Sunday, September 30, 2007

Can Vegetarians Eat Crow?

I don't often let my life long obsession with sports intrude into my blogging life, but I'm about to do it for only the second time. Like my first foray into sports blogging, the presenting issue here is once again an unprecedented development in the wacky world of University of Kentucky athletics. (And, for the record, I do wish that state universities - especially state flagship universities - would invest more in academics and less in athletics. If they paid philosophy professors 1/10th what they paid football coaches, the world would be a very different place!)

The last (and, until today, only) time I've blogged about sports, the University of Kentucky had just seen their first ever black basketball coach - former three-time national coach of the year and 1998 NCAA national title winner Tubby Smith - become the first UK basketball coach to voluntarily leave the bluegrass state to go where the grass would presumably be greener, albeit a bit more frost-covered. Motivated in part - though he never said so - by the unrealistic (perennially insane) demands of a rabid fan base, combined with a culture of entrenched racism that made this class act and world-class basketball coach persona non grata despite his rich contribution to the legacy of Kentucky basketball, Mr. Smith went to Minnesota.

Today this situation, and the subject, is a bit different. The University of Kentucky hasn't had a great football program since Bear Bryant, wilting in the long shadow of basketball coach/living deity Adolph Rupp, moved to Alabama to become Bear Bryant, a living deity in his own right. The history of UK football is littered with the mangled corpses of false hopes from seasons past. But, after an ignominious (read "miserable," or even "apparently inept") start to his tenure as UK football coach, Rich Brooks - long the single least popular public figure in the state of Kentucky (and, with our current governor's anemic approval rating and history of corruption and gross incompetence, that's really saying something) - has his Wildcat football team on the cusp of greatness.

Of course, things could fall apart in an instant. This is, after all, Kentucky football we're talking about. This is the football program that has snatched defeat from the jaws of victory so man times that my father once, with tears streaming down his face after his beloved Wildcats managed to intercept seven passes from Florida's All-American quarterback Danny Weurfal and still find a way to lose the game, told me, in all seriousness:

Never, ever, become a University of Kentucky football fan. They'll tear your heart out every time.

But, for the first time since 1984, the Kentucky Wildcats are 5-0 to start a season. For the first time since 1977 (the year my lovely wife was born!) they find themselves in the Top 10 of a college football poll, coming in at #8 in both major polls. Better than that, on their way to this glorious start they've managed to do two things that Kentucky football teams have never been able to do:

1. Beat teams they have no business beating (see victories over Louisville and Arkansas, two teams that returned the bulk of their talent from last season's Top Ten teams, who each seemed poised to make a run this year), and

2. Beat teams they have no business losing to (see this week's 45-17 win over Florida Atlantic, in a classic "trap" game, situated right after the huge wins against Louisville and Arkansas, and right before games against #11 South Carolina, #1 LSU, and #9 Florida).

So what, other than that it makes me very, very excited, does this have to do with me? I'm glad you asked. Coach Rich Brooks controversially arrived at UK right after former coach Guy Morris left for Baylor when new Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart refused to pay him a competitive salary despite a surprising 7 win season. Morris became a legend in the state of Kentucky for leading an entertaining and over-achieving team that had been saddled with NCAA sanctions for the sins of the previous Hal Mumme regime. That, however, wasn't good enough for Barnhart, who refused to make any attempt to keep Morris after Baylor made a bid for his services. Barnhart promised to bring in a "name" coach, and notoriously said he was close to signed NFL legend Bill Parcells, before finally going with "Mr. Personality," Rich Brooks.

Brooks' less than energetic persona, accompanied by his willingness to bad-mouth beloved former coach Guy Morris and his status as Barnhart's long-time friend and former colleague, made UK football fans instantly suspicious of him. His persistent inability to win football games, along with his teams' apparent wholesale lack of discipline, confirmed a rabid fan bases' worst fears. After the bright promise of the all-too-short Morris era, Kentucky was once again saddled with an inept coach. Losses mounted, and memories turned to the bright and nearly winless era of former coach Bill "two yards and a cloud of dust" Curry. It was not a good time to be a UK football fan. The natives were restless, and wanted someone's head.

