Z is for Zarathustra (an alphabet for penitents)

When Zarathustra was alone, however, he said to his heart: “Could it be possible! This old saint in the forest hath not yet heard of it, that GOD IS DEAD!” (Thus Spake Zarathustra, 3)
“DEAD ARE ALL THE GODS: NOW DO WE DESIRE THE SUPERMAN TO LIVE.”—Let this be our final will at the great noontide!— Thus spake Zarathustra.
Z. We’ve reached the end.  A journey that began with ash, a reminder of our mortality, ends in the death of God. When Jesus had died, about the middle of the afternoon, they took his limp body off the cross and laid his body in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea (Matthew 27:57–61).
The gospel writers are silent about the events of Holy Saturday and the emotional state of the disciples. Certainly, they were raw with grief and carried shame for deserting and denying their Master—the man they had invested three years of their life following. They likely didn’t visit the Temple on that Sabbath. It is difficult enough to pray and share space with other worshippers while in the midst of grief (who wants to sing happy-clappy songs of God’s deliverance when you are hurting?). It is all the harder when we consider that they believed Jesus would be God’s deliverer and they mulled over his strange sayings about how he embodied the Father (John 14:9-10). Now Jesus was dead.  My guess is that they holed up in the same room we find them on Sunday morning.
Zarathustra was the ancient, Iranian founder of Zoroastrianism. A man by the same name is Fredrick Nietzche’s mouthpiece in Thus Spake Zarathustra. 19th-century philosophers, like 19th-century novelists, could seldom write anything without preaching at their readers.  Zarathustra is Nietzche’s  preacher and the populizer of the phrase, “God is dead” (along with the madman in Nietzche’s The Gay Science). He preaches a new way of being in the world, freed from the confines of religious belief in a god. Kathleen Higgins suggests that:
“Nietzche’s basic goal in Zarathustra is to explore the question of the meaning of individual life. . . .The perspective that renders life meaningful is the tragic perspective, Nietzche contends. The tragic perspective does not denigrate individual life by urging the individual to associate meaning with notions of survival or perfect contentment. Instead it finds individual life to be meaningful in the way that art is meaningful—meaning emerges from the artist’s arrangement of limited material (“Reading Zarathustra” in Reading Nietzche, OUP, 1988, p146).
Nietzche has his fans, especially among athiests, philosophers and the children of Christian fundamentalists in teenage rebellion. Christian apologists love to quote Nietzche and use him as a foil for theism. But if truth is contextual, then today of all days we say with Nietzche and Zarathustra, “Gott ist tot.” God is dead.
Can we inhabit this space? The disciples are hiding out, wrecked with grief. Their religious illusions, beliefs about God, and hopes for a Messiah were dashed on the previous day. We may not, with Zarathustra, do away with God and put our faith in our own human potential. But the prophet and the madman understood the death of God has far reaching consequences. How now shall we live? 

Power Through Weakness (or Community, Rest & Mission): a book review

The Christian life is the empowered life.  In Christ we are set free to live life and face the challenges that come our way. But sometimes we feel powerless in the face of life’s obstacles. Kevin Harney, author of Reckless Faith and the Organic Outreach books has written a month-long daily devotional exploring how God’s presence empowers believers. Each week of Empowered By His Presence explores a different God-given source of strength which reveal God’s empowering presence. These include:

  • Suffering, loss & pain.
  • Community
  • Sabbath and rest
  • Mission

The daily devotional entires profiles a character from the Bible which explores their experience of God. Each week has a reading on Paul and Jesus, but the rest of the entries take you across the Old and New Testaments. At the end of each section in the book are a daily reading plan (which parallels the daily devotionals, suggestions for prayer, personal reflection questions and action steps. There is a discussion guide at the back of the book, designed to accompany a small-group DVD also available from Baker Books.

