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Saturday, April 28, 2012

Bible Land - An Ironic Pilgrimage to The Holy Land Experience Theme Park

My family wanted to come to Orlando for our vacation this year.  Coming here allowed us to visit my wife’s dad and step mom.  We don’t see them very often since they moved to Florida. And my daughter was most excited to visit the Harry Potter part of the Universal Studios theme park.  That was a dream come true for her.  Me, I’m just happy to be with my wife and kids as they’re having fun.  I could do without the theme parks and the crowds.  I don’t care for all that. I don’t like crowds. Not at all. I’m too much of an introvert to enjoy the crowds. But since we’d chosen Orlando for our vacation, I decided that I would make the most of the opportunity. After spending two days with my family at Universal Studios and the Islands of Adventure, I went (by myself) to visit the Holy Land Experience themepark.  

Outside the main gate of the park – along the side walks is a “recreation of the garden described in Genesis.”  This "authentically reproduced" parking lot Eden was populated with various smiling animals to welcome the park guests as they arrived in their large tour group buses.  Though all the brochures and guide books list the ticket price as $35 dollars – it’s actually $40 at the gate.  Fortunately I had a $2 off coupon.  The woman at the ticket booth was a little put out when I presented my coupon.  She didn’t smile at me like the parking lot Eden animals did.

Things I Learned at the Holy Land Experience Theme Park

1) Everyone in the bible had a Bedazzler.

The staff of the park wore ‘biblical’ costumes and each one was more bedazzled than the last; with spangles and beads and jewels and glitter and fringe on every robe and turban and sandal.  It’s part of their “if you can’t have quality go for quantity” scheme of decoration.  In this same vein – many of the buildings’ walls were painted gold and adorned with brilliant white pillars. And there were plaster sculptures of angles and baby Jesus’ every two feet.  I tripped over baby Jesus more than once during the afternoon I spent at the Holy Land Experience. 

Stupid plaster baby Jesus…

2) The fifth Gospel is the Gospel according to Mel Gibson.

There are no thrill-rides at The Holy Land Experience. There are no exotic animals.  But there are shows, several shows throughout the day in half a dozen venues within the relatively small park.  The highlighted daily show is the live drama The Passion / We Shall Behold Him an hour long portrayal of Jesus’ “agony, death, resurrection, and glorious return!”  I found it to be a bewilderingly unfocused production, with pre-recorded music playing at painfully loud volume and cast members shouting and running about the stage at random.  

And many of the scenes and lines of dialogue were lifted from Mel Gibson’s movie The Passion of the Christ.  There was the black robed “Satan” figure that followed Jesus from the garden of Gethsemane to Golgotha.  The flogging sequence included the line spoken by one of the Roman soldiers in Gibson’s movie “he embraces his own cross” and had Jesus’ mother and Mary Magdalene mopping up the blood.

And on weekends (Fridays and Saturdays – the park is closed on Sundays) after 5:00 the public is invited to come to the park – free admission – to watch Mel Gibson’s passion movie on a gigantic LED screen.

3) Jerusalem was crowded

Actually this may have been the most authentic thing about the Holy Land Experience attempt to recreate a biblical atmosphere.  The streets and walkways of the park were narrow and crowded filled with people speaking in a variety of languages.  I think that if they’d had had more money the designers of the park would have made it larger, but the park is tiny by comparison with the other nearby theme parks. The only thing missing were the animals. 

In the center of the park was an imposing recreation of Solomon’s temple.   No. Imposing is the wrong word.  It’s only a façade for photos and the occasional musical number.  What’s really impressive is the Ark of the Covenant show – impressive for the way that the wilderness tabernacle is shoehorned into an unmarked corner of the park.  I missed two show times because I couldn’t find it hidden behind the Smile of a Child Adventure Land where screaming children were climbing on a fiberglass mockup of Noah’s Ark and through the belly of Jonah’s whale.

