Living the Subversive Life of Jesus: Question Asking and Community Cultivation

The other day a few of my friends and I were discussing the realities of life. Rootedness, patience, and attending to the ordinary rhythms of life were at the core of our dialogue. For us, life doesn’t make a whole lot sense unless we’re pursuing the actualization of these words. The call to move into our neighborhoods is one we’ve taken seriously and are becoming more and more aware of the postures and practices needed to follow through with this. In a world where the extraordinary and flashy are sought after and valued, we believe faithfully pursuing the mundane of the everyday is where we will see actual growth.

We firmly believe in things like rootedness, patience, and attending to the ordinary rhythms of life because these are some of the things Jesus firmly believed in. And by “believe in” I don’t mean mental assent alone. Belief is something that is manifested through action. Therefore, if you say you believe something, I should be able to see actual actions and habits to support this. Give me a month of observing you and I’ll tell you what you actually believe. We in the Church have done a grave disservice by assigning mere intellectual affirmation to what it looks like to have faith.

Discussing these things in generalities is step one; coming to grips with specifics is step two. So, when my friends asked me what it looks like for Scott Emery to practice contextualized rootedness and patience within the humdrum of everyday life, I had to pause and think for a moment.

Within my life, I have been learning what it looks like to follow after Jesus from the margins. I am thoroughly convinced we are living in a post-Christendom society here in the greater Syracuse area, which changes everything, including our postures and practices in and among the rhythms of our everyday.

Where once the Church was at the center of culture, we have been pushed to the margins. Where once we had a voice and a seat at the table, we have now been booted out the door. Where the story of Christianity held a prominent place in peoples’ collective memory, a vacancy sign now hangs.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: This is a good thing.

Why is this a good thing?

Because I believe it is the impetus to push us into being more like Jesus and less like Caesar.

As I continue to read the gospels, I consistently see a Jesus who is marked by profound question asking. He didn’t possess the assumed cultural power and influence of his time. He didn’t wield a violent rhetoric or forceful legislation thundered from on high. Nor did he browbeat anyone into agreement. (Yes, he did give many answers, but it seems to me that we’ve swung the pendulum too far in the answer-giving direction much to the relegation of questions. In many ways, we’ve adopted our Enlightenment heritage of power through proclamation over the humble way of Jesus.)

Instead, he spent his days subverting the kingdom of Caesar with the kingdom of God.  His primary means of doing this was through constantly asking questions. Think about how many times you hear Jesus ask the person or crowd in front of him a question.

Why do you call me good?

Who is my mother and brothers?

Who touched my clothes?

Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?

Do you love me?

What do you want me to do for you?

You of little faith, why are you so afraid?

The list could go on.

When we look behind the veil of Jesus’ questions, we find his main concern: community. God is always at work bringing disparate things together. The very nature of Godself is community and thus God’s work is always community creating. The same can be said of Jesus since he is always about doing his Father’s work. So, with his questions he is unmasking the struggles people are dealing with. He is destroying the façade people have constructed. In short, questions allow for self-reflection, which produces participation with Jesus, others, and the created order. One cannot stand by idly when faced with the questions of Jesus. And once we are participating, we can be held accountable to our commitments. We are prompted to act in a way that tethers us together. This is the nature of the kingdom of God: tying back together the relational strands between God, humanity, and creation.

Peter Block says it well

Conversations that evoke accountability and commitment can best be produced through deciding to value questions more than answers, by choosing to put as much thought into questions as we have traditionally put into answers…Questions create the space for something new to emerge. Answers, especially those that respond to our quick results, while satisfying, shut down the discussion, and the future shuts down with them. (Block, Community, p. 103)

The trick to this lies within the nature of the questions. When we ask questions that do not produce participation, accountability, and commitment we

collude with people who might attend a gathering and choose not to join in cocreating the value of the event. The point is that the nature of the questions we ask either keeps the existing system in place or brings an alternative future into the room. (Block, Community, p. 104)

This is precisely what Jesus was and is still doing.