And I, I'm afraid to say, was a native.

Unlike most of my friends and family, I never said that Rich Brooks should be fired. But that shouldn't be mistaken for a vote of confidence in the man. I just didn't see the wisdom in paying someone millions of dollars not to coach a football team. Personally, I think major college football coach salaries are obscene enough without trying to add a buyout to the deal. If Brooks was going to bilk our state's flagship university out of millions of dollars, the least he could do in my book was show up to work each day. So, to me, firing him never made any sense. His contract was guaranteed. He'd make his money one way or another. So, instead of calling for his head, I counted the days until his contract was up - much like I'm now counting the days until the end of the Bush administration.

Little did I or anyone else know, Mr. Brooks had a plan.

After a dismal start, Kentucky managed to win 8 games - including a win over Clemson in the Music City Bowl - last season. Spirits were starting to soar. Or, at least, they were no longer buried in a not-so-shallow grave. Cautious optimism was the order of the day.

But, now that UK is one win away from its first 6-0 start since 1950; now that Kentucky is a Top 10 team sitting ahead of defending national champion Florida both in the SEC East and in the AP's national college football poll... Well, let's just say that the optimism in these parts is less than cautious. Things haven't been this exciting in my lifetime!

So, that brings me back to my favorite subject: me. I've spent the last few years reciting to anyone who cares about college football the litany of coaching sins of one Rich Brooks. The very same Rich Brooks who now has my beloved Wildcat on the precipice of unprecedented success. So, to Rich Brooks, the much-maligned coach of this incredible Kentucky team, I have this to say:

I'm sorry.

I really am.

I'm sorry I judged you so hastily.

My bad.

It turns out, despite the appearance of your first few years around here, you really can coach football, and coach it well.

I'm sure that, if things keep going the way they are now, more than a few other Kentuckians will happily add their apologies to my own.

So, now I have to ask:

Can vegetarians eat crow?

Friday, September 28, 2007

Gun Totin' Jesus (or, a Bumper Sticker Watch turns into a Reader Contest)

It's been a long time since we've had a Bumper Sticker Watch or a Reader Contest around here. So long, in fact, that I don't care to do any research at all to find out when the last time we did either of those was in order to link to them to let any (please let there be some) new readers know what either of those distinctly Sandalstraps' Sanctuary phenomena are. What I saw on the way to Target (I know, I boycott Wal Mart but shop at Target... Pot, meet Kettle. Kettle, meet Pot. I'm sure you'll be great friends, since you have so much in common...) made me decide to revive them both at the same time. So, today we're having a Bumper Sticker Watch and a Reader Contest in the same post. Enjoy:

Driving to Target to buy some Kashi cereal (don't dwell on it... I've had as hard a time reconciling those two as I have had reconciling myself to that fact that I spent all week driving to school in a minivan while listening to Nirvana - Tom says there's an existential crisis in there somewhere) I saw a roughly 2004 Ford Crown Victoria with two pieces of automotive propaganda - one on each side of the license plate. To the left, a medallion declaring the owner/operator of this automobile as a Lifetime Member of the National Rifle Association. To the right, a metallic fish with the word "Jesus" in the middle, declaring the owner/operator of this car to be, presumably, a disciple of that peace-loving rabble-rouser, Jesus of Nazareth.

I live in the South, a life-long resident of the uncommon Commonwealth of Kentucky. I understand the social phenomenon of "Guns and God." I'm used to Christians strappin'. It happens all the time around here. But something about the name "Jesus" situated next to an NRA badge struck me. I don't mean to say that Christians can't love guns - I know many (including at least one semi-regular reader of this blog) who do. But there seems something contradictory claiming allegiance to someone who argued passionately against any right to violence in the name of self-defense while also being a proud member of an organization whose main purpose is to propagate for the right of individuals to personally use even lethal force to defend themselves against perceived threats.

