We are four weeks into our series, “Who is Christ for Us for Us Today?” I recently shared with the OC how roughly fifteen years ago, my image and understanding of God essentially fell apart. The chasm had opened, and like Jonah and Esteban, I was swallowed whole (partially “chewed”). But in the midst of a financial, family, vocational, and faith crisis, I decided to launch a desperate “hail Mary” pass to the endzone. I enrolled in a graduate seminary program, and my wife and I packed up our old broken down van and moved from sunny So. Cal. to rainy Portland Oregon.
I arrived at seminary eager to begin my quest for theological answers. But I was running out of time – my personal faith crisis was rapidly escalating into full-blown enmity and alienation. “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” The painful feeling of betrayal could no longer be assuaged and I began to understand how people lose their faith. God was no longer friend and he was no longer father, for the differences between us had become irreconcilable. The time had come for the old god and I to part ways. So, reluctantly, and unofficially, I called it quits with the old god. But, how on earth was I going to complete a graduate seminary degree as a partially lapsed Christian?
The old god was someone who, if I was honest, I had difficulty relating to on a personal level. And yet, for all my adult life, I have desperately felt the need to gain the old god’s favor. Deep down, I had always hoped that the old god might see fit to give me an advantage in this world and provide me with a “better life.” But the old god and our conditional, quid pro quo relationship, was finally over. The experience of breaking up with my old god was both radical and painful, for it meant mourning the loss of the old while opening myself up to the terrors of uncertainty and the feelings of abandonment. And while I would eventually discover a new Image, a crucified Image, the process is an ongoing, work in progress.
the old god
As I gradually came to terms with the fact that life as I once knew it was over, I began to dedicate myself to a new cohort consisting of faithful friends and scholars, some living and some dead. This cohort, along with my wife Maylannee (and a steady diet of brandy, PNW ale, cigars, Spotify, and my favorite films) would help me navigate through this “Valley of Dead Bones.” The other critical thing I did during this time (it turned out to be the most crucial move of all) was narrow my theological focus to a particular field of study, Christology. Christology is just what it sounds like, the study of the one called, Jesus Christ.
Back in 1933 Dietrich Bonhoeffer taught a seminar at Berlin University on the theme of Christology. “Christology as the study of Christ is a peculiar discipline because it is concerned with Christ who is himself the Word or Logos, from which we also derive the term for study.” In other words, Christology, or Logology, is quite literally the “beginning” of study itself (i.e. “In the beginning was the Word . . .”). The following quote from New Testament scholar, Tom Wright is, without a doubt, among the best theological advice that I have ever received:
“There is a certain kind of modernist would-be orthodoxy, which uses the word God in something like the old Deist sense. He’s a distant, absentee landlord who suddenly decides to intervene in the world after all, and he looks like Jesus. But we already know who God is and now I want you to believe that this God became human in Jesus. The New Testament routinely puts it the other way around. We don’t actually know who God is… But until we look hard at Jesus, we really haven’t understood who God is…In other words, don’t assume that you have got God tapped, and fit Jesus into that. Do it the other way. We all come with some ideas of God. Allow those ideas to be shaped around Jesus. That is the real challenge…” N.T. Wright
Bruce McCormack, professor of systematic theology at Princeton, was lecturing on the subject, “Why Should Theology Be Christocentric?” and was explaining why we must resist the temptation to abstract from the stark claim that “God is what Jesus does.” McCormack paused to say, “Because the church should not stutter when it says, ‘ Jesus is Lord.’” Another notable voice in our Christ-centered cohort is the man with arguably the most impressive Christology of all – he is the author of no less than one-third of the New Testament, the 13th member of Christ’s 12 disciples, and the apostle to the filthy gentiles, Paul of Tarsus. The following passage from the letter to the Colossians is one of the notable examples of Paul’s robust Christology:
“We look at this Son and see the God who cannot be seen. We look at this Son and see God’s original purpose in everything created. For everything, absolutely everything, above and below, visible and invisible, rank after rank after rank of angels—everything got started in him and finds its purpose in him. He was there before any of it came into existence and holds it all together right up to this moment. And when it comes to the church, he organizes and holds it together, like a head does a body.
He was supreme in the beginning and—leading the resurrection parade—he is supreme in the end. From beginning to end he’s there, towering far above everything, everyone. So spacious is he, so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding. Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe—people and things, animals and atoms—get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the cross” (Col. 1:15-20 – The Message).
Now, in light of the above passage, author and theologian, Baxter Kruger writes, “It is simply impossible to make too big a deal about this one, Jesus Christ.”
