Tag Archives: Jesus Christ

Excursus: On the Love of Jesus

For the record: an excursus is a digression in a written text, wherein a digression is an intentional change in subject, wherein wherein is another way to say “in which” or “in what place.” It’s an excursus because it departs from the current miniseries “We Among Others.”

This post is inspired by a strange experience I had and how I wrote briefly about it on my Facebook, and now I wanted to explore more of it, yes. 

I don’t know why I felt it.  Maybe it was because I was writing on a response paper to Stanley Grenz’s chapter on the Holy Spirit in Theology for the Community of God.  Maybe it was because I was listening to Beach House’s new single “Myth” (http://www.beachhousebaltimore.com/, listen to it!), but I felt a powerful emotion. As I sat there, in my chair, behind my desk, my computer in front of me, my peace lily to the left, my green office lamp to the right, I felt an overwhelming urge to profess my love for Jesus Christ.

It was a sensation that began in the gut. It’s not a stomach ache, and it wasn’t anxiety, but it had a similar sensation to anxiety.  It was a tingling emanation from my umbilicus throughout and throughin its anatomical neighborhood.  It moved through and within my bones and muscles, and once it reached my head, the tingling sensation produced what I felt as being connected with my entire body in the experience of a single emotion.

Not my desk lamp, but a good example.

But what was this emotion?

It’s an emotion that centers you with the entire universe.  You are able to look at your computer, your peace lily, your office lamp, and sense a deep and profound presence of the divine in it and in all of it. Time slows down, reality morphs into tangible intangibility, that place where you know you are but that in there your being is in flux.  You are morphing and moving with reality in the stillness of change.  In this moment we can hear the still soft voice, we can feel the gentle breeze, and we can see the faint glimmer of the divine.

In these moments, we see that we have entered into a beautiful existence, or perhaps that the beautiful existence has come to us.  We are enraptured by the beauty that envelopes us , and in this all our senses and all our faculties strive to make sense of it. However, they can only make sense of it through alternative means, namely, the experience itself.

But in this deep clairvoyance is the striking emotion of commitment to the experience itself. In the experience we find ourselves muttering words of affection to the experience itself. But what makes this experience special is that the experience is personified, but not in the sense that a person is created in the experience, but rather that a person is discovered in the experience, encountered in the experience.

My peace lily, but not the one in my room.

In this, we, in faith, identify the experience as the love of God, meeting us in the still places, kindling within our hearts a gentle reminder of the love we share.  It reminds us of the works of God that we know of through the inheritance of history.  It reminds us of the present work of God in our lives and how in faith we have chosen to view our life in response to and in expectation of the divine. And so, likewise, it reminds us of the coming hope of the dramatic fulfillment of that which we have inherited and that which we experience and respond to, a consummation of love in perpetual fullness and completeness.

These reminders are all personified (or incarnated) in Jesus Christ, and we understand that the feelings we experience and the memories and hopes conjured up within the experience is the work of God making known Godself in the work of Jesus for us and in us. In this, in the enraptured experience and hope, we find we are compelled to do none other and by nothing other than to whisper into the stillness of the experience: “Jesus, I love you.”

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We Among Others: Who Are These People?!

I ended the last post in this series with the claim that even though Jesus is the (T/t)ruth, we all see Jesus through our own cultural context and world view. In this post, I want to explore how people see Jesus today.

But what about you? Who do you say I am?

Most Christians see Jesus as the Savior.  Now, seeing Jesus as the Savior means different things to different people.  Some mean that Jesus saves us from God’s wrath upon sinners.  Some mean that Jesus saves us from enslavement to Satan and evil forces.  Some mean that Jesus saves us from political oppression.  Some mean that Jesus saves us from ourselves and from anxiety of our own finiteness.

Most Christians see Jesus as the Son of God. Now, seeing Jesus as the Son of God means different things to different people.  Some mean that Jesus is the second member of the Holy Trinity, known as the “Son,” wherein his sonship refers to him as being the son of the Father, the first member of the Trinity. And then there’s the Holy Spirit to throw in another member.  Others see Jesus as the Son of God to mean that God chose Jesus the man for a special mission in the world.  God chose this man to herald in the Kingdom of God on earth, and teach people to love one another.

Now, I’m going to take a wild and crazy guess that most of the readers of this blog come from a perspective where Jesus as Savior means that he saves us from God’s wrath upon sinners, and that Jesus as the Son of God means that he is a member of the Trinity.  Fair assumption, no?

You think this kid reads my blog? Probably….

