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April 04, 2005

I AM The Resurrection

This past week I witnessed the birth of two new Christians, my oldest two children who are 11 and 10. Their decision to be baptized was rather sudden and came about within the past 60 days.

When my daughter first spoke about it, I didn't quite know what to think. In one way I was disturbed by the idea that she had decided to do so without much input from us. Today, I am nicely reconciled to the idea that my kids like different churches for different reasons than I. My wife is a midwesterner with Southern Baptist roots, but she mostly enjoys the African Methodist Episcopal liturgy. She goes to Faithful Central on occasion but mostly attends (the famous) First AME in LA.

Me, I like the traditions of the Catholic and Episcopal Church. If I can't recite the liturgy from memory, I get uncomfortable. For me, it's all about being part of a tradition that is hundreds of years old and universal. I like the rite. As for Christian life, I have a very Jesuit orientation about being Christlike.

So my wife and I have come to a standoff when it comes to our practices. Our kids go to Awana every week at the local Baptist church which is crawling with friends and schoolmates. They attend our churches on occasion, but it's actually rare that we all will go to the same service. There's an interesting story behind that which is none of your business.

Picking them up several weeks ago, I began to ask those questions of the kids. Which church do you like and why? I expect them to make some personal and responsible decisions about their own spiritual development and growth, and this is working. But even I was in for something of a revelation when I read their essays.

You see I had been putting off the whole matter of worrying about how to deal with the fact that my kids were not going to be die-hard Episcopalians like me. I was trying to not take it personally, yet still give some weight to their decisions. Are they grown-up decisions? Of course not. Well then how seriously should I take them? Who knows? Finally, it was about time for them to commit to the training program for the Baptism, so I basically sat everyone down for a little talk. I was generous. I am glad that you guys want to make this decision, and it's yours to make, but I need to understand a little bit more about what you are thinking. So I asked them to write a 100 word essay on why they wanted to be baptized.

The answers came back within five minutes, and I tell you it was rather astonishing. My daughter, felt a lot like me. She wanted to belong to the community of Christians and she felt that she needed to make the commitment and be a part of it all. My son came from a completely different angle. He is thankful for the peace that Jesus gives him and that peace enables him to cope with the stresses of life, plus he gets the happy happy joy joy. I was rather knocked over by the clarity of it all. (sob) My babies are growing up.

Easter Sunday was the big day and the baptisms were the first part of the liturgy. They rolled up the curtain in front of the alter to reveal the elevated tank which is recessed into the wall underneath the large colorful cross. Pastor Lee, dressed in white, came to the center and introduced brother and sister. They entered from the sides. My daughter was first and then the boy. What was special about hers was that today was her birthday. What was special about his was that he recited 4 verses.

After the clapping was done, Pastor Lee who isn't the most flamboyant guy did a fairly decent job on the lecturn. It is part of my upbringing to give a critical evaluation of the delivery of the Sermon, and today was no different. Yes, I'm a second-guesser. And I have to say, even though I appreciate what these guys are doing with the structure and contemporary intepretations of the Bible, there's something about Powerpoint sermons that just rubs me wrong. But in his message, I was struck by the soundness of his lesson about Christ that I have never quite heard that way before.

It was the story of the resurrection of Lazarus. And in the telling, Lee explained how Jesus sucker-punched his apostles. Mary and Martha, weeping and moaning, complained that Lazarus had died. Martha challenged Jesus telling him straight up that he should have been there. When I was a kid, the story was told in such a way as to make us all want to slap Martha and never be her, the audacity! But this time Lee focused on Jesus' manipulation of the situation. He sandbagged. He let the bases fill up in the bottom of the 9th just to face Death, the cleanup hitter.

Jesus says that Lazarus will arise, and Martha intellectualizes with a religious fact. Sure, at the last day we will all arise in the time of Resurrection. Martha answers in the passive voice, giving agency to the idea, to the doctrine. Then Jesus goes BOOM! I AM the Resurrection. I AM the Life. Right here, right now. He embodies the prophesy and takes agency away from ideas and doctrine and brings it down to the personal. It has got to be one of the most dramatic acts in the life of Jesus, and to think that it was Pastor Lee who made me see it that way. I tell you, whoever wrote those powerpoints knows where to put the italics.

And so it is with Life. We think we know something and suddenly here are two new little Christians embodying it in a way you never quite imagined. It's a reason to be glad, and so I am. Moreover it is a reason to think about the leadership of Jesus, which is something I began considering back when Mel Gibson attempted to hijack the Gospel with his gorey vision. It is also something embedded in the Gospel of Thomas which is, in my estimation, the missing puzzle piece of Christianity in the global world.

More later...

Posted by mbowen at April 4, 2005 09:27 PM

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What a beautiful story.

My daughter was five years old when she began asking me, "Why did God make sickness? Why did he make death?" I put her off a time or two, and then I realized that she really wanted to know. I started off by telling her that it wasn't supposed to be this way, and then went into the Bible stories she already knew about the Garden of Eden, the Fall, God's promise to Abraham, so forth and so on, and then a precis of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection and what it means to be a Christian. She listened intently to every word. I finally told her that she could tell God she was sorry for her sins and ask the Holy Spirit to live within her so that he would help her to be good, and then she would be Jesus' little girl; and when she died she would go to live with him forever. She absolutely wanted to do that. I helped her pray what Baptists call the "Sinner's Prayer" and I knew then and know now that she knew what she was doing. I was five years old, myself, when I did that. We didn't approach the preacher about baptism until she was seven years old. He thought it was too early until he talked to her.

There are times when I start wondering how stupid I am to believe 2000-year-old fairy tales, but when you KNOW something is true to the core of your being, you hear it or read it and something inside you says "THIS IS TRUTH", you have to go with that. Also the "happy happy joy joy".

Posted by: Laura at April 5, 2005 07:45 PM