Something Better than Circles of Life or Transcendence

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My post for this week’s Going Deeper is actually a re-post of a blog I wrote before hearing Rich and Rudy’s sermon (I loved trying to figure out what the English was going to be from listening to the Spanish!). One standout idea to me was that death is not merely one point in “the circle of life” but the “last enemy” and that the “death of death” of which we see the first fruits in Jesus resurrection. It struck me that many of my reflections would be a re-hash of what I wrote for Easter and so I thought it simpler just to share that. So here it is:

Bob Trube2In the current movie, Transcendence, (which I have not seen) Johnny Depp’s character is mortally wounded by anti-Artificial Intelligence terrorists, and before he dies, his consciousness is downloaded into a computer by his wife. As is typical of such things, all sorts of mayhem results as his consciousness connects to the internet.

What is interesting is that this is not just the stuff of movies but that there is serious thinking and the beginnings of research with the goal of doing just this, as evidenced in the Wikipedia article on Mind uploading. Apart from the ethical questions raised by such efforts, my question is, why would you want to do this when there is a much better alternative?

What am I talking about? Resurrection–the idea of coming to life again after one has died in a new type of physical body that has continuity in some way with the one we have in this life but is subject to neither aging, disease, or death. Frankly, there is a good deal I like about embodied existence that a purely mental or even spiritual existence can’t hold a candle to. There are the experiences of the senses, glorious visions, beautiful music, delectable smells, the pleasures of eating, touching and being touched. There are the delights of using one’s body to translate our ideas into a gourmet dish, a song, a spoken word, a beautiful garden, a work of art, or even just this sentence. Some might argue that there are digital equivalents to this, but I’m not buying it.

HE-IS-RISEN-NOWISEEMEDIA

This is why I celebrate Easter. Resurrection is not a speculation of futurists or a research goal for the near or distant future. When we say, “He is risen, He is risen indeed” in churches around the world, we celebrate the reality that the first man has already come back from the dead, not as a resuscitated corpse, but as a gloriously new, yet emphatically the same Jesus in the flesh. Beyond their wildest dreams, the first followers of Jesus empirically validated the reality that resurrection is possible. They saw, heard, even touched the risen Christ.

Not only that, but followers of Jesus believe that “resurrection” is already at work in us, dying though we are. The apostle Paul speaks of a “new creation” having begun in us, that we already have experienced a being raised from spiritual death to life. The resurrection of the body simply marks the completion of a process whose beginning was symbolized when I was lifted up out of the waters of baptism.

Death seems so final, and perhaps what motivates people who dream of accomplishing “transcendence” is to find a way to evade and transcend this final reality.  If you don’t believe in a hereafter, if all you believe is that when you die, you rot, then transcendence is the only game in town. I also wonder if for others, “transcendence” is the best shot at evading the hereafter, or so one hopes.

Death also seems not to be the way things were meant to be. The Bible speaks of it as the last enemy to be destroyed. No wonder we fight it so hard with all our medical technology! No wonder we sometimes try to deny its existence or thwart its impact upon our lives. The truth is, I love my life in this body. I loved my first cup of coffee today. I loved the spring freshness of the air as I worked to clean up my yard. I even love the twinges in muscles that tell me that I used them! Truth is, I don’t want to die. In fact, some training I’ve received tells me that one should be concerned and take action when a person speaks of wanting to die.

So I get the transcendence thing. But I’m not going there. Today I will be celebrating something I think is far better. The bodily resurrection of Jesus is empirical evidence that my bodily resurrection is possible, and that of my parents, and all those I love who have hoped in Christ. I am celebrating the hope that one day I will see them in all their physical glory, that I will be seen with a glory I’ve never had before, and above all, that I will see the glory of the risen Christ. Oh, what a day that will be!

What were all those people in my newsfeed talking about?

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Here’s a sign you have a lot of Christian friends on social media: If you saw “He is risen” popping up in your newsfeed every couple of minutes, and had to fight back the urge to comment “He is risen indeed!”

But Easter is about more than just #heisrisen, though it’s not a bad message to be hearing over and over again.

Ben TrubeI think some Christians are more comfortable with the whole Christ died for our sins bit, then the whole he rose again three days later. This manifests in all sorts of ways, even in the crosses we see at the front of our church. Some have Jesus nailed to the cross so we always remember his sacrifice for us, and others have an empty cross emphasizing his triumph over death.

