Me & Jesus: Too Much of a Good Thing?

Sometimes things aren’t bad or wrong, sometimes things are good and right in and of themselves, but they take so much of our attention that they have become bad things for us.

How can a good thing, something true about how the world works or how God is at work in the world, become bad?

It happens when one idea so captivates our imagination that it keeps us from even hearing other parts of the story.

One of the most important emphases in evangelical Christianity is the idea of a personal relationship with Jesus (or with God through Jesus, depending on whom you ask). It’s not enough to be around a church or a faith community, we have to own it.

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

But then the “personal relationship with Jesus” metaphor starts sinking in its roots.

Once it does, it provides a built-in rubric for assessing our faithfulness to God: am I spending time in a 1-on-1 relationship with God? Am I praying? Am I reading my Bible? Am I feeling connected? Is Jesus Lord of my heart?

All good things, but also a one-dimensional line that does not accurately tell us the shape of the Christian life, precisely because it is insufficient.

Over the course of the next few months, I’m going to be co-teaching through the book of Philippians at a church gathering. As I’ve been reading the letter over the past few weeks, one idea keeps jumping out at me:

If we are reading Philippians waiting for Paul to shut his yapper about all his interpersonal relationships so that we can get to the point where I hear God’s word just for me, we are going to miss the entire point of the letter.

Yes, I did just say “entire” point. And I mean it.

Yes, of course, the letter is all about Jesus–the crucified and exalted Jesus. But here we are right up to the point where this personal relationship with Jesus starts to break down.

To be in “personal relationship with Jesus” is nothing other than to be “in Christ.” And to be “in Christ” is to be in a space occupied by others who are “in Christ.” Here is the place where there is to be encouragement, where there is consoling love, where there is like-mindedness, where we become parts of a body that is Christ’s–or is it Christ himself?

Joy is found not only in Christ, but in people who make each others’ joy complete.

Salvation is found not only in Christ’s death for us, but in people’s coming together to pray and God acting to send the saving Spirit and deliverance.

The ideal way of life is found not only in Jesus’ self-giving love, but in those who follow after Jesus along the same path and therefore can summon others, with integrity, to follow and imitate them.

And then, all of a sudden, whether or not I’m having my quiet time recedes in its ability to tell me whether I’m being a good Christian.

All of a sudden when I want to know how I’m doing with the Lord I’m called to look not simply “up” into the mystical heavens or “in” to the depths of my heart, but left and right to the people with whom I am supposed to be faithfully living in Christian community.

And now, whether or not I’m connecting with Jesus becomes tangible. Am I living in unity with the people in my community? Am I in reconciled relationship? Am I not thinking about myself, but embodying the cruciform life of Jesus in pursuit of the flourishing of my sister and brother?

Me and Jesus. It’s not bad. It’s not wrong. But it is a powerful metaphor that needs to be treated carefully. It might just make us look in all the wrong places, and it might keep us from finding the better life that Jesus has to offer, just because he delights to call me his friend.

The [choose 1: Eagle / Dove] Has Landed

Once upon a time there was a people of tremendous military might. Their strength and ferocity was marked by the king of birds–the eagle.

romanstandards 220px-USGreatSeal1904DieDrawing

This great people proclaimed itself to be the bringer of the Great Peace.

where they make a desert, they call it peace. (Tacitus)

e pluribus unum

The earliest Christians were not naïve about how power worked. They were not blind to the brutal realities of tyranny and the need to stand against it.

That’s precisely why the earliest followers of Jesus lived in eager anticipation of the time when Jesus would overthrow their Roman overlords. That’s precisely why they literally could not hear Jesus’ promise that he was going to die as messiah. That’s precisely why they wanted to call down fire from heaven on those who rejected them. That’s precisely why they thought Jesus a failure after he was crucified.

“But we had thought he was the one who was going to redeem Israel?”

The temptation didn’t go away. The temptation to imagine that true peace, true freedom, could only be had if someone came who acted like Rome but out Romed Rome–better deployment of troops, better handling of swords.

The next generation of Jesus followers faced it to.

That’s what Mark 13 is about: false Christs will arise saying, “I’m the guy!” What’s the context? The time when Jerusalem’s stones will be thrown down. The time when Rome executes its next devastating act of military victory over Judea in AD 70.

The time when Christians are not to get carried away, thinking that the way to the reign of God, of peace, of justice upon the earth is to be had by way of the sword.

The temptation didn’t go away.

