28 February 2007

The Tomb Belonging to Jesus?

James Cameron claims to have found the ossuary boxes belonging to Jesus and Mary Magdalene. An ossuary is simply a "bone" or "collection box" common to the Ancient Near Eastern world. Some will remember the big hoopla that was raised by believing archaeologists a few years ago when the "James Ossuary" emerged on the scene. The ossuary read "James, the son of Joseph, the brother of Jesus"--to which many people joked, "at least it did not read 'Jesus, the son of Joseph, the brother of James.'"

Well, Cameron now claims claims that he's found this little piece of archaeological intrigue.

Here is a piece of the article:

The filmmakers said that statistically there was a one in 600 chance that the names found on the inscriptions were not the family of Jesus.

They also argued that the name 'Mariamene e Mara, the only inscription written in Greek, translated to Magdalene's real name.

If this was the tomb of Jesus, the revelations are likely to raise the ire of Christians because the discoverywould challenge the belief that Jesus was resurrected and ascended to heaven.

The documentary comes on the heels of the huge success of the novel The Da Vinci Code, which contends that Mary Magdalene had a child with Jesus.

But Dr. Shimon Gibson, one of the archaeologists who discovered the tomb, told Reuters at the news conference he had a "healthy scepticism" the tomb may have belonged to the family of Jesus.

In Jerusalem, the Israeli archaeologist who also carried out excavations at the tomb on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, disputed the documentary's conclusions.

The archaeologist, Amos Kloner, said the 2,000-year-old cave contained coffins belonging to a Jewish family whose names were similar to those of Jesus and his relatives.

"I can say positively that I don't accept the identification (as) ... belonging to the family of Jesus in Jerusalem," Kloner told Reuters. "I don't accept that the family of Miriam and Yosef (Mary and Joseph), the parents of Jesus, had a family tomb in Jerusalem."

"They were a very poor family. They resided in Nazareth, they came to Bethlehem in order to have the birth done there - so I don't accept it, not historically, not archeologically," said Kloner, a professor in the Department of Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology at Bar-Ilan University near Tel Aviv.

After they were discovered, the bones were reburied according to Orthodox tradition, leaving just the boxes with inscriptions and human residue to be examined though DNA testing.

Professor L. Michael White, of the University of Texas, said he also doubted the claims were true.

"This is trying to sell documentaries," he said, adding a series of strict tests needed to be conducted before a bone box or inscription could be confirmed as ancient. "This is not archeologically sound, this is fanfare."

Jay Leno, not typically thought of as a theologian made an interesting point this week concering the insinuation that Jesus and Mary Magdalene had a child together and the new evidence supports this: "If we can't even identify who the father of Anna Nicole Smith is, what makes us so arrogant that we think we can identify a two thousand year old relic and how Jesus might be the father?" (my paraphrase).

Ultimately, belief in Jesus and the resurrection starts with belief. One cannot prove or disprove the ressurection. We cannot go back and watch the instant replay or videotape history. One must start with faith in order to see a raised Christ. Or, as C.S. Lewis once wrote, "I believe in Christianity as I do the sun. Not only because it is risen, but by it, I see everything else."

Something or someone happened to those earliest followers of Jesus. Something or someone that would cause them to risk and lose their lives. They did not benefit financially or socially from preaching the risen carpenter--their lives got more and more difficult. Yet, the early churched really believed that Jesus, through God's power, had overcome death, sin, darnkness and violence.

The greatest argument for an empty tomb, is a spirit filled carried away church (paraphrase of Clarence Jordan's comments in The Sermon on the Mount).

22 February 2007

Walk on: U2’s Mission

Bono et al are enigmatic figures for many. In his new book Walk On: The Spiritual Journey of U2, Steve Stockman takes the reader through the making, formation and journey of (arguably) the greatest rock band on the planet: U2.

There are many highlights in this book. Here are a few:

• Stockman gets behind the meaning and historical/personal situations that produced many of the lyrics in U2’s music. The chapter in which he deals with “Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” (and how many have misunderstood the meaning of the song) is the worth the price of the book alone.

• The author deals with the controversy surrounding U2’s love/hate relationship with evangelical faith and American “Wal-Mart” Christianity.

• Bono’s spirituality (love for Christian community, social justice) fills up many of the pages and anecdotal narratives making this an accessible book for readers of all levels of interest. Bono once said in an interview, “…Faith in Jesus Christ that is not aligned to social justice—that is not aligned with the poor—it’s nothing.”