There needs to be a delineation between questions with little power and ones with great power (Block’s wording). Questions with little power are constantly asked and are usually the first ones rolling off our tongues. They have almost become part of our vernacular. Block lists some of them as:

How do we get people to show up and be committed?

How do we get others to be more responsible?

How do we get people to come on board and do the right thing?

How do we get those people to change?

Who has solved this elsewhere and how do we import this knowledge? (Block, Community, p. 104)

These questions do not produce participation, accountability, or commitment. Rather, they look for predictable answers and predictable futures, usually coming from ones who have already assumed they have the answers.

Questions with great power are ones that transform us into cocreators of our world. Through them we become actors in the drama of our lives. Passivity is removed and we are given agency. As soon as an answer comes from our mouths and hearts, we have moved from mere spectator to participant.

Block says all great power questions have three essential qualities: being ambiguous, personal, and anxiety evoking. Ambiguity allows each person to “bring their own meaning into the room”; things are not precisely defined. Personal: “all passion, commitment, and connection” grows out of what is personal. Everyone experiences this. Anxiety evoking: you will not move towards that which doesn’t bring some edge along with it. Power lies within evoking healthy anxiety.

So what questions are powerful?

What is the commitment you hold that brought you into this room?

What is the price you or others pay for being here today?

How valuable do you plan for this effort to be?

What is the crossroads you face at this stage of the game?

What is the story you keep telling about the problems of this community?

What are the gifts you hold that have not been brought fully into the world?

What is your contribution to the very thing you complain about?

What is it about you or your team, group, or neighborhood that no one knows? (Block, Community, p. 106)

From here, we can move forward with powerful answers to powerful questions. Questions that produce commitment, self-reflection, accountability, and perhaps most importantly, vulnerability. Spectators step aside as actors take their place.

The beauty with these questions – and the typology they engender – is their universality. What I mean by that is that they aren’t questions just for pastors, missionaries, or other church “professionals.” They are questions you can walk into your context, be it a neighborhood, workplace, third place, or marriage, in an effort to cultivate community. Jesus never intended for things like this to take place solely within the confines of a church. In fact, his main work – and by being his disciples, ours as well – is happening out in the neighborhoods, workplaces, and third places of the world.

What is your default position: question-asker or answer-giver?

Do you resonate more with asking and being asked questions of little or great power?

Who in your life is a subversive question-asker?

Jesus’ Wilderness Temptations and Place: Day 25 of Lent

With the onset of Lent, Jesus’ time in the wilderness (Luke 4) becomes the plumb-line for the rest of our Lenten journey. Not only does it begin Lent, but it sets the overall tone for its duration. Jesus’ fasting and subsequent temptations by the satan are paradigmatic in their example and nature. Much has been said concerning this time and Jesus’ responses to the satan. Much has been said regarding the recapitulation of Adam’s temptation and Israel’s wilderness stories.

However, there isn’t much said about how place comes into play.

So, today when I read this quote in Craig Bartholomew’s Where Mortals Dwell: A Christian View of Place for Today (one of the books I’m reading during Lent), it struck a chord. It is from Frederick Bruner’s The Christbook: Matthew 1-12:

Notice that the devil leads Jesus higher and higher: first from the wilderness and its rocks to the top of the temple and now, explicitly, to ‘a very high mountain.’ The Holy Spirit led Jesus down – into the easily misunderstood baptism of John, and then down still further into the wilderness of temptation. The Holy Spirit’s way is not so much up into the fascinatingly great as it is down into the ordinarily mundane and into the way of the cross and of suffering.

I find this eye-opening due its exposure of the constant downward mobility found within God’s story. From the opening statements of Genesis through to the Gospel accounts of Jesus and then culminating in Revelation 21-22, we find that the movement of God within the plot of Scripture is predominantly downward in direction. God descends into the garden and asks Adam and Eve, “Where are you?”. Jesus takes on flesh and blood and moves into the neighborhood. The city of God comes through the clouds and settles on the earth. All of these moves demonstrate the connection between God’s realm (heaven) and humanity’s (earth) and how the Divine stoops down to invade our time and place.

