Jesus & The 5 Thousand: A first-world translation

10516641_10152229752776872_6432681443322654705_nJesus withdrew privately, by boat, to a solitary place but the crowds continued to follow him. Evening was now approaching and the people, many of whom had travelled a great distance, were growing hungry. Seeing this, Jesus sent out his disciples to gather food, but all they could find were five loaves and two fishes. Then Jesus asked that they go out again and gather up the provisions that the crowds had bought to sustain them in their travels. Once this was accomplished, a vast mountain of fish and bread stood before Jesus. Upon seeing this, he directed the people to sit down on the grass.

Standing before the food and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks to God and broke the bread. Then he passed the food among his twelve disciples. Jesus and his friends ate like kings in full view of the starving people. But what was truly amazing, what was miraculous about this, was that when they had finished the massive banquet there were not even enough crumbs left to fill a starving person’s hand.

The initial shock of this story relates to the way that is inscribes selfish and inhuman actions onto Christ himself by twisting the story we all know on Jesus feeding the multitude. While it would seem perfectly acceptable to attack governments, corporations and individuals for failing to distribute goods appropriately and turning away from the poorest among us who suffer as a direct result of our greed, it would seem inappropriate to read such inhumanity into the actions of Christ himself. If anything, Christ was the one who demonstrated a life of joyful simplicity, radical healing and unimaginable love. Christ challenges us to look outward, and thus he should not be the one whom we condemn.

Yet in the bible we read that those who follow Christ are nothing less than the manifestation of his body in the world today (Colossians 1:24, 1 Corinthians 12:27 and Ephesians 5:30). The presence of Christ in the world is said to be directly encountered in the presence of those who gather together in his name. In very concrete terms, people learn of Christ through those who claim to live out the way of Christ. However, if Christ is proclaimed in the life of his followers, if the body of believers is thought to manifest the body of Christ in the world, then we must stop, draw breath and ask ourselves whether the above tale reflects how Christ is presented to the world today, at least in the minds of those who witness the lifestyle of Christians in the West.

Excerpted from ‘The Orthodox Heretic & Other Impossible Tales’ by Peter Rollins.

Psalms 2.0 [Adoration]

YOU ARE

You are a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path. My redeemer. My lover. My best friend in this entire universe. You are the anchor of my entire existence.

You are my fortress in the fight, my provider, my shelter from the storm and my rock high above the miry clay. You are the beacon of light that pierces through every dark day. You are abundance itself and your favour is my inheritance.

Everything my eyes alight on testify of your majesty. When I see, hear, smell, breath in, taste, touch, perceive, I am awed that you have created me to understand and experience pleasure.

You are sweeter than honey. Your love expands my heart in ways I have never felt before.

You are grace; the epitome of love, kindness, patience, tenderness, strength and wisdom. You are my creative, limitless and fierce God, whose love knows no bounds, whose power is beyond measure and whose goodness cannot be contained by breadth or depth or height or any other dimension.

You are my companion and the only one who walks with me wherever I go. You fight my battles for me, going before me in all things. Your love is the banner over me, your standard flies high above me, a sure declaration of victory to all who see.

You are my good God and everything you think towards me is good. You thought of me before the foundations of the earth were laid and when you poured out your love on the cross and granted me a new covenant, I was there in your heart.

You are unchanging in your faithfulness, ever more when I flicker and fade. What you were like before I knew you, is exactly who you are now. You are my safe place, my comforter. You are forever near.

Life after Sunday.

coffeeSo Friday came and we agonised at the foot of the cross. On Saturday we wrestled with doubt, despaired and waited with bated breath. Then, to our surprise, Sunday came and Jesus ushered in a celebration of the new shalom; the reconciled, resurrected life. But now, it’s Wednesday… which comes after Tuesday, which comes after Monday. What happens now?

May I suggest coffee and croissants?

In John 21, we read: “Jesus said to them, ‘come and eat breakfast’. Of course, the new work was only just beginning: there was discipling to do and the gospel had to reach the ends of the earth, but before any of that, Jesus invited them to sit and eat with him.

I’m reminded how, at the close of his life, Jesus “desired earnestly” to break bread with his disciples. And when I read this account in John, I love that at the beginning of this resurrected life, Jesus invites them to break bread once again. I wonder if that’s why he chose to be remembered by the breaking of bread – that daily act of sharing a meal is a moment of rest from work, a brief relief within the busy day. The bread becomes sustenance and nourishment to our bodies. The very act of eating is itself a reminder of life. As my friend said at Church this last Sunday – “only the living eat”.

Perhaps, when you strip it all away and get right back to basics, maybe Jesus invites us to breakfast because its the opportunity to sit with him, to be nourished by his supply (yes, I am hinting at the fact Jesus is the bread of life). The breaking of bread invites us into his company.

So yes, it is Wednesday and for me, that means its time to bring out the coffee and croissants. After all, isn’t that what Jesus said to Martha when Mary was found sitting at his feet?

“only one thing is needful”.

Let’s eat.

