Peter: A Good Friday Story

Enlight1I imagine Simon Peter as a rough fisherman-type man. He’s probably salty-mouthed, says-whatever-he-thinks, does-anything-for-you type of guy. In my mind’s eye, I see him as what we in Australia would call a “bogan.” (Chances are, if he lived in South Australia, he’d be a Port Adelaide footy fan, listen to bands like AC/DC and Chisel, and drink cartons upon cartons of West End.)

So imagine with me the moments after Jesus’ death and his friends are preparing his body for burial. They’ve been asked to say a few words before he’s put into the tomb.

This is Peter’s story.

Hi. I’m Simon, son of Jonas. You might know me better as Peter ‘cuz that’s the name Jesus gave me. Y’know, when he said that “Who do you say that I am?’ line? I just can’t get what he was after, I mean He was the promised Messiah, right? So that’s what I said and he answered by giving me this name. He said,”You are Peter and on this rock I will build my church.” What? Seriously?I’m a fisherman. I can’t make sense of that. But Jesus was like that. He told it like it is.

I remember some of his sermons. I reckon I stayed awake through most of them…. It’s kinda hard when you fish all night and then spend the day in the hills with thousands of people around you. But what I did catch was that Jesus was all about people and people knowing and helping other people. I mean, like really serious about helping other people in the way that he helped people. He didn͛t seem to get tired of teaching us, even when we didn’t listen.

He also loved kids and I guess that’s why he like threatened those who abused them with stuff like”It would be better if you had heavy weights tied around your neck and be thrown into the sea than to offend one of these little oness.” He loved the kids.

There were some awesome days. Like when me and James and John and Jesus climbed Mt Tabor— amazing view from there! And we were like looking around to see if we spot our town. The view is really amazing! Anyhoo, Jesus just like *transforms* into some incredible angel-like being—like an alien or something from another planet. We were all standing around like gob-smacked. Couldn’t believe it. And weirder still two other alien-like people stood next to him and I swear they were the prophets Moses and Elijah. We like just stood there and didn’t know what to do. Best I could come up with is”Hey Jesus, why don’t we set up three tents for you and them two.” I’m glad he ignored that comment ‘cuz it was a little stupid, looking back now.

Jesus sure knew how to confuse a bloke. He told us that we were gonna rule with him in his kingdom, that we would sit on 12 thrones. Then he said that the greatest of us is a servant, and we had to become like a little child to enter the kingdom. He chose us and called us to follow him knowing that one of us would turn him over to the Romans to be killed. … Can’t quite figure that one out.

Seriously, but. Jesus was a top bloke. He was a good mate who always looked after you. He’d give you the shirt off his back. He didn͛t have a bad bone in his body. When we went to parties—and we went to a lot of parties– he was there to turn the water into wine. Whoa! How good was that?! We loved it when we would go into a town and crowds would flock around us like seagulls around kids with chips.

But things got nasty. The temple crowd wouldn’t have a bar of Jesus and wanted to knock him off. We could see it a mile away. But Jesus … I wish I had done things differently now. I tried to warn him about coming to Jerusalem, but he like wouldn͛t listen. He got quite stroppy at me and said something like”Get behind me Satann.” (Man. That hurt!)

I … I just wish I could have been stronger. This whole business came crashing down around us real sudden. We ate Passover dinner with Jesus and, next thing, Judas leaves. We left the house and walked a few k’s down the road to this garden and it was late and we were a bit tired and Jesus told us to like wait and went off by himself to pray. He knew something was going down but we just fell asleep waiting. Then the Roman soldiers came with the priests, Judas kissed Jesus and they arrested him … and we were all so scared, and we ran away.

Should’ve stayed. Should have stayed and gone to the trial at least. Mind you, I did go back to the Chief Priest͛s house later that night to see what was happening, but that didn͛t turn out so well.

If only I … but it’s too late for that now. He’s gone. There’s nothing we can do. That’s how it ends.

I remember that night when me and James and John were fishing and a storm came up. We thought our boat would like go under and we would all die. Then Jesus, Jesus comes walking on top of the water towards us! I thought it was a ghost. We were all like terrified. I thought it looked like Jesus. He sounded like Jesus. I said,”If it is you, Lord, ask me to come to you”—and he said “Come.” And I stepped out of the boat and walked on top of the water towards him. I was walking on the water!! But … but when I suddenly saw what I was doing, Ithought,”No way. This isn͛t possible.” And I  started to sink into the water. Jesus saved me. He pulled me up and we got into the boat. He shouted something like”Be still” into the wind and the sea became like glass and the clouds vanished.

