Archives For Incarnation

“On the day of judgment, God will ask only one question: ‘Did you enjoy my world?'” -Ancient Jewish saying

“Like all truly mystical things, love is rooted deeply and rightfully in this world and this flesh.” -Katherine Anne Porter

In the Flesh Blog

 

 

It’s interesting to me that Passion is a marketing buzz word these days for everything from TV shows to cologne. Most of us want passion in our lives, and more of it, but few of us make the kinds of decisions that lead to passion.

Passion after all is first defined (by the dictionary!) as the final 24 hours of Jesus’ life. It is to care about something more than yourself and to find that this care might require all of yourself…including your body.

Sex for Dummies

A couple of weeks ago, the New York Times ran a fascinating front page article about a new development in the entertainment industry…the development is people watching video games. At first, you might not think that this is a big deal, because video games have been around for years, but the Times was covering a conference where thousands of people were gathering, not to play, but to watch professionals play video games. 

It’s ironic that the Times ran this front page story, because just a few pages later, on the same day, Philosophy professor Richard Kearney wrote an op-ed piece about what our obsession with technology is doing to us.

Dr. Kearney noted that in his classes when he talks about the body and touch, sex will inevitably come up, but unlike generations in the past, today’s students aren’t having sex to be with a person, they are having sex with an anatomically correct husk.

I was a Singles minister for many years, and I grieve the hook-up culture that we’ve created. I know the kind of damage that it does to a person’s soul. But the real twist in Dr. Kearney’s observation is that he thinks it’s only a symptom of a greater problem. Today’s hook-up culture exists in large part because online dating and mating services like Match.com and Tinder allow people to share messages that signal their level of willingness to have sex, and under what conditions…all almost purely anonymously.

Sex, connecting with a real human being, in the most intimate of ways, is now mediated digitally, replacing the ancient community or the priest, Tinder doesn’t require you to pledge your life in submission to the good of the other and to fight for that person’s soul. It’s just asks you to swipe left.

But, and here is Dr. Kearney’s big observation:

What is often thought of as a “materialist” culture is arguably the most “immaterialist” culture imaginable — vicarious, by proxy, and often voyeuristic…[We] see everything at a distance but [it's] touched by nothing. Are we perhaps entering an age of “excarnation,” where we obsess about the body in increasingly disembodied ways? For if incarnation is the image become flesh, excarnation is flesh become image. Incarnation invests flesh; excarnation divests it.

It’s not that we are a materialistic culture, we are anything but that. Materialism is the idea that this world is all there is, but we’re not even paying attention to this world that much anymore.

Dr. Kearney goes on to state that in all actuality, pornography is, the flip side of [his interpretation of] Puritanism. Both require an alienation from flesh — one replacing it with the virtuous, the other with the virtual. Each is out of touch with the body.

I think he’s right about the pornography and wrong about the Puritans.Puritan Valentines

Hot and Holy

Because contrary to popular belief, the Christian faith doesn’t discount this world or our bodies, in fact, it takes it all the more seriously because we believe that God entered into it.

In fact, and I can’t believe I’m about to write this sentence, Puritans were incredibly sexual, passionate people who did the hard work of channelling that energy toward only one person in their life.

 One unfortunately named Puritan, Thomas Hooker wrote, “The man whose heart is endeared to the woman he loves, he dreams of her in the night, hath her in his eye and apprehension when he awakes, museth on her as he sits at table, walks with her when he travels and parlies with her in each place where he comes.” He adds: 

“She lies in his Bosom, and his heart trusts in her, which forceth all to confess, that the stream of his affection, like a mighty current, runs with full tide and strength.”

Hallmark eat your heart out.

The problem with our society is that we can’t imagine sex like the Puritans. We can’t imagine a world where sexuality doesn’t produce something, where it’s not useful to be turned into a commodity for our self-esteem or money like prostitution or pornography and then sold to the highest bidder. (Today’s pornography industry is larger than the revenues of the top technology companies combined: Microsoft, Google, Amazon, eBay, Yahoo!, Apple, and Netflix).

The biggest problem with pornography is that it divorces sex from the act of giving. Sex becomes all about experiencing, receiving, trying to understand the mystery…in a word, sex becomes a commodity to consume.  But the Puritans talked about sex as benevolence to the other.

"Sexology" book by Puritan Press for a Happy Marriage

“Sexology” book by Puritan Press for a Happy Marriage

The Puritans took sex so seriously that if either spouse didn’t give “due benevolence” it could be grounds for church discipline! There is actually an example on record, where a husband was kicked out of fellowship with the church for “neglecting his wife” by not making love with her for a long period of time!  

