This month marks the tenth anniversary of this website, WheretheWind.com (and, in related news, of my tenth year as a priest). In those ten years, 731 posts have appeared here and to celebrate, I’ve chosen a Top 10 list of posts, one from each year, to highlight today. These posts are some of my favorite and most memorable additions to this site that continues to mean so much to me. Thank you for visiting WheretheWind.com over the last ten years, and I hope you will visit again soon. Continue reading “10 Years of WheretheWind.com!”
The Word is Near You (video)
My lovely wife surreptitiously recorded the song from my sermon yesterday. I wrote it last Thursday and played it a lot on Friday and Saturday to prepare for singing it during church. This is only my second sung sermon in the five-ish years I’ve been preaching, so I probably won’t do one again for quite a while, but every so often you’ve just got to pull out the ol’ guitar. (Check out the previous blog post for the lyrics.)
Five years ago, during my summer as a camp counselor, I discovered I had within my untested vocal cords the “Dad” voice. The final day of the last week of camp came at last, and parents bumped their minivans up the gravel road. The parents (who, a few nights ago, the campers could not imagine living without for another homesick minute) had to wrestle their children away from new friends and into the confinement of the backseat and the long drive home.
I remember one mother attempting to corral her son, who was determined to expend every last upside down second of monkey-barred bliss. After a few minutes of bargaining and cajoling, she looked at me and shrugged plaintively. Now, that summer had taught me many things, among them the “Dad” voice. So, in my best drill sergeant, I barked: “JOHN.” John swung down from the monkey bars and walked over to his mother, who was looking at me like I had just pulled her six of diamonds from an intact navel orange.
At camp five years ago, I learned that I possessed the “Dad” voice, but it was not until last week at the same camp that I discovered I really, truly want also to be the Dad behind the voice. Sure, I’ve always wanted to have kids in that vague procreative instinct sort of way. Last week, however, awoke within me the deep, abiding notions that God might call me to Fatherhood and that I might actually be okay at the whole Dad thing.
This realization hit me Wednesday at lunch. I sat down next to a boy who is going into the third grade. He looks exactly like the boy in Finding Neverland, and he melted the hearts of all the female counselors at camp (and, to be honest, mine too). On his plate, he had arranged two pieces of bread (white), a tub of peanut butter (creamy), and a tub of jelly (apple flavored). For a few minutes, he stared at these ingredients, but they remained inanimate, a Cézanne from his sandwich period. Then the boy looked up at me, and I looked down at him. “Would you like me to make your sandwich?” I asked.
“Yes, please.” And he grinned and nodded his freckled face ostentatiously and a hundred miles away his mother (I am sure) felt the tremors of his good manners.
I pushed my plate out of the way and slid his over. Then I picked up one slice of bread and spackled on the peanut butter. Next came a moment of indecision. I looked solemnly at the boy. “Do you want me to spread the jelly on top of the peanut butter or on the other piece of bread?”
He giggled. Apparently, my question was that of a naïve apprentice. “The other piece.” I spread the jelly and stacked the slices of bread. Then another moment of indecision and a further necessary question: “Rectangles or triangles?”
“Triangles,” came the firm response. “Four, please.” I twice cut the sandwich diagonally and slid the plate back to him — four little tea sandwiches, but without the cucumber or pretension.
With both hands, he picked up a sandwich quarter and nibbled the edge like a chipmunk. Then he took a big bite, and my anxiety that I would be a deficient sandwich maker released. Now, this event might seem small and ordinary, and in a way it was. But small and ordinary do not preclude God from revealing God’s hopes for us. Quite the opposite, in fact.
In my case, this was neither small nor ordinary for two reasons. First, until last Wednesday, I had never made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich before. Yes, I know how strange that is. I don’t like cake either. And second, I had never made a sandwich for a child who potentially could be mine (if I had been more stupidly adventurous in high school).
