An Apology to Jefferson Bethke

Ya know, sometimes, I can be a real ass snob cotton-headed-ninny-muggins when it comes to my theology.

At some point, between being accused of “lacking passion”, or being “un-Biblical”, or even worse, “un-Christian”, I began defending my theology by attacking the theology of others.

And in many instances I tend to become as “holier-than-thou” as I accuse others of acting.

So a few weeks ago, when I saw Jefferson Bethke’s Video “Why I Hate Religion but Love Jesus”, I took the chance to have the fight I’ve been waiting for.

Maybe it was because he used the word “hate.”

Maybe it was because I found out he went to a conservative mega-church with a controversial pastor.

Maybe it was because I found him to be biblically/historically inaccurate.

Maybe it’s because his anger against the church reminded me of my own struggle with the church over the last several years.

Maybe it was because I was jealous of his rapping skills.

But I was looking for a fight – and the more I read about Jeff Bethke, the more I’m convinced, he was not.

I wish I would’ve appreciated Jeff’s gift to poetically raise issues in a way that could’ve gotten my own students talking about the benefits and challenges of religion like Brian Kirk did.

And I definitely wish I would’ve chosen to engage Jeff in conversation like Kevin DeYoung did.

In an Email exchange between him and DeYoung, Bethke wrote:

I just wanted to say I really appreciate your article man. It hit me hard. I’ll even be honest and say I agree 100%. God has been working with me in the last 6 months on loving Jesus AND loving his church. For the first few years of walking with Jesus (started in ’08) I had a warped/poor paradigm of the church and it didn’t build up, unify, or glorify His wife (the Bride). If I can be brutally honest I didn’t think this video would get much over a couple thousand views maybe, and because of that, my points/theology wasn’t as air-tight as I would’ve liked. If I redid the video tomorrow, I’d keep the overall message, but would articulate, elaborate, and expand on the parts where my words and delivery were chosen poorly… My prayer is my generation would represent Christ faithfully and not swing to the other spectrum….thankful for your words and more importantly thankful for your tone and fatherly like grace on me as my elder. Humbled. Blessed. Thankful for painful growth. Blessings.

Grace and Peace,

Jeff

I’m not saying I was wrong in what I said, but I sure was wrong (and obnoxious) in how I said it.

I think DeYoung says it best:

A friend wrote to me yesterday and said, “This is a good test for both Jefferson and for yourself. Is he the kind of guy who would be willing to write a critic with humility? And did you write the piece in such a way that the one being criticized would feel comfortable chatting with you?” I hope we are passing that test. Through the years I haven’t always aced this kind of exam.

I sharpened my teeth alongside people who were willing to listen to and empowered my passionate words but also loved me enough to challenge me to dig deep for truth and clarity.

Shame on me for not taking the opportunity to share that love and challenge with somebody who is clearly both passionate and talented.

I’m not agreeing with everything that Jeff said in his video, and had I given him a chance to dialogue, I would’ve learned that he probably doesn’t either.

Oh if I had a dollar for every time I spoke in ways that misrepresented how I really felt… I wouldn’t need to blog anymore, that’s for sure.

For what it’s worth, Jeff, thank you for using your gifts to raise a conversation about the church in a way that gets my students both talking and listening. I believe that you have talents, gifts, and a passion that all seem to be ferociously ignited by the grace of Christ.

I’m sorry that I did not extend you that grace.

I am reminded that what makes you and I, and anybody else different can either divide us or bring us closer together. Our different views can either tear us away or bring us closer to a clearer understanding of our God.

That’s what makes religion dangerous.

And that’s what makes religion beautiful.

Israel 2012 – Day Nine: The Kiss

Click Here to Link to Day One
Click Here to Link to Day Two
Click Here to Link to Day Three
Click Here to Link to Day Four
Click Here to Link to Day Five
Click Here to Link to Day Six
Click Here to Link to Day Seven
Click Here to Link to Day Eight

(A Side Note to Americans: Though it is the same day for you, it is a different day for us, so please make sure you did not skip over Day Eight: A Miracle in the Upper Room)

We were all but guaranteed that it would rain this morning – even harder than it did yesterday.

But it has not rained one big. And this morning, there was not even one cloud of the sky. It emphasizes to me: just how sporadic and unpredictable the rain can be in this region, and just how fortunate we have been with the weather this week.

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We went on to The Garden Tomb. Yes, we did visit the rock of the tomb believed to be where Jesus was buried. To transition, please allow Casey Baggott:

“In 1837 American seminary professor, Edward Robinson travelled to Palestine to research and identify Biblical sites. He noted then that the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, traditionally considered to have been constructed on the site of the crucifixion and burial of Jesus, would have been inside the Roman city walls at that time. As execution and burial sites were never located within city walls, he argued that the Church of the Holy Sepulcher could not be located on the authentic site.
Some years later, British General Charles Gordon t, travelled in Palestine and noted, in 1882, a hill face outside the walls of Jerusalem that looked like a skull. (Skull in Hebrew is “Golgotha”.( Nearby he found an ancient tomb, dating to the first century, which seemed to fir the Gospel descriptions of Jesus’ tomb.
Now called the “Garden Tomb,” this site has become a popular one for visiting Protestants. We can be no more certain, however, of the site’s authenticity than we can of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.”

