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.


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Saturday
Apr032010

Jesus and the rising

'And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire,and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.' 

Journey 

Left the house this morning
Bells ringing filled the air
Wearin' the cross of my calling'~Bruce Springsteen in 'The Rising'

To the contemporary mind much of what Christianity has to offer in the past several decades has been difficult to embrace. It seems in some fashion out dated or irrelevant. As we move on in almost all other disciplines religion seems somehow stuck in the muck. The tradition I come from, American Christianity, is one of the systems under attack. Christianity as we know it is in trouble.

What has been smoldering beneath the surface is beginning to come forward. Most young people living in a pluralistic society, embracing globalization, honoring all peoples, traditions and stories, simply cannot embrace a religion that declares that other traditions or stories are either inferior or insignificant.

The days of a conquering singular metanarrative are rapidly passing. What once was assumed, (that is, that ‘we’, whomever we might be at that time, are somehow better than others and have the God given task to enlighten the ignorant or unenlightened) is now conceived as arrogant and presumptuous. Colonialism, for example, once the unashamed, unabashed goal is now a bad thing—a downright nasty word to this generation. Cooperation and mutual respect on the other hand always feels really right, is always in vogue, and is as smooth as butter. The medium and the message are clearly in sync—we are in this together and there is no room for those who claim to have ‘a corner on the truth’. In some ways ‘being right’ is the most intolerable position of all. Being ‘in’ is definitely out. Being part of the whole is now the way.

The globalization perspective has contributed to an embrace of other systems and challenged the time honored ways of confidence in a conquering metanarrative. As a result many in my generation and even more so in the generation that follows have begun to investigate other ways of believing.

So I came to wonder, silently for the most part, if Christianity was ‘right’. I began to question if the story that I found myself in was the ‘right’ story or just the religion I had inherited. Eventually I set out to set my mind to rest. In order to be an honest witness to the ensuing generation I had to do this. I could not accept that Christianity would become irrelevant because we chose to hide our heads in the sand at this crucial juncture.

Two things have served me well on this journey. The first is that I was a pastor (for over 25 years) and had a plethora of information and experience to draw from as I came to the table. This served as a sort of ballast to keep me anchored and a compass to give me direction. The second was that I was willing to leave my ‘position’ behind in order to walk the road—either a courageous or foolhardy act—depending on your perspective. As time would tell these were both necessary in my quest.

Christians—and Christianity in general—is very uneasy with questions and doubts. For the most part they are avoided. 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.'

We avoid. We repress. We don't let uninvited thoughts take root. We quote James to help us. We don't ever want to be 'double-minded' tossed to and fro. So we play it safe and stay away from the hardest questions. We live with conflicting conclusions and say it's ok. His thoughts are not our thoughts. His ways are higher than our ways. We just shut it off. But it lingers.

Here is what I'd like to say.

It's ok to question and have doubts. It's not that safe here anyway. Embrace doubt and wrestle with it. Theologian Alister McGrath says 'Doubt 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.'

 So I began to embrace my doubts even as I still believed. I gave myself permission to seek, to wonder, to doubt. Not everyone welcomed this 'new' direction. They weren't so inclined to walk in the woods. They preferred to keep the forest at a distant. It looked good to them from there. It's like being at the zoo. Being in the cage is really different from looking at the beast from outside the bars. Bars make us feel better. And we can walk away so easy. We live in a ‘sleeping dog world’. To wake the dog is to ask for trouble.

Double so if you are a pastor. Wake the dog and the dog will eat you. The funny thing is—part of my convictions now comes directly from that humbling experience. When I stepped out of that inner circle there was no safety net. When I came ‘naked’ into the world I found it was a hard place. A lonely place. It helped me to see why others never risk going. There is a certain amount of psychological justification that comes when our pension and position are at risk. We tend to really want to believe what we have been told to trust and have been trusting for a long time. We really want it to be ok…even when it really isn’t. To step out is rather risky and often unnecessary. So we don’t. But in my naïveté I did.

