Zombie Faith

2-2-13, City on a Hill 3, Zombie Faith

 

Our third week of the City on a Hill series continues dissecting the Sermon on the Mount, tackling some increasingly touchy subjects as we keep digging deeper. Our main topic of discussion today was ‘Fulfillment of the Law’ with all the connotations and insinuations it entails. Matthew 5:17-20, I have not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it.

In this segment of his message, Jesus is speaking directly to the outwardly religious in the crowd. This is the leading issue that caused such violent back-lash by the religious elite in Jerusalem. Jesus is publicly calling them out for their hypocrisy. Our chosen manner of reception as we read the Bible brings us to a crossroads where we can choose the path of the righteous elite or the path of Jesus. Dean laid this out to us in a way I had not heard before, contrasting prescriptive reading with descriptive reading. A prescription provides a black and white solution to a problem; to get ‘A’ one must do ‘B’. Reading the Bible as a prescription for salvation interprets Jesus’s words as a set of minimum guidelines every individual must stay within. As a result of living life between these lines, you are in right standing with God on your day of judgement. Prescriptive reading leads to a self-righteous world-view. Donald Miller communicated a most excellent description of self-righteousness in a Storyline blog post last week; “When people are self-righteous, they are not getting their sense of righteousness from themselves. They’re getting it from you.” Self-righteous, prescriptively religious people evaluate their self-worth by comparing themselves to everyone else. “At least I’m not living like Bob over there, God must really be happy with me.” or “I’m not as good as Chuck, I need to spend more time at church.” Neither attitudes are spiritually productive, much less attractive to those still searching for their faith.

Descriptive reading converts the external interpretation of Jesus’s teaching as a checklist into an introspective evaluation to better oneself into becoming the person Jesus describes. The clearer the image Jesus paints for us becomes, the more we realize it is a life no human can ever attain. The righteousness God requires is an ultimate impossibility for the created human, at least unobtainable on our own.

Righteousness is not a status determined by what we do, we must also take into account our motives for doing. Your attempts at being kind to strangers is good, but is not righteous without a genuine concern for the person that outweighs your ego-boost from being kind. As we’ll read in the coming weeks; hate (on any level and toward any person), jealousy (again, of anyone or anything), lust (that buzz you get around that guy or girl this culture mis-defines as ‘love’. Put a ring on it or get away), entertaining any of these attitudes is a blemish on our righteousness. God is perfect, requiring everything in his presence to be also perfect. The smallest blemish puts you on the black-list…….unless. Jesus. Jesus is our mediator, standing in our place before God. He accepts all of our bruises and blemishes so that we are accepted into God’s kingdom as sons and daughters. Jesus is the wall of righteous we pass through, coming out clean on the other side.

My inspiration for today’s drawing is actually a painting concept I tossed around more than a year ago. Self-righteous people, like the Pharisee leaders Jesus’s word convicted, look normal (at the least) on the outside, but are rotting at their core. They work to hide their sin by preaching (hollering) against the very things they do behind closed doors. Tying that person in with the Tinkerbell salvation experience from last week’s post and the resulting image is of a spiritual zombie. Where a “real” zombie walks the earth with an insatiable appetite for brains, spiritual zombies hunger for minds, yours and mine. The more minds they can add to their conversion record, the more righteous they become. Their goal is strictly numbers, once they take a bite of your mind, you are counted as their spiritual property and the responsibility to live up to their standards is yours to fail.

Spiritual zombies are ingrained with a dogma that they must prove their own righteousness by disproving yours. They are quick to point out faults, boisterously preach the “right” ways to live and worship, then quickly disappear when their true state of equal broken-ness appears. The first appendage to decay on these zombies are their ears. They recoil and strike at the first hint of questioning or disagreement, refusing to hear any argument that does not echo their own position. Real zombies act on hunger instinct alone, travelling in herds to the next source of brains. Spiritual zombies lack the ability to think for themselves as long as their zombie-ism persists. As time progresses, lack of communication and stunted growth leads to cannibalism. When no “unrighteous” people are within striking distance, the self-righteous minds must turn to consuming each other, competing for the title of most-righteous.