I can understand wanting to think more about Christ dying for us. This is something we can actually relate to. We die for causes, for loved ones, to protect those who are weaker than us. This is a part of Christ’s humanity to which we can relate. We get the idea of sacrifice.

But coming back from the dead is a pure God thing. Sure he was someone you could touch, and who got a hankering for fish when he was with the disciples, but if the TV and movies has taught us anything, it’s to be a little suspicious of those who come back. You never know what they might have brought with them.

In this case Jesus brought redemption, triumph over death, signaling our eventual triumph over death, yadda yadda yadda zombie Jesus.

Or we could go all modern science-y and say that three hours was kind of a short amount of time for someone who is crucified to die and he might have just been passed out for three days before he woke up, and oh yes, had the super human strength to roll away the boulder in front of his tomb. Well you did say he was fully God AND fully man, right?

Or I think some of us take the easy way out, shout “He is risen”, loudly reply “he is risen indeed” like someone replying I-O to an uttered O-H. Sure Jesus rose from the dead, he’s the good guy. Wouldn’t be a good story if he really was dead at the end.

Jesus rising from the dead is another uncomfortable fact of Jesus. Yes he did die and suffer for our sins. He took punishment that should have been ours. And then he came out okay on the other side. And we all know that the same wouldn’t have been true for us. We actually need this guy. And a lot of us don’t like to be reminded of that fact. Jesus can die for us, but he also lived for us.

Is living.

He is risen!

Master of Analogy and Metaphor

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This week we heard from Pastor Rudy on 1 Corinthians 15:35-58. Here Paul talks more about our imperishable body, and works to discount the notion of a disembodied spirit present in a lot of Greco-Roman philosophy. He compares our body to seeds that we plant, and our resurrected body to the flower that springs forth, so completely different in nature and character than that from which it sprung. He then goes on to describe all sorts of heavenly bodies and their splendor, and how each is different and also wonderful.

Ben TrubeOur resurrected body, an imperishable body that lives without sin in a world without sin, hardship or disease, all working toward God’s glory. This can be a little hard to understand when we’re still living inside the seed of that world.

One of the questions I wrestle with regard to eternal life and our life in heaven and the new earth is whether I’ll still be a writer. It’s common wisdom that at the core of good writing is conflict. A problem is there to be solved, and over the course of the narrative equilibrium is reestablished. Sometimes these problems are solved with violence or other morally ambiguous means, but at the very least the problems are typically morally wrong. Most good mysteries start with a murder or another sort of crime.

So, in a world without sin and without crime, what do I write about? Historical novels? Or would the narrative even serve the same function for our resurrected selves as it does for us now? Writing can be seen as a morality play, taking a question or aspect of society and examining it through a story. Is this something we’ll still need to do in the redeemed world?

Here’s why it’s hard for me. I feel like writing is a gift that God gave me, both to give me personal satisfaction, but also as a means to communicate with others. I am passionate about writing. It is as near to my thinking as God, if I’m honest sometimes it’s louder. And I don’t particularly like the idea of an eternity spent not doing the thing I love doing now. I worry sometimes about not being able to get all the books I have in my head out before I die. Do I take comfort that I will have the chance in a risen body? Writing is not sinful, but so much narrative relies on a world where sin is present.

I don’t have the answer for this other than to say I don’t think God would put me in a state so outside who I am as a person, who he made me to be. Our resurrected life will be as different as the seed is to the flower, the essence is present in our lives now, but it is only the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. Resurrected life will be in some ways practical and recognizable, and in others completely outside our current way of thinking.

That said, I’m a pretty stubborn guy. I’ll probably be writing either way 🙂

Mind Over Matter?

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“If the dead are not raised, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.’” (1 Cor 15:32 NRSV)

In this chapter of 1 Corinthians, Paul is responding to members of the church who are denying the resurrection.  That is, they’re rejecting the idea that believers in Christ will be raised from the dead and given perfected bodies when he returns.  Paul notes that if resurrection doesn’t happen, then Jesus wasn’t raised from the dead, either; and if Jesus wasn’t raised, then he can’t save us.  He’s just a good man who died.  As Rich observed in his sermon, there is no salvation without resurrection.

