404: What a Dutch Ornithologist Taught Me About Easter in Antarctica
I recently completed an eleven-day voyage to Antarctica. I saw multiple animal species in the wild for the first time along with floating pieces of ice art humbly called icebergs. Every evening on our trip, a naturalist or other content expert would explain a reality of the frozen continent.
Between you and me, I don’t remember much of the facts I temporarily learned. But I’ll never forget something our Dutch ornithologist explained. Arjen told us closely-huddled tourists that word “Antarctica” simply means “not the arctic.”
I was instantly embarrassed that this thought hadn’t occurred to me instinctively. Right after that, I was struck by the notion that a massive, diverse, beautiful—breathtaking—place would be named for what it is not. A place where scientists constantly discover new realities is known for where it isn’t.
I shouldn’t be so surprised, living in a country where demagoguery has recently poured gasoline on the fire of populism, a political movement defined by what it’s against. Instead of the land of the free and the home of the brave, we are a nation against immigrants, against competition, against diversity, against the poor.
Against the world.
It’s really no surprise that the Evangelical movement has been categorically the biggest defenders and supporters of this mindset. I grew up in a faith system that defined itself by what we didn’t do. The list included:
• shop on Sunday
• listen to music with drums
• go to movie theaters
• consider women who wore pants to be faithful
• read Bible translations other than the King James Version
• wear uncovered swimwear near members of the opposite gender
• watch the Super Bowl (because it was on a Sunday night)
These exclusionary practices came by us modern day Pharisees honestly. We got our marching orders from the religious leaders who killed Jesus and some of his early followers. These condescending arbiters of holiness created and then obeyed arbitrary rules to earn religious status. They told other Jews and the rest of the world that God was accessible through a strict system of what we don’t do.
When The Way (what Christianity was called at the time) exploded onto the first century scene, it threatened those Pharisees’ control, their standing, and their hypocrisy. This new movement was for things: grace, mercy, acceptance, equality, and compassion. It was for the whole world, especially the former rejects. This attractive-though-persecuted way of life grew so much that the “holiest” men in the culture justified murdering people who believed in it.
To escape their murderous plot, the Apostle Paul got legal protection from the Roman government by appealing his way through their court system. At multiple times throughout the process, Paul and his accusers made it known that the continental divide between him and them was that he believed Jesus was alive, and they didn’t.
That’s still the watershed line for the whole world. We either believe that God is living and active and for us, or we don’t. I’m not talking just about atheism versus Christianity. Even in organized religion, there’s a line between people who live by whether the documented story of Jesus is true and whether his daily presence is true. If he’s a current reality, his promises and commands bring life. If Eternity lives amongst us, his values trump our comfort. If he’s alive, people will see constant new life in us.
That’s why Easter is so important. Easter is heaven saying, “I’m for you! You’re worthy of love.” Jesus’ empty tomb means we don’t have to fill our spiritual emptiness with alms and self flagellation. We don’t have anything to prove to him or to the world. A resurrected founder of our faith calls us to bury not just our bad behavior but also our egos, our against-ness, and our self-righteousness to rise into new life. A real, live God calls us to be for the lives of other people, just as he is. His universal presence asks us to enliven their freedom, their welfare, their opportunities.
That’s the God every heart yearns to be true. That’s the Jesus people want to believe in. That’s the spiritual leader the world wants to follow. Don’t believe me? Live everyday this year (1) with Jesus and (2) for people; and then let me know if you didn’t see anything come alive in your life or the lives you touch.