Tag Archives: Jesus

Good and Evil: Crazy Right

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Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise. -St. Paul in 1st Corinthians

One of the more interesting moments in the Gospels is when Jesus is teaching and his mother and brothers interrupt Him because they think he’s gone crazy.

Now if you are new to Biblical criticism, it might surprise you to know that this is actually something that helps to prove the Bible is telling the truth about Jesus. Most scholars think that whenever the Bible includes the negative stuff that people thought about Jesus, it lends more credibility to the idea that they are telling the truth about Him in other places.

But I think this little story adds credibility in other ways as well.

The Sanity of Evil

When I was a junior in college, I toured the concentration camp Auschwitz with a few other friends. It was one of the most profound and heavy days of my life. It was looking at evil in its purest form.

Several decades ago, Thomas Merton (a Catholic Mystic from Kentucky) wrote about one of the most disturbing things I’ve read about the Holocaust. It was about Adolf Eichmann, the man who engineered the death camps and who was ultimately responsible for the efficiency of the murder of millions and millions of Jews.

But that’s not the worst part. The worst part, according to Merton, is that when Eichmann was on trial for his crimes against humanity, they did extensive psychological testing on him. They wanted to see what was broken inside of his mind to make him doing such heinous things like this. But one of the most disturbing things about his trial is that when they examined him to see just how crazy he was, they discovered….

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Eichmann was perfectly sane.

Which is so much worse isn’t it?

Because Eichmann, wasn’t just a crazy man going around killing people. He was an organized businessman/leader who had a desk job. He didn’t have trouble sleeping at night, or problems eating. He was in fact a real family man, a community oriented civic leader. He was proud of his job and loved kids. He was someone we would have considered normal. Maybe we would have even been an elder in our churches.

He wasn’t crazy, and that is the problem.

Here’s what Merton says:

The sanity of Eichmann is disturbing. We equate sanity with a sense of justice, with humaneness, with prudence, with the capacity to love and understand other people. We rely on the sane people of the world to preserve it from barbarism, madness, destruction. And now it begins to dawn on us that it is precisely the sane ones who are the most dangerous.

Which brings me back to Jesus. I would think that if Jesus is who Christians think he is, then we would constantly think he sounded crazy. Since the beginning of history, we have developed ways to justify our sin and call it normal. If the world really is upside down, than if Jesus is revealing the way God created the world to be, he is always going to sound a bit…crazy.

So back to Thomas Merton. Here’s what he says about a world that calls genocide sane:

What is the meaning of a concept of sanity that excludes love, considers it irrelevant, and destroys our capacity to love other human beings, to respond to their needs and their sufferings, to recognize them also as persons, to apprehend their pain as one’s own? Evidently this is not necessary for “sanity” at all. It is a religious notion, a spiritual notion, a Christian notion What business have we to equate “sanity” with “Christianity”? None at all, obviously. The worst error is to imagine that a Christian must try to be “sane” like everybody else,”

Every culture puts immense pressure on the individuals within that culture. We are taught to think of the world in certain kinds of ways. We are constantly being tempted to think succumb to group think. The problem is just how unaware we are of this.

Have you ever noticed just how easy it is for us to think that Jesus endorses the same wars, every politician, every tax cut, or tax increase that the news shows you watch endorse. Jesus tends to care about the same things that we do.

And that Jesus is perfectly sane.

I’ve noticed over the years, that we religious people have the imagination to call anything Christian that fits with the world we need to exist.

Unless we read the Gospels. In which case we begin to have uneasy realization that Jesus is crazy.

No mater how we try to spin the story, the Bible is filled with dozens of irrational people. From Moses to David to Abraham to Mary and Paul, people who see what God sees don’t act like everyone else. They are the ones who think differently about the world. And they tell stories about talking donkeys and pregnant virgins and people raising from the dead.

They are insane, but they have a faith about the way the world will one day be.

They believe that one day their crazy will be right. 

The Agony of Judgment

It is grace, nothing but grace, that we are allowed to live together.-Dedrich Bonhoeffer in Life Together (written from a prison cell)

It’s been said that the most quoted verse by my generation is Matthew 7:1, Where Jesus says “Do not Judge” And to be honest, I can relate to that. I  have seen some of the most heinous things done in the name of religion. In the name of their god, people have flown planes into buildings, committed genocide, drank Kool-aid, and started Christian Cable Television programming. We’ve seen street preachers, and regular preachers stand on their soapboxes and name everything and everyone they hate, and then throw Jesus’ name on it. We have seen religion divide relationships and make people more hateful.

