Hope Matters

Pin_HopeMattersThe word “but” is one of those words no one wants to hear right after someone says to you … I love you, I’m sorry, or I think you are a really great person. It is something I like to refer to as a “yes, but” statement. I’m sure you can think of people who have dropped the “yes, but” on you. I’m also sure you can think of a time or two you’ve dropped one on another–I know I can. It is easy to do. It is the having your cake and eating it too of interpersonal communication. We want to make the other person feel better, make ourselves feel better, or ease the tension of a conversation….but we also want to make sure our point is understood, our agenda is being met, or our conscious is left guilt free. The problem is a “yes, but” statement always creates a contradiction regarding the true emotions, feelings, or intentions of the speaker. It devalues the speaker’s credibility and confuses the hearer—who will likely end up unconvinced.

In my experience, I have found there to be a bit of a “yes, but” attitude among Christians today. It is an attitude that we all can be sympathetic towards. The world we live in is broken. We’ve all endured suffering. We’ve all experienced loss. It is tough to look at the evils that take place on this planet and not wish at times to just sink down to the ground and give up on it all. It is an attitude that is bound to wash over everyone once and a while. However, trouble arises when this attitude begins to cling to us, becomes natural to us, or is left unchecked and unconfessed for a long period of time. As our lives pass the fear of suffering, loss, death, evil, and ugliness in humanity slowly becomes the thing we expect. And if even more time passes, in which the incarnational truth and hope found in the New Testament washes away such pessimism, fear becomes the only outcome we will see as possible. Once a person comes to expect that for now fear/death will always prevail on earth, the gospel becomes a story about hoping in heaven, rather than placing our hope in our promised new earth and our coming resurrection.

Pierre Teilhard’s hope is that which continues to amaze me when read his works. This isn’t solely because of what he says or teaches regarding our future hope, it is because of the way he embodies such a hope. He is audacious enough to imagine a future in which humanity unites, loves, and manifests Christ on earth. Sadly, even as I’m writing about his hopeful ideals, I can feel a “yes, but” trying to creep into my preconditioned thoughts.

It sounds something like this: “While, of course I believe that Christians will someday unite, love, and fully manifest Christ on earth …. but it won’t ever fully be realized through us…well, at least not until Jesus comes back and finishes everything he didn’t finish on the cross” That last bit should feel like fingernails on a chalkboard and although you may never have heard a Christian confess such an appalling statement, it is what we are insinuating when we tag on a ‘but’ after speaking about Christ’s message of the Kingdom come, isn’t it? How is this acceptable to us? Christ on the cross is the center, the fulfillment, the reconciliation, the salvation, and the most beautiful act self-sacrificial love that will ever be known. Hope is found when we look at the cross, hear our Lord utter ‘It is finished,’ and then love one another so outlandishly that fear must flee from our presence. The hope Christ came to incarnate, teach, and die for simply cannot exist within a “yes, but” statement. To follow up the hope of the gospel with a “but” is to surrender our faith as hopeless.

I am a far cry from embodying hope the way Teilhard does. I also know that he struggled with this vision of hope after serving in WW1 (a topic I will discuss at a later time). I still struggle everyday to affirm the truth that on the cross it truly was ‘finished.’ I look around my life, the church, the world and find it hard to not to find it an impossible notion that God’s Kingdom could ever fully be realized on this very planet. There are times though, moments of fleeting wonder, in which even just for a few mere seconds I allow hope to overwhelm me. A true sense of hope, a pure and child-like hope, and such beauty has the power to take the breath right out of my lungs. It is akin to trying to imagine the end of the universe, eternity, or infinity. These times or moments most often come to me when reading Teilhard, in fact I’m not certain I had felt such hope ever before discovering him. His hope is contagious and intoxicating. Jesus came, lived, and died for a hope—the hope to see God’s Kingdom come to earth (not the other way around). Teilhard shamelessly mirrors this hope. I would give anything to live in such a state.

As I said earlier, Teilhard’s teaching doesn’t center on the idea of hope—it is more embedded in all his other thoughts. I continue to emphasize it however—especially early on in the series—because without a willingness on our part to try to imagine the incarnational hope of the kingdom come, we will never truly be able to open our minds and learn from what his message to us is. I want Christ-followers to become desperately hungry for such a Christ-like hope. If we say we have hope, but then claim our hope is in a ‘there’ rather than the ‘here’ it seems to me we are failing to preach the gospel.

