It’s Easter week, so let’s talk about the Resurrection. First, there’s Jesus of Nazareth. Second, there’s the promised resurrection of all souls, including (we hope) our own, at “the end of time” (however you understand that term). Of course, this is not the only time we should consider this important topic, nor should we limit consideration of “resurrection” to Jesus’ empty tomb and the end of time.
Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her. –John 20:15-18 NRSV
Look closely at those two questions Jesus asked Mary Magdalene: “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?”
In her moment of greatest despair and lostness, Mary is confronted with the reality of the risen Christ Jesus. He is the answer to both questions. It is his resurrection: God confronted and defeated the powers and principalities of this world. That opened the future for Mary, the other disciples, and all subsequent disciples who’ve followed. Where there had been no future, now there is a future. Where there had been only tears, now there is great joy.
Easter, then, is a prime time to consider the future, particularly our individual and collective future. It’s not one that is set in stone but is open-ended. It is not so much a destination as a journey. To “see the Lord” is, in this sense, to witness the opening of the heavens and the drying of our tears (however that is experienced literally and metaphorically). Yes, for whom are we looking?
That’s the question that each of us ponders and answers in our own ways. While it can be trivialized and reduced, it can just as well come in profound, simple, and unexpected ways. And so allow me to share one particular and personal expression.
About a week or so ago a flyer arrived in our mail. It touted an upcoming performance by the Kansas City Symphony in Helzberg Hall at the Kauffman Performing Arts Center. The symphony will be performing the entire movie score from the classic film, Back to the Future, while the movie is shown on a giant screen behind them. Much to my dismay, however, I’m not entirely sure right now that I’ll be back in town in time to catch one of the four performances.
You see, that movie (along with the subsequent two sequels) actually changed the future course of my life. As crazy as that probably sounds, Back to the Future helps explain why I’ve spent most of my adult life as an editor and writer.
In early summer 1985 I was working a series of temp jobs, after abruptly and unexpectedly leaving my previous job selling insurance. With the perspective of time, I now view that job loss as an appropriate career change. Even back then I knew I had no passion whatsoever for insurance sales, but I had gotten into that a few years previous at the urging of my parents. They wanted to retire from their suburban insurance agency and somehow managed to persuade the company to hand over the agency to me. That’s probably more than needs to be said about all that, so I’ll move on to more important aspects of this story.
With an undergraduate degree in journalism, four years working as a newspaper reporter, and two years of seminary training I knew, deep down within me, my real passion would somehow combine those three areas into a useful and productive career. I wasn’t quite sure what that would be, however. At the same time I looked honestly at my personal and family situation: my wife and I had been married six years and we were blessed with a three-year-old son and a three-month-old daughter. In June 1985, as much because of the oppressive Missouri summer weather as our bleak financial situation, we agreed she should take the kids for an extended visit to her family in Michigan.
Coincidentally, that was when the movie Back to the Future opened in movie theaters. I’ve always been something of a sci-fi fan, so I was eagerly looking forward to seeing it. And so, after my temp job one day (setting up tents and other supplies for parties–that’s a whole other blog posting) I eased into one of the multiplex theaters at Crown Center in Kansas City.
From the opening scene I loved it. What I hadn’t expected, though, was a secondary story line of George McFly, Marty’s dad, who secretly dreamed of being a writer but was afraid to do anything about it. As anyone who’s familiar with this now-classic movie knows (which, I’m assuming, is an awful lot of people), George’s future is altered thanks to Marty’s messing with the space-time continuum. At movie’s end we see George celebrating the publication of his first book.
Yes, I too secretly dreamed of being a published author of books and magazine articles. The message I needed to hear, wallowing as I was in my own valley of despair in that early summer 1985, was exactly that of this movie: The future is what you make it.
Corny? Perhaps. Okay, probably. But it did prompt me to begin writing. I still had detailed notes from a year-long seminary class focusing on Paul’s letter to the Romans. Even sitting in that classroom years before I realized this information needed to get to a wider audience. My professor in that class was Lloyd Gaston, who today is widely regarded as one of the early and formative voices in what’s come to be known as the “New Perspective on Paul.”
In any event, I came home from watching Back to the Future and sat down that night and began organizing an outline for a Bible-study course, using the format my church denomination had just begun implementing. Over the next few weeks a two-part study guide (each covering six sessions) took shape. I contacted the appropriate editor at my church’s denominational headquarters, which was only about 15 miles from my home. He eventually accepted the project and scheduled publication for part one early the next year.
But I was still working that series of temp jobs. By spring 1986, however, an opening for a copy editor at the denominational publishing house opened up due to retirement. I applied for the job, and in May I was hired. I’m convinced that Bible-study course on Romans had a lot to do with it. If nothing else, it brought my name to the attention of Roger Yarrington, the editorial director.
That copy-editor job led to becoming book editor at Herald Publishing House, and eventually my job title became senior editor, one step below the editorial director position. During a decade and a half I took advantage of one opportunity after another to write magazine articles, even several books (including a couple more scripture-study guides in addition to Studies in Romans 1 & 2), and edit an every-other-month testimony magazine. I even got the chance to create two new journals: an annual volume of scholarly papers presented at the denomination’s college and a quarterly spirituality journal.
Unfortunately, the publishing house was affected by the same factors that negatively impacted almost every other denominational publishing house in North America. In September 2000 the building was sold and the staff was integrated into the international headquarters across town. My opportunities to write were more limited from that time on, but I kept busy as an editor. There were other concerns during those years, primarily with my health. In May 2001 I underwent two liver transplants, three days apart. Within a few months I was back at work full time.
After a major reorganization and staff downsizing in 2006 I was named editor of the flagship monthly magazine, the Herald. Little did I realize that another, bigger, downsizing was ahead in June 2009, and my own position was eliminated. But the church offered an early, full retirement. That eventually led a few months later to establishing Isaac’s Press and, the following year, publication of my own first book, What Was Paul Thinking? Several years later I published a second, Speak to the Bones: How to Be a Prophetic People in a Time of Exile.
Was it simply coincidence that Back to the Future was released when it was in 1985, just when I needed its message the most? Probably. But then maybe not. Who’s to say? I’ve never been one to identify exactly how and when God works, so I won’t venture into that territory.
What I do know is that the whole idea of resurrection leading to new, more abundant life became a reality for me a a few decades ago. As a result, who and what I am, along with a good deal of what I’ve done and continue to do, took a turn in a good direction.
And I didn’t even need a flux capacitor to do it. I’m still waiting for my flying car, though.
My most recent book, Speak to the Bones: How to Be a Prophetic People in a Time of Exile, is up on Amazon in both print and e-book formats: 161-page Book ; Kindle e-book. The ancient Hebrew prophets can serve as guides for modern-day prophetic communities to engage in actions for peace and social justice. Each of the 10 chapters includes questions for reflection and discussion, making this great for class use. My previous book What Was Paul Thinking? is also available on Amazon in both print and Kindle e-book editions