Again and again we find this downward movement in pivotal plot moments giving us an overarching picture of the manner in which God presents his love towards us.

We find this true here in Jesus’ temptation account as we see place pulling back the curtain a bit. As a result, both posture and practice are informed and molded in incarnational, self-emptying ways. The road to intertwining heaven and earth will not be through a spectacular power play from above. No, it will be long route of embodying love from the bottom upwards within the commonplace of the everyday.

What do you think?

Have you noticed the subtleties of place within the context of God’s story? If so, how?

 

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Other posts in this Lent series:

Moving Beyond Immediate (and) Affirmation or Why I Will Be Blogging Through Lent

“Divine Sorrow” and Remembering: Ash Wednesday

Longings, Presence, and Vulnerability: Day 2 of Lent

Being Led by the Gentle Voice of God: A Notebook and 3 Questions: Day 3 of Lent

Lent Around the Blogosphere: 10 Links: Day 4 of Lent

First Sunday of Lent: A Prayer

Psalm 91 and Cliche: Day 5 of Lent

Community and Prayer: Henri Nouwen on Pushing Through Individualism Via Communal Prayer: Day 6 of Lent

Humility, Place, and The Everyday: Lessons in Mission From John the Baptizer: Day 7 of Lent

Lenten Reflection and Fasting According to Joan Chittister: Day 8 of Lent

Jean Vanier’s “Seven Aspects of Love”: Day 11 of Lent

Second Sunday of Lent: A Prayer

Suffering and Lent: Words from Joan Chittister: Day 14 of Lent

Third Sunday of Lent: A Prayer

Loneliness: Day 20 of Lent

Humility, Place, and the Everyday: Lessons in Mission from John the Baptizer: Lent Day 7

This morning’s Lenten reading was the entirety of Luke 3. Here we find Luke’s version concerning the beginnings of John the Baptizer’s public ministry. I was struck by its missional attributes of humility, place, and the everyday.

Humility

John takes up some prominent space in the gospels. He has an angelic proclamation to his parents in preparation for his birth. Zacharias, his father was a priest, which made him known in their region. And his mother, Elizabeth, was Mary’s cousin. He even had his own group of followers, disciples, living and learning with him. If someone was looking for an impressive CV, you wouldn’t have to look much further beyond John.

Yet when it comes to wielding this recognition and authority, John deflects to Jesus. For the sake of mission, John understands his role as one pointing to Jesus. This comes to a head when he is asked if he is indeed “the Christ.” “No, but he is coming and he is mightier than I.” Personal limitations were well-known to him.

This stood out to me because I know I am a competitive person. Henri Nouwen says of our current culture,

We are living in a world where even the most intimate relationships have become part of competition and rivalry.

How true and frequent this is. Unfortunately, it happens within Christian community – read: family – and puts mission at a stand still.

It takes humility to know that we have a role within the family of God. We are not all called to be hands. No, some of us are called to be feet. We have different skill sets, giftings, and personalities, that together allow for the mission of God to flourish.

When we give into power and pride, we often assume roles that we have no part in taking. We bad-mouth, become overly critical, and, typically, ragingly jealous. I wonder how badly John wanted to say, “Yes” to the crowds’ question of him being Christ.

Humility isn’t merely a private posture; its effects are communal as we either live into humble love or arrogant power with others.

I wonder how often we assume the role of Christ – in our own lives or the lives of others – when we should humbly point beyond ourselves to Jesus and his unifying mission.

Place

John had an astute understanding of the role of place. It wasn’t by coincidence that he was meeting people and baptizing them in the Jordan River. The Jordan had (has) a special place in the social imagination and memory of the Jewish people. It was the geographic boundary the Israelites crossed over as they entered into the Promised Land. Found in the wilderness, John called people to repentance and baptism for the forgiveness of their sins. Now, we shouldn’t think of this as personal salvation, but as a renewed call to be the community of people they were meant to be. And this would have been obvious to the people there as they knew how place was intimately linked to themselves and their story.

