Friday, December 28, 2012
Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense by Francis Spufford.
Sometimes, too often, I think, on Sunday mornings I do not feel worship-filled. I feel sorry about this and a little ashamed about feeling scolded as I am urged to confess my sin and rebellion. Perhaps it is the word-choice that has become too familiar? “You rebel against God. You know how sinful you are and you know that you run from God at every opportunity.” Of course, I need confession in my life, I don’t deny that. But I seem to need more of, of, I don’t know what to call it … a more robust practice of the joy of worship and reconciliation? What seems like an over-emphasis leads my soul not to confession or deep awesome gratefulness for the love of Christ, but a head-hanging, dispirited state of being.
Perhaps this is my problem alone. I don’t know. You are welcome to correct me.
My good friend, Wes Hill, now an assistant professor of New Testament at Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, Pennsylvania recently noted:
“This is the book (Unapologetic:Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising EmotionalSense) that probably stands out most when I think back over the reading I did in 2012. There are plenty of things that I didn’t like about this book (its theology is considerably more liberal than mine), but when I finished the “Yeshua” chapter, I felt like someone who’s just heard the story of the Gospels, having never heard it before. I was reconverted.”
“Yeshua and the Crowd” [Excerpt]
Daylight finds him in a procession again, but this time no one could mistake him for a king. He’s stumbling along under the weight of his own instrument of execution, a great big wooden thing he can hardly lift, with an escort of the empire’s soldiers, and the bystanders who’ve come blinking out of the lodgings where they spent the festival night and don’t see their hopes, or even the possibility of their hopes, parading by. They see their disappointment, they see their frustration. They see everything in themselves that is too weak or too afraid to confront the strapping paratroopers; and much though they hate the soldiers, they hate him more, for his pathetic slide into victimhood. Word of his loose living, his impiety, his pleasure in bad company goes round in whispers. And just look at him. There’s something disgusting about him, don’t you think? Something that makes you squirm inside. Something … furtive. He’s so pale and sickly-looking, with that dried blood round his mouth. He looks like a paedophile being led away by the police. He looks like something from under a rock; as if he doesn’t deserve the daylight. He’s a blot on the new day. Someone kicks his arse as he goes by, and whoops, down he goes, flat on his nose with the cross pinning him like a struggling insect, and let’s face it, it’s funny. Yeshua is a joke. He’s less a messiah, more a patch of something nasty on the pavement. And as he struggles on he recognizes every roaring, jeering face. He knows our names. He knows our histories.
And since, as well as being a weak and frightened man, he’s also the love that makes the world, to whom all times and places are equally present, he isn’t just feeling the anger and spite and unbearable self-disgust of this one crowd on this one Friday morning in Palestine; he’s turning his bruised face toward the whole human crowd, past and present and to come, and accepting everything we have to throw at him, everything we fear we deserve ourselves. The doors of his heart are wedged open wide, and in rushes the whole pestilential flood, the vile and roiling tide of cruelties and failures and secrets. Let me take that from you, he is saying. Give that to me instead. Let me carry it. Let me be to blame instead. I am big enough. I am wide enough. I am not what you were told. I am not your king or your judge. I am the father who longs for every last one of his children. I am the friend who will never leave you. I am the light behind the darkness. I am the shining your shame cannot extinguish. I am the ghost of love in the torture chamber. I am change and hope. I am the refining fire. I am the door where you thought there was only wall. I am what comes after deserving. I am the earth that drinks up the bloodstain. I am gift without cost. I am. I am. I am. Before the foundations of the world, I am.
This leads me to confession. Strangely, it also lifts my heart. It reminds me of when I was a little girl and first fell in love with Jesus and foolishly thought that had I been there, I would have saved him from crucifixion. I now know otherwise. But, against what I’ve often heard, it just isn’t true that we run from God at every opportunity. There are many, many times and many, many people who run toward him dragging all their troubles, begging for exactly what he offers: grace, forgiveness, joy, freedom.