more about this sight

"you're packing a suitcase for a place that you've never been...a place that has to be believed to be seen"...'Walk On' by U2

WATERSHED: A voice in the wilderness. DARYL UNDERWOOD.

 

The concept of Centerpoint Christianity briefly stated is:

Christianity from the centerpoint outward.

Christianity from the climax forward.

This blog constitutes concepts for a new view of Christianity that begins with what is foundational and moves forward from that point. It is based on the assumption that we are being pulled towards something unseen and pushed from a place that once was.

What Centerpoint Christianity attempts to do is bypass some of the constraints imposed by metanarratives by using the life of Christ and particularly the climactic actions of Christ as beginning points.

It supports the conviction that God is essentially timeless. From this beginning point we endeavor to move outward from the definitive moment of the parousia (visitation) of Christ and forward to the future which functions as a type of magnet to "what can be--and is coming".

When we begin at the life of Christ and move outward as from the centerpoint of a web, rather than in a linear timeline of history, another wide picture emerges.


Ideas
Powered by Squarespace
Articles
Login
« narrative | Main | peace »
Thursday
Nov132008

beginning

Introduction

The road is long, with many a winding turn, that leads us to who knows where, who knows where--“He ain’t Heavy, He’s my Brother”—a song by the Hollies circa 88’

“Miles to go before I sleep…”—a reflective story from the one who reflects the unseen God.

Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

The title of this book is a play on words. First of all, “Miles to Go” has to do with the discovery of Jack Miles, the Pulitzer Prize winning author of GOD: A biography. I stumbled on him through a musician friend named Drew Nelson. This book has been surprisingly instrumental in setting me free to dream at just the right time in my life. Miles is a bit out there when you come from the small town I come from, but I take comfort in knowing our evangelical friend Philip Yancey, one of the finest writers in modern Christianity, has read Miles and quoted him to boot. Miles book set my mind to imagination. His book (and the sequel Jesus: a Crisis in the Life of God) attempts to see God develop through the writings of the Tanakh as a literary figure. The book while being admittedly speculative and subjective has been a great source of wonder and imagination to me. I am glad I stumbled upon it.

I was about to cash in my chips when the book came round.

Secondly, “Miles to Go”—before I sleep” is a familiar poem from the pen of Robert Frost It is recited by almost every school kid in America or at least it once was. It has a simple cadence and haunting lilt. I appreciate the poem now because I have begun to get it. I know that I am like Frost, that I need a place to reflect, to stop, and following that, rest. I suspect have a bit to go before I sleep—and the sleep I refer to is the sleep of death.

What’s funny is that I remembered that poem here, out of seemingly nowhere, today. It is, like so many thoughts, resident deep in the hard drive of my mind, recalled from a time in my journey when I first had to recite it to the class of Whitehall Junior High. That was 40 years ago and although no one really cares about the many intrusive thoughts of my or anyone else’s mind for that matter, it meant something to me. I don’t know why these things come to mind. But I like to pay attention.

For at last, I am alone, in the woods. Alone is where we are forced to contemplate.

In this snowy silence there is no one to talk to; all the people I know are busy driving the horse out of the woods as fast as they can. They are not reflecting because they cannot pause. They can’t really afford it, or let it happen to them. It’s too risky, too costly, and too hard. So they glance into the theological woods and they scamper by. I don’t blame them. The woods are like a jungle and you never know what lurks behind a tree. I wouldn’t stop and wander in here either but the pause button was pushed by someone, somewhere.

Probably I incited it.

I have discussions with myself when I am lonely—or alone. I believe I come by that honestly. You see, I believe God was alone at one time, alone with the trinity of His thoughts, Himself and Who He is, and I am created in His image. That means I am like Him. And in some ways He is like me.

