World Refugee Day: Imagining a New Way

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Photograph by Daniel Etter.

There are few who haven’t been moved by the visible anguish of Laith Majid as he and his family finally landed safely on the shores of a Greek island. Clutching his little ones, he arrived drenched and freezing in a rubber dinghy barely afloat, with an entire nation’s pain written on his face. His bravery and suffering awakened my heart like a stinging slap of icy salt water.

I wept for him. I tried to imagine what it was like to be him.

  • I have never been so very desperate as to dare to bring my family and others across a huge sea in a rubber dinghy meant for three.
  •  I have never had to leave absolutely everything behind, showing up in a new land as a pauper with children in tow, fully dependent on the good will of others.
  •  I have never had to test the courage it takes to simply choose to live.

It’s easy to go throughout my busy week and forget that millions of people live on this planet with refugee status. The UN says that there are “currently some 43 million uprooted victims of conflict and persecution worldwide. More than 15 million of them are refugees who have fled their countries, while another 27 million are people who remain displaced by conflict inside their own homelands — so-called ‘internally displaced people’.” The sheer numbers of desperate people are overwhelming. They are people who love and are loved, people who have hopes and dreams. And for the many who are housed in refugee camps, generations will pass before anything really changes for them.

I don’t believe we forget because we don’t care. A good many of us are simply trying to love God and our families, do our jobs, pay our bills, and surf the ups and downs of our lives. It’s not lost on us that in America we have it pretty good.

But here are desperate human beings asking the world for help.

This brings up lots of legitimate questions and concerns. How many refugees can a local economy take at once? How do we designate resources for all the people in need? Is there enough to go around? Is there enough for us? And what if they have terrorist leanings? Are we inviting the horrific cruelty of ISIL into our midst? We all know that the political struggle over the issues has been divisive and brutal.

I’m tired of arguing a “side”. I can only dare myself to gaze at Mr. Majid’s face and encounter his need. It scares me.

I am grateful that we have our stories, our sacred narratives that can speak to the humbling truth that I have no idea what to do. The refugee situation is a worldwide crisis. The battle of the Left and Right keeps us stuck. But I have been reading some of the work of theologian Walter Brueggemann who brings us to the stories that deal with overwhelming pain and stuckness.

[Note: These next paragraphs are my attempt to synthesize and summarize Dr. Brueggemann’s brilliant words and work from The Prophetic Imagination. The first edition of this book was written in 1978 but I find it uncannily fitting for today. Any and all brilliance in the following paragraphs is purely his.]

The story of the Exodus is a powerful point of identity for Israel. They had been were slaves in Egypt. They had become accustomed to life under Pharaoh. It was the only social reality that could be imagined. Even the religion of the Hebrew people was subverted to work for the Pharaoh’s purposes to keep the machinations of his kingdom moving. Life was hard but at least there was work and food. But Israel cried out under their bondage. And God heard.

In the stories that follow, we see that the claims of Pharaohs’ empire are ended by the disclosure of the freedom of God, that is, that God is not beholden to maintain the purposes of the dominant culture. God is not captive to anyone’s social perception or purposes. The God of Moses subverts the comfortable reality of Pharaoh and sides with the oppressed and the marginalized. The God of Moses dismantled the politics of oppression and exploitation by countering it with the politics of justice and compassion. The Hebrews found themselves being formed into a new way of being, to match the vision of God’s freedom.

The revolution of Moses was sustained for generations (with some significant ups and downs) until under King Solomon, Israel itself became “empire”. The kingdom of Solomon was one of incredible affluence. Whereas the alternative consciousness of Moses arose in a time of scarcity, there were enough consumer goods in Israel under Solomon to remove much of their anxiety about survival. The alternative consciousness brought by Moses began to lose ground. It is difficult to maintain a revolution of justice and freedom when there is satiation. In our own economy for example, says Brueggemann, it is hard to maintain passion for civil rights when we are so overly fed.

However, he continues, the great Solomonic achievement was achieved by oppressive social policy. The affluence was hierarchal and unevenly distributed. Brueggemann also suggests that the religion of the Hebrews once again became a static religion in which the freedom of God was subverted into servicing the purposes of the King. He calls this a “religion of immanence” which means that the prevailing idea was that God was at the disposal of the King. When religion becomes static in order to maintain the purposes of empire, the people are conditioned to become afraid of anything that might change the status quo. The passion for real freedom and justice has been co-opted for lesser things. Those in power know that all it takes to counter an alternative consciousness is satiation.

Brueggemann describes the effects of the empire’s numbing satiation of the people: In the royal program of achievable satiation there is a religion of optimism in which God has no business other than to maintain our standard of living. There are no mysteries to honor but only problems to be solved using the cost accounting of management mentality. The value of a soul is calculated by statistics and financial speculations. This numbing satiation also requires the annulment of neighbor as life giver. It imagines we can “live outside history as self-made men and women.”