So, here's the Reader Contest:

Using the text of the canonical Gospels (no fair using the "Infancy Gospel of Thomas," in which Jesus kills a man on the street for bumping into him, and a succession of teachers for having the audacity to question him) and anything you happen to know about the NRA, find any point of commonality between the message and mission of Jesus of Nazareth and the political agenda of the National Rifle Association.

For gun totin' Christians, you may take this as a serious theological challenge. For my pacifist friends, perhaps this is an opportunity for satire. For those of us in the middle, make of this what you will. But, whatever your slant, try your best to reconcile Jesus and the NRA - without resorting to the cultural phenomenon of "Guns and God" in the American South.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Shades of Racism

By Nick Anderson of the Houston Chronicle

Olbermann's Murrow-esque Tirade

While I'm busy praising Michael Westmoreland-White, I'm going to do some pilfering, too. I saw this clip on his blog.

I'm not much for watching cable news, since it never really shows any news. A good friend of mine, who works full time for a privately owned, for profit newspaper, says she is suspicious of publicly-funded news organizations because, since their funding comes at least in part from the government, there is always the chance they could become government organs. She may be right, but so far the record shows that subsidized news outlets, in terms of depth and breadth of coverage and analysis, far out-pace their for-profit peers.

Can anything on, say, CNN or CNBC, or, God-forbid, NBC, ABC, or CBS (I've leaving out all FOX-related enterprises, as they don't even pretend to be journalistic any more, do they?) match PBS's News Hour, much less anything done by the BBC? Or, in a more niche market, will BET ever see the light, and offer up a new program that even remotely approximates NPR's News and Notes? Of course not. Because those publicly subsidized news programs aim principally to offer a valuable public service, rather than to distribute dividends to shareholders.

So, I don't often watch cable news, and when I do I rarely look Keith Olbermann's way. As an unrepentant sports fan, I can't get past the image of him sitting behind the desk on ESPN's Sports Center, the program that first revealed his acid wit. My mistake, if this clip is any indication. He may be, as Michael points out in the post linked to above, a kind of Edward Murrow-Lite, lacking Murrow's hard-journalism credentials. But in this day and age, Murrow-Lite is a welcome change of pace from Limbaugh-Lite. Looks like I might have a new show to add to my nightly TV habit.

Mondays are for blogging...

I'm sitting down to write some reflections on Philemon, but before I do, I want to get some housekeeping stuff out of the way.

First, it looks increasingly like Monday is my (only?) day for blogging. I don't have any classes on Mondays, but Adam is off to preschool for the first half of the day, so I have a little bit of down time. I'm sure I could find something school- or church-related to do, but why?

So I've spent this morning surfing the 'Net, trying to catch up with the goings-on in my limited corner of the blogosphere. And I have to give a "shout out":

I know that Michael Westmoreland-White may be a little down, since his most excellent dream has been deferred (for the record, I'd subscribe to a journal like that in a heartbeat!), but his recent posts have been excellent. I'm just sorry I didn't get to read them until this morning. His post Racial Bias in the Courts: The Case of the Jena 6 is both poignant and prophetic. The church (universal) needs voices unafraid to stare down systemic racial oppression, and Michael is one in a long line of such voices. His post should be added to the growing list of things that I wish that I'd written.

Additionally, I thought his commentary on race and the mechanics of the GOP presidential primary was spot on. I know that he'd like to get back to writing more overtly theological posts, but I for one don't see anything wrong with a theological ethicist turning his or her attention to the socio-political sphere. In fact, the ability of our theologies to speak to that socio-political sphere - to critically engage the ethics of social and political systems, and to offer both critiques and possible solutions - is a test of our theological vitality. In other words, if our respective theologies can't interact with the nuts and bolts of daily life (with daily life being shaped by the social and political power structures in which we live and move and breathe), we are enslaved by dead theologies rightly castigated by Marx as opiates.

So, Michael, keep up the good work. Be comforted by the vitality of your current work in cyberspace, while we all (with, I hope, the Holy Spirit) breathe on the embers of your deferred dream until a bright, warm flame emerges.

