Can We Get More Resurrection?

Yesterday we celebrated Easter, the day the resurrected Jesus broke forth from the tomb and broke the power of sin and death. If the Lenten season was about walking with Jesus the road to Calvary, the Christian life is about coming out the other end. We proclaim with the Apostle Paul, “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Cor 15:54-55).  And yet . . .

And yet death still stings.  We feel it as we age, time decays and slows our pace. We feel it in the face of a troubling diagnosis or when we have to have our cat put down on Good-Friday morning. We feel its sting when we grieve the loss of a family member or close friend. Where O death is your sting? You don’t have to tell us. We feel it.

And yet death still looks pretty victorious. It still claims us all. We don’t need to look beyond last week’s news cycle to see the threat of death that looms over our heads. The Cleveland broadcast killer, Palm Sunday Massacres, Bombs dropped, another youth gunned down by police in Fresno, executions lined up for this week in Arkansas, and 45’s threat and show of strength against North Korea. Where O death, is your victory? Ubiquitous and persistent, we see death everywhere.

I know everything changed Easter morning. Death died and when love stronger than death broke its hold on our souls. We have hope because of Jesus’ resurrection and we await our own. Still, can we get a little more resurrection? We could really use it.

Happy Easter!

Seven Stanzas at Easter

Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that–pierced–died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mâché,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.

-John Updike

The Resurrection in Your Life: a book review.

When Jesus hung on the cross and died for our sins, that was not the end of the story. Jesus rose from the  dead and that changed everything. Author Mike McKinley presents the case that because Jesus’ resurecction was a historical event, The Resurrection in Your Life walks through the Easter events to Pentecost in Luke-Acts. In ten short chapters, McKinley walks through ten passages which explore the meaning of Christ’s resurrection and ascension and the gift of the Spirit.

Mckinely is the pastor of Sterling Park Baptist Church in Virgina. This book grew out of a sermon series he did (143). Each chapter includes a passage from Luke or Acts, a written sermon on the passage, reflection questions and hymn lyrics which explore the theme. McKinley’s theology is traditional Baptist and Reformed leaning.

McKinley is a good communicator and I think I would enjoy listening to these as sermons. He makes judicious conclusions based on his text and relates his theme(s) to life. However, I had hoped that he would be more theological reflective on the meaning of the resurrection and its impact on our life, something similar to Eugene Peterson’s Living the Resurrection or Practicing the Resurrection. Instead these are pithy sermons based on resurrection (and ascension and Pentecost) accounts. Fine as far as they go, but  I wished for something a little more focused and a little deeper. I love that McKinley sees the integral place that the resurrection has for our salvation, I just wish he unfolded it a little more.

This is a three star book for me, but I don’t have any real criticism. I think anyone who reads this book will find points where you are challenged. I underlined several sentences in my copy. I appreciate how passionate McKinley is about how we don’t have a dead Jesus but a risen Savior. ★ ★ ★

Notice of material connection, I received this book from Cross Focused Reviews and the Good Book Company in exchange for my honest review.

Jazz, Jesus & Justice: a book review

The title of Peter Goodwin Heltzel’s book, Resurrection City, riffs off  of two images. The first is historical. In months following MLK’s assassination in 1968, activists from his Poor People’s campaign built a tent city in Washington, D.C. called ‘Resurrection City.’  Poor people and activists partnered in their fight for a livable wage, carrying on King’s legacy. The second image is apocalyptic. It references the city of God described to us in Revelation–a city of shalom. The historical and the eschatological are brought into dialogue under the rubric of improvisation. Heltzel invites us to inhabit the Judeo-Christian story, be shaped by its ethical vision and to play out its themes in context the way jazz musicians take an ‘old standard’ and create something new and fresh (by probing the possibilities already suggested in the original piece).

Jazz, like the blues, is a musical genre born out of the African American experience. The blues (and spirituals) named the reality of suffering and injustice that African Americans faced. Jazz envisioned new possibilities and declared that another world was possible–a ‘call-and-response of the oppressed’ (165).  This musical metaphor helps Heltzel articulate how as Christians concerned with justice ought to live. Heltzel writes:

I believe Christian thinking and social witness can be understood as analogous to jazz music.  Like jazz, Christian thinking is a dramatic and musical performance.  Like jazz, Christian thinking and acting are improvisational, creative,  and hopefully forward-looking.  Like jazz, they exemplify a dynamic of restraint and possibility.  Constrained by the norm of God’s Word, Christians seek to engage their world in light of the Word. In their work and witness, Christians use the materials at hand–principally the language and example of the prophets and Jesus in the context of their life–to creatively riff for justice, love, shalom, in the present and thereby open up a new future. That future that we can experience here and now is the one I describe as Resurrection city. (21)

Heltzel is a professor  of theology, an ordained minister, an author and an activist. Resurrection City blends biblical theological reflection with a concern for justice, a concern for racial, economic and environmental justice, and a belief in the priority of the poor and marginalized. Heltzel also gives his treatment an interdisciplinary flare blending history with personal experience, theology with art and action with music.

The seven chapters of Resurrection City unfold Heltzel’s Prophetic Christian vision. Chapter one explores the ‘resurrection city’ and jazz theology. Chapter two argues that the musical themes that the church picks up as it ‘riffs for justice’ are found in the Hebrew Bible, especially the prophets. The theme of salvation, shalom, and Jubilee give shape to the content of  our songs, although our context will shape our improvisation of the theme. Much like John Coltrane playing ‘Favorite Things,’ intimate knowledge of the original song guides our improving. We see this with Jesus (chapter three) who out works the same themes in his life and mission.

