A Survey of the Life of Jesus, Session 3 (Baptism [in the Jordan] and Temptation [in the Wilderness])

This week’s installment in our series, “A Survey of the Life of Jesus”, is here below — including a hyperlink to the session’s teaching handout:

AMUMC, Life of Jesus, Session 3, Baptism & Temptation (teaching handout)

Any questions or comments?  Please, do not hesitate to drop me a line at
jim.reiter@am-umc.org

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A Survey of the Life of Jesus, Session 2 (Obscure Beginnings in Bethlehem & Nazareth)

With this post, I commend installment 2 of my/our Summer “Survey of the Life of Jesus” to you:

  • a video (below) — conveying an audio of the session (underneath powerpoint images employed through the course of the evening),

–and–

Admittedly, there are a host of varied emotions which surround this work.  Yes, there’s excitement at reengaging a meaningful chapter in my life–and material therefrom.

And, yes, there’s gratitude for Jim Fleming and all he’s given me!

However, there’s also some distress and pressure.  I struggle with the volume of material  and how to present it and how to make each session more manageable (for all involved).  (I’ll agree this session 2 is/was way too full!  Too much to take in…. and no time for questions!  I apologize.  I’ll work on this in the weeks ahead.  Admittedly, it’s always been a challenge for me in my teaching.)

The basis of this time crunch is multiple.  Beyond being the way I am wired, it’s the nature of and the result of working with Fleming.   (And, here, there’s a strong desire within me to “do Jim right” [“to make him proud”] — conveying his material as confidently and accurately and fully as possible.)

Admittedly, though, there’s a “shadow” or “ego” side to all this — where I want, deep down, the same kind of adulation and respect that Jim has garnered through his life.  And, I confuse that with doing things the way he did (and does) things.  It’s among the “false selves” with which I wrestle.

And, here, I arrive at one of the original intentions and hopes and purposes of this blog: namely, to seek and be about an “authentic ‘dance’ with self, God, neighbors and creation!”  You see, in a spirt of transparency and confession (which some [especially those just encountering my bloggings and more personal sharings] may find uncomfortable), I admit: it’s hard for me to accept myself for just who I am.  (Ironically, this was the basis of and at the core of a spiritual growth study I led here at A&M at the beginning of this year.  A study focused on our “Coming Home to the Heart of the Gospel”–i.e., our coming home to our “true selves” in Christ.)   Coming out of last night’s session, I found myself saying, just one more time: “Lighten up, Reiter!  You don’t have to be anything or anyone else [whether it’s Fleming or some other idol you have attached yourself to]…  Be who you uniquely are in Christ!”

I am proud, then, to continue to offer this material (with an ongoing acknowledgement of debt to Jim Fleming)–material which has so blessed my life and ministry through the years.  I am not surprised, though, that, even as I revisit [and share from] this precious chapter in my life, I am very much engaged in work that is at the heart of my current chapter of life and living: being more and more true to and accepting of the “original, shimmering self” [cf, Buechner] that I uniquely am!  (Lord, have mercy!)

Enough, already, Jim!

To the video…

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A Survey of the Life of Jesus, Session 1

Too much has happened and too much time has passed since I last engaged — really engaged and populated — this site.  (There’s room and reason to share and process events and developments from the course of the last few years.  That’s bound to happen in coming weeks and months.)

A convenient and meaningful reason to “return,” though, is found in a need to have a portal through which I can share materials related to a “Survey of the Life of Jesus” course which I have kicked off at my current charge, A&M United Methodist Church (in College Station, Texas).  It’s material I have variously shared over the last 20 years — drawing heavily upon my work with Dr. Jim Fleming in the Holy Lands (first as a student and, then, as manager of the stateside operations of his Biblical Resources).

It’s my hope each week through this Summer (of 2017) to not only post videos of weekly sessions (reflecting not just the audio line but also powerpoint slides/images employed in each week’s session) but also handout materials and other discussions/materials relevant to class conversations.  (And, in between?  Hopefully, there’ll be room for other ponderings and musings!)

As in previous offerings of this course material, Session 1’s focus was/is an overview of the course — with a introduction to the “Biblical Stage” upon which our Scriptures and the Life of Jesus play out.  Downloadable handout materials from the session (and available by clicking the hyperlinks, below) include:

I welcome all comments (below) as you engage these materials… and watch the video of this first session:

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“In Remembrance of Me:” A Maundy Thursday Sermon

Communion Elements
19He took bread, gave thanks and broke it–giving it to his disciples and saying,
“This is my body, given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22)

Opening Joke:
Three sisters living in the same house together:
First one, preparing to bathe, puts one leg in and stops–asking, “now, was I getting in or out of the tub?”
Second one goes up the stairs to check on the first. Halfway up, she stops: “now, was I going up or down the stairs?”
Third sister, still in the kitchen thinks about the other two. Rapping on the table with her knuckles, she exclaims, “Knock on wood I’m not like my poor sisters… Now, let me see, was that the front door or the back door?”