If I had the chance to do it all again, I would. I never would have imagined that following Jesus would take me on such an adventure. We had some great times together, the thirteen of us. Yeah, there were some bad times as well, some disappointments, some things I wish we could do over. I wish I would have trusted Jesus more and I wish I would have stood up for him . . . Maybe, maybe things wouldn͛t have turned out this way.

We’ll miss you, mate. Thanks for believing in me even at those times when I didn’t believe in you.

Resurrection Happens

IMG_1444Easter is a very conflicted occasion.

  • Pagan festivals and church processions.
  • Eggs and crosses.
  • Bunnies and burials.
  • Lilies and grave clothes.
  • Chocolate and empty tombs.

Then there is the question of reality–did Jesus really rise from the dead? Is there evidence beyond the Bible for this supernatural event? Is Scriptural evidence sufficient?

Regardless of our responses to these questions, there is a broader question that we ought to be asking: Is thee a wider truth that we can draw from the Easter story that speaks to us on a more universal, meaningful level?

Listen to the words of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus: “We had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.” 

It doesn’t take that much imagination to put ourselves into the story of these disciples. “We had hoped. Our dreams were in him. Our future was in his hands. Now he’s gone.”

Are you feeling hopeless today? Do you feel that you cannot go on? Is the burden you carry great, and the pain too intense? Is the healing just not happening, the sorrow too much for you?

Here is the truth of Easter: God is in the resurrection business. 

The very first words of Scripture speak of God making new life out of chaos. The creation poem tells us that God spoke there was light.  The waters separated (the ancients believed above the sky was a water-dome called in Genesis ‘the firmament’). The dry land appeared. Fish and animals, human beings, plants and trees all came into being out of the chaos of ‘the deep.’

Some of the last words in Scripture state in simple words God’s grand plan: “Behold I make all things new.” From the chaos this world has become, resurrection will happen and new life–a renewed creation–will spring forth.

Whether or not we believe in a literal resurrection should not prevent us from drawing deeper meaning from this widely-accepted Christian narrative.

Resurrection–new life–is happening around us every day. It’s never too late to begin again. God is even now, in all-embracing love and grace, making all things new.

And this can be true for you too.

There is hope. The power of Christ’s resurrection is at work. The Spirit of God is moving amongst your chaos, speaking light into darkness, strength into weakness and new life into hopelessness.

Resurrection happens! 

And resurrection can happen for you.

The ‘Best God Damned Version’ of the Bible? Really?

BGDVWhat one comes across online when one is casually browsing Amazon!

Steve Ebling is writing a version of the Holy Bible specifically aimed at atheists, agnostics and sceptics and has chosen to call his book Holy Bible: Best God Damned Version. While only one book has so far been released, its intent is clear: debunk and make fun of the Bible and those whose faith is in its authority and truth.

Out of curiosity, I had a look at this short volume and found it to be full of snark, ridicule, foul language and outright disdain for anyone who places the smallest amount of trust in the sacred text. It is not a translation. The author makes no apology for the fact that it is based on The Jerusalem Bible, simply because he thought the wording in Genesis was more akin to his interpretation of–or the way in which he wished to interpret–the Bible. I got through the first 4 chapters and realised that I was, in fact, wasting my time. While there is a place for sarcasm, criticism and frivolity, I don’t think I can take 66 books-worth of this type of ‘humour’ (although, from reading the introduction, I would dare say that the author had anything in mind but comedy.

I have to admit, I am surprised it took so long to attempt such a project and I admire Steve’s perseverance (assuming he does, in fact, finish this work.) I would doubt, however, that even the most ardent atheist would be able to endure several thousand pages of this type of writing. Perhaps a Reader’s Digest Condensed Version of the BGDV would be a less-tedious piece to endure. That said, this is clearly NOT the ‘Best God Damned Version’ out there.

There is an alternative (if you are an atheist, agnostic, sceptic, or just curious): The Skeptics Annotated Bible.SAB

This is authored by Steve Wells and is based on the King James Version which, as one reviewer calls it, is ‘The only Bible recognised by True Christianity(TM).’ (Personally, I would have liked to see a NRSV edition, but I’m sure copyright permission may be difficult to obtain given the proposed content and use of this book.)

This book is a serious and critical attempt to draw attention to discrepancies, contradictions, unscientific claims, incorrect information, and alleged character flaws of God and comes complete with a coded system in the notes to mark each category of claim. It also contains a detailed appendix containing cross-references based on themes found through the text (and hyperlinked, if you buy the Kindle version.) You can read more about this book and see some examples taken from the print version here.

This volume does make for interesting reading, though any person with a background in Bible-centric Evangelicalism will be easily able to dismiss a reasonable amount of what is said based on what is taught in most Bible-believing churches. It comes as no surprise that much of what is said challenges conventional Evangelical thought, especially if it is coupled with the double-punch belief in the inerrancy of Scripture and literal interpretation of the text.

