Category Archives: Spiritual Formation

Death of Jesus

Beyond Crucifixion Violence

The violence of Jesus’ death makes me pause, queasy, weep, angry.  I wrestle with the killing of Jesus and its definitive place in our understanding of the Christ, God, and faith. This season of preparation is a good time to reconsider how we understand this violence. Because I recognize one of our deadliest sins is that we trust the power of violence over the power of God’s love, I am compelled to reject our traditional understanding of the violence of the crucifixion:  Jesus’ death doesn’t forgive our sins and violence is not redemptive!

Death of Jesus Evil is so destructive, our trust in the power of God’s love so little; we have bastardized God’s love and the redemptive life of Jesus.  We define them  by the world’s measure of power – violence!

Our death theology does not answer the problems of sin, evil, injustice, and suffering; rather it exasperates them by perpetuating the cycle of violence. Beyond affirming violence, our death theology cannot fully generate life, justice, or courage.

Life: Our death theology minimizes the relational nature of God.  It reduces God’s love for us to a transaction –  one that God exclusively executes.  Rather than mutual respect and love;  we are reduced to passive pawns.  A life theology would inspire us to act, to love, to live!

Justice: Our death theology is flawed because it treats evil, sin, and injustice in an individualistic and isolated way.  Andrew Sung Park highlights this deficient and provides a correction.{{1}}  He pairs the Asian concept of han with our traditional understanding of sin/forgiveness.  Han is the legacy of sin that remains when victims are denied justice. Because the forgiveness of sin is transacted between God and the perpetrator, the victim is not included in the redemptive calculus and justice is unaddressed.  This understanding of redemption colludes with perpetrators because they do not have to fully face the consequences of their sin.  Those who are powerless, are left without voice, without justice, and without a theology that gives them hope.

Courage: Both the passive and individualistic nature of our death theology contribute to our evasion of power.  Jesus has different messages:  to those who lack power – he offers words of hope and encourages them to resist; to those with power – he offers warning and encourages them to give up power.{{2}}  A life theology would help us understand how power is used in the crucifixion, where we are in the cycle of gospel living,  and encourage us to resist the power of evil and to stand in solidarity with those who are innocent and abused.

To move beyond our death theology, we can draw on the breadth of the biblical and theological understandings of Jesus’ death.  Theologian Ty Inbody identifies six{{3}}:

  • Jesus as a teacher of the true higher knowledge
  • Jesus as a moral example and influence
  • Jesus as the final scapegoat
  • Jesus as a victorious conqueror
  • Jesus as our satisfaction of God’s justice (death theology)
  • Jesus as our penal substitute (death theology)

To overcome the evil of violence, Jesus as the final scapegoat is the most promising understanding of Jesus’ death.  We can draw on Rene Girard’s anthropology to help us see that the resurrection is God’s NO! to our need for violence.

To be better lovers we must move beyond our death theology and discover a theology of life.

[[1]]Andrew Sung Park: Wound Heart of God: The Asian Concept of Han and the Christian Doctrine of Sin[[1]]

[[2]]Eric Law: The Wolf Shall Dwell with the Lamb: A Spirituality for Leadership in a Multicultural Community[[2]]

[[3]]Tyron Inbody: Many Faces of Christology – Chapter 6[[3]]

Genesis (of BABL)

I’m still mad at Tex Sample.  Five years ago, I heard him preach on Romans 12 and that sermon has not let me go.  It got into my spirit and has lingered.  Sample made the Word come alive and I’m still being transformed by it.    He simply reminded us of the high calling to which we are called as followers of Jesus:

  • present your body as a living sacrifice
  • don’t be conformed to this world
  • do not think of yourself more highly than you ought
  • let love be genuine
  • hate what is evil
  • hold fast to what is good
  • love with mutual affection
  • outdo one another in showing honor
  • do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord
  • rejoice in hope
  • be patient in suffering
  • persevere in prayer
  • contribute to the needs of the saints
  • extend hospitality to strangers
  • bless those who persecute you
  • rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those that weep
  • live in harmony with one another
  • do not be haughty
  • associate with the lowly
  • do not claim to be wiser than you are
  • do not repay evil for evil
  • live peaceably with all
  • never avenge yourself
  • do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good

AND, he audaciously suggested we should intentionally practice these actions of discipleship!

After I heard this sermon, Romans 12 became a regular part of my prayers.  Sample’s sermon, Paul’s words, Jesus’ calling – would not leave me alone!  They were prominent during my prayers on the following Ash Wednesday.

As I faced my own limitations, I became aware that to my parents I could have been a better son (both are deceased); to my sisters I can be a better brother; to my wife I can be a better husband; to Jesus I can be a better follower.

What does that mean?  I can be a better lover.  A better lover of God.  A better lover of self.  A better lover of my neighbors. A better lover of God’s creation.

Lent & Givin’ Up – Givin’ Up

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
I Corinthians 13:7

As Lent approached in 1993, I was entering my third month of rehabiliation following the bicycle accident in which I broke my back, damaged my spinal cord, and became a parapalegic. Grieving my losses, it was hard to imagine voluntarily “giving up” something for Lent. I felt, I had “given up” enough; so I gave up “giving up something”.

I remember that part of my journey and my relationship with God during that time. Then giving up “giving up” provide an experience of God’s grace and prepared me to celebrate the mystery of Easter – the power of God to overcome the evil of crucifixion.

This year, “giving up” has two meanings.

