Charissa’s Got a Crush on Jesus…(sorta)

Dear Constance…another Jill Carattini devotional.  It gets at who Jesus is, and this is the Jesus that I know (of).  The parenthetical “of” is vitally necessary, for none of us has even come close to knowing anything but the most surface of things about Him, which is commentary on the vastness of His wonder and not on the effort of a person.  But it also highlights the need for humility.  While He “never changes and is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow,” that quote speaks of His character and attributes…

…but not necessarily of His choice of manifestation, from person to person, culture to culture and age to age.

But in all of His epiphanies and manifestations, He will always be found among the lowly and needy and never with the haughty…except perhaps when He comes to recline at table so a grateful prostitute can invade the perfect tea party to show gratitude…or except when He rings the doorbell and stands on the stoop with his whip in His hand and a can of whoop-ass in His heart and more passion for cleansing things than Mr. Clean himself!

Anyway, please enjoy her devotional, and read it with a heart that would look for some explanation of how this Charissa chick got such a crush on Jesus!

*****     *****     *****     *****     *****

Image and Ill-Repute

While many industries confess to struggling during times of economic downturn, the identity management industry, a trade emerging from the realities of the Internet Age, is one gaining business regardless. As one company notes in its mission statement, they began with the realization that “the line dividing people’s ‘online’ lives from their ‘offline’ personal and professional lives was eroding, and quickly.”(1)

While the notion of anonymity or the felt safety of a social network lures users into online disinhibition, reputations are forged in a very public domain. And, as many have discovered, this can come back to haunt them—long after posted pictures are distant memories. In a survey taken in 2006, one in ten hiring managers admitted rejecting candidates because of things they discovered about them on the Internet. With the increasing popularity of social networks, personal video sites, and blogs, today that ratio is now one in two. Hence the need for identity managers—who scour the Internet with an individual’s reputation in mind and scrub websites of image-damaging material—grows almost as quickly as a high-schooler’s Facebook page.

With the boom of the reputation business in mind, I wonder how identity managers might have attempted to deal with the social repute of Jesus. Among officials, politicians, and soldiers, his reputation as a political nightmare and agitator of the people preceded him. Among the religious leaders, his reputation was securely forged by the scandal and outrage of his messianic claims. Beyond these reputations, the most common accusations of his personal depravity had to do with the company he kept, the Sabbath he broke, the food and drink he enjoyed.

In two different gospels, Jesus remarks on his reputation as a glutton. “[T]he Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners!’”(2) In fact, if you were to remove the accounts of his meals or conversations with members of society’s worst, or his parables that incorporated these untouchables, there would be very little left of Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John.

According to etiquette books and accepted social norms, both from the first century and the twenty-first, the reputation of Jesus leaves much to be desired.

Ironically, the reputation of those Jesus left behind does not resemble his reputation much at all. Writing in 1949 with both humor and lament, Dorothy Sayers describes the differences:

“For nineteen and a half centuries, the Christian churches have labored, not without success, to remove this unfortunate impression made by their Lord and Master. They have hustled the Magdalens from the communion table, founded total abstinence societies in the name of him who made the water wine, and added improvements of their own, such as various bans and anathemas upon dancing and theatergoing….[F]eeling that the original commandment ‘thou shalt not work’ was rather half hearted, [they] have added to it a new commandment, ‘thou shalt not play.”(3)

Her observations have a ring of both comedy and tragedy. The impression Christians often give the world is that Christianity comes with an oddly restricted understanding of words such as “virtue,” “morality,” “faithfulness,” and “goodness.” Curiously, this reputation is far more similar to the law-abiding religion of which Jesus had nothing nice to say.

“Woe to you, hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 23:23).

When the apostle Paul described the kind of fruit that will flourish in the life of one who follows Jesus, he was not giving the church a checklist or a rigid code like the religious law from which he himself was freed.(4) He was describing the kinds of reputations that emerge precisely when following this friend of tax-collectors and sinners, the drunkard, the Sabbath-breaker: the vicariously human Son of God. This is no mere niceness, an unfeeling, unthinking social obligation to keep the status quo.