“I believe that the world will never be converted to Christianity’s hopes of heavens, unless first Christianity is converted to the hopes of the earth.” Teilhard

Teilhard, . C. P. (1968). Science and Christ. New York: Harper & Row.p.127

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Chardin: The Matter of Man

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Pierre Teilhard de Chardin lays the foundation of his theory regarding the evolutionary process currently happening all around with a poetic description of a new way to view the cosmos. Chardin paints a picture from one end of the materiel universe to the other with the hope of broadening our view of reality. He dares us to expand our preconditioned minds, from seeing only those things directly in front of us that are rooted in scientific fact, to imagine where it is we are going. Chardin challenges us to take the knowledge we have learned through science [in particular through evolution], combine it with the hope we find in the New Testament, and use these tools as a means of envisioning the direction we are driving towards in our eternal state of being. Teilhard wants to not only impart such a vision, but more importantly wants to encourage humanity to work together to help bring about that vision.

This vision begins with a fuller, more integrated view of the universe. Chardin bonds together the various ways we currently see reality, in order that the unified whole is replaced as that which is more naturally seen. As we stare out into the cosmos on any given night there are certain things that naturally arise in each of our minds—other solar systems with their own spinning planets, blazing suns being born and dying, black holes, and our dreams of the unknown. Alternatively, we see things in our mind differently when we glance around the very place we are standing or as we look into the eyes of another human. And then there is still another when we ponder those things on the atomic scale. There is space; there is what we see on the scale of the earth and the human race; and then there is the mysterious atomic and mostly undiscovered quantum scale. Teilhard lays this divided spectrum in front of us and then questions the usefulness of such a division. What if the way we viewed the universe could give us a fuller view of the hope we find in Christ? What difference would it make for Christians to regard the physical universe as a whole, rather than a spectrum of divided realities?

The New Testament declares that we are to be built up together to form the body of Christ. This same church that is being built up into Christ also rests upon Christ who is our cornerstone and from which nothing else can be done apart from. This biblical description is echoed in the very fabric of the universe we find all around us. From the smallest and seemingly infinitely divisible molecules, to the massive and constantly expanding universe, each part is both being multiplying and becoming a unified whole at this very moment and in each that follows. And each of these deriving from and hurling towards a singular point (a point later referred to by Chardin as the Omega point). As we begin to grasp the universe as a unified whole of physical matter, rather than in divided spectrums, we can turn our attention to the next layer of reality Chardin asks us to consider. A reality we must become more cognizant of if we wish to work together to build up the body of Christ—the reality of our consciousness.

I love the way the following quote from Chardin encapsulates the beauty that will arise as humanity begins to see itself beyond itself in hopes to become that which we have been called to become: “To see is really to become more … In such a vision man is seen not as a static center of the world he’s for long believed himself to be – but as the access and leading shoot of evolution, which is something much finer.”

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin: A Hopeful Introduction

A Hopeful Intro Blog ImageI’ve spent the last two years devouring the works of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. A Jesuit priest who lived from 1881-1955. There is far too much that could be said about his life’s endeavors and experiences to include in one blog post; however, as I hope to continue to flesh out his works on my blog, I can imagine many of these will naturally arise throughout the process. Although there is one aspect of Chardin’s life that is helpful to know right up front. Chardin was both a Jesuit priest, as well as a distinguished paleontologist. His discoveries and contributions to the world are often more well known within the scientific community than they are among the religious (a very unfortunate reality for those in the latter community). This divide in scientific and religious worldviews would be his life’s passion and pain. He received opposition from both sides and struggled on how to best impart the vision he had been given to those around him. His was a vision that didn’t just make a way for scientific and religious realities to co-exist without disagreement, but rather made the two so intertwined and so dependent upon one another that once a person is able to grasp his vision it will soon become the only vision one can see. The problem is the vision Chardin casts is gigantic … and well, it’s also infinitesimal. It describes that which is both innumerably multiplied and simultaneously united into one singular being. Understanding the science behind his theory is doable, although it can still take me a great deal of effort at times. Chardin’s works are more than simply a scientific method laid out in such a way as to deliver facts based on evidence and devoid of beauty or intentionality. Teilhard is one of the most captivating poetic philosophers that I have ever had a chance to read. Reading his works is intellectually stimulating and simultaneously world changing, but at the same time spoken in such a way that I am driven to tears almost every time I hold one of his books in my hands.