These two reasons mixed with the ordinariness of the situation and God infused the whole thing with revelation. As I watched the boy eat his PB&J, I knew in that place that knows before your mind does that I want to be a Dad. I want to know the kind of love that I see in my father’s eye when he welcomes me after a long absence. I want to play catch and praise scribbles and help do long division and frighten potential suitors and change diapers. Well, maybe not that last one. I’ll get there when I get there. I know that my image of fatherhood is still gilded with romanticized glitter. I know that not everything is picnics and ice cream. But I also know that the sacredness of a PB&J sandwich crafted with love puts more points in the “pro” column than anything could match in the “con.”
You might be thinking: why are you writing about this? Is there something you’re not mentioning? Don’t fret. I am either a series of well-planned, time-consuming steps or one really dumb decision away from being a father. And the former is the only option I’ll ever consider. There are just moments in our lives — small, ordinary moments — that make us realize certain things. God reveals God’s goodness in such moments. Last week, making a sandwich unlocked the door to Fatherhood in my future. What will it be today? I don’t know, but I pray for the attentiveness that helps me resonate with God’s hopes for me. I pray for something small and ordinary. I pray for PB&J.
Sacking the monasteries
I’ve been working on a Confirmation class recently, and the lessons keeping popping up here on the blog. Here’s the English Reformation in 1000 words.
The airbrushed version of the story goes like this: King Henry VIII needed a male heir. His wife had only managed a daughter and things were looking bleak on that front. Henry fell in love with another woman who surely was young and fertile enough to produce a son. In order to legitimize any children of the second union, Henry needed to remove his first wife from the picture. The pope wouldn’t grant an annulment. So, in 1534, Henry directed Parliament to approve his divorce and proclaim him the “supreme head of the Church of England.” Without the pope’s interference, the Reformation in England could start scrubbing the grimy Romish doctrines from the walls of a truer Christianity.
Of course, the airbrush was invented to hide blemishes and make people look glossy and even-coloured. Let’s take another pass at the story: King Henry VIII needed a male heir. His wife had only managed a daughter and things were looking bleak on that front. Annulments were not uncommon at the time, but Pope Clement VII balked because Rome needed the friendship of Spain, whose ruler Charles V did not want to see his aunt, Henry’s wife Catherine, be humiliated. So, Henry took matters into his own hands for political, rather than religious, reasons. You see, the Reformation was lumbering toward its third decade on the continent, but Henry appeared immune to its effects. Indeed, at a time before all the business about divorce, the pope had proclaimed Henry a “defender of the faith.” When the 1534 acts of Parliament established Henry as the head of the Church of England, the monarch envisioned a sort of Roman Catholicism minus the Roman bit.
The reformers interpreted Henry’s break with the pope as an opportunity to install Protestantism on the island. Henry’s dissolution of the English monasteries fueled the reformers’ hopes because the monasteries were bastions of papal influence. But the reformers only saw what they wanted to see. Henry dissolved the monasteries not to signal new reforms, but to consolidate his power and to refill the royal coffers with the assets of the rich monastic lands. With an unsympathetic monarch and infighting among various Protestant groups, reform in the English Church would be slow in coming and would never reach the full break with Roman Catholic doctrine that happened in many places on the continent.
This is not to say that Henry never waved the flag of reform. Rather, his support for the myriad religious flavors being tasted on the streets of London shifted depending on winds of the current political moment. Henry was a political realist: he sought advantage with little regard for principle. In direct conflict with this realism, Henry was also a glutton: his royal appetite for food, alcohol, and women was the stuff of legend. Indeed, when Henry died, he probably looked something like Jabba the Hutt.
The task of reconciling Henry’s gluttonous appetites, political maneuvers, and religious position fell to Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury. Cranmer favored incremental reform of the church, and over time, his subtle influence over the king pushed England toward an unique experience of the Christian faith, both like and unlike Roman Catholicism and Protestantism.
In his thirteen years as the head of the Church of England, King Henry married five more times, divorced twice (Catherine of Aragon, Anne of Cleves), and executed two of his wives (Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard). His gluttony and penchant for disposing of his wives make it remarkable that the church he accidentally started turned out as well as it has. Okay, moving on.