But there is hope. Jesus, through his life and sacrifice, changed the barrier of the law from a wall in which we face-plant into a membrane we can freely permeate and come through cured. Recognizing the righteous person Jesus describes as our baseline model is himself, a level we can never obtain without his covering, righteousness becomes an lifestyle to live because of, not one to live for. When we live because of the righteous status Jesus has already raised us to, our hands are ready to serve, our eyes look for opportunities, and our ears are open to listen.

A figure has collapsed on the right of the drawing, as zombie that has been cured by Jesus’s righteous membrane. He lays out his hands, submitting to his inadequacy and the guidance of the gospel; his ears having grown back into operable place.

 

He who has an ear, let ’em hear. – best recited by Bob Clyde during a Revelation study in the BSU at ECU

 

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Lose Your Religion

What images flood your mind from reading the title of this entry? Freedom? Anarchy? R.E.M.? I am exploring new artistic territory by creating an interactive piece based on a series idea “Losing My Religion”.

Hearing the series title immediately conjured up images of Michael Stipe’s bowed head and a dark room with a figure crouched in a fetal position. After jotting down those images, I returned to the title and ask myself the question, “What does losing one’s religion look like?” That’s when the answer hit me; it is a process. Letting go of something ingrained into your psyche is a process of emotional surgery. Religion is much deeper because it entails visible actions and, for some, certain vocalized beliefs. It’s much more complicated than turning a switch on an off. This revelation of letting go being a process led me to create this piece in such a way that viewing it is a process.

As the viewer, you must work your way through four stages before viewing the final image of this piece. Each stage carries with it a unique message and break another link in the chain of religious bondage. The process of taking in this creation is a process of breaking links in the chains of religious bondage, the art holding your hand and walking beside you every step of the way.

Religion – When first approaching the piece, the image represents religion. It is not indicative of any specific religion, I am representing religion in general. The piece extrudes itself from the wall where it hangs as if it is reaching out to each passer-by, craving their attention. Once a viewer’s attention is capture, they see the shadow box wall hanging is very closed. Two wooden panels are the first attributes than grasp the eye’s attention. Each made of rough OSB plywood, camouflaged to match the smooth rails that frame in the piece using the same dark wood stain. These two panels embrace a heavy curtain, protecting it from tampering hands and minds. The curtain stands stoically protecting the internal image, much like religion covers the heart of faith and conceals the mission of the church.

Stop – The panel on the bottom left is a stop sign. Below the stop sign; no left turn, no right turn, do not move back, do not move forward. Religion gridlocks souls in constant fear by setting strict rules and standards of thought and behavior.

Good Luck – 

The world is a smorgasbord of religious dogmas. If someone does feel the need to adopt religion, how  do they know which one to pick? Practice each one, then pick your favorite? Set up an interview for religious recruiters and go with the most convincing pitch? One characteristic practically every religion shares is knowing for a fact they are the right one. Go here, do that, not this……..good luck.

I Am The Way

Turning over the ‘Stop’ panel exposes the words ‘I AM THE WAY’, the starting phrase of  John 14:6. Thomas, one of Jesus’s disciples known for his insecurity, was quite disturbed when Jesus foretold his impending death. Jesus stated he was going to prepare a place for his disciples, a place they already knew how to reach. Thomas reacts by asking, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus answers “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

Follow Me – 

Luke 9:23 If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me daily. In the fog of rules and directions bombarding us from every direction, Jesus clears a path by this one statement; follow me.

 

 

 

 

 

It is Finished – 

With his dying breath on the cross, Jesus uttered a phrase that concluded his ministry (and his life) as a resident of earth; tetelestai (John 19:30). This Greek word was commonly used to close business deals and settle legal matters as a statement of completion. Translated into English, this word means “it is finished”.