Monday, September 17, 2007

"I'm proud of you..."

A friend of mine has an adult son whose life might be described as a perpetual disappointment. An unbiased observer might note that he is singularly responsible for each of his mother's (my friend's) gray hairs. He can't seem to miss an opportunity to make a mistake.

The other day she mentioned him to me. But instead of describing all of the heartbreak he has caused her, all of the unnecessary worry and stress, she said simply this:

He's still the apple of my eye.

Her love for him was palpable, written on her face, bursting through in her words. She is not blind to his reckless disregard for his own health and happiness, or the impact that has on the lives of his friends and family. But that simply isn't a factor. She still adores him passionately, even as she sees all of his flaws and failings.

Listening to my friend talk about her son reminded me of a conversation I once had with my grandmother. I was about 19 or 20 years old, and a mess. I'd flunked out of college, and had no idea who I was or what I wanted to do with my life. Honestly, I wasn't terribly attached to the idea of staying alive. Existence was a burden at best.

In the midst of my psychological torment, in the midst of my unmitigated failure, my grandmother looked at me, sized me up, smiled, and said:

Chris, I'm proud of you.

PROUD OF ME?!? I almost screamed, bewildered by her statement. How could you be proud of me? What have I ever done that would make you proud of me?

She sighed, and patiently said, You don't understand. It's nothing that you did, it's who you are. You're my grandson, and I'm proud of you.

She was right. I didn't understand. I had no idea what love was. I'd never fully experienced it. But I'm starting to learn. Usually when I write about Adam or parenting, it is in the form of some funny story, some clever anecdote. I don't often take the time to reflect on how parenting has changed me. But it has.

When Adam was born, after the nurses cleaned him off, they handed him to me. I held his tiny body, his fragile life, in my clumsy hands. Hands better for dropping than holding, better for smashing than mending. As I held him, he looked so cold. So I wrapped him up in my hands, using my palms as a kind of blanket for him, wrapped as they were around his shivering chest. He nestled up in my arms, stopped crying for a moment, and looked at me.

I know that a newborn baby can't see but a few inches in front of his or her face, so he probably wasn't really looking at me. But it seemed to me that his eyes caught mine, and I know that my eyes caught his. I stared deeply into those just-birthed blue eyes, and I could almost see something behind them, some miraculous consciousness.

He's ALIVE! I wanted to scream. ALIVE! Do you know what a miracle that is?!?

In that moment I was truly proud of him, and he hadn't done anything yet. But the pride that a parent has for a child has nothing to do with the merits of that child, as far as I can tell. It instead has everything to do with being ushered into an appreciation of the miracle of life.

Whenever I look at Adam, I understand that he is a miracle, my miracle. And I'm proud of him for no reason other than that he continues to exist. So, with respect to him, I think, I am learning to love.

Each of us is someone's child. Each of us should be loved like that. As I meditate on the mysterious miracle of the life of my child, may that usher me into an appreciation of the miracle of life itself, as expressed in each person I encounter. They may never be as special to me as my Adam, but I must always treat them as though they are worthy - simply because they exist - of that kind of love and respect, even if I can't yet feel it for them.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Placeholder Post of Sorts

I'm currently drowning in school work, and so may not post much for the next few weeks (or I may manufacture time from thin air and do all that I want to do along with all that I have to do). However, I wanted to let you know, dear reader (who was jilted for all of August!) that I have a few posts in mind for whenever I finally get to write for this blog.

I'm outlining two posts for the But We Proclaim Christ Crucified series, one looking at crucifixion as a call to action, and the other looking at crucifixion within liberation theology. In addition to that, I'm also outlining a meditation of sorts on a book that has always troubled me: Philemon. To anticipate the future post a little bit, I hope to wrestle with Paul's refusal to overtly condemn the practice of slavery, while also identifying some content in Paul's letter to Philemon that will provide us with theological tools for fighting oppression wherever it arises.

But now I've got to get back to school work.

Monday, September 10, 2007

"I'm number two!"