4) I’m not as cynical as I could be, but I’m trying

I went to the park recognizing that, for me, it was an ironic sort of pilgrimage.  I went to the park knowing that I am critical and cynical and maybe more than a little jaded. I went knowing that I have absolutely no respect for the park’s owners, Trinity Broadcast Network (TBN).  But I went trying to have a “holy land experience” at the park despite myself.  I didn’t succeed too well. But there were two highlights.  (Well not maybe not that much… but something like highlights…)

The first was the communion with Jesus.  Just within the park entrance is a recreation of the Upper Room chapel built by the crusaders (strangely this cenacle is located within a concrete recreation of the caves of Qumran).  At fifteen minute intervals groups are ushered into the darkened chamber and invited to share communion with Jesus.  It’s grape juice and stale crackers with a 2nd rate actor, but if there is such a thing as transubstantiation then perhaps Jesus was present even in those feeble elements.  (and I got to keep the souvenir wooden communion cup...) 

I heard my own thoughts echoed in the voice of a dissatisfied woman behind me. “This isn’t accurate.  This is not a recreation of the first century…” And there I was trying to release my own disgust with much of what passes for Christianity in America today...  

The other somewhat interesting exhibit at the park was the Scriptorium – which boasts that it holds the “4th largest Bible collection in the world” (4th largest collection in private ownership, that is…) The presentation was lame – (knock off animatronics didn’t help) but the books themselves were impressive.  Bibles printed in Greek, Hebrew, Coptic, Slavonic, Syriac, Armenian, Dutch, German, Algonquin, and etc…  One of the books on display was the so-called “Martyr’s Bible” from 1537. It was on display, opened to pages stained with the blood of the Englishman who died carrying it.  To see the word of God so carefully copied and transmitted through the centuries in these carefully preserved pages was something of an antidote to the simulacrum presented in the rest of the park.

Bibleland by Daniel Amos, 1994

We're going out to Bibleland
by a Motel 6, and a burger stand
oasis there in the desert sand
We'll play all day on the Family Plan
in Bibleland

There's a fifty foot cross and a pearly door
a lions den where the lions roar
a manger scene on a revolving floor
a leper and a christian book store
in Bibleland

And something beautiful, something clean
behind the shabby bible scenes
Something real that built a dream
called Bibleland....

Midgets dressed up as Peter and Paul
a Christian rock band by the wailing wall
that Goliath guy makes us feel so small!
takes a half an hour just to see it all
It's Bibleland

A river of life and a pit of doom
Noah's arcade and an upper room
Canoes cross the Jordan, there's an empty tomb
and three shows daily starring Debby Boone
in Bibleland

In the ruins and the waste
lurks the shadow of a perfect place
the mark of God on a stranger's face
in Bibleland

Friday, April 27, 2012


The elevator panel in the hotel where I'm staying.


Monday, April 23, 2012

Powerpoint Slides for Everyone - Week 18

I've been making powerpoint (or similar presentation program) background images every week this year and have been making them available here. You should feel free to download and use them for your own personal, work, school, business, or church projects.  I only ask that you share them freely and that you tell others that you found them here.

Sunday, April 22, 2012


Fungal foxfire light
illuminates the night
however faintly.
I live as a stranger
and leave just as quietly.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Radar Luv

Unicorn sketch

I've been commissioned to paint a picture of an Unicorn for a friend.  I don't usually draw or paint unicorns. They're not part of my oeuvre.   But I try to break out of my patterns every so often, so that I don't become stale.  So here is my first sketch for this project.

It was drawn with pencil, inked and then colored with oil pastels.  Afterwards I tinted the whole thing with photoshop.

Practice Portrait Sketches

These are two quick (relatively quick) painting sketches (but with some drawing and collaged elements as well).  I don't know who the people are. I used faces from a magazine for these practice sketches, but I like them nonetheless.

Kittens of the Damned

Friday, April 20, 2012

To Him Be All Glory

To Him be all glory! Hallelu!

To create this atmospheric song of praise I used two sounds from the Freesound Project (and several things that I recorded myself.)

Yeti 47

I've put the song into the Public Domain, so download it, use it and share it freely.