And there was a cost. A sort of banishment came with 'thinking it over'. People don't understand a pastor who is on a journey. They just want to be settled. This was unsettling so I did what many do when they leave a situation--I wrote a letter.

An open letter to my home town or "Why emerging in the church is so hard"

“And after it rains
There's a rainbow
And all of the colors are black

It's not that the colors aren't there
its just imagination they lack
Everything's the same
Back in my little town”—Paul Simon in “My Little Town”

In the song 'My Little Town' Paul Simon laments the inability for his roots to change with the changing times. Across the wide spaces after the cleansing rain there is a rainbow most certainly signaling something of a treasure somewhere out there. But not here, not in my little town laments Simon. Here the colors turn black after the rain. Why? No imagination. The townspeople lack the ability to wonder, to question, to seek, to move forward. They are quite satisfied with the way things are here.

And I come from a little town called Evangelicalism. I was born and raised there; it has its own way of thinking. I wouldn’t say or dare go so far as to sing that there is “nothing but the dead and dying back in my little town” of Evangelicalism but it is definitely slow to move and a bit unaware of the rest of the world. Like most little towns they do like to keep things the same. As a result I was a bit trapped there. I decided to move down the road and began to ask questions about other ways of doing things and some of the folks wondered about me.

“Does he think he is better than us? Why does he have to be so unsettled anyway, we have a great little town? Is he one of us anymore or one of them, those people out in the world?” and I lost some of my small town friends or we are just losing touch.

To this town and their musings I want to be clear. I do not consider myself better in any way, I am not chasing cars or chasing other stars or simply not very grateful or appreciative of the small town virtues. No, none of the above is true. In fact some of the simplicity of the small town comfort me and ground me. I am not any smarter or modern, or seeking fame or fortune, or emerging while you are so stuck in a rut, and I most emphatically do not disdain my heritage; it is really quite rich.

But I sense the stares and whispers when I am near. And this from my family or townsfolk.

I still want to stay in the family of Christianity. You see, some of the problem with my little town is their reluctance to accept the way anyone thinks unless it lines up with their thinking. They say they love you, accept you, etc. but their actions don't back it up so well. If you are not evangelical or fundamental you probably aren't "Christian" or so it seems.

But I needed to ask questions…and this was discouraged in the small town. And the questions became too loud to ignore. They spoke all the time and when I began to ask others, to talk about it, I found myself a bit tedious to them. They liked me, I grew up there, but they didn’t like what was happening to me. The questions lingered. It was time to move on before my questions alienated everyone in the small town.

But like any son I would like a blessing from my roots. Only time will tell if it will come. I suppose the people in evangelical-land don’t feel they owe me anything. We are right here in the town you came from and you know where to find us. I understand they hear stories of what I am up to and there are mixed reviews, some hope I’ll get over it, others secretly hope I will fall flat on my face so that I realize the error or arrogance of my way. And a few may actually hope it works out. As for me, I just would like to come home to hang out with my family and friends without feeling like I am some kind of deserter or outsider or bad person. And the purse strings, well I know they stay in town. But I imagined it might be different.

At any rate, I want to spread my wings again. And honestly, I would like a blessing to do so. I am not the enemy. New always comes and can never stop happening. But it doesn’t mean the old wasn’t a place to build character. And we never forget our roots.

I will remember my father's house whenever I hear the bells. But I must go. It is about the journey of faith.

Dr. Martin Luther King once said, ‘Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase` Now that I have done that I know he was right. More importantly I know that Jesus was ‘right’ even if we sometimes get him wrong. So I began my journey at the only place I know to begin…at the foot of the cross.

Is there any place lower or more desperate?

I left the House this morning bells ringing in my ears. I am searching for Jesus outside of the walls. Looking for the cross in my calling. Doubts have come-uninvited. I will stand and face them. I will not turn away.


