I’m in a Resurrection State of Mind (John Bradford 1510-1555)

For most of us it’s really hard to imagine how we would feel if we were imprisoned for our faith. Suppose that you have been in prison for two years waiting for your day in court. You have already seen several cell-mates tried, condemned and then hustled away to be martyred. On each occasion you mutter to yourself “there but for the grace of God goes J. B.”

Now it is your turn to go to court. You know that the Queen is after your blood. The prosecution proves their case and the judge adjourns to decide your sentence. You already know there is no escape from what will come. There is no legal right of appeal and the Queen certainly won’t grant clemency. Back in your cell a prison official tells you that the death sentence has been announced: you will be burned at the stake.

Although the news is extremely upsetting your mind is suddenly cast back to a recent conversation that you had with a Christian lady who had visited you. She was perplexed about the meaning of Romans 8:19-22. Despite all the drama you gather your thoughts and compose a thirteen page letter explaining Paul’s teaching in this passage. You start the letter with greetings, and obliquely mention that you have been told some disturbing news but you do not elaborate. Although you do say that this letter is probably your swan-song. You realise that when you chatted you had not properly explained what Paul taught. Your swan-song message is this: when God raises humanity from the dead he will renew the whole creation and resurrect animals from the dead. What an amazing letter to write when you’ve just been told that you will be burned at the stake! Just a few years after your martyrdom you are honourably mentioned in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. You are Rev. John Bradford.

One might say on reflection that for Bradford the resurrection of Christ was the lynchpin that enabled him to face martyrdom. That’s one of the powerful effects of Christ’s resurrection for daily living here and now. Find out more about the meaning of the resurrection in The Cross Is Not Enough.

Notes:

  • Bradford was burned at the stake during the brief and bloody reign of Mary Tudor.
  • Thomas Cranmer, Nicholas Ridley and Hugh Latimer—the three Oxford Martyrs—were among Bradford’s cell-mates.
  • Bradford’s “swan-song” letter is reproduced in: John Bradford, “The Restoration of All Things,” in The Works of John Bradford, M.A. Martyr 1555, Aubrey Townsend Ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1848), 351-364.
  • Bradford’s life and martyrdom is described in this unabridged version of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, Ingram Cobbin Ed. (London: Partridge and Oakley, 1848), 698-731.
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Undead: The Not-So Resurrected World of Monsters

UNDEAD: THE NOT-SO RESURRECTED WORLD OF MONSTERS

The realm of the “Undead” — Vampires, werewolves, zombies, the Golem, the Homunculus. You might scratch your head. What has that stuff got to do with Resurrection? Despite the typical defensive posture that some Christians take that all of this is demonic or its just plain frivolous nonsense, the Undead in folklore, in novels, movies and TV touches many theological motifs.

Take the precredit narration of Annie the ghost who introduces herself and her two Undead flat-mates in the British TV series Being Human

“Everyone dies. Actually, can I start that again? Everyone deserves a death. I was going to die of old age. That was the plan.

Mitchell was going to go down in a blaze of gunfire and glory. Not cold and alone and shit-scared. He didn’t think that death would smile at him first. Death was always a certainty the punchline we could all see coming. But not for Mitchell. For a vampire death isn’t the end but a beginning.

So here we are. Overlooked and forgotten. Unnatural and supernatural. Watching the dance from the sidelines. At least I was surrounded by friends and family. At least I got that bit right. You know the worst thing about being a ghost? It’s lonely. You’ll give anything for that crumb of comfort, that feel of skin upon skin that says ‘it’s ok. I’m here.’ It’s a hunger. A most basic instinct. You might even drag others into this world of the dead. Even if it means turning them into monsters too.

Then there are the ones like George. The ones that should have died. But shattered and bloody they walk away from the train wreck. But what’s the cost? They’re scarred. Transformed. They’re monsters now too. Aberrations. The stuff of nightmares. The Big Bad Wolf.

So what have we got left to look forward to? Us refugees. The flotsam and jetsam of death. Maybe if we still deserve such a thing as mercy we find each other …”

The title of the series “Being Human” encapsulates one of the big questions constantly posed by tales of the undead: what is a human being?

Undead creatures such as vampires, zombies and werewolves were once human. Now transformed they behave in monstrous ways preying upon other humans, feeding on their blood. This feeding on the blood of the living parodies both the death of Christ and the blood motifs associated with atonement.

