“Je suis Jésus”

The View from a Point 

I knew that it was true but never thought of saying it this way.

In a brilliant sermon on the relationship between faith and science, Roger Scholtz made the simple observation that a “point of view” is the “view” from a “point.”  Change the “point” from which you are looking, and it changes the “view” of what you see. (You can watch the sermon here.) It’s a simple principle that applies to everything from personal convictions to global conflicts.

The global case in point, of course, is the reaction to the horrific terrorist attack on a satirical French magazine which prior to the attack had less than 50,000 readers.  That’s not exactly what we could call a major publication.  From our Western point of view, millions of people marching through Paris was an expression of support for the freedom to print outrageously offensive cartoons which lampooned religious and political leaders.

I celebrate freedom of the press, though I wouldn’t purchase a copy of  “Charlie Hebdo.” Looking at its past covers on the Internet reminded me of Paul’s words, “I have the freedom to do anything, but not everything is helpful.”  (I Corinthians 6:12) A friend in the news and communications business made a helpful comparison when he said, “The best reason not to burn the flag is because we can.”   That’s my “point of view.”

But change the point and you get a different view.  For faithful Muslims, the cartoons are a sacrilegious attack on the core of their faith that would make the Fox-manufactured “War on Christmas” look like small change.  Some of us remember the outrage from faithful Christians over the infamous “Piss Christ.” It was a photograph of a crucifix in a jar of the artist’s urine.  From the artist’s point of view it was a work of art.  For the faithful it was a vulgar insult on our faith.

I’m not suggesting that there is any justification for the deadly violence of radical extremists.  Because I do not want Christianity to be defined by the Ku Klux Klan, I refuse to define all of Islam by the terrorists.  But if you change the “point” from which you see things, you can begin to understand the “view” of people in some parts of the Islamic world, particularly in light of the history of conflict going all the way back to the Crusades and our recent wars in the Middle East.  The result is a frighteningly complex and deeply conflicted world.

A Jesus Point of View 

But the questions become even more complicated for people who claim to be followers of Christ.

  • What does it mean to see the world from Jesus’ point of view?
  • What if Jesus is, in the words of  T. S. Eliot, “the still-point of a turning world”?
  • What difference does it make to view the world from the still-point of the Sermon on the Mount?
  • What if our still-point is the cross, which Paul said is foolishness to the world? (I Corinthians 1:18-25)
  • How does Jesus change our point of view?

It made the difference for Martin Luther King, Jr.  He taught us Jesus’ way of nonviolence and the people who were left bloody and beaten on the Edmond Pettis Bridge in Selma showed us just how different the view is when we look from Jesus’ point of view.

Amid all the complexity and fear of this conflicted time, one thing seems clear to me.  If Jesus is the still-point from which we view the world, there is no room for vicious satire or vitriolic, broad-brush attacks on Islam which only pour more oil on the flames.  While still affirming our deepest values, we are called to be the agents of God’s reconciliation (II Corinthians 5:18-19) who bear witness to Jesus’ way of love and peace.

If that sounds difficult, it is.  To the world, it sounds downright foolish.  But for those who believe in the cross and resurrection, it is the foolishness by which this world will ultimately be saved.  “The foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”  (I Corinthians 1:25)

Christians do not say, “Je sues Charlie.” As foolish as it sounds, we are called to live so that our lives say, “Je sues Jésus.”

Just Released…

We just received the first copies of  “A Disciple’s Heart.” It reclaims John Wesley’s teaching on “Christian perfection” as the way we continue to grow into a life that is centering in loving God and loving others.  Order your copy today!

Grace and peace,

Jim

In Over My Head

In Over My Head 

A line in “The Upper Room Disciplines” hooked my attention as the Church celebrated the Baptism of Jesus. (Mark 1:1-11) The writer said:

“Just because we don’t understand doesn’t get us off the hook for promising more than we realize…We’re in over our head in these things. We always have been.”

The words brought back childhood fears about being in water that was over my head. I remembered being afraid if I couldn’t touch bottom, clutching a floating raft or grasping the side of the pool.  Maybe it’s because I’ve always been skinny, but I could never quite pull off  the “dead man float” that seemed to easy for the other kids.

In spite of receiving credit for a swimming class in college, I’ve never been a good swimmer. I enjoyed water skiing because I always wore a life jacket.  Now, while I’m putting in my time on the elliptical machines at the YMCA, I watch serious swimmers putting in their laps in the pool and know there’s no way I could do that.  I’m not as afraid as I was as a child, but I’m still cautious about getting in over my head.

Beyond What We Could Deal With 

The online dictionary defines the idiom: “Lit. in water that is deeper than one is tall.  Fig. too deeply involved with someone or something, beyond what one can deal with.”

My guess is that most of us have an inherent fear of getting in “over our heads.”  We type-A, over-achieving, success-oriented control freaks don’t like being in situations where we aren’t in control; where we aren’t sure of ourselves; where we don’t know what is out ahead.  We aren’t quick to jump into situations that are “beyond what we can deal with.”  We prefer being in situations where we can “touch bottom” and know that we can get out of the situation if we want or need to.

