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Why Jesus Makes Me Nervous: Ten Challenging Words of Faith

Why Jesus Makes Me Nervous: Ten Challenging Words of Faith

by Joy Jordan-Lake

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Jesus offers grace and mercy but he's also ratcheted up all the rules
Nice as it would be to frame Jesus as fun-loving, or a mercy-dispensing friend, the stories we have about him are a lot more disturbing than that.
We hear about celebrations that began as a wake, and about people who didn’t use their talents well being bounced clear out of the club.


Jesus offers grace and mercy but he's also ratcheted up all the rules
Nice as it would be to frame Jesus as fun-loving, or a mercy-dispensing friend, the stories we have about him are a lot more disturbing than that.
We hear about celebrations that began as a wake, and about people who didn’t use their talents well being bounced clear out of the club. Jesus clearly thought that following the way of truth involved a lot more than simply avoiding things like murder, stealing, committing adultery or telling lies.
When Jesus truly makes you nervous, he is worth living and dying for, and becomes the greatest source of meaning and purpose in life imaginable.
"Holiness. Abundance. Forgiveness. Hope. In these musings about ‘ten stained-glass words of faith,’ Joy Jordan-Lake strips away the clichés and church-bulletin nostrums and exposes the honest, challenging, comforting, and yes, sometimes alarming claims that are at the center of Jesus’ life and teaching. This book is downright restorative."
--Lauren F. Winner, author of Girl Meets God and Mudhouse Sabbath

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

In this collection of meditations on some of the themes that undergird and define the Christian spiritual life, Jordan-Lake confronts what it means for believers to experience "the difficult and disconcerting and, frankly, appalling teachings of Jesus." A professor at Belmont University and a former Baptist chaplain at Harvard University, the author mines her personal history as a pastor, mother, social justice activist and friend to illumine and interpret ideas such as resurrection and hope. Sometimes wry, occasionally stern, Jordan-Lake, with a touch of Southern gothic sensibility, argues that foundational concepts of Christian living, like worship and blessedness, may often be disruptive, disturbing, frequently joyful and often deeply life-changing experiences. Although she has a gift for welcoming, lucid and insightful prose, there is something a bit ephemeral about this volume, as with a sermon in which an audience remembers the story but forgets the point. As though to balance out the structural weakness of such a heavily anecdotal book, Jordan-Lake includes discussion questions for each chapter, so that readers may grapple with how these exigent words of Jesus can be applied to their own lives. (Nov.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information

Product Details

Paraclete Press
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.50(d)

Read an Excerpt

Ten Alarming Words of Faith

By Joy Jordan-Lake
Copyright © 2007 Joy Jordan-Lake
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-55725-520-4

Chapter One

He shows up advertising new life-this guy in sandals and a dust-crusted robe. A mangy crew tags along with him, some of them still smelling of salt water and spoiled fish. New life, he says, and in spite of yourself, you're falling for it: fresh starts, second chances, renewal, the dry, brittle bones of your past growing flesh and beginning again, with old hurts shed like a snake's skin on the grass. A little too good to be true, maybe, but awfully appealing, should it turn out to be true.

New life. Leaving the old stuff, the wreckage, the evidence of when you screwed up the last time and the forty-three times before that all strapped to barrels of concrete and dropped off the boat in the deep end of the ocean. Who wouldn't sign on for that?

So we hear the word resurrection in the days and hours before Easter, when the sweet breezes of spring buffet the rational parts of our brains into giddy submission. Okay, well ... maybe, we're ready to say, as we watch the unlikely appearance of green from the brown, peeling bulbs we planted last fall. Resurrection? Embarrassingly unscientific. Yet here's this warm soil that just last week was frozen to lifeless and now (who knew?) is willing to be worked once again. So what's a little more of the highly unlikely? Resurrection? Why the heck not? Bring it on.


But resurrection begins not with triumphantly toppled stones, empty tombs, and the masses agape in amazement, but before that. With death. With woundedness and mourning and betrayal, things done and undone, with understanding that dust and disaster and deceit are where we've landed.

Unless we're only looking at the final frame, resurrection is not pretty. To pretend otherwise, to make it, in John Updike's words, "less monstrous, / for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty," is to ignore its phenomenal power.

A minister friend of mine, Julie, has in her office a banner of truly remarkable tastelessness. It's enormous, with a garish orange sun whose red rays slide across bilious green hillocks: a toxic waste site with a Bible verse sunk beneath it.

It's hideous.

And I love it.

I love it partly because Julie insists it was made by a sweet, elderly former missionary to India. For all I know the little old saint will turn out to be the bouncer in heaven, ready to card me for heresy and un-Christlike aversion to flannel banners.

But I also love it For its hand-cut block letters that spell out "He Is Not Here. He Is Risen."

I've read those words when I hadn't eaten for days, when food had turned to dust in my mouth. I've read them and realized that perhaps I did not believe them-that I did not have that much hope anymore.

