Mortality work out

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I joined a Crossfit class with my son a few months ago. He’s been telling me to get in shape so I live a long and healthy life. Fair enough. But everything I do these days seem to be qualified by reflections on the Void. So when I ran across this Gif of Hitchcock, I had to share it. Working out underneath the Void! I should send it to Ray Kurzweil.

May love rest in peace

ummBesides being a medical doctor, Egyptian Ibrahim Naji (d. 1953) was a wonderful poet. His poem Al-Atlal (“The Ruins”) recounts the heart-wrenching story of unfulfilled love. An Arabic poet’s dream would be to have the beloved Egyptian singer Umm Kalthoum (d. 1975, pictured here) immortalize his/her poetry in song. Naji was one of those fortunate poets, but his poetry would be as loved and memorized had Umm Kalthoum not put it to music.

Working in Iraq as an interpreter and cultural adviser for several years, I tried my hand at translating some Arabic poetry into English. Naji’s Al-Atlal is one work I dove into. I found a few who translate portions of it into English, but none tries to capture the rhythm and rhyme of the Arabic, leaving you feeling awkward and untouched. It’s pretty impossible to convey the feeling, but I hope some of the beauty of the original comes through my English rendition of most of Naji’s haunting lyrics. I have a few stanzas left to translate but seem never to have the time or motivation to finish. (Stanzas 1 and 6 are my favorite in the English.)

Veni, vidi, vici

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God over money, baby, and it’s God over everything;
I’m ready for life commitment, like I got a wedding ring.
I’m severing the game from the truth, Biggie in 94,
I explore and Veni Vidi Vici like a conquistador.

I am emptiness before Him, a walking zero,
Waiting for Superman, stalking a hero;
I mean the Anti-Nero, for the Right like Ben Shapiro,
Bringin’ all the pieces together, just call me Shiro.

That’s Voltron, for those who missed what I tried to toss at ’em;
This world’s sophisticated debauchery, like a Boss Madam;
Purity is in obscurity, a treasure lost and rarely found;
We amnesiac royalty, kings and queens rarely crowned.

But I’m stayin’ in the field like a scarecrow,
Making a difference like Rogaine making the hair grow;
Coming at ‘em evil but I swear I’m never hostile,
Cuz I am what grace has made me: Preacher of the Gospel.

(Dwayne Polk)

This is my beloved son; I’m so happy with him

58e630928cfa7eb7b6ac3d260541ee93_w600Even the simplest statements can overwhelm us with their depth and truth, statements that speak clearly and simply in ways that go straight to the heart in uncomplicated ways. One simple statement that grabs my attention is what the Father’s voice declares at Jesus’ baptism (Matthew 3:17; Luke 3:22). The Father says, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

Typical questions people have about Jesus’ baptism include wondering why Jesus would submit to a baptism of repentance, or what water baptism really means, or why ‘immersion’ is better than ‘sprinkling’. I confess I fall into this. Imagining myself present at his baptism, I can see myself yelling back up to the sky:

       “Excuse me, but before you close the line would you mind helping us out with a few things?”
       God repeats, “This is my beloved Son in whom I’m happy.”
       I’m not dissuaded. “Yes, I understand. Thank you. So, about predestination, what’s your view?” I continue.
       The answer comes back, “This is my beloved Son in whom I’m well pleased.”
       “I get that. Very important, yes,” I reply, a bit irritated. “Now, what about…” and on I continue with my questions, not realizing that the Father’s one utterance is the answer to all my questions. God has been answering me the entire time. God’s answer to them all, indeed, God’s answer to all our questions is “This is my Son whom I love. I’m happy with him.” Christology is complete when we realize this, whatever mysteries we might continue to chase for the rest of our lives.

Consider the timing too. Jesus has yet to begin his public ministry. He has yet to turn water into wine, to preach his first sermon, or to heal a single person. By modern standards of “ministry,” he hasn’t done anything. His résumé wouldn’t especially recommend him for hire at any of our best churches. In addition, 90% of his life is behind him (if he’s, say, 30, and has a 3 year +/- public ministry) and all he’s done is live his life quietly, honor God and his family, work his trade for a living, help his elderly neighbor, celebrate the joys of townsfolk, attend funerals – i.e., take the human journey. Listen, these 30 mundane years of unimpressive mediocrity redeem us just as powerfully as the Cross. Those of us who live mundane lives of unimpressive mediocrity need the 90% of Jesus working 8 to 4, 40 hours a week. His whole story saves us, not just the last 10th of it after his baptism.

This is precisely why the Father’s words here at his baptism are so relevant. The Father is pleased with Jesus before Jesus engages in ministry, before he launches into public service, before he does anything worth writing up in the headlines. But if Jesus hasn’t performed any ‘ministry’ yet, what’s the source of the Father’s pleasure? The answer can be life-changing. What pleases the Father about Jesus is everything that preceded all the accomplishments and notoriety of public ministry and miracles that came later. The Father’s pleasure in Christ preceded Christ’s ministry. We too often look to the doing of things for God to be what recommends us to God and wins his favor, a favor we naturally seek. But that gets things backwards, for ministry flows out of the overflow of an already accomplished relationship of love and acceptance.

You know almost immediately when meeting someone whether they’re at rest in being God’s beloved or whether they’re still striving to get into that place. Less than five minutes of conversation will tell you. People who aren’t striving are able to be fully present in the moment. They’re not self-absorbed. Striving people can never truly attend the present moment. Why? Because ‘who’ they are is always somewhere else. But people who know they’re loved – the present belongs to them.

Only love can fully abide the present.

Lastly, “this is my Son whom I love; I’m so happy with him” is nothing less than creation fulfilled, the gospel, the very salvation of the world. How so? Because this right here is why God created – to celebrate the eternal begetting and loving recognition of Sonship ad extra within a created world, God giving himself to himself anew within and as the non-divine world. The Father’s voice confirms it, for this is what the Father “says” (Logos) eternally. Now he says it within creation. That’s what creation is for. The rest is rescue mission, and there’s no avoiding that. Thank God for it. But all that is just the unfolding of this moment. This baptismal ad extra kiss of love is the Trinity celebrating itself outside itself (so to speak), it is creation as intra-trinitarian gift, God giving himself to himself as created.

What the heck?

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Lifeway’s new survey of the state of evangelical belief. Read it and weep.

“Seven out of 10 said [Christ] was the first and greatest being created by God (71%), an enormous jump over the 19 percent of self-identified evangelicals who agreed that Jesus was ‘the first creature created by God’ last year.”

When will it becomes impossible to view evangelicalism as even minimally Christian?

“In fact, both Snyder and Larsen said they were impressed with the high percentage of orthodox agreement. Almost all evangelicals by belief said there is one God in three persons (97%)….”

So 97% of evangelicals believe Jesus is the divine 2nd person of the Trinity while 71% of evangelicals believe Christ was created.

There’s so much disturbing about this report I can’t even speak.