The idea that the transformation of the economy of power in the world might happen by something other than the sword has never caught on. Rome’s been gone for over a thousand years, Jesus is still proclaimed as Lord long after such an acclamation has ever been given to a Caesar, but still we do not believe it.

The innocence of the dove alludes us, even as we call ourselves Christians.

The subversive alternative of the Dove to the Eagle alludes us, despite its descent upon Jesus at his anointing to his messianic office (HT: Peppard).

Dore, Baptism

The way of peace, the way of the cross, the way of Jesus, probably doesn’t make for good Empire building. But maybe Empire building isn’t our calling in the first place?

Maybe our calling is, instead, to embody a witness to an alternative economy, an economy in which self-giving love has a Divine power to overcome even the life-taking hatred of the world’s superpower.

“He rose again on the third day.”

To stand in the faith of the Christian church is to attest to this one great fact: the military power of the world cannot overcome the life-giving power of God.

Has military power been, can it ever be, the conduit of that life-giving power?

The disciples sure thought so…

Open Letter to New Testament Students

This is a repost of something I wrote a couple years ago. With a new academic year upon us, it seemed holy and righteous and good to trot it out again. If you’re taking a Bible class in college or seminary, this is for you

Dear NT Intro students,

Our quarter will be kicking off in a couple of weeks. I love the process of digging into the New Testament texts with students–you bring a passionate commitment to living out the Jesus story that is too often missing in the halls of the academy. You remind me why we study the Bible in the first place.

But there’s something you should know. Bible classes are often the hardest classes for seminary students. And I don’t mean that they’re the hardest academically. I mean that they’re often the hardest on students’ faith.

You’re coming to study a book that you love. You’re coming to delve into a book whose various verses and chapters have spoken directly to your heart–and transformed you. You’re coming to build on what you know and to enrich what you’ve already discovered.

But if I am doing my job, you are probably going to undergo a slow process of discovering that what you thought was a book is, in fact, a bunch of books; you’re going to find out that what you know is often incorrect; and what has spoken to you has been edifying, but that text may not ever be able to speak with that same voice again.

Bible professors are not the only ones whose classes hope to leave you with transformed knowledge. But rarely do you have as much invested in the assumptions that the professor is trying to deconstruct.

People lose their faith in Biblical studies courses, and grad school in particular, because they discover the pervasive extent to which the NT was written by humans and speaks differently from what they anticipated.

This can all sound terribly bleak. But I want you to enter the class with your eyes open.

And more than that, I am going to make you a promise.

Here is what I promise to do for you: I promise to leave you with a Jesus who is worth following, a Christian vocation that’s worth risking your life on, and a Bible that will guide you toward both.

In other words, I promise that I will not leave you empty-handed; I promise that my goal is to strengthen you as a faithful follower of Christ. I have not come to steal, kill, and destroy, but to help you better see the One who is the way of life, and how scripture is a witness to him.

So for my part, I promise to leave you with a faith worth believing.

For your part, I ask that you come to learn. Here, more than anywhere else, if you have come to have your prior understandings validated through high academic marks, you are likely to experience frustration. Hold loosely to what you’ve brought through the door, and learn what is coming from your reading, from our discussions, and from the lectures.

Learn what is really on offer, resist jumping to conclusions, press to find out how it all holds together. I promise that I am striving to be a faithful teacher, I need you to enter in with the goal of being a faithful learner.

At the end of the quarter, we will likely disagree about a few things. Or maybe we’ll disagree about almost everything. That’s fine. I won’t down-grade you for that. But I need to know that you’ve learned. And, I hope that in the process you have seen more clearly a Jesus who is worth following. I believe with all my heart that this is what I’m helping you discover.

So if you feel like things are falling apart or spinning out of control, let’s talk. That’s not the direction this should go, but it’s always part of the danger of discovering that the Bible isn’t what we thought it was–or that Jesus isn’t who we thought he was. But the fresh acts of faith that such discoveries engender can themselves be the stuff of newness of life.

I look forward to learning with you in the weeks ahead.

Peace,
jrdk

Writing in the Hell of Exile

Or, some thoughts on Barton Fink (streamable it on Netflix or via Amazon).

You might be asking yourself, “Self, why is jrdk posting thoughts about a film that came out 22 years ago?”

To this the answer would be twofold: (1) The Coen Brothers are the greatest storytellers of our generation, so it is always appropriate to write about their films; and (2) jrdk is going to be writing an essay on the reception of the Bible in Coen Brothers movies, so he’s doing his homework.

