Sunday, April 26, 2015

God’s Economy: Subtract or Multiply?

I would never make it as an accountant.

I tend to lose focus on details, and I’ve never been too motivated about dollars and cents.

Plus I can get philosophical on something as simple as mathematical functions like subtract or multiply.

What to some might look like subtraction, a reduction in the bottom line, in God’s economy can be multiplication, compounding and expanding in every direction.

It doesn’t make sense mathematically, but there’s a spiritual reality that sets our zero-sum economy
on end.

I’ve been watching this happen in my garden, my backyard workshop for theological reflection.

Exhibit one: Dicentra cucullaria, Dutchman’s Breeches, a native woodland plant in the bleeding-heart family, with white spring blooms shaped like tiny upside-down pantaloons.

Years ago someone gave me some corms to plant, little white bulblets that rooted and grew into a small clump of feathery leaves and a handful of early spring blooms.

And there it stayed: pretty for a few weeks in spring, not expanding much. Hemmed in by wild ginger on one side, a rock on another, a tree trunk on another.

Then last year I dug it up. I gave a few corms to someone else, stuck a few in a new place, a few more in another. Dropped one or two and left them for the squirrels to find.

Then forgot them.

This spring, as the snow finally melted and sunlight warmed the hill behind my shed, I found a new bunch blooming.

Then another.

A few days later, another.

And another.

Fifteen patches in all, all bigger than the bunch I split just last year.

All blooming merrily in new locations, some apparently chosen by the squirrels, while the corms I put back into the same spot are back to a bunch the same size as before.

In gardening, that’s often the case. Divide something up and share it, and you end up with more yourself.

I gave a new friend a garden tour this week, and we ended by potting up plants for her to take home to her own garden. Some bloodroot – heirs of a clump my grandmother gave me decades ago, that grew and multiplied in three different gardens in Virginia, and now is spreading through my garden here. Virginia bluebells and ostrich fern from a friend’s garden here in Pennsylvania. Rue anemone and native bleeding heart that are woven throughout my yard, even though I don’t remember where they came from. And a bunch of Dicentra cucullaria, Dutchman’s Breeches, the same size as the original I was given years ago.

This is the season of plant sales, garden giveaways, digging and dividing. Real gardeners know that a large part of the fun is giving plants away.

I check the USDA plant databases and plant native plants in the park where I’m part of a Weed Warriors workgroup. A few years ago I bought two elderberry bushes, and now, after giving away at least a dozen, I have another dozen more to dig and plant in the park.

And golden ragwort – brilliant yellow this time of year – a small bunch given by a friend now carpets whole areas under my trees, and under the trees of several friends, and is growing into new patches along the pathways in the park. (And yes, I have permission to plant there, as we take out invasive aliens that don’t belong).

Paul wrote to the Corinthians about this expansive principal in God’s economy. 
Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.  As it is written:
   “They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor;
    their righteousness endures forever.”
Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.  2 Corinthians 9:6-11 
I’ve written before about the extreme wording that runs through this passage: "God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. . . You will be enriched in every way to you can be generous on every occasion." 

As I’ve said, “I like the extravagance of Paul’s claim: every, always, everything. There is no lack in God’s supply, no halfway measure in his provision.” 

We step into this reality tentatively: offering hospitality with hesitation, giving generously, then rethinking, second-guessing.

Yet, when we’ve chosen as a family to believe it, we’ve seen that any investment of home, money, time, attention, love, has yielded not scarcity, but plenty, pressed down and overflowing. 

I listen to discussions of our federal budget and grieve: by some accounting measures it might make sense to cut back nutrition assistance for poor families, or to shave our one percent international aid contribution to ever smaller decimals.  According to Bread for the World, while the proposed 2016 budget would increase defense spending, trillions of dollars in cuts would come from programs for low-income people. 

I listen and grieve. And grieve again, at the discussion surrounding minimum wage, living wage, how far below the poverty line manyfull-time workers live.  By some accounting measure, the arguments for continuing at the current minimum wage might make sense.   But surely there are business leaders who could speak for another point of view? Sharing profits with the lowest earning workers, in God’s economy, would not subtract from the bottom line, but provide opportunity to see expanded provision.