ONE   Like a third of people who make New Year’s Resolutions{{1}}, I’m in danger of giving them up. I haven’t consciously decided to give them up. I’ve slowly slid back into previous habits: ones that are less than what God desires for me. So for Lent, I’m giving up –  giving up my New Year’s Resolutions: I have three – a) to practice email zero;  b) de-clutter my life; and c) handcycle 3x/week & weight train 2x/wk. (Current research suggests I’ve made a mistake making 3 resolutions and overtaxing my willpower.)

The slow, almost unperceptable way that we give up our New Year’s Resolutions, provides insight into others ways we give up. Cynical? Given up on the power of hope?  Holding a grudge?  Given up on the power of reconciliation?Darryl Fairchild handcycling

TWO Giving up is losing our commitment to living fully. In 1993, I had friends who were worried that I would give up living fully and were committed to accompanying me on my journey so that I would not give up. Because of the tragic accident, they were worried that I would shy away from life. (Little did they know that surviving the accident only confirmed my youthful delusion that I was indestructible . . . ) There were hard days; Giving up was not an option.

The preparation of Lent is a time to look at the ways, conscious or unconscious, we have given up.  It is a time to allow love to rekindle within us so that we live fully.

[[1]]NYT – Be It Resolved: New Years Resolutions Stick When Willpower Is Reinforced[[1]]

5 + 1 Markers of True Love

Over the years, I’ve experienced love in a wide range of ways.  I’ve been overwhelmed and swept off my feet.  I’ve had my heart broken.  I’ve been inspired, consoled, healed, and nurtured.  In love, I’ve seen the ordinary become extraordinary; and I’ve glimpsed the face of God.

Sometimes, I’ve had experiences that masqueraded as love.

At times, in the midst of an intoxicating, confusing, frustrating, unsettling experience, I’ve wondered – is this true love or a seductive impostor?Two Heart

It was with great relief and thanksgiving when I discovered Jean Miller Baker’s Five Good Things. These five good things are the characteristics of a growth-fostering relationship. {{1}} I would say that they are the markers of authentic or true love. To these five, I’ve added one.   After reading about the importance of generosity in a marriage{{2}} and reflecting on my own experience of generosity, I’ve added it to my list.

5 +1 Good Things

  • increased sense of zest – in a loving relationship you feel a sense of vitality, of “being alive”.  Yellow flag: a colleague once commented on her marriage, “it is sucking the life force out of me;”  that would be anti-zest;
  • increased ability to act – in a healthy relationship you are encouraged to act, you have a sense of power.  Yellow flag:  feeling like you are “walking on eggshells”;
  • increased clarity – you gain knowledge about yourself,  your partner, and your relationship.  Yellow flag: feeling like the relationship is “crazy making”;
  • increased sense of self worth - the relationship fosters respect.  Yellow flag: feeling like you are small or diminished;
  • deeper sense of connection - with your partner, God, and others.  Yellow flag: feeling isolated, being restricted from relating to others;
  • expressions of generosity - giving good things freely and abundantly.  Yellow flag: feeling like you are giving, but not receiving.
These characteristics are immediately helpful for our most intimate relationship.  They help to keep us grounded in the midst of our loving.
As we continue to explore what it means to Be A Better Lover, as we follow Jesus, these markers will also be helpful in examining other relationships in our lives and in our community.
Happy St. Valentine’s Day!

[[1]]Jean Miller Baker  has identified 5 characteristics of growth-fostering relationships[[1]]

[[2]]NYT: Is Generosity Better Than Sex?[[2]]

Love Is in the Air

With St. Valentine’s day fast approaching, it is time to post on love! (With only 2 days to go, I am open for gift suggestions for my wife.) Part of the fun and poignancy of this blog is how the name – Be A Better Lover – unsettles and reorients. In our hyper-sexual culture, the word “lover” in connection with following Jesus is a bit jolting – disorienting. It also serves to remind followers of Jesus of our ultimate concern (God is love) and calling (to love God, self and neighbor)! It invites us to fix our spirits on the radical, revolutionary, incomprehensible, we have never seen anything like this, we don’t have words to express this – unimaginable love of God in Jesus the Christ.

When we are honest, we quickly find that we are ill-prepared to be good lovers. One reason for our unpreparedness stems from the dominant Christian themes in our culture. Few churches or Christian leaders speak primarily about being lovers and loving well. We are more likely to hear how Jesus died for our sins or led to pray the sinners prayer before we are Left Behind; than be encouraged to be a better lover.

A second reason comes from the undefinable nature of the love Jesus commands of us. We can see this dynamic in the earliest followers. Their experience of Jesus was so radical they could not fully explain it. Why do we have four Gospels? The experience of Jesus is so beyond words that one Gospel could not convey their experiences of Jesus nor the fullness of love.

Further, these followers did not even have a word that could convey their experience of Jesus! Set aside every sermon you have heard where the preacher explained – “there are three Greek words for love – eros, philia, and agape . . .” At the time of Jesus, only two of those words were in use – eros and philia. Agape was a little used word with a small semantic range. The followers of Jesus chose it because it was in essence a blank sheet. They used “agape” to point to their new understanding of love and to define it anew. Agape is defined by Jesus and the way he loved through his relationships, ministry, teaching, preaching, healing, praying, life, death, and resurrection.

I like the phrase – the radical, revolutionary, incomprehensible, we have never seen anything like this, we don’t have words to express this – unimaginable love of God – to convey this undefinable nature of love.

This understanding of love has significant implications for how we follow Jesus. We must be in relationship and we must be attentive to the moves and needs of Jesus and our neighbors. Following is very dynamic! Some will be frustrated by the lack of simple, rigid, direction. Yet, it is in the ebb and flow of this living relationship where faith is sustained and abundant life is experienced.