How Many Different Audiences? Preaching from Acts

I’ve been working on my sermon for this Sunday – from Acts 3: 12 – 26.  It seems like a pretty straight-forward kind of text. Peter and John have just healed a man crippled from birth and an excited crowd has gathered around them.  Peter uses the opportunity to tell them that the healing came from faith in Jesus’ name – the same Jesus that they (the crowd) had recently repudiated and handed over to Pilate to be killed.  Peter then called on them to repent so that the times of refreshing could come and led the crowd through the words of the prophets to convince them to repent.

Simple, right?
Well, yes and no.

This is what has struck me:  There are several different audiences submerged in this text – and each different audience may be receiving a different message.

The first and most obvious audience is the crowd – the “Israelites” – those early first century Jews in Jerusalem.  Some of them may have been Jewish pilgrims from far parts of the Empire who’d come to Jerusalem for the Passover festival.  Many of them may have been witnesses to Jesus’ arrest, trial, and execution (that seems to be implied in Peter’s accusations.)  What did Peter’s speech mean to that audience?

The second audience is less obvious; the readers of Luke’s two part work of gospel / acts of the apostles… This is a largely “imaginary” audience.  I say “imaginary” because we really don’t know who they would have been. Were they Jews or Gentiles or both?  Were they in Rome?  We don’t really know.  And so it is difficult to say what Luke might have intended this submerged “imaginary” audience to understand.

The third audience is impossibly unwieldy:  the universal church.  How has the Christian community through the millennia and around the globe understood this text? How has it been used and abused?

The fourth audience is more personal (yet still unwieldy) – what does it mean to me? 

And my fifth (at least fifth, perhaps there are still more) is my congregation.  And this one is, in some sense, imaginary as well.  What do I think, what do I “imagine” that this text will mean to those who will hear me speak on Sunday morning?  As Peter’s words flow through Luke, and church history and commentators and scholars and exegetes and, finally, through my unworthy voice, what will they hear?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Love Song

Powerpoint Slides For Everyone - Week 17

I'm a little later than usual in getting out this week's Powerpoint (or similar presentation program) background image.  But not so late that you can't use it.

As with all the other's I've made this year, you are free to use these images for your own personal, church, school, or business projects.  Use them as you will, I only ask that you share them freely and that you tell others that you found them here.

Quit Imagining and Do Something

I can only imagine
What it will be like
When I walk
By Your side

I can only imagine
What my eyes will see
When Your face
Is before me

This is the point when I admit how far out of step I am with the rest of popular American Christianity, and you will be obligated to denounce me.

 I don’t like this song.

It’s been around for awhile now – MercyMe wrote it back in 1999 for their album The Worship Project, but I have never really liked it.  Musically, it’s not terrible.  It has a nice enough melody. What I don’t like is the song’s failure to be in the here and now.

It’s completely focused on a “heaven someday…” kind of view.  The song says that I can’t know anything of heaven now.  I can only imagine what it might be like in the future.  And the song says that I can’t do anything of heaven.  I can only imagine it.

The dominant cultural associations and
misunderstandings about heaven has been at work for
so long, it’s almost automatic for many to think of heaven
as ethereal, intangible, esoteric, and immaterial.

Floaty, dreamy, hazy,
Somewhere else.
People in white robes with perfect hair floating by on
clouds, singing in perfect pitch. [i]

But what I see in reading the scriptures is that Heaven isn’t something that we can “only imagine” in the far off future someday – but heaven is with us, in us, and we are in it now.

Check the gospels – how many times did Jesus say “the kingdom of heaven is here” is “within you.”   Or check out what Paul said in Ephesians 2 – God has raised us up with Christ “and seated us with him in the heavenly realms…”

Surrounded by Your glory, what will my heart feel?
Will I dance for You Jesus or in awe of you be still?
Will I stand in Your presence or to my knees will I fall?
Will I sing hallelujah; will I be able to speak at all?

If we are “seated with him in the heavenly realms” we are – in the here and now – worshipping God in heaven.  If we dance for Jesus or if we are still – now – it is worship in heaven now.  Not heaven someday maybe.

We have –already – come to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God.  We have come into the presence of thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of those whose names are written in heaven. (Hebrews 12: 22 -23)

So quit imagining what it might be like someday maybe…
Make it so – now.

