Category Archives: Christianity

3 Tools to Get Closer to Jesus: 2 Corinthians chapters 10-13

The Flourishing Life God Has for You

weep with those who weep

When a loved one dies, we grieve. Grief is natural. Grief is human. The Apostle Paul wished that we would not grieve as those with no hope, by which he meant that our grief is not hopeless grief. It is not a despair with no bottom, a pit of infinite darkness, although it feels like that for many weeks. Ours is a grief with hope built in. We nonjudgmentally entrust the departed into the care of a loving God. We hope to see them again. 

We grieve, but not as those who have no hope. Greif is natural. Paul never meant to suggest that we not grieve. Our bodies and minds instinctively know how to grieve, just as our digestive systems know how to expel spoiled food. Vomiting is not pleasant, but it purges and cleanses. The ripping sorrow of grief is even more unpleasant, and much longer lasting, but it too purges the psychic system. 

The best gift we can give the bereaved is presence. Simply be. Listen. Hold if appropriate. We must never try and stem the flood of grief or seek to cover it with medications, alcohol, or religious platitudes.

Atonement

On the cross, Jesus rescued the universe. Israel of old was enslaved in Egypt through no fault of their own; their descendants were enslaved by Babylon precisely because of their sin. In both instances, a rescue operation was in order. All of creation is groaning, anticipating, longing, yearning, agonizing for freedom, release, manumission. Some of creation lies enslaved due to sin. The rest is just enslaved. The entire cosmos is under the heavy whip of the satanic overseer. 

It matters not whose fault the enslavement is. What matters is release, rescue, liberation. The chains were broken on Good Friday. A new kingdom – the Kingdom of God was launched. God invites us to participate in making all things new.

Religion Vs. Following Jesus

The concept of religion, as we now understand the word, is an 18th century philosophic idea that relates to a system of beliefs coupled with a moral code that collectively promise a pleasant eternal future for adherents. Christianity has since then become a religion, but was originally simply a group of diverse people following Jesus. 

One cannot legitimately separate belief in Jesus from following Jesus. “If you love me, keep my commandments.” Were we gathered at a post-pandemic dinner party with 60 other guests in a prominent home only to smell smoke and realize the house was on fire, it would behoove us to follow the one who knows the way to safety. To sit on the sofa professing an intellectual belief that the owner does indeed know the best route of escape, yet not follow her, would be foolish. To really believe is to follow.

Following Jesus, at least for the first three centuries, meant living out what Jesus taught. It meant accepting that Jesus is the Creator God, the Jewish Messiah, the King of the universe, the embodiment of YHWH, and, as a result of that acceptance, doing what he said to do. Things like turning the other cheek, living a simple generous life, going the second mile, taking the role of a servant, loving one’s enemies, forgiving those who offend, preferring others over self, forever laying down the sword, refusing to participate in killing of any sort, caring for creation with all its creatures, and caring for the incarcerated, homeless, bereaved, abused, and ill come to mind. 

Job One: Reconciliation. 2 Corinthians chapters 5-7

Elliott Lowell TaylorApril 22, 1971 – February 11, 1986

I wept with joy, my heart overflowing with praises to God as I drove back to my apartment fifty years ago today. 

I had been waiting alone at Johns Hopkins Hospital for hours. At long last, a physician escorted me to the nursery where I stood outside the glass as a nurse held up a bright red nine-pound screaming newborn infant. 

My baby. My firstborn. My son. A more precious gift from God than anything I could imagine. 

I was twenty years old.

Free-flowing praise continued nonstop. I visited all day every day. At last mother and baby were home. (In those days, a cesarean section meant a week in the hospital for the mother and no fathers in the operating room.)

He had long black hair and long eyelashes. No matter how he was dressed, everyone assumed him to be a pretty little girl. 

Elliott was precocious from the start. He walked, no, he ran, at 9-months. Climbing on tables, emptying cupboards, smearing shortening all over the kitchen and himself, hanging by his fingers from the fish tank. When his sister joined him 14 months later, he’d climb out of his crib, walk across the window sill and jump into hers. By the time he was four, he had already taught himself to read with thorough comprehension. At eight, he reassembled a shattered watch into working order. Schools had no idea what to do with him. There were no gifted and talented programs at the time. He skipped grades, took Latin at a girls’ Catholic high school, learned calligraphy, wrote poetry, and screamed through all pre-calculus mathematics by the time he was ten. 

If his classmates knew he was younger, they didn’t seem to notice. He had a ton of friends, played ice hockey, road his bicycle all over town, skillfully navigated double black diamond ski slopes on his first outing, free-climbed massive rock formations, joined the German club, gobbled up foreign languages, and dove into every aspect of science. He learned to sail and canoed the back creeks and rivers.