John evokes a dual call to both coming judgment and hope by placing himself in the wilderness and baptizing in the Jordan. It was this rootedness within his place that allowed him to enter the social imagination and memory of his people. He didn’t just know his role, his people, and his story. Rather, they all combined with his knowledge of place to make one coherent proclamation.

With his humble call to the One Coming After Him, he offered this hope and called into being a picture of (finally) entering into the true Promised Land. Through his recapitulation of the ancient Israelites’ dealings in the wilderness, he was calling people to a life of justice and peace. It began with an understanding of the role of place in the mind of his people. From there, he called them into the continuing mission of God.

I wonder how we might understand place in our own contexts and by doing so tap into the social imagination and memory of the people around us as we join God in his mission.

The Everyday

I have found over and over again how enamored people are with the glamorous and the spectacular. We like things done big and done well. We’d rather make a huge splash than tiny ripples.

I’ve heard many times of peoples’ dreams of going big. People chase after the title, the organization, the complex social issue. Within the Church world, I have heard many people say they want the title of Pastor, the Homeless Shelter non-profit organization, and that they’re going to stop the social issue of human trafficking.

We tend to chase after the grandiose while missing out on the everyday. We reach for the stars, but forget the dirt we’re standing in. We’d rather flirt with the universal and reject the particular.

This isn’t inherently a bad thing, but I think we often lose sight of where God has us now in lieu of pursuing something else. If we don’t start with the small, we will have a much, much more difficult time attaining the character and skill required for the large.

This was a temptation for John’s listeners as they heard and saw ancient words coming true before them. Their longings were finally being met and now the show could get started. Let’s do it big and do it now.

Our participation in the mission of God, however, always begins where we are in the everyday. 

John reminds us of this when he tells his questioners to start with themselves in the regularity of the everyday. “If you have two tunics, give one of them to someone who has none.” To the tax collectors, he says, “Collect no more than what you’ve been ordered to.” To the soldiers, he says, “Don’t take any money by force; be happy with your wages.”

N.T Wright says,

What we discover at this point is that the sorting-out process begins here and now. We’ve come to hear about the big picture, about the whole world being put to rights. But we are brought down to earth with a bump by the questions people are asking and the answers they’re receiving. People ask: ‘What are we to do?’ Answer: ‘Straighten your lives out in the simplest, most direct way.’

And by doing so, they would begin to be the people they were created to be with Jesus as their Christ.

I wonder what would happen if we began to cultivate eyes to see and ears to hear God’s missional movement in the everyday.

Connecting the Dots

I have found that these three qualities intersect and overlap in mission. Often it is our lack of humility that pushes us into seeking after the grandiose. This seeking often results in a relegation of our everyday and our place as we yearn for the prideful position, organization, or eradication of the social ill. It takes humility to realize our placedness and to begin there by seeking God’s voice and movement. I think John was on to something as he deliberately prodded his community into humility, place, and the everyday.

May we do the same as we participate in God’s mission.

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Other posts in this Lent series:

Moving Beyond Immediate (and) Affirmation or Why I Will Be Blogging Through Lent

“Divine Sorrow” and Remembering: Ash Wednesday

Longings, Presence, and Vulnerability: Day 2 of Lent

Being Led by the Gentle Voice of God: A Notebook and 3 Questions: Day 3 of Lent

Lent Around the Blogosphere: 10 Links: Day 4 of Lent

First Sunday of Lent: A Prayer

Psalm 91 and Cliche: Day 5 of Lent

Community and Prayer: Henri Nouwen on Pushing Through Individualism Via Communal Prayer: Day 6 of Lent

Christ the King Sunday

Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Beyond My Imagination: A summary of my life as of late

God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us. – Ephesians 3:20

Part of my daily morning routine is to get up a little earlier than I need to. I do this because it’s typically quiet and I can sit downstairs in stillness and silence. Part of this daily rhythm is centering myself around and in the story of God. I do this through readings and prayer as found in the Book of Common Prayer. I use the Daily Office as my primary tool of establishing daily rhythms of reading Scripture and praying for the world, both globally and locally.

