I love to read and write. The guy next to me makes videos and plays something like five musical instruments. The audience around us is composed of a wide variety of creatives including photographers, designers, musicians and writers. In the coming days we will hear from poets, preachers, professors, theologians, rappers and singer/songwriters. Canvas 2016 is about to start.
This week I have met in my reading an individual who has been challenging me in new and unique ways. Rosaria Butterfield was an English professor at Syracuse University. She was a stalwart feminist and defender of gay and lesbian rights. Rosaria met Jesus in the life and witness of a pastor who was willing to sit and discuss her worldview with her. The book is a fascinating read and very well written. There is so much in it that is challenging me, and so much that could be discussed. But perhaps the biggest thing that stands out to me as I work my way through the first half of the book is her discussion of her entrance into the christian world, and the complexities that this process caused.
We’ve all perhaps heard of Mary Shelley’s dark tale of the genius scientist Victor Frankenstein, who’s curiosity and intellect drive him to create a living monster (yes, yes Frankenstein is the name of the scientist, not the monster). Anyways, as the story goes, the beast haunts Victor everywhere he goes, wreaking havoc on his entire life and eventually leading to his very sad death. Frankenstein has now been told and retold for nearly 200 years, and for good reason. It is a magnificent and horrifying exploration of human nature, the limits of science and our relationship to nature. No matter how you slice it, it is rich with meaning and significance. And yet as I read it last year there was one thread in particular that jumped out at me.
Its interesting how the consistent perception within the world around us is that the christian faith (and all religion for that matter) are an escape from reality. We always get this sense that people of faith are coming into their religious experiences as a way of getting away from the challenges and pressures of life in the real world. I can’t speak definitively on other religions, but this is profoundly untrue about the actual christian message. One of it’s central tenets is that God is invading reality. It is a message of the fact that one of our greatest needs is not escape from but reconciliation to the actual world.
It is a most interesting fact that many who continually denounce christianity and christians nevertheless seem to continue to quote and side with Jesus himself. The reasons behind this fact can take us into a twisted network of rabbit trail discussions, many of which are most unhelpful. In my conversations with friends and coworkers, both in and outside the christian community, I have often fallen into the trap of trying to reconcile the two seemingly opposing halves of this situation. And yet lately, instead of just eagerly lunging at the bone of argument, I have seen it as a doorway into more meaningful conversation.
There is nothing that is more powerful or fulfilling to the human heart than to be gripped by love. Nothing else fills us with the satisfaction and meaning that we get when we are tied in our heart to others and feel the irresistible drive to seek their joy and wellbeing. We can do a great many things in life. In the end however, if we are simply left alone with our pile of toys and trophies, we find that they really mean nothing on their own. Unless we have someone with whom we can share the joy, unless we have those who give us reason to be better and stronger people, the sense of fulfillment dissolves helplessly in our hands.
In a previous post the following question was raised up: “What is the path to true faith?” The basic point made there was that if there really is a God, logical arguments and “proofs” will never suffice to lead us to real faith in him. Ultimately, if there really is a God, the only way you will be truly convinced of his existence is if you meet him. Just as with any relationships, we must taste of his personal reality in order to live in a deep conviction that he is real and that he loves us.
It is quite a complex thing to be a human. We are, in many ways a walking paradox. On the one hand we are small and limited to physical existence. We are bound by space and time. We can only do one thing at a time and be in one place at a time. You cannot be both in the garden and in the library. You are either here or there. The alarm rings. You either get up or you don’t; get paid or don’t get paid. This sense of limitation is in many ways what it means to be human. Even when you live in a great city, you have your routine, your particular coffee shops, park benches and people. This embrace of our daily physical limitedness is perhaps most powerfully summarized in all those special things we call “home”.
The idea of the resurrection of has been criticized and mocked from the very earliest days of christianity. Jesus debated with the Sadducees – a group of Jewish scholars who generally dismissed the possibly of the miraculous or supernatural. When Paul spoke with the Greeks in Athens, they listened to his argument, up until he got to the fact that Jesus had been raised from the dead. Then they just mocked and dismissed him.
Today is a day of worship for many. Today is a day of political and societal chaos for many. What is the connection between the two statements? The painting from El Greco can help us answer this question. The painting hangs in The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. It is called the Vision of Saint John. In it, we see the oppressed souls of those who have been waiting on the justice of God to shine through. The painting captures a mixed moment of agony, longing and satisfaction, as those who are in it look up to receive their white robes as rewards for their faithfulness to the truth in a faithless world.
The interesting thing is that the painting was “restored” in 1880 by its owner who cut off the top 175 cm of the painting which depicted the glorious revelation of the victorious Christ. What is left is that the individuals look up from their chaos to a blank heaven. This is, in many ways a picture of the dazed culture in which we live.