The Garden Tomb

I’m not trying to convince anybody of anything, please know that as I relay to you my experiences of the day.

That being said, this site LOOKED much more like what I would have expected (hoped) the tomb to look like. It is amazing to me how much of this area has been marked sacred or holy as it is covered and shrined behind rails, glass, bars, and churches.

It is a different kind of tradition in terms of preserved land than what I am used to in America. Further, it seems that in this area, there is a bit of a race to secure and build upon every holy site, before another religion/culture claims it for themselves. There is but so little space and so, so much holy history.

The site of this Garden Tomb is at the foot of Mount Golgotha (the Skull) as the Bible says Jesus tomb would be, and near what have had to have been a vineyard (olive press?) owned by a wealthy man like Joseph of Arimathea, who the Bible said used “lent” his tomb to Jesus.

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Further, the foot of the mountain is at the intersections of two major roads going into Jericho and Damascus from Jerusalem. It was critical for Roman’s to crucify outside of the city and at major intersections to be able to give it as much exposure as a display of power as they possibly could.

As we walked up to the tomb, I’m sure all in our group had different perceptions of what we were seeing. There was, however, one thing we could agree on, as our tour guide reminded us:

the tomb was empty.

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Just as the one in the Holy Sepulcher, we stared at at least a much more realistic inside of a tomb that was so tiny we had to crouch to enter. Christ was not in one tomb or the other.

He has risen! He has risen indeed!

We went up the steps, still on the edge of Golgotha for a closing communion worship.

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Casey’s message was incredible.

I could never do it justice. I fear that as I attempt to summarize it, I would only do the message she shared less service than would serve how amazingly affective it was.

A Paraphrase of a Closing Message by Dr. Casey Baggott

Dr. Richard,Selzer, a surgeon, tells of a story in his book “Confessions of a Knife”, about a surgery he performed to remove a tumor on the cheek of a woman. He had to be very careful so to not nick one of the nerves in her face. Doing so would cause her permanent facial disfigurement.

However, in order to completely remove the tumor, Dr. Selzer did have to nick a nerve.

When the woman woke up and was handed a mirror, she immediately became very disappointed, and I’m sure, very self-conscious. I can imagine her saying “who could ever love me with a face like this?.”

With that, her husband leaned over and said, “You are still so beautiful to me.” He leaned in, further contorted his face to mirror hers, and gave his wife a kiss.

At this point in the story, we were all very moved.

Dr. Selzer stared at the ground, saying in his book, “One is not bold in an encounter with God.”

Regardless of what we think we deserve, or what those around us deserve, we are reminded that in his last supper, Christ called his disciples to go forth representing the daily bread, the living body of his spirit.

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For 9 days, we have walked in the footsteps of “A Man From Galilee”. We have been walking the paths, been where miracles have been, and seen a few new ones along the way. We have studied and searched, prayed to and celebrated the living flesh, the embodiment of when God contorted God’s face and kissed us with love and presence.

No matter how badly we may feel disfigured, our God has reached out to us. Despite all the ways we have seen that humankind can be violent, destructive, and unloving, still we get that kiss.

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So What Now?

On our first night, Phil expressed his intention for our trip. He wanted to experience with his five senses something that had always made sense to him, though he had only known it on paper.

Well, he has seen, heard, felt, smelt, and tasted the reality of Jesus of Nazareth.

But Casey reminded us as we took our communion together that it is now up to us to search for that Christ, that kiss from God, in two other places: ourselves, and those around us.

As for me, well, I came to find a bridge. A bridge between the old and new. A bridge between what was and what is. A bridge between ignorance and knowledge, war and peace, what Christianity IS, and what it COULD be.

And I suppose I made strides in that direction.

What I experienced though, was a bridge from who I was, to who I am called to be. I experienced a bridge from what it means to tiptoe around a calling, and dance in the light of where God has called each and every one of us.

I walked in the steps of a man that showed grace, humility, love, healing, joy, compassion, strength, discipline, and more. I will try to do the same.

But he never showed apathy, and he never made excuses. He never negotiated or qualified his calling. And I will do my best to not do that either.

When and if I ever return to this holy land, I pray that I will be with students. What joy would be found when these students cross the bridge from who they thought they were into the limitless land of who they can be.
May the footsteps, life, and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth bring peace and purpose to the next generation of pilgrims, as it has done for me.

And now, it’s time to return, not to end the trip, but to begin the next step in the journey.

But first, maybe one more falafel for the road.

A Pilgrim’s Prayer for Silent Reflection When Returning Home

Lord Jesus, your feet made the land holy when you came as a pilgrim of peace to Israel. As we have followed your septs in these past days, so may we follow them in the years ahead.
We have seen the ancient sites and the old stones of your land. Let our memories of these places provide a firm foundation for lasting faith, and may our faith rest upon you, s its cornerstone.
Write your Gospel in our hearts. Help us to proclaim its joy with our lives. Give us the frace to return now to our homes, less full of flat facts than of your buoyant love.
And may our spirits come to reflect your own, even as our words of prayer reflect your words:
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be they name. Thy kingdom come, they will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day, our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtor. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom , and the power and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.(written by Casey Baggott)

Shalom, friends.<

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