America, in all her splendor, is not unlike the empire of Solomon and Pharaoh. We boast unprecedented affluence and yet, the distribution of such affluence is extremely inequitable. As with Solomon and Pharaoh, the working class supports the upper echelon. American Christianity has in large part become conflated with the American dream, the religion of optimism. Being self-made and pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps has become a religious value. American Christianity has become static in that we cannot see beyond our infighting to imagine a different reality this side of heaven. In our sleepy satiation, pockmarked with bouts of fear, we only can see to preserve ourselves.

But just as it was with Israel, it seems we have come to a time when God has tired of indifferent affluence. Like the prophets of old, the sopping, traumatized travelers that are washing up on the earth’s shores serve as a means of startling our hearts awake beyond our fears, our politics, and our comforts. The reality of human suffering – all of our suffering- can awaken us to seek a better vision that matches the freedom of God.

Even as empire lives by numbness and controlled perceptions, Jesus penetrates numbness and enters into the hurt of desperate people, and eventually comes to embody it. He reveals a very different value system than empire, where the outcast and the loser are the valued ones, where he calls into question even all moral distinction on which the society was based, and where he transforms through his own vulnerable solidarity with poor, empty and grieving.

The answers we seek lie in the awakening of our consciousness. Our future is not bound by this present. It cannot be assured or guaranteed by the values of empire. However, Jesus shows us the way to this alternative consciousness, this new mind. It is the way that empire can never imagine. It is the way of self-emptying. Jesus does not numb himself to the pain of the hurting; he joins it. He is mercy.

Brueggemann says that the future is an unqualified yes from God. Every great teacher of mine agrees! God is free from the mechanistic ways of our best systems, our “what if’s”, and our fears around fairness and deservingness. If we believe this is true, we are also free to imagine a reality different from the one we have created. We are free to risk and to enter into the pain of the refugee. We are free to awaken the passion of mercy.

Brueggemann reflects:

“Passion is the capacity and readiness to care, to suffer, to die, and to feel is the enemy of imperial reality. Imperial economy is designed to keep people satiated so that they do not notice. Its politics tend to block out the cries of the denied ones. Its religion is to be an opiate so that no one discerns misery alive in the heart of God.”

The misery of Mr. Majid and countless others like him, is the misery of God. As we awaken again to the freedom of God, we may just find a way to join Mr. Majid there in God’s aching heart. We may awaken enough to dare to imagine God’s alternative reality, and we may just heal the world.

 

 

Dear Straight Christians, Can we talk?

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Dear Straight Christians,

We are all reeling from the fact that fifty precious children of God were gunned down in the wee hours of last Sunday morning. Fifty families are grieving the loss of their children. Fifty-three more families sit with their wounded loved ones in Florida hospitals.

Make no mistake, these souls were specifically targeted because of their sexual orientations. My gay family members and friends who I love dearly are devastated, broken hearted and traumatized. Our nation is once again aching from the raw, open wound of senseless, violent loss.

Loving them well now is going to ask a lot of us. Because, it isn’t about us.

Let’s be honest. The gay community already knows what too many Christians believe about their orientations. They know how they have been judged in character. They have heard, “You’re rebellious, you offend God, you are a mess, disgusting, disobedient. We don’t affirm you or support you. We don’t seek need to seek to understand you.” Then they have heard, “love the sinner, hate the sin” as a posture that attempts to justify the things we’ve said. But what that phrase actually communicates is, “We can judge what is acceptable in you and what is not. You are tainted. You must hide part of your soul away.” These things can never communicate love.

Can we have the courage to be even more honest here? Words and beliefs such as these help to create a climate of mistrust and otherness that can pave the way for hurtful actions. I am not assigning blame. I am saying we need to be aware of the ramifications of our ideologies. We affect the whole, for good or for not, and creating so much otherness fans the flames of those who need a target. After an event like this, we shouldn’t be surprised if the gay community has difficulty trusting our tears and love now.

The human ego cannot face its own shadow. We each keep our lesser-than, insecure, unloved parts hidden away, believing that if all I show to others is what will give others the best impression of me, then that impression is who I am. And it’s who I want to believe I am. However, Jesus was never fooled by the “clean cups” of the Pharisees that were gleaming on the outside, but filthy on the inside. When we hate, disdain or feel threatened by something in others, we are actually projecting the hated and rejected parts of ourselves out onto them. It’s a way of feeling purged and feeling acceptable by comparison as we reject, diminish or set them apart in some way. We even dare to believe that our rejection of the unacceptable other (or their parts) pleases God. This way of thinking sets up an atmosphere of fear and mistrust that opens the doorway to justify hurting the excluded ones. This pattern is as old as Cain and Abel. It’s been in our own sacred narratives from the very beginning.