Jesus loved the broken, discarded people around him to a social fault. He was patient and kind, joyful and peaceful in ways that made the world completely uncomfortable. He was also radical and intense and unsettling in ways that made the religious leaders and others in power completely uncomfortable. His disruptive qualities of goodness and faithfulness were not badges that made it seem permissible to exclude others for their lack of virtue.

His unfathomable love for God and self-control
did not lead him to condemn the world around him
or to isolate himself in disgust of their immorality;
rather, it moved him to walk to his death
for the sake of all.  
(formatting changed by CGW)

There are no doubt pockets of the world where the reputation of the church lines up with that of its founder and their presence offers the world a disruptive, countercultural gift. The prophets and identity managers of the church today pray for more of this. Until then, in a world deciphering questions of reputation like “What does it mean to be socially reputable?” or “What is the best way to distinguish oneself?” perhaps we might ask instead, “Who was this human Christ?”

Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.

(1) From the website ReputationDefender.com/company accessed Jan 15, 2009.
(2) Luke 7:34, Matthew 11:19.
(3) Dorothy Sayers, “Christian morality” in The Whimsical Christian (New York: Macmillan, 1987), 151-152.
(4) “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).

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Too Many Gods: Jill Carattini does it again

Constance, you all know I am a bit partial to the devotional writings of Jill Carattini.  She is bright, thoughtful, technically very good, and she has a heart that is living and courageous.  She inspires me, because she is not afraid to let questions about God be unanswerable…and she also approaches a side of God that I am familiar with, the side of drawing near cus God is love…first, last, and always, and that all things here in this earth have a different meaning and application which we will one day be let into from That perspective…

…and we shall Laugh on That Day.

So this morning, Jill confronts the multiplicity of gods, of questions, of troubling insanities and absurdities abounding…and rather than seeking to tie them up neatly into a lil box with a cute bow, she just lets them hang there.

If you can…read thru her post, and let it soak your heart.  Really try not to let your knee get hit by any hammers and kick out with its own mind before you even realize it has…really try to just be still and surrounded by clouds…

…because sometimes we can only get our bearings when we get still when everything else is moving.

In Much Love, and thankfulness for Jill Carattini,
Charissa Grace

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Too Many Gods

“I am a former Christian minister who is now an agnostic—not an atheist, not a theist, not a sceptic, and certainly not indifferent.(1) So begins the story of Charles Templeton, one time rousing evangelist, friend and counterpart of Billy Graham, turned renounced believer, professed agnostic. He is quick to clarify the meaning of such a title. “The agnostic does not say, as is commonly believed, ‘I do not know whether or not there is a God.’ He says, ‘I cannot know… He asserts that a combination of historic circumstances has made Christianity the dominant religion of the Western world but that it is not unique, there being a host of other religions and a variety of other deities worshipped or revered by millions of men and women in various parts of the world.”(2)

In his final book, Farewell to God, Templeton describes the unraveling of more than twenty years of ministry and a faith that was steadily besieged by doubt. His objections range from scathing frustrations with biblical stories to pained confusions with the ways of the world and the God who supposedly cares for it. One question in particular remained with me throughout the book: “If God is a loving Father, why does he so seldom answer his needy children’s prayers?” he asks.

The question isn’t new to me, and like Templeton, I can rattle off an explanation based on a scriptures I know by heart. But the picture that comes to life within this question is far more personal than any routine answer would satisfy. Many wrestle through this question similar to the way we had to wrestle with the presence and absence of our own parents.

