Y is for Yes (an alphabet for penitents)

Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”” (Matthew 26:39, NIV)

No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”” (John 10:18, NRSV)

Yes was Jesus’s answer to God in submitting to the cross. Yes is God’s answer to us through the cross.

It was late in the evening as Jesus knelt in the garden, full of dread at what awaited him— the desertion of the disciples, night time trials, beatings, flogging, mockery, and derision from law enforcement, the rejection of his people, and death on a Roman cross. Luke’s gospel tells us that he the sweat on his brow as prayed was like drops of blood (Luke 22:44). He was in anguish, anxious about the horrors he’d soon face. He prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.” He knew how hard it would be and part of him didn’t want to do it.  But then he adding his yes to God, “Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

When he refused to offer a spirited defense of the trumped up charges against him, he was willfully accepted his fate. Nobody took his life from him. He laid his life down of his own accord.

✝✟✝

Why the cross? Why did our salvation take this shape? If you spend time in Christian circles, you have probably heard debates about the nature of Christ’s atonement—the way the cross saved us from our sin. The dominant theory for Evangelicals since the Reformation is a penal understanding: God is just and therefore must punish sin, we are sinful deserving of death, Jesus—both God’s Son, and sinless human—took our punishment for us on the cross. This is just one understanding of the work of Christ, but there are others: Christus Victor and Ransom models(Jesus’ victory over the powers), Moral Influence and subjective models(Jesus dies on a cross to make vivid the love of God for us), the Satisfaction model (like penal substitution, but more focused on God’s honor),  Sacrifice, mimetic atonement (Jesus breaking the cycle of  mimetic human violence), and variations on each of the above.

I don’t have a definitive answer for why the cross. I know that there are caricatures of God we need to avoid in whatever atonement theory we ascribe to or construct (i.e. ones that make the crucifixion seem like divine child abuse, and those that deny the unity of God in His plan for salvation) and I would say the cross is some combination of all the above. In Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself (2 Cor 5:19). The Triune God was acting to welcome humanity back into their (His) embrace.  In the wisdom of God, this was the plan, God’s  yes.

✝✟✝

My seven-year-old daughter asked recently, “Why do we call it Good Friday when it is the day Jesus died?” Anyone who has grown up in the church has asked that same question. Today could have just as easily been called Bad Friday, the day we killed God. We call today good because of what the cross accomplished, the way Jesus’s death opened for us. There he hung—his arms stretched out while his body slumped forward, a”Y”— God’s yes for us.

 

The Cross and the KEEP OUT SIGN: a ★★★★★ kids’ book review

I am a father of four kids eight and under. So I read to them a lot. As far as religious kids’ books, I like books that tell the old, old story well in a way that is both  age appropriate and compelling. The Garden, the Curtain, and the Cross is a great book. It gives kids age five to eight (my test group) a big picture sense of why Jesus died and rose again. Author Carl Laberton tells a story which is accessible for my kids and true to scripture. His story is beautifully illustrated by Catalina Echeverri’s stunning illustrations. On the first day I got this book, I already read it several times with my kids. It opened up a great conversation with my eight year old about what the Bible tells about sin and we loved talking about what was happening in the pictures.

t5garden_medium3d-g7wvjnz5osg52qzrnorvrq67frvh6m4zHere is a brief synopsis of the book [spoiler alert]: It begins in the garden where there was nothing bad, ever and there was no one sad. . . ever. And best of all God was there. Unfortunately the people did a terrible thing and decided they wanted a world without God in charge. Because of their sin, God sent them out of the garden and put warrior angels in front of it like a big KEEP OUT sign. People still kept sinning because they didn’t want God in charge.  God wanted to remind people how wonderful it was to live with him, so he had his people build a temple. In the center of the temple was the wonderful place where God was. But around that wonderful place was a curtain with pictures of warrior angels—God’s big keep out sign telling them that because of their sin, they couldn’t come in. After hundreds of years God sent his son as a person (Jesus) to open the way to God’s wonderful place. The people put Jesus on a cross. Jesus took all our sin—the bad things we do and the sad things they cause—and the curtain in the temple tore in two signalling God’s wonderful place was open again. Jesus rose three days later and welcomed all who trust in him back to God’s wonderful place.

I like this book a lot and my kids all liked it. It is a perfect book to explore the meaning of Easter with kids. Another plus for the book is that Jesus isn’t depecited as another blond haired messiah. He has dark hair and some color. The final pages depict the post-resurrection Jesus with bright face with a glowing white hair and beard nd a golden sash (see Revelation 1:13-16).I give this book high points for biblical and theological accuracy but it was the art work that initially grabbed me.  Below, illustrator Catalina Echeverri reads the story alongside her illustrations. This will give you something of a taste of what to expect. I give this book five stars. ★★★★★

Note: I received this book from the Good Book Company via Cross Focused Reviews in exchange for my honest review.

 

 

The Third Station

Jesus Falls the First Time (From the Stations of the Cross in Lodwar Cathederal, Kenya).

The weight of the wood

and the strain caused your knees

to buckle.

You stumbled in your footsteps

and fell.

Your whole body was exhausted and yet

you got up and continued to the place of the Skull.

This was a moment of weakness

when your body failed You.

But You did not stop.