“Making Heaven on earth is our business” – General William Booth –founder of The Salvation Army  

[i] Bell, Rob Love Wins pg. 56 -7

Be Anything

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

In the Name of the Great Life (Exploring Our Matrix Theme)

I made this as a sort of "theme song" for my friend James McGrath's blog -Exploring Our Matrix
The text is Prayer 107 from the Mandaean prayer book - The Ginza Rba

In the name of the Great Life!

My good messenger of light
Who travelleth to the house of its friends,

Come, direct my speech and open my mouth in praise
That I may praise the Great Life

If you like it and want to download it you can do so - here.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

What I’m Reading: Crime and Punishment

If, at the end of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s last work The Brothers Karamazov, the reader remains in doubt about the identity of Fyodor Karamazov’s murderer, in Crime and Punishment the murderer - Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov- is identified almost immediately.  Most of the story is told from his viewpoint[i]; so much so that the reader begins to feel the suffocating weight of the crime.
“The old woman was bareheaded, as always. Her scantly, light-coloured, greying hair, smeared thickly all over with oil as it always was, had been plaited into a rat’s tail and gathered together under the remains of horn comb which jutted out at the nape of her neck.  The blow landed smack on the crown of her head, something made easy by her smallness.  She cried out, but very faintly, and suddenly sank in a heap to the floor, though even then she managed to raise both arms to her head.  In one hand she was still holding the ‘pledge’.  At that point, with all his might, he landed her another blow, and another, each time with the butt [of the axe] and each time on the crown of the head.  The blood gushed out as from an upturned glass, and her body collapsed backwards.  He stepped back, allowed her to fall and at once bend down over her face: she was dead.  Her eyes were goggling out of her head as though they might burst from it, while her forehead and all the rest of her features were crumpled and distorted in a convulsive spasm.” [ii]

The title Crime and Punishment (Преступлéние и наказáние )– doesn’t fully reflect the contents of the novel.  The “crime” of the novel is described in graphic detail, but only briefly, and the “punishment” –the official sentence for the crime - comes only in the novel’s short epilogue.  Instead the novel dwells on the nature of morality – both personal and corporate, individual as well as communal.  It also dwells quite a bit on pride and shame.  Crime and Punishment also analyses the Nietzchean idea of Übermensch and the “will to power.”

I haven’t read enough Nietzsche to write about it with any authority, but  Raskolnikov believed that he was one of these Übermensch –able to commit atrocious acts of violence and criminality because of his intellectual and emotional fortitude.  He believed himself to be above and beyond the rules that bound the rest of the “ant-heap” of humanity.

In an example of art imitating life – Dostoyevsky based the details of  Raskolnikov’s crime on the real life crimes of the French criminal Pierre Francois Lacenaire.  And in life imitating art, Leopold and Loeb killed Robert Franks in 1924 in order to commit the perfect crime, believing themselves to be Nitzchean supermen.

In this, my second reading of Crime and Punishment, I was struck by the way that Dostoyevsky used the characters around  Raskolnikov as mirrors.  They invert and reflect his character back to him and these reflections of himself are what haunt and shame him – they punish him more effectively than any sentence from the courts.

On the one side of Raskolnikov is the predatory sensualist Svidrigailov.   Raskolnikov despises Svidrigailov because of the way that he treated  Raskolnikov's sister, but even more, as the story progresses, because of what he begins to see of himself in this amoral character.   He is a mirror to  Raskolnikov’s despair and nihilism, and ends his life in suicide.   Raskolnikov comes close to following in his example.

On the other side of the novel’s protagonist (one can hardly call him a “hero”) is Sofia Semyonovna Marmeladova – often called Sonya. Sonya is something of the “hooker with a heart of gold,” without the jaded and cynical aspects of that literary archetype.  Unlike  Raskolnikov, she is a small and diminutive young woman, meek and fearful.  But she is a mirror to  Raskolnikov’s hope and spirituality –however darkened they might be within the story’s atheistic protagonist.