Elsewhere, Templeton critiques the world and what he sees as its “abundance of gods,” though he treats each one with the curious requirement of unquestioning obedience as if it was the only god that mattered. He describes it a point of contention—even a point of absurdity—that in the vast sea of divine beings on this planet, Christianity proposes the idea that there is only one God. Across history, there are more gods than any of us can keep track of, and they seem to come with as many descriptions as the people who created them. On top of this, he argues, a great number of these gods come with qualities that leave much to be desired in the first place; they are jealous, hierarchical, vengeful, and demanding—and very much a product of our predecessors.

Many of these observations are troublingly undeniable. I was listening recently to a collection of interviews on the subject of spirituality. They asked hundreds of people the same question: simply, “Who is God?” But the answers were as diverse as the patches on a quilt, and the finished product was not at all a comforting blanket of great divinity, but little more than a mat of troubled chaos, gapping holes, and contradiction. Coming to the end of that message, I sighed deeply—how can anyone muddle through such a mess? We seem to make gods in our own images as fast as we can get them off the assembly line.

Templeton and the many who echo him are absolutely right to point out as troubling the sheer number and seeming characters of these divinities, who “hate every people but their own…[who] are jealous, vengeful…utter egotists and insist on frequent praise and flattery.”(3) In fact, the prophet Jeremiah made a similar point. He called it a “discipline of delusion” to chase after these gods and their demands, but particularly as if it were all a matter of preference and not a matter pertaining to what is real. “They are altogether stupid and foolish,” he wrote of these individuals. “In their discipline of delusion—their idol is wood” (Jeremiah 10:8).

The world of gods is indeed a chaotic place. And yet, isn’t it somewhat hasty to reject every divinity in the room simply because there is more than one? In doing so, it would seem we use our own complaint against Christianity (it is arrogant to say there is only one God) as the reason to reject it (it is ridiculous that there is more than one god).

But the description of angry gods in abundance brings me back to the question raised at the beginning. “If God is a loving Father, why does he so seldom answer his needy children’s prayers?” The reason this question demands more than a pat answer is because it deals with disappointment, neglect, silence, and heartache. The question pulls on the very shirtsleeve of a vital relationship.

Perhaps it is subtle, but the question itself seems to point to something inherently different about this God—something that sets this Father significantly apart from the sea of divine and impersonal chaos. The gods Templeton and many others describe do not at all seem like gods we would miss if they were far away. They are not the kind of gods we would be saddened by if they were silent, or dare to be angry with if they disappointed us.

Like all children with parents that we do not always understand, sometimes we ask questions that aren’t entirely fair (or even sensible). And sometimes we ask questions that give away the relational presence of the one we wrestle with under the surface.

I believe it is more than helpful to recognize the human capacity to create gods and chase after delusion. But so I think it is vital to recognize that not all gods are created equal, and there is reason to believe there might be one who isn’t created at all.

Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.

(1) Charles Templeton, Farewell to God: My Reasons for Rejecting the Christian Faith (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1996), 18.
(2) Ibid.
(3) Ibid., 22-23.

The Last Faint Spark

The Last Faint Spark.

Constance, this devotional is by my favorite devotional writer Jill Carattini, and rather than copy and past it I decided to press it…

…and then copy out a poem here that she quotes.  I was stunned by this poem…and Constance?  You think I write poems??  *charissa laffs and shakes her head in wonder at the thought*

No, dear Constance…this is what a real poem, a grown up poem looks like!!  Just wow.

 

Still falls the Rain—
Dark as the world of man, black as our loss—
Blind as the nineteen hundred and forty nails
Upon the Cross.

Still falls the Rain
With a sound like the pulse of the heart that is changed to the hammer-beat
In the Potter’s Field, and the sound of the impious feet

On the Tomb:
Still falls the Rain

In the Field of Blood where the small hopes breed and the human brain
Nurtures its greed, that worm with the brow of Cain.

Still falls the Rain
At the feet of the Starved Man hung upon the Cross.
Christ that each day, each night, nails there, have mercy on us—
On Dives and on Lazarus:
Under the Rain the sore and the gold are as one.