Draper

From the cross like a web weave me a story,

Backward and forward circle all around,

Weave me a story, an old, old, story,

That my love might abound

What astounds me is that which you so lightly dust over so deeply imbeds itself like a wedge in my soul. You pass by…while I choose to stay; I cannot help but dwell here to this place where you have led me. Even as you skip away to the next adventure, the next ‘new thing’ my mind thinks ever harder about these things we’ve come to see. They were but a passing fancy to you but they are life and living to me. These thoughts are not clouds passing by me; they are thunderstorms settling in that will rage the whole night long. I hope morning comes in time. I hope there is a rainbow on the other side of the storm. I hope I can make it to a peaceful rest—but I sense as the clouds grow dark that I like Robert Frost in this gentle poem, and Jesus in his passionate climb, have many miles to go before I sleep.

I suppose I shouldn’t marvel, after all, who wants to look at these things.

Miles to go...before I sleep...memoirs from a deep dark solstice.

It was during two very long lonely years that I met Jesus on the way up the hill on His final journey. I had heard of Him before. But on the journey towards the place of the skull I met Him when he was most troubled and most at peace. He had finally come to rest . The epic past was just that--it was past. And what lie before him was a resting place. On the road of loneliness we see things in a different way. And just when no one is listening is the best time to pay attention to what you hear inside. We are always inclined towards triumphant. We want our stories to end that way, we make His story end that way, church must be that way or we find another church. Ok that may be an exaggeration but it is mostly true. We want good news like fresh icing on a cake. Always positive. Always a success. Ignore Friday and skip to Sunday. But it just isn't so. In reality Jesus mortal life came to a close on a long, lonely journey when it was quite dismal on all sides. I can only begin to imagine how empty that may have felt.

Don McLean wrote a song named Vincent. Most are familiar with the beginning phrase 'starry starry night paint your palate blue and grey' and so forth. But what sticks to me are other phrases--ones of brokenness and sorrow. 'A silver thorn, a bloody rose lie crushed and broken on the virgin soil' makes me think of beauty wasted, abused, and trampled down. I feel Him beside me. The song was written for Vincent Van Gogh, a troubled soul who's life came crashing down. But every time I hear it I think of the person I met on the lonely road. I can tell you for certain that 'this world was never meant for one as beautiful as you'.

I met the broken bloody rose on the lonely road at the darkest time of my life. It was the only time I could see so clear. Crushed can feel crushed in a way the blooming rose could never experience. And fools rush in where angels fear to tread.

The Rising by Bruce Springsteen

Can't see nothing in front of me
Can't see nothing coming up behind
Make my way through this darkness
Can't feel nothing but this chain that binds me

Lost track of how far I've gone
How far I've gone and how far I've climbed
On my back's a sixty pound stone
On my shoulder half mile a line

Come on up for the rising
Come on up, lay your hands in mine
Come on up for the rising
Come on up for the rising tonight

Left the house this morning
Bells ringing filled the the air
I was wearing the cross on my calling
On wheels of fire, I come rollin down here

Come on up for the rising
Come on up, lay your hands in mine
Come on up for the rising
Come on up for the rising tonight

LaLaLaLaLaLaLaLa
(repeat)

The spirits of love stand behind me
Faces gone, black eyes burnin bright
May the precious blood find me
Lord as I stand before you, I realize

LaLaLaLaLaLaLaLa
(repeat)

I seen you Mary in the garden
In the garden of a thousand sighs
She's holdin pictures of our children
Dancin in the sky, filled with light

May I feel your arms around me
May I feel your blood mix with mine
The dream of life comes to me
Like a catfish dancin on the end of my line

Sky of blackness and sorrow (dream of life)
Sky of love, sky of tears (dream of life)
Sky of glory and sadness (dream of life)
Sky of mercy, sky of fear (dream of life)
Sky of memory and shadow (dream of life)
Your burden fills my arms tonight
Sky of lonely and emptiness (dream of life)
Sky of fullness, sky of blessed life

Come on up for the rising
Come on up, lay your hands in mine
Come on up for the rising
Come on up for the rising tonight

9/11 and Jesus in the Fire of Friday

Elijah ascended on a chariot of fire. And later returned with smoke in his eyes, a fire in his heart. Looking for the children lost in the haze he descends with the fiery passion of a lover gone wild. Come on into the story. Some say he is Elijah who is to come. I say yes. And I say 'more'.