When God was ‘too alone’ with his thoughts He decided to do something to step out on the water, to take a risk as it were, and so He created another ‘in our own image’…to see who He really was. The reflection would reveal many things to Him. He imagined a beautiful reflection, like Narcissus looking in the reflective pond. He was eager to see. The creation was superb. It was good. Very good. But something happened. Something terrible interrupted. The bottom of the beautiful creation suddenly fell out. Theology calls this simply 'the fall'. When the bottom fell out of the creation that He had brought forth He made a decision based on His character, on His love, and on Himself. God did something out of the ordinary.

He descended.

It is vital to get that etched in our mind to appreciate the unveiling of the Story. He descended. It was a decision He made.

When He gazed at mankind the image that reflected back to him by the created jewel called 'Man' post or after the 'fall' it was painful. What was once created as good—no very good--was now marred and ugly. He didn’t like what He saw. He interacted with it, His creation, He reasoned with it, His creation, and finally He died for it, His creation. It was shocking to Him to experience the unmitigated fallen-ness of the world. He, the eternal One, entered and became subject to a new concept called ‘time’. In ‘time’ He sought to bring His fallen creation back to eternal. Eternity, the dimension where God exists; heaven if you will has no ‘time’. If it did it would, of course, be temporal or temporary which is the antithesis of eternal. Death for instance is a product of temporal, finite, or mortal. God in His nature is not subject to temporal. He is life and does not end in death. This is the reason why death is described in the Bible as the final enemy, the last remnant of the fall to be overcome. His dimension, for lack of a better word at this point, is immortal.

After years, decades, and centuries of engagement as described in the Old Testament, or Jewish Tanakh, He ‘hit the wall’. As I will describe as we move through this book it occurred late in the expression of the Tanakh. When he came to this juncture in time He pulled away from the pond and pondered. In between the testaments or covenants, that 430 year period of silence, I picture God as thinking—resolving—. In the period following His last discussion with Job—He thought, He contemplated.

It was like a lonely time stopping by the woods on a snowy evening. And he didn’t scurry by. He went into the dark woods. By Himself, One, yet He wasn't alone. When He speaks, feels, listens-- there is someone else close by in the snowy woods.

In this deep darkness He thought it through. And then He re-emerged with a slightly re-imagined agenda which He would, when the time had fully come, personally reveal to His creation.

After a long period of silence He decided to “re-make” himself, a courageous move that saved God (at least the God on the cross), delivered all of us from evil, and made it so that we along with Him can lie down in green pastures knowing more of the cost of the field we rest in.

When we tasted of the tree of 'good and evil' we discovered some things. We fell into something of a chasm, a fall into a 'lower story'. And so did God. We fell by ignorance, he descended by choice.Movies are modern narratives created to move us along. “Cold Mountain” moved me.

The main characters, Inman and Ada, are torn apart from Cold Mountain, Carolina by the dream they bought into. The propaganda served described freedom for the south. The reality was it became a nightmare called the bloody Civil War. Inman joins the confederacy and experiences all manner of deprivation. War is hell. William Tecumseh Sherman said,

"I am tired and sick of war. Its glory is all moonshine. It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, for vengeance, for desolation. War is hell."

Inman and Ada know that to be true and they want out of the devastation, the death, the ugly cold grip of war and long for the moment they can reunite. They finally do and spend a “Song of Solomon” night together. They share intimacy. The next day Inman is killed. It happens on a cold wintry day and the scene is filmed in bright white amidst grey tones. As Inman lie dying his lover holds his head and the camera ascends till we are looking down on the scene from on high. Inman is spread eagle; his blood runs deep red in the pure white snow. We could as easily be looking at Mary Magdalene at the lifeless terrain of Golgotha at the conclusion of ‘The Passion of the Christ’. It is violent, bloody. Inman actually looks like he is on a cross.

It's over.

But this is not the end.

The final scene of the movie is one of great peace; simple serenity that could not be understood had the violence not invaded. The family sits at a table on a warm, sunny Carolina day beneath a shady tree; they are having a meal with friends. Music is made, pleasantries enjoyed. One person, of course, is sadly absent, and always somehow around. Inman is here, but gone. Another person is mercifully present. The outcome of the “song” sits happily, innocently, with her the family. She has no idea what the cost was for this moment. She doesn’t know the price that was paid, the blood that was shed on this mountain or on that hill. But a song plays in her ear and she hears it so distant yet always somehow here—presently.