I thought it was a funny joke and acceptable for a sermon. 

That is, until I saw the tears of one parishioner whose mother was in the throes of Alzheimer’s.  It was one more lesson of how dangerous humor can be. 

It drove home the pain of forgetfulness, the pain of our potentially forgetting who we are and whose we are.

Mindful of our ability to forget as humans, mindful of the sad and painful consequences of our forgetting, Jesus commands us in this evening’s text to remember.

But what does that really mean: “do this in remembrance of me”?

1) Sadly, we’ve belittled the meaning of remembering. We turn it into mere thinking, mental recounting. To be sure, that’s a good and necessary start. Part of what we do tonight – indeed, this Holy week – is recount the movements of Jesus and the disciples. Physical movements, yes, but also emotional and spiritual movements.

2) However, as there are pronounced differences between the Western way of thinking and Middle Eastern ways of conceptualizing things, we should not be surprised that there’s more to remembering than narrowly recounting past events. In the Greek, as the Hebrew, the words we translate “remember” suggest more than a transport of mind but, more, a transport of being – so that what’s being remembered is actually being re-experienced. It’s not just someone else’s story that we are recounting but a story that which is ours — a story we are in.

“Memorial,” “commemoration,” “remembrance” all suggest a recalling of the past, whereas the Greek word [anamnesis] used by Jesus is practically untranslatable in English. It means making present an object or person from the past. Sometimes the term “reactualization” has been used to indicate the force of anamnesis.
–The New Dictionary of Sacramental Worship, p. 45

Even so, when Jewish people today celebrate the Passover at a Seder, they do not recall the Exodus in terms of what happened to an ancient “them” — the Hebrews of old.  Instead, they do so in terms of “we”: “on this night we were freed….” It’s their own personal story: the present being informed by the past, the past infiltrating the present.

a) This kind of active reminiscing begins with our identifying those things in the evening to which we can relate and identify. You know, the kind of things where we say, “Yeah, I’ve been there…”:
 “Yeah, I’ve been prideful—seeking a better position than others.”
 “Yeah, I’ve been frustrated when others have sought a privileged position above me.”
 “Yeah, I’ve been confused by Jesus… and his words… and his actions.”
 “Yeah, I betrayed Jesus and tried to sit at the table like nothing was wrong.”

b) But here, the reenactment, the “re-experiencing” goes much deeper! Truly, there’s more going on in this meal than we can think or imagine.  Here, I am mindful of our Church’s teaching about this Sacrament in a document entitled, This Holy Mystery:

Jesus Christ, who “is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being” (Hebrews 1:3), is truly present in Holy Communion. Through Jesus Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit, God meets us at the Table. Christ is present through the community gathered in Jesus’ name (Matthew 18:20), through the Word proclaimed and enacted, and through the elements of bread and wine shared (1 Corinthians 11:23–26). Holy Communion is remembrance, commemoration, and memorial, yes, but this remembrance is much more than simply intellectual recalling. It’s a dynamic re-presentation of past gracious acts of God in the present–so powerfully as to make them truly present now. Christ is risen and is alive here and now, not just remembered for what was done in the past. This sacred moment is more than a remembrance of the Last Supper and the Crucifixion. Through this Sacrament, the divine presence is a living reality and can be experienced by participant.

Dear Friends, more than some transportation of our minds to far off events, this meal is a transportation of the Divine Presence of Christ into our very midst so that we are active participants in a feast which spans the centuries – even until “Christ comes again and we feast at his Heavenly banquet!”

[Does not this help us, in fact, to make sense of what Paul writes in 1 Conrinthians: “is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?” (10:16)]

3) All this leads to one more way that we “remember [re-member] Christ” in and through this meal: namely, that as we’re about the business of recounting and re-experiencing the life of Christ among us and within us, we are put together anew (reassembled, re-membered, re-gathered) by God and Spirit into the body of Christ–redeemed for a broken world.

You heard me tell the story this last Sunday (which hails from Stephen Ministry) of the young child, scared by a storm, who’s told by his parents to not be afraid, that “Jesus is with him.” To which he cries, “I know but now I need Jesus with skin on!”