Unapologetic #HosannaInTheHighest

“They arrive at the walls, but it’s too late in the evening for the entrance Yeshua has in mind, so they wait till the next day in the straggly settlement outside the gates. Then in they go, Yeshua and the nucleus of twenty or so men and women who have been following him about. The narrow stone streets are packed with visitors who’ve come in from the province for the biggest festival of the year, a festival of death averted, in which the people of the one God remember how he saved them by smiting the rest; and the visitors see, well, something like a parade, with Yeshua riding on a borrowed donkey, and the friends around him shouting make way, make way. Who’s this? It’s another bloody prophet. It’s that crazy preacher who says we don’t need the law. It’s the rabbi from up north who heals people. What, the river-dipping one? No, he’s dead. This is another one. It’s a kind! Rubbish, kings ride on horses, not donkeys. But there are prophecies about donkeys. Maybe he’s the one. Oh come on. This fellow? Where’s his sword? It’s the king, it’s the king! Keep your voice down, idiot. Better get the children indoors, just in case.

Is it a king? The scene is hard to read. It’s like a royal progress and a parody of a royal progress, all at once. Yeshua is doing exactly what a christos would do if he were making a momentum play, gambling on snowballing crowd support. Yet the details are off-script somehow, from the donkey, to the way that only some of the friends seem to be shouting the slogans you’d expect, to the way that the man himself doesn’t have his face set in the shining megawatt mask of charisma. It isn’t clear what’s happening. But something is, and though only a portion of the crowd are young enough, or hopeful enough, or desperate enough, or unwary enough, to give Yeshua their acclaim, quite a lot of them are curious enough to follow and see what comes next: for the parade, or procession, or whatever it is, is clearly heading for the temple, up the twisting alleyways to the top of the city, and.. into the wide forecourt of the one God’s most sacred place…

Yeshua looks around. He sees the doves in their wicker cages, and the half-grown spring lambs in their straw, and the nervous cattle sidling, kept perpetually antsy by the smell of blood that drifts out of the temple’s doors. He sees the money-change stalls where, before you can even buy your animal for the sacrifice, you have to swap the emperor’s dirty coinage for the temple’s own clean currency, good nowhere else. He sees the whole apparatus for keeping this one little walled acre of ground separate from the compromised, colonized world outside. And he begins to shout. Do you call this pure? Do you think any of this keeps you clean? Do you think any of this keeps that at bay?–waving his arms out at the city, the hills, the entire empire. Nothing is pure! This is the house of the loving father who welcomes home his lost children! This is the house of my father, and your father! Do you think you can sell his forgiveness? Do you think there is a price for peace with him? It cannot be bought! It cannot be sold! It can only be given! These are thieves! They promise you are buying what can only be given! God gives freely!”

(pgs 134-136)

What Does Jesus Have to Do With ISIS?

1 Corinthians 15:55

Since Christians will live forever, they are told not to fear in the face of death. Paul says,

Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? — 1 Corinthians 15:55

Since we know we will be with God forever, there is no more fear of death for the Christian of true faith. In fact, death is even beneficial to a Christian, because it sends him to God, with whom he is longing to be. Paul writes, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. — Philippians 1:21.

Continue reading “What Does Jesus Have to Do With ISIS?”

It might feel like Friday, but Sunday is coming.

Let’s be honest, none of us like to wait. And I preach right now to myself as the principal amongst the chiefs of sinners in this category. If I cut away the excuses and drama, the truth is that I equate time spent waiting with time spent wasting; time which I do not have. To couch my impatience in biblical terms, I could argue that my human life is so finite, akin to a “flower quickly fading, here today and gone tomorrow” that I can’t afford to wait. In other words, life is short, and patience – well, ain’t nobody got time for that!

Waiting. Wasting.

In my moment of reflection about this, God whispers to me – 400 years. You may have been waiting, but I was working.

400 years is the space between Malachi and the birth of Christ. For the Israelites, it was an incredibly long period of waiting – utter silence, no prophets, no words of promise from God. To just sit in such quietness is unfathomable to me. The silence must have been deafening. Continue reading “It might feel like Friday, but Sunday is coming.”

Convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt

The Case for EasterI started my original investigation [of the resurrection of Jesus] as a spiritual skeptic, but after having thoroughly investigated the evidence for the resurrection, I was coming to a startlingly unexpected verdict. One final fact — described by a respected philosopher named J. P. Moreland — clinched the case for me. “When Jesus was crucified,” Moreland told me, “His followers were discouraged and depressed. So they dispersed. The Jesus movement was all but stopped in its tracks. Then, after a short period of time, we see them abandoning their occupations, regathering, and committing themselves to spreading a very specific message — that Jesus Christ was the Messiah of God who died on a cross, returned to life, and was seen alive by them.

“And they were willing to spend the rest of their lives proclaiming this, without any payoff from a human point of view. They faced a life of hardship. They often went without food, slept exposed to the elements, were ridiculed, beaten, imprisoned. And finally, most of them were executed in torturous ways. For what? For good intentions? No, because they were convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that they had seen Jesus Christ alive from the dead.” Continue reading “Convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt”

Being present in His presence.

