And this is the Gospel expressed as simply as I know how…

Jesus, as a result of the compelling love within the Godhead, made a huge shift in the life He enjoyed and shared within the Godhead, and came to Earth in the form of a baby.

And He, now fully human, grew and lived among humans, and loved them in ways humans had never before known.

He was so free, and refreshing, and uninhibited, and so full of life, and so HUMAN, that it got Him into much trouble, in fact, it got Him killed.

Then after he was dead and buried and had gone, unbeknownst to all who despised him and wanted him gone, His faith in His father in Heaven broke the power of death itself and He rose from the dead. This unified act of love on behalf of the GodHead, which satisfied all the response God has to human rebellion, rendered death (the result of such rebellion) meaningless to all men and women, boys and girls, anywhere in the world, and for all time, who decide to live with His agenda in the forefront of thier lives.

If you want to respond to the Gospel, seek me out (or seek someone out). Join us. Find a way to come by and join a community of people who, just like you, want to find greater meaning in their lives.

Sin (human rebellion) is not smoking or drinking or cussing — the essence of sin, excuse the term but it does tells it like it is — is living in such a manner as to be showing God “the finger.” It is living as if God and all that matters to God are worth ignoring.

Who is this man?

Who is this man
upon a cross
upon a hill
Whose mother stands
to see him suffer?

Who, but a day or two before, broke bread with dear friends

And told them it was the end – of a long and beautiful friendship

At least in the form they had known it

Who is this man
upon a cross
upon a hill
Who prays forgiveness
Upon those who want to see him suffer?

And where are the adoring crowds that swarmed him, hailed him as king
Listened to his every word

There is no crowd now
only

a mother who stands to see him suffer

Who is this Jesus
upon a hill
seated and teaching
the masses
and then feeding them through dramatic display of prayer and faith
and healing the sick
and opening eyes that are blind

Who is this man, this Jesus
Who held meetings on mountains
With Prophets who’d been dead for thousands of years
Who walked on water and calmed storms
And stirred a little girl from Death to Life

And who is this Jesus
Who calls a spade a spade
And ignores the religious and respected
Preferring the company of the despised
And the rejected
And who talks to women in public
And Samaritans, in both private and public

Who is this man who can
And defy Rome
And defy the temple officials
And talk in militant terms of a Kingdom that will
Last forever
Yet be moved to tears at the death of a friend?

Why is He now upon a cross
upon a hill
forsaken
bereft
betrayed

Why is the begotten, forgotten
and left to die a criminal death
between two thives
His head and under a crown of thorns
And a purple robe across his shoulders
Both placed upon him in bitter irony and sarcasm

While his mother watched him suffer

Who is this God
The Son of Man
Up on a Cross
Up on a hill
And who are we to watch
His death, year in and year out
And go from Crib to Cross
From miracle to miracle
parable to parable
year to year
and live sometimes as though
His death were
Of little meaning

Who is this dying Saviour
Abandoned by the God He calls ABBA
Abandoned by Heaven
upon a hill
While His mother stands
to see him suffer?

He is Dead, Dead, Dead
The beloved begotten Son
Is dead – the body is limp upon the cross
The last words are uttered
And now it will be removed to a borrowed tomb

Who is this man?
Who lies in a borrowed tomb
The stone rolled shut
And sealed – and He who said He was God
Is gone…
Gone…
Gone.

I think of Mary, and Jesus, at Christmas……

I imagine, Mary, that it was a difficult birth. All those miles journeyed so late in a pregnancy did not make things easier. Of course there’s nowhere for you to stay, the man you are with is not your husband. You say the child is not his. What else are people to do but hold the door firmly closed and send you on your way?

Here he is, Mary, the baby God promised. In your joy and pain there is no relief as guests who have traveled long distances stand in line to pay homage to the baby as if to a king. I should imagine Mary, that there is a little resentment toward you from some quarters, all this attention for a woman of questionable morals.

I am sure that it was a difficult childhood, Jesus. Being young and studious can be a tiring combination. Feeling called, appointed, anointed, intimate with God and so at home in the temple could infuriate men in search of the God you claim to know. The tongues surely wagged declaring you illegitimate. “Who’s your father,” I bet they taunted, “We know our father is Abraham, but who is your father.” It must have gotten a little old Jesus, even when you were so very young.

I know it was a difficult career. You faced extremes at every turn. Ostracism here, worship there. I cannot imagine the pressure you endured from religious quarters. Turning water to wine, healing the blind, raising the dead, multiplying food, walking on water and calming storms I would have thought would increase your popularity but largely it had the opposite effect. How much good can you do before those who pride themselves on knowing God become a little edgy? Demonstrating the power of God through working miracles can get a person in trouble rather quickly. Perhaps you should have known better.