One of the closing, short sections of Scripture is the verse quoted above. It is one the verses that are used to show us what we are entering as we close the office. It is used as a sending verse as we enter into the day and its work. It reminds us that we don’t just merely read and pray, but we are to embody these things in our lives as we journey with each other in our following where the Spirit leads.

This verse has become particularly important and fleshed out for me as of late. Let me give some examples, not in an effort to pat myself on the back, but to show how the Spirit works ahead of us and within us in ways we couldn’t imagine.

1. A little over a month ago, we had our second daughter, Ava. Now giving birth is an amazing spectacle and event in anyone’s life. We should all be thrilled when any new life enters the world. Having Ava reminded me of the reality that we don’t just celebrate healthy lives, but we celebrate the birth of every life, regardless of health or not. We would be thankful for Ava if she were healthy or if she were born with difficulties.

Beyond her entrance into our life, it is beyond imagination how her birth has brought people together in our life. We are part of disparate groups (I’m an interim pastor, lead/participate in, what some call, a house church, work in a public school, etc.) that all came together to provide us with meals, gift cards, hugs, and other well-wishes. The outpouring of love for us and our new daughter is something that we are extremely grateful for and humbled by.

2. The other week I was sent a Friend Request on Facebook. It was from someone with whom I had some mutual friends. This was different though because our mutual friends weren’t people from college or work or some random Kevin Bacon-esque  connection. All of the mutual friends were either well known pastors, theologians, or bloggers. So as any good Facebook friend would, I accepted her request, but I had to know how in the world she had found me. Apparently, she had read a comment I left on someone’s blog and had followed the link to my blog. From there she read some of my posts and enjoyed what she had read. As we continued to email back and forth on FB, and much to my humbling surprise, she had been giving out printed versions of some of my blog posts to the homeless people she works with in California. Homeless people on the opposite coast of America are walking around with some of my blog posts and (hopefully) finding encouragement and peace: beyond my imagination. I began blogging hoping to get some ideas out there; ideas that would prod people towards deeper action. Never would I have imagined something like this to occur.

I write this to encourage those who blog, preach, answer phones all day, mentor, home-school, stay at home with kids, share lunch with co-workers, have dinners with their lonely neighbors, or have decided to share their lives with others in ways that perhaps go unnoticed. Continue your good work. It is not for nothing.

3. Besides being an interim pastor at St. Andrew’s Anglican, I have been blessed to lead/participate in, what we have called, Dinner and Discussion. Basically, it is a group of people who get together every other Sunday night either at our house or another house from within the group. We all have dinner together, we discuss a biblical/theological topic, pray, and see what ways we can help those outside of ourselves. We are learning how to live life together and do so that makes us better disciples of Jesus. It is slowly evolving, nowhere near perfect, and can be exhausting (at times) to put together.

Thankfully, these past few weeks have produced some encouragement. I have had many conversations with people, including a dinner with some very like-minded folks who don’t know where else to turn to outside of the established evangelical churches in our area and with a Anglican/house church minded dude from Texas. Some folks within the group have shown me, both verbally and  by their actions, that God is at work in their life and that the Dinner and Discussion community has aided in that.

Now how in the world did this happen? I have no idea. I know it isn’t all from  me and my efforts. Not by a long shot. I am merely trying to be faithful with the vision and call Jesus has on my life. It is my job to listen, follow, and call others to do the same. All of this has gone beyond my imagination and I am humbled to be able to participate in it.

May we all continue to do the work of the kingdom, for there are no meaningless tasks the Spirit calls us to.