Many in the Christian community would see such a book as a threat or a challenge to their faith and mission. I view it as a means to understanding more clearly the core purposes of our sacred text and how God’s people through the ages have understood God’s story. Those who share my perspective value the biblical text as not only a time-capsule of culture, law and divine revelation, but as a vessel for the message of God to be carried into this and future generations, albeit flawed by human agents and misunderstandings.

I am amused somewhat that so many of those who don’t believe in God seem to lump all Christians together as being literalists, naïve, and an having absolute faith in whatever their church expects them to accept. While there are many ‘brands’ of Christianity that make my skin crawl or seriously cause me to wish I could run as far away from them as possible, I still see Christianity as a multi-layered and multi-coloured faith tradition that allows room for dialogue and disagreement amongst theologians and the laity alike. It is to me a fluid and evolving understanding of faith and practice, and. generally, has a high regard for tradition, including the sacred text and the varied interpretations of that text through the millennia. This kind of faith won’t shrink from the hard questions nor the skeptic’s commentary, but will seek to respond in an informed and civil manner within the context of humility, grace and love. We are all imperfect and all have our areas of ignorance. We would do well to listen to and learn from each other, especially as we who claim the name of Christ seek to be true to what we understand to be God’s word.

The Miracle of Creation

I have been following The Hidalgo Grain Company blog for a while now and, having come from much the same place as the author, I can understand his ravings against fundamentalism and Biblical literalism. I understand. Sometimes things that well-meaning (but ignorant) people say can be very hard to swallow, especially when they claim that their reasoning is “scientific.”

This brings me to this post and a look at Creation a la Hidalgo Grain Company where he explains (from his point of view) what is a “creationist” and questions that have arisen in his mind about their understanding of divine revelation.

In the summer of 1976, my dad bought me a telescope at Sears and I spent multiple hours peering through the eyepiece. Like astronomers of old, I tracked the four major moons of Jupiter, the phases of Venus, peered at Saturn’s rings (the most distant planet I could clearly observe) – I even had an adapter to plot sunspots moving across our own nearby star. Then there was the Moon; a dry, dead world that came alive through my telescope’s eyepiece, especially when viewed as a waxing crescent on a clear evening. Eventually I learned most of the stars, their class and their distance, also the locations of various nebulae, clusters and galaxies. It was a time when Psalm 8:3, 4 became very real…

stars3 When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers,
the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained;
4 what is man, that thou art mindful of him?
and the son of man, that thou visitest him?

It was this part of the verse, “…the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars…” which still causes me to go back to Genesis, Chapter One and re-examine the creation account –

And, invariably, I come up with questions…

Day 1 – the Earth was formless (no shape) and void (empty) – God said, “Let there be light.”

– Before “Let there be light”, what was there? Dark? But, you can’t have “dark” without light, so is this formless, empty pre-Earth dwelling in some unknown plane of existence?

– At no point is it recorded that God said, “Let there be time” – but somehow we already have literal 24-hour days? (Not to mention there is no Sun, Moon or stars, yet.)

– Speaking of Time, what is it? Why do we perceive it? Why is it asymmetric?

(Read the rest of this post here.)

Prescriptive Christianity

Prescription2I had this pain which seemed to persist for some time. I had tried several “old wives'” remedies, but none of them had seemed to work. I went to my doctor and he took one look and, it seemed, the look on his face said “that’s easy fixed!” He promptly wrote me out a prescription which I took to the pharmacy and had filled. Within a few days, with the help of the correct medicine, the pain disappeared.

Too often I see people who are struggling in one area of their life who have the idea that they can go to the Bible for a “prescription”–a spiritual drug that, when rubbed into the offending spot, will provide a cure.

Many times these people queue in the hallways of pastors and spiritual counselors with their list of ailments, seeking that quick fix–that magical formula–that will remove the sin, guilt, shame, hurt, scar, disease. They seek prescriptive answers to every question in life:

  • What should I tell my daughter about sex?
  • How much should I limit my son’s exposure to video games?
  • How can I stop thinking about what he did to me?
  • What can I do about the emotional abuse I am enduring?
  • How can I be a good husband and father?
  • What can I say to my child who is questioning God?
  • How can I be a “good Christian”?

We all want quick fixes, easy answers, miracle cures. We all want that magical formula which, when applied to our wound, will instantly take away all pain and all scars. Or perhaps we want a “daily multi” that will prevent pain from encroaching into our life.

And we think a person with the right understanding of God’s truth can give that to us.

Are we deluding ourselves?

There is  definitely a place for wise spiritual counsel. Many times God uses a well-thought word from someone we respect to guide us in a better path. Once in a while we may even find these words of counsel in the Bible. The Bible indeed does address some issues we may face, but it is not a pill we can take or an ointment we can rub on our ailing limbs to fix the tissue damage.