Henry’s third wife, Jane Seymour, finally produced a male heir before she died, but King Edward VI was never a picture of health and outlived his father by only six years. In that time, Archbishop Cranmer invented something that has defined the Anglican Church ever since: the Book of Common Prayer. The first edition, appearing in 1549, was Cranmer’s English synthesis of various traditional sources. This first book was decidedly Roman Catholic in tone, a fact that led to a second, much more Protestant, edition three years later.
When Edward died, his successor hit the reset button on reform in the English Church, and she hit it hard with blood and burning. Mary Tudor, Henry’s first daughter and a staunch Roman Catholic, repealed the reforms made since 1534 and relentlessly sought to purge England of all Protestant influence. During her five-year reign, England once again affirmed obedience to the pope. As with most everything else in these tumultuous decades, religion and politics once again danced clumsily with one another. Mary’s allegiance to the pope was borne not just out of religious zeal, but also to secure Mary’s status as a legitimate heir to the throne. Mary burned several hundred people at the stake including our old friend, Thomas Cranmer.
Mary’s reign was fierce but short. Upon Mary’s death in 1558, her half-sister Elizabeth ascended the throne and reinstated the religious policies of her father and brother. Like Mary’s, Elizabeth’s legitimacy as heir was tied directly to the version of history that the ruling religious class embraced. In 1559, Elizabeth issued a third edition of the Book of Common Prayer. This edition combined the varying theology found in the first two books and birthed the Anglican tradition of navigating the via media (the “middle way”). Elizabeth reigned more than forty years, during which the Church of England established its own identity separate from but related to other expressions of Christianity. Her demeanor and bearing were the antithesis of her father’s; indeed, she was known as the “Virgin Queen,” and she makes for a much more appealing spiritual founder of the Anglican Church.
So, the beginning of the Anglican Communion, of which the Episcopal Church is a part, is predicated on a great historical irony. The whole messy business began when Henry needed a male heir. In the end, his female heir solidified the new Church as one of the major expressions of Christianity in the world.*
* Justo Gonzalez’s The Story of Christianity, Vol. II helped refresh my memory on many of the above details. Thanks Justo!
A woefully abridged timeline
We’re in the fifth week of a confirmation class at church, and I (unwisely) decided to teach a class on the first 1500 years of Christian history. I never thought I’d forget just how much happened in those 1500 years, but apparently, I did. So, I grabbed my church history books and a timeline I xeroxed once, and I ended up compiling this woefully abridged list of important stuff. What are the odds we can talk about all of this in an hour?
64 Rome burns down. The crazy Roman Emperor Nero begins a longstanding habit of blaming Christians for every bad thing that happens to the Roman Empire. Around this time, tradition holds that the Apostles Peter and Paul executed in Rome.
c. 155 Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, is martyred under the Emperor Trajan’s guidelines for dealing with “atheists.” Christians were considered “atheists” because they didn’t worship the Roman Gods. Persecutions were sporadic over the first few centuries of Christian history.
270 Antony decided to become a hermit and runs off to the desert so he won’t be disturbed in prayer. His example becomes quite trendy, leading to the development of monasticism.
313 The soon-to-be Emperor Constantine has a vision to put the first two letters of “Christ” on his shield before the Battle of the Milvian Bridge. He wins the battle, becomes Emperor, and promulgates the “Edict of Milan,” which ends the persecution of Christians.
325 The Council of Nicea convenes, the first “ecumenical” council of bishops from near and far. Among other things, the council rejects Arianism and affirms the Trinitarian doctrine that Christ is “begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father.”
387 Augustine of Hippo (after many years of disappointing his mother, Monica) converts to Christianity. His writing becomes the basis for the Western presentation of theology.
405 Jerome finishes the “Vulgate,” the Latin translation of the Bible, which becomes the industry standard until those Protestants started reading in their own languages a thousand years later.
432 Patrick, once taken captive by Irish marauders, returns to Ireland as a missionary and leads many to the Christian faith, including several local kings. Nowadays, people get pinched if they don’t wear green on his feast day.
451 The Fourth Ecumenical Council convenes in Chalcedon and affirms the doctrine that Christ is both fully God and fully human. The Council is wisely silent on how the heck this works.
