Thursday, April 27, 2006

As Good As It Gets

"This is as good as it gets."

This was the sentiment I heard recently on Easter Sunday. It was the main idea of the Easter Sunday sermon, as a matter of fact. "This is as good as it gets."

If the implication had been that this is as good as church gets, then I'd probably agree. Christmas, Easter, and Mother's Day are usually the highest attendance Sundays at most churches, everybody's dressed up, lots of nice smelling flowers, etc. Yeah, Easter Sunday may be about as good as church gets.

But this is not quite what this person meant. The message was that the Resurrection of Jesus and the fruits of it that we see here today are, in fact, the very best God has to offer us. What we see here and now is, according to this person, the escatological apex of God's creation.

I'm sorry but if the here and now are as good as it gets, if this is the culmination of God's plan then I'm out! If the Resurrection is the end of the story then we're all screwed.

Yes, Easter Sunday is nice. For those of us that get to participate, that is. I can afford a nice suit and tie so I won't be embarassed to show up to church with all the other nicely dressed people. I can celebrate this Holy Day with my whole family, none of whom are estranged, dead before their time, or otherwise unable to join us. I can afford to go out to a nice Easter brunch with more nicely dressed people. It's easy for me to sit back and say that this is as good as it gets.

But what about the person who's just lost a child and seeing happy families together is a painful reminder of their loss? What about those who have experienced a tragedy that makes it difficult for them to even believe in a loving God? What about those who just plain don't feel welcome inside a church building? I don't think that Easter Sunday at a suburban church would feel like "as good as it gets" to everyone.

Thankfully the message of Easter is not "this is as good as it gets", but "this is a foretaste of something so good you can't even imagine". The Resurrection of Jesus is a sign to us that just as violence and death did not have the last word for Jesus, so they will not have the last word for us. As some of my professors are fond of saying, the hope of the Resurrection is the hope of God's "already/not yet" kingdom. Here and now is not as good as it gets. It gets better.

Marx was critical of the "things will get better notion", and rightly so. When he said that religion is the opiate of the masses he was critcizing the government's use of eschatological hope to make the lower classes complacent about their present situation.

To spiritualize the "it gets better" message of Easter and say that the hope is only for a nice place in the clouds after we die is to miss the point entirely. The hope of Easter is that the Kingdom of God can begin today. Jesus' body didn't disappear and leave a note that says "see you in heaven". His body was raised to show that this world will be redeemed. There is, in fact, hope for creation on this side of death!

Yes, Easter Sunday is pretty good for many of us. Perhaps it's even the best we've seen thus far. For those of us that do have it good on Easter Sunday we have the simultanious hope and challenge of Jesus' resurrection. Those who suffer will now begin to see a brighter day, and we are charged to play a part in making that brighter day happen.

This is not as good as it gets. The best is yet to come. Thanks be to God.

Friday, April 21, 2006

William Sloane Coffin

Sorry I haven't been posting much lately. This is the time of the semester when everything comes due. I have some thoughts on eschatology related to Easter Sunday that I'll get to soon.

For those that don't know, William Sloane Coffin passed away last week. He was the Sr. Pastor of Riverside Church in NYC for many years, and a tireless crusader for civil rights. Probably the most articulate communicator of liberal Protestantism of the twentieth century, he will be greatly missed.

Here are links to his obituary from The New York Times and a tribute from Jim Wallis in Sojurners.

If you see any other good articles about his life, please leave links to them in comments.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Easter Greetings

Happy Easter! Here's an interpretation of the scene on the first Easter morning from our friends at The Brick Testament.

Monday, April 10, 2006


Short post this time, I promise.

There are some new developments with The Gathering I want to share with everyone. First of all, we're getting some nice free publicity from Austin Audio, the folks that installed our sound system at church. They ask the pastors of churches they work with to do their radio commericals, so they can plug the company and their church at the same time. I went and recorded one last week, so you should hear our commercial in pretty heavy rotation on 94FM "The Fish" in Nashville.

Also, we've begun podcasting on The Gathering's website. Unfortunately we can't put the entire services online because of copyright issues, but the messages are there for free download. You can check them out here.

That's all for now. Have a blessed Holy Week.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Philosophy of "RENT"

For those that don't know, I'm a rather rabid fan of the musical "RENT". The movie was good, but the stage production is still where it's at. I recently read a memoir by one of the original Broadway cast members, Anthony Rapp. He played Mark and reprised the role in the film. The book is called Without You and I highly recommend it.

But I'm not writing ad copy here, so I'll get to the point. In "RENT" there's a support group called "Life Support" that several of the characters attend because they have AIDS. The affirmation of this group is (sing it with me!)

There's only us, there's only this,
Forget regret or life is yours to miss,
No other road, no other way,
No day but today

We hear this affirmation sung a number of times throughout the show. I really like it because it affirms living in the moment, which is something I believe to mix well with my faith as a Christian. More about that in a minute.

It turns out that Life Support is based on a real group in New York called "Friends In Deed". As I read about this group and its influence on the show I realized that I interpreted "No day but today" in a very different way than it was original intended.

Long story short, this group is very fatalistic. They say there are no accidents in life and that things happen exactly as they should happen. So all we can do when faced with pain and loss is try to accept this reality of the universe and view our hurts in context of the impermanence of all things.

I don't totally agree with this worldview, but neither do I totally disagree. I'm intrigued by the idea that things happen as they "should". Does that imply some kind of master planner behind all of this? The parts of the book that involve Friends In Deed don't ever discuss God, so I'm going to assume that God is probably not a major part of their conversation. That's not necessarily a bad thing, by the way. But fatalism without some master planner seems like a post-modern, Nietzsche-infused brand of Reformed Calvinism. A strange marriage, to be sure.

I interpret "No day but today" as more of a cry of salvation/liberation from life circumstances that imprison us. I hear lots of people say "live like there's no tomorrow" meaning "make the most of today". I totally agree with that.

I believe that Jesus would add to that "live each day like it's your first". The Christian faith understands salvation as liberation from the negative effects of previous separation from God. In Christ we know a limitless future, and each day is our first.

If every day is your first day, then you are not bound by the things from your past: broken relationships, abuse, and other kinds of heartaches and victimization. If today is your very first day then the possibilities are endless. You don't have to cram everything in to today because this is the last one you'll ever get (although that may well be the case). If every day is the first day of the rest of your life, you are truly free.

If nothing else, "No day but today" is a cry of freedom. "There is no future, there is no past." The past is gone, and the future is not guaranteed. If we live each day like it's definitely our first, and maybe our last, there is no limit to the kind of life we can create.

No day but today.