Osama bin Laden’s Death (Part 2): Jesus loved Osama bin Laden

Sunday night we heard the breaking news that Osama bin Laden had been killed. Not only had he been killed, but it was at the order of President Obama and carried out by an elite team of Navy SEALs. In response Americans began to celebrate at Ground Zero in NYC, in front of the White House, Shanksville, PA where Flight 93 crashed, and during the 9th inning of a Phillies-Mets game. American flags returned as the images and emotions of 9/11 flooded the communal memory of most Americans. In a wave of – depending on your view – relief or vengeful delight or fearful dismay or sorrow the events of the day had culminated with this news.

Now before I carry on I want to say that what follows doesn’t mean that I abhor America, our troops, the government or anything like that. I went to Ground Zero shortly after the attacks; I walked through the corridor in the Pentagon where the plane crashed soon after reconstruction began; I mourned at the grave site of Todd Beamer (one of the many who died in Flight 93) one year after 9/11. I have dear friends and family members who have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.

What I offer below are mere thoughts and reflections on how I, as I attempt to follow Jesus, view the events surrounding Osama bin Laden’s death.

I was rather amazed at the reactions that sprang forth on the news. The celebratory delight that came as a result seemed to be founded upon the death of a man. I can understand this (as much as one can understand death and war) from the perspective of national or governmental relations. According to the narrative that the West lives out of, we were attacked and the natural outcome of this is to return violence with violence. The aim of our government is to obviously protect its citizens and its interests. Since we killed the enemy of the state before he was able to inflict more pain and death upon us we win. We win because he lost. He is dead and therefore we are alive. This is the Western narrative in which celebratory actions embody its ideals. So, as an American, I found some relief in his death. But is life really that easy? Is it really that violent? Is life actually that flat?

As a Christian, I cannot accept this because Jesus could not accept this. The narrative that Christians should be living out of has a Jesus at the center of it who tells us odd, countercultural, non-instinctual things. He tells us that when we are hit to turn the other cheek. He tells us that when someone takes away our shirt, we should offer them our jacket as well. Jesus takes things even further when he tells us that we are to love and pray for our enemies. Sure, says Jesus, most people will do this for their friends and family, but, if you are going to follow me, you will go the extra mile and will do this for your enemies.

And why should we do this? Because this is what Jesus did. He turned his other cheek when he was hit. He offered his jacket when his shirt was torn from him. He loved his enemies to the point of actually dying. And in the midst of taking upon himself the violence of the religious, political, social, and supernatural of the world, he humbly forgave the ones doing this to him.

Therefore, I can’t take pleasure in the death of an enemy. And, to be quite honest, as a Christian first and foremost, was he an enemy of Jesus and the Church? Or was he an enemy of the country I just happen to find myself in? A huge problem I see this event pointing out is the true allegiance of people. For quite some time I saw myself as an American Christian, emphasizing the nationality aspect of my identity. The truth is my allegiance is to Christ and the kingdom he brings, which includes loving my enemy. This is the challenge I try to make small steps towards every day.

As Stanley Hauerwas has said,

“I have argued that Christians’ first political responsibility is to be the church, and by being the church they should understand that their first political loyalty is to God, and the God we worship as Christians, in a manner that understands that we are not first and foremost about making democracy work, but about the truthful worship of the true God.This is a deep misunderstanding about how Christianity works. Of course we believe that God is God and we are not and that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit but that this is not a set of propositions — but is rather embedded in a community of practices that make those beliefs themselves work and give us a community by which we are shaped. Religious belief is not just some kind of primitive metaphysics, but in fact it is a performance just like you’d perform Lear. What people think Christianity is, is that it’s like the text of Lear, rather than the actual production of Lear. It has to be performed for you to understand what Lear is — a drama. You can read it, but unfortunately Christians so often want to make Christianity a text rather than a performance.”

Perhaps part of the problem in our world is that we have mistakenly separated out the beliefs of Christianity with the embodied life and practices of Christianity. We all seek peace, regardless of ethnicity, political affiliation, religion, but how can a world believe in a Jesus whose church doesn’t embody its ideals?