The gay community have long been our scapegoats. And now that they are hurting and afraid, we have the opportunity to change for the sake of love. We have opportunity to be a part of the healing of the world that we so long for. It’s an opportunity to recall and reflect that the heart of God is not either/or. The heart of God is Mercy.

Jesus always beckons us into deeper and deeper depths of love. His way is always the path of kenosis, the emptying out of ourselves and our egos. Just as a swimmer cannot enter the depths of any waters weighted down with baggage, so must we leave our shoulds and oughts and dogmas and statements of beliefs on the riverbank, emptying ourselves of everything, so we may dive in too.

And so, may we stun the world with what the love of God really looks like:

  • Love comes to us as we are.
  • Love does not come with caveats.
  • Love doesn’t draw lines, make demands, or ultimatums.
  • Love seeks to know what it’s like to walk in another’s shoes.
  • Love doesn’t look down upon anyone.
  • Love never says, “us and them.” Love creates “we.”

And, may we graciously stand in the way of those who could do harm during this time of grief:

  • It is not time to expect the gay community to be grateful for our sorrow. But they sure could use genuine advocates for their safety and basic human rights. Even simply asking one another to watch how we speak can help.
  • There are a lot of competing voices clamoring for attention today in the aftermath, rendering the pain of the gay community invisible. Honor the grieving by not allowing yourself to get sidetracked in arguing other issues.
  • There’s lots of scapegoating and blame, which is always driven by fear, not love. Be the voice that says, the wounded and fallen ones did not deserve this.
  • Remember, it’s not about our caveats, and making sure people know where you stand. That’s ultimately only self-serving because it creates “us and them” again. It’s all about unfettered, unbounded love.

We have been down this road so many times. Late night host and person of faith Stephen Colbert said, “What do you say in the face of this horror? I don’t know what to say…But sadly, you know what to say because it has been said too many times before… It’s as if there’s a national script that we have learned. By accepting the script we tacitly accept that the script will end the same way every time with nothing changing, except for the loved ones of the victims and families for whom nothing will ever be the same. It’s easy to…despair and say, that is the way the world is now. I don’t know what to do, but I do know that despair is a victory for hate. Hate wants us to be too weak to change anything. Love does not despair. Love makes us strong. Love gives us the courage to act. Love gives us hope that change is possible. Love allows us to change the script.” Preach, brother.

Love can even move an obstacle as heavy and stubborn as the human ego. Love moves us beyond despair to open up the courageous humility that transformation requires. Love awakens us to its powerful movement throughout all of creation that will ultimately knit us all together as one.

The love of Christ says, you are not other than me.

May all of these children rest in peace with God.

Love,
a fellow sojourner

 

August 2012 Synchroblog and Provoketive Magazine: Follow Me

This month the Synchroblog is partnering with Provoketive Magazine once again. We will each explore the implications of Jesus’ words: “Take up your cross and follow me.”

“Take up your cross and follow me.” ~Jesus

As I reflect on the severely polarized and politicized struggles within American Christianity it is evident how little these struggles really have to do with Jesus. Both sides are more interested in isolating an ideology and then vilifying those who hold a different view. And of course, we are all convinced that our ideology is more “biblical” than any other. In all honesty, I think we hold on for dear life to our stances and beliefs so that we may convince ourselves that this is what Jesus really wants from us. It’s like a collective thought disorder. But it’s much easier than following him.

Because truthfully, who really wants to follow him?

He did the very thing that our American worldview does not allow. We are all about being upwardly mobile, successful, safe and prosperous and so we have co-opted God into that belief. We believe that God is all about blessing our efforts and that our success proves God’s favor. Our Christianity has become a prop for middle to upper class comfort and security. That ideal is found nowhere in the gospels. Jesus’ movement was decidedly downward. He moved right into the neighborhood of powerlessness and need.

I think what is most difficult for us is that Jesus, though already fairly poor, chose to become homeless. He claimed all humanity as his family and moved away from his nuclear family, which in his culture was a shameful act. (He obviously needs a tutorial in family values.) But in addition to that, while most good Jewish men of his age would have married and started having children, his singleness aligned him with the “non-procreators”, like the eunuchs, who were considered unclean and inferior. There were no categories of gay or straight in Jesus’ day; people were either procreative or non-procreative. Those who did not or could not produce children for any reason were suspect, or outcast. (See Jesus’ words in Matt. 19:11-12.) He chose solidarity with the most despised.

