Monday, April 29, 2019

Adventures in Podcasting

I am a preacher as well as a writer. These days I do not preach or teach as much as I used to when I was in fulltime ministry. That is fine with me. I have been retired for almost three years now, and I am content with my relaxed schedule. I preach enough. I preached three times during Lent. I also taught a weekly Lenten study on my book “Experiencing God Directly” at the church we now attend.

So I am not complaining. If I wanted to preach more I could sign up with my denomination’s region to be a supply preacher or an interim pastor. If I wanted to teach more I could volunteer to teach with our region’s Certified Lay Ministry program to teach courses. I have thought about doing both of these, but have not yet felt the call to do so.

Instead I have used my time writing books, writing this blog, writing articles in the local newspaper, and occasionally preaching and teaching. My books are doing well. Better than I expected. Each month I sell more books than the month before. But I want to reach a wider audience.

So I decided to start a podcast. I have listened to podcasts for years, but never considered doing one until now. This podcast would not be an interview show with guests. It would be another venue for me to communicate the ideas in my books in audio format that would be free to listeners.

In other words it would be like preaching, teaching and writing rolled into one. So I am giving it a try. I am calling it “The Tao of Christ” which is also the title of one of my books. And I will read that book for the first three or four episodes.

I will embed the first episode here.

I have also uploaded a second episode. You can find them both with this link:

Also, here is the RSS feed (whatever that is)

As you can tell, I am still learning the lingo, as well as the craft of recording, editing, and adding music. This project is still in the early stages. After I have three episodes I can send it to Apple itunes and then other podcast directories, so people can find it. That will take a little time. Hope you enjoy it.

Monday, April 8, 2019

The Missing Easter Stories

What happened on the first Easter? It is hard to know exactly what occurred when we only have some of the facts. The earliest list of Easter resurrection appearances is given by the apostle Paul, written down more than twenty years after Easter and about twenty years before any of the gospels were written. Paul writes:

“He [Jesus] appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.” (I Corinthians 15:5-8)

This list is significant for what it omits as well as what it includes. There is no mention of the empty tomb, which plays such an important role in the gospels. Paul seems to know nothing about the resurrection appearances to Mary Magdalene at the garden tomb or the two disciples on the Emmaus Road, which are now the most beloved Easter stories.

Furthermore Paul includes resurrection appearances that are not recorded in the canonical gospels: singular appearances to Cephas (another name for Peter) and James (the brother of Jesus and head of the early Jerusalem church). Most amazing is the mention of group appearances to more than 500 “brothers” at once (how about “sisters”?) and another appearance to “all the apostles,” which presumably means the wider group of seventy apostles.

One wonders what those Easter stories were like. It would have been wonderful to have them included in the New Testament! Some of these stories can be found in apocryphal and gnostic gospels that never made it past the ecclesiastical censors to be included in the New Testament. They make for interesting reading.

What I like the most is that Paul includes his own encounter with Christ on the Damascus Road as a resurrection appearance. His experience happened twenty years after Easter and hundreds of miles from Jerusalem. Yet he is adamant that his experience of the risen Christ was a resurrection appearance as genuine as those that happened on Easter Sunday, even though it is clearly a spiritual encounter and not a physical one.  

That opens the door for us to meet the risen Christ. It doesn’t matter that Jesus’ resurrection happened two millennia ago. Our experiences of the risen Christ are not any less authentic than those of the apostles. It doesn’t matter that we, like Paul, were “untimely born” – born two thousand years late.

Easter is not a matter of timing or geography. It is a matter of spiritual openness to the presence of the living Christ. Christ is risen! He lives! How do I know? As the Easter hymn says, “You ask me how I know he lives? He lives within my heart!”

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

The Redemption of Judas Iscariot

Every good story needs a villain. In the passion narrative of the New Testament that role is played by Judas Iscariot. He is the one Christians love to hate. I have been thinking about Judas because of something a pastor friend said recently. She believes that Judas is in heaven.

Is that true? Is Judas chumming around with Peter and Paul in the heavenly Jerusalem? I never gave it much thought. I know the conventional wisdom concerning Judas’ fate. I know that Dante’s Inferno places Judas in the ninth circle of hell, not far from the prophet Muhammad, Pope Boniface VIII and several of Dante’s personal enemies (which says more about Dante than these men.)

Dante pictures Lucifer as having three mouths, and in each of them he eternally devours one of the three greatest sinners of human history (in Dante’s opinion). In the left and right mouths dangle Brutus and Cassius, who murdered Julius Caesar in the Roman Senate. Judas Iscariot is given special treatment by being placed head-first into the devil’s central mouth with his back eternally clawed by the devil's talons. Ugh! It is not a pretty sight.

But my clergy friend insists that Judas repented of his sin and thereby qualifies for a place in paradise. This is in spite of the fact that he took his own life, which for much of Christian history was considered an unforgivable sin. Thank God that is not the Christian consensus any longer. Now suicide is viewed as a result of mental illness and does not disqualify one from heaven.

When I read the gospels, I find that Judas did indeed “repent.” (Matthew 27:3) At least that is the way some versions translate it. Other translations use words like remorse and regret. In any case he had a change of heart that prompted him to try to set things right by returning the thirty pieces of silver. In the end he was so consumed by guilt that he took his own life.

Another biblical account tells a different story of Judas’ end. The Acts of the Apostles says that he used the blood money to buy a field “and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out.” (1:18) Double ugh! Why do these religious punishments have to be so gory?

On the other hand the non-canonical Gospel of Judas insists that Judas didn’t do anything wrong. Judas was privately instructed by Jesus to betray him. It was all part of God’s plan. Judas was acting under divine orders to turn Jesus over to the authorities. Judas was actually a faithful disciple and the first martyr. Interesting take on the old story!

So is Judas Iscariot strolling the streets of gold or is he an everlasting snack for the Prince of Darkness? I don’t know. I am not in any position to judge anyone, not even Judas Iscariot. At least that is what Jesus taught me: “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.” Therefore to avoid being a Devil’s food snack, I will withhold judgment.

Personally I have a difficult time with traditional depictions of heaven and hell anyway. I don’t take the biblical descriptions of afterlife literally. I certainly cannot conceive of my loving Lord sentencing – or even allowing - anyone to suffer torment eternally, not even his betrayer. That is not the God I know. The one who taught me to love my enemies and forgive those who persecute me surely would not turn around and do the opposite.

In any case the problematic figure of Judas should teach us to be careful how we judge another’s soul and faith. Anyone who thoughtfully reads the Passion story can see themselves reflected in the faces of all the characters – including Peter who denies Christ, the apostles who abandon him, and the crowd that shouts “Crucify him!”  If we look carefully, we can even glimpse the face of Judas Iscariot in the shadows of our own soul. So let’s be careful how we judge … lest we be judged.