Delicious Heresies or Junk Food for the Soul.

DaVinciCode

NOTE:  In 2003 I gave a talk at Saint Johns Memphis, Tennessee about the DaVinci Code the page turner by Dan Brown.  The piece below explains the adventure.  I came across this on the internet recently and thought it might be worth sharing.

I wrote this in 2006

Dear Friends

Below is an article I wrote for ExploreFaith.org. It remains topical two and a half years later.  Three years ago this November a quote from an interview I gave about the Da Vinci Code published in the Commercial Appeal was subsequently quoted by Dan Brown on his website, DanBrown.com. This citation opened a “minor career” on matters Da Vinci. Calls have come from La Monde Magazine, Paris, France, The Guardian, Sidney, Australia and even talk radio in Sacramento, California.  Now the movie is about to be released and I have agreed to respond to questions from the Commercial Appeal readers.  All this says a great deal less about my “authority” than about the ubiquitous nature of the Internet. Below you will find an article I wrote for the web page, Exploring Faith.  It continues to reflect my sense of the Da Vinci Code phenomena.

In November (2003) I led three conversations about issues raised in The Da Vinci Code. Months earlier, while browsing in a bookstore, the cover of the novel caught my eye, and because I have a long fascination with Leonardo (he is never called Da Vinci), I bought the book to read as a diversion. I found nothing new there, but it was a good page-turner.

DaVinciCode 2

Then something interesting happened. People old and young, male and female, began to ask me could it be true, as the Code contends, that Jesus and Mary of Magdala were married and perhaps even had a child. This and other questions continued through the summer with such frequency that I realized that this book provided a teachable moment.

I prepared to have a conversation about the book with interested members of the congregation I serve. A press release was sent to the local newspaper and I was asked for an interview. The resulting lead article once again indicated a high level of interest, but the turnout the night of our first gathering was completely unexpected: Six hundred people packed the pews.

What is it about Dan Brown’s novel that enticed hundreds of people into church for a conversation? When questioned by a reporter about why I thought so many people were reading this book, I replied, “It is filled with delicious Christian heresies.” Did Jesus marry Mary from Magdala and have genetic descendants? However intriguing the notion there seems to be no compelling evidence that Jesus married at all.jesus-magdalene

The idea has prompted people to ask, “What am I to believe and why?” That is a very valid and enduring question. Toward the end of that first meeting a woman stood up and said, “We are here tonight because we are searching.” One of the challenges for the searcher is the interpretation of discovery. What does a new idea or experience I have encountered mean? Is it true? If it is true how is it true? If it is true how does it apply to my life?

In an age of anxiety it is tempting to reach for certainty. If we can be certain then we can be safe. If we are safe then we are in control. However, certainty is illusionary. There is no certainty. In fact certainty is contradictory to faith. As Allen Jones, Dean of Grace Cathedral, San Francisco, puts it, “The opposite of faith is not doubt. The opposite of faith is certainty.”

For me at least, notions that promise certainty are suspect. For Christians faith is the posture in the face of mystery. What God has revealed in Christ Jesus is a mystery. How could the birth of one man in one moment of history make a difference for all people at all times within history? Many have found this preposterous. And yet that is the core belief of classical Christianity.

What is there to find that is unique about the classical Christian understanding of Jesus? Over centuries Christians came to believe that Jesus is fully human and fully god. I believe that he is. That is an act of faith for me but increasingly I suspect that it is true because it is not the easy way out.

Humanity likes the quick fix, the black or white option—clear cut and simple. Heresy, from the word, “to choose,” is the tendency to choose a part of a notion and carry it to a logical conclusion, thereby ignoring the complexity and richness of the fuller reality.

N Frye

Northrop Frye

As Northrop Frye writes in his book Anatomy of Criticism, “… the full metaphorical statement ‘Christ is God and Man’ is orthodox, and the Arian (the belief that Jesus was not god but the highest creation of God) and Docetic (Jesus only appeared to be god but was in fact only a virtual god) statements in terms of simile or likeness (are) condemned as heretical.” The heresy is to not be willing to live with the tension of the paradox, but rather to want reality easily understandable.