529 Benedict of Nursia founds his monastic order (the “Benedictines”) and writes the “Rule” that becomes the standard for Western monasticism. Unlike those pirates, his rule is more than just “guidelines.”
590 Gregory the Great becomes pope. He earns his nickname by advancing the power of the papacy. Tradition says that a little bird taught him some music called “Gregorian chant.”
732 Charles Martel leads the winning side of the Battle of Tours, which halted the Muslim invasion of Europe. The Muslims retreat to Spain and hang out there for a long time.
800 Charlemagne crowned Emperor by Pope Leo III, a sign of the power of the papacy, which rose and fell over the years. Charlemagne is the forerunner of the “Holy Roman Empire,” which existed in one form or another for about a 1000 years beginning in the mid-900s.
1054 The Great East-West Schism, centuries in the making, finally happens. The Catholic church develops in the Latin-speaking West, the Orthodox church in the Greek-speaking East.
1095 Pope Urban II proclaims the First Crusade to wrest the Holy Land from the hands of the Muslims. Over several hundred years, the crusades caused a lot of senseless death and achieved no lasting objective.
c. 1150 The universities of Paris and Oxford are formed, leading to renewed scholarship, theological inquiry, and fledgling scientific enterprise.
1206 Francis of Assisi renounces his wealth and, to punctuate his point, removes all his fancy clothes in front of the bishop. His early followers embrace a simple life of poverty. Francis had a love for nature, which is why so many Christians have his statue in their gardens.
1215 The Fourth Lateran Council affirms the doctrine of “Transubstantiation,” that the bread and wine mysteriously become the actual Body and Blood of Christ during the Eucharist.
c. 1380 John Wycliffe is exiled from Oxford for such strange positions as (1) the Bible should be translated into the vernacular and (2) Christ is present in the Eucharist, but it’s still bread. Basically, Wycliffe showed up for the Reformation 150 years early.
1456 Johann Gutenberg’s printing press produces the first printed Bible. All the monks copying the Bible by hand in scriptoriums across Europe cheer. (Okay, I made that last sentence up.)
1478 The Spanish Inquisition begins under Ferdinand and Isabella. The Inquisition uses brutal tactics to root out heretics and force the conversion of people of other religions. 500 years later, Monty Python spoofs the Inquisition. (“Our chief weapon is fear! Fear and surprise!”)
1517 Martin Luther nails his 95 theses (points of contention with church practice) to the church door in Wittenberg, inadvertently sparking the Protestant Reformation.
So, my questions are these: what do you think I left out that I shouldn’t have and what did I put in that I shouldn’t have?
“He had a beard!”*
Have you ever noticed that none of the people who wrote the Gospel ever takes the time to describe what Jesus looked like? In Mark’s account of the Gospel, Jesus comes onstage nine verses in, ready for a dunk in the river. The text says simply: “In those days Jesus came up from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.” The next verse could read: Jesus, a strapping fellow, a shade over six feet with a ruddy complexion, a nest of a beard, and dark hazel eyes, was coming up out of the water when he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. The next verse could read like this. But it doesn’t. The Evangelists (one term for the authors of the Gospel) seem singularly uninterested in offering up any details of Jesus’ physical appearance.
This, of course, has not stopped people throughout history drawing, painting, and sculpting images of Jesus. The earliest paintings we still have around come from ancient catacombs where worship services were held in secret. These pictures usually portrayed Jesus as the good shepherd, and they appear to modern eyes as cartoonish – obviously, the artists were not trying to go for physical accuracy. As the centuries progressed and Christianity became first tolerated, then acceptable, then (in some cases) compulsory, images of Jesus appeared in mosaics, frescoes, statues, illuminated manuscripts, and stained-glass windows. Artists depicted him as a king and a judge (and sometimes still as a shepherd). During the Renaissance, Jesus often wore period costume, making him look more like a gentleman of Verona than a first century Jew. At some point, it became fashionable for Jesus to wear a beard; at another point, a serene, starry-eyed expression.