Still falls the Rain—
Still falls the Blood from the Starved Man’s wounded Side:
He bears in His Heart all wounds,—those of the light that died,
The last faint spark
In the self-murdered heart, the wounds of the sad uncomprehending dark,
The wounds of the baited bear—
The blind and weeping bear whom the keepers beat
On his helpless flesh… the tears of the hunted hare.

Still falls the Rain—
Then— O Ile leape up to my God: who pulles me doune—
See, see where Christ’s blood streames in the firmament:
It flows from the Brow we nailed upon the tree

Deep to the dying, to the thirsting heart
That holds the fires of the world,—dark-smirched with pain
As Caesar’s laurel crown.

Then sounds the voice of One who like the heart of man
Was once a child who among beasts has lain—
“Still do I love, still shed my innocent light, my Blood, for thee.”

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Sticking Around After Dark

Good Morning Constance…

As you have experienced if you read here regularly, I like devotionals, if they are well written…if they are aware and on point.

Jill Carattini writes so well, and nearly always comforts my heart, challenges my mind, and encourages my soul with her unusual perspectives on topics typical and everyday.

The one for today speaks of the Incarnation, and how much more effective it is at communicating to us the depth of God’s care than just words spoken, true though they may be.  And she uses this phrase:  sticking around after dark.

Oooh!!

What a scintillating phrase!

It describes what life is like so well, as we encounter those who are  touched in some way by our plight in life, our circumstances or story, and are drawn in by its arc and narrative.

But they never stay over…after dark. They never move in, and walk with you during the day, and share the difficulty of being in the grip of the hungry dark on the black nights of the soul.

This happens to us, with life in general, but in life specifically as a transgender person, this is quite common.  I have often encountered people of good will, good intentions and kind hearts who are intrigued by the unique life and the strange (and I will add wonderful) state of being transgender.  They find themselves moved, inspired, or sometimes even filled with longing as they rub against my experience and what the world and its currents have on offer to me as transgender…

…but they don’t stick around after dark.

And why would they?  After all, the position they have been born in sets their feet into a world that is currently nearly inaccessible for us…what is like the wealth of Solomon himself is taken for granted by most cis-gender people.  People of good heart, of fine character and good will…but it never occurs to them this notion that they are day workers:  diligent in the field together with us…but returning home to the metaphorical creature comforts there.

Jill’s devotion speaks of this, and speaks of how God Themself has encountered this separation, and devised a strategy to overcome it, in the greatest Mystery of the universe…the Incarnation…where They became Emmanuel, “God with us”.

Constance, take a moment of reflection…cis, trans…white, black…rich, poor…whatever your station or assignment here in this creation:  do you stick around after dark?  Have you “moved in”?  Or when the night falls, do you “move on”, returning to walk in the day as a dispenser of charity?

We can be absent in the night…from our communities, from our family members…from ourselves, even…turning away from a complete identification, and thus being present while it is day.  I would propose that this is really a form of self love, and as such it is the practice and fulfillment of only half of the golden rule:  love your neighbor as yourself.  It is the loving of self in the proper way…but we are called, I believe, to a place of greater giving.  We are called to press on, press in, and love our neighbor from that good and healthy basis of self love.

When we stick around after dark, we form those identifications that allow us to  truly “do unto others as we want them to do unto us”.

One more thing:  if you are reading this, the onus is on you!  You cannot look around, and say no one has moved in here to stay after dark…after someone does, well then I will extend the walls of my dwelling to encompass someone else…then I will establish havens for the stranger, the alien, the orphan (and I am speaking here metaphorically as well as concretely).

No.  “…as you want them to do unto you” is your beacon of direction, your commission unto action.  You know what to do for others already!  Simply take your courage in hand, and shod your feet with your conviction and your determination…and go.  Inhabit that space inside the world of the ones you love…

…stick around after dark.

