Reflections on Resurrection 1

Posted: October 29th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Resurrection | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Throughout this blog and in my comments elsewhere, I often focus on resurrection. In many ways, it is the Christian teaching of resurrection which drew me deeper into this faith and it is certainly one of the linchpins that keeps me in it. I can say with certainty that if I did not believe in Christ’s Resurrection and that it was the first fruit of our own resurrection, then Christianity would hold no interest for me. As Paul writes, if Christ is not risen then we are of all men the most pitiable.

However, there seems to be a great deal of confusion today, even among Christians, about Resurrection. Since it dawns on me that it is not possible to really understand some of the things I write without understanding what is wrapped up in that one word, I thought it might be wise to write a short series outlining my perspective on the subject. I’ll write, as I normally do, from a personal perspective. If you’re more interested in a comprehensive academic treatment of Christ’s Resurrection, I would recommend N.T. Wright’s big book, The Resurrection of the Son of God. That sort of exhaustive treatment is not my goal.

When pressed, I normally describe my background and childhood formation as pluralistic. In order to understand what is behind some of the things I plan to write in this series, I think I need to explain what I mean when I use that term. First, I need to say that my childhood was not shaped within the context of a single non-Christian religion nor was it particularly non-theistic or atheistic — though there were certainly aspects of a number of different religions and non-theistic or loosely theistic influences. However, my childhood, whatever else it may have been, was not anti-Christian at all.

In fact, while I’m not sure anyone growing up in the American South in the 70s could avoid exposure to Christianity, my experience of it was, while pretty varied, largely positive. I was baptized in a Baptist Church at a pretty young age. At different times I attended both Episcopal and Catholic schools. (I also attended a bunch of different public schools, a nonsectarian private school, and was even home-schooled for a few months in Mississippi when my mother discovered the local schools were still segregated.) Over the course of my childhood, I also experienced a wide array of other Christian traditions and denominations. Ironically, though not raised strictly Christian, I probably encountered more of the diversity which constitutes Christianity in America than most of my peers.

I could, if I wanted, frame a relatively typical Baptist conversion narrative. I don’t do so because that does not truthfully capture the reality of my experience. Yes, my encounters with and scattered experiences within a Christian context were authentic (whatever that means), but they were hardly my only spiritual influence. Moreover, my rejection of what I understood about and experienced from Christianity as a sixteen year old teen parent was just as authentic as any of my earlier experience. These were markers on my journey of conversion, but I don’t consider myself to have finally converted to Christian faith and practice until my early thirties when I unexpectedly reached a point where that label described something central to my identity.

Christianity, though, was just one aspect out of many in my formation. My family and thus our extended circle of family friends includes many involved in the scientific and academic community. Although, of the many things I’ve been or practiced, I never felt any pull toward atheism or even classical enlightenment-style deism, that perspective and manner of approaching life and reality has certainly been a part of my formation. I don’t find it threatening. I also do not find it antithetical to belief. I do find that this part of who I am is the part that’s mostly likely to make the determination that a particular religion (or one of the many different Christian Gods proclaimed today) is not worth believing or practicing, and its deity not worth worshiping.

The other most significant and formative spiritual perspective from my childhood was Hinduism. Why Hinduism? The simplest answer is that we had Indian friends and my mother was at least dabbling in it. It was just part of the air I breathed as a child, as present to me as was Christianity. Now, it’s important to recognize that the term itself is a broad label encompassing virtually any religious practice rooted in the perspective found in the ancient Vedic texts. It’s not really a single religion in the sense of a single set of beliefs and practices, though there are a number of consistent underlying perspectives on the nature of reality. Rather, there are many gurus, past and present, who teach different things.

I never really followed a guru. I’m not sure why, exactly. I just didn’t. I did spend some of my late preteen and early teen years actively practicing transcendental meditation, which does have a particular guru, but I never formally engaged it. I just practiced privately using a book as a guide. Beyond that, I explored various published writings including, of course, the Bhagavad Gita.

Hinduism, however, was not the only other part of my childhood spiritual formation. I don’t remember ever hearing the term New Age in the seventies. However, many of the things lumped under that heading in the bookstore today were part of my experience. My parents ran a small press bookstore in Houston for a few years and that gave me easy access to books on numerology, runes, palmistry, astrology, tarot, and many related topics. Even before then, I remember sitting with my mother when I was as young as six or seven as she brought out her tarot deck and did readings. I also clearly remember participating in a past life regression workshop my parents hosted for a friend when I was eleven or twelve. I was captivated by the modern myths of Atlantis. I also recall some interaction with Wiccan and neopagan systems of belief. (In my twenties I also had a number of Wiccan friends.)

After being rejected by and in turn rejecting the Christian aspect of my formation, I tended to operate from a basic Hindu perspective of reality, but I explored a number of different options. I read a fair amount of the Qur’an at one point, but Islam never held any appeal to me. We had had some Jewish family friends growing up and there were aspects of modern Judaism that did appeal to me, but it’s not a direction in which I was particularly drawn. I did explore Buddhism and Taoism, but at the time they didn’t really appeal to me either. (Ironically, I find some elements of both more compelling now after being significantly shaped by Christian faith and practice than I did at the time. If I was going to be anything else other than Christian today, it would probably be one of those two.) I looked a bit at Wicca and neopaganism, but they were just too modern for me, if that makes sense. I have a deep sense of history. You may have noticed that in some of my writings.

