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Apr
18
2014

Good Friday and the Boston Marathon Bombers: The Terrorist on the Cross

Good Friday is the day in the Christian year when Christians look deeply into the mystery of the Cross of Jesus. 1 It is a solemn time for Christians, as we reflect on the suffering that Jesus endured. Some Christians recount in excruciatingly graphic detail all the various ways Jesus suffered. Other Christians reflect on those among us who are currently enduring suffering, and imagine ways we can be Jesus to them.

This year in Boston, this is also a time when Bostonians are looking back on the events of last year which powerfully impacted our city. Just over a year ago, the Boston Marathon was wrapping up, and many runners were nearing the finish line, when two explosions caused the deaths of three race spectators and the injuries of well over 200 more people.

In the days that followed that tragic act of terrorism, a manhunt was conducted in Boston and Cambridge which ended in Watertown only a few blocks from where my family and I live. 2 A suspect named Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was arrested, and his brother Tamerlan was killed in a shootout with police. Both lived here in Cambridge, went to our schools, and were friends with our young people. They were members of our community.

This Good Friday, I'm particularly struck by one perspective on the Cross which has the potential to reframe all our thoughts on justice, on terrorists, and the system of sin in which we live. And ultimately, it reveals a God who is immensely worthy of worship.

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Apr
13
2014

Messiahs, "Success," and the Way of Jesus: A Palm Sunday Sermon

Text: Matthew 21.1-11

Success is the most important thing in life, and failure is to be avoided at all cost.

That’s the message I hear when I listen closely to the world around me. Success is celebrated; failure is mocked. Success means: you matter; failure means: you don’t.

I live in Cambridge, Massachusetts, five minutes from Harvard and ten or fifteen minutes from MIT. For a lot of people, just getting here is a success in itself. For others, getting here is only part of the journey to success. Not everyone completes their journey; some journeys end here. Here is where success and failure often hang in the balance.

How do You define “success”?

If you’re smart, what does “success” look like for you?
If you’re attractive, outgoing, what does “success” look like for you?
If you come from a wealthy family, what does “success” look like for you?
If you come from a poor family, what does “success” look for you?
If you’re spiritual, devout, what does “success” look like for you?
Whatever your background or current situation, ask yourself: What does “success” look like for me?

When I became a Christian at close to 17 years old, I discovered theology and fell in love. I read every theology book on I could get my hands on. I devoured them, because I wanted to know everything about God, the Bible, Christianity. Before I’d even left for Bible college, I made a goal for myself. I wanted to have a PhD in theology by 33. (It rhymes, so it’s gotta be God’s will, right?!)

I’ll be 32 next week, and I’m still working on a Masters degree with no plans to apply to PhD programs anytime soon! So, I could look at that and see failure—if that’s how I measure success. But another thing I have to ask myself is: Is that God’s definition of “success”, or mine?

What is God’s definition of “success” for you?

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Feb
25
2014

"Son of God" Movie: Part Brilliant, Part Failure

If you're not aware, the new "Son of God" movie opening in theaters on Friday is directly from the miniseries called "The Bible" which debuted on the History Channel back in March of last year. I watched the entire miniseries and was a vocal critic of many of the producers' choices—especially regarding ethnicity and racial stereotypes.

But their New Testament episodes weren't nearly as terrible as their Old Testament episodes. In fact, there was quite a bit worthy of celebration. So, here I'd like to re-post both the: 1) Brilliant Aspects as well as the; 2) Missed Opportunities

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Jan
06
2014

Conquer Like the Lamb: Cruciform-centrism in Revelation (For Everyone) by N. T. Wright

For Christmas I was gifted with N. T. Wright's "For Everyone" commentary set on the New Testament thanks to my wife and members of the New City Covenant church plant. (THANK YOU!!!) I've wanted this set of commentaries for my library for several years now, and it's clear now that it was well worth the wait. Just as soon as all the shredded wrapping paper was collected and recycled, I was hard at work digesting the first book from the series I pulled from the shelf. I decided to start with Revelation. For one reason, I recently read Reversed Thunder by Eugene Peterson and loved it. 1 Also, having read a fair amount of Wright's other work, I felt that Revelation might be where his theological insights would shine brightest—and I think I was right.

Wright's commentary on Revelation is excellent! It's accessible, thorough yet brief, and clearly organized. Wright remains true to his signature areas of insight, expounding on the historical-cultural, as well as the socio-religio-political, contexts of the book; the Person of Jesus in relationship to Israel's God (including, obviously, a healthy dose of insight from Second Temple Jewish theology); the nature of the Jesus Movement out of which this text emerges; and the nature of the 'salvation' this book (and the rest of the New Testament) proclaim. Wright's unique perspective on justification makes a few important appearances, and his hallmark critique of Platonic dualism in Western visions of the afterlife also shows up from time to time. Even his now common exposés of violence and systemic injustice make their way into the book. This commentary has all the things which have made N. T. Wright one of my favorite theologians to read.