Perhaps one day in the sunny warmth of the kingdom of God we will be like her, happy and oblivious. But the atmosphere will be filled with the emotions and memories of the others at the table. Somehow we will know that this table was very costly. Blood was shed for this peace. When Ada departs from the table and recalls, thinks of what is here and what has happened, I can feel it too. The story helps me feel. So valuable, this table, such cost. And we will never, never trifle with it again.

Heaven, as such, is really ‘better’ than Eden. I think it is better because we collectively will ‘know’ something that will cause us to cling tightly to the things of God, and God Himself. Déjà vu may come from time to time but it will pass away as quickly as it comes over us.

‘It’s like a song that I hear playing right in my ear—that I can’t sing—but I can’t help listening.’

After my resignation as pastor of the church I played midwife for and nurtured for 19 years there has been a lot of alone time. As I begin this book it is March in Michigan, a grey time in a cold place where alone feels abandoned. I long for spring, for Cold Mountain, for Camelot, for Kingdom, for God. It would be a long year. A year of contemplation and thought. I hope I re-emerge, too.

It’s odd. Once you are in demand—the next day—not at all. In fact, it makes you feel you are what you do—and you are not so important—for whom you are.

My friend Rick Beerhorst told me a story yesterday. Johnny Cash was aging and began shopping himself around because he “wasn’t done” and music was his life. He found no takers amongst the known “movers and shakers” in the music scene. Old news, old man, disposed of politely or sometimes not. One man, Rick Rubin, not such a well known quantity at the time, did take notice. He hounded Johnny until Cash finally called back. They sat down and the "American series" albums were the outcome.

The sessions are legend to young artists and musicians in the know. He is found as an underground hero. His voice and legacy, as the original “man in black” reborn, has made him a cult classic. It was his last ride. A cult sometimes births a movement. And the legacy grows.

So I am at 52 feeling a bit washed up, old news, disposed of. I am, and this is a bit unnerving and humbling, shopping myself. I have decided that if there are no takers I will stop by this “woods on a snowy evening” and dream of the Camelot to come, the Cold Mountain of spring around the bend, a place where you can lay a child in the crib with an asp without concern, a place where a lion will lie down with a lamb. God is that Lion you know, and He is that Lamb. And they are good friends and might I say—they are lovers. They always knew that, but now we as we watch their lives unfold in this ‘lower story’ where we live--we can 'know it', too.

It is so good for Him, and me, and us, to lie down together, for it is not good to be alone…with yourself with no one to lift you up. God never was and we never are. You might notice that I mention several people in this prologue and hence the teaser is “He ain’t heavy, He’s my brother”…you see, there are other pilgrims on this road with many a winding turn. And they inadvertently lead because they are eager to walk along. And they do help me see myself, too. Collectively we are being wooed to a dimension where we can be brothers and sisters without the curse of Cain. We will beat our swords into plowshares. This is where we are going. This is what we are being pulled towards. And we go as brothers and sisters.

Why? The reason is simple, they, too, and we all, are created in the image of the God who walked in the cool of the garden so long ago. They are like Him who is like them. We are made in and for relationship. It is not good to be alone.

We aren’t.

Finally, “Miles to go before I sleep” has to do with the picture above and on the cover of this book. Jesus seems to be looking up from a deep hole; He has a monumental climb ahead. In reality He is in a hole. The world is at risk. He has descended purposefully. And He looks up. For Him this is the conclusion of a long, long journey that began a long time ago. It began when He was with God ‘in the beginning’. When Jesus is born into the world He enters the story of mankind different from any other person. We might come into the world as philosopher John Locke has suggested with a 'tabula rasa' or 'blank slate' on which our lives will become. Our songs will be written for the first time on that slate. Jesus enters in no such way. Because Jesus is God He enters as a person of flesh, but a person with a long history. He knows what has gone before him. He comes to earth with experience far beyond human years. His understanding is far deeper than our own. It's as though he has lived a thousand lives. Because in reality He has.