But the truth is that we haven’t gotten less judgmental, we’ve just changed the criteria.

Almost everyday on Facebook I get a notification by some application asking me to compare my friends. We are accosted by people asking us if they are “Hot or Not” We are constantly looking to our left and our right to figure out how we are doing in comparison to others. We want to gauge ourselves so we look to our peers wondering if  I’m smarter/dumber, faster/slower, funnier/boring than someone else.

My generation has seen the rise of peer-rating sites like no other. We’re constantly being taught to ask am I hot or not? We’re being conditioned to wonder if I am acceptable, and now we even have a convenient 1-10 scale.

We live in a beauty pageant.

We judge people all the time.

And the real tragedy is, that we’ve also used that command  of Jesus to live in pseudo-community.

We have developed the ability to live around people, but not necessarily with people. And the great irony of our day, is that we live in a world where so many of us feel alone and isolated, but not many of us are willing to do the hard work that it takes to live together. Here’s what I mean by that. Continue reading The Agony of Judgment

The Bricks We Build With

One of my mentors once told me that a single sermon doesn’t really make a difference. It is, he said, kind of like a brick. All by itself it doesn’t really do much good. But taken together over the course of time you can begin to really build something.

It’s interesting, that when Scripture opens up the story of God, God creates not by shooting energy out of his God like fingers, but by speaking. God speaks and he creates. I think so do those of us who preach and teach with our lives. We get the privilege of partnering with God in opening up possibilities to people who might be able to look at their life with God just a bit differently because of what we say.

So a few weeks ago, I read the book Jesus Manifesto by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola. It’s a good book about the great value of Jesus, and the tendency that churches and church leaders have to unintentionally forget about him. Over time we can forget that all our programming and structures and ministries are nothing but scaffolding to create a place where people can meet the Risen LORD. And one of the things Sweet and Viola mentioned was the way preachers use their words. These authors go to churches and intentionally count how many times, if at all, a preacher will mention the name of Jesus. In Sweet and Viola’s words:

The tragedy of our time is that countless preachers, teachers and healers are giving dozens of sermons, lectures, and messages, relegating Jesus to some footnote or a flourish to some other subject. At best He gets honorable mention. What is lacking is a groundbreaking revelation of Christ that boggles the mind and enraptures the heart.”

And that line really convicted me. Now is the time of year that the Highland Church Shepherds give me off to study and pray and reflect for the coming year. But I started wondering…do I do this? It’s very easy to put a disproportionate amount of passion into secondary things. So I made a word cloud of every sermon that I’ve given over the past 12 months at Highland. I know what I say I think is important, and the kind of people I would like to shape the Highland church into, but I wanted to get a view from 30,000 feet about what I was really doing.

So here it is. Continue reading The Bricks We Build With

Risk

A few months ago a college student came into my office with a question. They had felt called to go to into missions, specifically at a country that was in a time of political upheaval. Everyday in this country, bombs were going off, and people were getting killed. Needless to say, it wasn’t a popular tourist trap, but my friend still wanted to go.

The problem was that this college student had parents. And like any parents, they didn’t want their kid to go to this dangerous of a location. Which is understandable. But that didn’t change what this college student felt. They really thought God wanted them to go to this country, but they wanted to honor their parents. And so they asked me what they should do. Should they stay or go?

What would you tell them?

So I’ve been thinking a lot about Risk for the past year or so. I like this way of talking about Jesus-following a lot, it is, after all, s a synonym for Faith. And that’s important, because the word faith has gotten a lot of baggage theses days. It’s started to mean to just believe something cognitively, but that’s a definition that James would take issue with.

But this is a hard word for most churches. Institutions, by their very nature, don’t like risk. But Faith, by it’s very nature, is risk. So what does an institution that tries to form a risk-taking people look like? Continue reading Risk

Sean Dorrance Kelly

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I’ve been a fan of Steven Colbert for a long time. Something a lot of people don’t know about him is that he is a devout Catholic. He teaches a Bible class every Sunday at his local congregation. And has a deep love for the God who was revealed in Jesus.

He also has a funny way of showing it.

Actually, all of Colbert’s humor is satire. He makes points about reverent things, in irreverent ways. And while that may not be for everyone, most people will have to admit that he reaches a group of people that no preacher could get an audience with. For example, in this clip, you have a Harvard professor saying there is something unique about Jesus as compared to other gods of history. In the words of the professor Sean Kelly, “Jesus’ way of understanding what it is to be a human being was so radically different than everything that came along before it, that it really transformed the world and showed us a new possibility.” Continue reading Sean Dorrance Kelly