My intention for this post was to get myself to a starting point with how to begin discussing his theories and ideas. I’m not sure I can say that has happened, but perhaps a short introduction–combined with a sense of my own admiration for Teilhard–was important to get the ball rolling. His first work was published shortly after he died in 1955 (He never published due to the church having forbid it due to the content). It is called “The Phenomenon of Man” and lays the foundation for his entire theory following after. I’m re-reading the work and my hope is to be able to write out some of my own understandings of what he has already laid out for us. An appropriate quote to end with today displays the beautiful poetic nature of his speech that I spoke of earlier, but also describes one type of person who he calls the enthusiast and in my opinion describes well the type of person Chardin embodied–that of a hopeful person. Hope is one of the things I find most compelling and captivating about Chardin’s qualities. He had an insatiable audacity to have unwavering hope in the truth of who Christ was, who Christ came to be, and who Christ is becoming through His church. Hope to declare a knowledge that the incarnation has truly and mysteriously enmeshed us through grace and brings us right into the midst of this incarnational story. Jesus came and then he invited us … Could it be that we have forgotten that our acceptance of His invitation must be regarded seriously both through the eyes of the spiritual, but also through the eyes of the physical? This quote comes from a lecture he gave 1943. He is describing such a hopeful being as this when he says, “Not only is it better to be than not to be [for the enthusiast], but they are convinced that it is always possible–and the possibility has a unique value–to attain a fuller measure of being. For these conquerors, enamored of the adventurous, being is inexhaustible–not in Gide’s way like a precious stone with innumerable facets which one can never tire of turning round and round–but like a focus of warmth and light to which one always draws closer. We may laugh at such men and say that they are ingenious, or we may find them tiresome; but at the same time it is they who have made us what we are, and it is from them that tomorrow’s earth is going to emerge.” To find such hope in this world and to live it out as it is already true is something humanity could never have too much of. And so, it turns out I did find my starting point for this series after all. We begin with hope, keep moving towards hope, and rest assured it is there we will find love.

A Possible Peace

It is common for contestants in a beauty pageant to be asked what one thing they would change about the world if given the chance. A popular (and often publicly mocked) answer is world peace. To be honest, I don’t know why these young women are coached into given this answer, but strangely I feel a little defensive of them lately. What is so offensive about this topic? Why is it when I think of world peace, the only memory I have of a widely publicized use of the phrase is attached to a beauty contest?

I had to do a Google search for “beauty pageant and world peace” to determine what question they were asked to prompt the answer. The search returned zillions of results regarding the subject; mostly message board comments and blog posts ridiculing the audacity of such an answer. One person stated simply that world peace is unattainable and anyone who believes otherwise is naive. Another person said the answer made them cringe. And apparently, an actress made a public plea requesting for such peace pledges to stop.

My concern here is not necessarily for the contestants–it is a concern about the prejudice towards peace. Too often peace is taught in churches as a feeling individuals can posses as a result of being in Christ, but it is far more. It is a hope we get to display to the world as Jesus did. We display the peace of Jesus in both our hearts and actions, so that the world can have hope that such a peace like His is possible. Inward peace is given to us by Jesus and we get to carry that to the world around us. Peace is given, so that peace can overflow.

To set a hope on world peace is fantastically irrational and annoyingly optimistic, but I guess I don’t really care. The best I can do is try bringing that kind of peace to those around me and do so by living peacefully myself. This is the sermon Greg Boyd gave on December 22 at Woodland Hills Church. The topic was peace–the message was inspiring.  Listen here, then visit here.

Reclaiming the Good News as Good

(A reflection on our Gospel of Matthew course)

“Turn the other cheek”                                                                                             “Go the second mile”                                                                                                 “If they ask for your shirt, give them your coat too”

We have all heard these phrases before; at some point even possibly from our own mouth. There is a risk here though worth looking into. We are in danger of taking this teaching out of context when it is used as a piece of advice in response to someone who has sought guidance on a problem. It could be an example of a Jesus teaching turned into a cliché, quick fix answer.  The method of using these verses in such a light manner strips it of its ability to stir emotion. It causes us to lose perspective on what this means.

What if the problem you were facing with a friend had to do with lusting or a pornographic addiction? Would the words, “Pluck ‘em out,” leave your mouth? Or if a friend who was a recovering alcoholic told you they’d had a drink the night before, would you casually inform them it’s “Time to amputate”? Of course not, because that wouldn’t be helpful at all.

I believe our intentions are good. We see the beauty of the imagery Jesus portraits to us in these verses. We read these words and can almost embody the oppressed in that moment. We are able to envision ourselves summoning up the courage to put Jesus’ words into action. In the light of our active imagination, we’re filled with the full genius of what Jesus is asking us to do. We’re given a glimpse of what it must feel like to take the power from an oppressor by simply going the extra mile.

But there is a chasm between what we have historically done with these verses and the truth found when we allow them to penetrate our minds. The chasm is life experience, and therefore truly knowing the meaning. Without putting our beliefs into action they lack the ability to transform us. Preparing for this message, I tried to come up with applicable examples of when we are faced with an opportunity to live out this teaching—apart from the un-ideal work environment—I was stumped. Through this thought process, what I began to realize is that we cannot relate, because the majority of us are not oppressed.