On either side of  Raskolnikov are these characters acting as mirrors – showing him aspects of himself that he is unable to see or unwilling to face.  And right behind him all through the novel is the detective Porfiry Petrovich, another mirror, pursuing him like one of the hounds of heaven.

Raskolnikov believes himself to be another “Napoleon,” one of those “extraordinary people” for whom the laws and morality of ordinary people do not apply.   He believes himself to be above or beyond the laws of society.  Porfiry, as  Raskolnikov’s mirror is an agent of that law and, ironically, also interested in Napoleon.

“I can see, dear Rodion Romanovich, that you’re laughing at me: here I am, a civilian state employee, picking all my examples from military history.  But what am I to do, it’s a weakness of mine, I’m fond of military matters, and I’m inordinately fond of reading all those military reports…I suppose I’m in the wrong career, really. I ought to have served in the military, sir, really I ought.  I might not have become a Napoleon, but I’d have made the rank of major…”[iii]

The book is also about the redemptive power of suffering. When  Raskolnikov finally confesses his crime to Soyna and asks her what he should do she replies that he should:
“Go immediately, this very moment, go and stand at the crossroads, bow down, first kiss the ground that you’ve desecrated, and then bow to the whole world, to all four points of the compass and tell everyone, out loud ‘I have killed!’ Then God will send you life again.  … You must accept suffering and redeem yourself by it, that’s what.”[iv]

It’s not that suffering will eliminate  Raskolnikov’s punishment.  He is being punished internally long before he confesses and turns himself in for his crimes.  But through his suffering, he can be redeemed, he can find in himself the sin that he committed against the earth, against the world, and against the divine image within himself and he can begin to be changed.

He can begin to be changed. I say that rather than “he can  change.”  Even as we finish Crime and Punishment  Raskolnikov is not “changed,” not fully, but he is being changed.  He will complete his sentence of eight years of labor in Siberia – he will suffer – and he will be changed, he will be redeemed.

[i] Dostoyevsky did frequently change vantage points within the narrative – a “modern” literary technique which, at the time, earned him the accusation of being unfocused and scattered.
[ii] Crime and Punishment Trans. David McDuff, page 114.
[iii] Page 402
[iv] Page 489

Qoholeth Without a Voice

I am Cassandra, swearing
at the disconnect,
Qoholeth without a voice.
This is all worthless
but they’re not listening anyway,
so what does it matter?
I’m not as cynical as I could be
but I’m trying.


Monday, April 16, 2012

Land War in Asia

Bridge Songs

I am excited to share these Bridge Songs with you; three new songs (each with a particularly clever title, eh?)  If you like these songs (and I hope that you will) you can download them - either the whole EP or the individual songs.

In addition to downloading some great music you'll be supporting two of my favorite causes: 1) The Salvation Army in Fairmont, Minnesota and 2)my brother and sister-in-law who are working as missionaries in Spain.  You can download each of the three songs individually or the entire 3 song EP.  I've got several other songs available through Bandcamp that you might also like to check out.

In Bridge Song #1 I used the sound Northern Dreams 
and in Bridge Song #2 I used the sound Micron Hi Tone 3
both from the Freesound Project

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Book Spine Poetry

You may have seen some of the "book-spine poetry" around the interwebs.

I have a couple that amused me. Well, maybe only the first would be anything like "poetry." The other two are simply humorous juxtapositions.

Everyday Apocalypse
Full of secrets;
Talk of the Devil -
Show me God.

Return of the Biblical Limerick - 2 Samuel 13: 1 - 5

Amnon feigned sick so Tamar, his sister,
brought cakes to his room; he tried to kiss her.
He had planned this caper
to trap and then rape her.
When Tamar cried, Amnon dismissed her.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Cognitive Dissonance

When I showed this painting to some friends they commented that the people look "sad."  I suppose sadness is part of it. But it's also anxiety, doubt, confusion, and hope and joy mixed with a little fear and cognitive dissonance.

 It's Thomas (so-called "Doubting Thomas") and it's me, sometimes.  