As the apostles recount the events of Christ’s death, the moment Jesus breathed his last several significant events occurred. Darkness overtakes the skies from noon until three (Matthew 27:45, Mark 15:33, Luke 23:44), an earthquake struck (Matthew 27:51), tombs opened and their occupiers rose to life (Matthew 27:52), the curtain in the temple which separated the people from the Holy of Holies (Matthew 27:51, Mark 15:38, Luke 23:45). Up to this moment,  only the High Priest could pass behind the curtain and converse with God on the people’s behalf. The tearing of the curtain carved the path for each individual to freely embrace God for themselves.

At this point of the piece, the viewer is free to pull back the torn curtain and expose the image behind. The focal point is the bowed head of our deceased Messiah, one final tear glistening as it slides down his lifeless nose.

Above Christ’s head, written in Greek, is ‘tetelestai’. I used gold leaf to create these letters to symbolize the value of this statement, it is finished.

You Are Free –

That’s me in the corner
That’s me in the spotlight
Losing my religion
Trying to keep up with you
And I don’t know if I can do it
Oh no I’ve said too much
I haven’t said enough

Below his chin is a phrase written specifically to help you as the viewer understand the impact tetelestai, ‘YOU ARE FREE’. These letters are dark crimson, symbolizing the blood shed for their inception. The phrase is placed below Christ’s chin to imply they are Christ-breathed and located at the bottom of the page, where your eye comes to rest after absorbing the full image.

YOU ARE FREE

The Lord’s Prayer

The model for praying described by Jesus in what is known as the Lord’s Prayer lays out a three-phase process for communicating with the Creator. Let’s break down these directions from Matthew 6:9-13

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.

As we begin to pray, we should first declare God’s greatness.  By first recognizing God’s position we cannot avoid realizing ours as relative to Him. Last week posed the question, what if the point of prayer is not to get God to do stuff? Establishing your’s and God’s places by declaring His immeasurable greatness makes your wish list of requests vanish in a shadow of humility.

I am representing the start of prayer by the outer edge of this digital image. Light yellow with a white lining brings a sense of awe and a feeling of greatness.

Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

After realizing God’s magnificence, the next natural step is surrendering your will to Him. This is often easier said than done. Who has any natural desire to give up what they want? No one, that is why we pray for the ability to let go. In this stage of prayer we surrender all of ourselves to God. Here lies the most important part of prayer, because it is in surrender that life-change occurs. Nearly every testimony of how God turned someone’s life or situation around will be preceded by “I laid it all down and gave it to God.” Surrender is the door to growth.

To symbolize surrender, the middle circle is a soft blue-grey. This hue of blue inspires relaxation, de-stressing, and letting go.

Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

Finally, acknowledge your dependency on God. Now you get back to your wish list, likely much shorter now than when you began to pray. In making your requests, you are inherently acknowledging your dependence on God to fill those requests. Tied with that is acknowledging your own inadequacy to accomplish those desires on your own. After declaring God’s greatness and surrendering your own will, submitting requests to God feels more like asking for petty favors than dispatching a super-natural force of productivity.

The central circle is a deep blue, the darkness representing the shame that often comes with acknowledging our inadequacies and claiming our dependency.

My choice of colors in today’s drawing is significant for each aspect of prayer, but also work together in the overall image. If you’ve taken any art classes that studied color, you will recall dark colors recess and light colors project. The center circle is darkest and the colors grow lighter as they move out, drawing your eye in and pulling your mind through the image. The decreasing size of the circles symbolizes an increased humility as the prayer progresses.

One final word closes the prayer; amen. Amen is a word that dates back to early religious texts of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The word is a declaration of affirmation that literally means, ‘so be it’ or ‘let it be so’. We close prayers with ‘amen’ as a declaration to let the outcomes of the conversation we just had with the Creator be fulfilled, it is our commitment of surrender to God’s will and promise of action to come. A simple star at the very center of the page is amen.

Go into your room, pray this way in private, praying as long as it takes.

