Several weeks ago I got an e-mail from Mike Morrell who heads up the SpeakEasy book blogging program. The e-mail was about the latest offering from Peter Rollins called Insurrection and the opportunity to review the book. As one who loves to read books, I jumped at the chance to read Peter Rollins, as I have heard some of his stuff but have never read any of his writings. I got the book and dove right in, but life got crazy around December and January and it took longer for me to finish the book, and even longer to sit down and write this review. One of the reason that it took longer to finish the book (besides the busyness of life) was the fact that I'm really not sure what the ultimate point Rollins was trying to make with this book. I mean I know what the back cover of the book says, "Rollins proclaims that the Christian Faith is not primarily concerned with questions regarding life after death but with the possibility of life before death." but I really struggled seeing that played out in the book itself.
Sometimes as I was reading the book I found myself wondering if Rollins wanted to be "controversial" for "controversies" sake. Take for instance the discussion early on revolving around the idea of atheism and Jesus. A quote from Page 21 bears this out, "What we witness here is a form of atheism, not intellectual- Christ directly addresses God as he dies- but a felt loss of God. In the Gospels according to Matthew, and Mark we read of Christ crying out in agony, 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?' This is a profoundly personal, painful, and existential atheism. Not an atheism that arises from some rational reflection upon the absence of divinity but rather one that wells up from the trauma of personally experiencing that absence." I looked up the word atheism and found it to mean, "the doctrine or belief that there is no God." So I struggle to put together the definition of atheism with Rollins idea that Jesus, on the cross, was in some way, an atheist, because he experienced the loss of that connection he had with God.
There was some things in the last half of the book that I strongly agreed with, and resonated with, mostly revolving around the idea that to believe in the Resurrection shouldn't just be a existential belief system, but an embodied lived-out reality. Or put differently, in Rollins own words from his blog, "Without equivocation or hesitation I fully and completely admit that I deny the resurrection of Christ. This is something that anyone who knows me could tell you, and I am not afraid to say it publicly, no matter what some people may think…
I deny the resurrection of Christ every time I do not serve at the feet of the oppressed, each day that I turn my back on the poor; I deny the resurrection of Christ when I close my ears to the cries of the downtrodden and lend my support to an unjust and corrupt system.
However there are moments when I affirm that resurrection, few and far between as they are. I affirm it when I stand up for those who are forced to live on their knees, when I speak for those who have had their tongues torn out, when I cry for those who have no more tears left to shed."
Here are some quotes from the book that I resonate strongly with.
"The one who commits themselves to the task of helping people really enter into doubt, unknowing, and ambiguity needs to be ten, twenty, even a hundred times better than those who sell certainty." (I'm not saying it's wrong to have strong beliefs, but I truly believe the church needs to be a safe place to ask questions, to struggle together, and to be open about our doubts and not pretend to have it all figured out)
"In order to participate in the Crucifixion, we must find leaders who openly experience doubt, unknowing, and a deep mystery, leaders who see these as a part of the Christian faith and important in our ongoing development of a healthy and properly Christian spirituality."
"Eternal life is thus fundamentally a transformation in the very way that we exist in the present."
"The incarnation tells us that if we want to be like God, then we must be courageous enough to fully and unreservedly embrace our humanity."
"If we were to cut open the body of Jesus, we would not find two hearts or some unique cellular structure."
"The claim I believe in God is nothing but a lie if it is not manifest in our lives, because one only believes in God insofar as one loves."
"So for the Christian, a new range of answers to the question, Do you believe in God? arises. Answers such as, I aspire to, ask my friends or more importantly, talk to my enemies."
"Resurrection houses a deep violence, an ethical violence. It is not a violence directed against individuals, but rather a violence directed against those systems that would oppress, destroy, and bring death."
I could go on with some more quotes but I want to end with a story that Rollins shares that probably impacted me on a personal level the most as well as share a video of Rollins being interviewed by Rob Bell unpacking some of the themes that would become the catalyst for the book.
"There was once a young man called Caleb who was obsessed with gathering up possessions and gaining status. He was so driven by the desire to succeed that, from an early age, he managed to become one of the most prominent and influential figures in the city. Yet he was not happy with his lot. He worked long hours, rarely saw his children, and often became irritable at the slightest problem. But more than this, he knew that his lifestyle met with his father's disapproval.
His father had himself been a wealthy and influential man in his youth, but he had found such a life shallow and unsatisfactory. As a result, he had turned away from it in an endeavor to embrace a life of simplicity, fellowship, and meditation.
Caleb's father had taught him from an early age about the problems that come from seeking material and political influence, and he warned Caleb in the strongest possible way to embrace a life that delves deeply into the beauty of creation, the warmth of friendship, and the inspiration derived from deep and sustained reflection.
Caleb's father was an inspiring man, well loved by all, and Caleb could see that his father, while living a modest way, was at peace with himself and the world in a manner that his friends and colleagues were not. Because of this, Caleb often looked with longing at his father's lifestyle and frequently detested the path that he had personally chosen. Yet despite this, he was still driven to pursue wealth and power.
It was true that his father was a happy and contented man, but he was also concerned about his son, and on any occasion when they spent time together, he would criticize Caleb for the life he had chosen.
But one day while Caleb's father was reflecting on his son's life, a voice from heaven interrupted him saying, 'Caleb is also my son, and I love him just the way he is.'
Caleb's father began to weep as he realized that all these years he had been hurting his son through his disapproval and criticism. So he immediately visited his son's house and offered a heartfelt apology saying, 'Please never feel taht you have to change what you do or who you are. I love you without limit and condition just as you are.'
After that day, the father began to take an interest in his son's life again, asking questions about what he was doing and how his work was progressing. But increasingly, Caleb found that he was no longer so interested in working the long hours. Soon he started to skip work in order to spend time with his family and began to take less interest in what others thought about him.
Eventually, Caleb gave up his work entirely and followed in his father's footsteps, realizing that it was only after his father had accepted him unconditionally for who he was that he was able to change and become who he always wanted to be."
And here is a link to the interview of Peter Rollins by Rob Bell: Insurrection Video