For most of my twenties, I settled into a sort of lackadaisical Hindu belief and practice. I didn’t seek a guru. I didn’t actually attend anything. But those were the beliefs about reality I privately held and, to the extent I practiced anything, I practiced Hindu meditation. I also continued to privately practice tarot, but I abandoned most of the other practices in which I had dabbled over the course of my childhood.

Why does this matter for this series? It’s really pretty simple. When we discuss Resurrection and the nature of the human being, a lot of people today — including many Christians — seem to believe something more like the other perspectives in my spiritual formation than anything identifiably Christian. And it seems to me that many people don’t even realize that’s the case. Now, I’m hardly anything approaching a guru when it comes to Hinduism or any other religion. In fact, after the last fifteen years during which I have consciously and deliberately embraced and explored Christian belief and practice, I’m pretty certain I know more about Christianity than I do any other belief system. I absorbed a lot from those other systems and explored them all to some extent, but never with the commitment or to the depth that I have Christianity. Nevertheless, I am conscious of these other perspectives on reality and see their influence (or the influence of some of their cousins) in American Christianity in ways that many, perhaps, do not. And it seems to me that the central point of dissonance lies in the all-important Christian proclamation of resurrection.

I’ll continue this series next week, but if anyone is reading this over the weekend and is willing to share, what thoughts come to your mind when you hear resurrection?


The Monstrous Within Us All

Posted: February 20th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Personal | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

As I’m sure most people are now aware, this past week an Austin resident snapped and flew his small plane into one of our IRS offices. Due to a well-designed building, some fast thinking and good reactions from those in the building, small acts of heroism, and a healthy helping of good fortune, it appears that only one person died in the attack. While I did not personally know Vern Hunter or his wife Valerie, I’m still discovering those within the web of my friends and acquaintances who did know Vern. The IRS is a large employer in Austin, but I suppose you can’t work for them for a quarter of a century without developing connections that leave you one or two degrees of separation from many of the other employees. My thoughts and prayers have been and remain with the Hunters.

Nobody I personally know was injured or killed in this attack. As such, I would not describe my reaction to it as grief. Nevertheless, as my coworkers and I (and our immediate families) fielded calls and texts all day Thursday from friends and loved ones across the country checking on our well-being, I experienced a sense of … unreality. I suppose that sort of reaction is a natural insulating effect of mild shock. This particular attack hit uncomfortably close to “home,” to the immediate environment over which we all of like to feel some degree of control. It drove home how little we are able to truly control.

Of course, we all immediately wish to demonize people like Joe Stack. We want to strip them of their humanity and turn them into monsters. We want to turn them into the “other”, distance them from ourselves, and make them into objects of scorn and hatred. The message of that hatred is, in part, that “we” (our network of family and friends — our tribe, if you will) are not like that monster. We could never act in such a way.

It is, of course, true that most of us will never act as Joe Stack did. But that is not quite the same thing. And though we wish to deny it, we do share in Joseph Stack’s basic humanity. It’s in that shared human nature, which those of us who are Christian would call an icon of the Creator, that we have the capacity for acts of incredible goodness and heroism. But it is also in that same damaged nature that we all have a capacity for the monstrous. It is perhaps only when we acknowledge that fact that we find the ability to love those who make themselves into monsters. The reaction of the Amish when their children were gunned down is the example of humanizing love that comes to my mind. Of course, I am a Christian. And I would say that ultimately our capacity to love flows from the one who is Love. But that does not diminish the synergy of our participation in that love or the dissonance when we refuse to participate.

I’ve been following the reports of neighbors, acquaintances, and family of Joe Stack. They all describe a man not unlike us all. He was a man who loved and was loved. It’s become clear that he was more tormented by his demons than those around him realized, but they were pretty ordinary demons. There was nothing that stood out about Joe Stack, that marked him as anyone unusual, until that moment when he chose to act.

I was heartbroken by the comments of his daughter, who lives in Norway. They spoke often. She loved him and had no sense that anything was wrong. Her children, his grandchildren, loved him. At one point, she says, “Maybe if I’d lived in the states… a little closer to him… I don’t know.” My heart ached for her as I read that statement. There is, of course, no answer to that question. But who among us has not been tormented by the question: What if? It’s a cruel question and yet one we cannot seem to avoid.

The reality is that people are not monsters; they are not demons. Human beings perform monstrous acts; they try to dehumanize themselves. That is absolutely true. But at one point in their lives, they were that helpless infant, that small and hopeful child, a son or daughter, a husband or wife, a parent — a person with dreams not unlike the rest of us. Almost everyone has loved and been loved. Even the “monsters” leave behind people who love them, confused and heartbroken. Even the most monstrous cannot escape their basic humanity.

And when we recognize that fact, we are forced to acknowledge that the capacity for the monstrous exists within us all. As a Christian, I turn to Jesus and pray, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me,” for I do not know what else to do. He is the only human being who, fully sharing our nature, defeated the monstrous within it. If we cannot find our true humanity, a humanity worth embracing, in Jesus of Nazareth, I don’t know where else to turn. I’ve explored so many other paths and found nothing like the promise Jesus offers. But sometimes it’s hard to believe it’s real, especially when forced to face the monstrous.

My heart also breaks for the family and friends of Joe Stack. I can’t imagine their pain and heartbreak. And so I pray for them. But I also pray that God has mercy on Joseph Stack III. After all, he was a human being, created as an eikon of God. If I deny that fact, if I let myself turn him into a monster, then I am denying my own humanity and life itself, at least as I understand it to be hid with Christ in God.

Lord have mercy.