Yesterday Adam and I started watching Roger Federer's coronation as the greatest tennis player to ever live (a.k.a. the Finals of the US Open), and, upon seeing Federer on the screen, he asked:

Who's that?

That's Roger Federer, I replied, the best tennis player in the world. He may well be the greatest to ever play the game. That's the sort of thing Dad's should say in "historic" sports moments, right?

Then the screen widened to reveal the man smacking forehands right back to Federer, so Adam asked:

And who's that other guy?

That's Novak Djokovic. He's only twenty-years-old, but he's already ranked number three in the world.

Always curious, Adam asked me another question:

Who's number two?

Rafael Nadal, I answered this apparently easy question. Then I explained:

He got beat by David Ferrer earlier this tournament. That's why he's not playing against Federer in the Final.

That didn't satisfy Adam:

No, Daddy... he almost sighed, with the patience of one about to drop some proper knowledge on his old man, I'm number two!

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

McGreevey on Craig

I haven't yet said anything on the Larry Craig scandal for a few reasons. First, the story broke while I was taking a blog hiatus - and I honestly didn't know whether or not I would resume blogging. Second, I wasn't sure what to say. Sure, there are a great many easy comments to make, but you've already read those lazy stories. And, frankly, Republican family-values sex hypocrisy stories are getting so common that they've really stopped being interesting.

I've read a few articles that almost elicited a comment or two out of me. Most of them have been in the vein of this one by Linda Chavez, in which she argues that Larry Craig would have been treated differently if he were a Democrat. Her article is the best I've seen of that genre. Others are much less subtle. The basic gist of all of them is that both the "liberal" and "conservative" attacks of Craig have been (like Craig's acts themselves?) hypocritical, in that they violate certain core "liberal" and "conservative" values: namely, from "liberals," the acceptance of all sexual acts that don't cause some obvious harm; and, from "conservative," the non-interference of government in private affairs.

At its best, that mode of arguing, like in Chavez's article, exposes our collective worst inclinations to fan the flames of scandal rather than to calmly pursue the best governing policies for our nation. Thus we dutifully read tabloid-like news coverage of the sordid details of private affairs, rather than demanding that news outlets investigate real issues that impact the real lives of millions globally. And thus Congress holds or threatens to hold hearings to discover who lied about having some form of sex with whom, while refusing to hold the executive branch of our government accountable for what can most charitably be describe as criminal incompetence.

At its worst, however, this mode of arguing - which rests in part on the dubious assumption that if Craig were a Democrat his closeted gay-sex exploits would be no big deal - ignores quite possibly the only real issue in this scandal: the scapegoating of uncloseted gays by closeted, self-hating gays with power. If the "allegations" (using scare quotes because he did, in fact, plead guilty, which where I come from amounts to the kind of confession of guilt that lets us stop using variations of the word "allegation") are true, then this is by no means the first time that a conservative politician who made hay bashing gays has been uncloseted by scandal.

And that brings me to why I'm finally posting something on Sen. Larry Craig, whose arrest for soliciting anonymous gay sex in a public bathroom has brought him to the public's attention. Until now I haven't been able to locate a measure of compassion for the man. But this morning I read this op-ed piece by former New Jersey governor James McGreevey. McGreevey, you may remember, resigned his office only two years into his term, after deciding (however un-freely) to leave the closet. In this piece McGreevey - who as a "liberal" Democrat was somewhat less party to the political sport of gay-bashing (though part of his self-closeting strategy including public support for the restricting of marriage to heterosexual unions) - shows the kind of compassion that has been missing from our public discourse on Larry Craig.

Rather than vilify or defend Craig, rather than call him out for his blatant hypocrisy or scold the rest of us for making what perhaps ought to be private behavior so public, McGreevey shares with us his empathy for Craig, while also exploring the dark confines of the all-too-common closet.

So check it out, and let me know what you think.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

But We Proclaim Christ Crucified (Part I): Isaiah 53 in Buddhist-Christian Dialogue

[Please check out the Introduction to this series.]

Whenever I see a crucified figure of Christ, I cannot help thinking of the gap that lies between Christianity and Buddhism...