Our Lord and God, forgive the doubting heart in each of us, which questions your resurrection.  We are men [and women] of our age and want to see and touch before we believe.  And yet we thank you for that blessing, reserved for those who do not see and yet believe.  Grant us that faith which looks to Jesus, risen from the dead, our Savior and our living Lord.  Amen. [i]

A prayer found in the book Prayers for Today’s Church ed. Dick Williams,
Augsburg Publishing House, Minneapolis, MN 1977.  * I added “and women” to make it more today…

I’m Thinking Thoughts of Lightning

The smell of dirt and ozone
in the cool of the day
when the Spirit comes to me
on waves of polarized light,
I'm thinking thoughts of lightning,
and I’m waiting for the flash,
I’m waiting for the smell of rain
in this shadowed valley
where the ruins of immortality
make parables,
parables and riddles
as rain drops make expanding
concentric ripples.


Sunday, April 8, 2012

Powerpoint Slides for Everyone - Week 16 - Trisagion

This week's powerpoint (or similar presentation program) background image is based on the Trisagion ('Thrice-Holy') - a hymn used in many Orthodox Churches.

"Holy God, Holy and Strong, Holy and Immortal, have mercy on us."

I've been making one of these background images each week.  You are free to download them and use them in your own personal, school, work, or church projects.  Use them for anything you like. I only ask that you share them freely and that you tell others that you found them here.  Thanks.

Friday, April 6, 2012

What I’m Reading: The Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth

But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came.  So the other disciples were saying to him, "We have seen the Lord!" But he said to them, "Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe."

After eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst and said, "Peace be with you."
Then He said to Thomas, "Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing." Thomas answered and said to Him, "My Lord and my God!"  Jesus said to him, "Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed."

Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.  John 20: 24 – 30

I’ve just finished reading The Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth by the German scholar Willi Marxsen.[i]  It is a book that I’ve had sitting on my shelves for some time, but until now I hadn’t attempted to read. I picked it up at a used book store and put it on my book shelf (and, since I’ve moved a few times since then, packed it, unpacked it and re-shelved it.)  And now that I’ve finally gotten around to reading it, I’m not quite sure what to say about it. There was much in the book that I appreciated and found very helpful.  But I disagree with the Marxsen’s overall theses. 
Let me start with my disagreement and when that is all said I can, to some extent, put it aside and share what I liked and learned from Marxsen.
The Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is the book form of a series of lectures that Marxsen gave at the University of Münster, exploring the meaning of the resurrection of Jesus.  In it he carefully explores what we can and can’t know from the various texts in the New Testament.
To begin, Marxsen makes it clear that we cannot explore the actual historical fact of the resurrection of Jesus.  It is an event beyond realm of the historian.  We can learn from the New Testament what the authors of the gospels and epistles assert happened and what they believed happened.  We can learn from them their interpretation of what happened, but we cannot explore what actually happened.
What we have then, is their interpretation. And this is my attempt to interpret what Marxsen wrote.
1 – We have no witnesses to the resurrection.  No one was there.  No one observed it.
2 - Our New Testament texts are assertions about what the authors believed happened.
3 – The texts that we have are somewhat contradictory.  The details of the post-resurrection events are different in each of the gospels and they are not able to be fully harmonized into a single cohesive narrative.
4 – If the texts present differing accounts of the post-resurrection events then we cannot know the underlying historical reality.
5 – BUT if the texts present differing accounts of the post-resurrection events then the historical reality may not be of vital importance.
6 – What then?
7 – The miracle of the resurrection isn’t in the resurrection of Jesus, but rather in the finding of faith.
8 – The idea, or the “interpretation” (his word) that ‘Jesus is risen’ is miraculous because we believe not necessarily because it happened as a historical event.
“It is undeniable, I think, that we are here dealing with an interpretive statement.  For no one saw the resurrection of Jesus; at least we know of no one who claimed to do so.  But this shows sufficiently clearly how the declaration that Jesus had risen came to be made: it was an inference – an inference derived from personal faith.  Even if Peter found faith because he saw Jesus, that would not affect our conclusion that talk of the resurrection of Jesus was reasoning from effects to cause; that is to say, it was an interpretation.” [ii]