Above all, Wright's commentary on Revelation is most praiseworthy for its explicit Cruciform-centrism. 2 Five discernible themes in Wright's exposition of Revelation make this clear:

  1. Jesus is the Lamb at the Center of God's Throne;

  2. The Powers War Against the Lamb, the Followers of the Lamb, and God's Good Creation;

  3. The Lamb is Victorious Over the Powers in and Through the Cross;

  4. Jesus's Bride Conquers Like the Lamb—Through Self-giving Love;

  5. God is Faithful to His Covenant Through the Lamb, the Followers of the Lamb, and New Creation

As Wright plainly states upfront: "…the whole point of the book. Jesus himself won the victory through his suffering, and so must his people." - p.10

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Oct
23
2013

Election and Grace: The Arrival of King Jesus, Part 5 of 10

We've reached the half-way point in this 10-part series on St. Paul's first letter to the church of the Thessalonians. From here on out, each part will be topical, and we'll be covering themes that appear throughout the letter.

This week we're covering "election and grace". The reason why this subject is important is because some interpretors and commentators have viewed the entire letter through the lens of their doctrine surrounding God's saving election and grace. It is also important because there are at least two key verses which have to do with election and predestination which must be interpreted. So, how should be understand them?

In the attached document, two perspectives from the Reformed tradition are outlined: that of John Calvin and his followers, as well as that of Jacob Arminius and his followers. Then an alternative way of conceptualizing election and grace is outlined.

"Messiah Jesus of Nazareth is the Elect One, the One whom the Father loves. As we “come to him” through repentance and faith, we are added to his spiritual body, the ekklesia, the ‘called out ones,’ and we too become God’s elect. In Jesus, we are being built up into a temple in which God dwells by God’s Spirit."

There are several dialogue questions you can ask yourself or discuss with others. Download the attached document to learn more.

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Aug
23
2013

Guns Don't Stop Killers, People Stop Killers: Love, Shared Stories, and the Power of the Holy Spirit

Depending on your access to social media, you may not have heard about this story, or you may think you're hearing about it everywhere. Either way, this story is not getting enough attention, and it probably won't. I'm convinced human beings want Good News, but we've been conditioned by our world to settle for and wallow in Bad News. This is the condition that helps media outlets determine what stories will get ratings, which in turn feeds the culture to which the media is trying to cater. What we end up with is a vicious cycle perpetuating a culture of death. We're entertained, fixated, horrified, and mesmerized by violence!

After the Sandy Hook school shooting, NRA President Wayne LaPierre famously said,

"The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun, is a good guy with a gun."

http://youtu.be/aASfk-ii0BM

This logic seems sound to millions of U.S. Americans who have been conditioned by our culture of violence and death. Then along comes a story like Antoinette Tuff's, and the presumption that only greater violence can prevent violence is utterly shattered. Tuff's story beautifully illustrates at least three things:

  1. The power of faith to produce love for the 'other';
  2. The power of shared stories;
  3. The power of the Holy Spirit.

Combined, these powers overcome the powers of mental illness, violence, hatred, and death. Take note people—is what Christian discipleship looks like in real life!

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Aug
12
2013

Jesus, Zombies, and Love: A Theological Reflection on Warm Bodies (Part 3)

***SPOILERS***

This is part 3 of a three-part theological reflection on Warm Bodies. In part 1, I explored what Christian theology and the movie have to say about being "fully alive." In part 2, I discussed what the movie and Christian theology have to say about being "fully human." In this post, I'll comment on what both Christian theology and Warm Bodies have to say about relating to the "other."

Zombie movies rarely challenge us to think about how we treat those who are different from us. Instead, there is never a question of who are the "good guys" and who are the undead "bad guys." The bad guys look hideous. The bad guys attack without provocation. The bad guys are mindless killing machines. At least, that's how they're typically portrayed. But not in Warm Bodies!

Instead of painting all zombies with one brush, Warm Bodies introduces a progression in the zombification process. Zombies deteriorate into a less and less human state until there is no humanity left. The other zombies call these completely zombified zombies "Boneys" because they have torn off their own flesh and only their blackened skeleton remains. When the main zombie character "R" introduces them, he says, "[The boneys] eat anything with a heart beat. I mean, so will I, but at least I'm conflicted about it." The implication is that the final state of zombification entails the complete loss of empathy, feeling, humanity.