They are usually depicted as loathsome or cursed. Lurking deep in the background of these cursed creatures is the first biblical story of a “marked” or “cursed” man: Cain. The Undead tales retain a faint echo of the implications of Cain’s story.

To be among the “Undead” signifies that these creatures are less than human. They are embodiments of evil. They are cursed because they have tried to find immortality in this life. Instead of attaining the glorification promised through Christ’s resurrection, they become a parody of the resurrection of the dead. They are a moral example with the implicit punchline: do not seek immortality in the flesh apart from God’s grace. God alone bestows resurrection.

The classic Gothic stories about the Undead and monsters have reflected the times in which the authors have lived. Stories like The Vampyre, Frankenstein, Carmilla, Dracula and The Island of Dr Moreau picked up the angst of the Industrial Revolution; the 1848 year of revolutions; human versus machine; humans in the Imago Dei or just by-products of evolution; would scientific experiments improve humanity or turn us into beasts?; was humanity inevitably progressing onwards to a golden age?

Similar issues lurk in today’s Gothic stories. Is unending life really worth having? What will humans become if the Genome is decoded? Are we destined to overcome death through technology? Will we be cyborgs? Is cloning morally dubious? Why tamper with human biology? Are humans equal to non-human animals?

These days the possibility of redemption for the Undead has also emerged. Blade has twin natures: vampire and human — recall in theology that Christ is both Divine and human. Blade stands as a quasi-Messiah figure standing between the Undead and humanity.  Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series also toys with the question can the Undead be redeemed?

The connection points between pop culture and Christians about resurrection and the Undead are just going begging.

The steampunk TV series Sanctuary also touches on many of these same fascinating questions. The Sanctuary exists as a safe haven for all kinds of “Abnormals”, other-than-human creatures. The opening soundtrack for the series is ‘Symphonie pour un monde étrangé’, which is about a symphony for an estranged world. The soundtrack that accompanies the closing credits for series 3 and series 4 of Sanctuary features some Farsi and Latin phrases. The Latin phrases, which are not intended to convey any special meaning, are sung by the Armenian-Iraqi born female soloist Nova Emad: “fides scriptura”, “fides Christus” “fides Quarens Intellectum” (faith in Scripture, faith in Christ, faith seeking understanding). [Also refer to Disc 6 of Series 3 extra chapter “The Music of Sanctuary”]. Nevertheless the three Latin phrases that conclude Series 3 and 4 open up the vista on faith.

To find out more about resurrection and the Undead, vampire spirituality, and about resurrection and other views of the afterlife (like ghosts) check out chapters five and seven of The Cross Is Not Enough.

Resurrection and Church Art

The Resurrection has been represented in church art in different ways since the first Christians produced paintings in the catacombs.

This painting (on the left) is part of what is known as the Isenheim Altarpiece. It was originally commissioned for the monastery church of St. Anthony’s near Colmar in the Alsace (c.1511-1515). This painting shows the Risen Christ as victorious.

The painting has been reproduced on the dust-jacket of Alister McGrath’s Resurrection (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2008).

The people who were among the first to see this painting were people afflicted with skin ailments who came to the monastery for treatment. Those who were unwell and suffering were able to glimpse the great promise of bodily renewal and transformation that comes with the resurrection of the dead. As Christ was resurrected as the first-fruits of a harvest (1 Corinthians 15:20-22), then his resurrection stands as the guarantee that people will be resurrected from the dead too.

In The Cross Is Not Enough we discuss the contrasts between church art that focussed on the Crucifixion and that of Resurrection. Some other examples of the resurrection in art that we mention include:

  • Baptism as symbol of dying and rising united to Christ
  • Raising of Lazarus was a favourite in the Catacombs
  • Paradise showing resurrected people
  • The Chi Rho laurel wreath adorning an empty cross as a sign of victory over death
  • 5th century ivory carvings showing an empty tomb and resurrection apperances to the disciples

We also refer to church historian Leslie Barnard who pointed out that early Christian art, including that found in the Catacombs, had the dual apologetic role of reassuring believers and of challenging Imperial Roman ideas about life after death. Yes, art has a role in Christian apologetics!

If the Church today is going to make the shift from over-emphasizing the Cross and regaining the centrality of the Resurrection as faith’s lynchpin, then as Edgar Krentz wrote we “need to ransack our imaginations for adequate images to express it.”

Australian Communities Report

In October 2011 a national research study was commissioned by Olive Tree Media and conducted by McCrindle Research to inquire into attitudes among Australians toward Christianity. The survey involved responses from 1,094 Australians.

