The Good News of “Holy Terror”

As we begin our Holy Week journey toward the cross, we know already that the story ends with the good news of resurrection. But Mark gives us a different take on Jesus’ resurrection than we typically think of.

Here are the (most likely*) final words of Mark’s Gospel: “So [Mary, Mary, and Salome] went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

Fear, even terror? How is this good news?

There’s a long history in the Bible of “holy fear,” even “holy terror,” in the presence of God. This isn’t (normally) because God is angry or abusive, but because God is so…absolutely other. “Holy,” to use the biblical language. When we humans find ourselves in the absolute presence of the transcendent God, we realize that God is not like we had imagined: God is so much greater than we had ever imagined.

This biblical thread finds its way into Mark’s Gospel story of Jesus. When Jesus teaches, people are “astounded.” When Jesus casts out demons, they are “in awe.” When Jesus heals, they are “stunned.” When Jesus walks on the water, his disciples are “terrified.” When Jesus calms the storm, they literally “fear with a great fear.” “Who is this,” they ask, “that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

So we really shouldn’t be surprised when Mark ends his Gospel with these same words, following this long biblical tradition. In Jesus’ resurrection, God has revealed God’s self in all God’s fullness: in life rising out of death, in peace growing out of violence, in liberation bursting out of oppression, in love blooming in the midst of hate. In Jesus’ resurrection, God has blown the doors off all our expectations of who God is and what God does.

This Easter may we, like the two Marys and Salome, come face to face with God in the resurrected Jesus, so that the walls we build around God might be shattered in the revelation of God’s life and peace and liberation and love. This is a good “holy terror.” This is good news.

* Mark’s Gospel has several different endings in ancient manuscripts of Mark. Most textual critics think Mark’s Gospel originally ended here, at Mark 16:8. Later scribes weren’t satisfied with this ending so they added their own or borrowed from the other Gospels.

Being a Discerning Christian in the Information Age (Or, What to Do When You’re Forwarded That Email)

We all get those emails, forwarded to us by a concerned friend or family member. Or we see the posts as we scroll through our Facebook feed. Or we hear the reports in the coffee shop, passed along in solemn tones. Something alarming has happened in the world, or is about to happen, or is being planned even as we speak.

You know the ones I mean. I’m talking about those emails or posts or reports that claim that we’re about to be overrun by violent Muslim extremists masquerading as refugees, or that Donald Trump is following Hitler’s playbook, or that there’s some gay agenda to take over our schools, or that climate change is a hoax, or that we’re all going to die in fifty years because of climate change, or whatever.

Usually, when I see these kinds of posts or get forwarded these kinds of emails, I sigh out loud and then hit the delete button or keep on scrolling. Maybe you’re the same way.

But sometimes the email or post requires a response, or maybe it’s something we feel we should be aware of if only to know what people are talking about when they mention it. Or, maybe something about it even grabs our attention and we think, “What if it’s true?”

What do we do then?

In our era of instantly, constantly available “news,” how do we sift through the chaff and find the truth? How should we even think or feel about the relentless storm of bad news, conspiracy theories, and conflicting claims that swirls around us in this age of dis/mis/information?

When sigh-and-delete is not an option, there are three things I try to do. Maybe you will find these things helpful, too.

First, I remind myself that we are called to be people of faith, not fear. These kinds of reports are always driven by fear: at bottom they exhibit a profound lack of trust in God.

As Christians we are called to trust that God is indeed sovereign through all things, that God’s kingdom is indeed growing throughout the world, that Christ is building his church and not even the gates of death can prevail against it, and that God has raised Jesus from the dead, conquering death itself.

These reports are driven by fear, not motivated by faith. The fear may be understandable, it might seem natural, but it runs counter to the fundamental stance of a follower of Jesus: a stance of faith in God.

Second, I remind myself that we are called to be people of love, not enmity. We are commanded by Jesus to love our neighbours—anyone we encounter who is in need—but also to love our enemies—anyone who opposes us, even violently.

The fear that I’ve just mentioned often leads to a kind of “defensive antagonism”—we get our hackles up (it’s the “fight” in the “fight or flight” response built into our most primitive intuition). That defensive antagonism can sometimes leap immediately to the extreme of physical violence, but more often it takes the form of hostile attitudes that settle in our hearts, which then build toward offensive words and aggressive (or passive-aggressive) actions.

This is essentially the nature of prejudice or bigotry: fear, when fueled by ignorance and left unchecked by genuine faith and love, leads to hostile attitudes that separate “us” from “them,” and ultimately to more direct actions of injustice and oppression.

But we are called to empathy and compassion, not prejudice and bigotry. We are called to love, not enmity.

And this leads to the third thing I do: I remind myself to gain knowledge about a situation and to learn more about the “other.” It’s important that we do our best to discern the truth about our world and one another, in order to love each other better. Knowledge dispels ignorance, which is crucial for dismantling bigotry and oppression.

otero-chart

Handy chart of news sources by Vanessa Otero.

For myself, I avoid the so-called “news” sources on either the extreme right or extreme left. Instead I try to get my news from major news outlets—whether leaning left or right—that follow basic codes of journalistic integrity. When I come across a specific item, I first look to its source to see if it fits the bill.

