Monday, November 10, 2008

Resurrection, Glory, and Post-Election Speech

I was with a group of people from ten different congregations in the Pacific Northwest who are working together on missional transformation. Many of them have found my blog, and a few let me know that they didn't agree with my decision to vote for Obama. There was a look of disappointment in some of their eyes. This is the way of elections. They have a tendency to push us into camps that have fairly exclusive views of the world.

Part of this exclusivism is the result of the use of language in elections. While we may disagree on the right candidate, we have broad agreement that we are glad the commercials, punditry, robocalls, etc, are over. Our elections are a season of debased speech, which cheapens discourse and calls into question the promise of language to convey truth. It is a thin season that will not sustain civil discourse.

I was in class the night of the election. This particular class is dominated by international students and on a break we had an interesting conversation about the US election. The three Koreans in the class all were stunned by the negative campaigning. To them, it's like these otherwise sensible Americans lose it for a season.

So, the post-election question for me is how to speak in a world of debased speech. And we have little choice about the matter. We are a Word faith. We believe that God creates through speaking, and that his work of redemption comes through a Word made flesh. How can we speak in a world that is weary of empty speech?

There is much to say here, but I simply want to point out some things that Paul is doing in 2 Corinthians. On at least three occasions he talks about his conduct in speech related to his experience of the resurrection. In the opening chapter he talks about circumstances in Asia, where he was "utterly, unbearably crushed, " "despaired of life that we might rely on God who raised Jesus from the dead." Just a few verses after the report of his deliverance, he writes about "our boast, the testimony of our conscience, that we have behaved in the world with frankness and godly sincerity... ." Paul's experience of deliverance, of the one who raised Jesus from the dead, results in a certain kind of speech.

In the next chapter, Paul explains his travel patterns to the Corinthians through the image of being a captive in Christ's victory procession. Paul is a death and resurrection man, the aroma of Christ "from life to life." Connected to this image of death and resurrection we again find language about speech. "We are not peddler's of God's word like so many, but in Christ we speak as persons of sincerity, as persons sent from God."

Chapter four includes the most striking phrases in which Paul describes his life in terms of the death and resurrection. Paul knows life as "hard pressed, but not crushed, perplexed, but not driven to despair...always carrying in the body the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus might be seen in my mortal flesh...While we live, we are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake so that his life might be seen in us." This chapter begins with a description of speech. "We have renounced the shameful things one hides, we refuse to practice cunning or to falsify God's word, but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to everyone... ."

Later in the chapter, Paul quotes from Psalm 116. "In the same spirit of faith that is in accordance with Scripture, 'I believe, therefore, I speak,' we also believe and therefore we speak." What is this spirit of faith? Pslam 116 is a psalm of deliverance. The psalmist rejoices that God has heard his cry for mercy. The chords of death entangled him, the anguish of the grave surrounded him. He was overcome by trouble and sorrow. Yet, God delivered him.

It is in this spirit of faith that Paul dares to speak. It is from the depths of despair that a Christian word emerges. The experience of deliverance form "utterly, unbearably crushed" provide the conditions for authentic Christian speech.

This is no doubt in part because we are speaking of something we know experientially. But it is also undoubtedly a result of the transformation that comes from experiences of deliverance. Things just change. Life has gravity. In fact, I love the language of weight in 2 Corinthians 4. Paul admits that we are hard pressed, echoing back to his experience related in chapter one of being utterly, unbearably crushed. But chapter four ends with Paul saying "our slight momentary affliction is not worth comparing to the eternal weight of glory." I love that image. Glory is substantial. It is not thin applause or easy victory. It is thick with significance. It doesn't just ignore life's circumstances, but admits all details and finds beauty in the midst of them. Glory.

This week has been a tough week for many of my friends and me. Cindy Wilson, a great friend, died suddenly and without warning of meningitis. I have walked around with heaviness all week. My chest feels like someone set an anvil on it. I am not ready yet to claim resurrection, to move to some kind of good that might come out of this (and I certainly won't ever say this happened for a reason, or was part of God's plan). But I don't have to, because God is present in the death of Jesus. I have been invited again to trust the one who raised Jesus from the dead. The eternal weight of glory won't come apart from this, but precisely through this. Glory weighs a ton.

And because this is the glory I long for, my speech won't be glib or easy or flowery about this. Speech connected to the weight of glory doesn't need adornment. It's not triumphalist. It can admit to circumstances. It doesn't paint a smiley face on everything. I remember hearing Bill Cosby talking about laughter. He contrasted the thin laughter of teenage girls to the deep belly laugh of his father. The difference was life experience. It didn't come as easy or as often, but it was far more meaningful and joy producing. It weighed something. And so should Christian speech.


Larry said...


As one of those on the northwest transformation and a previous reader of your blog- (we discussed this at Elderlink) I have found this part of the journey to be very interesting. My personal heritage has taught me to discount everyone whose thoughts and teachings were different than mine. This pattern of behavior has led me to rooms that were smaller and a God who was less inclusive and less attractive. What I want for my community and my family is to constantly be in awe of this God who challenges our notions.

We are praying for the Wilson family

Peace to your Home


III said...

"How can we speak in a world that is weary of empty speech?"

That's an excellent question that deserves to be wrestled with. And my response might betray a sense of having not wrestled with it.

Nevertheless, I think a way forward for the church -- in a world weary of empty speech -- is to have primary in our minds & out of our lips the virtue of love. Love should be primary in our speech. Love speaks volumes, and adds the weight that you speak of at the end of your entry. Politicians speak out of self-interest, self-adulation, and self-preservation. Our language has to be distant from that, and I think a good first step away from those values is for us to love. And I'm not just speaking of love in terms of acts of service, but in any language that love is conveyed according to the esteemed Gary Chapman. Our very words need to be motivated out of a sense of & well-seasoned with love.

I trust that love is probably a good way forward for us in this. It is an exclusive commodity that Christ's community offers as opposed to what is offered by power-seeking politicians.

Cheryl Russell said...

I'm sorry for your loss. We are praying for you all.

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