Brenda Colijn photo smallThe Corinthians were probably rejecting the idea of resurrection because they’d been influenced by the Greek philosophical idea that spirit is good and matter is evil.  Greek philosophers thought that the best possible afterlife would be to leave our bodies to rot in the ground and live forever as disembodied spirits.  To a Greek mind, the idea of people walking around in resurrected bodies would be as appealing as a zombie apocalypse!

A preference for spirit over body has infiltrated the church, too.  We talk a lot about going to heaven when we die, but when was the last time you heard a sermon or sang a hymn or chorus about the resurrection of believers?

If there is no resurrection, then there’s no point in making sacrifices in this life, because this life is all we have.  Like the old beer commercial said, “You only go around once in life; grab all the gusto you can!”  And if there’s no resurrection, what we do with our bodies doesn’t matter.  This can go in two directions:  either we overindulge our bodies or we despise them.  Sometimes we alternate these, and sometimes we do both at once.

Rich talked mostly about the issue of overeating, which is an increasing problem for Americans.  If someone watched what and how we eat, would they think that we believed in the resurrection?  Or do we eat as if there’s no tomorrow?  But overeating isn’t the only way to disrespect our bodies.  Eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia show the same obsession with what we put in our mouths, and they’re at least as dangerous as obesity.  Multi-billion-dollar industries exist to make women dislike their bodies so the companies can sell them things, and these industries are targeting more and more men, as well.  Food is one of the main ways that people self-medicate to cope with the trials of life.  You don’t need a prescription to buy it, after all.

And that’s just food.  We could also talk about exercise, sleep, addictions, sex, entertainment, stress.  Do we treat our bodies as gifts from God to steward until the day that God will glorify them?  Maybe that means working ourselves a little harder, or maybe that means showing ourselves some compassion and respect.  Whatever our situation is, the resurrection means that what we do with our bodies now is an investment in eternity.

The “You” In Resurrection

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Jesus died. He returned to life in an event called The Resurrection. His return was witnessed by lots of his contemporaries. This evidences heaven’s validation of Jesus’ words, his works, and his being. The Resurrection event is a cornerstone of Christian faith. And The Resurrection supplies the context for this portion of Paul’s letter to the Christians living in Corinth, too.

JeffWhitesideThe Resurrection is huge. It’s pivotal. It is vital. And essential. Paul supplies the link between the Resurrection and the Corinthian believers. As he does, he embeds an often overlooked point.

There’s a ‘u’ in the Resurrection. Perhaps it would be better to spell out the word. There’s a “you” in the Resurrection. Yes, yes, there is a future resurrection promised to all believers- you might want to read about it in Revelation 22. But this is not the “you” I’m referencing. It’s found in the initial sentences of this chapter, and the term is used repeatedly. A lot.

Notice these phrases –“…remind you … preached to you, … you received … you have taken your stand. you are saved, … if you hold … preached to you. …, you have believed in vain. …passed on to you.”

When the Holy Spirit inspires a writer to repeat a word or phrase over and over, it jumps out of the text, or it should. That’s what attracted my focus over the opening words in this text. Apparently, between the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and an enduring faith lies ‘you’. Paul emphasized this point, as did Pastor Rich in last Sunday’s sermon at Smoky Row Brethren Church. I’d like to go a bit farther.

That Jesus returned from death is a singularly special. It happened without human agency. No person made it happen. It’s all God. It’s not possible to recreate this in a laboratory setting. It stands alone as a focal point of God’s work on behalf of his creation.

His Resurrection is not dependent on my belief. It does not require your belief, either. That said, it means that he returned to life aware of how I’d benefit from the event. He knew what it would do for you, too. But it’s effective when ‘you’ make the connection between your belief and his work. Books, wordy books, long books, even volumes of books have been written on the topic of you and The Resurrection. I really don’t intend to be the final voice on the topic.

Contemplate that the work of the creator, in the person of Jesus Christ, accomplished a feat on your behalf. It has lots of implications. Perhaps receiving and holding, believing and standing are concepts Christian people need to incorporate into their faith. What might that do for the individual, their church family, and the unconnected?

~Post written by Jeff Whiteside

Revenants, Zombies, and Undead

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And let me begin with something about death, or the lack of it. Because I won’t have room for this next week, and I think it’s relevant for us.

IMG_0715 - Version 2As a society, we have a bit of an obsession lately with undead things, with things that come back to life but are different than they were. Zombies are so popular, whether it’s a violent “Walking Dead” sort of zombie or the just as violent, but hokey, “Shaun of the Dead” movie.