I know friendships were troublesome for you. I’m sure it was a difficult day when you looked into the eyes of a friend, a very close friend, and found yourself looking into the eyes of your betrayer. There he was pointing you out in the garden and then, to rub salt into the wound, doing it with a kiss. Those who had come to seize and accuse you, place you on trial were taken aback at your composure, your presence, your attitude, despite all you knew about what was in store for you. Where did you get the faith Jesus?

I cannot imagine what it was like to be so widely wanted dead. Religious leaders wanted you out of the way. Political leaders accused you of disturbing the peace. Then, fancy this, they join forces in some weird alliance to get you. Then, the Enemy also wanted you dead. You showed him no tolerance, wouldn’t take his bribe; you wouldn’t join forces or share power. You just wouldn’t demonstrate any flexibility Jesus, not on any front, even for a moment.

Finally, and surely most painfully, God wanted you dead as atonement for sin. It’s no wonder, Jesus, that you perspired blood and pleaded for the removal of the cup that was before you.

After all you went through I cannot imagine what it was like to be brought back to life. Appearing to your beloved friends, your mother, your brothers and sisters and hundreds of people must have brought you all joy enough to party in the streets. The added bonus was that now, death itself, was dead.

I cannot imagine Mary, what it was like to be his mother. As surely as you knew water would become wine you knew the crib would become a cross. You also knew that despite all the pain and drama, the sealed tomb would open and the risen Christ would declare to the world once more, that God is intimately invested in the affairs of humanity and the details of every life.

Chirstmas shopping would be so much easier if Jesus would remain a baby….

If Jesus would remain a baby, I would find Christmas shopping much easier. But every time I venture out to celebrate the birth of the Christ Child, by purchasing a gift for someone I love, I am stumped. I do not know what kind of gift to buy that will somehow declare the birth of the Son of God. I do not have the where-with-all for a gift that marks the birth of a King. Besides, every time I begin to shop in honor of Baby Jesus, I see him whipped unmercifully upon a cross. Nothing so confuses my shopping at Christmas than the sight of blood spilling from his side and, although I resist the thought, it will not go away.

Before I can do much looking around the malls, Jesus jumps out of the crib, fully adult, onto the streets in front of me and I can hardly keep up with him. He’s healing people and getting into all kinds of trouble with medical experts. I am lost about what to do. Besides, any free moment he goes to the wrong places. He goes to the seedy parts of town. He goes to places I have never been before. He mixes with rejected people. He goes to City Hall and hurls insults at those in leadership who are without mercy.

Downtown, he is outspoken and scathing to those who are unfair in their business practices no matter who they are or what positions they hold. Jesus detests double standards and addresses them at every encounter.

I want to shove him back in the crib where he was safe. I want him back in the crib where we were all safer. Then, just when I thought he would stop in at a church or two – perhaps a cathedral built in his honor – he’s off into a bar befriending losers. He’s talking politics in a way I have never heard. He’s talking about fairness and justice and mercy and truth. I want to tell him not to mix politics and religion but I hold my tongue and blush with the absurdity of it all.

If he would just stay in one place like a baby should is all I can think.

It’s not long before he gains in popularity and I am in a jostle with the crowds for his attention. But it’s not the kind of popularity I was expecting. I will never be able to get a gift at this rate. Prostitutes love him. Drunks run to his defense. The poorest of the poor are out in their masses. He dances in the streets with children and people he has only just met. Young men and women with piercings all over their bodies form a circle with him, and they celebrate like long lost friends, reunited. Then, instead of heeding the city ordinances and honoring the local businesses, he feeds the entire crowd by some miraculous display.

Now what do I buy? Clearly, anything I spend on any gift, if I am really out to celebrate the birth of the Christ Child has to be grand. Yet it has to be modest. His birth couldn’t have been more modest: a shed was the delivery room, an animal feeding trough, the crib. Secrecy, shame and danger were the backdrop of this dramatic night while poverty dictated the details. So I cannot spend much. Yet it was the greatest night the earth had ever seen. It was the greatest moment in all history. It was the night angels sighed! It was the night the hosts of heaven longed to witness; the night the order of everything was disturbed forever by Love’s intervention.

I try to tell him he’s ruining things: that he is too quick to befriend the wrong people. Clearly his mind is elsewhere. I plead with him to befriend the religious and civic leaders but he will not listen. Soon, as if to prove me right, they are up in arms against him. Everybody who is anybody wants him gone. They call him a hindrance to tourism, a threat to peace and they accuse him of not attending church!

Next he’s looking crucifixion in the eye.

If only he would remain a baby. It is so much easier to shop for a baby.

What Would Jesus Do?

“Now what would Jesus do?” asked the one glancing at her WWJD bracelet.

“Grape nuts,” replied her companion instantly, as if she had served Jesus breakfast that very morning. I slipped away pondering how the will and the ways of the greatest political, religious and social reformer of all time got reduced to a formula for grocery shopping.