I don’t want to get too fancy about the whole “reception of the Bible thing,” so let me put it like this: the Coens regularly use allusions to scripture as anchor points for interpreting the palettes of imagery that suffuse their films.

Barton Fink is a quintessential example of this.

Fink is a playwright. He feigns modesty, and is genuinely self-deceived about his commitment to the common man–toward whom he is endlessly condescending and to whom he cannot, will not, listen. But about whom and for whom he desires to write.

Barton Fink envisions himself as a creator, though he seems capable only of recycling the same lines again and again.

And, Barton’s move from New York to Hollywood is an exile. More specifically, it is a Jewish man’s Babylonian exile. The recipient of a novel entitled, “Nebuchadnezzar,” written by an author who is currently working on a screenplay entitled, “Slave ship,” Barton stays at a hotel that is a hanging garden evocative of the ancient Babylonian wonder. The film invites being read in concert with the book of Daniel, specifically, the recounting of faithful aristocratic Jews navigating their life in Babylonian exile.

The hotel seems to double as a sort of hell. The desk man, Chet!, comes up from a trap door in the floor–a typically devilish short of entrance. Fink signs himself into the guest book and we see it from the God’s eye view above. ["You can check out any time you like but you can never leave"?]

The Biblical resonances are more than faint allusions.

There is one scene where Barton is at his wits’ end, and picks up the Bible the Gideons had left in the desk drawer. He reads:

And the king, Nebuchadnezzar, answered and said to the Chaldeans, “I recall not my dream; if ye will not make known unto me my dream, and its interpretation, ye shall be cut in pieces, and of your tents shall be made a dunghill.”

This is a modification to the biblical text, which does not name Nebuchadnezzar. It’s a change that helps us draw the lines between the text Barton reads, the book he receives earlier, and the whole idea of Babylonian exile.

It seems to me that this text points in two directions at once. First, there has been a chopping to pieces. It is the Coens, after all! Goodman Aflame in Barton Fink

But it also becomes a picture of what Barton is trying, and ultimately fails, to do: he is supposed to conjure up exactly what the studio mogul wants of him, but he’s not told what to do. The mogul has a dream, and Barton is supposed to tell it in his script. The studio owner says he wants that “Barton Fink” feeling, but… well… not so much.

The modified Daniel reference is immediately followed by another biblical reference.

Barton thumbs from Daniel to Genesis. And there, at Gen 1:1, rather than “In the beginning God created…” we see the first lines of Barton’s own film script, lines he has typed and stared at repeatedly:

Chapter One 1. Fade in on a tenement building on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Faint traffic noise is audible; 2. As is the cry of fishmongers.

The juxtaposition is significant. Later Barton will proclaim himself to be a creator. But what he creates is not in keeping with his “king’s” dream. His own words, replacing the words of Gen 1, show how Barton sees himself–playing God, creating a new world for the common man in theater, in film.

The biblical Daniel realizes that reading the king’s mind and interpreting his vision is not the work of any man on earth. Barton thinks himself a god-like being, and so possesses no such realization, making himself into a sort of anti-Daniel.

Barton ends up passing through a fiery furnace before all is said and done, another juxtaposition of his hotel with hellish imagery that signals to us that Barton’s project and his very self are not as noble as he seems to think.

One other biblical layer comes to mind.

Barton is supposed to be writing a wrestling picture. But he knows nothing about wrestling movies. And he knows nothing about wrestling.

I wondered if this failure to apprehend wrestling was one of the indications of Barton’s failure to grasp his own identity. Throughout the film Barton’s Jewishness is a recurring theme. But is he “Israel”? Is he one who knows what it is to wrestle with God?

If you’ve not seen Barton Fink, go watch it. We’ll wait.

If you have watched it, what do you think? Are there things I’m missing? Things you disagree with? Points you think are helpful for holding this film together?

A couple of my own ideas in closing: (1) the fact that someone is using biblical imagery doesn’t mean that they are retelling a Bible story, and we shouldn’t expect them too; but (2) the fact that someone isn’t retelling a Bible story doesn’t mean they’re not telling a biblical story. (In fact, I’d say that the Coens end up telling some of the most biblical stories in Hollywood precisely because they are free enough from the idea of retelling the particular stories to create new stories that capture things in fresh ways.)

Also, if anyone can explain that girl in the picture to me, I’d be eternally grateful. Hopefully, I listen better than Barton…

Conversion of the Imagination

Paul puts it this way: “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

Richard B. Hays puts it this way: “The conversion of the imagination.”