We know he treated women as full and competent disciples, he welcomed the stranger and the sick, touched the dead, and healed the children of the enemy. In his presence the tight miserly hands that held onto precious silver and gold opened wide. He undermined every structure of religion and empire and really, really ticked off those with power. Let’s just be honest. It’s far, far easier and safer to convince ourselves that being pro-life and justifying the harsh realities of the lives of those with less (money, resources, opportunity), or feeling superior for being more tolerant than thou, is somehow at all like the path Jesus walked.  Instead, Jesus asks us to pick up the instrument of our death and to follow where he goes. Any sane person would count the cost. Any sane person would struggle with it, because to follow Jesus means that we no longer get to co-opt the faith to make our own lives work.

Many of those whom I know that consider themselves to be “biblical” Christians feel that the “dying” that is asked of them means they reject the “world” and its values (hence the dogged political views). However, I wonder if how we have come to understand “the world” has become quite distorted. Blogger and Wild Goose Founder Mike Morrell says, “Jesus was referring to the world of principalities and powers, those inhuman and dehumanizing forces of religion and empire. He wasn’t referring to culture-as-such, and certainly not to planet earth. Millions of friends-of-God are awakening to the reality that we live in a God-blessed and God-beloved world that God still thinks is ‘very good,’ however marred by egoic haze and degradation its become. We’re all connected – for life or death.”

And there it is. What will “kill” us is following Jesus’ movement into the God-blessed and God-beloved world, and receiving those for whom Christ died as we would Christ Himself. That means making a home with them all, in the here and now. That means looking beyond political and doctrinal divisions into the eyes of all humanity, not to minister to them or over them, but to join them and work alongside them. Jesus asks us to do the very thing our religious and political hearts find abhorrent. But by making space within ourselves to receive the other, we are changed by them and ego dies. We begin to become less defined by our certainties and stances, and more defined by love, by becoming “we”. And Kingdom comes. That was Jesus’ prayer for us before he died, and his prayer for us as he continues to live.

It’s much easier to convince ourselves that we are following Jesus by choosing to eat or not to eat at a certain chicken restaurant. It’s much harder to share your table with those whom you have decided don’t belong. It’s even harder to admit that there is only One Table. However, we are going to need each other because let’s face it, Jesus’ path is more than a little crazy. It will cost us our lives.

Links to the Synchrobloggers will be added as they come in.🙂

Carol Kuniholm Which “Way” Am I Called to Follow?

Glenn Hager Strange Places

[April 2012 Synchroblog] Is There a Christianity without the Resurrection?

This month’s Synchroblog explores the question: What if Jesus never rose from the dead? If there were no resurrection, would there still be a religion known as Christianity?

My first thought is, without the resurrection I don’t think Christianity would have survived. After all, after the crushing blow of Jesus’ death, there had to be something big that happened to have caused those first century Christians to risk their lives and endure 300 years of intense persecution and torment at the hands of Rome. Something happened that opened up a whole new way of seeing life, hope and the Kingdom of God. And as a result, the Church has survived for 2000 tumultuous years.

However, it seems it’s been really hard to recapture the early passion of the church. I sat with several friends this week for whom the Easter season felt flat, even sad. “Why bother?” they asked. There’s tons of historical and psychological explanations to explore, but in a nutshell what I see in our present day is major memory loss on the part of the church.

The liberal theology that has flourished since the 18th century de-emphasizes the supernatural events of Christ’s life such as the virgin birth, atoning death and resurrection in favor of an earthy, incarnational faith that concentrated on feeding the poor, caring for the sick and imprisoned, and outcast, and treating the least of these as Christ Himself. This became known as the social gospel, a Christianity to make a difference in the world. To be fair, not all denied basic orthodoxy as truth, but there was and is a definite concentration of the actions of Jesus and his command that his followers do the same. It’s cool stuff really, however, there is a major problem. This liberal reductionist theology has not produced on its promises: that humanity alone can change this world for the better. It cannot change the human heart. In its blindest moments, it allows evil to remain unchecked.

Conservatives on the other hand, have inexplicably thrown out the social gospel in their fervor to preserve the basic tenets of orthodoxy (virgin birth, atoning death and resurrection). On this end, the faith has become dangerously more about having an accurate Christology than about Christ. The actions and life and teachings of Jesus are seen primarily as a means to the Cross and personal eternal salvation, over against having a significant purpose of their own. The emphasis then has shifted from caring for the world to personal and social morality. This has overshadowed the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God in and among us, a subject about which Jesus spoke frequently. Though a creedal understanding of events like the resurrection is a necessity (and I’m grateful for the preservation), the words of Peter Rollins come to mind: “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.”

