Monday, January 13, 2014

The Idolatry of Our Age - Part V: Be the Resurrection

I have been writing on the subject of how the concept of idolatry applies in our modern age.  This post is a continuation on this theme - if you have not done so already, you might want to read the beginning of the series:
  • Part I explores the idea that God is not like an idol which can be manipulated to fulfill our desires
  • Part II explores how our limitations prevent us from understanding infinite reality
  • Part III explores how the Bible is worshiped over the person of Christ
  • Part IV explores the hero's journey

Be the Resurrection
In my last post, I explored the concept that Jesus calls his followers on a hero’s journey.  Through this understanding, I think it should become clear that we should also view Jesus crucifixion and resurrection not just as something that happened at a point in history, but as a model for our own life.

Take up your cross and follow me...
Now you may say “whoah, you’re sounding a little crayzay there!”

But I’m serious!  Let’s examine for a minute, starting with Jesus’ death.  What is the point of the crucifixion?  Is it just an event in history that we’re supposed to look back and reflect on?  I don't think that's the point - I don't think it's supposed to be a painting on a wall.  I think it’s also supposed to inform how we live!  Just as the disciples followed Jesus’ so closely that they were “in the dust of the Rabbi”, I believe that Jesus taught that they were supposed to take their own part in his crucifixion as well! 

Now, of course I do not mean that we should literally hope that someone comes along and offers to hoist us up on wooden crosses until we die.  This would be abhorrent. 

But, Jesus did say (in Mt. 16:24-25):

Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.
So what is it that Jesus means when he says we should take up our cross?
The apostle Paul says in Galatians 2:20:

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.
Now Paul was writing this as a living embodied person on this earth.  So obviously this is not talking about a death ritual.  No, what I think Jesus and Paul are both talking about is a death of the false self - our egotistical drive to serve ourselves, to live up to cultural standards (even if they involve a sense of tribalism), and to please others in order to be held in favor.

This view transforms the crucifixion of Jesus from a historical event into a present reality - a “sacrament” (a practice through which one may experience the presence of God).  In John 15:4 Jesus says that if we “abide in” him, he will “abide in” us.  This is not some voodoo magic he’s speaking of.  He’s saying that if we live out the way he’s taught - following in his footsteps - we will experience his spiritual presence!  And this "following" includes a death of the false self, which we must continually seek!  By living out the life of Jesus - through acts of kindness, through denying ourselves, through love of our enemies - we can come to understand God’s thoughts!

Now, do not misunderstand me and think that I am saying that we will reach a point where our finite minds can contain the infinite - this is not at all what I am saying.  But we can find rest in the process - as Jesus said (Mt. 11:28):
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.
To understand the scriptures, love, Jesus, and even come to know God, we must transcend ourselves.  This includes transcending our biases and tribal identities - the tribalism of our political, religious, and social identities.  We must continually seek to understand our neighbors - no matter how different they be - and seek their well-being over our own.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer - a pastor in Germany who opposed Hitler’s Nazi regime during World War II and was eventually martyred for it - wrote in “The Cost of Discipleship”:
The disciple is dragged out of his relative security into a life of absolute insecurity (that is, in truth, into the absolute security and safety of the fellowship of Jesus), from a life which is observable and calculable (it is, in fact, quite incalculable) into a life where everything is unobservable and fortuitous (that is, into one which is necessary and calculable), out of the realm of finite (which is in truth the infinite) into the realm of infinite possibilities (which is the one liberating reality).
I am the resurrection and the life
Through this death of self, I believe we can also discover how the resurrection is not simply a historical event, but is also a sacramental, present reality.  After leaving behind our old, dead selves and transcending them, we embody the resurrection in this life!  In her book “Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening”, Diana Butler Bass writes about an exchange she witnessed between Bishop Dan Corrigan and a parishioner.  This person asked the Bishop: “do you believe in the resurrection?”  And his answer was: “Yes. I believe in the resurrection. I’ve seen it too many times not to.”

In Luke 24:13-35, there is a story where two of the disciples are walking along the road to Emmaus after Jesus’ death.  According to the text, Jesus comes along beside them and is walking with them, but they do not recognize him.  They walk with him for a ways and are involved in a discussion the whole time, without ever realizing who it is that they are speaking to.  Afterwards, they invite him to eat with them, and still they do not recognize him!  It isn’t until he breaks the bread and passes it out to them that they realize whose presence they were in.  Recognizing the resurrection required a new level of consciousness on the part of these disciples.

We should also seek the find the resurrection in our present life - the resurrection of former addicts, amputees who learned to live without their limbs, formerly homeless people who built a life out of the rubble of their past, and many other ways that the resurrection happens in real life.  And we should take part in this process - we should lift our neighbors up out of the ashes of their former lives, and incarnate the resurrection in our present world.

In “Christ in Evolution”, Ilia Delio writes:

The cross and resurrection won the victory over evil, but it is the task of the Spirit, and those led by the Spirit, to implement that victory in and for the whole world. The victory is found not in the life of Jesus alone but in his death and resurrection. It is in the resurrection that the power of Jesus as the Christ is experienced.
In my next post, I will explore how love is like the wind.

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