Glory. Fall. Restoration. Repeat.

You. You are terrible. No good. Worthless. But hey, I can make everything perfect for you.
Does that make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside? Yeah. I kind-of thought it wouldn’t. Sadly, if you had to boil down the “good” news of my faith, it would seem like it would end up being something incredibly close to those words.
I don’t think this is the product of malice. Rather, it’s about skipping some steps.
We are operate as though the story begins in suckiness and ends in victory. Part of the reason that this is a tempting picture to buy into is that they are both steps in a process that repeats itself in all kinds of ways. But the thing is this: they are not the only steps.
Turning the process into a 2 step thing robs the picture of context. As a result, it is distorted.
I think what happens can be accurately boiled down to 4 steps. The 4 steps are Glory, Fall, Restoration, and Repetition. If you thought that only fall and restoration happened, you might want to rename them. You could fairly call them suckiness and victory, if you thought that they were the only steps in the process.
Perhaps you are asking “What process?” or simply, “Jeff, what in the crap are you talking about?” I am going to answer those questions by blessing you with an ear worm.
Let it Go.
You know, the song from Frozen? It was endlessly on tween lips not all that long ago. I am going to bet that it is bouncing around the inside of your skull now, as you read this. You are welcome.
Anyway, there is a great line in that song. No, I am not thinking about the endlessly repeated refrain/title. I risk my credibility as a poet when I tell you that I actually kind of love this turn of phrase, but anyway, there is a line: “My soul is spiraling in frozen fractals all around.”
In honesty, a part of the reason I love this line is probably a bit of snobiness. I am pretty sure that 95% of the people who sing this song have absolutely no idea what this word phrase means.
(Bare with me here, I promise I will be back to the main idea.)
A somewhat simplified explanation of what the term ‘fractal’ means is that it is an image that repeats at all sorts of different levels. Whatever the recurring picture is, you see it in tiny and huge ways… the larger images is might up of the smaller ones, but even the smaller ones are just tiny versions of the larger image.pfractal_star_04
I suspect the line in the song refers to the idea that a huge mound of snow looks like a tiny piece of snow, and further, that if you look at a single image of a snow flake you see little icecicle-like structures. If it turns out that I have this wrong, the basic thing I want to grab on to is the idea of a fractal.
The idea of a fractal is important. Because (thanks for your patience. Back to the main idea, now.) the 4-part pattern: Glory, fall, restoration, repeat… this is a fractal.
Once I would have called a motif. But a motif implies that there are a series of stories, all on the same level, that incorporate this idea. It’s more accurate to call this a fractal because it occurs on all kinds of scales.
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Over and over, it occurs as an anecdote, a short(ish) story. Consider the beginning of humanity: Adam and Eve are born in glory. They are built from God’s image, they walk on God’s garden. They fall from this place of communion with God. But God does not leave. There is a part of that image and relationship that is rebuilt within their own lives. God takes care of them, even outside the garden. Their is a restoration. Unfortunately, the whole thing is repeated, though. Cain had the possibility of walking this close with God. In a fit of jealousy he murders Able, falling…
Another anecdote: David, in glory, is called by God to lead Isreal. He falls various times, perhaps most notably as he commits adultery. But he repents, restoring this relationship.
Sometimes, this occurs on the level of entire book(s) of the bible, not just a handful of chapters. Joseph experiences a kind-of glory. He rises to the second most powerful position in Egypt, the most powerful country in the world. He creates a family reunion and helps his brothers to see the errors of his ways. But Joseph, and his brothers, their descendents fall into slavery. And Moses leads the hundreds of thousands of them out of Egypt. They are headed for a restoration in the land promised to them.
This occurs on an inter-book level, too. Consider the whole of what we Christians refer to as the New Testament. The glory of the chosen land has fallen away. The land promised to Moses’ people has become occupied. The people chosen as God’s special people have waited for saviors promised to them, and it had to feel as though this waiting was all in vain.
Those people promised turn out to be one person. He comes and sets them free in a manner much more important and fundamental than politics, geography, and ritual.
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This level is similar to the largest way that the bible can be seen. But there is a subtle difference. The whole bible, not just several books or a whole testament also fits this pattern. Because Adam and Eve did not find a restoration that was equal to what God had lost.
That restoration only came about through Jesus. And this is where scripture breaks from the fractal. Because all the ways that restorations lead to glory, and all the ways that glories lead to falls… They break, here, at the end. The restoration is forever, the record finally stops skipping. We move into the destiny we had been intended for, way back in the garden.
When I began writing this, I alluded to the idea that this view has some important impacts on how we view humanity and how we express the good news of Jesus birth, death, and resseruction. I find that I have rambled longer than I intended, though, so I am going to leave that for next time.