I am glad the use of these bracelets appears to be waning. It remains a great question, but wearing it on a wrist somehow suggests that the answer is easily accessible. It suggests that if you will simply stop and think a little, having eyed the bracelet, you’ll get the answer. Then, as you act on your new found knowledge, your predicaments will be resolved, you will have a better life, and conditions in the world will improve all around for everybody.

Quite the contrary: Answering the question and doing what Jesus would do in any situation is neither easily established nor executed. Finding the answer itself would take a lot of work, like tunneling back though a couple of thousand years, researching culture, geography and weather conditions and the political and religious climate. Then we’d have to identify, and then decipher, metaphor, understand and interpret tone and intent, and immerse ourselves in at least a few ancient languages.

Besides all this, we’d need a working knowledge of the subcultures and the prejudices that existed within those subcultures. Then, with all this done we might be able to decide what Jesus would do given some, but not all, situations we face.

The next challenge, once we’ve established the answer, would be to have the courage to do what Jesus would do. WWJD is not about “doing the right thing.” Jesus did not always do the “right” thing. If that were so, no cross would have awaited him. Doing the “right thing” would have endeared him to those who mattered and would not have required him to buck authority at all.

Essentially Jesus laid a platform for his followers to live differently. It doesn’t take more than a reading of the New Testament to see that he despised pretentiousness and empty religious “performance” and was particularly vocal wherever he found religious zeal that was without internal transformation. He despised abusive systems and was a particular critic of those who ripped off others.

I do not think Jesus cares what cereal you buy, or for that matter, what dress or suit you wear or how your hair is or is not cut. But I do believe he cared about what kind of person you are and whether you love mercy, humility, truth and justice, and challenge the systems where these qualities are absent.

It is apparently forgotten that Jesus was hardly a nice guy. Today he’d be a threat to our political order and might not be able to find a church he’d attend, let alone one that would have him preach! Consequently doing what Jesus would do could significantly reduce your popularity rating. The real question, by the way, is not “what would Jesus do” but rather what will you do now that you claim to know him?

Let’s shed the bracelets. It’s not grape nuts or cheerios, but love and truth, mercy and justice, that might bring us all a little closer to being what Jesus was. But be careful, you might shed the bracelet and exchange it for a cross – and it won’t be hanging around your neck.

Womb Mates

“Pssssst.”

“Who’re you ‘pssssst-ing’ at?”

“You. It not like there’s anyone else in here.”

“I was just checking.”

“You think we going to make it?”

“Mmmmm. Touch and go I’d say, from everything I’ve read.”

“You believe everything you read?”

“Well, why not? I’m not jaded. Yet.”

“Is that you thumping?”

“Here you go blaming me again. She’s at the coffee shop. We always get a bit of a thump when she’s in here. Café Mocha does that to people…. and to almost-people.”

“Put that out.”

“Who me? I’m not smoking. It’s that guy she hangs out with. He smokes around pregnant women.”

“Well …. it’s reaching me and I don’t like it.”

“Put your hand over you mouth.”

“It doesn’t reach, yet.”

“Pssssst.”

“Is that you ‘Pssssst’-ing again?”

“Get back to what we were saying. What’s going to happen to us if she, you know, isn’t glad we’re in here? What if she makes a choice and, you know, we are not in it?”

“We go back. Silly.”

“Back? Where to? Don’t ‘silly’ me,”

“Don’t tell me you forgot already. We go back to where we came from. You know, the Beautiful Place. The Big Place. There’s no rejection there, remember?”

“No. I don’t remember.”

“That’s what they said. They said we wouldn’t remember, but I can still remember some things. Although I’ll admit my memory is slowly fading. I am having a fetus moment.”

“Wait a minute. I remember the gift shop. The day we got loaded with talents and gifts and dreams and ambitions and every good thing. I remember when we were chosen for each other. I remember when we were chosen, both of us, for her. Wow! I remember it all so clearly now. It is all coming back. They said we’d have a place to live and grow and discover everything. They said that although we’d feel far away from the Big Place. They’d be very near to us. Remember they said we’d be very useful and creative and deeply loved every day until our return no matter how we were welcomed on Earth or not.”

“Settle down. You are getting a little hyper. Can you remember, did They said it was safe?”

“No. It’s not safe. I remember distinctly. Exciting yes. Safe? No. They said we’d not like it to be too safe. It’s a human thing you know. Humans like a lot of adventure and thrill and risk. Too much safety doesn’t do humans too much good. Speaking for myself, I cannot wait.”

“Well, you have to. We’re in this together and we get out together.”

“Is that you gulping? Do you think you could respect my boundaries a little? You’re on my side.”

“Hey, you’re a little young to be doing that. Choosing sides and all that.”

“You know what I’m looking forward to? Diapers. I’m tired of swimming around here, naked, in front of you.”