I might also do some quick fact-checking on sites like Snopes.com or TruthorFiction.com (for popular stories), FactCheck.org or PolitiFact.com (for American politics), or Wikipedia (for general info). If more in-depth research is needed I’ll follow the links at those sites, or, even better, I’ll search more academic or technical sources of information such as research pages at university websites, scholarly research portals, various UN sites, or others. I’ll check multiple sites if needed to avoid getting only one angle on things.

Yes, this all takes time, and it doesn’t always yield clear and simple results. Discerning truth is like that. And sometimes we just have to say, “I’m not sure what’s going on, but I still choose to live in faith and love.”

It has never been easy to be a discerning follower of Jesus in the world, being, as Jesus put it, “wise as serpents yet innocent as doves.” In some ways it’s even harder now, with millions of terabytes of information at our fingertips, both true and false, used both for good and for ill.

May God give us wisdom as we seek to discern the truth in our complex world, and may God give us faith and love—and hope!—in a world that at times seems determined to rob us of these gifts.

Cross-posted from www.mordenmennonitechurch.wordpress.com. © Michael W. Pahl

Love is All We Need

Love is All We Need | Scripture and Jesus on Love | What is Love?
Love, Above All | How Should We Then Love?

We live in turbulent times.

Everything is changing. Nothing seems certain any more.

Humans NYOur knowledge of the universe is growing exponentially, racing beyond our wisdom, outpacing our ability to tame this knowledge for good purposes.

Our globe has shrunk to a village, but it’s a village made up of thousands of distinct cultures, dozens of religions with hundreds of offshoots, and seven billion one-of-a-kind individuals.

Our world is increasingly complex, and we don’t know how to handle this. We scramble for some kind of order in all the chaos and confusion.

We’re afraid, though we don’t like to admit it. We’re afraid of change, afraid of losing what we value most, afraid of the unknown other, the unknown future, afraid of a meaningless existence.

We mask all these fears with stuff—big houses and new cars, gizmos and gadgets and mindless entertainment, all just bread and circuses. Or we medicate our fears away—whether it’s prescription drugs or spiritual highs or something else—anaesthetizing our angst until it retreats to the depths of our subconscious.

Naturally, everyone’s got an opinion on what should be done—that’s part of the mad scramble for order, and part of the chaos and confusion. We take sides on issue x or issue y, digging into our polarized positions in binary code. We shout at each other IN ALL CAPS across the internet. We react to opposition with flaming words, with shaming and scapegoating, or with bullets and bombs—betraying all those underlying fears, and giving us even more reason to fear.

We Christians have our own brands of chaos and confusion, growing from those same complex realities. Faith nomads shift from one Christian tradition to another, church attendance overall is on the decline, and Christianity’s public influence is waning even faster. And we eagerly contribute to the cacophony of opinions on what should be done about all this.

Some of us call for allegiance to doctrinal systems that lay everything out with clarity and certainty—in this we will find our stability, we are told. Others turn to the latest fandangled worship bling or revive tried-and-true forms of ancient ritual. Still others shrug their shoulders at theology or liturgy and instead focus on social justice efforts or political engagement.

Some point to charismatic speakers or compelling authors and hang on their every word—surely they will point the way forward. Others appeal for a simple return to the Bible, apparently unaware that the Christian Scriptures have in fact spawned dozens of different worldviews themselves, contributing to the complexity and chaos and confusion of our post-Christendom world.

In the midst of this chaos and confusion, standing in the complexity of our world, I join my voice to those who say this:

We need to love each other.

All we need is love.

Love is all we need.

Yikes! Did you hear that? That was the sound of Christians shouting their objections at me. (Yes, we Christians do that, in case you haven’t noticed.)

“Love? Seriously? The world’s problems are going to be solved by holding hands and singing ‘Kumbaya’? Get real!”

“Love, sure. But we are also called by God to be holy, we are called to seek and speak truth. Love without holiness and truth is no love at all!”

“You’re just another liberal following the crowd, reducing the gospel to mere ‘tolerance,’ willing to accept anything and everything in the name of love!”

Well, before you grab your pitchforks and storm mi casa, hear me out.

I say, “Love is all we need,” because I believe Scripture points us to this. I believe Jesus points us to this.

I say, “Love is all we need,” because I believe all other divine commands and human virtues—including holiness and truth-speaking—are subsumed under love, governed by love, even defined by love.

I say, “Love is all we need,” because I believe the love Scripture and Jesus point to is not mere tolerance, or mere affection, but something far more, far more substantial, far more necessary.

Love is all we need.

Faith Hope LoveIf we get this one thing right, everything else will fall into place. If we don’t get this right, nothing else will matter.

Sound a little over-the-top? Well, come back tomorrow and I’ll begin fleshing this out in a series of blog posts this week.

In the meantime, here’s a little reading to get you started.

Love is All We Need | Scripture and Jesus on Love | What is Love?
Love, Above All | How Should We Then Love?

Cross-posted from http://www.mordenmennonitechurch.wordpress.com. © Michael W. Pahl.