Friday, January 19, 2007

I don't like New Year's Resolutions (but have one anyway)

I don't like New Year's resolutions. I'm not entirely sure why. It seems to me that if something is a good idea at New Year's, it is a good idea before New Year's, so why not start now?

I suppose if it was a birthday resolution, I would feel better about the concept. I mean, turning 25 or 30 or 40? THAT'S a milestone that might make a difference to someone. But the dawn of the year 2007? That's just another day. Good ideas are good any day.

The title of my post is a bit misleading, because I don't really have a New Year's resolution, it just happened to be something I resolved around the time of New Year's. To be honest, I think I made this resolution sometime before Christmas.

I don't want to go into too much historical detail about why I'm like this, but my internal spiritual life is much, much more radical than my external spiritual life.

So, for most of my life I've lived two lives. I live this life that people see - I show it at Church and at work. I show it when I go back and visit my family, or when I'm at a party. Everyone who has actually met me has seen this life. This is my outside life.

But inside, there lives another life. There lives a life that questions and struggles. There is a life that has slowly, over my meager 30 years, pieced together a way of thinking and living that seems to be foreign and radical to those who know my outside life. This is my inside life. It is a life that is hidden away.

I don't want to seem like a whiner, but because of several bad experiences I've had expressing the formulations of my internal life, it has been kept carefully locked away for fear of being rejected, misunderstood, reprimanded, or worse. To live in constant fear of rejection by the very Church who's task is to sharpen me, exhort me, and love me (and I, them) is no way to live.

So, this is my resolution. I resolve take the risk of being radical in front of my church and my Christian friends. I resolve to put myself out there - exposing my secret and fleshy parts in the hopes that I can teach others, if only by example, some of the powerful and life-changing lessons God has taught me. I resolve to not act like it is okay that supposed "Christians" are totally complacent in their spirituality, but instead work to provoke them into the kind of life Christ lived by either disturbing them, or energizing them. I resolve to be the change I wish to see.

I have no idea what will happen. My church might run me off. My provocative comments might get me into trouble. Or, I might find a group - a very small group - who, like me, want to go deeper than "church" can take us. It's time to take the risk.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Why Jesus was special.

I like to reflect on religious holidays. In the western Christian tradition, there is Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost, Advent, and Christmas. There are some others in the eastern tradition, but I'm not as familiar with them.

Unfortunately, in the evangelical church we don't pay as much attention to these "Christian Holy-days" as we should. Most of the churches I've been a part of celebrate Christmas, Easter and 4th of July. What a shame.

In any case, I like to reflect on our Christian holidays. And, as most of you know, Christmas just occurred. The story of Christmas usually goes like this: An angel told the virgin Mary she was going to have a child who would save the world. Joseph was going to divorce her, but an angel told him not to, so he didn't. They went to Bethlehem for a census and ended up having a child in a stable. Angels told Shepherds and wise men about the birth, and they came to worship baby Jesus (who didn't cry, it seems) in the manger after following a really bright star.

Now, let's make sure we understand the absurdity of all this. First, we contend that Jesus was concieved by a virgin. (Riiiiight.) Next, angels did a whole bunch of footwork to make sure Joseph didn't divorce Mary and Shepherds knew about the birth, but they didn't convince a shopkeeper to save a nice room for Mary. (Sounds like someone dropped the ball.) Finally, wise men came to worship, bringing fine gifts to the smelly stable, and they followed a bright star to get there. Evidentally, this bright star "stopped" over a stable, which is how they knew where Jesus was. (A stopping star, huh? Sounds to me like someone had too much egg nog.)

I say all this not because I don't believe it. I say it instead to highlight how preposterous the whole thing is. A quick check of history (and psychiatric wards) reveals that people have claimed to be born of a virgin all the time. We don't believe these "virginal births" because stuff like that just doesn't happen. Plus, let's consider the first century (and possibly second century) Christians. The New Testament was not yet formed at that time, and most likely people only had access to one Gospel. Let's say that gospel was Mark or John - neither of which mention a virgin birth, or stables, or wise men. Is their faith somehow less since they don't beleive in a virgin birth?

Here is my point. We believe the story of the virgin birth and the stable and the wise men because of what happened AFTER the birth and the stable and the wise men. We believe Jesus is the Christ not because he was born (everyone is born), nor because he healed people (others in the Bible healed people, as do modern physicians), nor because he died (everyone dies). Instead, we believe that Jesus is the Christ because he was raised from the dead, because he taught that he himself is the way, the truth, and the light. We believe Jesus is the Christ because of the power of the Spirit in the lives of the apostles. We aren't convinced that Jesus is the savior of the world because he is born of a virgin, but instead, we believe he was born of a virgin because he is savior of the world.

At Christmas we celebrate the birth of Jesus, who is God with us. But being born doesn't make Jesus special. His radical obedience to God, his liberating grace, the forgiveness of sins, his rise from the dead, and his bringing of the Spirit make him special. His unique birth is only icing on the proverbial birthday cake.

So as I reflect upon Christmas, I'm not so concerned about the biology of Jesus's birth or the quality of his visitors. Instead, my reflection leads me to praise God that Jesus came into to world to be God-with-us, not baby-in-manger. He came to be more than born-of-a-virgin, he came to be God-as-man. And that's what makes Jesus special.