The problem with both “ends” is that extreme wickedness remains throughout our human societies. The social gospel is not able to diminish it in this hurting world, and the emphasis on eternal salvation and creeds has not diminished it in the hearts those of us who call ourselves “saved”. Both poles seem to act as though the resurrection never happened (except as an assurance for heaven perhaps) and it’s not working out so well. True transformation does not seem to happen much when we live in extremes.

If resurrection is to be believed, it must be about much, much more than doing good stuff or believing the right stuff, no matter how sincerely these things are done. The resurrection happened within this world, so I don’t think it’s a stretch to say it then, that it has a whole lot to do with this world. It is not merely a hope that lies in the future outside of this world but a renewal right here, right now within it.

NT Wright says,

[The resurrection is] the utterly characteristic, prototypical, and foundational event within the world as it has begun to be. It is not an absurd event within the old world but the symbol and starting point of the new one. The claim advanced in Christianity is of that magnitude: Jesus of Nazareth ushers in not simply a new religious possibility, not simply a new ethic or a new way of salvation, but a NEW CREATION. (emphasis mine)

To paraphrase Wright, there is a new world being reborn in Jesus, and in this world Jesus is Lord and Caesar isn’t. God’s saving rule is breaking in. As my pastor often says, Jesus didn’t come to make us good, He came to make us new. There’s something beautiful and powerful and real enough to change the intractable narcissism of our hearts. And, it’s not just about us, it is about the renewal and healing of everything. Old things have passed away, the new has come.

I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of striving. We’ve all blown it in some way. We’ve all decided that we’re right and our way of doing religion is better than that of “them over there”. And I’m not going to give a “10 steps to the Resurrection Life” schpiel because I don’t have one. I hope that is a relief. I think the way is simply like that of the early church: Come and see this Jesus of Nazareth.

Richard Rohr says,

Christ Crucified is all of the hidden, private, tragic pain of history made public and given over to God. Christ Resurrected is all of that private, ungrieved, unnoted suffering received, loved, and transformed by an All-Caring God. How else could we believe in God at all? How else could we have any kind of cosmic hope? How else would we not die of sadness for what humanity has done to itself and to one another? Jesus is the blueprint, the plan, the pattern revealed in one body and moment of history to reveal the meaning of all of history and each of our lives. The cross is the banner of what we do to one another and to God. The resurrection is the banner of what God does to us in return. Easter is the announcement of God’s perfect and final victory.

He is God’s life-affirming yes to the universe. And yes, Resurrection says, this is not the end.

Check out our other Synchrobloggers:

Hope is Held Between Us [Provoketive Magazine]

[This month our Synchroblog partnered with Provoketive Magazine. See below for links to other Synchrobloggers.]

Sometimes, ok, perhaps it’s often, I weary of the discipline it takes to stay faithful to the routines of tending life. I begin to skimp on the practices that nurture body, mind, soul and community. Fortunately, every now and then something wonderful comes along to enliven my efforts.

My husband and I met with friends for dinner a couple of nights ago. They are the type of friends with whom you always wish you could spend much more time. We enjoyed delicious food, wine, conversation, and heaping platefuls of hope. Interestingly, we had decided beforehand that we would discuss the end of the world. We were only half-joking. This idea was instigated by the distress of another mutual friend, a very wealthy man, over his fear of an impending world-wide economic collapse. He was ready to liquidate all his assets, pack up and move to South America. (I am not sure why South America would be better if the whole world was in trouble but there you have it.) One of our dinner mates is also in the financial world and well acquainted with the inner workings of the struggling economy. We looked forward to hearing what she might have to say.

We agreed that the mutual-friend-turned-conversation-starter is very bright and very rational man. This reaction seemed very out of character for him. But this sort of thinking is entrenched in our collective psyches and probably has been since the beginning of time. We are all afraid of what we cannot control. We are all afraid of loss. This fear is amplified through the lens of round the clock disaster movies and documentaries, and the Mayan, Nostradamus and Left Behind theories that all seek to interpret many world events in catastrophic terms. In response, there are survivalist websites selling packaged food and gear. Self-protective instincts run deep.

Our conversation moved to what if? Specifically, if major calamity does strike, how do people of faith respond? How do we create safe space for ourselves and how do we care for our neighbors? How do we share meager supplies with those who have run out? How do we offer the hospitality of God?

And, what would it be like? Would desperation finally push us to the faith that we have not grown into yet? You know, the kind of faith that feeds 5,000 from a few loaves and fishes, the faith that heals sickness and that finds the coins we need in the mouths of fish? We had no answers. These probably weren’t our real questions anyway. We have not been asked to live this way, not yet.