But I also know that the shallow end of the pool is a very small place to live.  In fact, it can be downright boring.  There’s something exciting about diving into deeper water, taking risks we might not have taken, and reaching out for something we might have avoided.

Baptism in Deep Water 

There’s a drawing going around on Facebook of John the Baptist preparing to dunk Jesus into the river.  The caption says, “If you didn’t want to get so wet, you should have gone to John the Methodist.”  We Methodists believe that baptism is not about the amount of water we use but the amount of grace we receive, but it has a good point.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but now I know that when The Rev. Ralph Richardson sprinkled water on my adolescent head at First Methodist Church in Clarion, Pennsylvania, he was throwing me into the deep end of the pool of God’s love and grace.  It got me involved with Someone and something that continues to be way over my head.

Who would have guessed where this journey of discipleship would take me?  Who would have predicted the places I’ve been, the people I’ve known, the ways in which I’ve been drawn into things that have been beyond what I could have dealt with on my own? There have been lots of things I didn’t expect, could not control and do not understand.  But life continues to be an exciting journey that is soaked with the water of God’s amazing grace.

The Bottom of the Pool

I still need to know that I can touch bottom.  I need to know that there is something — better yet, Someone — I can hold onto when I feel like I’m in over my head.  And I found it in the words that Jesus heard as he came up out of the water, “You are my beloved Son.”  (Mark 1:11)  I can stay in the water, I can risk jumping into the deep end, because I know that I can trust the love of God.  Sometimes that’s all we have, but it’s enough.

So, dive in!

You’re Invited! 

If autumn in New England sounds good to you, you’re invited to join us for a “Fall Foliage Cruise” along the New England and Canada coast in September.  I assigned myself a subject I’ve never studied on before: “Pilgrims, Protestors and Poets: How New England Religion Helped Shape the Nation.”  I expect it to be a new learning experience as well as a lot of fun.  You’ll find the information at New England Cruise or let me know and I will send you a brochure.

Grace and peace,

Jim

Welcome the Late-Comers

Welcome the Late-Comers

epiph·a·ny, noun \i-ˈpi-fə-\
: a Christian festival held on January 6 in honor of the coming of the three kings to the infant Jesus Christ

: a moment in which you suddenly see or understand something in a new or very clear way

In the Greek Orthodox tradition, the “12th Day of Christmas” celebrates the Baptism of Our Lord, which is why the boys dive for the cross in Tarpon Springs. In Western Christianity, Epiphany is the day we welcome those late-comers to the nativity, those enigmatic, mysterious visitors from the East who arrived after a long search for the Christ Child.

I love Evelyn Waugh’s description of them:

“You are my special patrons, and patrons of all late-comers, of all who have a tedious journey to make to the truth, of all who are confused with knowledge and speculation, of all who through politeness make themselves partners in guilt, of all who stand in danger by reason of their talents…For His sake who did not reject your curious gifts, pray always for all the learned, the oblique, the delicate. Let them not be quite forgotten at the Throne of God when the simple come into their kingdom.”

Belief in Christ evidently came easily to the shepherds. They saw the angels, heard the good news, “went with haste” to find the Christ Child and returned praising God and telling everyone they could find about what they had seen.

If only belief in Christ were that simple for all of us.

Not so for these strangers from the East. Most scholars agree that they showed up about three years later, perhaps in Nazareth rather than in Bethlehem. They asked a lot of questions along the way. But in their own time and their own way, they came to “the moment in which you suddenly see or understand something in a new or very clear way.” They offered themselves through the offering of their gifts to Jesus. And Matthew records “they were overwhelmed with joy” and “went home by a different way.” (Matthew 2:10-12)

One of my greatest joys in ministry was the opportunity to create space for the “late comers,” the questioners, the folks for whom belief did not come easily, but who, like the Magi, found their way into a relationship with Christ that made sense in their heads and a difference in their hearts.  This Epiphany I give thanks for a God whose grace has room for the late-comers!

Reuben Job:  A Guide to Prayer 

Reuben Job died this weekend.  He was a pastor, a teacher, the World Editor of “The Upper Room” and a bishop in the United Methodist Church.  But beyond all of that, he was — and will continue to be — a guide along the way that leads to a deeper spiritual life.  I am among the multitudes of stumbling disciples for whom his “Guides to Prayer” became the essential road map for a daily rhythm of reflection on scripture and personal prayer.

I returned this year to “A Guide to Prayer for All God’s People.”  The opening prayer for this week includes this petition:  “In all the surprise and changes of life, may I fix my heart upon you, so that your eternal purposes may be fixed in me.”

In previous uses of this guide, I had underscored Thomas Merton’s words about “holy leisure–otium sanctum.”

“We cannot give ourselves to spiritual things if we are swept off our feet by a multitude of external activities…Sanctity is not measured by the amount of work we accomplish. Perfection is found in  the purity of our love for God, and this pure love is a delicate plant that grows best were there is plenty of time for it to mature.”

 Reuben showed us what it looks like for that kind of love to grow in the way he lived and the way he died.  May we practice the “holy leisure” in which that kind of love can grow.  Thanks be to God for his guidance along the way.

Grace and peace,

Jim