Enter Warner Sallman, who in 1941 painted arguably the most famous portrait of Jesus ever: amber background fading into brown; Jesus in three-quarter profile shown from the shoulder up; the flowing locks, the beard, the serenity, the multiple light sources. For many people, especially American baby boomers, this is what Jesus looked like. The portrait was so ubiquitous for so long that it almost took on canonical significance, as if it were the authorized image of Jesus agreed upon at the Council of Nicaea. People have been cast to play Jesus in films based on this image – just look at Jim Caviezel in The Passion of the Christ. Honestly, what self-respecting casting director would hire an actor who couldn’t grow such a nice dark brown beard?
I know this sounds like I have a vendetta against Warner Sallman. I don’t…truly, I don’t. I think his painting is quite nice, though I personally think Jesus looks a bit dull, like he’s waiting for a traffic light to change. My opinion aside, the point is this: we, as a culture, have developed such a clear picture in our minds of how Jesus of Nazareth appeared. This clarity comes from centuries and centuries of images; from all the nauseatingly banal Tiffany stained glass in the windows of our churches; from a single authoritative, iconic portrait painted nearly seventy years ago. But this clarity, this consensus, is completely and utterly baseless. Our “clear picture” of Jesus was created ex nihilo, out of nothing.
More than anything else, aggregate historical imagination has contributed to the development of our enduring image of Jesus of Nazareth. This imagination has fed off of the racial and cultural markers of myriad societies, the political and economic status of the Christian religion during various periods, the value of visual art for disparate sects of Christianity, and the technology, proficiency, and goal of the artist or craftsman.
In one image Jesus may wear pantaloons and a feathered hat; in another, he may wear a jewel-encrusted tunic and crown; in a third, he may wear the ever-popular toga/sash/sandals combination. In the majority of images, there’s a high probability that Jesus “looks like me” – both “me” in the sense of the artist’s race and culture and “me” in the sense that the person writing this is white, male, of Anglo-Saxon heritage, with brown hair, who could probably grow a nice beard if he could get past the “itchy stage.”
Our penchant for recasting Jesus in our own images and for relying on the aggregate historical imagination should give us pause. There’s obviously no way a first century Jew looked like a guy whose ancestors hail from Kent, England. Nor does the simple fact that something is both aggregated and historical infuse it with validity.
I’m not saying that we need to throw away all our pictures of Jesus and smash all our stained glass. I’m far from an iconoclast. What I am saying is that we develop awareness of where we come from, not to discount or disconnect that past, but to integrate it fully into our interpretive arsenal. When we discover that no words in the Gospel ever describe what Jesus looked like, we can begin to ask why our images of him look the way they do. Then we can ask: What else have we taken for granted?
* I take the title for this post from the film Talladega Nights, which has a wonderful scene about a dinner table prayer. That one scene alone gets at what I talked about above. It’s worth the price of admission for the whole movie.
Hope near the fourth jumbotron
We arrived on the Mall in the predawn chill after a two hour power walk from 24th and M. During the walk, we passed pairs of camouflaged soldiers at each cross street, a siren-blaring police car from the DC public library (?), and hundreds of vendors hawking T-shirts, hats, keychains, and copies of the Washington Post. Since we were ticketless, my friend and I walked west along Independence Avenue looking for a numbered street with access to the Mall. At 12th Street, we turned right. A block later, we spilled out onto the Mall with 1.8 million of our closest friends. Over the next hour, we threaded our way through the ever-growing crowd and staked our claim on a few square feet of dirt four jumbotrons back.
As dawn turned to frozen morning, the sun rose from behind the Capitol dome and shone on the sandstone tower of the Smithsonian Castle off to our right. As the morning wore on, we sang and danced to the recorded concert playing on the big screens, ate granola bars, contemplated trying to make it to the porta-johns and back again, listened to the conversations around us, and wondered just how many mobile phones were vying for the closest tower’s signal. 9:00am. 10:00am. We were cold, muscle-cramped, footsore, buffeted by the crowd. But we were there, and none of our discomfort mattered.
