Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Eucharist: from Cheese Crackers and Sobe to the Real Presence

From cheese crackers and Sobe to the Real Presence of the body and blood of Christ; Holy Communion has lived in tension for this believer. Several years ago, without any knowledge of the scriptural backing, I held to a symbolic understanding of the Eucharist. Eventually, this symbolism (technically known as memorialism) got blended with the concept of Sacramental Living (the sacramental doctrine of the Salvation Army). Then, Lutheranism came along and messed with my Sobe and cheese crackers.

Traditionally, the Real Presence (Luther's philosophy on the Eucharist) holds that the sacrament of the Eucharist is the real body and blood of Jesus Christ. The physical substance of the bread and wine have not changed (that would be the Roman Catholic interpretation known as transubstantiation). Rather, the bread and the wine – when joined with the words of Christ (Matt. 26:26-28) and the Word who is Christ – administer and proclaim the forgiveness of sins.

Arguably, my Sobe and cheese crackers were conjoined with the Real Presence of the body and blood of Jesus Christ; in spite of the fact that this was unknown to me at the time. Furthermore, “If the Word be joined to the element, it becomes a Sacrament” (Augustine). However, I would not advocate the use of Sobe and cheese crackers, unless, it is all one has available. Martin Luther said it best, “No matter whether you are worthy or unworthy, you have here His body and blood by virtue of these words which are added to the bread and wine.”

Until recently, I wasn’t totally sold on the Real Presence – the idea sort of freaked me out. Yet, as I listened to the controversy and chaos that many have experienced with this sacrament; I realized, only the Real Presence of Christ (in the Eucharist) could give us the words to proclaim forgiveness over controversy and absolve its recipients. In turn, it sanctifies those who partake, with “a food of souls,” and redeems this sacrament from the chaos of relativism, legalism, and reductionism. Symbolism and Sacramental Living remember the cross event; meanwhile, the Real Presence partakes in the gifts of the cross event – grace and forgiveness.    

Ironically written to the sounds of Kid Rock’s “I am the Bullgod.”

Monday, June 20, 2011

Sacraments: the Line between Life and Legalism

The line between life and legalism is truly thin; so thin, that the sacraments (baptism and Eucharist) have definitions that alienate people. At heart, sacraments are a sign of God’s grace. In practice, sacraments tend to be the forts of battle. Why are the works of God’s overflowing grace – acts of sanctification, by way of, repentance – battle grounds bathed in the blood of controversy? Perhaps, it is because these external gifts, intended to connect us to the divine, have been diluted by false aspirations towards an internal righteousness.

In praxis, goals of personal piety, meant to climb the ladder of holiness, alienate us from the divine work of the sacraments. This fortress of holiness comes in many forms: some churches possess such elitist views that only they administer the true sacrament and if one is not, "one of them," the sacrament is closed off to “the outsider.” Other churches shroud the sacraments in guilt – maintaining that one’s mindset or heart condition can deny one’s ability to receive the sacraments – causing believers to dwell in a foxhole of fear.   

In order to tow the line and avoid legalism, many believers have given way to vague, ambiguous, empty, relativistic, and apathetic expressions of the sacraments. Thus, sacraments become symbolic – they become symbolic of everything they are meant to forgive – and silence the divine declaration of absolution.

In response, “a sacrament does not rely on the condition of the minister or the recipient; it is the work of Christ” (Kellogg, Intimate Doctrine, “Sacraments (part one)”). Sacraments are works of Christ – of God alone – and declare our absolution: they forgive our sin, they pardon us from trying to climb the ladder of holiness, they release us from the fortresses of fear and holiness, and they proclaim God’s infinite mercy given – without merit – to our world. Sacraments are a gift of life, given to us by God, in Christ. May we receive the gift of life, given through the sacraments, and cease the murdering acts of this life through the malice of pietistic and relativistic legalism.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The God of Experience

