I wonder what it was like for...

The Roman soldiers

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Simon of Cyrene

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The criminals

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Jesus

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Mary

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The angels

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Mary Magdalene

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The disciples

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As you read the accounts of The Passion in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, whose perspective intrigues you the most? To whom do you most relate?

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Embracing the Not-So-Holy Holy Week

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The symbolism is beautiful.

The tradition of folding a palm frond into the shape of a crosspowerfully illustrates the kingdom message of Jesus, as a symbol of royalty becomes a symbol of sacrifice.  This simple action reminds us that the victory of Jesus did not take the shape of forceful triumph, but of humility and that our citizenship in the Kingdom of God demands we do the same. 

...Which is why I got really pissed off yesterday when the palm fronds I bought weren’t the ideal size for folding.

Dan took one look at the wilting potted palm I brought home from BiLo and said, “I think they needed to be at least 21 inches long.”

“Well, if you want to go out in the pouring rain to buy a $40 palm tree, be my guest,” I shot back.

I was determined to present a cross to everyone at The Mission that night in honor of Palm Sunday and the commencement of Holy Week, so the two of us spent the afternoon painstakingly folding the six-inch leaves into tiny green crosses.

The meticulous nature of the work frustrated me, and as I struggled to make one particularly misshapen cross hold together, I couldn’t help but see a parallel between the unraveling little cross in my hands and the unraveling faith in my heart.

The symbolism was depressing.

I had lofty intentions when I decided to observe the church calendar this year, and things were going really well until Lent.

Advent included the appropriate amount of anticipation, reflection, and celebration. Epiphany brought with it a sense of solidarity with the human race for whom Christ came.

Unfortunately, Ash Wednesday fell on a day when I woke up unsure that God even exists, in a week when I felt betrayed by a group of Christians, and in a month full of writing deadlines and social commitments. Although I diligently kept my fast throughout the season, I felt as though I did a better job honoring the letter of the law than the spirit of the law. I’d hoped to get into a steady rhythm of daily prayer and reflection, but instead I found myself feeling distant from God, distracted by work, and cynical about the Church.

I guess in the back of my mind I’d hoped that all the liturgy and symbolism and tradition would magically restore my hope in Christianity and miraculously cure me of my doubts about God.  Isn’t that why we “emergers” have all rushed out and purchased The Book of Common Prayer? Isn’t that why troubled, poetic folks like Anne Lamott and Sara Miles are Episcopalian?

But the crumpled fronds and awkward crosses spread across my dining room table spoke not of holiness, but of imperfection. Messy, screwed-up, real-life imperfection.

It took a few minutes for me to realize that this is how it’s supposed to be.

The symbolism was perfectly imperfect.

Holy Week wasn’t perfect for the disciples. They betrayed, ran away, lied, despaired, and doubted.

Holy Week wasn’t perfect for Jesus. He wept. He wondered if there was another way.  He experienced the same agony and isolation that inspired the poet David to ask, “My God, my God. Why have you forsaken me?”

Holy Week isn’t perfect for the Church. It comes amid scandal, division, persecution, and complacency.

Holy Week isn’t perfect for God, as he looks down upon the messes we have made, the stupid wars that we wage, and the imperfect representation of His son that we clumsily project to the world.

For most of us, holy week isn’t so holy. In fact, it's more like the unholy mess spread across my kitchen table on a cold and rainy Palm Sunday afternoon.

But maybe that’s how it’s supposed to be. Maybe Holy Week isn’t about perfection maintained, but about imperfection restored—an execution device transformed into a symbol of pardon, three denials transformed into three declarations of love, a tomb transformed into the birthplace of hope.

The symbolism is beautiful.

Do you struggle with disappointment when Holy Week turns into an unholy mess? What have you learned from the imperfect moments during Lent? What do you hope to experience/feel/learn/enjoy as Easter approaches?

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An important question...

As I look ahead to the summer release of Evolving in Monkey Town, I have some important fashion decisions to make, and I need your help.

For example, which of these fine, couture gowns should I wear to my book launch party?

Option #1: Monkeys All Around

Option #2: Monkeys in the Middle

Preorder Evolving in Monkey Town today, and I might actually be able to afford one. (Just $1500 each...The dresses, not the books.)

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If these images left you speechless, feel free to use the comment section to share whatever’s on your mind. Post a link. Ask a question. Pimp your blog. Share your favorite monkey items from online. Just don’t use the words “health” and “care” in the same sentence....please. 

Next week look for a few book reviews, a new comment policy, and some thoughts on holy week.

Have a great weekend!

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Being Skeptical Without Being Cynical

“…Be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16)

I am a skeptic. 

I ask a lot of questions. I think critically. I challenge assumptions. I don’t just believe what I am told.

And for the most part, I like this about myself. My skepticism has saved me from poor decisions, from bad relationships, from an unexamined faith, and from an unexamined life.  It has inspired me to explore new ideas and learn new things.  It has challenged me to grow and evolve and adapt to change. It has made me a wiser, more thoughtful person. It's kept me from joining cults and buying time shares.

Unfortunately, I’m a skeptic with a bad habit of indulging in cynicism.