The Da Vinci Code introduces many people to the fact that there were many exotic flowers in the early garden of Christianity. There are many reasons that they didn’t become the dominant form of Christianity. In some cases they couldn’t compete in the marketplace of ideas and in others they were eradicated by the political power of the state allied with the church. The church has not always covered itself in glory by mercy and justice.

All that notwithstanding I think the principle reason that classical Christianity endures to the present is the fact that the easy way was not the way chosen. The fact that the church chose the way of paradox and ambiguity as the most authentic way to live in the mystery of God revealed in Christ is the most telling reason for the enduring power of its life and message. Even in the church there is a desire for certainty. That is the human condition. The courage to face paradox is the most authentic expression of the Christian life. I believe that this is the life for which people unconsciously search. That is why I suspect that six hundred people showed up on a Wednesday night to talk about a novel.

Now the movie opens and questions abound.  I don’t think that this novel threatens anything. It’s existence provides a teachable moment and as Christians we should be in words of the Apostle Peter be prepared to give an accounting for the hope that is in us (I Peter 3:15). We must be about the business of our Lord and the culture is prepared to talk. That’s a good thing.

In hope, in spite of the facts.

John Sewell

This affirmation of the resurrection has become very important to me over the many years.  It became a go to remark at funerals. It speaks to the hope in us that nothing in all creation or history can “trump” resurrection and grace.

Frederick Beuchner writes, “The New Testament proclaims that at some unforeseeable time in the future God will ring down the final curtain on history, and there will come a Day on which all our days and all the judgments upon each other will themselves be judged. The judge will be Christ.  In other words, the one who judges us most finally will be the one who loves us most fully.”

In hope in spite of the facts.  John

Quote

duck in flight

When I rise up

Let me rise up with joy

like a bird

fallen leaf

When I fall

Let me fall

Without regret

Like a leaf

Wendell Berry

This short prayer, one of the Sayings and Prayers of the Mad Farmer, by Wendell Berry is a favorite of mine.  I have quoted it at many funerals in the past thirty-eight years of my priesthood.  It re-framed walking through the dead and dying leaves of fall.

Quote

Over-the-horizon

Among all my patients in the second half of life – that is to say over thirty-five – there has not been one whose problem in the last resort that was that of finding a religious outlook on life.  Carl Jung – Psychotherapist of the Clergy (1923)

WEDNESDAY OF EASTER IV

May 15, 2019

commodities-sheep-meat.html_PHOTO

 

JOHN 10 Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.”

 

The Feast of the Dedication (Hanukah) commemorated national deliverance from the pagan Syrians. The Feast and buildings filled with meaning by prophecy would be a great place to launch the revolution. Some of his detractors could have become supporters if he played to their fears and ego inflation. He turned his back on variety of revolution when the Devil first suggested it back in the Wilderness.

Jesus passed on starting the popular revolution. Those who longed for violent revolution never understood what Jesus was about. These are the Sheep deaf to the Shepherd’s voice. There were sheep who did learn the language of the Kingdom. These Jesus knew and cherished. Granted many sheep did not clearly hear the Shepherd’s voice until after the resurrection. But they that did hear his voice followed (and do so today). What we do know for sure is that our self-absorbed egos do need to die. When we die to self-absorption it is amazing how clearly we can hear the voice of the Shepherd.

In hope, in spite of the facts.

John

 

EASTER III

May 5, 209

Janet Brooks Gerlof Emmaus

LUKE 24:15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.

A story has characters. Characters have stories and relationships that are the story. So who are the people and why do they matter.  Cleopas is the husband of Mary, the sister of Mary, mother of Jesus.  I know, “what were they thinking?”  The Holy Family’s family, though not prominent in the Gospels become central in Acts and beyond. Cleo (his friends called him Cleo) is accompanied by an unnamed companion.  Who? Pick one.  For the sake of our conversation, let’s say he is Symeon, Cleo’s son.  Symeon figures large in the early Christian fortunes.*

Cleo said, “I’m done! Let’s go home.” He headed out the Damascus Gate, the sun just past overhead, as they trudged West toward home.  Symeon fell into pace with his father and they walked steadily through the hot afternoon the twenty or so miles to Emmaus.  They were debating, the sense is, very vigorously, rehashing everything that occurred since the first day of a week ago.