Love, Charissa Grace

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The Storyteller

Science fiction novelist Kurt Vonnegut once said of one of his most recurrent characters, “Trout was the only character I ever created who had enough imagination to suspect that he might be the creation of another human being. He had spoken of this possibility several times to his parakeet.

He had said, for instance, ‘Honest to God, Bill, the way things are going, all I can think of is that I’m a character in a book by somebody who wants to write about somebody who suffers all the time.”(1)

In this scene from the book Breakfast of Champions, Kilgore Trout’s haunting suspicion is unveiled before him. Sitting content at a bar, Kilgore is suddenly overwhelmed by someone or something that has entered the room. Beginning to sweat, he becomes uncomfortably aware of a presence far greater than himself.

The author himself, Kurt Vonnegut, has stepped beyond the role of narrator and into the book itself. The effect is as bizarre for Kilgore as it is for the readers. When the author of the book steps into the novel, fiction is lost within a higher reality, and Kilgore senses the world as he knows it collapsing.

In fact, this was the author’s intent. Vonnegut has placed himself in Kilgore’s world for no other reason than to explain the meaninglessness of Kilgore’s life. He came to explain to Kilgore face to face that the very tiresome life he has led was, in fact, all due to the pen and whims of an author who made it all up for his own sake.

In this twisted ending, no doubt illustrative of Vonnegut’s own humanism, Kilgore is forced to conclude that apart from the imagination of the author he does not exist. Ironically, he also must come to terms with the fact that it is because of the author that his very existence has been ridiculous.

The gospel writers tell a story that is perhaps as fantastic as Vonnegut’s tale, though one with consequences in stark contrast. The Gospel of John, too, begins with a story that is interrupted by the presence of the author: 

“In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men… And the word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a Father’s only son, full of grace and truth… From his fullness we have all received grace upon grace.”

As Eugene Peterson translates, “The word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.” But in this story, the presence of the author is not our demise but our inherent good.

Working in an urban ministry setting many years ago, I saw a small glimpse of the strange effects of being spiritually present—an incomparable cry to the Incarnation itself, but a lesson in the sacredness of place nonetheless.

During the first year, I lived in an apartment just outside the city. But during the second year I was able to move into the neighborhood where many of the children involved in our ministry lived. The difference was profound.

Teenagers that previously had held me at arms length came closer. Kids continually came to my door to ask if I could play. We occupied the same space, and it was not unusual for them to mention it. One girl told me that she knew I was real because I stayed around after dark. In her eyes I was now interested in her life in a way she could physically grasp: a hand to clasp on the way home, a next-door neighbor to sit with on the porch, a heart that knew both the joys and fears of the city.

Stepping into this neighborhood changed everything for all of us.

How much more the author of grace and mystery has stepped into our world to change our lives. John relays as an eyewitness that Jesus Christ, the Word in flesh, came to live beside us in body and blood. Eternity stepped into time and brought with it grace and truth.

The author of life moved into his creation, declaring it good all over again, bringing the presence of redemption, proclaiming again the meaning of life. It is a story that turns the mind inside out with questions of existence and reality. But in intense contrast to Kilgore’s conclusions of purposelessness, we are strangely called to be a greater part of the storyline.

In the words of G.K. Chesterton, “I had always believed that the world involved magic: now I thought perhaps it involved a magician. And this pointed a profound emotion always present and sub-conscious; that this world of ours has a purpose; and if there is a purpose, there is a person.”(3) The vicarious humanity of the Son of God is the nearness of a storyteller who hopes we might know him, and grasp that we are known. His presence is our very overwhelming good.

Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia. 

(1) Kurt Vonegut, Breakfast of Champions (New York: Random House, 2006), 246.
(2) John 1:1-3,14.
(3) G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (New York: John Lane Company, 1909), 110.

 

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Wrinkles In Time

Good Morning Constance Dear…gosh what a difficult night it was for me!

The deconstruction of my self in order to conform to who I must be in order to earn money is a very rough thing.

