Curiosity: The Wonder-Ful Worldview

As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.
– Luke 24:28-29

 There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
– Hamlet

IMG_20170329_095533448My seven-month-old daughter has recently begun her foray into eating solid foods. As a bit of a foodie myself, this is both exhilarating and maddening. I love imagining the incredible lifelong journey she has in front of her: the first lick of ice cream, the first slurp of spaghetti, the first bite of a juicy peach in summer or a crispy apple in the fall. Food is magical in so many ways and I am mesmerized by the possibility of curating her culinary experience. At the same time, introducing a kid who can barely keep herself from toppling over at any given moment to the messy goodness of a banana is enough to make you pull your hair out. This morning, she managed to wipe more on our Labrador’s ears than made it in her mouth.

What I do appreciate about her early attempts at self-sustenance is her sheer willingness to immediately put whatever I set on her tray directly in her mouth. Whether it’s a white glob of Greek yogurt or a bright yellow roasted pepper or a big red strawberry, her little pincer skills do everything in their power to bring that strange object to her lips. She does not hesitate; she says yes to every opportunity. Nine times out of ten her curiosity is met with shock and disgust as she squints her blue eyes, puckers her little mouth, and shakes her head until the offending substance falls out. A few minutes in, however, she begins to find a liking and her adventurous spirit pays off with a new food to add to her acceptable meals list.

I am reminded of her intrepid curiosity as I reflect on this passage in Luke 24 where two unnamed disciples encounter the hidden Jesus on Resurrection Sunday, as they walk the seven-mile stretch of road between Jerusalem and Emmaus. When they realize their mysterious companion is seemingly unaware of the momentous events of the past few days in the city, they begin to tell him the story. Two things become clear as they share: first, they are quite well-informed about Jesus and his ministry; and, second, despite their abundance of knowledge, they have been disappointed by him. The text says their faces were “downcast” and that they “had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel,” implying that this hope has been dashed by the weekend’s trial and execution. Though they have heard word of perplexing details surrounding his empty tomb, they have decided not to stick around to see for themselves. Their hoped-for messiah is dead and they are returning home.

But, something happens at this point in the story that arrests their disappointment. This supposedly ignorant stranger begins to unpack the Scriptures for them, adding layer upon layer of context to help them interpret differently the death of their would-be Savior. As Sally Lloyd-Jones puts it, it was suddenly as if the stories of the Hebrew Bible were a giant jigsaw puzzle and the death of Jesus the missing piece that made all the other pieces fit together (“Were not our hearts burning within us while he…opened the Scriptures to us?”). Could it be that this crucifixion and the whispered rumors of an empty tomb were not merely the inevitable demise of another unfulfilled messiah fantasy but actually the inevitable climax of God’s plan to rescue the world?

This question awakens something powerful in these weary travelers. It is not yet hope or faith; it is something else, something that precludes these virtues. It is the same animating spirit that focuses my baby girl’s attention on yellow scrambled eggs that contrast sharply with her green plastic tray: Curiosity. Curiosity is searching for reason to hope; it is a way of looking at the world and assuming that more is happening than can be seen on the surface. It stands in stark opposition to cynicism, which maintains that less is happening than appears on the surface. Curiosity is akin to wonder, which blends seeking with admiration; it is the place where mind and heart co-mingle, where truth and beauty are one and to truly know a tree or a book or a person is to love them as well. Curiosity is the open door out of the mundane and into the wide world of adventures as small as a strawberry and as vast as planetary exploration.

Road to Emmaus.pngConsider how easily they could have missed it. The point in the story is so small that you could easily pass by it and I often have. The travelers listen with rapt attention to their strange companion until they approach their journey’s end. The man seems to have further business up the road and they easily could have let him continue. No doubt they were tired after the events of the weekend and their seven-mile walk. Are we not often eager to disengage following intense emotional moments or intellectual conversations and find a quiet place to escape? Perhaps later they could have even published a scroll or two and amassed quite a following based on the insights they had gathered from him. Yet, they lingered in wonder. Curiosity overcame them and they cried out three simple words that mark a true disciple; three words that Jesus earlier in the Gospel narratives called “the secret of the Kingdom of God” and rewarded with deeper understanding: “Stay with us!”

These three simple words separate “knowers” from “doers;” they delineate between the Greek (and American millennial) desire to simply acquire boundless information and the Hebrew understanding that wisdom only comes from knowledge that is lived out in real world. These men choose to believe that more is happening than appears on the surface and, though they do not fully understand, they know that to be with this man is to be on the path to understanding. “Stay with us!” is the cry of the curious heart; it is the desire to be where the Master is, to find oneself covered in the dust of the Rabbi as we follow in his footsteps. It is walking around with your eyes and heart open, believing that God is at work all around you and desiring with every breath to join him in his work.

And so the mystery man becomes their welcome guest. Like my daughter lighting up at her first gummy bite of a Gala apple, their eyes are opened and they recognized him in the breaking of the bread at dinner. Just like that he’s gone. Wonder upon wonders – they have encountered the Risen Jesus and, like all whose curiosity leads to great discovery, they rush back to tell the tale. May my own life be marked by such wonder at the world and the Maker who gave us bananas and black holes and everything in between all so that we would “seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:27).

