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Resurrection Day

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Today is Resurrection Sunday, the day when Christians all over the world celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. It commemorates the most inexplicable day in history. For many readers, talk of the resurrection of the dead seems nonsensical, a matter for mockery, perhaps, or to be dismissed as foolishness. But Christians are quite serious about regarding the resurrection as real. Without it, there is no point to following Christ.

The resurrection is not just a matter of faith. All the extraordinary claims Jesus made hinge on the resurrection. All the gospel accounts have Jesus predicting his own death and resurrection. If what he predicted happened, then it tends to authenticate the other things he said. If it did not happen, then it tends to call into question all the teachings of Jesus about himself and the kingdom of heaven. Not only that, but the apsotles taught that Jesus’ death and resurrection somehow broke the tyranny of sin and death over the human race so that followers of Jesus need no longer fear death. Without the resurrection, sin and death still reign; Jesus was just a well-intentioned madman; and Christianity is delusion.

All the gospel accounts, written by eyewitnesses or collected from eyewitness accounts, agree on the main events: that Jesus was crucified after a mock trial, buried in a stone tomb for three days, and that the tomb was inexplicably empty when the women went after the Sabbath to finish the burial preparations. The resurrection is as well attested as any fact in ancient history.
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Unexpected Iowa

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I drove halfway across Iowa today, from Ames to Sioux City. The weather was warm and the day was lovely. I took US 20 through Fort Dodge. A few miles west, I came across a town called Rockwell City, “The golden buckle on the corn belt.” It got me to wondering about how small towns choose to identify themselves. Of course, we all know that Iowa is smack dab in the middle of the corn belt. But what does it mean for a town to be “the golden buckle on the corn belt?” I doubt there’s really any gold there. Does Rockwell City have a higher per capita net worth than the rest of the towns in Iowa? Not judging by appearances. Perhaps they consider themselves a treasure. If so, one might ask why anyone else should consider them so. What is there about Rockwell City that makes it “the golden buckle on the corn belt?” If anyone knows, please write.
A little further on, I stopped for lunch at an unpretentious place called Hutch’s Cafe in Sac City. It had the standard fare: burgers and fries, sandwiches, sodas. Two items on the menu caught my eye: chicken livers and chicken gizzards. Yes, gizzards. Most folks probably don’t even know what a gizzard is. You might think it’s a kind of cross between a grizzly and a lizard (T-Rex, anyone?), but you’d be wrong. A gizzard is a kind of chewing stomach. Birds, including chickens, eat grit along with their grist, and the grit in the gizzard grinds the grist into more manageable size for further processing by the rest of the digestive tract. I ate chicken gizzards when I was a kid. They were tough and chewy, a lot like clams. But I have never seen them on a menu in any establishment that sells food to the dining public. Until today. I couldn’t help mentioning my surprise to the waitress.
“Oh,” she said, “I don’t care for them myself, but we sell a lot of them. We get a lot of orders for chicken livers and gizzards too.”
I had the onion rings.
By this time, I felt I was becoming attuned to the Iowan aura. I came to the town of Early and saw that it identified itself as the “Crossroads of the Nation.” I thought, how does this little bit of a town get to be the crossroads of the whole, entire nation? But there was a big banner on a building in the fairgrounds: “Crossroad Days,” and a little further on I passed the Crossroad Restaurant and Lounge. This is a town that takes its crossroads status seriously. Early is situated at the crossroads of US 20 and US 71. Perhaps there was a real crossroads at one time, but now US 20 doglegs about 4 miles, passing through Early on the way. Still it’s more of a cross than the intersection of two interstates. You don’t get a cross but a cloverleaf. Or, in the case of I35 and I80 at Des Moines, a whole tangle of cloverleafs, shamrocks, and snapdragons. Portions seem always to be under construction.
One common misconception about Iowa is that it is Flat. The fact is some of it is Flat, and some of it is Wrinkled. There are a lot of Wrinkles in US 20 as you approach Sioux City. Some of them even begin to look like hills. The biggest Wrinkle of them all is crowned with huge, three-armed giants, dozens of them waving their three arms as if performing some stationary dance. They have an austere, haphazard beauty. Got photos of these giants? I’d love to see them.
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How Do You Know?

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Most people have had enough experience with their senses to know that they can be fooled. We tend to accept shared experiences as real and private experiences as unreal. If I see two trees on either side of my sidewalk when I leave my house every day, and I also know that others see them, I think of them as real trees. But if I wake up remembering a flowering tree that bursts into flame, burns to ashes, and spring anew from the ashes again and again, then I regard that tree as unreal, a mere dream.

At times, though, I have had experiences that were private but very vivid. I can’t say for sure that they were real, yet I do not doubt that they were. In part, I am convinced by the vividness and coherence of the experience. Dreams, I find, tend to fall apart. The more you try to make sense of them, the more they slip into nothingness. But the experiences I am talking about do not fade they way dreams do. They have the same self-authenticating presence as “real” experiences, and yet I have awakened from them.

I think of this when I read the gospel accounts of Jesus transfiguration. Mark, especially, gives us a sense of discontinuity in the experience: “Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.” And Luke tells us that the experience was like waking up. I’m sure Peter, James, and John were each glad to have had the other two along to corroborate the experience. It so impressed them that Peter and John both mention it again in their letters. They were eyewitnesses to the glory of Jesus Christ, and heard the voice of God speaking from the bright cloud that came over them.

But what about experiences for which there is no corroborating witness? Is something real if it feels real? Is faith alone meant to sustain us against the dread that we may be dreaming or going mad? How do you know that what you have experienced is real?

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