Focused on the matter at hand, the men didn’t see Jesus simply step from nothing onto the shoulder of the road.  Falling into step with them, he joined their party but they did not realize who walked with them.

Acabas Emmaus

Why?  It says, ‘their eyes were fixed from recognition.” One tool for Bible study is the question, “Why is this here?”  The church in the first twenty years had a growing sense of Christ’s presence seen or unseen.  They did see him and were blessed to be so.  Jesus remarked that those of us who have not seen but have believed are blessed as well.

Today, Jesus will show up sometime, somewhere, somehow.  Notice your inner quickened sense of awareness, it’s one of the signs.

In hope, in spite of the facts. j

*Chapter 11:1. After the martyrdom of James and the conquest of Jerusalem which immediately followed, it is said that those of the apostles and disciples of the Lord that were still living came together from all directions with those that were related to the Lord according to the flesh (for the majority of them also were still alive) to take counsel as to who was worthy to succeed James. 2. They all with one consent pronounced Symeon, the son of Clopas, of whom the Gospel also makes mention; to be worthy of the episcopal throne of that parish. He was a cousin, as they say, of the Saviour. For Hegesippus records that Clopas was a brother of Joseph. Eusebius (2011-09-15). The History of the Church

FRIDAY OF EASTER II

May 3, 2019

St_Thomas_icon

Thomas, Apostle of India

JOHN 20:26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”

Following John’s chronology, this reading falls a week after Easter.

He wants to experience this for himself. A week later, things are a bit calmer, when Jesus appeared the second time.  He materialized right in front of Thomas inviting just the scrutiny that Thomas claimed he needed.  In fact, it turned he didn’t need it at all.  He was clearly Jesus, Thomas knew at almost a cellular level.

“My Lord and my God” is pretty clear where Thomas came down on the issue. Between Easter Day and Pentecost, there must have been some mighty long conversations, lectures and holy power point presentations as Jesus got the disciples ready to carry resurrection everywhere.  Having done that, he ascended, instructing them to stay together and in one place (I like to think he smiled at Thomas when he said it) until the Spirit comes.  They did and The Holy Spirit did.  More about that later.

After Pentecost, Thomas went on down to Alexandria, sailed across the Indian Ocean never to return.  The story is that he preached resurrection, lived resurrection and dispensed resurrection to the point a local priest (isn’t it always) brained him with a dye bat.  You can think what you like about such tales and doubt much about them.  However, in this case when the Portuguese arrived in Indian there were Christians there to meet them. In Goa, the church was a little odd by Western practice, but clearly they preached the same resurrection. They heard the Good News from our favorite doubter very soon after the resurrection.  They called themselves Mar Thoma or Saint Thomas Christians.  Though, I doubt he much cares any more about that doubting moniker, shouldn’t we at least give the guy a break.  For crying out loud.

In hope, in spite of the facts.

j

THURSDAY OF EASTER II

May 2, 2019

Tissot Thomas

Thomas sees Jesus – Tissot

JOHN 20:24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

Thomas was called the twin back then. Aside, nobody has a clue about the twin thing so beware of scholar’s theories. Aside over. He got past being called twin (almost nobody calls him that anymore), only receive, “doubting” in its place. Doubting Thomas is much worse than Thomas the Twin. Don’t you think?

In addition, he gets a bum rap as well, to this day. He went out Easter night. Why? Nobody knows. So supply your own notion, I do. Maybe he got sick of disciple’s paranoia, jumping at a log cracking in the fireplace. Perhaps, he got the short straw when they ran out of beer and was out getting a few cases to tide them over. He could have needed fresh air. We know he was out, period.

I ask you, why should he accept the word of this crowd given their state of mind? Add terror to grief and you get hallucinations, maybe? Thomas wanted to experience God directly, not hearsay. There’s a reason the courts are unimpressed by such. Who could blame him? I’ve noticed in the years of my ordained life, soon 37 years, a growing, progressive hunger of people to experience God for themselves.

I will tell you that for the thirty-seven years of this gig, one trend is that people want to experience God themselves.  Don’t settle for any secondhand edition it will not fix the slow leak in our souls.

In hope, in spite of the facts.

John Sewell

 

 

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