipline of meditation. It doesn’t matter if one gains great insights into the Scriptures or has a profound spiritual experience. It’s all about the day-in day-out rhythm of the Scriptures and being faithful to its calling.

I hate that.

I like results. I like hitting a button and getting something in return. I like reading a book and knowing more than I did before I read it. I despise pointless exercises.

But – does that mean I judge something as ‘having a point’ based on what I immediately get out of it? That’s a scary thought, leading me to wonder if I am really more superficial than I’d like to believe.

Now I’m irritated.

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