So, if zombies can progressively become more zombie-like, can they become less zombie-like too? That is the question this new information raises. And if the characteristic feature of complete zombification is being utterly devoid of feeling, what then would be the characteristic feature of a zombie who is becoming more human?

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Aug
10
2013

Jesus, Zombies, and Love: A Theological Reflection on Warm Bodies (Part 2)

***Spoilers***

If you're just tuning in, this is part 2 of a few theological reflections on Warm Bodies, a zombie romance movie. In part 1, I explored how Warm Bodies illustrates what Christian theology has to say about what it means to be fully alive. In part 3, I'll discuss how Warm Bodies helps us think about how Jesus-disciples are called to relate with the 'other.' But in this post, part 2, I'll be commenting on what Warm Bodies exposes about what it means to be fully human:

What Does it Mean to be Fully Human?

In Warm Bodies, something is awakened in the zombie main character ("R") when he encounters the non-zombie main character: "Julie" (And before you ask: Yes, these two names are designed to cause viewers to recall Romeo and Juliet). Rather than attack her without thinking and devour her brains, he is struck by her and desires to know her. So he rescues her from the other zombies who would surely kill her and brings her home to his airplane apartment where he can keep her safe. She is naturally confused, terrified, and distrustful of this zombie who is treating her very un-zombie-like. She's been taught that zombies are nothing but "corpses"—unfeeling, unthinking, non-human. But every time R saves her life, provides her with food, plays music for her, she can't help but begin to rethink what she's been taught. Several times, directly after R has done something selfless for her, she asks, "What are you?" (not "Who are you?"). She's asking, "Are you actually human?"

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Aug
09
2013

Jesus, Zombies, and Love: A Theological Reflection on Warm Bodies (Part 1)

***SPOILERS***

Warm Bodies is an exploration of what it means to be fully human and fully alive. Zombies are a perennial favorite for talking about these subjects. Are the "undead" alive? Are they "human"? But zombie movies are also a way of talking about the "other" and how we are to relate with them. I found Warm Bodies particular good in both of these areas, while also being light-hearted (even funny at times) and not overly cheesy on the romance.

Looking at Warm Bodies theologically, these questions and considerations take on a different hue. What do zombies have to do with Jesus? What does it means to be "fully alive" from a theological point of view? What does it mean to be "fully human"? And how are Jesus-disciples called to relate with the 'other'?

Zombies and Jesus?

Jesus and zombies are actually old friends. The first appearance of "Zombie Jesus" in popular culture is attributed to an episode of Matt Groening's cartoon Futurama back in 1999, but the meme has progressively gained popularity in the years since—particular when Easter time comes around. While some find this meme offensive, even an "attack on Christianity," I don't think we should. I think the comparison can offer the Church an opportunity and common ground to make some important and hopefully helpful reflections.

For example, I found many of the themes captured in Warm Bodies to be very compelling illustrations of Christian theology. For the sake of brevity, I'll constrain my thoughts to just three: What Christian theology has to say about life and death (Part 1); What Christian theology has to say about being human (Part 2); and What Christian theology has to say about relating to the 'other' (Part 3).

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Jul
30
2013

The "Real" Jesus: Why Reza Aslan is Right! (…and Wrong)—Jesus, the Reign of God, and Objectivity

For those who are not familiar with Dr. Reza Aslan (like his Fox News interviewer, apparently), he is a religion scholar 1 who has published several books on terrorism, Islam, and radical Islamic fundamentalism.2 I became familiar with Aslan when he appeared twice on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, once in 2009 to promote his book How to Win a Cosmic War and again in 2010 to promote a different book: Beyond Fundamentalism. Both books deal with religion, globalization, and terrorism.3

Recently, Aslan has returned to The Daily Show, this time to promote his new book on Jesus, but not Christianity.4 At the start of the interview, John Oliver (the interviewer) says:

"Let's be clear, this book is about Jesus the man, not so much Jesus the Christ."

To which Aslan responds, nodding his head in the affirmative:

"It's about the historical Jesus, not the Christ of faith."

The tricky thing about evaluating Aslan's take on Jesus is that so much of what he says is exactly correct. But in the fine details, Aslan makes many critical errors that are both historical and theological. In this post, I'd like to give Aslan credit for what he gets correct, while also pointing out the mistakes he makes and offering a possible reason why he's made them.

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Welcome to TheologicalGraffiti.com

T. C. and Tyson Moore

Theological Graffiti is the offical blog of T. C. Moore @tc_moore ...a Jesus-disciple, husband, father, urban church planter @NewCityCovenant, designer @NewCityPro, teacher, student, and friend. Discussion is welcome, so long as it is conducted in a spirit of charity. First and foremost, this blog is for self-expression—then community. More About.Me

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