March/April Issue


Look for the Helpers

From Debra Rienstra

“Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen.” (John 20:25)

Joseph of Arimathea appears in all four gospels, but I am particularly drawn to the account in John, which includes some details beyond what the synoptics provide. Here Joseph is accompanied in his ministrations by Nicodemus—that other recorded member of the Secret Disciple Club. Nicodemus shows up with seventy-five pounds of myrrh and aloes, and the two of them together get the job done. We can imagine them, grim and hurried, managing the mangled body, one spreading the spices while the other pulls a fold of linen over and around. Perhaps on another occasion they would have had their own servants or a hired expert do this work, but I like to think of them glancing at the rapidly setting pre-Sabbath sun and agreeing, “Let’s just do it ourselves.”

Luke describes Joseph as “a member of the Council, a good and upright man, who had not consented to [the Council’s] decision and action” (23:50-51). Matthew mentions that he was rich (27:57). John says that Joseph “was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews” (19:38). John is the only one who notes Joseph’s discretion about his loyalty to Jesus, but if this is an offense, John seems to forgive it easily, perhaps exactly because Joseph rose to the occasion in this terrible hour. No one else could have done what Joseph did. Who among the terrified disciples or the women had the standing to dare a request to Pilate for the body of a crucified enemy of the state? Joseph must have known how to negotiate his way through the halls of power and make the ask. He also had the means with which to obtain the proper embalming materials was able to secure rights to a nearby tomb, a new or at least never-used one, according to Matthew, Luke, and John. He, and let’s say Nicodemus and a couple servants, must have marched back out to that gruesome hill, right through the dispersing but still-gawking crowds, and talked the soldiers into taking the body down and handing it over. At this point, Catholic tradition allows us to imagine them pausing to allow a heart-broken mother a moment to embrace her son’s tortured body.


Not-so-secret sins

From James C. Schaap

A phone call from my mother years ago--I think I was in college--included other news, I'm sure, but what she said after a deep breath is something I've never forgotten, even though it was then and it remains today something of a cliche: a pastor in town had run off with the organist.  

My mother's piety created no shadows. I lived most of my life simply assuming that I never could be as holy as she tried to be, and she had lots of not-so-subtle ways of letting me know that it was, to her, quite evident.  But this scandal had her brow-beaten, even though it hadn't happened in her own church. The whole town felt sunless, darkened. When a man of God breaks trust, things fall apart, she said. What's damaged can't be mended easily, so the holy fortress around God's people felt to her somehow left unguarded.  

I may be wrong, but I think I remember her breath staggering when she told me all of that. I'm not even sure she knew the preacher. No matter. The heart of the community was staggering in an unholy atrial fibrillation. 

Rev. Arthur Dimmesdale uses the potential plight of the community as an excuse for not owning up to what he did with Hester Prynne, a lonely and vulnerable young woman who came to him in the night for love-making Hawthorne tastefully keeps in the antecedent action of Scarlet Letter. Hester suffers very publicly for what the two of them did, but Dimmesdale appears to get away with it and tells her that he really can't confess because of the moral pain the community will suffer. That's why he keeps his blasted mouth shut.


God's Touch

From Thomas C. Goodhart

My brother recently texted me some old family pictures of him and me when we were kids—I think my family was going through old photo albums, digitalizing a few—and there is the assorted variety of us when as little kids we are dressed up for the school holiday program, playing on the swing set, or accompanied by long-since-gone family pets. Perhaps most quintessential of all is the bathtub shot. It seems that many parents find it necessary to get that pic. Is it to capture the moment of a joyful childhood? Or is it purposeful to use for leverage and/or coercion later in life? Or both? For whatever reason, in this particular picture my little brother and I as well as our younger cousin are all playing together in the bathtub surrounded almost to our necks in bubbles, smiling, happy, seemingly carefree, certainly without embarrassment. There is a contemporary social media custom to post such photos on Thursdays, “Throwback Thursday” it is called; and the washed out colours of late ‘70’s early ‘80’s photography along with the sentimental setting of childhood would certainly be fitting as a throwback. Nonetheless, modesty prevents me, as well as threats from my cousin, so we’ll just have to leave this Throwback Thursday memory limited and shared as explained here.


Holy Week Art

From Jes Kast-Keat

I have another topic I want to write about today, but honestly, I want to keep Holy Week holy and welcome you into a few ways I have been proessing the mystery of our faith this week. The other topic will have to wait for next time. I often find that art is the best way for me to keep things holy and so I will share some pieces here.

Are you familiar with the artist He Qi? He is my favorite contemporary Scripture artist. The colors he uses are quite vibrant, loud even. I appreciate how the people depicted in the pictures are not clearly gendered, there is an andrognyous appearance to some of the people. There is movement to his art and the gazer is invited into the scene that Dr. He Qi is creating. Here is his depiction of Jesus triumphanal entry into Jerusalem. Notice the movement in the crowd. They are kneeling, head titled backwards, standing with arms outreached, hand over mouth, and hands reached out. You can almost hear the people crying out "Hosanna, save us!" The donkey's gaze is piercing. Is the donkey looking right at us? Does the donkey know its mission? A child in my congregation interpreted the story of Palm Sunday by saying she was most struck by the fact that the donkey had to give its permission before Jesus could ride on it. I love that! Since John is the only Gospel that mentions palms we see a mulit-gospel representation in this piece. Leafy branches, palms, and cloaks are being offered before Jesus.



From Scott Hoezee

"Please, don't ask me to believe anything.  Let's stick with what we can know."

Those were the words of author Barbara Ehrenreich last week on NPR's Fresh Air show with Terry Gross.   Ehrenreich is an atheist who caused a bit of a stir by admitting in a new book that many years ago, she did have some kind of quasi-mystical experiences.  But whatever those were, today Ehrenreich says that the only religions she has any respect for are the ones with ecstatic mystical rituals--like various religions in Africa, she claimed--that put a person in touch with "god" or the divine in some palpable way.   But faith itself?  Belief?   Puh-leeze, it's the 21st century.   We are so finished with the idea that belief is a way of knowing.  Let's embrace what we can prove, what we can see and touch and be all empirical about.

I would not expect Terry Gross to have been quick enough or informed enough to point out that it's fairly well established that we all live off a whole lot of beliefs that cannot be logically or empirically proven.  Lots of philosophers may dislike Alvin Plantinga's work in this area but I don't know of anyone who has scored a knockout punch to his contention that all of our knowledge rests on a foundation that cannot be verified as reliable once and for all.  You'd need to invoke logic to prove logic and since that is self-referentially false to do, we are forced to believe a great many things that we may claim "to know" but that actually just occur to us as reliable.