We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you.
Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

The Grape Jelly of Wrath (an examination of the sin of Anger)

Jar of WrathAmong other things that I have at my house, I have a two-year-old living under my roof. She is precious to me but she is at a willful stage and therefore angry a lot. She’ll scream if you carry her because she wants to walk. If you let her walk she screams because you won’t let her walk where she wants to walk. If you put food in front of her, she’ll scream because she doesn’t want it. If you eat the food from her plate that she doesn’t want, you will feel the full brunt of her wrath. When she gets ready for bed, she is angry if she doesn’t get to wear her first choice of P.J.s. She is angry if you make her wear a diaper instead of underwear. Parents of two-year-olds know, at certain stages, your life is organized around angry outbursts.

Most of the time, my wife and I can take these outbursts in stride because lets face it, a strong-willed two-year old demanding her way about absolutely everything is terribly funny. Quite adorable actually. It is hard not to laugh at a two-year old who picks up her dinner plate full of food and carries it to the kitchen and asks for cheese and crackers instead (this doesn’t work, if you are wondering). Our older daughter was just as bad at this age, so we know it’s just a developmental life-stage we have to get through before peace again reigns in our house (of course then number 3 is going Rage Against the Machine).

What isn’t particularly adorable is when grown men and women act as though they have the emotional intelligence of my two-year-old. They don’t act rationally but fly off the handle when the littlest thing raises their ire: waiting in line at the supermarket behind the coupon queen, when a spouse asks something they were going to do anyway, when they are forced to go around that idiot who is only going 5 miles above the speed limit in the left lane. When we see people lash out at the world because it has failed to accommodate their every whim, we don’t find it funny, but sad. How could anyone be so self-centered and demanding? It’s particularly embarrassing when the angry two-year-old of an adult is me.

Lets face it, all of us let our anger run wild and demand our way. When we are tired and stressed this can happen a lot (which is par for the course at our house). But then there are other times where our anger seems wholly justified and we are sure we are in the right. Jesus himself chased out the money lenders from the temple and his anger burned against the religious leaders’ hypocrisy for how they unnecessarily burdened the people. Martin Luther got the whole Protestant ball rolling because he was pretty peeved. And he had good reason, the Roman See was thoroughly corrupt and the selling of indulgences preyed on the poor. Luther also praised the focusing energy that anger brought to his life and ministry:

I have no better remedy than anger. If I want to write, pray, preach well, then I must be angry. Then my entire blood supply refreshes itself, my mind is made keen, and all temptations depart.(What Luther Says: An Anthology, Vol. 1, 74, 27).

Today we similarly see many things that make us angry. African warlords who rape women and kidnap children, systemic racism which still locks minorities in poverty, colonial paternalism which acts with good intentions but demeans the nations and peoples we perpetually victimize, the abuse of women and their objectification in pornography, magazines and super bowl ads. If these things do not make you angry then either you haven’t really looked at these issues or you have no heart Tin-Man.

So if Anger is the right response to these things, why is it a deadly sin? Like the other vices, Anger is a habit of mind which can poison us from the inside out. Sometimes anger is the appropriate response but it is sinful when it is excessive or misdirected. There are things that should make us angry and things that should not. If we like my two-year-old, are Angry every time we don’t get our own way then our Anger is subservient to our own selfishness. If our Anger over real injustice (large or small) causes bitterness and hatred to take root in our heart then our souls are in mortal danger. Anger at injustice, easily may give way to bitterness at particular people for perpetuating it. When injustice has a face it is hard not to hate and we can easily cross over to the dark side.

Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung points us to the example of Martin Luther King, Jr. which illuminates a different way:

Martin Luther King Jr., for example was undoubtedly passionate in his pursuit of racial justice, but he was not a person dominated by anger or one who hated his racial oppressors. His passion for injustice was deeply rooted in his desire that all people learn to love one another and see them as God sees them, and his manner of pursuing justice showed that he knew that the matter was not solely in his hands. The righteous angry person can still pray, “Not my will, but yours be done.” Moreover King engaged in his project among a community of believers. He did not attempt to discern God’s will all by himself or mete out God’s judgement as an individual. The checks and balances of shared power and wisdom are good ways to prevent wrathful rationalizations about the way our agendas and God’s do or do not coincide (Glittering Vices, 132-3).

Anyone who has read King’s Letter From A Birmingham Jail has marveled at King’s ability to extend shalom towards his oppressors (jailers and white clergy).

Anger Management is all the Rage

So what are the practices which help us to reign in our anger and keep it in check? Principally, I see three:

    1. Life in community and systems of accountability, like King’s example above guard us from pursuing our own rights and agenda and help us discern God’s heart in the matter. Clearly friends can also re-enforce our Anger, so intentionality is important!
    2. Establishing ongoing systems of self-reflection. This could be as keeping a journal about your anger. Or you can pray the Examen and pay attention to your soul feels consolation and desolation. Learning to take inventory of inner thoughts is necessary if we are to grow in the virtuous life.
    3. Learn from Jesus. Yes, Jesus got angry, irritated and crazy mad. If you read the gospels you see instances where his ire was raised, but you still could not describe Jesus as an angry man. instead he was characterized by his compassion and gentleness. Part of conquering our inner beast, involves learning from Jesus a new way of navigating injustice in our world. His ultimate response to injustice was not an angry outburst where he smote the wicked. His response was the cross.


As we continue walking with Jesus the way of the cross, may he transform us from Angry hate mongers to his gentle and compassionate servants.