According to Marxsen, if I’ve understood him correctly, those who claimed to be witnesses to the resurrected Jesus - were only witnesses because they already believed in the person and message of Jesus; they saw what they wanted to see – they saw what they already believed.
“Now one must not detach the interpretation (Jesus is risen) from what is being interpreted (the finding of faith) and then say that the interpretation has independent reality – that it has reality apart from the reality which one has experienced.  The text themselves make it clear that this is inadmissible.  It is only those who believed, we are told, who saw Jesus.  It is impossible to detach the vision from the reality of faith…”[iii]
 And this surprises me: that Marxsen, who appears to be a careful reader of the texts, can say something like this: “It is only those who believed …who saw Jesus.”
The gospels do not present the disciples as believing and then (because they believe) seeing the resurrected Jesus.  What we discover in each of the gospels (even within their contradictory details) are disciples who are frightened and broken and dispirited – followers who have lost their faith. 

The women go to the tomb expecting to find his body – when he has already repeatedly told them that he would be raised from the dead.  They brought spices to anoint his dead body.  When they discovered the empty tomb they were perplexed and frightened.  The disciples who met (and didn’t recognize) the resurrected Jesus on the road to Emmaus described their faith in the past tense – “we were hoping that it was he who was going to redeem Israel.” 

And very clearly Thomas said, “I will not believe until I see it myself.”

This is not a picture of Jesus’ disciples reinterpreting their acceptance of his teaching after Good Friday and then expressing that newly found faith in the phrase “Jesus is risen.”  He is not raised because they/ we believe.  We /they believe because he is risen.
Marxsen is right to point out that we cannot explore the physical / historical reality of the resurrection.  We cannot (barring the invention of a time-travel device) observe whatever it was that happened in that tomb on that Resurrection Sunday.  But to say that the resurrection was only (my word) in the disciples discovery of their faith in Jesus’ message and teaching, even after his death is to miss the point.
“Let us look at the first-hand witnesses.  For them there would have been one considerable difference compared with the time when they had to do with the earthly Jesus.  Commitment to the promise of the earthly Jesus demanded a trusting faith; and that was venture.  It was impossible to tell by looking at him who the earthly Jesus was.  They could only believe that he represented God in this world; and they could only believe that when they acceded to his demand. This commitment to what Jesus demanded had no guarantee behind it.  Jesus rejected the demand for signs as a preliminary legitimation.  He wanted daring faith.

“A verifiable resurrection, with its multiplicity of proofs, would have altered everything in one respect. Jesus would now have received his legitimation.  Who he was would now be a matter of certainty.  The demand for signs would, so to speak, have been fulfilled.  It would have continued to be hard enough for these witnesses to live the later life of faith.  But it would no longer have been a venture for the witnesses to enter on that life.  Indeed it would have been a counsel of wisdom; it would now have been simply stupid not to do what Jesus had demanded.  The path of the witnesses would no longer have been the path of faith because Jesus’ demand would now be law.  The witnesses would have been the only people who no longer needed to make the venture of faith – and therefore did not need to believe at all.”[iv]
This argument appears to makes a measure of sense, but it doesn’t seem to square with the gospels (at least as far as I understand them.)  Jesus did indeed reject the people’s request to give repeated miraculous signs to demonstrate the validity of his claims – yet he also told them that the only sign they would be given was the “sign of Jonah,” that the son of man would be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” – a reference to his resurrection.[v]
Even if Marxsen’s argument is valid – that the resurrection appearances to Jesus’ disciples negated their need for faith –and especially for a venturing and bold kind of faith – that claim can’t be used for those of us who come after.  We have not seen the resurrected Jesus (at least those of us who haven’t had a mystical vision like Paul).  We have not been able to probe his wounded hands and side. And yet, “these things are written so that [we] might believe…” 
And It seems to me (and I admit that I could be wrong. I could have misunderstood Marxsen’s argument) that this makes the disciples who proclaimed “he is risen” witnesses not to the resurrection of Jesus as vindication of his teaching and of the salvific work of God, but rather witnesses to their faith in their own faith.
I do not believe that Marxsen has made a compelling argument for his case that the resurrection of Jesus was not a concrete historical event but was only (my word) the disciples “interpretation” (his word) of their rediscovery of their faith in Jesus after his death.
That said, there were some things that I really did appreciate about Marxsen’s book – and I want to accentuate these agreements as much as possible.  For while we might disagree on some things, I do believe that we can stand together under the creedal statement “Jesus is risen,” no matter that he and I might understand that statement in dramatically different ways.