It’s the practice of so steeping ourselves in a narrative, in an understanding of the world, of in an understanding of how the world actually functions, that we see everything differently.

We name problems differently.

We imagine solutions that we never thought possible.

And we see a path between those problems and those solutions that we never would have entertained before. And, if we have enough faith, we might even walk it.

On the 50th Anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.s‘ famous “I Have a Dream” speech, it’s his own participation in the conversion of the collective imagination of the United States that continues to inspire me and stir me to hope:

As a Christian, I am stirred by his ability to weave the biblical vision of a better, more just, future into his vision for America.

In the mess that is the mutually intertwined lives we live where religion and politics are inseparable, the use of Biblical imagery to call, prophetically, to the kings of the earth to stop using their power for tyranny, and to call, prophetically, the citizens of the earth to love one another, models a way of being a Christian in the public sphere that had, and still has, the power to shape us from within to become the kind of people that we know we should be.

Speech is a powerful tool. Its power is readily sidelined for other, more immediately effective powers.

Speech can also be a blunt object. Its power is readily employed by the power that be to keep their power and to keep others away from it. In politics, this is the greatest modern day hindrance to a true MLK heir shaping our vision for a better collective failure. (This is where Obama has by and large failed to live up to his promise.)

The strongest power that the word has to offer is when it gets deep inside us and opens our eyes to a new way of being, and that so vividly depicts the image that we recognize it is a way that has the power to make us more truly and fully human.

To the extent that King’s dream has become a reality, it is because the collective imagination of our country and our world has experienced a deep conversion about what it means to be fully human. To the extent that it has not, our collective conscience, our collective imagination, has failed.

Salt of the Earth

“If you salt the water, you won’t taste the salt. But if you don’t, you’ll know something’s not quite right.”

Sage advice about pasta water from Mr. Richard, one of my friendly cooking gurus.

Image courtesy of pakorn / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of pakorn / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It’s the same with the bread we baked up today. If we’d salted it, it wouldn’t have been salty bread, it just would have tasted more like bread. Instead, it was just sort of flat. A floury delivery unit for the dip.

Salt, rightly done, doesn’t make you taste the salt, it makes you taste more of what you’ve added it to.

What if Jesus was after something like this?

“You are the salt of the earth.”

Too often those of us who live on the Evangelical side of the fence envision the message of Jesus as world-denying; or, worse yet, world-escaping.

What’s our job then? To call people out of the world, to get them to leave it behind!

What if, instead, our job as followers of Jesus is to make the world more of what it was supposed to be in the first place?

What if salting the earth isn’t preserving it (just barely!) from destruction at the hands of an angry God, nor being so entirely other in everything we do that people want to suck the salt lick all day?

What if what we’re supposed to do is neither world-denying nor, to be sure, naïvely world-affirming, but instead robustly world-redeeming? What if our calling is to imagine engaging the world so as to make the good things of the world better versions of themselves?

What if the point of shining on the earth wasn’t always to be a beacon to summon people away, but also, and perhaps more basically, to show people who they could truly are, or who we truly could be if we were willing to come in out of the dark?

What if the call to take up our cross and follow Jesus meant not only “losing our life” but entailed a “losing your life for My sake and the Gospel” in order to actually find it?

And what if that “it” was, recognizably, your life?

“You are the salt of the earth.” Might we envision a salty vocation to make the goods of the world with which we come into contact better versions of what they were always meant to be?

Sell Your Stuff, Then We’ll Talk

The story of the rich man who sorta kinda wanted to follow Jesus (Mark 10) is well known. He wants to follow, right up to the point where it starts to hurt: sell all your stuff and come follow.

Not so much.

Here are some thoughts that are leftovers from a Devotional I was writing on that passage:

In the Jewish tradition there were two great commandments: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and might, and love your neighbor as yourself. The Ten Commandment summarize how this love is to be enacted. The rich man believes he has kept the commandments, but he is in for a surprise.

We are prepared for this surprise when Jesus confronts the man for calling him “good.” God alone is good. If you are calling Jesus good, are you going to be willing to follow through on the implications? Will you recognize that following Jesus on the way to the cross is what it now looks like to love God with all your heart?

Here we are face to face with a call from Jesus that is just as offensive to us as it was to his initial audience. We want to prosper according to the kingdom of this world and still thrive as a citizen of the kingdom of heaven. We want to separate the call to gather and worship and pray from the world’s calling that we go and earn and keep.