The Marine Corps band (whose brass players I’m sure had the coldest mouths in Washington) played march after march as important people trickled onto the Capitol steps. As their importance grew, so did the crowd’s excitement. My friend and I played a game of name-that-politician (we weren’t very good). Flag-wavers practiced their craft with Jimmy Carter and the Clintons. A few ungenerous souls in the crowd booed as the soon-to-be-former president made his way on stage. Most applauded, but out of respect or relief, I couldn’t tell.
As the moment of the Obamas’ arrival neared, the Mall fell nearly silent, as if all 1.8 million of us held our breath at the same time. They appeared, and the Mall erupted with cheering, whooping, weeping, and the outpouring of all the emotion of decades and centuries of indefatigable expectancy.
In that moment and the moments to follow, I discovered an untapped well of hope inside myself. Hope, Paul tells us, along with faith and love, abides. Hope catalyzes the imagination. Hope furnishes a future for faith and love. Hope is the expectation that the boundaries of possibility are always far wider than we can perceive. On Tuesday at 12:05pm, I felt those boundaries expanding, closed my eyes, and thanked God.
President Obama spoke of a “less measurable but no less profound” indicator of the crises we face: “A sapping of confidence across our land — a nagging fear that America’s decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.” As a member of that next generation, I’ve felt that nagging fear, I’ve sighed and shaken my head too many times, I’ve disengaged. Sure, I’ve done “my part” — recycled, used CFLs, donated food and clothing. But those acts always felt insignificant, tokenistic, like I was trying to take down an aircraft carrier with a .22 caliber pistol. I did “my part” not with hope, but with the memory of what hope once felt like.
After Tuesday, however, I feel like “my part” has transformed and grown and coalesced into “our part.” “On this day,” said President Obama, “we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.” Hope and unity. How fundamental to the fabric of our lives as God’s children are these things. God reveals the power of unity to us in the perfect, rhythmic dance of three person’s in one God. Jesus reveals the power of hope to us in the resurrection, by which he overcame the sting of fear and death.
After my friend and I escaped the mad press of people leaving the Mall, we circled back to 24th and M by way of the frozen Potomac River. I was still cold, muscle-cramped, and footsore. But that untapped well of hope was warming me, flooding me with renewed purpose and energy. I had forgotten how good it feels to hope, forgotten that there was a time before I was beset by that nagging suspicion of our deterioration. As we tramped up the last block from L to M, I remembered the closing moments of The Shawshank Redemption. Andy Dufresne, recently escaped after 19 years of incarceration in a Maine prison for a crime he did not commit, writes to his friend: “Remember Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”
My Pavlovian response to the word “evangelical”
There’s a good chance I’m about to get incredibly soap-boxy, but I’m going to try my best to fight that tendency.
Do you remember the WABAC (“way-back”) machine on The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show? You know, the segment with the professorial dog and the red-headed kid who asked inane questions. If I could join Peabody and Sherman for a jaunt in their time machine, I would go back to the very hour that the word “evangelical” started being synonymous with “conservative” and attempt to stop the connection. I would fail, of course, like the guy in the movie version of The Time Machine who tries to save his wife’s life because of the temporal paradox. (i.e. If I succeed and sever the connection between “evangelical” and “conservative” I’d never have to go back in time to make the attempt, thus the words would be connected, thus I’d go back in time and sever them, thus I’d not need to go back in time…you get the point. I’ve said it before — Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is the only book I’ve ever read with a truly well-reasoned time travel plot.)
Okay, I apologize for that stunning example of my ability to digress. I could delete it, but then I’d have no reason to use the picture of Sherman and Peabody. Let’s begin again.
You know how some people say “taxi,” some say “cab” and some say “taxi-cab,” but they all mean those yellow cars that you have to pay to ride in? The same thing has happened with the words “evangelical” and “conservative.” The media combine these two words in various permutations when discussing moral, ethical, or religious issues, and they bank on quickly instilling in your mind the vague image of a bellowing reactionary picketing an abortion clinic with a sign that says “Jesus hates gays.” Some media outlets do this so you will know to disagree with such “evangelicals”; others do it so you’ll know to agree. I’m not sure about you, but the image of the sign-wielding picketer has reached Pavlovian proportions in my mind. The fact that the image is a caricatured worst-case scenario is lost on a population conditioned to react strongly (one way or the other) to the word “evangelical.”