I imagine the missionaries in China or the Middle East don’t use the phrase “Turn the other cheek” without a heaviness of heart and a fair amount of fear. The reason we don’t say to friend, who just confided in us they are having an affair, that it is time to ‘Gouge ‘em out’ is because this situation is real to us. In that moment, we are living out the implications of a marriage covenant being torn and at a time like these our words matter. Real situations require real responses.

Our lives are so blessed we fail to understand just how blessed they are. We drive—in a vehicle we own—to a store (a store with shelves full of un-diseased low cost food) and on the way we are cut off by a distracted person talking on their phone while driving. We slow down and move to the other lane, pointing out to ourselves the ability we posses to turn the other cheek … all the while, ignoring our self righteousness of course.

Now, I don’t say this to deter us from continuing to engage in the world by choosing grace over anger. In my own opinion, a Christian with road rage is no Christian at all. I’m also not suggesting we leave the second mile to those in countries where oppression is a far too common occurrence. I believe there is an alternative to be considered within the text that could give us a new way to use the teaching more wisely.

When we study the Sermon on the Mount, we find that these three verses on retaliation are placed among a set of verses in this chapter addressing the Old Testament law. Jesus is giving us an image of the bondage we are living in right now on earth and contrasting that by revealing to us the radical beauty we can expect in the coming Kingdom. And when we hear Jesus speak about the coming Kingdom—we listen. We listen because this should be our template for the life we are striving to live now. By living lives in a coming Kingdom fashion, we are bringing heaven to earth and what could be better than that?

So in verses 17-47, Jesus is speaking about Jewish law and sets up each by giving the traditional mindset for the people of the day. First, he speaks about anger. He tells us murder should be so far off our radar it can barely be seen, not something requiring a stone carving to implicate to us it’s evil.  Smart guy this Jesus. Jesus takes it further though, because that is where we are going in this coming Kingdom … further. He says we shouldn’t be angry … ever. If we get angry or feel anger coming on, we are to drop everything we are doing until it’s resolved.

Second, he teaches on adultery and divorce in marriage. The message is clear … if you feel like meeting your needs outside your marriage, whether it be a temporary fix or a permanent removal, don’t do it. He addresses that maybe there was a time it was done in a different way, but not where we are going it doesn’t. In fact Jesus tells us that if you have to perform eye removal surgery on yourself with a rusted old kitchen knife feel free. Do what you need to do, because these things aren’t coming to the Kingdom.

Then we learn to be a man of good character. Be reliable. Be straightforward. Don’t be the person who “promises to make it happen,” or “puts your word on it”. Apparently, in the coming Kingdom when we say we are going to do something—we do it. End of story.

So Jesus tells us about the old way of life and then about a new way of life. About the old law, then the new law. The old covenant, the new covenant. And it is at this point when we are taught about giving away more than is demanded. Going the extra mile, no matter the circumstance. It would seem to me, however, that with the description he has given us so far in regards to the coming Kingdom this whole idea is pointless. It’s pointless because the coming Kingdom doesn’t have oppression, does it? What is there to learn about the treatment of our oppressors when this won’t even be an issue in the next life? I believe the answer is found in the verses that follow:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”Matthew 5:43-44

In the previous kingdom we loved our neighbor, in the coming Kingdom we will love our enemies. Does this mean we will we have enemies in heaven? I think it is difficult to have enemies without anger, so my thought is no. I also don’t envision us to all be joyful zombies roaming around thoroughly satisfied with the company of every person we are around. We have personalities in this life, and I fully expect personalities to be present in the next life. It is likely that, although all living in peace, we will be among some people we like more than others. What does it look like to live, interact, and spend eternity with people that have starkly different personalities than your own?

I believe we learn what it is like when we take the opportunity to give our cloak when we are asked for our coat, turn the other cheek when were slapped in the face, and when we go two miles instead of one. These things teach us how to live in love and peace, regardless of our genetic makeup and preferences.

Jesus is teaching us about relationships. So the next time I come home after a draining day and my daughter asks me (for the 100th time that week) to play Barbie Uno—instead of saying, “Okay, but just one round” I will respond with “You know it! How about best two out of three?” And I will remember this the next time I’m in line at the grocery store, in a hurry and I’ve chosen the line with the chatty cashier. I will pause and recognize this person as a Kingdom brother or sister and listen to them for a while. And the next time I’m at a church meeting and the hand of someone who seems to always rub me wrong raises their hand; instead of looking for the moment I can jump in with my own thoughts, I will ask them questions to allow them to further clarify their own ideas.

There are opportunities for us to live in coming Kingdom ways every single day. Jesus invites us to live in the freedom of this Kingdom now, but challenges us in the ways we are to go about doing so. We will see His Kingdom come when we seek to be His teachings in what we do. The truth of the good news isn’t found in the ability to repeat pieces of Christ’s words, but rather in the determination to work at living life with the good news as our model.