Today, if you hear his voice

Ben White's Adventures with softened hearts

Month: August 2018

I won’t agree to disagree with you

I won’t agree to disagree with you. I will not codify our division. I am not my thoughts and opinions and neither are you. So though we are currently disagreeing about any number of things, I will not agree to it. I will not content myself with that separation, especially if you are a part of Circle of Hope. Sorry, that’s impossible. I already agreed to agree, so we’re going to have to keep working toward that.

Greg Boyd describes our problem so well

I think we, culturally Americans at least, are much better at disagreeing these days. I don’t think this is a new insight. In fact, Greg Boyd just said it super clearly last week on his blog:

MRI tests have demonstrated that when people confront alleged facts that challenged their deeply held beliefs, their amygdala, which is in charge of their “fight-or-flight” reflex, kicks into gear, and their pre-frontal lobe cortex, which is in charge of reasoning, tends to shut down. On the other hand, when people encounter alleged facts that confirm their deeply held beliefs, the pleasure centers of their brain gets activated, and their pre-frontal lobe cortex again tends to shut down (see: here). This is why it is very difficult to think objectively, or talk rationally, about beliefs we are passionate about.

Well, “back in the day” we had three television Networks, and it was in the interest of all of them to report the News with as little bias as possible to attract the widest possible audience. With the advent of Cable News, however, people are able to watch the filtered version of the News that they agree with and that therefore activates the pleasure centers of their brain. And when liberal and conservative minded people no longer have to try to see the world through each other’s eyes, they get hardened in their perspectives. In time, they lose the willingness, and then the ability, to understand the perspectives of those who fundamentally disagree with their deeply held beliefs. Those who oppose them, therefore, can’t possibly be doing so on rational or moral grounds, which means they must either be stupid or immoral. They therefore cannot be reasoned with. They must simply be defeated.

Greg Boyd describes our problem so well. More and more opinions are potentially deeply held beliefs. And deeply held beliefs are becoming more and more atomized identities. We’re pushing the limits of what can be existentialized–that which is essential to our being. More and more our thoughts and opinions are who we are. My identity is that I think this about that. Dialogue cannot happen if we don’t undo this problem.

They sold us our false selves

As far as I can tell, this is mostly a clever trick of people who sell stuff. They have successfully turned niche markets into identities. “Niche” comes form the Latin word for “nest”, after all. Why not have our children born into a nest of security in a completely seamless environment? Maybe there is a future in which no one ever shops, only buys. I can’t imagine Jeff Bezos hasn’t dreamed that. Opinions are just the newest product large corporations have taught us to buy. It was a brilliant move because the alchemy required to transform opinions into identities is even easier.

“I am an android person and not an apple person.” This is how we are taught to talk. This is what our grandchildren might read about the Great Smart Phone War on whichever kind of device wins said war. “I cheer for the red team in the quadrennial sporting event called Presidential Elections.” My personhood is defined by the thoughts and opinions that make me feel comfortable. Light up those pleasure centers, please! Make me feel like who I am!

We agree, that’s who we are

I have been having conversations recently in which there are disagreements. (Note the passive voice). I am taking a wide circle around actively disagreeing with anyone because I’m trying to live into this conviction to agree to agree. Transcending the encampments is a freedom song I sing with Jesus. YES! I can love you. I can love you even as we are disagreeing, but disagreeing is not who we are. We agree, that’s who we are.

I admit this sounds ridiculous. It is. But I need something foolish to counter the wisdom of the world. The world is teaching me that I must succeed in all I do, and make all the right decision or something terrible will happen. Now my consumer choice has the future of humanity riding on it, too. In Circle of Hope, we call this “empire” thinking. “Either we think we have the power to get everything right and deserve it to be that way. Or we think we have to get it right or something terrible will happen or we will be severely punished by ‘the way things are.'” Ok, I’ll disagree with THAT! Jesus saved me from that. I’m not going back.

Love will bind everything together

I’m trying to get creative about doing what Paul says in Colossians 3:14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. I believe this. Love WILL bind everything together in perfect harmony… eventually. We have forever to figure this out. This allows me to creatively disagree with you for a really long time but not forever. Because eventually we will get set straight. I’m sure we will both need a course correction when we see Jesus face to face. In the mean time, I feel responsible to you and to the gospel to never end the dialogue with a codification of disagreement–an encampment in our lovely, pleasure-center-sparking nests.

We’ll need love to be real, active, vital. We’ll need Love to live among us, convict us to forgive regularly and push us in new directions. We’ll get to where we need to go more often if we agree to agree. The stories we tell ourselves about who we really are really matter. Because they are telling us something else. If we actually say what they want us to say, like out loud, it doesn’t ring true. If we put that lie in the light as I’ve tried to do in this post, it does look like darkness. Let’s be scouts for reconciliation, together. that’s who we are. We are ministers of reconciliation. We’ll need love to cast out our automatic fear. So let’s put love on every day and trust Jesus to make something better than we think is possible.

