Gunrunners and Good Friday

We watched “Lord of War” last night. The movie, supposedly based on true accounts, depicts the madness of international conflict, and the dictators and the “freedom-fighters” and the gun-runners that keep the machinery of violence oiled.

It’s a movie as good as any to call to mind the reasons behind, and the necessity of, “Good” Friday. It shows our incapability to extricate ourselves from mimetic, reciprocal and victimizing violence.

As it is, only some intimate and totalizing experience with someone who simply refuses to retaliate has a prayer in the face of our blind addiction of sacrificing others to secure our own lives.

Friday’s here.

Maundy Thursday

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, you also ought to love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (Jesus)

It’s Thursday, there’s a gathering, a passover supper, a foot washing, a hint of impending betrayal. And after, as Jesus walks into the gathering night to the Mount of Olives and then to Gethsemane, he takes a moment to talk to his disciple-friends about something that sums up his heart and his life.

The term Maundy is from the Latin word mandatum. It means “to give,” “to entrust”. Jesus entrusts us to a new thing, a new way of living, a new way of seeing through the lense of love.

Mandatum is where we get our English word mandate. The Christian mandate is love. Love is the distillation of our faith. There is nothing else. Why is it so hard for us to get this right?

God help us as we move into the imminent dark of the crucifixion.

Passion Week Scandal

Then they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, …He was teaching and saying, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers. (Mark 11)

Jesus threw everything off kilter. He was bad for the business of sacrifice. Jesus’ actions were scandalous because he was upsetting a system that supposedly contained everything necessary for the religious health of the people.

The great scandal about Christianity is that it claims both uniqueness and universality. It claims to save all people and claims to do so through the unique person of Jesus Christ. The paradox cannot be and should not be reconciled. It can only be spiritually or poetically intuited.

As far as I know other faiths from Islam to Buddhism, claim one or the other but not both; or at least emphasize one and not the other. Judaism claims uniqueness. But it held within itself the seed of universality. Jesus’ entrance into the temple subverted the exclusivity of Judaism. His quote from Hosea pointed to the seed of universality. His own life, death and resurrection ripped open the temple curtain between God, (the Holy of holies), and the nations of the world. The movement was God’s; God coming out to embrace all people.

Uniqueness without universality equals exclusivity. Universality without uniqueness, that is, without historical grounding, is ethereal and finally baseless.

When Christianity, hijacked by rationalists, emphasizes its uniqueness without equal emphasis on its universality it too becomes a stumbling block to God’s kingdom. Our’s is an “irrational” faith not supported by forensic accounts of factual data, but by a story that requires us to listen for the ring of truth with the ear of our hearts. Paul refered to the paradox of universality and uniqueness as mystery.

Let me try a practical example. When we received the contract to run the Single Men’s Hostile, now the Herb Jamieson Centre, I had a number of calls from agencies and well meaning people asking if we were going to serve anyone other than Christians. Or, as the question was occasionally framed, “Do people have to become Christians in order to stay there? The question is not as ubiquitous as it once was but it still surfaces. When it does, we are surprised.

I know it used surprise me. And I used to dismiss it. But it needs examination. I don’t think a question like this arises without cause. Leaving aside “perennial malcontents”, we need to ask ourselves how Hope Mission gained the kind of reputation that would provoke this question? Is it because we too, like the ancient sellers in the temple, can fall prey to constructing a closed system and instead of pointing to the truth through our compassion and our words, claim to possess the truth? A very different position.

Thankfully, through our actions of open compassion, this impression is dying.

Tuesday of Passion Week, Spellbound

And when the chief priests and the scribes heard it, they kept looking for a way to kill him; for they were afraid of him, because the whole crowd was spellbound by his teaching. (Mark 11)

The ‘Jesus Papers’, a book probably spawned by the success of, and of the same ilk as, ‘The De Vince Code’, and now the discovery of the ‘Gospel of Judas’ where Judas is a cunning conspirator, not against but with Jesus, are always, coincidently, harbingers of Easter.

I admit that I used to get all exercised about what I perceived, I think correctly, as attacks upon Christianity. But I look at things differently these days. As well, I try not to dismiss anything of historical value. ‘Take nothing for granted’, is still a good approach. There are things we can learn from the recasting of a story, perhaps especially an ancient recasting of a biblical character. Like Dan Brown and Michael Baigent of the Jesus Papers, the Gnostic author of the Judas gospel was motivated by a need to tell a story in a particular way. He had his reasons to do so and for me, the motivation is what fascinates. That’s because while these authors are sceptical if not hostile to the gospel, they are nevertheless bound up in the gospel. Their skepticism or hostility assures their tie-in. They may even have a kind of unconscious faith in the gospel. In some form they remain spellbound by Christ.

I have no idea how this could be proved, it but I think humanity is spellbound by Christ. Speaking in broad terms, is it possible that in this disrobed age the hard work at rendering Christ irrelevant exposes a fixation? Are we as a global culture in our most Christ-dependent state?

It’s fun to poke at the edges of these questions. Still, there is no denying that Jesus has a polarizing effect on those he encounters. Once encountered, no one is able to ignore Jesus.

Some take their positive “spellboundness” on the road and care for the poor, spread hope and set people free. Others are compelled to be skeptical and mythologize the gospel story while trying to retain a moral message. Still others recoil and find ways to fictionalize the Easter story beyond recognition, not recognizing that the more hostile they are to Christ, the more bound to him they are. If this is the case, perhaps even, or especially, a chief priest may find, as C.S. Lewis did, that at the end of a violent antagonism toward God, is an ocean of love.