Sunday, January 20, 2008

Confidence, Hope, Trust

When Jesus Came to Harvard: Making Moral Choices Today
by Harvey Cox

Seems like all we hear anymore is that younger people are lazy, self-interested, and devoid of a spiritual life. It also seems that the conventional wisdom is that academic institutions are completely godless and merely serve as hotbeds of "secular humanism." Cox's book debunks both of those myths, as he reflects on 20 years of teaching a course called "Jesus and the Moral Life" to Harvard University undergraduates.

A disclaimer: I read this book over a period of several weeks, at my desk between correspondence, calls, or other tasks. Reading in this way is a good way to recharge mental energy and refocus when one is feeling scattered. However, it takes me much longer to read a book in this way than concentrating on one for significant chunks of time over a period of several days. For that reason, I feel like I do not have as clear a sense of the progression of the book as a whole, since I read it in fits and starts.

Cox and his students tried to understand Jesus (mainly through the stories told about him and the stories/parables that he told) as someone who could help them when they wrestled with moral decisions, and tried to discern and/or develop a reasonable thought process that could guide them to the Jesuslike thing to do when faced with an ethical dilemma. Over the years, the students dealt with just about every moral question we can think of - everything from capital punishment to wealth and what we do with it to female egg donation. It was interesting, and heartening, to listen to bright, articulate people who want to do the right thing. It also became obvious that in life's fuzzy areas (as if we did not know this before), Jesus and his teachings are helpful but seldom (if ever) lead us to absolutes. No doubt that was frustrating for the students at times, as they clearly wanted Cox to provide them with "answers." In retrospect, however, when Cox talked to his former students, most of them were grateful that the course taught them how to think critically, from a Christian perspective, about moral issues.

In my opinion, the best parts of the book were the chapters on the Easter story and the bodily resurrection. The students wanted Cox to say outright if he thought the resurrection "really happened." As a pastor, I encounter questions like this a lot, especially in the Lenten and Easter seasons. I thought Cox provided as helpful an articulation of that whole conundrum as I have ever read. He beautifully expressed the hope and life and abundance to be found in the idea of resurrection without saying equivocally that either the yea-sayers or nay-sayers are wrong. He left it open for people to come to their own conclusion about Jesus' corporeal body, while extending the gifts of Easter to all perspectives. I especially liked that he said that the question of whether or not we "believe in " the bodily resurrection is not an especially helpful one. He says "hope in, confidence in , and trust in" the resurrection are much more appropriate ways to consider the resurrection's place in our lives.

As we approach Ash Wednesday in a couple of weeks, I am sure that I will turn to Cox's book again for his thoughts on Lent and Easter. The whole book is worthwhile, but I was particularly energized and spiritually broadened by his final chapters.

Anybody else got some particularly good Lenten reading? I'm up for some ideas. I'm getting ready to start Organic Church.

Reverent Reader


At 1/23/08, 7:40 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's not heavy-duty theology, but I enjoy Kneeling in Jerusalem by Ann Weems (poetry) during Lent.


At 1/23/08, 7:40 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know why that showed up as anonymous.

At 1/23/08, 10:33 AM , Blogger Reverent Reader said...

Yo anonymous twin sister - I love Kneeling in Jerusalem, and pretty much anything by Ann Weems.

At 1/23/08, 10:41 PM , Blogger LeAnn said...

Have you ever read the Joyce Rupp book... can't exactly remember the title... something like "The Sorrows of Mary" It is a group of reflections that touch on specific aspects of Jesus' life/death/resurrection from Mary's perspective. I used a great deal of it for a lenten worship series one year. Not deep theology, but wonderful imagery and good "devotional" reading with lots to ponder. If you want to take a look at it, just hop on down!


At 1/24/08, 10:08 AM , Blogger Reverent Reader said...

Thanks, Leann - I would like to check that out. I have not read any Joyce Rupp but have heard good things about her writing.

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