A short summary of the report is available as a pdf. A full report is available for purchase.

While in some respects the survey does not toss up any great surprises for us as authors who engage with culture and beliefs and alternate spiritualities, it is helpful to have our own impressions solidified by some raw data gathered from the community.

One pie-chart indicates the percentages of affiliation that the respondents have in connection with religious or non-religious pathways:

  • 31% No Religion
  • 22% Roman Catholic & Eastern Orthodox
  • 18% Protestant
  • 19% Spiritual but not Religious
  • 3% Buddhist
  • 1% Hindu
  • 1% Islam
  • 1% Judaism
  • 5% “Other”

The summary of the research also refers to attitudes about “outgrowing religion” with 24% “never been religious” and another 29% “not now religious” and 11% taking an eclectic approach that does not lock the respondent into any specific organised religion.

“Belief Blockers” (things that disincline people to explore Christianity) include:

  • 53% Church abuse
  • 47% Hypocrisy
  • 29% Judgmental
  • 29% Religious wars
  • 28% Suffering (questions of theodicy)

Philip found it interesting that the research looked at the question of “significant ‘warmth’ to Christianity” using a “Modified Engel Scale“. This refers to James Engel’s missionary-based approach to understanding the processes by which people move from “no understanding/awareness of Christianity” through to becoming an active follower of Christ. In various public forums since the mid-1990s Philip has advocated modifying the Engel Scale for precisely the kind of research that has finally been undertaken in the McCrindle report.

We are pleased to see that Olive Tree Media is taking the initiatives on probing and reflecting on the Top Ten issues to arise from the data.

However, we suggest that Christians need to take stock of McCrindle’s research in another direction that might not have occurred to Olive Tree Media (see their prospectus).

The kinds of demographic data that the McCrindle Research has disclosed could be examined in another paradigm alongside those that Olive Tree Media is proposing. We argue that Christianity has largely over-emphasized the cross and drifted away from the resurrection being the lynchpin that shapes everything else. We say that just like a solar eclipse where the moon appears to obscure the sun, so Christians have the Cross so prominent that it eclipses the Resurrection.

We point out in The Cross Is Not Enough that the great omission about the resurrection leads to all kinds of gaps and shortcomings. We say that the church’s failure to teach about resurrection theology and its effects on practical living and ethics and the whole of church life has left us with a bad legacy: the unpaid bills of the resurrection.

One outcome of the unpaid bills becomes apparent when we take the time to look at widespread and diverse attitudes about the afterlife and its relevance to present-day life. we speak of there being widespread “death-refusing hope”, where people say “no” to death and hold to any kind of view that suggests there is another life after this biological life ends.

In The Cross Is Not Enough we invite readers to explore with us how the resurrection is understood alongside of other perspectives, ideas and beliefs concerning the afterlife. We point out there are at least five categories of belief about the afterlife:

  • Annihilation (no survival of any aspect of individual humans because biological death is the absolute end of life)
  • Disembodied spirit – some survival of consciousness but lacking physical embodiment and human identity
  • Reincarnation
  • Spiritual embodiment – identity and consciousness survive but without physical body
  • Bodily resurrection

These five categories of belief were devised by the sociologists Christopher Burris and Keehan Bailey. They were dissatisfied with earlier approaches to social surveys on questions of the afterlife that tended to presuppose particular outlooks on the afterlife and hence the survey data gathered was strait-jacketed into inaccurate snapshots of attitudes. Their study “What Lies Beyond” shows a much better nuanced picture among the respondents they have surveyed.

We build on their survey data by highlighting how many TV series, movies and novels reflect this diversity of attitudes and ideas about the afterlife (e.g. surviving as ghosts, surviving through reincarnation, surviving through technology as a cyborg or clone, and new attitudes emerging as human DNA replaces the soul — what has been called the CSI Effect as people have embraced new views about DNA based on TV crime series like CSI: Miami).

One survey result that Burris and Bailey reported is “a low level of endorsement of Bodily Resurrection among Protestants and Catholics”. We have said in light of that comment from Burris and Bailey:

The survey results should challenge Christians in two ways. First, it should goad the internal church community to refocus on the resurrection as the lynchpin of christianity by providing clarity in teaching and in practical life application. Second, it ought to challenge Christians to learn about what people beyond the churches believe about the afterlife and to discover ways to enter into dialogue with them.

The unpaid bills of the resurrection are many and varied, and our book points in the direction of how we can begin to redress this imbalance.