Monday, April 17, 2006

PRACTICING RESURRECTION

Warning: this is a long and somewhat heavy entry...longer and heavier than usual for this blog.

WHAT RESURRECTION LIVING IS NOT. The last line of a well-known Wendell Berry poem ("Manifesto: Mad Farmer Liberation Front") is "practice resurrection." Taking Berry's cue, what will it mean for me to practice resurrection today?

I’m pretty sure I know what it does NOT mean:

- Practicing resurrection is not the same as having some kind of confidence that life--and justice, truth, freedom, etc.--ultimately triumphs because “that’s the way life is.”

- Practicing resurrection is not the same as having a “positive mental attitude” or possessing a hopeful outlook on the outcome of things.

- Practicing resurrection is not the same as believing everything will turn out okay if you just do the right things.

- Practicing resurrection is not the same as believing in the immortality of the soul or eternal life.

- Practicing resurrection is not simply observing and getting in sync with the “circle of life.”

GO AHEAD, THINK POSITIVELY. Don’t get me wrong: I believe it is valuable to think positively; I try to practice thinking positively each day. My frame of mind is “can-do.” I take Wayne Dyer seriously when he says to “shun naysayers, whiners, complainers, critics, and those who say it can’t be done.” I believe in my God-given capacities to positively impact relationships, communities, and the world. I am convinced that doing the right things (and, secondarily, doing things right) impacts foreseeable outcomes significantly. If we do not think greatly or deeply we will not realize great things or become people the world must reckon with. I am convinced we live at the lower limits of what is humanly positively possible; a representative few of our race in each generation seem to exercise their capacity more fully and make it clear that we can become and do much more than most of us think we can become and do. I believe in eternal life.

THOUGHT, ATTITUDE, DISCIPLINE. But little of this has much to do with my belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ or what I believe it means to “practice resurrection.” All of the above are primarily matters of thought, attitude, and discipline. It requires nothing obviously or overtly transcendent. It requires challenging your thoughts and thought patterns; it requires checking your attitude and training yourself to look at the glass as half-full rather than half-empty; it requires discipline to follow through, to stay committed to principles, to master a science or trade or profession, and to “make the most” of what one has been given.

A RELATED ASIDE. (Regarding looking only at the bright side or at the glass as half full, my refusal to acknowledge emptiness does not somehow negate or fill up the emptiness that really does exist right under my nose! Application: looking only at positive things and good situations does not make the reality of negative things and dreadfully hurtful situations go away; every positive person has got to deal with what is going wrong in our world, for it may well be that what makes me feel so positive is at the expense of others who suffer directly or indirectly for or by my PMA-motivated actions.)

RESURRECTION IS NOT NATURAL. Practicing resurrection is something entirely different. To begin with, resurrection is not natural. Things decay. Animals die. People die. Death is natural, part of the “circle of life”--birth, growth, contribution, reproduction, maturity and legacy, decay, and death. It is not in the natural order of things for something or someone to come back to life. Metamorphosis is in the natural order of things; seeding is in the natural order of things; renewal of life after a season of dormancy is in the natural order of things (I think Berry is most likely referring to these in his poem, though poets leave much open for interpretation and meaning); but resurrection is NOT in the natural order of things.

REALLY DEAD AND REALLY ALIVE AGAIN. Resurrection means that a living being dies completely and it is subsequently raised to life again in all its material reality. Resurrection means a once-living being is really dead and then is really alive again. To believe in and practice resurrection is to step outside the natural order, “the circle of life,” “the way it is.” To believe in and practice resurrection is to move in the realm of faith and the transcendent.

THE RESURRECTION OF ONE. To this point in human history, we know of only a handful of humans who are reported to have been bodily resurrected from death. One who has been resurrected, the account of which has been more scrutinized than any single event in human history, was raised in a transcendent act of God for a cosmically salvific purpose. In this case, resurrection was not simply because the person was sorely missed and longed for, not because the person’s death was a tragedy or unfair or untimely or scandalous. Resurrection, in the case of Jesus of Nazareth--the unique Son of God, Son of Man--(1) completed a divine work of salvation, (2) revealed the power of God’s love for Jesus and all humanity, (3) set in motion the reversal of the curse of death, and (4) signaled the ultimate defeat of death itself as a power at work in the world.

TO PRACTICE RESURRECTION. So, here's what I think it means for me to "practice resurrection":

- To practice resurrection means to yield oneself fully to God’s love revealed in Jesus Christ and to reflect that love in word and deed as fully as humanly possible into one’s relationships, community, culture, and world--realizing full well that the same sinfulness that crucified Jesus may well condemn and kill you.

- To practice resurrection means to live and act faithfully in the living Word of God (do not make the mistake of limiting "the Word of God" to the Scriptures; here I mean it in the fullest sense, like William Stringfellow used it, including the Resurrected Christ and the guidance of the ever-present Holy Spirit), trusting one’s outcome into the hands and care of the same God who resurrected Jesus.

- To practice resurrection means to dare to do what is faithful with and for God’s creation and creatures in spite of economic loss or the accusation of treason.

- To practice resurrection means to live in faith that the same power the raised Jesus from the dead has raised you to a new spiritual life and is currently at work in you (See Ephesians).

- To practice resurrection means to say “no” to death’s powers manifested in the “do this or else” messages in the marketplace, institutions, ideologies, and images that make up the fallen principalities and powers.

- To practice resurrection means to do the humanly responsible thing rather than the personally or nationally advantageous thing.

- To practice resurrection means to act from a perspective of shared mission with the whole living body of Jesus Christ--the church--rather than in isolated, insolated, institutional or individual self-interest.

- To practice resurrection means to hold one’s confidence in the Word of God (remember, this is bigger, broader, wider, deeper than the Scriptures) even as foes assail, bodily functions fail, and breath itself is snuffed out.

- To practice resurrection means to live and act against a backdrop of belief that “death cannot keep his prey.”

- To practice resurrection means to live fully by faith in a God who resurrected Jesus and who promises resurrection to life to those who so trust in God.

HOW DO YOU "PRACTICE RESURRECTION?" I'm interested to know how you "practice resurrection." What does this mean for you? How do you live in light of the resurrection of Jesus Christ? How do you live in light of Easter faith? What difference does it make in your dailyness, critical decisions, and ultimate challenges?

2 comments:

  1. Dear John,

    I have a copy of Wendell Berry's poem on the wall in my study (doesn't every urban pastor?). I guess I would say that in part I attempt to practice resurrection by witnessing to God's abundance in the face of poverty. Take yesterday for example. In our neighborhood two little girls died in a fire at their home. Their siblings go to school with our youngest son. The girls who died are friends of our neighbor and fellow church member. There is a kid who lives less than a block away from them, who is in 6th grade, and who has started a radio program out of our church building. Yesterday he told me that he and his "co-interviewer" on the radio show (they broadcast for all of a 10 block radius) are going to interview the siblings and the parents of the girls who died. They showed me the questions -- they want them to tell stories of who they were and of their lives. After the family they are going to interview neighbors who knew them -- and then they are going to broadcast a celebration of the life of their neighbors. It reminded me of Mother Teresa's comment (something like it anyway) when she said that there are no great things to be done only small things with great love. These young people gave me the opportunity to join their practice of resurrection yesterday by sharing that story with me.

    Mike Mather

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  2. Witnessing God's abundance in the face of poverty through the youth who is producing the little radio show about his neighbors is awesome, Mike. Thanks.

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