Like a drug, cynicism numbs the pain brought on by my skepticism.  It prevents me from getting hurt by not letting anyone in. It prevents me from being disappointed by leaving no room for hope. It prevents me from humiliation by making me tough and cold and preemptively critical.

Cynicism is the drug of choice for most skeptics because being cynical is so much easier than being vulnerable.

It’s easy to be naïve.

It’s easy to be cynical.

It’s hard to embrace the vulnerability of living in the tension between skepticism and hope.

It’s hard because it means being wrong sometimes, being hurt sometimes, and being a target for criticism all the time.

An example:  

Growing up I learned that the biblical creation narrative is meant to be a scientific explanation for how the world came to be, that the earth is 6,000 years old, and that evolutionary theory is a bogus idea invented by godless scientists. I have since become skeptical of that position in light of the overwhelming scientific evidence in support of evolutionary theory.

A naïve response would be to ignore the scientific data and just pretend it is not in conflict with the faith of my youth. A cynical response would be to categorize all conservative evangelicals as ignorant fundamentalist and completely close myself off to their input and ideas.  A wise response would be to study the issue with integrity, diligence, and the hope that if all truth is God’s truth, I have nothing to fear.

This puts me in a more vulnerable position because 1) it exposes me to the criticisms of people on both sides of the debate, 2) it could lead to serious disappointment, should I find that my intellectual integrity and my faith are indeed incompatible, and 3) it leaves me in the awkward position of being uncertain, undecided, and maybe even a little confused for a while.

But I’m convinced that if I can learn to be skeptical without being cynical, I will reap all the surprising benefits of true vulnerability—authentic friendships, authentic faith, and authentic hope.

It just might sting a little along the way.

Are you a skeptic? How do resist the intoxicating lure of cynicism? Is skepticism compatible with faith?

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The Christian Response to Health Care Reform

Despite what some may say, there is not a “Christian” position in the health care debate. There are Christians who support the legislation passed by Congress last night, and there are Christians who oppose it.

(Full disclosure: I supported it, and did a little happy dance at 10 p.m. for all my friends with preexisting conditions.)

While an individual’s religious values will certainly factor into his or her perspective on this hot-button issue, the diversity of opinions within the faith community should make us pause before claiming God is on one side or the other. The true “Christian” (or Christ-like) response to health care reform is not a particular position, but an attitude—one that preserves the holiness of the Kingdom of God by keeping these things in perspective:

Allegiance—As followers of Christ, our first allegiance is to the Kingdom of God, not to any kingdoms of this world. Jesus spoke on the topic of the Kingdom of God more often than any other and repeatedly drew a contrast between the kingdoms of the world and the Kingdom of God (John 18:36, Luke 22:25-27). He taught that the Kingdom of God is not won through military conquest, but through humility and love. We grow it not by exerting power over others, but by serving others. It does not need riches or political clout to succeed, but works best among the marginalized and poor. The Kingdom of God is a holy, radical, and alternative kingdom that can thrive in any political climate, event those most hostile to it. (Just look at the first Christians!)

If our allegiance is to the Kingdom of God first, our passions are not subject to the rise and fall of our preferred political party. The Christian response to health care reform is to show deference, self-control, and a continued commitment to serving the poor and the sick, regardless of whether the government helps or hurts the process. Reacting to this decision with too much despair or too much hope signals a lack of perspective and a misplaced allegiance.

Fellowship—Among Jesus’ closest disciples was the first century equivalent of a Jewish right-winger (Matthew, the tax collector) as well as the first century equivalent of a radical Jewish leftist (Peter, the zealot). Historical records show that these two groups hated each other. And yet Matthew and Simon worked side by side throughout the ministry of Jesus, for they had discovered a higher calling, one that transcended the highly-charged political climate at the time. The Christian response to health care reform is to show respect and love toward those with whom we disagree. When we allow our political differences to disrupt our unity as Christ-followers, we essentially proclaim our allegiance to earthly kingdoms over the Kingdom of God. It places our commitment to Jesus below our commitment to a political party.

Peace—Some disturbing remarks I’ve heard from tea-party folks compel me to remind Christians that even in the context of one of the most oppressive, cruel, and unjust governments in history (the Roman empire), Jesus taught peace, not violence. If anyone was justified in taking up the sword against tyranny, it would have been Jesus. But instead, he subjected himself to the cross, saying, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place"  (John 18:36). Early Christians stayed true to Christ’s teachings about enemy-love and chose not to fight against their persecutors, but to be martyred instead. It is an insult to Jesus Christ and to the very real persecution of his earliest followers for Christians in America to suggest that the health care decision calls for a violent, revolutionary-war-style response to the policies of the Obama administration.  I pray that my conservative friends avoid the hateful speech coming from the most extreme opponents of the bill.

Love—Although I feel strongly that health care reform works in favor of the sick in this country, it would be a disaster for me and other progressives to rely exclusively on the government to care for those in need. Both liberals and conservatives should continue to work side-by-side, volunteering in health clinics, supporting single moms, helping with preventive care, and speaking out against injustice so that the world will know we are Christians by our love, not our political positions.

What do you think? Is there a “Christian” response to health care reform?

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