Writing for last week’s Synchroblog post on “bearing fruit,” I was reminded that the Bible has much to say about what we would call agriculture: the division of land, the processes of sowing and harvesting, the distribution of food, the value of pruning.

In many ways, that agricultural focus intersects with an economic vision: one that calls our current material individualism to account, and offers a radically different structure.

During this season of gardening and growth, I’m planning to think and blog about God’s economy, and to examine the ways our theology finds its way into checkbooks, business practice, policy, politics.

What would happen if we lived the words we say we believe? 
And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.  As it is written:“They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor;     their righteousness endures forever.”

Earlier posts on agro-theology and/or Biblical economies:
Your thoughts and experiences in this are welcome. Look for the "__ comments" link below to leave your comments.  And if you know of businesses incorporating alternative economics, I'd love to hear about them. 

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Fruit that Will Last

I was a kid when I first memorized John 15: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful."

I had a thing about memorizing. My life felt a little fragile, it seemed that people and places I cared about had a way of vanishing, and when I came across words that resonated, I committed them to memory so I could keep them with me. That was true for songs, poems, whole chapters of the Bible.

“Abide in me, and I in you,” Jesus said. “As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. . . .Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.

As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love. If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's ommandments, and abide in his love. These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full. This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.

Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you."

Yes –  King James Version, with its medieval English. I copied the whole chapter out on index cards, taped it to mirrors, reviewed it while I brushed my teeth.

As a kid abandoned by my father, and soon to be made homeless by my grandfather, I liked the idea of remaining in the Father’s love.

And as a gangly, geeky girl who never quite fit, I loved the idea of being Jesus’ friend.

And there was something in the promise of fruit that energized me, and gave me hope.

All that is still true, almost fifty years later.

I know more now: about vines, vineyards.

About pruning: how harsh it can look to inexperienced gardeners.

I know more about fruit: how most fruit is hard to store, rots easily, rarely lasts.

I’ve been trying to grow fruit in my yard for years: berries, grapes, peaches, apples. 

I’m just now starting to understand how to prune. I spent two weeks in Greece last spring, and was stunned to see how far back grapes were cut, how severe the pruning went on vines, trees, bushes.

I written before that ideas have consequences.

Ideas have consequences and faith bears fruit.

All forms of faith.

Even those unexamined beliefs we breathe in without thinking, those vines that seem to seed themselves and strangle everything in their way.

One current faith is economic materialism: what matters most is money, and our meaning, as humans, is to earn, spend, and consume. 

That particular faith has bitter fruit: disastrous economic inequality, deep disregard for the poor, disabled, or unborn, accompanying fear, anxiety, depression. Endless competition.

Another faith is the one I described last week: that we are all heroes of our own stories. That meaning is found in pursuing our own interests. That all religious traditions are versions of each other, so meaning and morality are simply matters of choice. I go my way you go yours. Isolated. Unmoored. Constantly pitting our own rights against those of others.

Yet another faith: one that sometimes seems like a cancer in the Christian body, growing so fast the healthy cells are surrounded. It’s faith in being right, having all the answers, putting others in their place. Loud, harsh, self-righteous, mean. The fruit is hard to swallow: anger, dissension, disrespect, hate.

Turning to Galatians to read the list of fruit of the spirit, I find myself pausing on the opposite fruit, fruit that could easily be divided among the faiths I described above.

If economic materialism is the foundational faith, then an obvious result will be jealousy, envy, selfish ambition, with plenty of idolatry – if idolatry is understood as worship of material things.

If all religions are the same and morality is purely personal, then who can object to sexual license, promiscuous behavior, prostitution, lewd humor, or forays into witchcraft and magic? Idolatry fits here as well; in this case, worship of the self.

And if faith is instead idolatry to our own dogma and opinions, proud dismissal of all who don’t agree on every point, then expect hatred, discord, fits of rage, dissension and factions at every turn.

We’d be happy to prune each others’ vines, but unwilling to accept any challenge to our own. So the fruit we yield offers little of value, and sets our children’s teeth on edge.

I read with longing the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. 

Most of those words are so foreign we can hardly imagine what they mean.





It’s easy to explain our way around these words, to rationalize our current lack of love, our difficulty feeling joy, the fact that peace is not, for now, a high priority.