I definitely agree with Marxsen that what Jesus called his followers to was a life of extraordinary faith – radical faith – to a “venture” in faith:

“That means, quite simply, not trying to be self-sufficient but letting go. We are offered the chance of seeing through the circumscription of our lives and throwing it aside.  We are offered the chance of letting tomorrow’s worries belong to tomorrow and not to today. We are offered the chance – a chance which is also a challenge – of seeking out the other person instead of defending ourselves from him.”[vi]

I also really like Marxsen’s emphasis on the fact that the faith of the post-resurrection followers is in reality a continuation of the pre-crucifixion followers.  It is not something that they pulled together after the death of Jesus. The “earthly” Jesus is the same as the “risen” Jesus.
“…since all the Gospels mention the resurrection of Jesus, the resurrection is surely intended to be (at least among other things) the basis for contemporary involvement with Jesus (he is risen); so the previous accounts of Jesus’ ministry is evidently designed to unfold the content of this involvement.  But this would mean that the Gospel message of the resurrection does not merely begin at the point where the resurrection itself is the theme; it begins much earlier. It is certainly the past which is described at the beginning of the Gospels, but the point of the description is to show in concrete terms what faith in Jesus ought to look like today.  At the end we are then told why these past events are still binding on us today: Jesus is risen.”[vii]

We may not agree on all points of theology and doctrine, but if we can agree that 1) Jesus is risen and 2) that faith in this Jesus is a bold and daring venture into radical living in this world, then that is more than enough for me. 

[i] Marxsen, Willi The Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, trans. Margaret Kohl,
Fortress Press, Philadelphia, PA, 1970.
[ii] Page 138
[iii] Page 140
[iv] Page 150
[v] Matthew 12:38 – 40
[vi] Page 183
[vii] Page 41

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Bread of Affliction

Because it is impossible to find matzoh in any of the stores in my little community (or in any within an hour's drive) I have, this year, made home made matzoh for our upcoming Passover dinner.

The cookbook I'm using (The New York Times Passover Cookbook) declares that the "laws governing the baking of matzoh for for Passover are so stringent that doing so at home is virtually impossible..." (page 95).

- Granted - I don't know very much about modern Kosher laws, but this seems like a far cry from the first Passover when the Israelite people baked their humble bread over hurried cook fires.

And they shall eat the meat on that night, roasted over the fire, and matzos, with bitter herbs, shall they eat it. - Exodus 12:8

Look! This is the bread of affliction, the humble and simple bread which our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt.  Let those who are hungry join us at this Seder, and let them partake of what we have to share.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

A Passover Haggadah for Christian Use

This is a Passover guide for Christian use that I have been compiling and refining over the past several years.  I share it with you.

A Passover Haggadah for Christian Use

Monday, April 2, 2012

Powerpoint Slides for Everyone - Week 15 - Resurrection Sunday

I have been creating a new powerpoint (or similar presentation program) background image for each week this year.  This week's image has been created specifically for Resurrection Sunday.  The text comes from the gospel of Mark - chapter 16.  As with all the preceding images in this series, you are free to use this image for your own personal, church, school, or business projects.  Use it. But please, share it freely with others and let them know that you found it here. Thanks.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Before the Foundation of the World

Blessed is God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. He has blessed us in Christ with the full spiritual blessing of the heavens.  As [we confess] Before the foundation of the world he has chosen us in Christ to live by love [standing] holy and blameless before him. - Ephesians 1: 3 - 4 (Anchor Bible Translation - Markus Barth)

In the timelessness before time we were chosen...

If you like the song (and I hope that you do) you can download it for free here.

In addition to the material I recorded for this song, I used the following sounds from the Freesound Project:

Jeff Carter's books on Goodreads
Muted Hosannas Muted Hosannas
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