I believe that God is found at the cross and I believe that the work of the cross affects us all. I find experience both troubling and problematic, when it defines theology. Currently, I’m reading a book called, It’s Really All About God: Reflections of a Muslim-Atheist-Jewish-Christian – it’s an experiential conversation illuminating interfaith dialogue. More accurately, how do we understand the other? Personally, experience has shown me that a faith defined by experience can be dangerous and destructive (irony intended).
From drug addicts on Welfare Reform, to Fundamentalist Christians, I see the revelation of a divine God in the brokenness of humanity. From the quasi-Zen, to the atheist, I see the revelation of a redeeming God in doubt and disbelief. From the homophobe, to the G. L. B. T. Q., I see the revelation of a patient and gracious
God – in our hatred, fear, misunderstanding, guilt, condemnation, and self-loathing. From a premature birth, to disability, to nine surgeries, to grieving death, to shattering expectations, to accepting limitations, to suffering injuries, to questioning everything, to loving, to being heartbroken, to ministering, to broken sexual purity, to intellectualism, to resignation, to going bankrupt, to a flicker of hope – I see the revelation of an active resurrection, of unmerited gifts, of present and future promises, and of the mysteries of God. Experience contributes to the definition of belief, but it is not the definition of belief – or the definition of God.

Ask questions, challenge religious precepts, allow your worldview to expand and grow, but don’t let experience lead you to relativism. All gods are not created equal, all truths do not tell the truth, all minds are not open, all worldviews do not see, all experiences do not hold experience, and all conversations are not a dialogue. Listen, learn, show respect, exude compassion, but for the love God – reconstruct what you deconstruct – and stand for something. 

A hilarious and clever pitch for the book mentioned above:

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Determination: "I Will Not Bow"

There are many people in this world who have been dealt a rough hand, but, somehow, they keep going through life. Some have argued, I am one of those people. I’m not here to write a laundry-list of bad hands – I’m here to tell you, “I will not bow…” (Breaking Benjamin, “I Will Not Bow”).

Over the past few days, I have been pondering many things; among them, death, courage, resilience, and determination. A few years ago, death raped my heart, for what seemed like the millionth time. The point is, death leaves us forever changed (for more on this thought, visit this link). Forever changed, I’ve had the resilience to push forward. I don’t say that lightly – it takes courage to be resilient. But, where does courage come from?

No matter who we are, everybody’s got something that requires a little courage. My courage stems from many things: faith, love, hope, and experience – more than all of that – my courage is born out of determination. If I had to choose one word to define myself, it would be determined.

For, I am determined to never settle for the flow of heavy cards that have crossed my hand! “I will not bow” because I believe in something that promises better things than bad hands. I believe in a God who knows what it’s like to feel forsaken, I believe in a God who was crucified to a tree, and I believe in a God whose resurrection saved the world, with the best hand in the game. On bad days, determination equates to cursing at God. On average days, determination is proving that “I will not bow,” until God delivers on that better hand. On the best days, determination becomes a living resurrection. I’m a stubborn SOB and an egomaniac to boot; yet, the cross event – death and resurrection – can turn my determination into resurrection.

Friday, June 3, 2011

A Divine and Sinless Christ: The Last Temptation of Christ

If a snake said to me, “look at my breasts, do you recognize them,” I’d put myself in a straightjacket. This is just one of many provocative, albeit controversial, moments in the novel turned film, The Last Temptation of Christ. The story deals with two primary theological questions (though there were others): Was Jesus without sin and what is the nature of Christ (is he God)? The film depicts Jesus as a sinful being and waivers back and forth with his Godhood.

In the film, the “last temptation,” if you will, thwarts the cross event – death and resurrection – and the justification (salvation) of the human race. Compared to that, the other temptations in the film (sexual encounters, lying, retribution, and so on) are just playful mockery of the divine essence of Jesus Christ. As the story goes, Jesus sinned, by being deceived out of fulfilling the resurrection. One could infer, he did not have the power of God in him and that is why the Archangel of Satan was able to trick him.

Truthfully, the deception of Jesus Christ is quite a claim and one ought to ask, how does a Christian respond to The Last Temptation of Christ? First, it is important to remember that the film is fiction. Second, learn to laugh at the controversially-erotic content of the film – you might be entertained by the absurdity. Third, don’t be afraid to allow films, like this one, to make you think over challenging questions.

As for the primary theological questions raised in the film, Paul talks about the sin nature, in conjunction with Jesus, in 2 Corinthians 5 (it is found elsewhere too) and says Christ was without sin. And, for the divine characteristic of Christ, John 10:22-30 emphatically declares that Christ, the Son, and God, the Father, are one. Finally, the cross event – death and resurrection of the Messiah – is the most important event in human history and its salvific effect cannot be thwarted.