Christian symbolism has much to do with the suffering of [humanity]. The crucifixion is the climax of all suffering. Buddhists also speak much about suffering and its climax is the Buddha serenely sitting under the Bodhi tree by the river Niranjana. Christ carries his suffering to the end of his earthly life whereas Buddha puts an end to it while living and afterward goes on preaching the gospel of enlightenment until he quietly passes away under the twin Sala trees. The trees are standing upright and the Buddha, in Nirvana, lies horizontally like eternity itself.

Christ hangs helpless, full of sadness on the vertically erected cross. To the Oriental mind, the sight it almost unbearable...

The crucified Christ is a terrible sight and I cannot help associating it with the sadistic impulse of a physically affected brain.

- Excerpts from D.T. Suzuki's essay "Crucifixion and Enlightenment," found in his Mysticism: Christian and Buddhist.

The ideal of Mahayana Buddhism is the Bodhisattva, who vows to forestall nirvana until all sentient beings have been liberated from samsara, this realm of suffering. This ideal demonstrates a Buddhist commitment to end all suffering. This powerful commitment makes a lie of the common Western assumption - taken from the common English translation of the First Noble Truth, "Life is suffering" - that Buddhism is passive and pessimistic. Buddhism does take seriously both human suffering and the suffering of all sentient beings, which it identifies as a fundamental problem. But Buddhism is not only a description of a problem; it is also a prescription for the solution of that problem. At its best, it is a way of life deeply committed to the cessation of suffering.

For this reason, the image of Christ hanging in agony on the cross is a troubling image for Buddhists. The common Christian understanding of this event as an act of redemptive suffering, in which God through Jesus takes on the suffering of the world, is foreign to their way of thinking. But within the scandal of the cross there can, I hope, also be found the grounds of some kind of reconciliation between Christians and Buddhists.

I believe that both Christians and Buddhists share a deep concern about suffering, and a commitment to as far as is possible alleviate suffering. This shared common ground - despite what D.T. Suzuki refers to as the sadism of the image of the crucified Christ - can be the foundation for the joining of Christians and Buddhists in the cause of alleviating suffering wherever it is found.

A little while ago I received an email from a young Buddhist (I don't know his age, but I do know that he is just beginning to explore a Buddhist life, and I salute him for that) troubled by the image of the "Suffering Servant" presented in Isaiah 53. His concern reminded me very much of D.T. Suzuki's concern while looking at the image of Christ hanging on the cross: What kind of a God would do this to someone?

His concern compelled me to explore the image of the "Suffering Servant" in Isaiah 53, and what follows is an excerpt from my response to him:

The passage from Isaiah that you are concerned with comes from what most scholars (regardless of the religious commitments) call Second Isaiah. While it is now included by both Christians and Jews in the book of Isaiah, it was almost certainly not originally part of the same work. According to the Jewish Publication Society's commentary on Isaiah, chapters 1-39 were the product (though, I would add, this does not necessarily mean that they were written down in his lifetime) "of a prophet who lived in Jerusalem during the 8th Century BCE." The passage you are concerned with - coming from Second Isaiah, chapters 40-66 of the book of Isaiah - comes from the work of a different prophet, who addressed the concerns of Judean exiles in Babylon, which means that it comes sometime after 586 BCE.

So the unknown prophet whose work is lumped in with that of Isaiah was concerned with the needs of a group of Jews living in exile, after their homeland was destroyed by the Babylonian Empire. In that context, it is not hard to see why any prophetic work would have to address the suffering of a defeated and demoralized people, who believed themselves to be chosen by God, only to have their homes and their identities crushed by a mighty empire.

My reading of the Suffering Servant is that he represents the exiled Jewish community, who are deeply concerned about what their present state (in Babylonian captivity) says about their relationship with God. Here the unknown prophet offers the (contextually) comforting message that suffering is not incompatible with being chosen by God for some special purpose.