What demographic is this audience?  Well, considering that I’m writing on my front porch with the Minneapolis skyline in view, I can assume that my readers that know me are from the surrounding area.  Now, according to Wikipedia, being that the racial/ethnic composition of the Minneapolis/Saint Paul metropolitan area is 81.6% non-hispanic whites, I can assume a lot of them are non-hispanic whites.  And knowing Minnesota’s strong Nordic roots, I can assume a lot of them come from that ancestry, and even have roots in Nordic Christian traditions (i.e. Lutheranism), but they’re also American, so they may likely be Baptist, Reformed, Methodists (but certainly not Presbyterians or Pentecostals! Shocking!) And finally, considering that they are reading this from a computer, they own or at least have access to a computer.

So, just from playful hypothesizing, my readers are likely white Midwesterners who make a sustainable income.  Great!

But what about everyone else?  Where are they in this discussion? Contrary to popular belief, the world is not predominantly white Midwesterners with sustainable incomes. In fact, it’s quite the opposite! Even in Christianity (the predominant religion in the world), white, financially comfortable people are not in the majority of Christianity.

However, the fact of the matter is that Christianity has been a white-dominated religion ever since, oh, I don’t know, the bishop in Rome officially became white and not Middle Eastern. In fact, I’m living proof of that.  I’m a white, Midwestern man, financially satisfactory (errr), typing theology on his computer.  What, then, do I do with that? What do you do with that?

As I said in the last post, we are not alone. We are all together, in solidarity, looking up to the Truth through our own eyes, but with each other.  Look around. Who are the people surrounding you?  A lot of them don’t look like you.  They don’t come from the same place as you do, and they sure don’t make the same amount of money as you.

What do you think they think about Jesus?

Probably not the same as you.

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A Feminine Masculinity Part 2 of 3: The Beloved Disciple and Über-Masculinity

Dearly beloved,

Last week I posted my reply to Rachel Held Evan’s challenge to men to write blogs in response to John Piper’s comment that “God has given Christianity a masculine feel.”  I said a lot in that post, and to a great reception by the internet community!  In short, this was my punch-thesis:

“We should recognize our worship of God in light of who God made us to be.  We worship God regardless of our gender, and we cannot allow our gender to become the norm of how we interpret the Bible, theology, and spiritual experience.  Rather, we must be open to the fullness of how and who God created us to be in the unity of our masculine and feminine identities.”

I ended the post with describing how I have been called to action in light of this:

“In light of my personal experience, I want to break down the strongholds gender has placed on theology and open the floodgates to the experience of God in light of and regardless of gender.”

In this sequel, I want to actually discuss how I practice this.  The last post was lofty; how, then, does what I preach look practically for me?

Fr. John Guiliani’s “Jesus & the Beloved Disciple”

One way is in the example of the beloved disciple resting on Jesus’ chest at the Passover meal. In this scene, and especially in iconography, we have a moment of tenderness and vulnerability. The disciple’s love for and devotion to Jesus is so intense that he cannot help but display it in an intimate and physical. But this love is not entirely selfless; the disciple is looking for reciprocity. In loving Jesus, he too wants to be loved. In leaning on Jesus’ chest, he not only displays love, but asks for it in return.  He wants to be held, to be known, to be felt, and to be loved.

What was the response to this act?  Did the disciples point and laugh at him, calling him names like “sissy” or “homo?” What if Jesus took offense to this, shrugged the disciple off his chest, wailing “Get off me, bro!”? But Jesus does not, and the others do not (though Peter is curious about him in John 21:20-23.  Jealous, perhaps?!).  Jesus accepts the gesture of love, and in allowing the gesture he reciprocates the love here and on the cross.

A transitional aside: We know very little about the disciple whom Jesus loved, and only church tradition identifies him as John the Apostle/Evangelist/Etcetera. However, I’m not even going to begin to explore the identity of the disciple, let alone 1st century CE cultural displays of affection. What matters is what this means to our discussion, and that is that loving Christ transcends gender, and that this love, the kind the beloved disciple shows, directly challenges an over-emphasized masculine identity, or an über-masculinity.

Don Draper of Mad Men: The archetype of uber-masculinity.

To love Christ (yikes, this is another whole discussion to be had!) means to love freely, fully, without abandon, and in total humility.  The sacrificial love Christ lived out, demonstrated, enacted, and realized is a call to love God and one another.  But for the über-masculine male this is difficult, or even impossible.  The über-masculine male is an independent and solitary figure.  He knows what he wants, knows how to get it, and often times does at whatever cost. He is strong, dominating, ruthless, and triumphant.  He is a rock, he is an island, and a rock feels no pain, and an island never cries.