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The Problem With Purgatory

 

The problem with purgatory

 

Is the lie that somebody else

 

Set the exchange rate

 

Between sin and suffering.

 

 

 

Those who do not understand what they have done.

 

They will walk away only thinking it ever began at all.

 

They will still carry it on their shoulders.

 

The debt apparently paid, the account is cleared to rack up more debt.

 

 

 

And those who are beginning to understand.

 

They will never walk out of the place at all.

 

They wil withstand the sufferings forever.

 

Waiting for their account to flow into black.

 

 

 

The problem with purgatory is that it’s not the suffering that’s redemptive.

 

Its what we do in the quiet aftermath.

 

It’s how we move foreward that matters.

 

And purgatory offers us this lovely chance to wait there forever.

 

In the beginnning…

The recto of Rylands Library Papyrus P52 from ...
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In my last post, I began to look at the original Greek at the beginning of the gospel of John.  What I found was that we translate a certain term as “word” but the original term, “logos”, is far more complex that that.  Further, John has a much easier term right at his fingertips.  If he had wanted to express the idea that Jesus was an ordinary word, a mere utterance, he would not have used the word “logos” at all.

A second portion of the more robust definition of “logos” is that it implies a principle.   This makes some sense, the idea that God was creating through Jesus at the very beginning of time if part of Jesus’ very nature is as a redemptive principle.

I initially wrote, in that paragraph above, that Jesus is a creative, not redemptive principle.  But the word “redemptive” actually fits the “orginal” creation, way back in Genesis, too.  Check it out:

People way smarter than me say that the opening lines of the bible have been oversimplified.   Most of the time, it gets rendered as “In the beginning, God…”   Hebrew-fluent people tell me that the NRSV is more accurate in this regard.  It says “When God began creating, The Earth was with out form and void.”

The implication is that the Earth was more-or-less sitting around, a lifeless husk, until God came around and started making the Garden and Adam.  I don’t believe that this necessarily entails that God had no part in the creation of the original lifeless husk.  The bible doesn’t give us a play-by-play of the creation of the angels, either.  I believe that God created (or set into motion the forces that would eventually create) tghe lifeless husk, and then, essentially, set it aside.   A bit like how a TV cookie might make a glaze first, then put the bowl aside until all the other ingredients are cruising along.

One thing compelling about this vision of things is the idea that it squares nicely with the accounts scientists give us about the history of the Earth.  I don’t believe that we ought to shape our theology in order to make it consistent with scientific ideas.  But I do think it’s a nice bonus when science and faith paint us similiar pictures.

Anyway, if it was Jesus who was active in bringing life to that previously lifeless hunk, there’s a sense– consistent with the meaning of “logos” that he is bringer order and life to a previously chaotic place.

Perhaps even more compelling, this ties nicely together Jesus’ missions with regards to the Earth.  Both before Adam, and 2000 years ago, Jesus brought order and life into darkness and chaos.  A further interesting connection is the idea that God speaks numerous times in Genesis.  Usually it’s a commentary on the state of things:  This is good, this is very good, it is not good for man to be alone,

In addition to the fact that Jesus is what prevented man (kind) from being alone, I find it evocative, the brute fact that God was speaking at all.  Since no humans were yet created to hear him, this certainly suggest there was someone else around (i.e. Jesus) to hear him.  But moreover, the idea that both Genesis’ writer (Moses?) and John tell us that words were around at the very beginning of time, that’s a pretty interesting thing.

In the name of intellectual integrity I should probably express up fron that this post is highly speculative in nature.  I am out of my element, and basing some of my assumptions on others’ area of expertise.

Camoflauge or White Wash?

We had the privilige of getting away over Memorial Day.  We stayed at this amazing little place called Big Bear Lodge.  There’s lots of stuff I could write about this little get away.  But the thing that’s on my mind right now is architecture.

I took a little hike early Monday morning.  And I stood at a place that I could see two buildings.  These two buildings stood in contrast to each other.  I looked at them and I thought there was a difference bigger than aesthetics.  If they weren’t represenations of utterly different world views, they were atleast symbolic of different world views.

The first building was this quaint little tourist-town/shopping center thing.  It was a C-shaped two story building.  It was white.  I don’t know exactly what “White Wash” is, but somehow this place brought Tom Sawyer’s White Washing to mind.

Their was this balcony-catwalk kind of thing that ran infront of the buildings on the second floor.  Each of the corners of the place had these spiral stair case which were home to countless orioles and cardinals.  (I think they were orioles and cardinals, any way.  I’m not so great at bird identification.)  There was candy shops and bike rental places, a pizza place around, an ice skating rink, a coffee shop, and most fittingly, a gallery dedicated to the writer/artist of the curious George books.   This was so perfect.  It was exactly the sort-of place that curious George seemed to belong, leaping on the balconies and tormenting the poor guy in the yellow hat.