When He looks up from the lower story I think he sees the ascension as His destiny. He knows He is going home and this is the place of rest for Him. Home beckons, He is familiar with a place we know little about. We may be packing our suitcase for a place we've never seen--a place that has to be believed to be seen, but not Jesus. For Jesus this home is a place He has seen, has descended from, it is a place He has known...and this is why He believes. He knows. The upper story is His home.

'Didn't you know you would find me in my father's house' he says as a 12 year old boy. And it is true. He remembers. Wha, or how much He remembers is a mystery, but I am convinced Jesus 'knew' something in an experiential way that we are unfamiliar with.

The huge hands at the top of the cross in this picture I imagine are God’s hands, His Father’s hands, the One who loves Him, cleaves to Him, and will lift Him up. The lights will guide Him home. Indeed he has miles to go before he sleeps on this day—a day of the Lord like unto a thousand years—but the journey is nearly done—and He is settled on the ending. The ending which is, of course, in the end, unveiled as the beginning of a new day He can already envision.

When He hangs there spread eagle, dying, red blood drips on the proverbial white snow He knows His work is done.. And it is finished--but it is not over. This is the resolution, revelation, and redemption of God. Here at the cross we view the climax of one story and the beginning of another—better story.

He is the singer, God is the song, and we must at last get lost in this masterpiece. This is His story and this is our story. May the songbird sing to you as we travel together.

The approach to this book

Abraham Joshua Heschel was a Warsaw-born American rabbi and one of the leading Jewish theologians of the 20th century. His book The Prophets started out as his Ph.D. thesis in German, which he later expanded and translated into English. Originally published in a two-volume edition, this work studies the books of the Hebrew prophets. It covers their life and the historical context that their missions were set in, summarizes their work, and discusses their psychological state. In it Heschel forwards what would become a central idea in his theology: that the prophetic (and, ultimately, Jewish) view of God is best understood not as anthropomorphic (that God takes human form) but rather as anthropopathic — that God has human feelings.

In Miles to Go, which I tend to think of as a study of God in the vein of a literary narrative which informs theology without corralling God, I will be tracing the face of God, the character of God, through an anthropopathic lens. I will be trying to discern beneath the words of the story. We are familiar with this method. We do it all the time. We read people’s motives. Sometimes right, sometimes wrong. Listening to a song we engage in imagination. Watching a movie we engage in feelings, we enter a character’s world for a time. These stories and songs are more vivid than the words or images they employ to tell them.

I think we have thought that we need permission to think of God in this way. But we don't.

I do this with God, as we all do, so no excuse need be made for it. In fact we have been designed to do just that. We are created with this capacity to think about God, to try to grasp God. So I will look at what He was feeling as the narrative of the Tanakh (Jewish Scriptures) and New Testament unfolds. In Part One I will develop the book taking snapshots of God, portraits I call them, using the traditional distinctions of the Jewish Scriptures from the typical order of Story (the narrative) to the Prophets (conversation and memoirs ) to the Writings (experiential knowledge).

Certain themes will emerge giving us a heartful type understanding of God.

I will weave a web more than draw a line. I will be referring to the Tanakh often. The Tanakh is the name for the Jewish scriptures. Their order and timeline of Torah—Prophets—Writings are important to the unveiling of the transitions of God.

Part Two of Miles to Go has to do with the resolution of God on the other side of silence. The resolution, like a rock rolling down a hill in the rather short life of God in the flesh, is the primary message of the Bible—it is about what Jesus does. It describes how He strips the fall of its power, takes responsibility as God for creation and covenant, and recreates. The story culminates in an extraordinary way if we engage it well and let it be told. It is the unveiling of the victory of God over the fall of creation. The Jews, of course, had one expectation during the time of Jesus. They had reasons to believe what they believed. If we were them at the time of Christ we would most likely come to the same conclusions. But in the end they were wrong.

