Daily Archives: April 14, 2009

Dead man walking

resurrectionI just read this lovely blog post: Resurrection? You Must be Crazy! . It reminded me why people would look at Christians and think we’re nuts, and of the risks in taking a step of faith – of placing my trust in the resurrection of Jesus. I’m reminded of what a challenge my faith presents to others who don’t share it. I’m also challenged to rethink whether I really believe its claims.

I don’t believe that Christians are crazy, or I wouldn’t be one. But it’s good to step back and consider it for a moment. After all, our faith declares that a dead man walked (and much more, but let’s leave it there for now- that’s crazy enough for starters). I’m not about to trot out the evidence for the resurrection. Other places can discuss that better than I could. But I do want to reflect for a moment on the reactions of those to whom Jesus appeared.

Even the people Jesus had lived alongside, his closest family and friends, those who believed he was the Messiah during his life and had heard from him in the run up to his death about what he was going to do, found it difficult to believe that he was raised from the dead.

Mary thought he was the gardener until she heard him speak; the men on the road to Emmaus walked and talked with a traveller for hours before they recognised him as Jesus; and the 11 remaining disciples thought they were seeing a ghost when Jesus appeared amongst them. It’s not that surprising really! You WOULD think you’d gone nuts, wouldn’t you? I mean… if you saw, or seemed to be having a conversation with, your recently murdered friend. And if someone told you THEY’D done seen those things,  you’d think they were crazy, or deluded, or both. It’s a little ironic (and maybe a touch harsh) that Thomas goes down in history as “doubting” because he wanted proof that the dead man standing in front of him was the risen Lord Jesus Christ. It’s also good to know Jesus was able to persuade him.

It’s interesting too that according to the biographical accounts in the gospels, Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances (which sceptics put down to mass hysteria or delusions amongst other things) include accounts of him walking, talking, eating, showing his wounds, preparing food, blessing people, performing signs, and meeting individuals & groups. There was certainly variety in the ways people claimed to encounter him.

Saul was the last of the apostles to see Jesus. He hit the deck on the Damascus Road when he encountered Jesus. No-one would’ve seen it coming: Saul was a God-fearing Pharisee, a strict follower of the Jewish law, and doing a pretty good job of persecuting Christians. Turning to Jesus was no easy matter for him; it involved flying in the face of everything he’d previously stood for, and there were respects in which the rest of his life involved trying to make sense of that transformation. The important thing is that Jesus was able to catch his attention. Was he crazy? Some people would say so. But then, as he later said to King Agrippa when he was under arrest and had to explain himself: “why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead”? Now if  there’s a God, I think that’s a pretty God point.

Maybe Paul was crazy. Maybe every other Christian in history has been crazy with him. Or maybe the world doesn’t work in quite the confined manner we box ourselves into believing is the case. Maybe just because we can’t prove something with science, it doesn’t make it impossible, but simply makes it  something we can’t explain, at least yet.  

I’m quite glad I don’t understand everything. I like it that sometimes I just have to be; to trust; to let God – assuming he’s there – be God and to believe that if he is, he’ll see me waiting and if he’s not, I won’t lose anything by taking a breather. 

inter-faith cooperation: iron sharpening iron or paper, scissors, stone?

Whatever the private man’s been up to, the public Tony Blair has been flirting with religion for a while. _45656232_blair226b_apWhile was PM he was quiet at best about it, but now, if the spin is to be believed, he’s freed from the shackles of office and he can concentrate on what he really finds interesting: “I’m really and always have been in a way more interested in religion than politics”.

I don’t pretend to be a political animal. I’m not  interested in analysing what Mr Blair believes or doesn’t believe. I hope he and Jesus are talking, but at the end of the day that’s a matter between the 2 of them. 

tbfflogoWhat is interesting is Mr Blair’s new project, the Tony Blair Faith Foundation. Has Mr Blair simply identified something that government should’ve engaged a long time ago: the potential to harness the power of faith communities to facilitate social transformation?

In a way, I’m delighted by the Foundation. It has to be right that we should seek peace, engagement, and cooperation across faiths, and it’s great to see a high profile public figure engaging in promoting what faiths share over rather than what divides them.

But the idea raises questions and challenges too. In a video outlining the Foundation’s aims, Mr Blair says he aims to draw together people of different faiths as a force for common good. But why pick people of faith rather than people of none? Is this just a strategy to take advantage – albeit for good causes – of  the fact that religious communities tend to have strong identities and strong views? Or is there something about “faith” that identifies religious groups as fundamentally different from other common interests?

And what of the differences between faiths? It has to be good to encourage cooperation, understanding and working together on global issues, and the rise of political unrest with apparently religious undertones is certainly sinister. But can the Faith Foundation embrace diversity without falling into the trap of relativism and individualism? Or will it fall foul of the temptation of affirming my right to believe anything unless it challenges what you believe? Something in the video makes me uncomfortable: does the face of the Foundation threaten to eclipse the distinctive nature of my faith – the core difference between the hope of Jesus and the gods of other faiths?  Or do I simply need to trust that God’s big enough to deal, and to use whatever is done to his good?

Perhaps the bottom line is that cooperation is good, to be encouraged and embraced. The danger is in the temptation to dumb down differences, and the challenge is to do the opposite: not to paper over the cracks but to engage in addressing those issues with love and humility. I wonder how it’ll go…