We are skilled at self-justification: if you understood the situation, you’d know kindness would be the wrong response. If you knew what happened, you’d know forbearance would be foolish.

We are busy, with important things to do, better things to think about.


In THIS world?


And yet, that’s what we’re called to. Peter wrote: 
Make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. 
I like that wording: make every effort. Other translations put it “giving all diligence” or “employing all care.” Nothing half-hearted about it: prioritize this.

I have a friend who prays the fruit of the Spirit, out loud, for her small son every night at bedtime. I love that: he knows those words are of importance, something to live into. She told me that one night she forgot joy, and he, tiny child that he is, said, almost in tears: “Pray joy, Mommy! Pray joy!”

In our youth ministry, we created a prayer space in a back staircase and stenciled the fruit of the Spirit on the stairs, one for each step, so we could stand on a step and pray and consider: what would that attribute look like? How could it become part of our daily stance?

Sometimes we’d invite youth to sit on a step and pray for God to fill them with that one trait, to make it visible through them.

At several parent events, we invited parents to that prayer space, and asked them to stand on the stairs their children were most in need of, and pray for God to use them to help that fruit grow in their children.

John 15 reminds me that I’m not the one producing fruit: if Christ is the vine, and God the gardener, my role is to be open to their work in me. Yet, there’s that call to “make every effort.” How do I become both available and active?

I find it helpful to look back on my day, and note where my self-control has been lacking, where I’ve failed in kindness, where I’ve demonstrated love.

And at the start of my day, I find it helpful to think through what’s ahead, to consider where I might be tempted to impatience, or anxiety, and ask that the fruit of the Spirit fill me in those points throughout the day.

And I need to be open to pruning: to examining the faiths I’ve absorbed and asking God to free me of those that bear bitter fruit,or those that shade out and choke a potential harvest. For that I need one more passage I memorized years ago: James 3:17 and 18
But the wisdom that comes from above is first of all pure, then peace-loving, considerate, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peace-makers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness. 
That’s where I start and end the day: asking for wisdom, praying for mercy, looking for avenues most likely to bear harvests of righteousness, waiting for good fruit that will last.

This is part of the Apriil Synchroblog: Bearing Fruit. Other syncroblog posts:

Other posts from this blog about fruit:
New Life. Mystery Fruit. March 23, 2014.
Seed Parables, August 11, 2013

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Is the Resurrection Just a Myth?

I was eighteen when an aunt started talking about Jungian archetypes. She was looking for reasons to exit the Christian faith, and thought Carl Jung’s examinations of the collective unconscious did a good job of explaining away the Biblical narrative. Creation, flood, resurrection: in the light of Jungian archetypes, those were just examples of the archaic myths that populated the unconscious mind.
Harrowing of Hades, Ferapontov Monastery, Russia

I spent a week every summer with my aunt, uncle and cousins, between college and the start of the summer camps where I worked. We’d sit in the sun on her back deck, or on towels by the local swimming hole, and she’d talk about what she was reading: Gestalt, Zen Buddhism, Barry Steven’s Don’t Push the River.

I was working my way through a liberal arts Christian college, where I had started in math and science, switching after a year to a double major in English and humanities. I was reading everything I could get my hands on, and taking classes in history, philosophy, literature, art.

She was eager to see me step free of the narrow constraints of historical Christianity, while I was digging deeper and deeper into questions that had troubled me, and finding answers that made sense. In my senior humanities seminar, I led discussions on Nietzsche and Camus, with six other students and three professors, probing the links between the death of God and the will to power, and the logical conclusions of existentialism. My professors, deeply committed to both faith and reason, were steadfast in insisting we follow ideas to their logical conclusions.

“Ideas have consequences,”  history professor Kay Lindley said, again and again, as we traced the connections between art, literature, philosophy, and the unfolding horrors of war and nuclear disaster.

By the time I left college my aunt had left her marriage to “follow her bliss”, in the words of mythologist Joseph Campbell. I thought of her a year or so later, in the stacks of the University of Pennsylvania library, where I came across Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949) while searching a text I needed for a graduate course.

I remember standing there in the library between the tall shelves of books, first paging through then reading Campbell’s book. Here were the stories my aunt had been talking about, the outpourings of Jung’s collective unconscious, the myths and narratives from across the millennia.