Perhaps speaking about loving an enemy, like an Osama bin Laden, seems rather outlandish. And perhaps it is since, in all likelihood, he wouldn’t have had a great influence on our day to day lives. So, for me, I have to wonder how this is actually lived out in my day to day life. It makes me wonder about the reality that there is a convicted felon in my neighborhood. He moved in, fixed up a house, and seems to be contributing to our small neighborhood. Then everyone found out that he is a convicted pedophile who committed an atrocious crime. In many ways, he could possibly be my enemy. Yet, when the rest of the neighborhood has been attempting to evict him from our community, how am I to apply Jesus’ command to love my enemy?

How am I to love a pedophile? Or what about the known drug house down the street? Or the kid who speeds past my house when my daughter and I are outside playing? These are questions I must wrestle with in light of Jesus’ high call to love them.

Can we imagine this? Can the church really be a people that loves that those who are different than us? Are we Americans first and then Christians or Christians first and then Americans? What would it look like if we had actually loved Osama bin Laden? When was the last time you prayed for Osama bin Laden?

How do we come to grips with the reality that Jesus loved Osama bin Laden?

The Ideal Eyewitness

Quite some time ago I “borrowed” from my dad Richard Bauckham’s book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospel as Eyewitness Testimony. I think I asked for it as a resource for my thesis, which ironically, was the very reason I didn’t get to read it. As the title makes obvious, the book is written in order to detail the eyewitness authority of the Gospels. If you don’t know already there is quite the contingency that says the Gospels were written much later by the community of Jesus-followers. As such, they didn’t really write down what happened; rather they wrote down what they wanted to have happened or what they thought should have happened. Arguments along those lines have been rampant, yet flawed, and now Bauckham’s work staunchly challenges that.

One quote that stuck out was concerning the role and identity of these eyewitnesses:

“…for Greek and Roman historians, the ideal eyewitness was not the dispassionate observer but one who, as a participant, had been closest to the events and whose direct experience enabled him to understand and interpret the significance of what he had seen.”

The historians of the Romans and Greeks didn’t look for those whom were sitting on the outside of the events they were chronicling. Some of the ancient historians were themselves participants of the events they were writing about. By taking action within the event itself, their eyewitnesses could attest to what actually did happen, thus making them the originators of the stories. Not only did this make them the responsible ones for getting the story out, it also made them the continuation of the story. Bauckham argues this is what is happening when we read the Gospels. We are reading the events and those listed in the stories because of their involvement as the story-tellers. As the story-tellers they could be looked up and asked what happened as the events that occurred were public events which could be evaluated and fact-checked if needed be. Hence, Luke tells us this is exactly what he did. He checked out the living actors in the story of Jesus for his gospel for the actual story. Just like their Greek and Roman contemporaries, the historians of the Gospels looked for, and in some instances were, eyewitnesses of the events and stories of Jesus.

The thing that struck me was the participatory nature of the “ideal eyewitnesses”. Objectivity wasn’t overruled by the subjective nature of the eyewitnesses, if there is such a thing as objectivity, but that’s another story. Imagine the story of someone who was in a car accident versus the story of someone who watched it from the nearby house. Or the person on the Manhattan street on September 11th versus those of who watched it on television. Whom do you think would have had a better story? Whom do you think would have a memory lasting for his/her lifetime? Whom do you think would be the authority on what actually happened?

Now for my point: Perhaps the Church isn’t being as impacting because we aren’t being participants. How can we be eyewitnesses to what God is doing if we aren’t participating in it? For too long we have made Church about going to a building and getting our needs met. Think about our services. Are they participatory and formative in a way that sends us out to be a blessing to the world? Think about our programs. Are they inward focused, becoming “huddle-and-cuddle” times? Think about our lives. Have we become “dispassionate observers” or are we jumping into the mix and participating in what God has set in motion? Do we even know the story we are a part of?

We have to be participating in the story in order to know, tell, and do the story.