But Jesus is Lord of all. His is not a reign that can leave us serving both God and money. His reign takes every bit of the world as we know it and flips it on its head.

Jesus here is not simply calling the man to follow in some general sense. Jesus is calling the man to follow Jesus as Jesus is on his way to die in Jerusalem. The reign of Jesus is not one that leaves our lives in our own hands. Even when we have obeyed every command that God has given, our lives are not our own. Jesus’ call is to “take up your cross and follow,” and that means that the faithfulness that leads to eternal life will always entail listening to the specific call he lays on each one of us.

The World in Miniature

The ancients understood something about the world that we, too often, don’t.

They understood that the patterns of being and interacting in each sphere of the world were establishing ways of being and interacting that affected the others.

When Aristotle wanted to make hay about politics, he started with the most basic political unit: families. More specifically, he started with husbands and wives.

The assumptions he made at one level permeated each other level. In the home, as in society at large, there are people who are given to foresight and planning–who are, in short, superiors. Things would only work well if these superiors ruled their inferiors.

Where does such superiority come from? From the ability of the reason to conquer the passions of the body. From the ability of strength to subdue the weakness that would ruin a home, a city, or a kingdom.

Men were to rule at home for the same reason that Alexander the Great should be the great emperor over all the inhabited world: each epitomizes reason, virtue, and physical power.

At a conference recently, some folks were wrestling with why male power in the church is such a difficult thing to dislodge in America–a place with enough theological education that we should know better.

If we look around we see the seeds of undoing the models of society that uphold the power of patriarchy: when we say “all men are created equal” we actually have to mean all human beings, not just all males. Once we’ve said and meant such a thing, there is no longer any basis for ascribing rule to men alone.

If we look “down” we can see the seeds of undoing the models of society that uphold the power of patriarchy: we strive, now, to have our children settle their disputes without fighting. We call exercise of physical power of intimidation “bullying,” not “manliness.” Our change in vocabulary says that we refuse to be a society governed by physical might as though this is some demonstration of the superiority that gives you the right to lead.

But when we look “up,” it’s an entirely different picture.

While we bemoan gun violence at home, our country is perhaps the greatest perpetrator of gun violence around the world–through exporting of not only arms but also of persons to pull the triggers.

While we righteously deplore the justice of human rights violations in places like North Korea, we violate the human rights of our own political prisoners either in Guantanamo Bay or through extraordinary rendition.

A couple of thoughts about all this.

First, the ancients were right. And, we will not be able to have the microcosms of safe and flourishing communities we desire while we are creating a cosmos of danger and destruction. As long as the national narrative is one of power through violence, that will be the micronarrative of our communities as well.

Second, in the United States, Christians are the greatest hindrance to the alternative economy of peace coming to fruition on the national stage. This is because Christianity is the strongest perpetuation of the narrative of patriarchy in our country.

Patriarchy is about a way of understanding rule through power. And Christians are the boldest, loudest group of people who still maintain that the power of the man (which is always a power of physical might and of a presumption of fundamental inequality and of exceptionalism) as the order of the cosmos.

There is a power in the narrative we teach our children, that simple narrative whose mandate is, “Use your words.” I.e., don’t use the coercion of your fists.

That microcosm has the power to create a different kind of cosmos. Here, I would argue, the power comes not from any inherent power in words, but in the economy of the kingdom of God as put on display in the cross of Christ.

Peace has a chance, not because weakness is inherently better than power, but because of the promise of the power of the God who gives life to the dead.

“Deutsches Requiem”

On vacation last week, I did what vacating people do: I read. Short stories, mostly. (Pro Tip: when the most free time you’ll ever have to read ever in your whole life is 30 minutes or less due to the parenting of little people, go with short stories rather than novels.) Ok, it was short stories entirely. And it was a steady diet of Borges, Labyrinths.

“Deutsches Requiem” is a first-person narration of the death of the Third Reich and its dream. As the teller recounts his tale, he is spared from lamenting this death by one central conviction: the downfall of Hitler’s Germany is a martyrdom of sorts, the death of the first grain of wheat that is necessary for a truly new world to be brought into being.

This appreciative resignation is only possible because the narrator has been deeply transformed.

“I will say little of my years of apprenticeship. They were more difficult for me than for others, since, although I do not lack courage, I am repelled by violence. I understood, however, that we were on the verge of a new era, and that this era, comparable to the initial epochs of Islam and Christianity, demanded a new kind of man.”