I don’t know how long I stood there in the library, reading, until I gathered my books from my assigned graduate carrel and walked up Locust Walk toward home to continue reading.

I don’t remember all I read, but I do remember two conclusions:

First: Campbell’s work was impressively exhaustive, collecting and considering “a host of myths and folk tales from every corner of the world.” I had studied Greek mythology and European fairy tales, knew some of the stories of Native Americans, bits and pieces of the Bhagavad Gita. It was interesting to see all those stories picked apart then jammed together, pieces of story lined up in odd ways like a museum display of leg bones or feathers.

And second: it struck me then, as it has ever since, that in his eagerness to show the stories were all the same, Campbell cut and hacked and distorted the narratives in a way that left very little of the original sense. He chose what he wanted, ignored what didn’t fit, slid right by what he considered “underdeveloped or degenerate” folk mythologies from “truly primitive” people, distorted more complex narratives to suit his one-size-fits all monomyth.

One Goodreads reviewer, in exasperation, wrote 
his evidence seems randomly generated-—myths and folktales and parables and—-strangest of all—-transcripts of modern dreams—thrown together in a stew, with a breathless Ta-DAA! As if their meaningful unity was obvious. . . .  If you grind the carcass up enough, it all looks like hamburger in the end. Hero hamburger. 
For someone eager to dismiss the narrative of the Christian Bible as just one story among many, I could see the appeal.

And for novelists and screenwriters, his text offered wonderful access to underlying narrative structures. George Lucas, one of Campbell’s first and biggest fans, made a fortune applying the monomyth idea to the seven Star Wars movies.

But Joseph Campbell was not the first to examine similarities among ancient texts.

James George Frazier’s The Golden Bough, itself a complilation of work done during the 1800s, predated Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces by half a century. The idea that the resurrection is one myth among many is certainly not new.

By the time I picked up Campbell’s book, I had read most of G. K. Chesteron (1874-1936), English author, poet, literary scholar. In much of his work, Chesterton explored the function of myth and fairy tale, insisting that human imagination seeks a reality not easily expressed by scientific fact. For Chesterton, myths and legends, at their best, were imaginative foreshadowings of the historic fact of Christ’s resurrection.

In a published debate in 1904, Chesterton offered a summary of his position:
If the Christian God really made the human race, would not the human race tend to rumours and perversions of the Christian God? If the centre of our life is a certain fact, would not people far from the centre have a muddled version of that fact? If we are so made that a Son of God must deliver us, is it so odd that Patagonians should dream of a Son of God? The Blatchford position really amounts to this—that because a certain thing has impressed millions of different people as likely or necessary, therefore it cannot be true. 
C. S. Lewis, Oxford scholar in medieval literature, had been heavily influenced by the idea that Christianity was one myth among many. And yet, he recounts in his autobiographical “Surprised by Joy,” 
I was by now too experienced in literary criticism to regard the Gospels as myths. They had not the mythical taste. And yet the very matter which they set down in their artless, historical fashion — those narrow, unattractive jews, too blind to the mystical wealth of the Pagan world around them — was precisely the matter of great myths. If ever a myth had become a fact, had been incarnated, it would be just like this. And nothing else in all literature was just like this. Myths were like it in one way. Histories were like it in another, but nothing was simply alike. And no person was like the Person it depicted; as real, as recognizable, through all that depth of time… yet also so luminous, lit by a light from beyond the world, a god. But if a god — we are no longer polytheists — then not a god, but God. Here and here only in all time the myth must have become fact; the Word, flesh; God, Man. This is not "a religion," nor "a philosophy." It is the summing up and actuality of them all. (236) 
Years later, Lewis explored the idea of myth further in “Myth Became Fact”:
The heart of Christianity is a myth which is also a fact. The old myth of the Dying God, without ceasing to be myth, comes down from the heaven of legend and imagination to the earth of history. It happens at a particular date, in a particular place, followed by definable historical consequences. We pass from a Balder or an Osiris, dying nobody knows when or where, to a historical Person crucified (it is all in order) under Pontius Pilate. By becoming fact it does not cease to be myth: that is the miracle. (God in the Dock) 
This is not a new discussion. In fact, Paul in Corinth pointed the Greeks from their myths and legends to the historical fulfillment in Christ’s resurrection. By faith, some believed. Others held to their
dogmatic pursuit of many gods, or none.