• Bono’s own apparent ethical contradictions get some attention in the research and reflection in the pages of Walk On.

I’m not finished with the book, but the highlight so far has been the background regarding Bono’s influence in the war/tension/hate between the Protestants and Catholics in Ireland. If music is the primary language of humanity, the most palatable way we experience genuine change, I’m grateful we have women and men ala Bono et al articulating a prophetic voice in an apathetic world. He may not fit the classic definition of fundamentalist Christian, but he certainly has his pulse on the importance of embodied ethics as we all enter into this post-Christian era in the West. As I’ve said often, quoting someone much smarter than me, “In a pluralistic world, a religion will be judged on how it treats its non-adherents.” I don’t know a finer example in the crazy world that is music/film/entertainment than U2.

So…do you have a favorite U2 song? My favorite is “Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”…listed below.

I have climbed highest mountain
I have run through the fields
Only to be with you
Only to be with you

I have run
I have crawled
I have scaled these city walls
These city walls
Only to be with you

But I still haven't found what I'm looking for
But I still haven't found what I'm looking for

I have kissed honey lips
Felt the healing in her fingertips
It burned like fire
This burning desire

I have spoke with the tongue of angels
I have held the hand of a devil
It was warm in the night
I was cold as a stone

But I still haven't found what I'm looking for
But I still haven't found what I'm looking for

I believe in the kingdom come
Then all the colors will bleed into one
Bleed into one
Well yes I'm still running

You broke the bonds and you
Loosed the chains
Carried the cross
Of my shame
Of my shame
You know I believed it

But I still haven't found what I'm looking for
But I still haven't found what I'm looking for
But I still haven't found what I'm looking for
But I still haven't found what I'm looking for

12 February 2007

Martin Matters

I am intrigued by white people’s response to the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Full disclosure: I believe he is the single most important leader in American history…yes, even among such influential people as Abraham Lincoln, Rosa Parks, FDR, Clara Barton, Einstein, et al.

The responses to Dr. King’s influence range from cultural icon to charismatic preacher; social revolutionary to pawn of his time.

In this month in which many are recognizing the contributions of African-Americans, I think it is appropriate to honor and discuss Dr. King.

To be succinct, here are the reasons Martin matters.

1. He called to America to be who she said she was; a place where “all men were created equal with unalienable rights”. What does “all men mean”? The US has spent several decades trying to decipher that dynamite-packed phrase.

2. He showed the Church and America that change can happen through creative non-violence. Though I am not convinced that one has to be committed to non-violence in order to be a Christian, I believe wholeheartedly, that we ignore the teachings of those who practice and espouse non-violence to our own peril. See the work of Lee Camp, John Howard Yoder, Walter Wink and Chuck Campbell for the best ruminations on non-violence in the modern word.

3. He reminded the Church that the Way of Christ must always be, in some respect, counter-cultural. If some major aspects of the Christian faith do not critique the cultural norms (whether it is Jamaica, Sudan, Russian, or Malaysia)—is it really the Gospel of Christ?

4. He possessed the courage to speak truth to the powers that be regardless of the outcome or consequence. As happened with Jesus and Paul, the religious people were ready to marginalize and kill Martin for his commitment to justice.

5. He reminded Christians of Jesus and Paul’s radical commitment to living out the “love for God, love for neighbor” message of Judaism and Christianity.

There is a great deal of commercial sentimentality regarding the life and teachings of Dr. King within and outside the black community. People tend to use Dr. King for whatever purpose they are aiming to achieve. I’m interested in none of the former. His time and life was messy full of irony and contradiction, just as our lives are today.

The best treatment of Dr. King and the era in which he worked is found in the writing of Pulitzer Prize winner Taylor Branch: Parting the Waters; Pillar of Fire; At Canaan’s Edge. I encourage you to sample this ground-breaking work.

My favorite King line these days: “A religion that cares about the souls of men but not men’s bodies might be a religion, but it is not the Christian religion.”

I love the American story. There are parts of it that I believe we have not dealt with (e.g. the mistreatment of Native Americans, Slavery, and Women) but I also believe it is one of the great experiments in the history of civilization. It is a story with so much hope and grace.

By honoring one who called America to be “who she claimed she already was”, we honor those secessionist, radicals who once signed those treasonous documents known as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States.