I will now share with you two quotations that have profoundly shaped my Christology, and are the inspiration for the title of this current post. The first quote is from one of my beloved proffs, Dr. Al Bayls, who referred to Paul of Tarsus as a “full-blown Christoholic.” That phrase really stuck with me, but it wasn’t until I saw the film and scene above with Morton Downey Jr. and Ben Stiller, that I finally understood what the phrase “fool for Christ” actually meant. A “fool for Christ” or a “Christoholic” is not the same as a “saint” or a “committed Christian.” A “fool for Christ” is someone who is guilty of making too big a deal about this one, Jesus Christ. In the word’s of Kirk Lazarus (“a dude, playing a dude, disguised as another dude”) a “fool for Christ” is someone who has made the most grievous mistake of “going full retard.”
The painful process of deconstructing so much of what I once believed, so much of what had shaped and guided my life, has been a harrowing experiencing. But now twelve years later, by the grace of God, I can gratefully report to you that I have found a new place to live, with my family, friends, and fellow Christards. This isn’t to say that I have arrived in any sense of the word, but only that the long years of deconstruction, has finally given way to a rebuilding process. Now, with all this in mind, this Sunday, we will continue our series, “Who is Christ for Us Today?” Our next installment is called, “Whachoo Talkn Bout Jesus?”, for we will be looking at some of the unusually hard sayings of Christ. Hope to see you then!
There is a powerful and dangerous temptation to use the Orange Man as the baseline and fountain for our public discourse. I am not suggesting that we pretend that he is not the POTUS. What I am saying is that it is absolutely critical that we take responsibility for polluting our own minds and corrupting our shared discourse.
The bar for critical thinking and public discourse continues to fall. But do we ever see ourselves as complicit in this downfall? When Trump’s deficiencies become monolithic in our minds and totalizing in our discourse, we become the very thing that we criticize him for, defensiveness, inept at handling complexity, and intolerant of others.
With Trump as our lightning rod and barometer, our discourse has become brittle, scripted, and utterly divisive. We find ourselves hopelessly stuck, unwilling or too afraid to take personal responsibility for our part in this disaster. It’s as though we have forgotten how to think and talk about life without reverting to the faulty logic and grammar of politics.
So, if you are genuinely sick of all this shit, and you are tired of looking at this “Valley of Dead Bones”, I have a suggestion for you. Try repeating the following mantra: “Trump may be the president of my country, but I refuse to make him either my ‘leader’ or my ‘mis-leader.’ When called upon, I may be willing to die for my country, but that does not mean that I am willing to live for it!”
“He hates and loves the Ring, as he hates and loves himself. He will never be rid of his need for it.” (Gandalf about Gollum)
I recently took up an old habit of meditation, during which time I made some interesting discoveries about myself. As I reflected on my inner life, I was quickly confronted by the old “bullies on my block”, certain fears that have haunted me for as long as I can remember. Upon closer examination, I discovered that my fears had company and that for every fear, there was corresponding envy to go with it. Hmm, I asked myself, “why is it that fear and envy appear to travel together?” I continued my investigation, taking a careful inventory of these bullies. I identified three basic insecurities:
1. I am afraid of the uncertainty of life.
2. I am haunted by my past losses and I dread future losses.
3. I am especially afraid of the pain associated with personal relationships, specifically the pain associated with being unwanted or rejected.
When I brought my fears out into the light for roll call, I began to see what envy was up to and how it was related to my fears. I saw that envy was a parasite, a termite feasting on the wood-pile of my fears. I could see how envy was feasting on my fear of uncertainty – for I envy those people who seem to be, more or less, managing their life in a predictable and rewarding way. I saw how envy was feasting on my fear of loss – for I envy those people who appear to be always gaining and rarely if ever losing.
I realized that while envy has a voracious appetite for fear, it especially savors the fear of being unwanted and rejected. Truth be told, I have always longed to be one of the “blessed” people, those celebrated for their “quality”; but my fear, of course, is that I am at best average and at worst, “no damn good” . . . and so envy continues to feast. I envy those people who are recognized and esteemed in ways that I can only dream of . . . and envy keeps feeding.
Envy feeds on my fears, becoming engorged and yet, strangely, my fears are neither consumed nor diminished. In fact, my fears continue to grow . . . what if people could hear these thoughts of mine? What if others knew how insecure I was? What if my friends could see how envious and petty I really was? (Delete > Move to Trash).
These last few days I have been busy reflecting and actively discussing our recent live stream gathering that took place this last Sunday at 11 AM. Now, before the gathering, my expectations were very low. But since the experience, I want to say how very grateful I am for the participation of those who showed up, as well as for those who have since “caught up.” I also want to say that I am feeling very encouraged, for I believe that we have begun a conversation that is compelling and worth continuing. I can only hope you feel the same way!