Risen. It's not a word you can play with safely, or the rough crowd it hangs out with: resurrection. Now there's a word you want to understand before you invite it inside. For one thing, it owes its entire existence to the prerequisite that something, or somebody, has died. To talk about resurrection, not just in Hallmark cards with rhyming verse, but on friendly terms, means you've already met up with brokenness and darkness, with the rubble of your bombed-out soul.

It turns out that the only people who can speak of resurrection with authenticity are the ones who've had a good whiff of the inside of a tomb. Resurrection is not a word you can tease and hold hands with for fun unless you're informed of the risks. Because to talk about resurrection like a personal friend is to talk first about your close acquaintance with death.

Resurrection, the way Jesus defines it, means you've already been visited by some unseemly company-like sin and those wages sin tries to keep charging. It's not, despite our hopes, the sin of the Saturday Night Live routine. Instead, it's flesh-and-blood real: sin showing up at your door demanding ongoing payment, throwing lamps and smashing the furniture, scaring off neighbors and family and friends by bull-horning the truth: that you're not nearly so good as you look, and here's why ...

Raw and bloody: that's what Julie calls those places where you find you've shredded someone else's heart, or someone's ripped into yours, those seasons of the poor judgment of words or conduct: a crash you never saw coming-or chose not to. It's in these days and these places we're reminded we've sinned, messed up in high-definition proportions. And like David the Psalmist, the Beloved of God, David the Royal Screw Up, our sin can become an endless replay of regret.

We've been sinned against, too. Those times have left wounds splitting open and oozing again just when we thought they were healed.

At the southern tip of the Appalachians is a pretty little mountain that rings a pretty little city on a river. On the back side of this mountain is a road natives call the "W" road for its doubling back on itself as it ascends two thousand feet. If some thirty years ago you'd happened to be driving up this mountain in the dark and around on its precarious edge with the dawn of Easter Sunday just hours away, here's what you'd have stumbled onto: a small group of people huddled together in the cold. They are standing about clutching their hot cocoa and gnawing Krispy Kreme doughnuts in silence. Some of them are too cold to speak. Some of them, too sleepy. Some of them wonder why in the world they have come. Some of them have only come because of the doughnuts.

None of them look particularly extraordinary-with the possible exception of the little blonde girl with braids and buck teeth over there. She's quiet, you notice, and she's watching. You find yourself watching, too.

As they gather themselves into a circle and softly begin to sing, you notice this also: they're not remotely on key. But still, you can hear ...

Were you there when they crucified my Lord? Were you there.... Sometimes it causes me to tremble....

It's dark and now you're cold too and the fog mummies around you. You examine these people closely. You suspect it's a small place, this mountain, where everyone knows most everything about everyone. Even the little blonde girl with the buck teeth could tell you this much: that the lady over there with the round face and red mittens just last fall had her foot on the railing of the Market Street Bridge and was so ready to jump. And you might still see flickers of self-loathing and despair on her face.

The man in the lined hunting shirt: people whisper that he's the head of the local KKK chapter. It may be true. A few months age, there was a cross burned, a family chased off the mountain.

It's revolting, you're thinking, that he would be here, here with you and the rest of these people waiting for Easter.

They're still singing, this group is, Were you there.... Sometimes it causes me to tremble....

There's also a man with a tie. Nobody told him you don't have to dress up when it's still dark and still cold and still only the hours before Easter. He's in the midst of divorce. Everyone knows he hadn't really intended to end his marriage. For years now, he'd thought somehow that his money and I'm sorry, honey would be enough. And then one day, it wasn't. He's quietly crying into his cocoa, and he's squinting out into the dawn, not sure how it all works, this thing they're all singing. Making no sound, his shoulders shake a little. He's mouthing the words:

Were you there when he rose up from the grave.... Sometimes it causes me to tremble....

Then there's a woman in a soft, elegant coat. She's dark-haired, gorgeous. Her voice soars pure and strong, perfect pitch. Glancing at her, you might decide she's one of those creatures whom life never hurts. Look closer. She'd dreamt of singing at the Met one day. But she married, had three kids. One of them is there right beside her. Watch her run her hand over his hair, and over the thickness at the back of his neck. He is smiling at her, his eyes nearly lost in the swell of his cheeks. He has Down syndrome, you can see for yourself. And you also see this: she loves him fiercely.

You watch as she sings with the others, Were you there when they laid him in the grave.... Sometimes it causes me to tremble....

And there are more of these people, all gathered at the edge of a mountain, huddled now shoulder to shoulder against the cold, grasping their doughnuts and singing uncertainly, and peering out past the dogwoods to where, two thousand feet down, a woozy sun may soon be staggering up into the valley.

But right now it's only predawn darkness and doughnuts and raw, bloody pain-ancient rage and mangled hearts and a bunch of sleepy, shivering people trying to sing together on key. All of them privately wondering if they could even begin once more to believe in resurrection.

Sometimes, they sing, it causes me to tremble.... Were you there ...?

There in the fog before dawn, they feel strangely drawn to this idea of death. To death and to life-and to Jesus. That last one in some ways is the strangest of all.

In these days and hours before Easter, days of ashes and dark, we realize that we're sick and we're dying and we're dead, and that finally these can be the beginning of life.