When we moved, he quickly adjusted to a new school. He had male and female friends, including a romantic relationship. He was on the varsity wrestling team. Of course, he got straight A’s.

Perhaps he was bored. Perhaps he lived in a fantasy world. He was certainly impulsive when, without warning, he killed himself. 

He was not quite 15, a junior in high school. 

It was my 35th birthday.

Had he lived, what would he be like at age 50? He had the potential to be anything. Perhaps he would have been a medical engineer, or a research physician, or a physics professor. Maybe first he would have been an Olympic skier. Would he have married? Had children? I wonder how many and what they’d be like. Would he live near his parents or in another country? 

The tragedy of every death is the gap left in humanity. Humankind would be better off if Elliott had lived. That is the case with every young death – Tamir Rice, Adam Toledo, every child murdered, every child who dies by suicide, every child cut down by cancer, or drowned trying to reach freedom. However they die, their deaths are tragic. 

And we are all the poorer.

Those of us who are bereaved parents are in a club we never wanted to join. We alone know the lasting pain that never leaves us. Our tears, like a spring snow, bring life.

If God gave me a choice between having Elliott for 15 years followed by 35 years of heartbreak, or not having him at all, I would without hesitation choose Elliott with the pain. His short life enriched mine in ineffable ways and drove me deeper into the only ultimate source of comfort, the Author of Life.

Visitors

I see them coming again

Her in her ankle-length

Black organza gown, 

Her face and head covered by a

Long black Spanish veil;

Him in his formal black suit,

Top-hat, tails, cane, gloves

They have knocked at my door many times.

I run and hide, not wanting their company

Fearing their presence

Today, however, I welcome you!

Madam Sorrow and Sir Heartache

Fling wide the door

Come in! Come in! I embrace you

Both for the gifts you are

Together we weep and remember

In each other’s arms we settle

Deeply into the Sorrowful Passion

Where Ultimate Love blooms

What Does God Really Think of You? A look at 2 Corinthians chapters 1-4

The Transforming Power of the Cross – an overview of 2 Corinthians

Jesus Wept

Tears

Under skies brushed with 

Shades of white and grey the

Yellow-rumped warbler sings a

Song of rebirth as cherry-blossom

Petals float past bluebirds and

Goldfinch taking nourishment from

Offerings displayed on red-buds

Concentric circles formed by

Raindrops push white and pink

Segments of corolla to the edges of a

Verdant ostracod universe where the

Untrained eye imagines a

Mechanistic world where blood-oil 

Consequentialism triumphs

Religion honors the wealthy and

Powerful by justifying, even

Deifying, the dominant while

Babies being crushed by war machines

Elicits joyous patriotic pride and

Even an occasional tear on an

Old man’s cheek

But those tears are an acid rain of

Carcinogenic mercury belched from the

Stacks of empires of injustice – 

Tears that amplify the inhumanity that

Causes opossum and grouse to 

Unite their voices with oaks and birch in

Groans of lament

Like the teenage mother in labor

Agonizing in anticipation of the

Manifestation of the children of

God who cry night and day,

“As in heaven so on earth,” echoed by

Every cayote howl and reflected in

Every refugee’s eyes

Herald bids, “Look closer,” the

Drops of rain are playing in an

Inner world brimming with the

Freedom of the birdsong, a tulip’s

Delicate beauty, the fragrance of

Sage and myrrh, and a vast eclectic

Seascape of dancing color

From whence comes this

Kingdom of love where

Grace and mercy flow like

Rivers into cascades of joyous

Abundance and sacrificial love,

Where beauty begets exquisite 

Beauty and kindness is the only sword?

It is born of the tears of every

War, every death, each loss, of

Rachel weeping for her children

Under overseers’ whips and 

Burning child in ruined hut and

Sobbing heart at every grave

Which mingle with the

Groans of each bludgeoned seal,

Harpooned whale, gunshot stork,

And felled tree forced to release 

Life to feed the greed of conquerors

Whose gods insatiably demand sacrifices

From those who can only hear the

Banshee’s brutal laugh.

Tears of woods and gardens, of

Parents and lovers, of the

Broken homeless, are kept by

God in a bottle of remembrance and

Mingled with the tears of the One who

Wept over Jerusalem and sobbed with

Martha at graveside

Tears that Mary mingled with her own

Precious nard in anticipation of the

Ultimate death that would end 

Death.

Forever.

And so, the warbler sings and the

Cherry tree makes its glad offering

(LRT April 10, 2021)

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