It tears me apart!

One of my helps that keeps me centered and knowing myself is the devotional writings of Jill Carattini…I share this morning’s here for you.

Love and Grace, Charissa, who is suffering

tumblr_n7toayaEkz1sifsb9o1_1280“Uncanny” was one of the vocabulary words on my sixth grade vocabulary list, which was to be found within the book we were reading as a class. I remember thinking Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time was exactly that—uncanny, peculiar, and uncomfortably strange. Yet I also remember that it stayed with me—the story of a quirky girl named Meg, her overly-intelligent little brother, and their time-transcending journey to save their physicist father with the help of three mysterious beings. Madeleine L’Engle, the writer whose books invite readers to see time itself differently, passed away not too long ago. But her stories will continue to perplex sixth graders, and stay with us long after we have set them aside.

L’Engle is the writer who first showed me the incredible difference between two words in Greek, which we unfortunately translate identically. To the English reader, chronos and kairosboth appear to us as “time.” But in Greek, these words are vastly different. Chronos is the time on your wristwatch, time on the move, passing from present to future and so becoming past. Kairos, on the other hand, is qualitative rather than quantitative. It is time as a moment, a significant occasion, an immeasurable quality. The New Testament writers use the word kairos to communicate God’s time, it is real time—it is the eternal now.

So it might be said for the Christian that when Jesus stepped into time to proclaim the kingdom of God among us, he came to show us in chronos the reality of kairos. “Jesus took John and James and Peter up the mountain in ordinary, daily chronos,” writes L’Engle. “Yet during the glory of the Transfiguration they were dwelling in kairos.”(1) With this story in mind, L’Engle describes kairos as that time which breaks through chronos with a shock of joy, time where we are completely unselfconscious and yet paradoxically far more real than we can ever be when we are continually checking our watches.

Whatever your view of religion, it is likely an experience you can recount; a moment so sweet or magnified it seems to stop time. But L’Engle presses the Christian to see it as something to be expected. “Are we willing and able to be surprised?” L’Engle asks. “If we are to be aware of life while we are living it, we must have the courage to relinquish our hard-earned control of ourselves.”(2) If we have the courage to see it, the kingdom of God is close at hand,kairos breaking through like Christ into the world.

I imagine Jacob, too, discovered the difference between chronos and kairos when he set aside the past which was about to catch up with him, along with his paralyzing fear of the future, and found himself living in “none other than the house of God.” The prophets and poets describe similar moments of waking to the present and finding the eternal dimensions of time. The shepherds in Bethlehem were going about their ordinary work when the glory of the Lord captured the moment. “Do not be afraid,” the angel announced. “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you” (Luke 2:13-14). At this invasion of kairos into the routine of chronos, the shepherds chose to respond with action: “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about” (2:15).

Uncanny encounters with time are a part of the human experience. The Christian is given a language to explain these encounters. We live somewhere between the already and the not yet, caught by the eternal now and the one who dwells within it. The implications are both temporal and unending. Will we have the courage to look for glory in the ordinary? To release control of our calendars and watches and note the eternal in our midst? The apostle joins every prophet and poet who proclaimed the coming of the Messiah in history and the return of the king to come, “Behold, now is the time (kairos) of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2).

Like Christ, glimpses of the eternal come quietly and unexpectedly; they come and upset our very notion of time and all we discover within it. Why should we be so unreconciled to time if the temporal were our only concern? Or could it be that the eternal Word stepped into flesh, into our bounded realm of time, and literally embodied the reality that time is meaningful because of the eternal one in our midst.

The Christian insists that kairos is breaking into chronos and transforming it. With Christ it proclaims, “The kingdom of God is close at hand”—and the temporal world invited to break in along with it. In ordinary moments that hint at such a radical invasion, might we have the courage to be surprised by one who comes so near.

Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.

(1) Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art (New York: Bantam, 1982), 93.
(2) Ibid., 99.