For most of my years growing up I was the youngest of six in my family. (I say “most of my years” intentionally as my parents were only two years away from an empty next when they adopted two kindergarten-aged sisters deciding to share more of their love with them.) While there are the blessings of being the youngest—older siblings had worn off the rough edges of haphazard parenting long before I arrived—one of the difficulties I faced was longing to do things my brothers and sisters participated in but couldn’t because I wasn’t old enough. After this happened a number of times, I felt like I didn’t belong.
A giant of the faith died last week. Rachel Held Evans grew up in a conservative Southern Christian home as the daughter of a Bible College administrator. As Rachel became an adult, she had questions about faith, about God, and about who decided who was in and who was out when it came to following Jesus. And so this millennial—she was born in 1981—stayed in her hometown of Dayton, Tennessee to write about her quest to faithfully follow Jesus and push against the conventions of conservative Christianity that she had been taught as a girl. Her four books tackle how faith evolves, the problem of biblical literalism, her search for a more authentic faith, and her deep love of the Bible. She died last Saturday after an unexpected and short illness that placed her in a coma on Good Friday, and she leaves behind a husband and two very young children.
Ever since I was little I’ve had an image of heaven as a place where everything would be absolutely perfect. Some of this likely came from the old family Bible that I’d often pull off the bookshelf to look at. It had realistic painted images throughout, but I loved the ones from the Garden of Eden in the book Genesis. Eve’s portrait was enchanting, especially given her silky blonde hair and dreamy blue eyes. At some point in my elementary school years I learned that heaven would be perfect just like that garden, and so the illustrations in that old Bible merged with my images of heaven.
Sometime over the winter, my favorite pair of jeans got a hole in them. Now this hole’s placement isn’t in a spot that I can just overlook, especially given my chosen profession. I’ve even given up wearing them around the house on my day off in case I forget that hole is there and venture out into public. So this great pair of Gap jeans has sat unworn on the top shelf of my closet for the past few months. I feel like I’m just prolonging the inevitable, letting them sit there until I get my Marie Kondo on and tidy up. I’ll then thank those jeans for the joy they’ve brought me over the years, and summarily toss them out.
In our reading from John on Maundy Thursday, we heard Jesus’ giving the disciples a new commandment—that they should love one another. He said to them: “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
On a silent and holy night some 2000 years ago, an angel of the Lord appeared to shepherds living in some fields who were keeping watch over their flocks. The angel proclaimed good news of great joy for all people by announcing the birth of a little one who would be found in a manger. Suddenly that angel was joined by a multitude of the heavenly hosts praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.”
I’ve always been enamored with those incredible, fun-loving creatures who live in the Shire in JRR Tolkien’s books called hobbits. Now I’m not a diehard ask me any sort of trivia question follower; I just love their devotion and loyalty, their ability to enjoy life and those around them. You may not remember this, but when it’s a hobbit’s birthday, they give presents to their friends, family and neighbors who show up to their birthday celebrations rather than receiving gifts from them. Their focus on their birthday is to be grateful for those other people in their lives and not on what they can get in terms of cool presents.
We long to live in a world where consequences match the actions. We want the bad guy to get it in the end (or sooner, frankly). We see this often in movies and novels—when that character that’s been a pain finally gets his just deserts. So when bad things happen to good people, we get upset, claiming life isn’t fair and that God is either to blame or should do something to remedy the situation right now.
I absolutely loved the study of Iconography while in seminary. Religious iconography entails the images or symbols associated with a specific person or event in the biblical narrative found in paintings, stained glass, and the like. A person “reads” iconography by knowing the symbols or the stories being depicted. For example, the early church used the story of Jonah and the great fish as a precursor of Jesus’ resurrection since Jonah sat in the belly of that fish for three days—just like Jesus in the tomb. So on the sides of ancient coffins you’ll encounter depictions of a huge sea creature with two legs hanging out of its mouth. Those in the know would immediately think of the resurrection.
You and I are often defined as “consumers,” as those who consume. And, according to most measures both economic and otherwise, we’re darn good at it. We devour and use up and utilize and yes, we even squander, destroy and waste things and food and news and people.