A Paean to “A.D. Kingdom and Empire” on Netflix

They Cancelled This Show in 2015
…but I Just Found Out

When NBC cancelled A.D. The Bible Continues, I had no idea it was a thing, but now, three years later, I’m heartbroken. Now I have watched all 12 episodes of A.D. Kingdom and Empire (it got renamed for it’s Netflix Release) and I am very sad that the Roma Downey and Mark Burnett produced adaptation of the book of Acts is not continuing.

So this is my eulogy for “A.D. Kingdom and Empire” AKA “A.D. The Bible Continues” and my contribution to the googleverse in hopes of a reboot some day soon, and a motivational essay to read the book of Acts again this week. If you live in the Philadelphia area, come live it with us in Circle of Hope.

Peter praying to stay the Holy Spirit’s hand

The Holy Spirit is No Joke

In Acts 5 we find the troubling story of Ananias (Peter De Jersey) and Sapphira (Indra Ové) who held back some of the money they got from selling their house but said that they gave it all to the newly born church. In A.D. Kingdom and Empire blood comes out of their eyes and they die for lying to the Holy Spirit in a very scary scene. How could any TV producer skip such a gruesome moment in history? Acts 5:11 says “Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.”

Um… yeah! Great fear seized me when I first heard this story, too. If I’m honest, there’s still a tinge of fear in me as I reflect on it now. The Holy Spirit is no joke. God was trying to do something that required the utmost seriousness. The new movement was not for spiritual tourists who could move on to what’s next after the high wore off. This movement could not peter out (poor Peter!). If the Church of Jesus’ first followers didn’t survive, thrive and bust out of the confines of Jerusalem, God’s plan would not have happened. Desperate times call for desperate measures, it seems — even the confounding sudden death of two would-be-followers. The way this story is portrayed in the show brings the immediacy and the meagerness of the movement to light in a compelling way. Peter (Adam Levy) gets why they are dying but he is freaked out, too. I love the confusion that streaks through the faces of the main characters. They are not yet saints, wise in their remote spaces in history. They are living, failing, God-trusting people just like us. In a later episode of the show, the Holy Spirit almost kills Simon Magus (Stephen Walterswho tries to pay Peter for the Holy Spirit but Peter begs God in the thundercloud to spare the foolish new disciple. It didn’t happen just like that in Acts, but it made for good TV, and it communicated the live-wire wildness of the moment.

Procla, Pilate’s wife (as the story goes), is a Saint in the Greek Orthodox Church

The Resurrection Had Political Consequences

Four of the main characters of the show are Pontius Pilate (Vincent Regan), his wife Claudia (Joanne Whalley), Caiaphas (Richard Coyle), the high priest, and his wife, Leah (Jodhi May). They are not just the evil ones, they are real people with real pressures of their own. Each are tempted to believe in Jesus’ resurrection, especially Claudia and Caiaphas. The political intrigue is not historically accurate, but it could have been! How would the Jesus movement know that Pilate’s wife had dreams about Jesus (as in Matthew 27:19) if she did not one day become a Christian and tell them her story?

From Wikipedia: “In the 3rd century, Origen suggested in his Homilies on Matthew that the wife of Pilate had become a Christian,or at least that God sent her the dream mentioned by Matthew so that she would convert. This interpretation was shared by several theologians of Antiquity and the Middle Ages. The apocryphal Letter of Pilate to Herod, dating from around the 3rd–4th century, names Pilate’s wife as Procla and connects to the story of Matthew 27:19.”

The show writers had a lot of opportunities to incorporate other legends and speculations from the early church but didn’t do so, however, they did take the opportunity to highlight the political consequences of the resurrection. Jesus disrupted the political potentates of his day, and he continues to do so. The power to kill is the source of all political power. When you boil it down, that’s it. The state’s ability to kill and the permission the people give it to kill is the only real ultimatum. Violence is the source of state power. Read the first two chapters of William Cavanaugh’s book “Migrations of the Holy” if you need to be convinced of this. There are other places to find this argument too. But, for now, it suffices to say that the foundation of any governmental power is death. And if Jesus rose form the dead then he is not subject to any power. Pilate and Caiaphas, and Claudia and Leah, as portrayed in the show, are obviously threatened by this. How we respond to Jesus’ anarchic resurrection will dictate how we relate to government. Are we subjects of the Kingdom or the empire(s)?