It was in this context that one friend brought up the idea of spiritual eldering. Spiritual elders are the folks who have been around a while. They have seen suffering and they have seen great beauty. They have seen heart-breaking betrayals, and they have seen love and sacrifice like that of Christ himself. They have seen faith fail and they have seen grace overflow. These are the ones who have “set their faces towards Jerusalem”, that is, they have set out finally on the journey that is Christ’s. They have seen Kingdom and can do nothing else but live in a way that brings it forth. They have let go of what brings only fleeting hope here on earth. They have learned what is truly important.

And there we were, the four of us, each moving into our sixth decade on earth. We recognized that we are entering the elder stage. And of course, none of us felt ready or adequate. My friend then asked, “So, when will we be old enough to give it all away?” It became apparent that while we are not old enough yet, our shared conviction was to move in that direction together as community. This is never a journey that we need walk alone. In that realization, we felt the growing potential, desire, and joy of the possibilities held between us.

Therein lies the hope. We were sitting in communion with friends who hope for Kingdom. Their hearts were for the left behind, the people in need. They were not thinking about preparing for disasters as much as much as learning to be good shepherds. They were concerned about growing into the people we would each need to become in order to bring forth the equities and the sweet, inclusive shalom of Kingdom life, no matter what happens. We all felt caught up in a quiet thrill at the thought of this communal dream. And just for once, the cost didn’t seem to obscure the prize.

None of this stuff would be surprising to my dear mentor nun, Sr. Marilyn. She is a spiritual elder in the truest sense of those words and she is helping to grow us up. She once told me a story of a priest whose South American monastery faced apocalypse when it was invaded by gunmen. The humble priest greeted them with open arms. They shot him. “It was the practices,” said Sister, “that prepared his heart to meet them that way.” Indeed, it was the practices that prepared him for anything.

Richard Rohr notes that in our younger days, we typically use the type of prayer posture that we feel will help to build our careers, fill our coffers, and create a life. As we move towards eldering, we need the kind of prayer practices that help us to let it all go. We need what will bring us to the place where being emptied enough to truly open ourselves to the reality and need of the other, becomes as compelling a desire as any other we have known here. Then, instead of grasping and protecting what is ours, we can begin to walk this earth with arms held open wide.

How do we get there? “Do the practices,” says Sr. Marilyn. “The practices will get you ready.” And the hope birthed by good friends does, too.

[The practices she refers to include regular engagement with faith community, Centering Prayer, Lectio Divina, the daily Examen and others.]

Synchrobloggers at Provoketive Magazine :

The Trouble With Hope: John Ptacek

Hope = Possibility x Imagination: Wayne Rumsby

Little Reminders: Mike Victorino

Where Is My Hope: Jonathan Brink

Hope for Hypocrites: Jeremy Myers

Now These Three Remain: Sonny Lemmons

Perplexed, But Still Hopeful: Carol Kuniholm

A Hope that Lives: Amy Mitchell

Generations Come and Generations Go: Adam Gonnerman

Demystifying Hope: Glenn Hager

God in the Dark: On Hope: Renee Ronika Klug

Keeping Hope Alive: Maurice Broaddus

Are We Afraid to Hope?: Christine Sine

On Wobbly Wheels, Split Churches and Fear: Laura Droege

Adopting Hope: Travis Klassen

Hope is Held Between Us: Ellen Haroutunian

Hope: In the Hands of the Creatively Maladjusted: Mihee Kim-Kort

Paradox, Hope and Revival: City Safari

Good Theology Saves: Reverend Robyn

Linear: Never Was, Never Will Be: Kathy Escobar

Better Than Hope: Liz Dyer

Caroline for Congress: Hope for the Future: Wendy McCaig

Fumbling the Ball on Hope: KW Leslie

Content to Hope: Alise Wright

Hope: Oh, the Humanity!: Deanna Ogle

[December Synchroblog] Jesus came, did you get what you expected?

Jesus came, did you get what you expected?

I pray that the answer is no.

I realize how strange that sounds. When I wished my friends and family Merry Christmas, I truly meant it. I wished for each one a season of peace and enjoyment and that each would experience life-altering moments of kindness and love. I wished everyone could be a part of a gathering in which they felt a sense of belonging. I hoped that each of us could offer that to others as well, especially those with no place to go. I wished that everyone would feel noticed and known through the gift giving, and that each one would feel as though they matter.

I confess I love the beauty and ribbons and lights and music and anticipation of it all. It’s all too easy to get caught up into the commercialism and sentimentality that has taken over the holiday season and that causes so many of us to rack up big bills and stress in order to make it all happen. Let’s be honest, that stuff is just as alive in the Christian world as it is in the secular. But sentimentality is a cheapened version of true celebration. It tells a lie that what our hearts most desire can truly be found here, through our money and our parties.

Therefore, even though I truly wished you all Merry Christmas, I hope you were blessed enough to leave the holiday unsatisfied. I hope you all enjoyed a lovely holiday as did my family and I, and, I pray that none of us would be satisfied with so little ever again.