Update: My friend Sara Barton pointed this out to me regarding Dr. King and his being recognized as a martyr for the Christian faith.

03 February 2007

Drunk on Jesus

I spent a good part of my adolescent years in Wichita, KS. Actually, I lived in a suburb (if Wichita can have a suburban section) of Wichita: Hayesville. I was/am the proverbial preacher’s kid. My father, whom some of you know, worked for Children’s Hospital before receiving the call to forsake career and comfort for the work of full-time ministry. My earliest memories of being alive are found in two places: my family (of which I’m a twin, one sister, and two incredible parents) and my church.

There are many things that shaped my early on. Some sociologists tell us that we shape our primary convictions or core convictions by the time we are twelve years old. We spend the rest of our lives building upon or deconstructing those core convictions—for good and for bad. “Children are the world’s best recorders, but the worst interpreters.”

My dad drove a school bus when we were younger. Not because he wanted to necessarily but because he was a great dad: the church we served barely paid him enough money to pay the mortgage and buy groceries, let alone support a family of five. Every Friday, dad picked up Jason and I on the big yellow bus (we were the coolest kids on Maywood St.—who else got to go for joy rides after hours?).

My dad never complained. I recall one time being confused by my mother’s emotional outburst upon opening the mailbox. It seems that several of the church members knew our financial straits (and the squirrelly payment tactics of the church treasurer) and decided to leave our family a sizable sum of money. Both my mother and my father were constantly hopeful, full of energy and dedication to the church and to our family. Lights in a dark world; wisdom in the midst of foolishness; speaking psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.

My (twin) brother and I had two best friends growing up: Brian and Chris Lemons. Both were standout soccer players at an early age. Both would go on to become all-state performers. Brian was the one everyone looked up to: highly intelligent, athletic, spiritual, and full of life. He was the one we all wanted to be.

The Graves family moved back to Michigan after an awful church split and Brian’s family remained in Wichita. We stayed in touch sporadically over our teen years. Brian was selected, during his senior year of high school, to play on the United States National Soccer Team as its starting goalkeeper. Brian had opportunities to play at several universities upon graduation. He chose to play for a small college in Nebraska that some of you are familiar with—York College. At York, Brian was a BMOC—Big Man on Campus. He was passionate about his faith in Christ, and determined to break down the artificial walls constructed between various ethnic groups. He detested legalism in the church. He despised racism. He was the epitome of a young follower of Jesus trying to make a difference, under the guidance of God’s spirit, in the lives of those who surrounded him.

Brian died in a fatal car crash ten years ago this past month. I was at a friends house (still in high school) when the phone rang. It was my mother, weeping profusely, “Josh, Brian’s dead.” My body went numb and soul froze. I don’t remember much after that. Brian Allen Lemons. Born in 1977, dead at the age of 20. So much promise, and potential snuffed away by the cruel jaws of death. He would never marry, accomplish all goals, or even bring children into this world. If you don’t question God over these sorts of incongruities in life, you might want to rethink the God you worship.

Thousands showed at Brian’s funeral in Wichita up wearing t-shirts that bore the slogan, “the power of one”—a testimony to Brian’s influence: light in a dark world; wisdom in the midst of foolishness; speaking psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.

All of these memories came flooding back to me because of the death of Adam Langford and Moses Kimezi : two beloved leaders in the work this church is so closely tied to in Jinja, Uganda.

I was with one of John and Sara Barton’s close friends and former in Uganda this past weekend as I taught at a conference in California. This friend recalled similar stories of Adam Langford. The parallels of Brian and Adam were astounding. Here’s one of the ironies of this story for my family: Adam Langford’s teammate at Oklahoma Christian on the soccer team was Chris Lemons the brother of Brian Lemons. Apparently Chris and Adam were extremely close during college. Chris lost his brother ten years ago, now loses a dear friend almost ten years to the day.

A few stories emerged out of the last few weeks that show you what kind of zest and vigor Adam embodied. Having never met him personally, many of us are reliant upon these stories to shape his character and demeanor.

Apparently Adam lived most of his life under the shadow of his older brother Ben Langford who’s on the current Jinja team. According to many, Ben was an amazing high school athlete. In the ninth grade, Adam told the soccer coach he’d like to play for him.

“What’s your name son?”
“Adam Langford.”
“Langford…Langford…say, are you Ben’s brother?”
“No, Ben is my brother.”