And I’m sure that even this morning hundreds of graduate students are furiously typing away on dissertations about what it means for our culture that we’re obsessed with the undead, with the idea of a person that is no longer a person, but looks like one; and is violent, and hungry, insatiable, and unstoppable. I suspect all our fears about the end of our way of life, end of the world as we know it, civilization and packaged foods, are wrapped up in this fascination we have with the dead-come-back-to-life.

But the truth about resurrection, about dead coming back to life, is exactly the opposite of what we can truly say about the end of death.

We only have one true story you know, one real example, of someone coming back from the dead never to die again.

Zombies are mindless; Jesus resurrected is mindful. They look like a lesser version of the people they were before, but they aren’t people anymore, they’re dumb beasts. Jesus resurrected looks like a greater version of the person he was, and he is the ultimate expression of what humanity could be. Zombies are characterized by all-consuming hunger–and that, typically, for brains, right? Jesus resurrected is empowering to those who seek him, and selfless, and seeks to decrease our hungers and increase our hearts. Zombies are violent, and their actions result in death; Jesus undoes violence, and his actions result in peace of every kind.

I point all this out because this cultural fascination that we have with the undead is a perfect, perfect, opportunity for us to think about how we who follow Jesus are different than those who do not. We need to consider what fascinates us, and why it does.

We are like zombies, a little, though. They catch a virus or something, and they infect people, right? Through their hunger, their violence. We who follow Jesus, the first fruit on resurrection’s tree, the first bloom in it’s yard, we’ve caught the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is a promise that we’ll bloom too, that we will become undead–but undead like Jesus is, not like zombies are. And I’ve come to believe that we can position others–through love, through service, through selflessness, through goodness–to catch this same thing that we’ve caught, to become vaccinated against death like we have become.

So. Next time you see that zombie show or book or poster or whatever: consider it just one more example of how great we people are at corrupting the truest things about what it means to be alive. And the thing that is most true about this life is that there will be undead; but the triumph won’t be for death and violence and hunger, it’ll be for peace and rest and joy.

And finally, keep in mind that until Jesus returns, resurrection is only a metaphor for us and an inspiring promise; the world’s got a competing metaphor– zombies–one that doesn’t do any good for anybody, and inspires us only to the pointlessness of everything around us.

But everything around us amazing, and good, and is right now giving glory to God and longing that Jesus return and resurrection–death’s real death–come true.

~Post written by Pastor Rich

Life Everlasting

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A number of things stuck out to me in Rich’s sermon on 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, but the one I’d like to reflect on is this: How do we live our lives like the resurrection is real?

Ben TrubeIn this case Rich is talking about more than Christ’s resurrection and defeat of death and sin, he means our eventual resurrection at the time of Christ’s return. This is the hope for eternal life that we all have, not just floating up in the clouds as ethereal ghosts, but real tangible beings.

But more to the point, though our time on Earth seems short, we in fact have an eternity with God, so why don’t we live that way?

I could go on at length about the things that bother me, the people who speak for conservatism and Christian values, but who ignore the needs of the poor and the oppressed. There are even some who actively seek to persecute others, to enact God’s judgment rather than to spread God’s love. They treat money like it’s something they’ve earned and have a right to hold on to. They treat life like it’s limited and so they have to hang on to everything they can.

It’s easy to attack others, the people I think misrepresent Christianity, and don’t live the way they should, but how am I living?

I am selfish of my time, if not my money. I spend what I have on personal indulgences more often than what other people need. I worry already about the day I might pass away and the things I will leave unfinished, the books I have not yet written. I eat more than I should, I spend more than I ought, and I don’t let friends in nearly enough.

This is not to say that I’m not trying. I try to use writing to convey ideas to people, to get them to think. I try to use time to build people up, support them through the things they’re going through, and I try to give freely when someone comes to me with a need.

But more often than not, I am thinking more about how to avoid dying than I am trying to live with eternity in mind. I want to find more ways where I can dive in without looking, to find ways that I can help the church and our community, and to spread God’s love and hope. Right now that involves praying for God to give me insight, and trying to put myself into more situations where I don’t normally feel comfortable.

My time this go around on Earth may be short, but it’s just the prologue to the rest of the story. It’s the set up, the introduction, the establishment of things to come. My life as I understand it now, as I experience it through imperfect flesh, is only just beginning.

How have you lived eternally rather than finitely?