Because the Puritans knew that sex is a gift that you give and are given.

In her memoir Grace, the preacher Mary Cartledgehayes recounts her final year with her husband as he was dying of cancer. She writes about how they decided to savor every moment of life they had left together, and ultimately how they decided to make love every day until he died. Here’s how she talks about it:

To breathe, to laugh, to curse, to praise, to weep, to sit in the midst of perfect order, to stand in the center of perfect chaos, to bread bread, to eat three strawberries, to touch a piano’s keys, to kiss a lover’s skin, to birth, to baptize, to bless, to bury, to live , to die – either it is all holy or not of it is holy”

And then she closes her book with these words:

“And this is what I know. It is all holy.

On December 22, 2011

The Glory of God

As we go into this season for one more year, as we dream about the gifts we will be able to give, and stress about the ones we won’t. As we hustle and stress on a treadmill that just seems to get faster, remember what this season is really trying to do. It’s calling us to see and treat the ones around us better, despite how they look or what resources they bring to the table. Because that’s the way Jesus did. Because that’s the glory of God.

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On December 17, 2011

The Tears of Christmas

It’s been one of those weeks. The kind that come along every now and then in life, where creation seems to be screaming more than groaning.

This week, a child with Leukemia who we’ve prayed and fasted for, has taken a turn for the worse. A friend and co-worker at Highland just had his mother pass away, and for reasons that I am not ready to go into today, Leslie and I spent a good part of this week in a hospital room, grieving our own personal stuff.

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On July 6, 2011

The Next Christians and U2

Christians aren’t called to live behind walls but live among (like the Jesus they follow) but they also are distinct in the things that matter. So sometimes they are tailors or businesspeople, sometimes they are bakers or bankers. And sometimes they are rock stars.

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On December 23, 2010

Christmas Stories

So this is my last blog for the Year. I plan on unplugging from the world wide web and heading out for some much needed vacation with the family. We are headed to Arkansas to spend time with family, unless you are a robber, in which case, we are staying in Abilene for the entire break.

It’s strange reading the Gospels during the Christmas season. It’s as if every single story that we read demands to be interpreted in light of Bethlehem. And that got me thinking this morning about some of my favorite Jesus stories. What did Christmas originally mean to these people when it happened.

For example…

She was probably a teenager when the birth at Bethlehem happened, but she had no idea what was going on over there, babies are born everyday, and she just happened to live in Samaria. Maybe she was dating someone, or maybe she was already pledged to be married. After all, she was going to have to start early to go through four failed marriages and be working on her fifth serious relationship by the time she would meet Jesus. Life was really going to put her through the ringer. Maybe it was that she would make some bad choices, or maybe she was going to be the victim of bad men. But for whatever reason, by the time Jesus came along she had hit rock bottom. She was alone in every sense that mattered. But he saw her. Up until that point no one knew who Jesus was. He hadn’t told the Kings or dignitaries, but he told her. He gave her life dignity again. Continue Reading…

On December 13, 2010

The Solidarity of God

You can keep your Jingle Bells, and Frosty the Snowman’s, I don’t care much for Sleigh Ride’s or having a White Christmas (I do after all live in West Texas). Because my favorite Christmas song of all time has got to be “O Holy Night”

It’s one of the best hymn’s that has ever been written. And while it’s a pity that it only makes an appearance in December, I think I understand why we can only sing it a couple of times a year. It’s too insistent, it  a song that makes too many demands on our life.

“Long Lay the world, in sin and error pining. Till He appeared and the soul felt it’s worth.”

This is a song about the Solidarity of God. About a God who chooses to be among us.

But it’s who he chooses to be among that fascinates me. This is a God who chooses to be among this little nation of peasants, He appears to shepherds and teenagers and fishermen and single mom’s and little kids. That’s who God was with. Continue Reading…

On December 8, 2009

Emmanuel

Late last night I officially finished my Church history class for the semester. It’s a great feeling being done with any class, even good ones. This semester has been difficult for me because, while I have deep hope for the church and what she could be, it’s hard to read about poor decisions made thousands of years ago that still impact us today. All while considering that the decisions we make today could have long term affects as well.

For Example…

A little talked about fact from the World Wars is wardrobe. Probably because there are much more dramatic examples of cruelty or bravery that we can look at. But beneath the rubble and the destruction there was an idea. One that was put on the belt buckles of German Soldiers.

The idea was simply: “Gott Mit Uns” or God with us.