There is more evidence for the resurrection than for most events recounted in ancient literature, multiple eyewitness accounts, and far more manuscripts, from much closer to the event, than for any other ancient occurrence. 

Lewis, considering the resurrection, wrote: 
Somehow or other an extraordinary idea has arisen that the disbelievers in miracles consider them coldly and fairly, while believers in miracles accept them only in connection with some dogma. The fact is quite the other way. The believers in miracles accept them (rightly or wrongly) because they have evidence for them. The disbelievers in miracles deny them (rightly or wrongly) because they have a doctrine against them. 
Ideas have consequences. 

We continue to witness the consequence of Campbell’s belief that we are all the heroes of our own personal stories, following our own bliss, asserting our own values. We watch the shattered marriages, unparented children, self-absorption, self-medication, self-aggrandizing leaders.

And tell ourselves his version of reality is the reasonable, logical, undogmatic one.

I don’t believe it.   

The Gospels contain a fairy-story, or a story of a larger kind which embraces all the essence of fairy-stories. They contain many marvels—peculiarly artistic, beautiful, and moving: ‘mythical’ in their perfect, self-contained significance; and among the marvels is the greatest and most complete conceivable eucatastrophe. The Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of Man’s history. The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the Incarnation. This story begins and ends in joy. . . . To reject it leads either to sadness or to wrath. (J. R. R. Tolkien, “On Fairy-Stories,” in The Tolkien Reader, 71-72)

Other Easter Reflections:
    Resurrection, April 25, 2011 

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Resurrection Sunday: Exuberant Reversal

We live in a battered, broken world.

I’ve lived in that knowledge since I was very small. My own family was shattered before I was two, and I grew up with a clear, uncluttered view of abandonment, betrayal, mental illness, abuse, and a good sampling of the damage self-deception can inflict.

Even so, I’m still sometimes surprised at how deep the damage goes, how universal the pain, how tight the bonds of deception and delusion.

Wait – yes, I know.

It’s Easter.

A day of rejoicing.
Christ before the High Priest,
Gerrit van Honhthorst, Rome, ca 1617

Spring and celebration.

Flowers, eggs, and butterflies.

But this year, as I’ve moved through Lent, I’ve been more aware than ever how desperate the

I’ve watched good families gasp in astonishment as the cold hands of an addictive culture reach out to shred their sense of sanctuary.

And I’ve seen the burden of betrayal close in on faithful men and women who have believed that doing good will keep them safe.

I’ve mourned at wrong-headed leaders more committed to their own careers than the good of the people they serve.
I’ve waited as death swallowed gentle friends far younger and braver than I.

Reading through Jesus’ trial on Friday, I was struck, more than ever, by his lack of surprise. His calm acquiescence. His refusal to refute, to react, to strike out in return.

He had seen what death and decay look like, had touched the most hideous of diseases, had stared down jealousy and hatred, watched the fury of self-righteous crowds.

He knew what he was in for, and walked through it with one goal in mind:

The great reversal.

The upending of the current order.

The swallowing of death in life.

The conquering of hate through all-embracing love.

While accusers and followers saw death and defeat, he was shouldering his way toward the inexplicable, inconceivable realignment of the planet, a reimagined universe that would bring hope to the hopeless, courage to the fearful, eternal, vibrant life to those already counted dead.

I’ve been puzzling over an old poem by Dorothy Sayers: 
The Choice of the Cross
Hard it is, very hard,
To travel up the slow and stony road
To Calvary, to redeem mankind; far better
To make but one resplendent miracle,
Lean through the cloud, lift the right hand of power
And with a sudden lightning smite the world perfect.
Yet this was not God's way, Who had the power,
But set it by, choosing the cross, the thorn,
The sorrowful wounds. Something there is, perhaps,
That power destroys in passing, something supreme,
To whose great value in the eyes of God
That cross, that thorn, and those five wounds bear witness.
I have felt the longing to “smite the world perfect,” have wondered, more times than I can count, why God won’t “lean through the cloud” with that “one resplendent miracle,” but I’ve also watched the harm, as parent, friend, mentor, of moving too quickly, reaching too far, in a way that diminishes and destroys despite the good intent.