The whole place overlooked a presumably man made lake.  Of course, paddle boats were available for rent there.

This whole thing was only slightly bigger than the structure which stood perhaps 100 yards away.  This place was solid, rectangular, and closed off.  It was a hotel, I guess.  But it’s intended use wasn’t what made it so different.

This place was painted all the colors of the forest.  Dark greens and browns and greys.  The multi-colored roof shingles blurred together like those high-tech mosiacs; it created a camaflauging effect.  The place was somber, almost castle-like.  It wouldn’t have taken much in the way of alterations to turn it into a good setting for a Gothic novel, home to a brooding, haunted rich dude who just need the new nanny to break through his bestial side.

It occured to me that when we build anything, maybe even when we do anything, we have an important question to answer.  That question is:

“Will I harmonize with what is around me?  Or will I build something which stands wide and apart from the natural order?”

I think formulating the question this way kind-of begs the question.  In fact, in this case, I much preferred the white, unnatural little tourist trap.   There is a different way of asking the same question.  I think it tends to prejudice us in the opposite direction:

“Will I work at being uniquely human?  Or will I accept the premise that we can’t escape the way things have always been?”

This question gets to the heart of so many of our stories, particularly ones out of the Gothic and Romantic traditions.  Beauty and The Beast is a sort-of modernized, dumbed down version… I’m not saying that all this is good, but in some way, it seems like even the modern cheesy romance novels, even Soap Operas, they are still grappling with this question.

The subtext is that men are somehow in the grasp of their animalistic nature.  Men are like the dark, brooding hotel: they are a part of the nature, left to their own devices they can not rise above it.  I don’t know why this is.  Perhaps it’s because we’re seen as more sexualized than women.  Perhaps men have perpetrated the myth because it allows us to justify abusive behavior.  Perhaps women, who have been historically powerless in many ways, grab on to the idea naturally that they have this ultimate power of redemption.

Wherever this idea comes from, over and over again, the motif  of the Belle character (is it an accident that her name means beauty?) comes in to save the man from his own darkness.  This darkness inevitably is the form of being animalistic, wild, natural.  (Is it an accident that his name is The Beast.)

There is danger here.  There is danger in thinking that we can save each other under our own power.  There is danger in thinking we ought to embrace the way things naturally are in this world.  There is danger in thinking that a white coat of paint and an open-air courtyard are enough to overcome the way things naturally are, too.

Pollution

Numbers 35 says:

33 ” ‘Do not pollute the land where you are. Bloodshed pollutes the land, and atonement cannot be made for the land on which blood has been shed, except by the blood of the one who shed it. 34 Do not defile the land where you live and where I dwell, for I, the LORD, dwell among the Israelites.’ ”

Lots of interesting stuff here.  I’d always been intruiged by the passage where Cain slew Able, and God talks about how the ground cries out with the blood.    I’d never notice this passage.  And while I suppose somebody could claim it’s all metaphorical, I think there’s something quite literally true and fascinating about the idea that our moral decisions somehow poison the physical world itself.

It’s tempting to veer into an NT Wright-inspired diversion about the physicality of the afterlife, and about the idea that our afterlife seems like it’ll be a redemption of this world, rather than a journey to some other one.  But I think I’ll take a pass on that and instead go back to the Cain and Abel thing.

According to the passage in Numbers, The slaying of Abel was never atoned for.   Unless there’s some tremendous story we’re never told, where somebody ignores the mark of Cain and kills him, then Cain’s blood never atones for the land.

I suppose somebody might suggest that this is some new rule for Israel.  But there’s nothing that I can see in the text to imply this.

The question this leads to is “What does this pollution mean?  Why is it bad?”

I’m not sure I’ve got an answer to that question.

And I’ve got this whole other thought.

Jesus tells us, ultimately, that wanting a thing isn’t morally different than doing it.  Lust is the same as adultery.  Hatred is the same as murder.  Therefore, really, we’re all murderers.

And therefore, the land is polluted.

And it can only be atoned for through our blood.

We’re familiar with the general concept, that Jesus  blood pays a price that we owe.  I’d submit the same general formula is at work here.  Jesus’ sacrifice cleared us of this debt, if we’ve allowed him to.

Yet we haven’t all let him.  So the ground is polluted, still.  Because all of us haven’t atoned.

And perhaps this is a part of the meaning of the kingdom of God.  When every knee bows, when every tongue confesses, thorough atonement will finally have been achieved.   The pollution will be cleaned away.