“You’re thinking about diapers. Hey, this is life and death stuff. We’re in a womb for goodness sake. This is a danger zone if ever I knew one and you’re looking forward to wearing diapers?”

“Let’s agree on something?”

“What’s that?”

“Whatever choice she makes. However it pans out, we’ll stick together.”

“If we get out of here alive I’m telling you now, I’m never going to a coffee shop.”

“And I am never going to smoke.”

“You think she going to want us?”

“I don’t know. I hope so. There’s so much to do out there. So much to see. If she doesn’t want us I hope she’ll hang in there and give us to someone who does.”

“Hey, I have another question.”

“What is that?”

“Are we in an American womb?”

“Why do you ask?”

“Well I heard a lot of stories about American wombs.”

“Like what?”

“I don’t remember.”

NOTE: My editor at a major newspaper rejected this column. The original draft ends with: “Hold your breath,” says the one, “here comes the whipped cream,” which she said was a tasteless ending. When I questioned the rejection of the column (she had run more controversial columns from me in the past) she said she thought actually aborting the twins at the end of the column was tasteless. This was very surprising to me, since in the writing of the column, I had never thought the whipped cream was some chemical administered to kill the babies. It was simply the mother drinking her coffee at a coffee shop.

ANOTHER NOTE: This thought was inspired by Janet Starkey who read somewhere (or heard somewhere) the beautiful thought that babies enter the world, forgetting everything of the full knowledge of God they have. Their life mission is to rediscover the truth about God they knew and experienced before they were in the womb.

Sylvia the Hairdresser, or, how NOT to do evangelism

Now my heart warms toward her but this was not always so when it came to Sylvia the Hairdresser. I could barely go anywhere without her evangelical interference. It dogged my childhood. If I went to the barbershop, she would see my bicycle leaning against the wall, and when I came out, she would summon me sternly into her salon-for-girls to tell me about her Jesus. I felt awkward and exposed just standing there, in the bright pink salon – seeing my freshly shaved head a hundred times in her hard bright mirrors – hearing what a sinner I was, with girls watching.

God loves you was her persistent theme. Clearly, she did not share God’s predisposition towards me. I was a potential convert – a possible testimony to her faithfulness, a feather in her heavenly crown – and come hell or high water, she was going to get me saved. Somehow, according to her, I had already managed to embody all the despicable acts of humanity in one pre-adolescent frame. According to my well-versed Representative, if I failed to immediately repent (from what I did not know, nor did she make clear), even the impending bicycle ride home could terminate my miserable sin-filled life and land me in my well-deserved Hell. Any implication of Scriptural evidence that Jesus loved children was lost on her; every encounter with Sylvia the hairdresser was a foretaste of the very Hell at which she said my life was aimed.

To me, she felt omnipotent. Meeting her could happen anywhere. The encounters were most prolonged when she bought groceries from my dad’s corner store. This was when we both got it – Dad and me. As he tried to discuss her practiced presentations of her gospel, she would shrug her shoulders, extend her arms in despair, and mumble about feet and dust and pearls and swine. From behind the counter, I could see dust rising and pearls glittering around her chosen, blessed neck. If the exchange between Sylvia and Dad lasted long enough, I would imagine I could smell slaughtered pigs and see carcasses spread violently across the floor.

She said, “praise the Lord” a lot and never once waited to hear anything from Dad or me. I knew we would never make it with her Jesus. In fact, I was quite sure I preferred not to, knowing she looked forward to a promised preeminent place, ruling and reigning with God forever and ever and ever and ever.

In Sylvia the Hairdresser, the fine art of meddling in the affairs of others, which she called witnessing, was perfected. Because God is all knowing, she made everything her business. No marriage, no illness, no child-rearing practice in her self-declared parish escaped her watchful eye. I knew it was only a matter of time before she would find out I liked to play music. Once she came into our house when I was practicing Lara’s Theme from Dr. Zhivago and she stopped me mid-bar to tell me I was “playing for the devil.” She rampaged about the debauchery that followed young boys who played music for the world. I sat accused, hands spread on the piano keys and wondered how a beautiful melody, played very simply in our living room, was found pleasing to the devil and capable of leading to such destruction, the likes of which in all of my eleven years, I had never heard. “Praise the Lord,” she sang as she left our sleazy home, victory under her belt and my head in a bag. Once again I saw the dust and smelled the swine, and watched the reflection off her pearls light up her shiny smiling face.

So how I ever fell in love with Jesus of the New Testament has nothing to do with Sylvia the Hairdresser who dogged my childhood with her evangelical interference, as much as I am told she believes it. Rather, a few people befriended and loved me beyond my deserving. They listened to my wild ideas about faith, love and life, then, when I asked, told me in Whom they believed. And in the telling of such freeing, courageous and beautiful love, I saw the Heart of God.