One of the participants in our gathering recently posed the following question, “So the chasm, from what I hear you saying, is nothing we can cross outside of Christ?” My first knee-jerk response to her question was to say, “Yeah, Jesus closes all the chasms that we cannot bridge.” But then I went back and listened to our session, and I discovered that my answer was a bit of a misfire. If I were to summarize my message, I would say that the big idea is not simply that Jesus is the “fix” to our problems. The deeper point that I want us to consider is that there are certain chasms that must be faced and crossed. The first is what I call the “classic chasm”, the chasm between God and the individual, which is effectively bridged through faith in Jesus Christ. But just around the bend, there lies yet another chasm . . .
Thankfully, my nephew Jordan posted the following comment, “I wanted to drop in and say that I enjoyed the tie-in with the aforementioned ‘bridging’ and it being not only an “us to God” but also the bridge of Natural with the Spiritual.” His comment immediately got me back on track with where we are headed in this conversation and where we need to go. For it is with this particular chasm, the one that separates the natural from the spiritual and the sacred from the secular, that we are presently concerned. I recently shared regarding my own struggle, how for the past 35 years I have sought in vain to find a bridge capable of spanning the chasm.
Now, historically, religion has served as a reliable bridge between the two spheres, heaven, and earth. But now if we are honest, religion is no longer the bridge it once was. In my experience, as well as a few of my friends, religion has seemingly “run out of gas” – it simply lacks the power and the wisdom to bridge and unite heaven and earth. Thus, we are left with a split-screen reality and bipolar faith.
With this current post, we are well on our way into the next installment of our series: “Who is Christ for Us Today?” And, in advance of our next gathering, I am inviting your participation to help move the conversation forward. Let’s explore this issue together by sharing in the comment section (Facebook or the OC site) our own personal challenges, disappointments, questions, and discoveries pertaining to our current discussion, “Faith and the Real World.”
Now as we grapple with this issue, let’s stay mindful of the temptation to return to the “classic chasm” for our answers. In other words, we will not be able to bridge the “heaven and earth” chasm with another appeal to “getting saved” or to our own “personal revival”, worthy as both of those things are. Lastly, let’s be mindful of the temptation to call in the deus ex machina, the “god of the gaps” to bail us out.
Why has it taken so long for us to have this conversation? Well, perhaps it is because no one likes admitting defeat. But there came a point for some of us, where we simply could no longer stomach another meal from the spiritual-sushi-go-round. In search of health and belonging, some of my friends have opted to return to the “mothership”, either Catholicism or Eastern Orthodox. I genuinely sympathize with their felt need to make the move. If I could, I would as well, but I just can’t do it (topic for another conversation). That said, I no longer have a relationship with the “spiritual service industry.” For now, anyway, I guess you could say, I have opted for the spiritual orphanage.
So, in bringing the OC back online, it was my intention and my desire to start or rather to open up a conversation to others (a conversation that I have been forging with a group of close friends for over a decade now). My hope for the OC is that this will be a place where life and faith (theology with both head and heart) are getting worked out among friends – a risky conversation among a safe and supportive cohort. Now as we all know, a digital/virtual network is a fragile medium, but together we can make it something more, something personal, something real! See you this Sunday!
About five years ago we shuttered the OC and stopped sharing our life-transforming, weight-reducing, and IQ raising content with the world. You might say that the OC has been sheltering in place for several years now. And while I can’t say that we are “back by popular demand”, we are back nonetheless. To the old congregants, welcome back! And to our first-time visitors, and to our unpaid interns, welcome aboard!
Now you might be wondering what exactly prompted this unanticipated comeback. Well, it started a few weeks ago. It was before the pestilence arrived, and before we turned off the world. I was feeling what you might call, an inner stirring. “Perhaps”, I thought, “it’s time to venture out, start up a new conversation.” And then I thought, “what if we got the band back together?!” So that’s what we are doing. Call in the congregation!
So, as we prepare to recommission the OC, I have invited a pair of distinguished guests to tell us about their experience sailing in uncharted waters. Our first guest is a decorated Vietnam war hero and one of the founding members of Bubba Gump Shrimp. Today he will be sharing a life-defining experience from his best-selling book entitled, “I Gave the Middle Finger to God and Lived to Tell About It.” Now please join me in giving a warm welcome to Lt. Dan Taylor!
Now we are honored to have as our next guest speaker, a man who is familiar with both sea-faring adventure and middle-age career comebacks. He is the Captain of the Belafonte and the founding member of Team Zissou and he will be talking about the bond between a captain and his crew. Please welcome, Captain, Steve Zissou!
Well, thank you Lt. Dan and Captain Zissou for those inspiring words. Now as we conclude this recommissioning ceremony, let me encourage all those “who are not against us” to give a shout in the comment section below! Lastly, if everything goes as planned, the OC will be providing a live-stream this Easter Sunday, “Who is Christ for Us Today?” I’ll keep you posted on the details of that event. So, until then, keep it classy, and thanks for stopping by!