It's a sunny, slightly breezy afternoon in Beirut. This morning I went to a wonderful service at the Anglican Church I go to as often as I'm here. Afterword I ate lunch at a café in the downtown with a friend and then walked the mile or so back to my flat. I realized it's now mid-morning for my friends and family back in the States, and was about to post "He is risen!" on Facebook like I often would have on Easter morning in the past. But something just wouldn't let me.
Traveling around this part of the world for the last half year, I've gotten so used to religious idioms getting tossed around that I almost block it out now. Religion is really loud here. Whether it's getting shaken out of bed around 4am by the Call to Prayer or Roman Catholic saints staring sternly down at me from telephone poles in intersections.
One thing that almost never accompanies the shouting is any kind of explanation. I'm certain that many, many people here have a deeply personal experience and highly thoughtful understanding of whatever their faith is. But as someone who doesn't come from a background in any of the major religious traditions here, the shouting is about all that you hear, and over time it's easy to become annoyed, or even alienated by it.
I love the exclamation "He is risen," but as I thought about posting it just now, I could only think of the fact that many of my friends now are of different faiths or none at all. The thing I think I've started to realize is that, without context, everything is just shouting. Annoying, and probably alienating.
So I really feel like I have only two options: Either not to post it, or else post it with some kind of explanation. I'm going, however feebly, to attempt the second.
Many of you reading this are probably very well aware that I'm a Christian. Other's may have little or no idea––it's not something that I often bring up unless it's as a common point of relation. There was this song that was popular among American Evangelical children in the early 90s with a line that went something like: "Write God's Word on your heart, before you wear it on your sleeve," and I think I tend to rarely even get to the second part of that.
I would like to think, though, that the first part is true. I believe––however absurd it may sound––that the sixty-some books we now strap together and call the Bible are actually God's revelation to us. And I believe that a man who spent a few years wandering around villages just a few hundred kilometers south of where I'm sitting now as a moderately successful religious teacher until he upset the powers-that-were badly enough to get himself killed was the physical manifestation and fulfillment of that revelation.
I don't think believing that means I'm a good person. I'm honestly pretty messed up, and I used to be even worse. I harbor resentment against people I feel have hurt me. I choose pleasure and the search for fulfillment over purity. I spend my money eating at nice cafés in the downtown ensconced behind a line of jersey-barriers and men with Kalashnikovs while just a couple hours drive away people are starving to death. The list goes on. But here's where it gets really crazy: When that man who was wandering around villages in first century Palestine got himself killed, the real reason was to atone for the brokenness that people like me keep creating in the world.
If I'm to be completely honest with you, I think I spend a lot of my time stuck in that part of the story. With me making mistakes, and this man who didn't do anything wrong in a grave that I deserve to be in. But the story goes on, too. The man miraculously rose from the dead––and by doing so symbolized that we aren't just forgiven for the things we do, but also have the potential to follow him and become the real-world manifestation of the revelation that God gave us in those books. We can be better people. The world can be a better place. There is hope.
Like I said, that sadly isn't often the part of the story that feels most real to me. But there are certain times when I do feel like it. Easter Sunday is usually one of those times, which is why I say "He is risen!"
He is risen.
So there. I said it.
I hope it didn't feel like shouting, and I hope we can still hang out.