Gospel Stockholm Syndrome

Stockholm syndrome – a paradoxical psychological phenomenon in which hostages express empathy and positive feelings toward their captors, sometimes to the point of defending them.

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1

Our study of Paul’s letter to Galatia has shown he wrote to plainly lay out the Gospel of Christ and clear up the muddy theology that had corrupted this church. In chapter 5, Paul is warning these followers that they have let themselves become enslaved by religious legalism and turned to embrace their captor. We must be careful not to fall into the same trap. We can easily allow ourselves to embrace a gospel that takes small tastes of Jesus and twists them into a strict set of rules instead of simply loving others. Like a victim who falls in love with their kidnapper, we can experience a Gospel Stockholm Syndrome, vehemently defending the twisted theology we’ve been taught to accept as truth when faced with the real truth of Jesus’s desire for our hearts.

Today’s drawing visualizes Stockholm Syndrome. A figure falls to one knee to embrace the standing figure made of chains. Chain-linked tentacles slither from the standing figure to wrap around the kneeling figure, entrapping him in his embrace, turning his offer of affection into submission into slavery.

If you have fallen victim to this captivity of your mind, know you can break those chains. Let go of your captor by loving people, starting with yourself. Embrace the freedom offered to you through the Gospel and you will be free.

Those who’ve avoided being tangled in a web of insatiable legalism, it is your responsibility to lead others to freedom by loving them out.

Keeping the Cross Central

Here we are at the third week of our series, Jesus +; half way into our walk through Galatians. Paul is still giving the church in Galatia a good chewing in the first part of chapter three. He calls them fools twice, refers to their conversion experience as vanity and basically calls their holding to old religious law ignorant. He explains that even Abraham, who was the lynch-pin for arguing for strict adherence to the law, was sanctified through faith in God (v.6)! Those who have faith since Abraham are called “children of Abraham”, fulfilling God’s promise that “all nations would be blessed through him.” (v. 7-9) This group in Galatia wanted to work their way into the family by following the law, but doing so negates the need for faith. (v. 10-14)

The law is commonly recognized through the icon of a balancing scale, symbolizing balanced justice for two sides of one issue. I have chosen to make the focal point of this week’s drawing a balancing scale to represent the church, particularly the one to which Paul wrote. The Galatian church was performing a balancing act with the gospel of Christ with the ancient law of Abraham; in this act the law was winning. This is not uncommon in the modern church. Stick with me here. I’ve not come across a church who enforced Abrahamic law combined with the gospel in my life time. What I have experienced is churches who present the gospel but then set an “understood” list of minimum guidelines a person must follow as well as having faith. Rules about church attendance, acceptable food and drink, volunteering, your place on social issues, and on, and on, and on.

The list alone is exhausting, much more working to stay on the correct side of it all! Paul sees the church in Galatia doing this and his immediate response is; “FOOLS!!” I expect that would be a different word if Paul were in today’s culture (gullible idiots?). Alas, ‘fools’ and ‘bewitched’ is how the ESV translates his assertion. When the central focus of the church is not on Christ, his sacrifice, and faith through his gospel, our eyes turn from an extrinsic focus on impacting the world to an intrinsic focus on not becoming “like the world”. The gospel is not the diving board into Christianity, it is the pool itself. Just as we’re saved by faith in Christ, we also mature through that same faith.

Getting back to the drawing, the focal point is a balancing scale. The center pedestal mimics the shape of a cross, alluding to keeping the message of the cross central. On the left side of the scale is a locked cage, a small jail cell. This represents working to hold to the law, imprisoning ourselves by self-imposed regulations. The Bible is pretty clear how impossible keeping His original law is (Romans 3:23), much less everything else we’d add. This side weighs down the scale, just like this kind of theological philosophy weighs down the church. There is a rag on the top of the cell. This rag is the blindfold, removed from the eyes of justice. The most effective way of gauging how well we’re keeping the rules ourselves is through comparison, self-righteousness requires seeing and dissecting our fellow church member’s actions (or lack thereof).

