The Broken Nonsense of the World and the Beautiful Sense of Christ

N.T. Wright is the definition of a b@d@ss theologian. The outfit speaks for itself.

“Made for spirituality, we wallow in introspection. Made for joy, we settle for pleasure. Made for justice, we clamor for vengeance. Made for relationship, we insist on our own way. Made for beauty, we are satisfied with sentiment. But new creation has already begun. The sun has begun to rise.

Christians are called to leave behind, in the tomb of Jesus Christ, all that belongs to the brokenness and incompleteness of the present world … That, quite simply, is what it means to be Christian: to follow Jesus Christ into the new world, God’s new world, which he has thrown open before us.”  

―     N.T. Wright,  Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense

Yesterday I had a conversation with a friend about who God is.  We both have attended liberal seminaries where professors have abandoned classic theologies (based on plain readings of Scripture) in favor of contemporary critiques claiming to be theologies (feminist, liberation, process).  As one of my professors put it, “The question of contemporary theology is not who God is, but what it means to be human.”

Much of what claims to be theology these days – both from liberal and conservative camps – is little more than pop psychology, amateur sociology, even strategic business writing.  The writers attempt to sell consumers what they can get out of God, not who God is and how we are to therefore respond.  Forget about the God of Scripture who is the great “I Am” or, better yet, “I will be who I will be.”  Now, it’s primarily about how I can get God to enhance my life.

N.T. Wright, on the other hand, seems to be an exception to this rule.  While he does not restrict himself to orthodox conclusions about classic doctrines, he takes Scripture seriously (and he puts God first).  The quote (above) is a good example.  To illustrate his point, visit a local library or bookstore (if you can find one).  Or, just go on-line.  Notice –

How many books in the “spirituality” section are actually about personal self-help?

How many books labeled “joy” or “happiness” have more to do with sensual pleasures, like sex?

How many books calling for “justice for the poor” are written by angry academicians whose income is high by worldly standards?

How many books on “relationships” talk about making changes for personal benefit?

How many blogs are filled with poems that convey sentimental clichés rather than glimpses of beauty in the real world?

We live in a deeply wounded world.  But those of us who call themselves Christians (and anyone who would like to be more like Jesus) are called to live a different reality – one that is based not on brokenness to be critiqued, but beauty to be embraced.

(photo of N.T. Wright from Eric Carter in BA Theologians)

Give Your Life or Choose to Die: Eponine and Javier in Les Miserables

les miserables

I just got back from the movie Les Miserables – my first movie theater experience in about 20 years.  All I can say is – it was worth the wait.

But I will say more… probably several posts worth.  First, let me caution you that if you are planning to see the movie (and I recommend you do), see it before you read this review.  That said…

Today, I want to focus on the lives and deaths of two characters in the film – Eponine (the inn keeper’s daughter) and Javier (the policeman).

Eponine grows up in the household of unscrupulous parents who favor her over Colette (“I mean Cosette.” – as the inn keeper would say).  She sees their greed as they rob, cheat, and steal even a a randy Santa Claus from his goods (including his pants).  As they fall on harder times, as does most of France, they are still only looking out for themselves.  To the end of the movie, they sing out their selfish creed as they are carried away from crashing a wedding.

Yet, in spite of her skewed upbringing, Eponine manages to develop strong values.  Though she falls in love the handsome and brave Marius, she consents to show him the way to Cosette when she sees this is his heart’s desire.  Though she could have become embittered at only seeing love from a distance, she channels her rage to fight for the freedom of her people.  In the end, she gives Marius Cosette’s love note, making their union possible.  As her reward, she is able to die in his arms, as he declares love for her as well.

Eponine lives a virtuous, self-less life.   She gives her life for her love, and for people.

Javier, on the other hand, lives for vengeance.  We first see him overseeing prisoners as they are treated like slaves.  Though he hands Jean Valjean his parole papers, he tells Valjean that he will  never pay for his crime (of stealing bread to feed his sister’s son).  Javier represents the dark side of merciless law that favors the punishment of death-in-life rather than make room for forgiveness and grace.

Fast forward to the revolution.  Javier is a prisoner of the revolutionaries, being caught as a spy.  Jean Valjean is given the opportunity to kill him for his crime.  Instead, he cuts Javier loose and grants his pardon.  This confuses Javier.  In fact, it causes him to question his existence.  Not long later, when the tables are turned and Javier lets Jean Valjean escape, Javier can’t bear to live with his identity confusion.  The world can not contain both Valjean and Javier (mercy and vengeance), he sings.  He chooses to kill himself rather than to live by grace.

Death is something none of us can escape.  But we do have a choice.  We can live by grace, and do what is good and right and loving, as Eponine does.  Or we can die clinging to a perverted sense of human injustice that can never measure up, as Javier does.

Give your life or choose to die.  Which will you do?

(image “At the Movies – Les Miserables” from erjkprunczýk, some rights reserved)