I know a lady who goes to our church who grew up in Nazi Germany. She has stories that are mesmerizing…Her father, at great personal risk, continually told his kids an alternative story to the one that Hitler was spinning. She tells about sitting hunched up in the living room corner listening to the bombs of the allies falling all around them. All while their dad was telling them that God was, in fact, not with the Nazi’s but with their little family.

And that is a lot like the story of Christmas.

There is a danger that being a couple of thousand years away from the story that we can forget how dangerous it really was. But there is a reason that the Angel told Joseph to flee to Egypt right after Jesus was born. Joseph goes from being a simple, pious carpenter to being the Jack Bauer of the New Testament. Because Herod had heard that somebody was saying that there was another king in town.

That God was with someone else.

And so Herod starts an infanticide, just to weed out any threats to his claim to power. Because he knows the danger of that kind of statement. He had been using it for decades. I don’t know of many world rulers, who haven’t used God in one form or another to accomplish either great good or great evil. Even the Stalin’s of the world used religion, just replacing God’s name with their own.

But here is the irony of Immanuel. Because the story of God With Us isn’t always good news. There is an edge of judgement to it as well. Think of Paul in 1 Corinthians 6. He’s explaining to people why they should avoid sexual immorality, and his main point is that God is with you, so you shouldn’t act like that anymore.

That’s a huge statement, and for more than just sex. It means that if God is with us than there are all kinds of implications for what kind of people we should be. From the Crusades cry of “God Wills It” on we’ve had the temptation to take our agenda and use God’s name to approve it.

But this is not the story of Bethlehem.

Go back and read Luke 1 and 2 this week. Notice the different reactions to the announcement that God is with Us. There is real sense in which that kind of announcement disturbs the comfortable and comforts the disturbed. The Hitler’s and Herod’s of the world may try to use God to expand their petty kingdoms. They may exploit and abuse the little people because their power grows unchecked.

But beware of families huddled on the floor, or teenage girls with a baby in their belly.

Because who God is actually with is the surprise.

And that’s Christmas.

On October 1, 2009

Re-Incarnation

I have come to understand that one of the missing pieces of Christian Theology is Re-Incarnation. But before you begin to think I’ve converted to hippie, let me back up and explain what I mean.

Over the past few weeks I have noticed that one of the repeated themes of Christian history, especially after the third century, was debate over the nature of the incarnation. That is, we became adept at arguing over what exactly happened in Bethlehem.

Now there was a ton of different nuances to this discussion, much of the time debates revolved around single Greek words. Some people got upset if a word was used to describe the incarnation that wasn’t used in Scripture. It seems like Creeds were drawn up weekly to defend or define Jesus’ nature. Groups split often, and there was more drama than in the Jackson 5.

All over the Incarnation.

A couple of weeks ago in Nashville, a story ran in the local news about a family named the Hazelips. The tag line for this story was, “Imagine living the perfect life in the suburbs, with a big house, green grass, and a pool. But one Nashville couple still felt empty, so they packed up and moved to one of the highest drug ridden areas of the city.”

They left their upper-middle class life, and moved into the projects. Which is not normally the direction people choose with their lives. You rarely hear a C.E.O. saying the next step after a house in the Hamptons is to finally get that apartment in the projects.

But this family did it. They saw it as a part of following Jesus. And now because of this strange move, the kids of this neighborhood have ice cream on Thursday afternoon’s and movies on Friday nights. The Hazelips have helped some of the adults overcome their addictions.

All because someone chose to move in a downward direction.

One of my good friends made a point recently. He said that much of the time our theology is gnostic. But he doesn’t mean that the way you might think. Gnosticism is the belief that the material is bad, and the spiritual, or non-material is good. It was one of the first heresies. And my friend’s point is not that we necessarily believe that, but that we practice that.

A lot of the time our theology is talked about but not lived out.

It is discussed but not embodied.

Which is what I think part of the problem was with Christian’s trying to describe the incarnation. It had become abstract, a theory. When in fact it was the one part of our Theology that was the most concrete of all. In other words God had put on skin, not theory.

God had laid down his divine prerogatives, he had in the words of Paul, emptied Himself.

And we tried to describe this all while fighting for more power, more influence than the other guys.

Now don’t get me wrong. I recognize that I am in debt to these earlier Christians for wrestling with some pretty tough stuff on describing the birth of Jesus. I am thankful that they had these harder conversations. But this seems to be the one area of Christianity that demands more than just talk.

Because the beauty of the Incarnation is that it didn’t just happen. It happens.

Everytime a follower of Jesus chooses the path of descent. Everytime someone chooses to serve vs. fighting to be served.

That’s re-incarnation. It’s following Jesus in the hardest move of all.

And it can still change the world.

Just ask the Hazelips.