Thursday, October 18, 2007

A Bizarre Delusion

On Wednesday I was flipping through the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual brushing up on a few pscychological terms that are currently en vogue. Obsessive comupulsive, passive aggressive, manic. I hear these phrases bandied about all the time but am not really quite sure what is meant. So I consulted the DSM, the handbook that names all the recognized mental disorders and their symptoms.

A word of caution. No one should pick up the DSM out of the blue unless certain of one's sanity. I mean infallibly certain. Otherwise, while perusing the innumerable pages of diagnostic material one is bound to come to the conclusion that he or she is hopelessly certifiable. An illustration from my Wednesday experience:

As I was flipping through the DSM I happened upon a certain disorder called Bizarre Delusion. Delusions are deemed bizarre if they are:
1) clearly implausible
2)not understandable
3)not derived from ordinary life experiences.

The example given by the DSM was an individual's belief that someone removed all his or her internal organs and replaced them with someone else's without leaving a stich of evidence.

But I was thinking about an individual's belief in the resurrection which is clearly implausible, not understandable, and certainly not derived from ordinary life experience. Suddenly, the words of Flannery O'Connor came to mind. "You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you odd." Certifiably odd, I might add.

The other day I watched a keynote address James Lawson delivered at a dinner at Vanderbilt University last January. As a young Methodist minister Lawson was the one who trained all those students down in Nashville in the practice of non-violent resistance in preparation for their attempt to integrate the downtown Nashville lunch counters. He said in the address, that at the time there really was no guarantee that the freedom movement would succeed. In fact, in the spring of 1960 Vanderbilt rewarded Lawson's integration efforts by expelling him from the university (a fact which must have made that meal last January an especially savory one.) Yet in spite of the empirical, Lawson and that non-violent army of college students put their faith in the hope that indeed the world was going to one day change. And it is.

And so, we who know the truth about what the world is becoming are odd. We who put our faith in the resurrection are indeed a little bizarre. And we wouldn't have it any other way; because we do not put our ultimate faith in what the DSM calls "ordinary life experience", but rather in the experience of an extraordinary God.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Reflections on Calling at Cana

The article I wrote for Relevant Magazine has generated a few comments to which I would like to respond. So please indulge me here as a respond to comments that were posted. To know what I'm addressing go see those comments.

First off, I consider my writing to be a kind of art. Art is inherently hard to explain and trying to explain ones own art seems too often like bad form. However, I do not think art should be created for the sheer sake of aesthetic, but rather for the glory of God. More to the point, I wrote the Relevant article not because I am an artist, but because I am a pastor. That means that whatever I write or say is only a preface to the kind of God talk I want us all to engage in. So I'm glad to respond to comments and welcome them.

Now on to the article itself. At the beginning of each of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) there is record of Jesus being driven out into the wilderness to be tempted. In the Gospel of John there is no such temptation in the wilderness. However, at the heart of Calling at Cana there is an assumption on my part that Jesus' temptation did not end with his time in the wilderness, but rather followed him throughout his life and ministry and culminated on the Cross. The central thrust of Jesus' temptation was the attraction of not fulfilling his mission on the cross. I think we see Jesus wrestling with the lure of that attraction in Cana.

But, the moment we start talking about Jesus and temptation things get sticky. Preachers and film makers (ask Martin Scorsese) get accused of being disrespectful of the Jesus a lot of pious people in the world like to cling to - a Jesus who never struggled, never wrestled with his call, never had to go and pray for courage. That Jesus never existed outside a lot of candy-coated fantasies. Jesus of Nazareth was human and part of the risk of his being human was his openness to struggle. We might call this vulnerability.

I have tried to show that vulnerable struggle with Cana. And I don't think I'm beyond the boundaries of the text. As I said in the article, the story itself opens a space for wondering, and so I wondered: What would it mean for Jesus too to struggle with his call? Put differently, what would it mean if Jesus were being tempted to say no to be the Messiah?

Though she would not like me blaming this on her, I have to confess that I got the idea of reading the Wedding Feast at Cana as a temptation story from my wife. She called my attention to some other scenes in the Gospels, outside the wilderness scene and the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus may very well have been tempted to do and be something other than what he was called to. Off the top of my head I think of the healing of the Syrophenician's daughter, the dialogue with Peter following Peter's profession of faith, and the point at which Jesus fled because the people wanted to make him king.

I think too often we like to compartmentalize Jesus' temptation. There is the temptation in the wilderness where Satan offers Jesus the world and then the temptation in the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus wrestles weighs the cost of his crucifixion. Part of this compartmentalization is an honest attempt to glorify Jesus. Yet I feel that there is a great danger in separating these two moments of Jesus' life from all the rest of his life and ministry; for doing so blinds us to the reality of our own temptation - the seductiveness of which is always present, from the first day to the last.