Indeed, on the basis of this Holy Mystery in which we encounter the divine presence of Christ anew – and one another as divine members in His body; we become, we reassemble, we are re-membered, we are re-gathered as the ongoing body of Christ in a broken world. Remembered, regathered, together we become the “body of Christ”–Jesus with skin on!

Even so we pray in the Great Thanksgiving:

Pour out your Holy Spirit on us gathered here so that we may be for the world the body of Christ, redeemed by his blood…  Pour out your Holy Spirit on us gathered here so that we may be. re-membered, reassembled, reconnected, regathered as the ongoing body of Christ in the world.

As I recall that terrible backfire in humor a few years ago, I am still haunted by the tears of that woman for her mother. They underscore what we all know and see: that there remain tragic diseases in this world which can rob us of memory, rob us of loved ones, rob us of much of our identity. But, even here, in this hell, there’s comfort and hope at this table of Remembrance – that, beyond all our failings and weaknesses and diseases, our is a remembering God. Yes, there’s good news that He promises to give us a spirit of remembrance. But, perhaps even greater, the Scriptures abound with reminders of a loving God who never forgets His children, who has each of us engraved on the palms of his hands, a loving God from whom nothing in all creation can separate us—even our forgetfulness!

Yes, Praise be to God!
The God Whom we remember tonight–
The God Whom we re-experience tonight:
A God who passes over our sins (remembering them no more),
A God who washes our feet – giving us an example,
A God who redeems and sustains us – putting us back together,
A God who is incapable of forgetting his children.
Amen.

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The [Biased] Chemistry of Breaking Bad

BB, all in the chemistry2
[A prefacing note or two:  Having finished a “’Breaking Bad’ binge” on Netflix [last “Fat Tuesday,” no less!], I’ve found my way into Blake Atwood’s Gospel According to Breaking Bad – referenced in my last post.  “Cinematic Contemplative” that I am, I’d fully agree with Atwood: that Breaking Bad (BB) offers a lot of food for reflection and prayer.  Up there with the Godfather trilogy, it may be one of the most compelling [contemporary] treatments of sin-pride there is – with a portrayal of the subtle (and not so subtle) ways that they [sin and pride] can suck us in and down.  While it is not overtly Christian (nor does it want or try to be), BB is, with a lot of other great shows and movies, highly spiritual – ripe for deeper and fuller discussions in which Jesus and the Gospels have a real place and value.  Do I condone the language and the violence and the promiscuity which fill BB and so many other cultural “hits”?  Of course not!  No more, in fact, than I condone the violence and promiscuity that fill so many Biblical passages!  In both cases (Biblical and non-Biblical), we have to look at and through and beyond these scenes of degradation and depravity to see truth and redemption – indeed, to see our own lives and living!  Of course, “it’s different strokes for different folks!”  I’ll fully understand my more sensitive readers not agreeing with me (e.g., about watching BB, about valuing it as fodder for spiritual reflection and discussion, etc.) – even as I hope they’ll afford me that same courtesy.  What I do hope (in writing here and perhaps elsewhere about BB [and other such works]) is that I can and will offer something for all – even those who chose not to binge with me!]
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Of all the scenes in Breaking Bad, perhaps the most revealing to me are those classroom scenes (early on, obviously… before he fully “breaks” down) in which High School teacher, Walter White, lectures on chemistry.  In many respects (both obvious and not so obvious), an understanding of the core themes and agendas of Breaking Bad is “all in the chemistry.” For embedded in Walter’s lectures are insights into the chemistry of the show… and the chemistry of his personality and its evolution/dissolution.

There are his words in the pilot episode. They are, we’ll see, fitting words for one who will change, dissolve, decay before our eyes – being transformed into a wholly different (and fascinating) character:

Chemistry is, well technically chemistry is the study of matter, but I prefer to see it as the study of change. Now just think about this. Electrons, they change their energy levels. Molecules change their bonds. Elements, they combine and change into compounds. Well that’s … that’s all of life, right? It’s just …   It’s the constant, it’s the cycle. It’s solution, dissolution, just over and over and over. It is growth, then decay, then transformation. It is fascinating, really.

You can watch the scene here:

Or, again, even more revealing and powerful are his words in the second episode.   Here, we are given a central and crucial metaphor for the mutation of Walter White into his chiral opposite, Heisenberg:

So the term “chiral” derives from the Greek word “hand” — being that just as your left hand and your right hand are mirror images of one another; well, so, too, organic compounds can exist as mirror-image forms of one another all the way down at the molecular level.  But although they may look the same, they don’t always behave the same.