Chipo Chung as Mary Magdalene

They Don’t Know What They’re Doing Either (But the Women Knew Better)

After Jesus’ death, the disciples have no idea what to do. Only Mary, Jesus’ mother (Greta Scacchi), remembers what Jesus said. She is stone-faced and sad after watching her son die but she refuses to give up as many of the men are doing. She is waiting for the third day. Mary Magdalene (played by Chipo Chung), who is the first apostle of the resurrection in the Bible, also gets her proper place in the show. She sees Jesus, and we get to see her as one of the most important characters in the show (because she IS one of the most important people in history). The men defer to her, she makes converts, and she’s always part of the dialogue about what they need to do. Twelve disciples would be too many characters for drama so only a few disciples are dramatized. It’s unclear what happened to the rest of the twelve in the show, but Mary Magdalene takes one of their places.

They muddle through the amazing things that happen. From the resurrection, to Pentecost, to persecution, to new believers who aren’t Jewish, they are stumbling through an incredibly disorienting ordeal. Can you imagine what it would be like? I can, but not so well as they creators of this show have done for us!

It is helpful to read through scripture with our imaginations. What was it like? What were the smells? What did you see? How did you feel? Art like this show, all the many, many paintings, and the other films that were made about these stories from the Bible help us feel our way into the story even more. John, the Beloved disciple, may always be a slow to speak, dark skinned African man (Babou Ceesay) in my imagination. And I am forever grateful for that. 

I need to feel my way through these stories and find myself in them because reading the Bible at a distance just doesn’t work. The point of reading the Bible is to relate to Jesus and find myself in his story. Art helps me do that. It will help you, too, especially when the artists assume that these people in the Bible were a lot like us. We don’t know what we’re doing a lot of the time either.

“The Road To Damascus” Episode 108 — Pictured: Joe Dixon as Phillip

Those Baptisms Though

The formula for baptism in the show is backwards into the water for like a three second count — in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. This is a good ritual! I love that they stay underwater for as long as they do because it is really symbolic of the death they are dying with Christ. When we baptize people in Circle of Hope we do it three times, bowing forward in submission to Christ. Some folks I have baptized are pretty scared about going under, and I assure them that is the point. We are going through death with Christ and coming out on the other side with him. Staying under, though? Holding your breath for a moment until you get pulled up? That is pretty cool.

Paul wrote in Romans 6:3-5

“Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his.”

This show gets that. These early Christians were serious about what Paul said even before he wrote it. Paul codified the ritual in Romans but it meant something before he said that. It meant death and resurrection, and you can SEE that in the show, even if it isn’t said. That is what ritual is all about. It is an enacted truth that often goes deeper and truer than words ever can.

Saul was initially devastated by Jesus’ appearance to him.

Paul Really Was a Badass from the Start

When Saul has his Damascus Road encounter with Jesus in the show I was unimpressed. Unfortunately I’m not a huge fan of how they portray Jesus in the show at all. But the aftermath of the encounter was awesome. Saul’s agony and redemption mediated by someone who isn’t sure of what they saw (it was an Angel — who is also totally badass). Then Saul comes back to the disciples in Jerusalem and demands forgiveness.

Peter and Saul have a one-on-one conversation. Saul is under tons of suspicion. He is trying to make Peter and the disciples trust him but Peter is slow to do so. Saul says to Peter,

“This is all a bit ridiculous, surely. I know what I’ve done, Peter, but listening to you all downstairs it’s like you had forgot that Jesus taught you forgiveness. I mean you lived with him — you know his message — so, so, sorry but I’m confused.” Saul of Tarsus got swagger! And that is why God chose him! I love how Emmett J Scanlan gets that across in his Irish brogue. Saul’s confidence, his arrogance even, was what God needed! You might have something in you that doesn’t seem like a gift. You might have done things that are hard to forgive. You too are chosen by God for a purpose. And a lot of what you see as useless, God can use. You might not receive such a direct address from Jesus as Saul did, but if you listen you will know.

In Conclusion, Bring it Back For Season Two!

I could go on and on about this show (and I already have), but please, Mark Burnett and Roma Downey of Lightworkers Entertainment, please bring back this show! I hear you’re working on an end times story instead. No thanks. I want more of these characters and the imaginative plot twists that your writers have supplied already. What if the stories of all these unsung heroes really did weave together in this way? Some of my Christian counterpoints are up in arms that you did not “stick to the Bible.” To them I say “p’sha.” You got it. No, it was not exact, but you got it. If they demand some fastidious recreation of only what is in the text 1) it’s bad TV, bad drama, bad art and 2) they are just way too uptight. Jesus likes this show, mkay? Well, I guess he’ll tell us whether or not he does some day, but I really, really like this show, mkay? So can we get a Season Two of A.D Kingdom and Empire? Lord, hear our prayer.

And if you made it this far, you must like to read. So keep reading. Read the book of Acts. Imagine, pray and listen right through the whole epic story. We’re living the 29th Chapter.