It would be hard to imagine a more succinct distillation of the frightening theology of National Socialism. The idea that a new era, with a new humanity, was being brought into existence by the violence of Hitler’s wars and concentration camps was a devastatingly powerful metanarrative.

Violence, in fact, is how our narrator typifies the coming era he has, in the end, helped bring into existence:

“An inexorable epoch is spreading over the world. We forged it, we who are already its victim. What matters if England is the hammer and we the anvil, so long as violence reigns and not servile Christian timidity?”

Borges has captured something so profound, so utterly basic to Christianity, that it is to the perpetual shame of Jesus’ followers that we have not taken hold of it. Borges

Whenever violence is victorious, Christianity is defeated. Whenever we play the part of the crucifying centurions rather than the crucified Christ, our profession of faith is undone.

Now, we might well think that Borges is ridiculous to think that “servile” Christianity was the norm before the 1930s or ’40s. We might find ourselves wishing he were right!

But in the worlds created by Borges, time does not move in a straight line. The narrator himself recounts the glorious deaths of his forebears in the opening lines of the story.

If there is incongruity between reality and the narrator’s words, it comes from an irony that Borges has deeply planted.

Borges has told a story of anti-Christ, something that is only possible when once you’ve grasped well who the Christ is. The irony continues as the narrator goes on:

If victory and injustice and happiness are not for Germany, let them be for other nations. Let Heaven exist, even though our dwelling place is Hell.”

“Heaven” is the world of happiness–happiness that comes to pass not only through violence, but injustice. Hell is simply to be on the wrong side of the violent wielding of power.

The beauty of the story is that it draws us into a loathsome rejection of the narrator’s view of the world, a place where wielding the sword is the great new era, only to send us back to the reality that this, truly, is the world in which we live and the means by which we judge it.

The words of Jesus that the world is least willing to hear have always been, “It shall not be so among you.”

Where’s This Manna Coming From?

I imagine that I will continue playing with this manna metaphor (see here and here) for a little bit. It’s really another way of attacking the “Storied Theology” project: a way of articulating the idea that our shared Christian story has defining, definitive moments that determine the shape of our current life, to a certain degree, while yet needing to be reborn in our own times and places.

Manna is a pliable metaphor, as is the narrative metaphor for Christianity and theology. It’s a way of getting my mind around what breathes new life into Christianity wherever that’s found. In other words, this is not a theological model whose goal is to control a certain content.

It is, instead, a posture of life and theology that can function within any number of theological worlds.

The manna idea is coming from an accidental collision.

First, I was doing my Deaconal service and listening to the Homebrewed Christianity podcast. Somehow those guys got Barry Taylor and Peter Rollins into the same episode (warning: Rated R for language), and it was mind-blowing. Barry Taylor

The journey that those guys want you to take in exploring the world of ever-new faithfulness to God is exhilarating and frightening.

But I also realized that their world isn’t mine. I recognize that Barry T. was being provocative when he said this, but as an example, here’s how his description of the Lord’s Supper went down. Taylor said that “remembering” had nothing to do with what happened 2,000 years ago, it has to do with being the people who live now the life of light and love that Jesus himself lived.

Of course, in saying that, Barry indicated that we have to remember what happened 2,000 years ago if we’re going to get today right.

He’s absolutely right that receiving Christ has as its goal the creation of persons and a community that look like Jesus now. But in order to get that story right, we have to know what Jesus looked like then.

That’s when manna came in…

Second, at some point I remember not when, I was part of overhearing a story of manna being told to kids (maybe as a debrief of my kids’ Sunday lessons?).

That’s when I started to put this thing together.

I need the both/and. I need the definitive, defining moment of what God did in Christ 2,000 years ago to provide the determining narrative, the definitive shape, of who God is and how God is at work in the world.

I cannot say that 2,000 years ago is rubbish, but I do want to say, with Barry, “nostalgia smalgia”–desire to live off of nostalgic notions of faith and faithfulness to God are a longing for a world that never existed. Those longings will never lead us to life. They will create communities of death.

I cannot say, as it seems to me Rollins is saying, that the experience itself is the thing, and we’re just calling “God” some human experience that we rediscover in new ways. But the notion that the true and living God who is not us must be rediscovered rings true.

So that’s where the manna’s coming from. It’s (as Barry T. says at one point in an interview) honoring your grandfather by having grandchildren rather than honoring him by wearing his hat.

It’s honoring God by trusting that God can be Father to a new generation within the same family, and not merely noted as a great-grandfather on their family tree.

Telling the story of the story-bound God