The current connotations of the word “evangelical” could not be further from what the word once meant. Peabody and Sherman could jump into the WABAC machine and travel to Mark’s house in about the year 65 and find the word in the fresh ink of the first line of Mark’s account of the Gospel. “The beginning of the euangelion of Jesus Christ.” Euangelion — one etymological hop and a few millennia brings us to “Evangelical.” Do you see the word “angel” in the middle there? That’s the Greek word for news or message. And the “ev-” at the beginning used to be “eu-” as in “eulogy” (good word/speech) or “[e]utopia” (good place/land). This beautiful word — this word that has been co-opted, dragged through the mud of bigotry, and associated with narrow-mindedness and hate — used to mean “good news.”
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ. Not “The beginning of the reactionary bigotry of Jesus Christ.” Not “The beginning of the messy-ideology-of-hate of Jesus Christ.” Good News. Gospel.
I want the word “evangelical” back. I wish I could call myself an “evangelical” without being handed a “Jesus hates gays” sign in someone else’s mind. Of course, I am not saying that everyone who self-identifies as an “evangelical” hates gay people or thinks Harry Potter is the most inherently evil thing since evolution. These are facile characterizations that discount the good that “evangelicals” do in the world. But, as I see it, there is a latent schizophrenia in the “evangelical movement” that leads to simultaneous digging of wells in African villages and campaigning for Prop 8. Mix in the media’s fostering of the image of the sign-wielding picketer and the blustering of certain conservative demagogues, and the rebranding of “evangelical” is complete.
I have no illusion that the word “evangelical” will ever mean what it once did. Words are collections of sounds and signs by which we signify objects, thoughts, and feelings, and these significations can change over time. Did you know that “happy” used to mean “lucky?” Juliet’s line “O happy dagger” (as in “O lucky weapon that I happened to find lying next to me”) makes more sense that way, right?
But this is a cautionary tale. If “evangelical” can take on such a twisted meaning, what’s next?
* You may wonder what spurred me to write this today. Well, to be honest, I’m a little bummed that Barack Obama picked Rick Warren to do the invocation at the inauguration. (I know that The Purpose Driven Life has sold millions of copies and helped a lot of people. But I can get on board with very little that Warren preaches or stands for.) Because of this announcement, the word “evangelical” has been on the news about 917 since yesterday.
** I edited out several very snarky pieces of this entry before publishing it. I still think I got too soap-boxy, but what can ya do?
Who’s to say where the wind will take you?
Adam, a follower of Christ,
to all those who find this blog through the Series of Tubes.
Grace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
The Apostle Paul really nailed the beginnings of his letters, so I thought I’d borrow his intro formula to begin my blog. Paul journeyed all over the Mediterranean following the little dotted purple and blue and red lines you see on the maps in the back of your study Bible. I’m afraid I can’t afford the airfares to Thessalonica or Ephesus, so I will have to rely on the Interwebs to make a new set of dotted lines from my MacBook to your computer. Since you’re probably in modern day Scranton or Lubbock rather than ancient Greece, I think the Internet is the way to go.
Pop over to the “About” page for an introduction to the blog. I look forward to your comments on future posts. I took the title of this blog from U2’s song, “Kite.” In the midst of the grief that spurred the song to be written, I hear the hope that wind will continue to carry us on. I don’t know U2’s source material for this song, but I can’t get Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus out of my head when I hear the chorus. Jesus says, “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). In Greek, wind and spirit are the same word (pneuma). Who’s to say where the wind will take me? Who’s to say where the Spirit is leading me? In this blog, I will reflect on the movement of God in my life, the movement that dances on the wind of the Spirit. I invite you to follow my reflections and discern how God is moving in your own life.
Here’s that U2 song in case you’ve never heard it. It’s on their album All That You Can’t Leave Behind: