I’ve been in Arkansas for a month, and today’s my last day here.
I’ve been the writer-in-residence at First Presbyterian Church in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and I’ve also gotten to speak at John Brown University, University of the Ozarks, University of Arkansas -Fort Smith and the Donald Reynolds Cancer Support House.
Arkansas seems like a random state to live in for a month, and I’ve had a lot of people ask me about it. So here’s the deal.
In January 2014 I flew here from Portland to talk about The Invisible Girls on a Sunday. After I left, the pastor started following me on Twitter, and saw that I spent a month as the writer-in-residence at an art school in Germany in October. He wrote and asked if I’d be interested in coming back to the church for a month doing something similar at First Presbyterian.
I’m always up for an adventure, so I said yes!
It’s the Monday after Easter. As we face the days ahead, we will encounter the reality of daily life, which seems to have been suspended in the drama of Holy Week.
We wake up today to find that the chocolate eggs are melting. The jellybeans are already stale. The lilies are wilting. The pastel decorations are falling off the wall. And, though we have lots of leftovers still to eat, we’re already sick of ham. The surge of emotions we experienced over the past few days — from the dread of Maundy Thursday to the grief of Good Friday to the despair of Holy Saturday to the elation of Easter Sunday — is ebbing.
Resurrection is already slipping into routine.
Today we question what place Easter has in our lives going forward. Is there meaning beyond observing a liturgical holiday? Is there a message that we should contemplate in the days ahead or, like our Easter outfits, will this chapter of Jesus’ life hang in our closets until we revisit it next spring?
Every Easter weekend, people repeat that saying, “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming,” as if to say that your dreams or desires or hopes are dead, but just hold still in the nothingness of Friday night and all day Saturday, and then at dawn on Sunday everything wakes up and you’re suddenly alive again.
I don’t know about you — but I have experienced very few “resurrection” moments like that in my life. Most things in my life improve by subtle, slow, small steps, which are often punctuated by significant struggles. Most joys in life make me crack a smile, but they don’t send me over the moon.
How is it possible, I ask God, that you raised Jesus from the dead, and yet some days I can’t even get out of bed? What happened to all that power? I don’t see instant resurrection in my life — does that mean I’m doing this wrong?
As I’ve walked with God, I’ve come to believe that maybe resurrection isn’t sudden. Maybe all of life is like Saturday.
Maybe it’s the space between the death of our fallen world, and everlasting life. And maybe in that space, resurrection is happening.
Maybe Jesus’ body didn’t come alive in a split second; maybe it took all of Saturday for life to creep back in to his lifeless form. Slowly, in darkness and deafening silence, a cell wakes up. It starts metabolizing oxygen and weaving strands of DNA again. And then another cell wakes up. And then another one.
I’m incredibly empathetic to physical suffering (which probably explains why I pursued a career in medicine), and every time people talk about Jesus’ death on the cross, I have a visceral reaction to the death-by-torture we observe on Good Friday.
Last week I had lunch with the pastor of the church where I’m currently the writer-in-residence. I asked him how the three members of the Trinity — God the Father, God the Son and God the Spirit — decided who was going to have to take on physical form, be born in a barn, and then be crucified.
It seems to me like Jesus must’ve drawn the short straw in heaven that day. While the other two members got to sit up in heaven, Jesus went through unbelievable emotional and physical torture.
As they packed Jesus’ soul into a baby’s body, I can imagine the angels shaking their heads, saying, Man, Jesus, for the next 33 years, it’s going to suck to be you.
“You think the Son suffered more than the Father?” my pastor asked me.
“Why?” he asked.
“Because he was crucified. He was beaten all night and then nailed to a cross and just hung there for six hours. I can’t conceive of a more painful way to die.”
“Maybe physical suffering isn’t the worst suffering there is,” he said.
It’s Maundy Thursday 2000 years ago.
The known world is caught up in violent conflicts. Political leaders are abusing their power and engaging in sexual misconduct. Ethnic minorities are being oppressed. Poor people are going hungry. People are dying because they can’t afford doctors or medicine. Innocent children have been massacred.
Jesus has asked his disciples to reserve a special room so they can observe a special Passover dinner together.
The disciples have heard him talk about laying down his life, but they don’t know that Jesus will die in less than 24 hours. From their perspective, the night looks more like a celebration of Jesus’ meteoric rise to popularity rather than a solemn prelude to his death.
Jesus has spent the past three years mesmerizing people with miracles, and amazing crowds with his simple but profound teaching. He is recognized as a healer, a rabbi, a prophet, and now it seems, a thrilling political candidate.
Just a few days before, he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, the symbol of an up-and-coming King. Throngs of people filled the streets, waving palm branches and shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
Sure, there is some opposition, but that’s to be expected. For the most part, Jesus’ supporters are enthusiastic. His fan base is electrified.
As they gather at the table on Thursday night, I’m sure the disciples expect Jesus to make a big announcement.
Whenever a plane goes down, there is inevitably a news story about the people who were supposed to be on the plane but weren’t — either because their alarm didn’t go off or there was a traffic jam or they switched travel plans at the last minute.
Yesterday was no exception. Amidst the horrifying reports of a plane dropping altitude over the Alps and then crashing into the mountain with 150 people on board, there was the story of a soccer team who changed their travel plans because they decided the layover in Dusseldorf was too long.
The New York Daily News headline reads that a Swedish soccer team was, “Saved By Last-Minute Plane Switch.”
When we hear stories like that, us Christians tend to say, “Wow! Isn’t God good!?”
After I spoke at an event, a girl came up to the book-signing table afterwards and told me she works a minimum-wage job and lives with her grandparents to support them. She said, “I know I’m doing what God wants me to do, but it’s not a very big life.” Here’s what I told her….
Hello, friends! I’m in the San Juan Islands on a 10-day writing retreat. I wanted to keep the blog going, but after spending all day writing on my laptop, I’m tired of looking at a screen, so I thought I’d post some video blogs this week.
First up: I met the Invisible Girls on the train in Portland more than 4 years ago. Even though I’ve ridden the train dozens of times since then, nothing like that has happened to me since — and what if nothing like that story ever happens to me again?
How do you live life in the spaces in between events and miracles and epic stories?
Tony Kriz is one of my favorite Portland people. I knew of him through his writing, and I knew he was “Tony the Beat Poet” from Donald Miller’s NYT-bestselling book Blue Like Jazz, but I had never met him until my memoir The Invisible Girls launched.
A church in downtown Portland hosted a book reading for me, and while I was talking about the book, Tony walked in. He’d never met me, but he’d come to support a fellow Portland author. It’s a gesture of kindness I won’t soon forget.
Tony’s latest book is called ALOOF: Figuring Out Life With A God Who Hides. Recently I had the chance to sit down with him and ask him some questions about it.
Ken Wytsma is the founder of The Justice Conference, a pastor, and the president of Kilns College in Bend, Oregon. Recently I had the chance to talk with him about his latest book, The Grand Parodox: The Messiness of Life, the Mystery of God, and the Necessity of Faith.