Christians would later - when wrestling with what we call the scandal of the cross - apply this passage to Jesus. Again you have a community struggling to come to terms with what suffering and defeat say about one's relationship with God. The one who had revealed God, and who had preached a powerful (and political!) message about the kingdom of God (if God is sovereign, then Caesar - with his foot to the throat of the Jewish followers of Jesus who eventually formed the Christian religion - is NOT sovereign; if the kingdom belongs to God, it does NOT belong to Rome!) had been crushed by the Roman authorities. What, then, does this say about Jesus? What does it say about the God of Jesus?

Part of the answer to this concern can be found in teachings concerning the resurrection of Jesus. Whether these teachings point to a physical, bodily resurrection, or to something more metaphorical, their effect on the Christian community is the same. The scandal of the cross is answer by the power of the resurrection. Rome could kill Jesus, but they couldn't keep him (or his message) in the grave.

But another important part of the answer was found in the prophetic passage that troubles you: suffering at the hands of worldly powers does not prevent one from having been chosen by God. Jesus can be both the Christ and the one crucified by the Romans.

Placed in this context, I don't read this passage as saying that God wills or intends suffering. Rather, this passage is a message of hope to those who are suffering that their suffering is not incompatible with their status as ones chosen by God. Whether that message still preaches today, in a vastly different sort of context, is obviously open for debate. What I'd encourage you to see is that this passage is not offered up as a timeless message from God to all persons everywhere, but rather a very situational message from humans wrestling with their understanding of God in the face of existentially disorienting suffering.

But We Proclaim Christ Crucified (Introduction)

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,

"I will destroy the wisdom of
the wise,
and the discernment of the
discerning I will thwart."

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength.

- I Corinthians 1:18-25 (NRSV)

When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.

- I Corinthians 2:1-2 (NRSV)

These words from the apostle Paul to the church in Corinth stand as a challenge to me. A challenge I can no longer shirk. With them he wrestles with the greatest scandal of Christianity: Jesus, dying at the hands of the Roman power he defied, hanging on a cross. With them he attempts to solve the problem that scandal poses by inverting it; seeing in it not the futility of the one whose followers proclaimed the Anointed of God, but rather the very power of God.

As I get time over the next few weeks and maybe months, I plan to wrestle here with the crucifixion of Jesus. This is what Christian theologians have been wrestling with for as long as there has been a Christianity. At this moment I can't articulate everything that I think that the scandal of the cross means and has meant. That scandal has been cheapened by those who wish to see in it an easy victory; those who refuse to wrestle with it honestly, exploring in it the mystery of God in the midst of human suffering.

I will say upfront that I do not believe that Jesus was God, or some perfect human. I do not believe that his death was a perfect atoning sacrifice for my sins and the sins of the world. I do not believe that his death was part of God's plan for the redemption of the world - I do not believe in redemptive suffering.

But I still call myself a Christian: One who seeks to follow Christ. One who sees the nature of God mysteriously revealed in Christ. And I do believe that God was at work in Jesus, the Christ, reconciling the world both to God and to itself. And so for me - especially since I cannot believe in completely perfect, sinless persons or divine-human cohabitation, and since I refuse to believe that God wills our collective salvation through the brutal execution of anyone, much less a man such as Jesus - the scandal of the cross looms darkly over me. If my theology cannot somehow wrestle honestly with the crucifixion of Jesus, then it is a fraudulent, dishonest theology.

In this series I will, then, look through Christian history to see how others have wrestled with the scandal of the cross. I will look across religious lines to see how the scandal of the cross has impacted Christian conversations with other faith traditions. And I will look within myself to see how my understanding of "Christ crucified" has changed over time, and is continuing to change.

I cannot promise any firm conclusions, or any safe or easy answers. I cannot pretend to understand the mystery of the presence of God within human suffering. But I can promise to use whatever theological tools I have at my disposal to, whenever I can, posting here my own wrestling with and reflections on the crucifixion of Jesus.

The first post in this series will come later today, when I post some reflections on Isaiah 53, on the "Suffering Servant" - a passage from the Hebrew Bible co-opted by Christians in our attempt to wrestle with the scandal of the cross.