My prayer is that the Christian church would have to courage to begin to grow up. May we become less afraid of the mystery, the great paradox of our Christian lives which is the reality of the already/not yet. Christ has come and shown us the way of His Kingdom. Alleluia. However, Christian celebration on this side of heaven must always carry with it a morsel of grief. That is why three of our Advent candles are purple, the color of penitence and suffering. We must outgrow the Jesus who, as my pastor says, is too often viewed as our “bearded girlfriend who wants to be our lifecoach.” We must outgrow our “religious narcissism”. May we dare to follow God to places far outside of ourselves.

Those who walk in the footsteps of Emmanuel may not forget that the world aches in pain, oppression and need. We ache because even though we enjoyed a feast day with all the trimmings, many of our children in West Africa passed away from hunger. We are troubled because though we are free, too many of us are still in chains through sex trafficking, dictatorships or the selfishness of others. We ache because we do not yet know how to die enough to our own fears and greed to allow Kingdom to be birthed fully alive and full term everywhere.

If we lose our sense of ache, of longing for something better, we lose who we truly are. We are made for something, Someone, far better than what the pretty, sentimental holidays can ever provide. And, we are meant to begin to realize that truth in context of community. Theologian Miroslav Volf says that when we “receive” Christ, we receive all who come with Him. We cannot fully know and bring Kingdom without those whom we have left behind.

May the awe that we feel at the coming of God Incarnate jar our hearts awake to this exquisite longing. May this Holy Discontent drive us to the Story to live as deeply liturgical people, people who live with rejoicing and ache, all while figuring out a bit more of what it might mean to love God and love others. And if you have been fully satisfied and your life is near perfect, may you be blessed enough for God to come in and mess it up enough so that you are not left behind in slumber. Amen.

When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
the work of Christmas begins:

to find the lost, to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner, to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart.
(Quaker Blessing)

Enjoy the Synchrobloggers:

Glenn Hager – Underwear For Christmas

Jeremy Myers – The Unexpected Gift From Jesus

Tammy Carter  – Unstuck

Jeff Goins – The Day After Christmas: A Lament

Wendy McCaig – Unwanted Gifts: You Can Run But You Can Not Hide

Christine Sine – The Wait Is Over – What Did I Get?

Maria Kettleson Anderson – Following The Baby We Just Celebrated 

Leah – Still Waiting For Redemption

Kathy Escobar – Pain Relief Not Pain Removal

Seeing With the Heart: The St. John’s Bible tour, pt. 1

This weekend my husband and I were fortunate enough to see an exhibit of the St. John’s Bible at the Benet Hill Monastery down in Colorado Springs. This Bible is the first handwritten and hand painted work commissioned by the Benedictines in 500 years. It is a work of theology and a work of art.

All of the text is done in beautiful calligraphy, with a script designed just for this project. There are 160 works of art designed in prayerful response to scripture passages. Fr. Michael Patella, OSB, 
(Chair of the SJB Committee on Illumination and Text) says, “The illuminations are not illustrations. They are spiritual meditations on a text. It is a very Benedictine approach to Scriptures.” Simply put, they are stunning. They are thresholds. If you love art and if you love the scriptures, these illuminations will feed your soul.

This experience does what a reading of the Bible is meant to do. We were stirred up into awe, wonder, worship, and surprise. Our souls quickened in delight. We were challenged and even offended as our small view of God and large view of ego was exposed. We rediscovered that our Bible is indeed a living text. Kathleen Norris has noted, “Most people don’t know what is in the Bible and when they find out, they become unglued.” We are never left unchanged. This encounter with the scriptures wooed us to the larger story that encompasses everything and everyone.

The monks who commissioned this Bible wanted it to reflect the Benedictine values of hospitality, justice and love. They hope it will enhance our engagement with the biblical text and with the arts. The illuminations are designed to reflect God’s all-embracing presence and His unending welcome that is offered to the whole world. They emphasize women, neglected peoples, and the poor. At the heart of it all is God’s global message of hope for all time, for all peoples, for all generations, and over all history.

Aram remarked that it’s so rare to see anyone have a long vision for a project such as this anymore. This Bible began about 12 years ago and will be completed sometime in 2011. In contrast, our culture demands immediate answers and immediate results. We don’t know how to wait. We dismiss the value of memory and time. Cathedrals used to take generations to build. Talk about job security and economic stability! We have forgotten how to work for something greater than ourselves to benefit generations that we may never meet this side of heaven. Monastics do everything prayerfully and slowly. I am grateful to them for this.