Inspiration comes form a variety of places. Sometimes we can grasp meaning that was never intended by the artist. We fill the space with our own story or experience. We imagine, we wonder, we think. Springsteen's song 'The Rising' spurred our imagination post 9/11. Written from the perspective of a firefighter answering the bell of his calling on that dreadful morning in American history it is filled with images of sacrifice, memory, endangerment, hope, and courage to mention but a few.

The song embodies the feel of resurrection. It believes and breathes hope in darkness. It was strategically employed by the democratic political party promoting Barack Obama as a post 9/11 savior who might be the leader to help us rise above the smoke of tragedy and despair. And it fueled the campaign.

When I hear the song I envision something so hard to describe. It is intangible but palpable. I can taste it. I can feel it. I can long for it. We cannot describe this thing. It is not of this world and we don't have the words to express the hope.

And it fuels my thoughts tonight as I ponder the meaning of the day we call Good Friday. I hear Jesus in the song. I hear a determined walk in the lyrics, hope in the melody, resurrection in the chorus. I see Jesus walking with a sixty pound weight on his back. He has scores of memories coming up behind forming a line a half mile long as makes his way up a hill that will alter the history of mankind.

And I wait and watch for the rising to come.

I see Mary in the garden with the ghosts of mothers; sighs in the air all around her. Sighs for the children dead and gone. It's Easter morning and she's holding these photos of children in one hand, and clinging tightly to the arm of Jesus with the other. When she lets go of both they rise together. And I 'get it'. We cannot cling to that which is dead and gone. We can only watch it rise. And hope for a new day. This is where I meet Mary on Sunday morning. In the garden clinging tight. Holding on. Letting go. Looking up.

Come on up to the rising. Come on up lay your hand in mine. You will find me in the garden with Mary. The spirits of love stand behind me. Faces gone, black eyes burning bright. May the precious blood find me.

Sunday.

Prelude to a death

And I left the house this morning bells ringing in my ears. Wearing the cross of my calling...Springsteen in the song 'The Rising'.

And when no hope was left inside on that starry starry night--you took your life as lovers often do'--Don Maclean in the song 'Vincent'.

Springsteen's song 'The River' speaks of disappointment. Dreams dashed. Hope deferred. Heartbroken. It didn't turn out. He poignantly asks 'is a dream a lie if it don't come true--or is it something worse--that drives us down to the river'.

I think believing, hoping, trusting, grasping for something that doesn't turn out  is 'something' worse than a lie. It can break our spirit, our heart and in the worst of circumstances our body and our soul.

Believing in something can bring us down to the river. And Jesus drowned there. And so do I. Everyday. We all go under in the sea of despond. In a horror of sorrow. Whether it is on a mud-caked mount or a wind wrecked sea doesn't matter. It's the dying dream which tells the story. And don't you think He was disappointed. And don't you think it was hard. And don't we want to make it better. Don't we want to sooth the hurt and aren't we eager to look away from the tragedy. Aren't we desperate to get to Sunday morning?

'I act like I don't remember, Mary acts like she don't care'.

Don't we avoid the river at all cost. We look away. But it is waiting for us. Memories haunt us, trail us, shadow us till they catch us.

Here it is. Crushed and broken. A bruised reed. They crucified my friend on this hill. No, not them. It was this place, this earth, this bloody and broken world. This disappointment envelops me. This dream dashed. This thing called the fall is like a shroud that wraps its cold arms around me.

It didn't turn out. For a tragedy to be true there has to be a low. And God descends. Like Alice in Wonderland he tumbles down the rabbit hole, down the well, and down the stairs till he lands on the lowest point on the earth. It is a place called the skull. This is where we find Him. It is in the bottom of the river where the sediment lies. And I could have told you Jesus, this world was never meant for one as beautiful as you.

 

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