Star Wars, theology, and submission

A couple posts back, I explored some connections between scripture and Christianity.  Before I continue this line of thinking, I think I ought to say that I don’t know how many of these connections are intentional.  And it’s clear that were many other sources for these movies beyond Christianity.  In terms of religions, Buddhism and Taoism are clear influences.  I’m not a Buddhist or a Taoist, though, so these are not the influences I’m interested in, here.

Last post I explored a few connections between Anakin and Adam.  Anakin was tempted and brought about a fall for himself and the world.  At the end of the movie, he is a perversion of what he was meant to be.

There are of course connections  between Anakin and Jesus.  One I mentioned in that last post: both Jesus and Anakin are the result of immaculate conceptions.  A second connection: Prophesies linger around both figures.  People thought that they interpreted these prophecies correctly and they thought they new what to expect.  They were wrong.

It seems to me that Luke is more of a Jesus figure than Anakin.   As with Anakin, there is a name connection to Luke’s paralell figure.  The “other” Luke wrote one of the Gospels.  And scripture calls Jesus “son of Adam”.  If in fact Anakin is Adam, then Luke obviously is the son of the Adam figure.

Luke’s childhood in the unremarkable dessert under the domination of a tremendous and powerful empire evoke images of Jesus childhood, in his own unremarkable world, under the domination of the Roman Empire.

I think the deepest spiritual truths, the most Christian themes in these movies, is around submission and sacrifice as a path to glory and redemption.  Ben Kenobi sets the stage early in the films by sacrificing himself in the lightsabre duel with Darth Vader.  When Luke completes his training, he demonstrates that he understands this.  In Return of the Jedi, he just gives himself up at Darth Vader’s doorstep.

This is sort-of a fascinating contrast: Revenge of the Sith and Return of the Jedi.  Halfway through the former, Anakin is grasping at power that is not his.  It doesn’t seem that he’s doing this so much out of love that Amidala should be around for her own sake as out of his belief that he should be more powerful than death.  On the other hand, Luke, about halway through Jedi, is submitting himself.  He is willing to sacrifice his own life for a chance at appealing to the basic humanity of Anakin… he wants to awaken something in him that was lost after Anakin’s fall. 

Perhaps I’m overintellectualizing here, but consider the changes within just that one movie.  Darth’s strong hold isn’t the first enemy base he attacked.  At the beginning of the movie, he invades Jaba’s palace to rescue Han.  But he engaged in this invasion with an elaborate plan, with his allies in place, with a great show of his own power.  This is quite different than how he arrives at the Imperial base.

Luke’s ploy pays off.  Darth Vader ultimately does more than participate in his own rescue.  He rescue Luke.

Jesus awakens our humanity.  Our awakening does not rescue Him from His fate.  But it does prove the logic of his original submission to it.

What I believe

I believe that we live in a world that is not what it was meant to be.

I believe that the central problem with the world is a broken relationship with God.

I believe that God is a God of love, justice, and peace. 

I believe that the closer our hearts are to God, the more we will experience love and peace and the harder we will work for justice.

I believe that the life, death, and resseruction of Jesus were the pivotal points in history.  I believe that everything that happened before Jesus’ coming to Earth was preparing this situation.  I believe that everything that has happened since that time has been a result of this occasion.

I believe that God will someday return everything to what it would have been if we had never fallen… We will live in a place like what the Garden of Eden would have become.

I believe that we are eternal.

I believe that God wants us to wrestle with his truths.

I believe that God uses the world to grow us.  I believe that he wishes we had not made the choices we did. 

I believe that God weeps with us. 

I believe that God’s church has done things which make God laugh with joy and things which make God shake his head in shame at us.

I believe that God’s holy spirit is in the places we least expect to find it.

I believe that the enemy of God and man often masquerades as holiness, piousness, normalacy, and conformity.

Sometimes, I think it’s easy for emergents like me to throw the baby out with the bath water.  We see how quiet mainstream Christianity has been about its doubts.  We see how tabboo being authentic has become.

And so we open up about our fears and the ambiguities we see.  And it’s a good thing to do this.  But my fear is that we end up looking like depressed, faithless, nit pickers.  

As I consider the stuff I’ve blogged about, it looks like I’ve got more questions than answers. 

The thing is, this isn’t really true.  There’s lots of stuff I’ve believe.  With all that I am.  This post is a sort-of state-of-my-faith adress. 

Most of the stuff on this list is actually pretty close to more moderate and even conservative folks.  It’s easy but dangerous to miss all the things which unite us… because really, the only important thing… Jesus Christ… does unite us.