The right side bounces in the air from the force of the bird who just launched freely into the sky. Resting in the right plate is a small wooden cross, the gospel. In the wake of the bird’s flight path is an ear. The gospel-centered church is the bird, hearing and receiving releases it to then go apply the gospel elsewhere. The gospel is the updraft on which we can soar, but clearing the ground requires faith.

The secret to freeing yourself from a try hard-do good-fail cycle of trying to live by a set of religious rules? Faith. Young Christians often struggle with the concept of faith because their understanding of “faith” is defined by being “good” (keeping the rules). Keeping the rules is not the key to faith, faith is the key to free yourself from trying to keep the rules.

Before I sign off today, living by faith in the gospel and not by following the law does not prevent us or free Christians from responsibility of calling out and repenting from negative, destructive, anti-gospel behavior. The “Christian” stereotype is often defined by what we’re against, the “worldly” stereotype is usually tied to not being against anything. Neither are accurate representations, but shouldn’t scare us off from making our voices heard either way. As we’ve seen thus-far in Galatians, Paul didn’t hold back from calling out false doctrine, neither should we. People may play the ‘love’ card on us, saying “Jesus taught you to love people, calling my actions sin or my ideas wrong is not being loving toward me!” Contrary to popular belief, the opposite of love is not hate, the opposite of love is indifference. Apathy toward a human you see running head on into disaster, that is hate.

Rock, Paper, Scissors

Picking up right where we left off last week in Jesus +, our message today focuses on Galatians 2. As we saw in Galatians 1, Paul is very frustrated with the church in Galatia because they were preaching a distorted version of the Gospel message, requiring Gentiles to become Jews before they could be Christians. The responsibility for this change fell on the shoulders of their leader, Peter. In chapter 2, we read the account of Paul calling Peter out in front of the church and correcting their theology.

I will admit, I read this chapter and had this image in mind before leaving for The Ridge this morning. I wanted to create a somewhat abstract image of Paul confronting Peter in today’s drawing and recalled how Jesus referred to Peter as a rock for His church(Matthew 16:18). Confrontation plus rock naturally led to the old school yard game, rock, paper, scissors (what can I say, I was an 80’s kid). Quick summary of the rules to refresh your memory; paper beats rock, rock beats scissors, scissors beats paper.

Peter is the rock, Paul is the paper with today’s key verse (Galatians 2:21) highlighted, Jesus is the two rail spikes crossed like a pair of scissors. Ultimately, Peter was promoting an idea that our righteousness before God was directly dependent on how well we adhered to certain religious rules. Specifically, the Jewish law God set in place through Moses generations before. The problem is, such teaching negated the importance of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. If one had to follow the same laws now as they did before Jesus lived, Jesus was just another good guy, a good example but an expendable story in this gospel message. In that sense, rock could defeat scissors.

Enter Paul. Just as Peter’s ministry focused on introducing Jesus to the Gentile community, Paul’s mission was to connect Him to the Jews. As a strictly conservative Jew, Paul knew the law inside and out, so ‘paper’ is a natural fit to represent him. Paul converted from Judaism to Christianity after an eye-opening life-experience on the road to Damascus where he and Jesus were formally introduced. After that moment, Paul’s reputation changed from a brutal man who made Christians fear for their lives to the General Patton of the early church. When Paul spoke, people listened and when had something to say, he was not afraid to say it. Paul heard what Peter was saying and called him out in public; in front of his church, the Jewish community, and the Gentiles he’d insulted. Paul straightened out Peter and the church in a Galatia, un-scrambling their twisted theology and returning them to the clear gospel of Christ.

The verse I highlighted is the key to Paul’s correction and vitally important for us to understand about the gospel: I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing.

If anything we do could be good enough for God, Christ’s death was superfluous and his teaching blasphemous. The Old Testament documents the cycle of humanity’s failure to keep the law, which is why we required a messiah in the first place.

Paper covered rock, preventing rock from pounding scissors.