I really liked this book for a several reasons. First, this is a book about God’s empowering presence, but it isn’t esoteric or strange. Harney starts with the experience of grief and loss in Job, the persecution of Paul, Hannah’s sorrow, Joseph’s betrayal at the hands of his brothers, Peter leaving his nets and Jesus’ cry of dereliction.  Each of these people were met by God, but they came to experience his power through loss, grief and weakness. This isn’t a book about the ‘power of God’ that never enters into human suffering. Rather Harney posits that we meet God there!

The other sections are similarly thoughtful. Community is a Christian buzzword, but Harney draws attention to the ways we mediate Christ to one another. The chapter on the four friends and the paralytic is pure gold (chapter seven). He has good stuff to say about Sabbath and Mission as well.

Second, I think the format is perfect for a small group. I am suggesting it for a small group study at my church and will  likely be ordering the DVD.

Third, I appreciate the breadth of Biblical people profiled. Harney isn’t stuck in the New Testament or Old but gives us a nice cross-section of the communion of saints.

Finally, I loved how solid this is. Harney has keen pastoral insights and is judicious in his reading of the Bible. I don’t remember any specific passages where I felt like he fudged it

I give this book four stars and recommend it especially for use in small groups. It may also be read profitably as a small group resource. ★★★★☆

Redeeming the Pain: a book review

Ricky Texada was living the dream. Called by God to the ministry, he was informed that he and his wife would both soon be ordained as pastors. Unfortunately his wife Debra was stolen from him by a tragic car crash. He felt the pain and searing loss and wondered why God did not spare his wife despite the number of people praying for them. Later he felt God reveal to him, that Debra had a choice and she chose to be with Jesus rather than tarry any longer.

Less than a year after the loss of his wife’s life, Texada felt led to another woman, Cyd. He had first met her in college. When his friend Keith met her at a concert, he told Texada and that he told Cyd that Ricky would talk to her.  After a couple months’ delay, Texada calls and takes a few halting steps towards dating Cyd. It becomes increasingly clear, that God is leading Ricky and Cyd together.

My Breaking Point, God’s Turing Point tells the story of Texada’s courtship and marriage to Cyd, after his heartrending loss of Debra. He talks about the ways God led them together. His story is a testimony of how God gives us beauty for ashes, and restores us from our brokenness.  While I do not belong to the same theological camp as Texada, I do respect his journey and the ways that our God has cared for him and brought him through a season of pain.

This book is designed to help people through their own journey of pain and seasons of loss. Texada hopes to impart hope to his readers. This makes his story read a little more like a ‘life lesson’ than a biography. At times I found his writing too didactic and heavy handed. The story has power on its own without always needing to draw a ‘life lesson’ out. I wished for a less packaged telling. But the sorrow and joy is all here.

This would be a good book for someone facing similar losses. I give this book three stars.

Thank you to Bethany House for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Mother’s Day Litany

(At our house, Mother’s Day is a happy time, a time to celebrate the mothers who raised us and a chance for my kids and I to pay homage to the wonderful wife and mother that Sarah is. Yet for many, Mother’s Day is a time of pain as they struggle through grief, infertility, the loss of a child. I offer this litany as a prayer for those who are hurting this day).

In peace let us pray to the Lord.
                                        Lord have mercy
For all the women of God’s church across the face of the earth, who have loved and nurtured others into the faith.
                                         Lord have mercy
For those who are single mothers and struggle to provide for their family.
                                        Lord have mercy
For the poor and widowed whose child has been taken from them because they couldn’t care for them.
                                       Lord have mercy
For those held captive by abuse who fear for their children and their life.
                                        Lord have mercy

For those who are estranged from their chlidren.
Lord have mercy

For those have suffered the loss of a child either through miscarriage, abortion or the premature death of a child.
                                       Lord have mercy
For those who have lost their own mothers and feel the dull ache of their loss.
                                      Lord have mercy

For those who have never, and may never, have the opportunity to have a child.
Lord have mercy

For strength in joy and hope for all women and confidence in God’s care for them.
                                     Lord have mercy
For . . .(names of women you feel led to pray for)
                                    Lord have mercy
For all those who call on you from their hearts. Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy

Amen.