During Adam’s junior year, he was a part of school history winning a state championship in Oklahoma. The final game came down to a shoot out. The score in this overtime session was tied: 4-4. The younger brother was faced with the ultimate opportunity: miss the kick and the match goes into a second overtime. Score and he’s just marched his team to a state championship! What’s happens next is the stuff legends are made of.

Adam felt the tension—it could’ve been cut with a knife. He walks over to the student section, which is dead silent, staring at them. In a burst of emotion from somewhere deep inside, Adam lifts his hands in the air as a conductor preparing a symphony. Adam, in the tradition of Babe Ruth and his famous “point” in the World Series of , declared victory before he’d even scored the goal!

As this story is being relayed to me, I’m thinking, “Either way this guy’s going down in history. He’ll either be the hero who called his own shot or the goat who choked after a cocky display of male testosterone.”

Adam’s story (or Moses, or Brian, or my dad for that matter) is not merely a story about interesting people—they’re stories of people who’ve been filled by God’s spirit to overflow capacity. “Adam Langford and Moses Kimezi died January 16 as they worked to take good news to the poor and proclaim the joy of Christ. Both Moses and Adam were like that: the spirit of Christ oozed from their pores and their quick laughing smiles…Adam Langford was the kind of person that people were drawn to, whether children watching him balance a soccer ball on his foot, coffee growers he was helping the day he died, Source Cafe employees he worked alongside. Adam was in Uganda to proclaim good news to the poor, and he died in a tragic way but the love and joyful way he lived his life will make an indelible impression on Ugandans for decades to come.”

Lights in a dark world; wisdom in the midst of foolishness; speaking psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.

Coming Alive

A writer whose name I’ve long forgotten wrote this concerning Christian vocation, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Instead, ask what makes you come alive, because what the world needs is people who’ve come alive.”

All of this has been heavy on my heart and stabbing at my soul. And then, I open up Paul’s letter to the Ephesians and read these words:

For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light— 9 for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. 10 Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; 13 but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, 14 for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, "Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you." 15 Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, 16 making the most of the time, because the days are evil. 17 So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, 19 as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, 20 giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The NIV really messes up the interpretation of this text in verses 19ff. Instead of reading, “19Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, 20always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” the NRSV rightly translated this text “19 as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, 20 giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The NIV makes this sound like a command from Paul. Oh contrare mon frere. This is not a command, this is a description of what the spirit-filled life looks like. It’s not "do this, do this, do this." It’s “don’t be drunk on wine, be drunk on Jesus. And when you are drunk on Jesus you will find yourself living like this: singing praises and worship to God add the oddest times, in the strangest of circumstances.

In the Church of Christ tradition, this passage has been used to defend acapella music. We ignore the worship context of I. Co 11-14 when Paul talks about women who are leading, prophesying, etc. in the church. And in this passage, we create a context (we say that this is talking about corporate worship) that isn’t even there! How does that work exactly!

Examined or Enacted?

I love to study, read, reflect and study some more. I loved learning the Greek language in seminary. I enjoyed studying the Arian controversy in the early church and the debates among the Patristic Fathers (the what and the who?). I become fixated in the details of the narrative when I study the Civil Rights Movement, or the Bay of Pigs Invasion. I love to learn and drink deeply from good books.

But here’s what I’m slowly learning, the older I get. The Bible isn’t so much interested in being examined as it is interested in being enacted. The students I teach and serve at Rochester College are teaching me this. Most of them don’t know the first thing about the New Testament when they come to my class. They are brilliant by the end of the semester, but that’s because they have a great teacher!

These students can’t explain the synoptic problem, the messianic secret of Mark, or the authorship debates regarding the Gospel of John. They don’t know the Council of Nicea from the latest hot video on MTV. But many of them get it. They understand that Scripture wants to be lived out more than it wants to be litigated by reason and analysis. They understand that God desires for his children to perform the text, not live in years and years of pondering.

Some of our churches "got too many people who know too much Bible but don’t intend to do a thing with the knowledge they possess."

Paul reminds us this morning that we are to be, all metaphors aside, drunk on Jesus.

We choose to be intoxicated with the love and power of Jesus. We do not desire to be inebriated on individualism; sloshed on selfishness; or wasted on worldly ways—rather we choose to be consumed by the power and presence of God in our lives. We choose to follow in the tradition of St. Paul, Brian Lemons, Adam Langford and others—drunk on Jesus for life.