For instance…  Thalidomide.  The right-handed isomer of the drug thalidomide is a perfectly fine, good medicine to give to a pregnant woman –to prevent morning sickness.  But make the mistake of giving that same pregnant woman the left-handed isomer of the drug thalidomide and her child will be born with horrible birth defects.  Which is precisely what happened in the 1950s.

So chiral, chirality, mirrored images, right?  Active, inactive, good, bad.

The use of thalidomide as an example makes the chemical metaphor complete and perfect–hinting at and foreshadowing, as it does, Walter’s  “horrible” and defecting potential as the chiral (viral?) Heisenberg.

Or finally, there’s his classroom lecture in episode 6 of Season 1–a lecture whose purpose is two-fold:  1) it sets up the use of fulminated mercury in Walter’s explosive showdown (at episode’s end) with the drug lord, Tocu and 2) it foreshadows the volatility and fallout embedded in Walt’s radical and rapid change.

Chemical reactions involve change on two levels: matter and energy. When a reaction is gradual, the change in energy is slight. I mean, you don’t even notice the reaction is happening. For example, when rust collects on the underside of a car. But if a reaction happens quickly, otherwise harmless substances can interact in a way that generates enormous bursts of energy. Who can give me an example of rapid chemical reaction?  [“Like an explosion?,” a student interjects.]  Yes, good, explosions. Explosions are the result of chemical reactions happening almost instantaneously. And the faster reactions (i.e. explosions, and fulminated mercury is a prime example of that)…  the faster they undergo change, the more violent the explosion. Explosions. Okay why don’t you start reading on your own from the top of chapter seven, alright?

What’s interesting to me is a fourth class lecture scene which was deleted by BB’s Producer, Vince Gilligan, and his editors–a scene I stumbled across on youtube:

[In the event that the youtube video is inaccessible, I have created a mock script of the scene.  Click here to see pdf.]

Of course, we’ll never know why the scene was deleted.  (Who knows if Gilligan and his crew can even fully say!)  Some argue that it was cut because it displays poor chemistry–something anathema to the laboratory purist which is Walter White.  Hence, for example, one post on reddit: “That’s why it was deleted…. A chemistry instructor would kick anyone who ingested chemicals out of the lab. Damn lack of realism.”  Still others argue that it was cut for time constraints.  When you have 47 minutes per episode, every scene has to count.

Yes, every scene has to count!  Which brings me to my own theory about why the scene was deleted.  In a nutshell: “Walt’s Demonstration” works against the explosive and disintegrating chemistry of those scenes, referenced above, which did make it past the cut – scenes which are more congruent with the destination Gilligan and gang have in mind, scenes which feed a plot more attractive to viewership and ratings.  To speak of emulsifiers that work to reconcile the un-mixable is to present a possibility for Walter that works against the flow and tenor of the story’s ultimate, published plot line:  “turning Mr. Chips into Scarface.”  (That is Gilligan’s clearly published intent- – as conveyed in a host of articles out there.  See this CNN article as one example.)  To posit that there is some way that Walter [the right-handed, oily Mr. Chips] and Heisenberg [the left-handed, vinegary Scarface] might be “reconciled” to one another — and, thereby/therein, be “redeemed” — does not make for good explosions and cliffhangers.  Better to have chiral opposites in which there’s destructive,  explosive, and irreconcilable conflict between black and white!  In this case, “gray matter” does not get the ratings.  In this case, 12-Steps that work do not create nearly the tantalizing and provocative and compelling scenes and storylines of 12-Steppers gone wild.  (Not to mention that it’s a lot harder to convey the emulsification of Chips and Scarface into one whole than it is to portray a personality totally falling apart and breaking bad.  Yes, there are possibilities for developing that storyline in/with Jesse Pinkman.  Sadly, though, that possibility is never fully pursued or established.)

Jung would argue that, in the process of individuation, there’s a greater integration of conscious and unconscious – so that, at least, one part of what ego accepts and acknowledges and learns to live with is the “shadows” within.  (At least, that’s how I read and am beginning to understand Jung and his writings.)  Christianity adds that Christ is a key “emulsifier” in this individuation and integration process – this “reconciliation” not just to God and the world but to ourselves.

In its own way, “emulsification” points to possibilities and promises of the reconciliation,  redemption, and authenticity I ache for in life and living – and which I seek to dance with in this blog.  It hints at a third component which can enter into our seemingly immiscible lives – transforming, integrating, reconciling, healing.

In its own way, by leaving this notion of emulsification on the cutting floor, Gilligan and Breaking Bad underscore how, too often, our culture can be more attracted to tragic stories of humans falling apart than the good news of humans coming together.  If BB is any indication, ours is a culture more fascinated by the extremes of breaking bad than by the possibilities of breaking good.

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