How can the über-masculine male love one another, let alone love another man, and that man being Jesus?  For the über-masculine male, he cannot!  He does not love, but expects others to love him.  He lusts and controls, doing whatever to protect his impenetrable masculine identity. He has made himself to be a god, worthy of worship from “lesser forms” of men and women around him. This identity, my beloved, does not belong, and it is an identity that the love of Christ subverts.

A man who cannot lay his head upon the chest of Christ, who cannot show love in intimate and personal ways, is a shadow of a true man.  However, when one has responded to the love of Christ, a love so powerful, the über-masculine male cannot stand, for his feet of iron and clay are too weak to uphold his identity. Through the selfless and subversive love of Christ, the Son of God, the Son of Man, we find idolatrous identities collapse, and with nothing left of our own to grasp on to, we fall into Christ’s arms, and lay our heads upon his chest.

In a few days, I will provide another example, but in the interim I have a challenge to my readers:

Respond to this post with an example (or examples) of how your worship of God transcends or subverts cultural assumptions of gender identity.

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Feminine Masculinity?: A Personal Reply to Rachel Held Evens and John Piper

Hey’all,

We are temporarily departing from our series on the “Joy of Theology” to take up a special issue.  Rachel Held Evans put forth a challenge to men to write a “blog post that highlights the feminine images of God found in Scripture or that celebrates the importance of women in the Church. (Be positive and be creative!).” This is in response to John Piper declaring that “God has given Christianity a masculine feel.”  As a man, I could not help but rise to the challenge!

“As a man…” Well, that just stopped me in my tracks. “Who am I?” A personal note: I have never felt like a very masculine man.  I never played sports, never was buff or even fit, or ever lived up to the masculine identity that television and Hollywood projected. So, I’ve always felt disconnected from masculinity, knowing that biologically I am a man, but not feeling manly.

The man Derek Zoolander joins with the human race in asking the eternal question: “Who am I?

And so, I was always pegged as the sensitive, emotional type, types that traditionally are not ascribed to masculinity.  I am sensitive. Men are tough. I am emotional. Men don’t cry. I am in touch with my feelings. Men don’t feel.

But in my life’s journey in becoming comfortable and confident in my identity as a man, I have been encouraged by the Biblical witness to the fullness of manhood and womanhood. A full manhood lives in the reality of masculine and feminine identity, and a full womanhood lives in the reality of feminine and masculine identities. I see Biblical people as living out their identity in the reality of the fullness of genders, in the fullness of the image of God, and not as isolated towers of masculinity or femininity.

Was Rahab any less feminine and more masculine to aid the Israelites in the capture of Jericho? Was Deborah any less feminine and more masculine to lead Israel to victory? Was Esther any less feminine and more masculine for saving the Jewish people from genocide?

Was David any less masculine and more feminine to dance before the Ark of the Covenant?  Again with David, was he any less masculine and more feminine in his friendship with Jonathan? Was the Beloved Disciple any less masculine and more feminine to lay his head upon Jesus’ chest?

Some will argue: yes. But I disagree.  I see these examples of people living in the fullness of their identities, perhaps even in counter-cultural ways and coming before God in celebration.

It’s actually the last illustration that means the most to me, and in this I see the best example of relinquishing our strongholds of identity and collapsing into the love of Christ.  The love of Christ invites us to lay our heads upon his chest in adoration and security. It invites us under his wings like a mother hen gathers her chicks (sound familiar?). All in all, God invites us to be the bride of Christ, and enter into holy union with our Creator.

So, in one sense I am saying that our relationship with God is bigger than our gender, but in another sense I am saying that we love God within an engendered culture and regardless of our gender.  But we can be free from the cultural constraints on our gender identity.

So am I suggesting an abandonment of the masculine and feminine?  No, that would be a fatal mistake.  What I am arguing for is for recognition to the openness of our genders in expression of love and worship of God. What I am arguing against is “gendermandering” the Bible, theology, and spiritual experience. That means that the Christian experience cannot be masculinized or feminized; it depends on the unity of the masculine and feminine in the reality of the unity of the image of God.

We should recognize our worship of God in light of who God made us to be.  We worship God regardless of our gender, and we cannot allow our gender to become the norm of how we interpret the Bible, theology, and spiritual experience.  Rather, we must be open to the fullness of how and who God created us to be in the unity of our masculine and feminine identities.

