Monday, February 24, 2014

ZEALOT: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth

I recently finished reading this well-written, fascinating look at Jesus. Reza Aslan has managed to bring the history of first century Palestine alive in a manner I have not previously encountered. His premise will undoubtedly ruffle some feathers in the Evangelical Christian community, but Aslan’s thesis must be considered by anyone who claims to be a follower of Jesus. Aslan’s take-home message can be summarized in this following concluding excerpt from ZEALOT:
Two thousand years later, the Christ of Paul’s creation has utterly subsumed the Jesus of history. The memory of the revolutionary zealot who walked across Galilee gathering an army of disciples with the goal of establishing the Kingdom of God on earth, the magnetic preacher who defied the authority of the Temple priesthood in Jerusalem, the radical Jewish nationalist who challenged the Roman occupation and lost, has been almost completely lost to history.
This book begs the question: Have we lost Jesus? I’m not saying Aslan is right, but he does force a very important issue. There are many different versions of Jesus out there. I encounter them every day--on billboards, bumper stickers, Tee-shirts, facebook memes, songs, and books such as ZEALOT. Are any of them real? Are any of them True? Is Jesus embodied by that Not of This World logo? Is Jesus that reddish-brown-bearded white dude whose face sort of glows? If he were walking this earth in the flesh right now, would Jesus be eating as often as possible at Chick-fill-A and filling his DVR with episodes of Duck Dynasty? Would he grab a latte between services at his neighborhood mega-church?
Is it possible to really know Jesus?
Intellectually, the answer is no. There is no history book, philosophy treatise, or theological tome that can help you really know Jesus. You might get some helpful facts, dispel some myths, and even get pointed toward the Truth, but you still won’t really know Jesus. You could read every word ever written about him, every saying of his ever recorded, every opinion from every expert in every field, and you still wouldn’t know him.
But there is a way.
All we have to do is ask.
Matthew 7:7
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.”
Proverbs 8:17
“I love those who love me, and those who seek me will find me.”


Saturday, February 15, 2014

Beyond the Mountains...

There is a Haitian Proverb that goes "Beyond the mountains, more mountains." This saying was made famous in the spectacular book Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder. Read it if you haven't already.

When I was a boy I lived on a calf ranch in Chino Hills, Southern California. The ranch was nestled in some hills that bordered a state park which was protected from development. I clearly remember a particular Saturday morning when I decided I was going to find out what was on the other side of the hill my family's mobile home was parked on. I packed my little backpack with some snacks and water and set off on my little adventure. I couldn't have been much older than six or seven. I did not announce my intentions to my mom because I was wise enough to know I wouldn't get very far if she knew what I planned.

I summited our hill with the full knowledge there was another behind it because the next was higher. The mystery lay beyond the second summit. I climbed with great anticipation, only to find a third hill. I made it to the third summit, which required a detour around great patches of wild cactus. And guess what I discovered beyond that third hill. That's right. Yet another. By this time I was quite tired. I knew that wherever I happened to be, my journey home was only half over. And my older sister had told me tales of some oil company drilling test wells out in these parts, leaving gaping holes in the ground that would swallow me whole. It was time to turn back.

But I didn't give up my dream of learning what was beyond those hills. A few years later, when I was stronger and could safely make the hike, my father took me. We set off at the crack of dawn. We journeyed past that third hill. We crossed a creek. We ate lunch under a great oak with a trunk wider than my arms could stretch. We followed a fire road that coursed toward the highest peak in that range of hills, but we had to cross three more hills to reach that final summit. But we made it. At the top we had a panoramic view. I could see everything. It was one of those rare Southern California days where the Santa Ana winds had blown all smog far out to sea. I could see for miles. Clear to the ocean to the west, and beyond, all the way to Catalina Island. And to the coastal mountains to the south, the San Bernardino Mountains to the east and north. No more mystery. Only beauty.

These past few days I've been at a writers conference. I had a conversation with some young aspiring authors. They wanted to hear about my journey to publication. "How did you get a literary agent?" they wanted to know. "Did you get a lot of rejections?" All of the agents turned me down. Every single one. "Then how did you sign with one?" One of the agents that had initially turned me down changed his mind. "How long have you been writing?" Fifteen years. I wrote five different manuscripts before I managed to produce anything worth publishing, and it took me nearly eight years to see that manuscript in print. I could see it on their young faces. Surely there must be an easier way. Surely there must be a shortcut. Some way around the mountains.

There isn't a way around. But there is a way through. Especially if your Father goes with you.