Below, I share some of what we learned from the lecture that we attended at the monastery. It was taught by Sr. Irene, a kick-ass nun and theologian from the Committee on Illustration and Text for St. John’s Bible. The images that I have posted here are obviously not as clear as they are up close and in person but I hope they speak to you. The Benedictines say, “Listen with the ear of your heart.” As we learned the practice of Visio Divina they added, “See with the eyes of your heart, too.”  And Sr. Irene gave us much freedom in our gazing by saying, “If you see it, it’s in there.”

Just FYI: Gold always represents God.

Creation (Genesis 1)
The seven panels represent the seven days of creation, of course. The panels are rough and unfinished on the edges, reminding us that creation is still happening. It’s a work in progress, and so are we. We are also reminded that God always brings order, beauty and life out of chaos. Day 3, when vegetation and plant life come into being, there is a satellite image of the Ganges River Delta. On day 5 when the waters are called to team with life, the artists included ancient fish fossils. On day six, the drawings of people are from aboriginal cave drawings from Africa and Australia. Gold (representing God) is present throughout of course, increasing to Day 7. Creation and re-creation is an overarching theme throughout the whole Bible.

The Genealogy of Jesus (from the Gospel of Matthew)
The Menorah is designed to recall the panels of the days of Creation as well as the tree of life. The Menorah is a symbol of Judaism, the people from whom Jesus was born. There are patterns of DNA molecules throughout, reminding us of His humanity. The Menorah was also the design of the lamp that lit the temple as described in Zechariah. Jesus is the Light.

The gold designs at the top of the piece are from the Koran. The circle (mandala) underneath is an Asian design. Within the menorah itself are all the names of the ancestors of Jesus. They included the names of all the women in His ancestry, not just the ones included in Matthew. The name of Hagar, second wife of Abraham and mother of Ishmael, is written in English, Hebrew and Arabic, for she is the mother of the Arab peoples. Christ is for us all.

The five “books” of the Psalms (divided up by some scribe way back when) each have a frontispiece that looks like a Torah scroll. They also look like painted Japanese screens. (There was an Asian art expert on the committee.) There are gold squares and designs all over, reminding us that Christ is present throughout. Gregorian chant notes were also represented by squares, so they reflect the heritage of the church age as well.

What is especially intriguing are the small squiggles throughout the scroll. These are actual digital voice prints of the Monks of St. John’s Abbey singing the Psalms. There also are voice prints of the monks singing a Native American song, and sacred songs from Hindu, Jewish, Taoist, Greek, and Buddhist traditions and probably some more that I am forgetting. It is indeed a living text. It is the tradition of Benedictine hospitality to honor all those who pray.

Luke’s “Anthology”

This piece reflects many parables that are unique to Luke. The first one is the woman who lost a valuable coin and looks everywhere for it. When she finds it, she throws a party. There are hints of angels in that panel, ready to rejoice with her. Sr. Irene reminded us that a larger theme of the book of Luke is the fact that Jesus ate with the wrong people. Often in His stories he says in effect, “You think I eat with the wrong people? My Father throws parties for them!”

Another panel shows the story of the prodigal son. The familiar characters are there – the returning son, the older brother, the running father, the pigs. Sr. Irene remarked that the mother seems to be missing from this story. But she relates a favorite tale which says that the mother was absent because she was busy fattening the calf for the party to come, polishing the ring and then is looking out and about for her son. The mother remarks, “And his father thinks this just happened!”

What is particularly moving is that all the stories are in diagonal panels of gold, leading upward to Jesus. These are stories about restoration and forgiveness. In the panel with the prodigal are the New York City World Trade Center Twin Towers, also in gold. This panel was being painted during the fall of 2001 after the 9-11 tragedies. They were included to offer the message that forgiveness is the way to move forward. Indeed, the very last panel which portrays Mary and Martha reveals the words “Only one thing is necessary” as all move towards Jesus. Forgiveness.

The Valley of Dry Bones (Ezekiel 37) “I will put my Spirit within you and you shall live.”
This is a particularly gripping work. The artists did not want to go towards “The foot bone’s connected to the leg bone” or “dem bones” types of imagery. The skulls and bones are reminiscent of mass graves. There are images that evoke the picture of the heap of eyeglasses seen at the Holocaust Museum. There is a watchtower. There are also junk and old cars, depicting throw-away people, used and abused by others. The oil from the old cars reveals a rainbow with flecks of gold. Even here, God is present. There are rainbows of promise overhead, filled with colors, filled with God. I ask you, can these bones live?

I will post part two later this week. Go here to page through this Bible yourself! http://www.saintjohnsbible.org/see/explore.htm

“The continuous process of remaining open and accepting of what may reveal itself through hand and heart on a crafted page is the closest I have ever come to God.” ~Donald Jackson, Artistic Director, St, John’s Bible