In sum, this reply to Rachel Held Evans may not have directly addressed her challenge.  However, I wanted this to be a demonstration of whence I come to the discussion of gender, the Bible, theology, and spiritual experience.  In light of my personal experience, I want to break down the strongholds gender has placed on theology and open the floodgates to the experience of God in light of and regardless of gender.

The original article: http://rachelheldevans.com/john-piper-masculine-christianity

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Whence we begin? Non-negotiables and theologizing.

What arguing over non-negotiables looks like.

In one of my seminary classes last week, we were assigned in-class to name our top five non-negotiables when it comes to our faith and theology.  A non-negotiable, for those keeping score at home, is a tenet of belief that we hold on to uncompromisingly. It is something that we find to be so necessarily true that we cannot deviate from it.  It is an axiom from which we build upon all our other assumptions, and several other comparative sentences.

In class I wrote my list fairly quickly, for I have been thinking about these things for quite some time.  They are as follows, and then I will explain them afterwards:

1. The equanimity, balance, and holism of all life.

2. The Love of God.

3. A relationship with God and a relationship with others as an emanation of a relationship with God.

4. The reality and ethic of the resurrection of Christ.

5. The equality of humanity.

After looking at this, I felt that I had immediately pegged myself as the intellectual mystic of the class!  However, you may look at this list and see something different.  Allow me to explain my tenets, albeit briefly:

1. There is a natural balance in life that we all seek to experience.  We all strive for inner and outer peace, or, peace within ourselves and peace within our world and with others.  We recognize the intimate interconnectedness of life and respond to it.

2.  #1 points us in the direction that there is a God who loves and is love.  We recognize that God is for peace, for balance, and for relationship, yet all of this is but a small aspect of what we mean when we say that God is love or when we describe the love of God.  The love of God is more than what we can understand as love, but we can understand God, albeit incompletely, through our human understanding of love.

3. #1 and #2 then point to how God relates to us and how we relate to God.  Our God is a God of love made known through creation, and through creation God enters into relationship with creation (what I call the relational creation principle).  Thus, we are able to know and love God, and along with being commanded to love one another, our love for one another is an emanation of our love for God.  If we love God, we will love others.

4. Now we finally get to something explicitly Christian (winky face)! #1, #2, and #3 all are made fully known in the life of Christ.  We see it in Christ’s life of ministry, in his death, and especially in his resurrection.  Christ’s conquering of death, sin, and evil made the way to eternal communion with God, and established an ethic for living in that reality.  Christ’s resurrection both establishes a real change in human history and inaugurates a new age of living in communion with God and creation.

5. Finally, in light of all the previous points, the work of Christ has recreated and reconstituted humanity around Christ-self.  In this Christ has saved humanity from itself and affirms all as equal not only before God but before one another.  We are all children of God through Christ, and we live in that reality on earth in relationship with one another and in expectancy of its fulfillment of our ultimate union with God.

I could only explain these “non-negotiables” hilariously briefly here, but they set up a train-of-theologizing.  Each tenet picks up on a major area of theology that is necessary in discussion.

1 – Prolegomena, or, First Things.  How do we know what we know.  What do we know. What is the reality at hand?

2 – Theology Proper: The Godhead.  Who is God?  What is God?

3- Theology Proper: The Work of God. What does God do?  How and why?

4- Christology. Who is Christ.  What did Christ do?

5- Ecclesiology. Who and what is the church?  What and what are we as the people of God?

After I gave my non-negotiables I listened to my peers give theirs, and it was fascinating.  There were people who held non-negotiables that I would never hold.  There were people who held explicitly Calvinist beliefs as non-negotiable, others who held explicitly Arminian beliefs.  There were those who listed broad assumptions (like mine) and there were those who listed very specific dogma as non-negotiable (e.g. Scripture as divinely inspired, the divinity and humanity of Christ, the Trinity).  Like I said, it was fascinating.

It was fascinating to see what people held to, and even though I agree with most of them, in my theology they were not expressed so specifically or systematically.  Sure, I believe Christ was fully God and fully human; sure, I believe that the Bible is inspired by God, and sure, I believe God is Trinity (please don’t get me wrong!). But what I learned from this exercise is that we all come from multiple perspectives, backgrounds, and histories, and these greatly influence the beliefs that each of us believe to be absolutely essential. Not only so, but from our backgrounds and personalities we understand what tenets we emphasize over others.

Next week’s post will look more at this phenomenon of multiple views and voices and the humility we need in encounter others who may disagree with us, or at least, look like they disagree with us.

What are some of your non-negotiables?  I’d be interested to hear!

Published locally at Spyhouse Coffee Shop: Nicollet Avenue.

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