How much harder to wait: to allow time, to stand with outstretched hand, to pray for that flickering inner spark to strengthen and grow. 

In my mind the soundtrack for Easter has always been loud, joyful, victorious: a brass band at daybreak in a city park, hundreds of voices singing the chorus from Handel’s Messiah.

But rereading, rethinking, it’s occurred to me that there’s an embracing quietness in the encounters of that long ago Sunday.

Nothing grand. Nothing showy.

No resplendent display of power.

Mary Magdalene, passing Jesus in the garden, thought he was a gardener until he spoke her name.

Peter, stooping to look in the empty tomb, met not a company of angels, but one quiet herald with the news: “he isn’t here.”

The two on the road to Emmaus, in quiet conversation with a stranger, only recognized him as he left them, sitting alone with their evening supper.

Even in Easter, we want something big. Overwhelming. Finally convincing.

What we get is a wounded side, and Jesus, cooking fish over an open fire on a sandy beach while his friends wrestle with their nets.

 fresco, Mileševa, Serbia, 13th century

From the outside, it seems a little quiet. Even small.

Yet, from the inside out, everything has changed.

And continues to change.

Hope bubbling up in places where hope is impossible.

Forgiveness offered yet again, when forgiveness seems unimaginable.

Steadfast, enduring kindness, in the hardest of places, to the most destitute and forgotten.

Joy, exuberant joy, when the signs all point to failure.

As Sayer wrote: 
Something there is, perhaps,
That power destroys in passing, something supreme,
To whose great value in the eyes of God
That cross, that thorn, and those five wounds bear witness.
There are many miracles embedded in the story of the resurrection, but the one that puzzles me most is God’s focus on that unnameable “something.” That “something” is us, the inmost, essential humanness of us, cared for, protected, made new in the freshness of that Easter morning.

This is part of that mystery: that Jesus, newly risen from the dead, would meet his friends and call them by name. As if they – Mary, Peter, Thomas - were of utmost importance. Were each worth dying for. Were each of eternal value. Each invested with futures of great portent and significance.

That mystery continues. We are often too busy to listen, too burdened and clouded with our own doubt and grief, to hear our names spoken.

Yet men and women, children, who pause to listen find themselves called into lives beyond anything they imagined.

I’ve known men and women who came to know Christ in unusual ways:

A shy, fearful runaway who paused on a street corner to listen to an itinerant preacher, and heard instead the voice of Christ, and found herself rearranged, from the inside out: confident, courageous, with a new life and new future.

A young man on the way to rob a store who paused on a city sidewalk to hear another young man explain the good news of Christ, missed both robbery and arrest, and found his life changed forever.

A multiple offender, alone in his cell, reading a throwaway Bible another prisoner threw through the bars, suddenly hearing a voice of love, and miraculously convinced his life could have meaning.

A much-abused teen from a South American village, dragged to a youth retreat by a friend, flooded with such light in prayer that she went home with the gift of healing, joyful and alive in a way she had never imagined.

Those are people I know, whose stories I trust.
There are others I know at a somewhat greater distance: scientists like Francis Collins and Alistair McGrath who have discovered Christ in their exploration of genes and atoms; writers like C. S. Lewis or T. S. Eliot whose found resurrection joy breaking through their joyless unbelief.

People like Brother Yun, from rural China, who heard Christ's voice in a way that led him on an unimagined path of healing, miracles, travel around the globe,even to my own church in suburban Philly.

Sources say there are 350 million Muslims who have come to Christ through dreams and visions. Some share their stories in film, in books. Some speak of their visions on Facebook pages, or post youttube videos.

Witnesses across the continent, across the centuries, give thanks for the reality of resurrection, bringing hope where hope seems impossible, freedom from constraints of culture, poverty, illness, evil, oppression, sin.

It’s certainly true for me. In a broken, battered world, I am blessed with hope and joy made possible by the great reversal of resurrection morning.

In the jubilant noise of this Easter Sunday, I am listening, again, for that quiet voice that speaks my name, reminding me of the great value we hold in the eyes of God, reminding me that through Christ’s death and resurrection, as “that cross, that thorn, and those five wounds bear witness,” we are all claimed and called to something far more than simple dying flesh: immortal, priceless, loved.