The streets were cluttered with trash instead of decorated with flowers. The houses had tarps for roofs, and often no roofs at all. The river water served for bathing, elimination, and drinking water. Bloated stomachs were not full; they were ravaged by parasites. Giant sloths hung lazily from the lush trees seemingly unaware, unaffected, and unbothered by the poverty and disease around them, and pet monkeys and parrots had ample food thrown their way. Yet countless numbers of children searched for food or other treasures among the dirt and filth of garbage piles. Still, laughter, singing, and smiles abounded, and the diverse landscape exuded an exotic vibrancy.
These composite impressions come from a visit to Brazil, a vast country that is both geographically and culturally rich, and which has some of the most impoverished areas in the world. This visit to Brazil several years ago was a vivid example of the experience of personal disruption. Growing up in suburban Illinois, with uniformly similar looking roofed houses, and with more than enough resources to take care of my needs and wants did not prepare me for this encounter with a land of unspeakable beauty and desolation. My disruptive encounter prompted many questions: Why did I have so much when others had so little? What could I do to make any real difference in their situation, and if I could make a difference, what would that look like? More importantly, was this encounter for me to make a difference, or for a difference to be made in me?
Disruption, as Webster’s New Riverside Dictionary defines it, can either be seen as an event that creates confusion and/or disorder, or can be seen as something that interrupts.(1) Of course, disruption creates both. When our beliefs are contradicted by our experience or challenged by competing and compelling alternatives, we feel disruption. When we encounter something radically different than anything we’ve known or experienced, such as I did in Brazil, we experience disruption. Disruption upends assumed expectations, interrupts our perceived self-efficacy and control, and complicates all that we’ve come to rely on and trust.
Yet, the interruption can set one on a new course and introduce a whole new horizon. For the early followers of Jesus, his life and ministry introduced one disruption after another. How they must have wondered when his teaching went against the authority of the religious leaders of their day or when he was transfigured before them. “Who then is this,” they wondered after the wind and the seas obeyed him.
Perhaps the greatest example of disruption for the disciples played itself out in the events of the crucifixion. Entering Jerusalem filled with messianic hope on Palm Sunday, the disciples believed Jesus to be the earthly King of Israel fulfilling what had been promised to David long ago. Imagine their horror, then, when surrounded in that dark garden of Gethsemane, Jesus was captured like a common criminal. All their messianic hopes collapsed. Instead of royal exaltation, Jesus was lifted up onto a cross of untold suffering and agony. Plans to sit on Jesus’s left and right as rulers in his kingdom were scattered and interrupted, just as quickly as the disciples fled away that terrible night.
But the disruption of the Cross would not be the last word. Rather, it is the disruption of the resurrection that interrupted all that was known about the natural course of life and death, the ideas about the messiah, and the reality of God’s kingdom. The disruption of the resurrection affirmed Jesus as God’s messiah and transformed a group of scattered, fearful, disciples into the heralds of God’s new direction. Peter, the denier, became Peter, the proclaimer. Preaching the first sermon after Pentecost, Peter persuaded those listening that “God raised Jesus up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for him to be held in its power….Therefore, let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Jesus both Lord and messiah.”(2)
God, the Disrupter interrupted their plans, their ideas, and their entire lives. As a result of this cosmic disruption, everything changed. Rather than scattering in fear, those early Christians gathered together sharing their resources, giving to those in need, and using their possessions for the benefit of one another.(3) In the same way, God desires the resurrection of Jesus to disrupt our lives, to interrupt our current way of living in order to send us off in a new direction. God intends the disruption of resurrection, much as my encounter with Brazil disrupted my world, to make a difference in us—a difference so disrupting that it alters and changes the way we think, the way we envision the landscape around us, and the way we live in this world. Author Debbie Blue sums up resurrection disruption by saying, “Resurrection is a little unnerving, unsettling, because it basically goes against what we know, contradicts everything we take to be absolute about the nature of history and the reality in which we live. It’s a toppling of the earthly order, overthrowing familiarity. It doesn’t play according to the rules we accept as necessary. If the dead can come back to life…what does that mean about all the other realities, rules that order our lives, that we take for granted? [Resurrection]…is not everything you already know…it’s a whole different landscape.”(4) The disruption of the resurrection alters everything, every vista, every horizon.
Margaret Manning Shull is a member of the speaking and writing team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Bellingham, Washington.
(1) Webster’s II New Riverside Dictionary, Revised Edition (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1996), 202.
(2) Acts 2:24; 36.
(3) Acts 2:42-47.
(4) Debbie Blue, Sensual Orthodoxy (St. Paul, Minnesota: Cathedral Hill Press, 2004), 108-109.