Chapter four through six give us examples of how to play our song in a strange land. Chapter four puts Thomas Jefferson in juxtaposition with Sojourner Truth and shows how notions of ‘freedom’ differ in the hands of the privileged versus in the hands of the oppressed. Whereas Jefferson held that all humans were entitled to freedom and the pursuit of happiness, he lacked the courage to follow his ideals and owned slaves. Truth spoke of a God who knew the struggles of the African American experience.

Chapter five argues for a mystical-prophetic theology through the works of Howard Thurman and Martin Luther King, Jr.  Both men were courageous in their stance for justice and work for the ‘beloved city.’ Thurman had painted a picture of Jesus as a member of an oppressed people group in Imperial Rome (see his Jesus & the Disinherited). King ran with Thurman’s vision and pressed people into activism, working for justice. Heltzel argues that if a prophetic stance toward injustice is to be sustained, than there also has to be a mystical awareness of God’s healing presence in community. The mystical and prophetic are both essential elements in our call to do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God.

Chapter six describes the church as the theater of the oppressed and gives several examples of how the church (and the marginalized) have taken courageous, creative and provocative stands against injustice. Chapter seven provides a spiritual/activist version of the linear notes for John Coltrane’s album, A Love Supreme. After describing Coltrane’s album and the sensibilities that inform it, Heltzel riffs off Coltrane’s themes to help us imagine a more consistent and prophetic Christian witness.

I loved the rich tapestry of Hetzel’s prose. I am a great admirer of MLK and Howard Thurman and loved the way Heltzel synthesized their work. I also think that jazz improvisation provides an apt analogy for Christian social witness. This releases freedom and creativity in our work for justice but it is through immersing ourselves in the music (i.e. the biblical vision of justice and shalom) that we are given the capacity to act. I also appreciate that Heltzel is careful to state that ‘jazz music’ is born from oppression. By extension, theology and activism needs to be done from the margins rather than the center. Jazz is contextualized theology (not academic western theology). He focuses on the American experience (not the wider post colonial experience), but the metaphor of jazz seems to delinate that this book is mostly about the American experience.

I recommend this book for anyone interested in jazz, Jesus and justice. The added benefit of this book is that it will make you pull out your Coltrane CDs or put together a classic jazz playlist. The music permeates the book and notes like these should be heard and not just seen. I give this book four stars: ★★★★.

Notice of material connection, I received this book from the publisher or author via Speakeasy in exchange for my honest review.

Packer and Paul’s Weak Offering: a book review

J.I. Packer knows something about weakness. As a child he suffered a near fatal accident when hit by a truck. He had to wear a steel plate over a hole in his head for a year (incidentally,  the injury kept him out of World War II and sent him off to Oxford. How’s that for providence!).  Now that he is ‘well advanced in years’  he has to deal with aging, mortality, and convalescing from a hip replacement surgery.  The apostle Paul  also knew something about weakness.  He suffered his share of persecution and hardship.  In 2 Corinthians, Paul sets out to defend his apostleship from the Corinthian church who dismissed him for his weakness. Paul points the Corinthians to the fact that “weakness is the way” for those who seek to live out the Christian life.

In “Weakness is the Way: Life With Christ Our Strength,” Packer reflects on Paul’s words about weakness and what they have to say to us. In four brief chapters these meditations describe what weakness is, the Christian calling, the Christian understanding of giving, and  the Christian hope in the resurrection.  The first meditation speaks about 2 Corinthians more generally, whereas the other three chapters interact directly with particular passages from the letter.

Packer has a rare gift of packaging deep theological insights accessibly.  As he broods over this peculiar Corinthian correspondence, he challenges us to learn from Paul to not rest on our own strength, but to confidently lean on Christ to be our strength and provision.  He challenges us to trust God in and through our giving rather than trusting our own wealth and financial security. Finally Packer paints a compelling vision of the Christian hope in the resurrection which looks ahead to the good things God has in store in Christ for us.

Paul wrote, “When I am weak I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10).  Our spiritual state is that we are all weak and inadequate. Sin in our lives has crippled us. What Packer and Paul have to teach us is that our true strength lies not in our own resources and whatever energy we can muster.  Jesus Christ is our strength.  This of course, is not news to anyone who has walked with Christ: weakness has always been the way. But this is a message  we need to hear often.  I know I do.


I give this book five stars–★★★★★.

Thank you to Crossway Books for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Prayer for Easter Week 5

Five Weeks since shouting

we declared Your rising:


He is Risen, He is Risen indeed!


We live in light of Your rising

and live resurrection-lives

and yet . . .


And yet death  clings to us.

We go through  our daily routines

and at night can’t recall where we saw

the Living One in our thoughts, words and actions.


We are anxious when pain,

sickness and disease

hurt the ones we love.


We are numb when we

consider wars, rumors of wars.

We confess these un-lively responses

and cry out:


Lord Have Mercy!



You are not the God of the Un-dead;

you are the God of the living!

Guide our steps as we seek to live

the abundant life You give  us.

Teach us to risk and  to respond

to the needs of those around us

and your Spirit’s guidance.


Help us to trust You.

Resurrected One, resurrect us!


Prayer for Easter 2013

We had 40 days to

prepare our hearts–

we know the story and know

the moment is coming.


But Your first disciples

were ill-prepared,

caught off-guard.

by the wonder

of  Your resurrection.


There was no spectacle

that Sunday morning.

You chose those

on the margins

to show yourself to:

women and Galilean

fishermen.  The ‘experts’

were confounded.  The crowds

did not see.


And we who prepare–

the ones that think we know–

miss the surprise

and the wonder

of an empty tomb,

death defeated

our King triumphant.


Capture our hearts

with wonder!

Fill us with your

Resurrection joy!

Death  where is your victory?

Where, O death, is your sting?

Jesus our King was dead, now alive!

And we with Him!