Truth is, there is no quick fix.

Sometimes our answers come in the long a painful journey itself. Sometimes the healing comes in the form of grace-filled deeds of kindness or uplifting words from a friend. Often, we find our victory after years of struggle, and in spite of seemingly good advice.

Once in a while we find that life itself is the answer, that the questions we ask resolve themselves as we grow, learn, re-focus and re-calibrate on our journey.

And once in a while we find that there are no answers but, instead, an increasing number of questions.

I find myself in that place frequently.

I know, in my experience, I need to become a better “holder of tension;” I need to learn how to keep traveling with unresolution and uncertainty. After all, this is what life is all about. The answers (e.g. “42” for the HHGTTG fans among you) come after a long pilgrimage and many adventures, and, when they do eventually fall on our ears, we don’t always hear them . . . or understand what they mean, for us.

It is said that one who spends all his days in the doctor’s office, seeking one drug after another, may find, in the end, that the prescriptions cause more harm than good because, in attempting to cleanse the unhealthiness from our bodies, they also wash away some of the inherent immunity and healthy bacteria that we need to survive.

Could it be that this is the way it works in our spirituality as well?

Let me leave you with that question.

Sacred Text

studybibleIt has taken me almost 50 years to realise that perhaps we as followers of Jesus too often get the cart before the horse when it comes to how we view our Sacred Text.

In another life I would have followed the formula of finding the meaning of the text (from the original languages or from the King James Bible, depending on the fundamentalist brand one claimed) assuming that, unless otherwise clearly stated, it was to be interpreted literally, and then finding some way to fit this meaning into my worldview or paradigm.

Add to that interpretation the need to “rightly divide the word of truth”–at least as far as C.I. Scofield or J.N. Darby understood this to be–and reading the Bible became more of a (a) chore, (b) frustration, (c) serious exercise with dire and eternal consequences, (d) obligation, or (e) all of the above.

I don’t take this as seriously (or literally) today. Whilst my high view of Scripture as a Sacred Text remains the same, my interpretive framework is vastly different.

I always enjoy the way Richard Rohr can articulate what I, in my less-refined way, try to say:

When you encounter a truly sacred text, the first questions are not: Did this literally happen just as it states? How can I be saved? What is the right thing for me to do? What is the dogmatic pronouncement here? Does my church agree with this? Who is right and who is wrong here? These are largely ego questions, I am afraid. They are questions that try to secure your position, not questions that help you go on a spiritual path of faith and trust. They constrict you, whereas the purpose of The Sacred is to expand you. I know these are the first questions that come to our mind because that is where we usually live—inside of our mental ego. They are the questions we were trained to ask, because everybody else asks them, unfortunately!

Having read sacred text, I would invite you to ponder these questions:

  1. What is God doing here?
  2. What does this say about who God is?
  3. What does this say about how I can then relate to such a God?

Adapted from the webcast A Teaching on Wondrous Encounters

We Never Come to the Bible Alone

This excellent post from Jamie Arpin-Ricci speaks volumes about the way we view the Holy Bible. We need to be reminded of this fact every time we approach its pages: we never come to the Bible alone but with a congregation of many, many individuals.

BibleGrowing up in a rural, evangelical community, it was not uncommon for me to hear the idea that all we need in order to know God and His will is the Bible. If anyone of us wants to know the truth about God and understand His will, all we had to do was open up Scripture and study. The Holy Spirit was all the guide we needed. We were cautioned about commentaries — they might be helpful, but we should never substitute the “explicit truth of Scripture” for the opinions of others. In its worst expressions, this led to anti-academic sentiment (and even anti-intellectualism). While the heart of this bias was genuine and well intentioned, they were also misguided and misleading. The truth is that we never come to the Bible alone.

Let’s say you open to the New Testament and read Matthew 5-7, the Sermon on the Mount. The fact is, your are reading it in a translation. Immediately you are not alone. The work and minds behind that translation required endless hours of study, scholarship, debate and more. It is, after all, only one of hundreds of translations available. Even if you decided to learn the language of the original text(s), you’d still have to rely on that same scholarship. Already the room is filled with countless others who are helping you read the text.

This says nothing about the fact that you are reading the text through the lens of your place in history, culture, race, language, gender, age, education, experience, etc. Layer upon layer of bias, influence and context shapes how you read, what you understand as you read and how you respond to the implications of that understanding. As if that weren’t enough, even the people who were listening to Jesus’ words in the moments He spoke them often understood and responded to them differently. Even His closest friends and disciples got it wrong time and again. So, you see, no one comes to the Bible alone.

Read the rest of this post here.