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Book Review: Roadmap to Reconciliation by Rev. Dr. Brenda Salter-McNeil

Roadmap to ReconciliationThis is the third of Dr. Brenda Salter-McNeil’s books that I have read, including The Heart of Racial Justice and A Credible Witness.  These works generally specialize in motivating followers of Jesus to pursue racial reconciliation, motivated by her beautiful retelling of familiar Gospel narratives (e.g. The Woman at the Well from John 4 in A Credible Witness) and clarion call to recognize the deeper spiritual realities at work in the social and racial inequities we see in our world (The Heart of Racial Justice).  Her storytelling is excellent and often deeply personal, admitting her own failures along the way and making space for reconciliation novices and experts alike to engage fully in the text.  My only critique of her writing is the one that apparently became the impetus for this new book.  Namely, what is the actual process communities should undertake if they wish to become reconciled?  I have found it hard to practically apply much of what I’ve read from her beyond my own individual life. Thankfully, this critique has been soundly answered with this book.

The Good & The Quotable:

reconciliation roadmapThe long and short of it is that this is the most accessible and practical book on reconciliation that I have ever read.  Dr. Salter-McNeil’s roadmap (see image) is an indispensable resource for churches and other organizations who are wondering where to begin after the catalytic events (to borrow her language) we see happening on the news seemingly every week involving racial injustice in our country and abroad.  One of my favorite elements of the book is that she takes great pains to give the reader access to brief bits of the academic research that went into her model, summarizing complex sociological theories and seamlessly weaving them into the popular level insight she means to impart. You can certainly check the endnotes for further personal research and this section of the book alone is worth the price of admission.

Here are a few of my favorite quotes to give you a taste of her insight:

“Reconciliation is an ongoing spiritual process involving forgiveness, repentance, and justice that restores broken relationships and systems to reflect God’s original intention for all creation to flourish” (22)

“Transformation requires disruption and a degree of chaos to increase the sense of urgency that change must happen. However there must also be enough psychological safety that the chaos does not completely overwhelm our ability to reflect and reorganize ourselves.” (52)

“If an organization wants to shift its cultural identity, it is crucial that it have an internal team of diverse leaders who model the diversity change initiative.” (69)

The Transferable:
On a practical level, this book is written to be immediately applied in a leadership team or small group setting; almost everything can be transferred.  In my own life and ministry, I found the rules she gives for facilitating dialogue between different groups (racial groups, congregations, political sides, etc.) to be incredibly practical and I will almost certainly use them at the next opportunity.  Near the end of the book, she also passes along “Eight Habits of Interculturally Competent Leaders, providing a quick self-assessment that I can also imagine using in a staff meeting quite easily.

Who Should Read This:
I think every Christian leader responsible for interpreting Scripture alongside the events happening in our world should own and reference this book.  I think it would be an incredible resource to go through with a leadership or staff team that is serious about making serious and significant organizational change to pursue reconciliation and justice together.  If you’re looking for a book with more personal application, I would try one of her other books listed above.

The Clothes of Jesus

soldiers_jesus_clothes

And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out…and they crucified him. Dividing up his clothes, they cast lots to see what each would get.” – Mark 15:20, 24

I’ve been reading through Russ Ramsey’s beautiful and helpful overview of Holy Week each day this week, trying my best to be present in each moment of the season. In reading the corresponding Scriptures in Mark this morning, I was struck today by this tiny phrase in verse 20 – “his own clothes.”

It struck me because of its possessive phrasing – his own clothes. I realize it is written to contrast these clothes with the purple robe that was not his but the contrast works a second way that I find sobering and fascinating as I reflect this morning. We don’t often see Jesus in the Gospels as owning anything. As Rich Mullins wrote, “The hope of the whole world rests on the shoulders of a homeless man.” Jesus himself said, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” The King of Glory emptied himself fully of his heavenly riches and position and took on not simply flesh, but the fleshly existence of a poor day-laborer and, for three years, a homeless, itinerant rabbi.  These are the plain facts we see presented in the Gospels. I can’t think of anywhere in the text where it tells us that Jesus possessed something.

Yet, here he is, in his own clothes.  I cannot help but wonder where he attained these particular garments.  Perhaps one of the wealthy women that traveled with the disciples purchased them for him in a favorite shop while he preached or fed the multitudes. Maybe his sweet mother or his dear friend Martha from Bethany sewed them for him after he wore previous ones down in his three years of walking through the hot, dusty paths of Palestine. Maybe they still smelled like the house he grew up in or the perfume of a close companion.

Now, at the end of his journeys, his own clothes are covered in another of the simple belongings to be ripped from his body – his own blood.  For the first time this morning, I find myself acutely aware of the frailty of Jesus. This poor laborer-turned-teacher, wrapped in his last and final earthly possession – his own clothes – beaten, bloodied, mocked, spit upon, humiliated. And, at the end, they strip him of even his own clothes. To add insult to a long list of injuries, his own clothes become some cheap trophy, won in perhaps the most dehumanizing game of chance ever played. Perhaps they laid on some soldier’s shelf alongside the spoils of other victims of the Empire’s domination, quickly lost to history.

And so the Author and Perfecter of Life died on that first Good Friday. Falsely accused by those with religious power, denied by his closest disciples, killed by the very people he came to save, bereft of every earthly possession, even his own clothes.