“God’s presence is always hyper-presence. This is analogous to the idea of a ship sunken in the depths of the ocean: while the ship contains the water and the water contains the ship, the ship only contains a fraction of the water while the water contains the whole of the ship. Our saturation by God does not merely fill us but also testifies to an ocean we cannot contain…” – Peter Rollins

Identity: A definition of ourselves we like.

This reflection comes to us from Mockingbird: Rousey, Identity and Depression

2015-08-02T062326Z_151655753_NOCID_RTRMADP_3_MMA-UFC-190-ROUSEY-VS-CORREIA_1

Ronda Rousey, if you have been living in a cave for the past few years, is one of the most successful and famous professional fighters–male or female–in history.

She is the first US woman ever to win an Olympic medal in Judo. She is the youngest woman to ever qualify for the Olympics, qualifying as a judoka at age 14. She was consistently one of the top 3 ranked judo champions in the world before transitioning into mixed martial arts (MMA), where she quickly dominated and became a world champion. Going into November of last year, she was 12-0 as an MMA fighter, and only one fighter had ever even survived the first round…her dominance was unparalleled, with 8 of her 12 challengers being defeated in less than a minute.

And then, in November 2015, she lost. Brutally. Holly Holm defeated her in two rounds so badly that she was hospitalized for some time afterward, and not allowed to fight for six months to allow healing.

“I’m Nothing”

This week on The Ellen Degeneres Show, Rousey talked about this for the first time. She had this to say:

“I was literally sitting there and thinking about killing myself and at that exact second I’m like, ‘I’m nothing, what do I do anymore and no one gives a s–t about me anymore without this.’ ”  Continue reading “Identity: A definition of ourselves we like.”

Love mercy.

So we’ve been exploring the various facets of forgiveness this week as part of our forays into the subject of ‘identity in Christ’. It’s clear that wherever forgiveness is concerned, opinions on mercy, grace, weakness, power and love are bound to intersect:

Rev Martin Luther King: We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love”

Gandhi: The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.

Maya Angelou: You cant forgive without loving. And I don’t mean sentimentality. I don’t mean mush. I mean having enough courage to stand up and say “I forgive. I’m finished with it”.

There are echoes of Jesus on the cross for me here:

‘Father forgive them … it is finished’.

After everything I’ve contemplated this week, one thing I cannot shake from my mind is the revolutionary grace in action at Norway’s Bastoy Island Prison, a prison where inmates are treated as human beings. The interesting thing about Bastoy is that the rate of its inmates reoffending upon release is just 16%. That’s strikingly low compared to the rest of Europe where the rates of recidivism are as high as 75%. Looking at Bostoy it would appear Abraham Lincoln was onto something when he said “I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice”. Apparently Grace works.

This is Bastoy: bastoy-prison-on-an-island-in-norway

 

The prisoners on the Island live in village communities, have free time and are given responsibilities. Underpinning this approach to corrections is a desire to see inmates rehabilitated into functional members of society. In the Christian worldview we might say Bastoy sees them for what they are: sinners in need of forgiveness.

A favourite magazine of mine recently interviewed Arne Nilsen, a clinical psychologist by trade and a prison warden at Bastoy.

“In closed prisons we keep them locked up for some years and then let them back out, not having had any real responsibility for working…In the law, being sent to prison is nothing to do with putting you in a terrible prison to make you suffer. The punishment is that you lose your freedom. If we treat people like animals when they are in prison, they are likely to behave like animals. Here we pay attention to you as human beings …”

This is what Nilsen says about the less than conventional approach at Bastoy:

You don’t change people by power. For the victim, the offender is in prison, that is justice. I’m not stupid, I’m a realist. Here, I give prisoners respect this way we teach them to respect others. But we are watching them all the time. It is important that when they are released they are less likely to commit more crimes. That is justice for society”.

Vidor, one of  the prison’s oldest inmates, is a laundry worker on Bastoy and a house-father in his four man bungalow. I’m quoting here from an article on Bostoy published by The Guardian:

“[Vidor] tells me he is serving 15 years for double manslaughter. There is a deep sadness in his eyes, even when he smiles. ‘Killers like me have nowhere to hide’, he says. He tells me that in the aftermath of his crimes he was ‘on the floor’. He cried a lot at first. “If there was a death penalty I would have said yes, please take me.” He says he was helped in prison. “They helped me to understand why I did what I did and helped me to live again’.

When I think of Vidor’s story in the context of Nilsen’s words, you don’t change people by power’, I can’t help but think of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery.

I think of God writing on the temple courtyard, the sound of stone pavers fracturing into fissures under the touch of his finger. This is God in flesh; an echo of Sinai. Instead of commandments of law written on tablets of stone, a new law is being written here: mercy.

Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.

The freedom from condemnation comes first, before the instruction to sin no more. Accepting we are not being held to the penalty due to us, that we no longer need to be ashamed, is what empowers change.

In my mind, knowing how deeply forgiven we are is a critical first step to understanding our identity in Christ.

We are righteous in God’s eyes. That status never changes, even when the state of our lives don’t look so righteous. It’s not just about seeing that in ourselves, we also need to see it in others.

And what does God require of us but to do justly and to love mercy, to walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8)

As an imitator of Christ, I must love mercy as Christ does.