This is the surprise ending Paul saw, the mystery unveiled by the Christ, spoke of extensively by the Apostle. The wide openness of the heart of God. The 'welcome of God' catches him off guard. The revelation of Jesus should be likened unto the opening of a curtain on a stage in the final act of a play. It is revealing, surprising and disorienting to the traditional powers and in the end to ‘power’ and domination itself. The Christ event is clearly the commencement of one way (Christianity) and the conclusion of another (Judaism). It, the Christ event, is the center point of the history of mankind.

But what really was done on that cross?

We can make the Bible about whatever we want it to be, we have in the past, we do in the present, and we may in the future, but I am convinced of this: The resolution of the dilemma of God, and the release of the cosmos from the tyranny of the fall, is the key question answered in the Bible. It is the purpose of the Bible. All else hinges on this issue...all else falls like so many dominos, once this issue is brought to terms and laid to rest. This is Biblical, Pauline language for the work of God in Christ. The curtain has fallen and the epilogue is being played out. We live in this story and it feels familiar at times. Déjà vu is the feeling that we have been in a present emotion at another time. There is something familiar going on. This story told in scripture being everyman’s story—is just like that.

A new way is unveiled.

‘Up to’

The phrase is so descriptive. ‘Up to’ has to do with what one is doing, why they are doing it, what is happening around them to cause them to do it, and what they are thinking about as they do or say what they do and say. ‘Up to’ has a certain type of curiosity attached to it. ‘What are you up to’ is a question that looks deeper than the typical remark of judgment cast at one without too much thought. If I ask you what are you ‘up to’ I am assuming you have a myriad of complexities weaving themselves together in the background unseen. I am acknowledging that you must have reasons behind your behavior. It is a perfect two word question. It can be asked, based on the inflection or tone of the voice, in many ways.

So I ask as I ponder God, like so many before me; 'What are you ‘up to’?' I think hard about what Jesus was up to. I try to understand what I am to be 'up to'. I think it is the passage of any who have met the Christ or might love the Christ. A disciple wanting to understand is like Mary who will ‘treasure the words spoken of Him and ponder them in her heart’.

Anything less is shallow and slight. Sometimes the honest questions may cause us fear. We are apt to draw back...to pass by the woods. But we ought not fear asking questions. They only reveal our desire to know. And that is a good thing.

Pastor Jim Miller writes,'We Christians don’t like to discuss our doubts. We don’t even like to think about them. Having doubt is like insulting God, calling his integrity into question, admitting that we are weaker than we would like to think. So we suppress our doubts to hide our lack of uneasiness about some of the things we have been taught to believe. And there is little advice available to help us through those tentative times.'

He discusses a book written by theologian Alister McGrath’s entitled, 'Doubting: Growing Through the Uncertainties of Life.' 'Doubt, according to McGrath, is not the same as unbelief and it is not necessarily the antithesis of faith. Doubt creeps in involuntarily, uninvited. Unbelief, on the other hand, is a willful act, a deliberate choice not to believe.'

Doubt is what happens to us-- and can lead to unbelief. But alas, it can, on the other hand, lead to true belief as well. Once we have walked through the valley of the shadow of death, and asked the questions, we can emerge on the other side more whole, and ascend into life again. The new creation really is better than the old.

So don't be afraid of the questions.

Certain questions can't help but be asked.

And that is OK.

So I ask, seek, think and wonder ‘What was Jesus ‘up to’? I think he is the end of a long, long story told through centuries. Come walk along as we journey towards our own Emmaus. May the scriptures be opened to us as it was to those two travelers so long ago. May our hearts burn as their did.

God deserves this. Jesus deserves this. You desrve this. Anything less is shallow and slight.

Reader Comments

There are no comments for this journal entry. To create a new comment, use the form below.

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Post:
 
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>