There's a seventeenth-century poet I love, a one-time playboy turned Anglican priest: John Donne first excelled at seduction poems; later, he crafted lines full of a new, violent desire for intimacy and beginning again. "Batter my heart, three-personed God; for You / As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend; / That I may rise and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend /Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new."

These are the dark days. These are the hours when we can fall at the feet of the one who was lifted up for our sakes: Jesus raw and bloody rising up from the dead.

And if the violence of this process of new life is frightening for us, then that's as it should be. In the gospel accounts of the empty tomb, fear is the common element-the writers mention trembling and fleeing, tears and bewilderment, mixed in some cases with joy. But fear comes first. In Luke, it's only in their fright that the women remember the words Jesus spoke about his resurrection, not before.

When I worked with friends in New England to begin a clothes closet and food pantry for homeless families, we explained our worthy cause to various Boston-area department stores and asked for clothing racks they could spare. One Cambridge store manager grudgingly told us to stop by. Two fellows, one who owned an ancient but helpfully huge gray station wagon, went with me. They'd both grown up in Cambridge, and had been, by their own accounts, infamous ruffians in that neighborhood. But through a couple of unlikely encounters, including passing by a concert in a VFW hall from which lyrics, painfully authentic, pierced into the night, these two had both, against all odds, passed through death.

The store's salesperson met me at the loading dock and disinterestedly heard me express our undying thanks for the one little rack she donated. Then she caught sight of the two rough characters she remembered from school years. Terror took hold of her face.

Pete and Jay R. explained that they'd come to help load the donated rack, and how they'd come to this post-death season of life.

No, she said. No way.

They spoke of a sunrise that came, unlooked for.

She listened, her eyes shifting back toward the door where she could still make her escape.

But in her bewilderment and her fear, she loaded us with as many clothing racks as the old gray wagon could hold, and might have emptied the store had Pete's car been able to hold more.

As we drove away, waving, she was still pale and clutching the wall to steady herself.

Sometimes it causes me to tremble....

My husband and I got word this week that an old friend of ours is in trouble. Our friend had a string of impressive degrees from a series of Ivy League schools, a postcard-perfect family and a fine, gentle, generous heart, one after God's own. But our friend's life now includes a meth addiction. Pornography. Hookers. Arrests. Abuse. Divorce. And restraining orders. A life all come undone.

Sometimes it causes me to tremble.... Were you there when they crucified my Lord ...?

Partly what's so terrifying about our friend's life is that it's mine too-any of ours. It's as my friend Kelly once said: "There's a snake that lies coiled around all our hearts, only we mostly don't know it's there." Maybe, I'd add, because we choose not to know.

This most assuredly describes me and maybe you, too. And it's the impossible that we're there on the mountain waiting for: that whatever we've shredded, made raw and bloody and way past repair, could maybe one day have life breathed into it again.

"Formation-by-resurrection" is how Eugene Peterson describes what we're to be about as people of faith. Indeed, it's in learning to see ourselves as created, or recreated, by the before and after distinctions, and telling those stories, giving life to those pictures, that we live into the Resurrection.

There is pain in this world, plenty of it-pain that is ancient and still newly ripped open. Tempers that come untethered. Dark, scary places we hope the people in our office can't see. Words we use as weapons; trust we can batter. There is apathy and alienation, disgust and deceit.

And there is Jesus.

Tombs emptied out.

The raw and bloody rising up from the dead. Resurrection.

Were you there when he rose up from the grave.... Sometimes it causes me to tremble....

There are ends, but also beginnings.

I believe in all the cracks in my own plaster and the rotting it hides, all the moldering holes in my heart.

I believe fair-haired saints can become addicted to meth.

But I believe also in gluttonous worms who gorge themselves drunk on my garden's best leaves, bed themselves down on tree twigs, then wake up in spring with bold, bright-colored wings.

I believe sunrises and new days can happen for eaters of Krispy Kreme doughnuts and off-key singers of hymns and bigoted burners of crosses.

I believe in the gangrenous state of my own spirit, left to itself. And the slow, steady rehab brought on by mercy.

In lives changed against all the odds.

In middle-aged women who don't jump off bridges but live instead to become much-loved grandmothers, and in old men who can weep over where they went wrong.

In a place where our last tears will be caught by God's hand, a time when "death, thou shalt die."

Death, it turns out, has to come first.

It's the one door into the blowout, the jazz band and swing-dancing and toasting, the party that's thrown when the dead live again, and come home.

Someday maybe I'll sneak into Julie's office and spray paint my own little additions to her remarkably tasteless banner:


And neither am I


Me too

For in the days and hours before resurrection, there are songs sung weakly and not at all well over the edge of small mountains; there are daffodils sprung out of just-frozen soil. Beauty rising up out of the ashes we make of our lives, the havoc we wreak. There is forgiveness and healing and hope.


Excerpted from Why JESUS MAKES ME NERVOUS by Joy Jordan-Lake Copyright © 2007 by Joy Jordan-Lake. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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