Almost four months ago workers removed a Ten Commandments monument from the Capital grounds in Oklahoma City. Maybe it was premature. What if rather than a testimony to pagans the Judeo-Christian God designed a pattern for people to live together in the world, the monument served as a reminder to the State Legislators that the highest ideal to which they could attain would best be expressed in thinking about those unprotected by those in power? Read More
The Duck Commander dustup inspired impassioned pleas to stand against Christian persecution. Rights became, and still are, the grounding of many arguments. But, what if the Church, and so Christians, were really persecuted. I mean to say what if our actions brought on the sort of scandal and persecution described by Oscar Romero,
We seem more intent to protect our Christians celebrity assets than anything else. We would be better off being scandalized for our investment and friendships in the very places Jesus’ actions brought on scorn and rejection.
Sometimes you hear something that refuses to go away. Such is the case with the words of Fr. Richard Rohr. Some friends were sharing a meal several years ago in Alberquerque, NM. During the course of dinner Fr. Rohr said, “Without great suffering there cannot be great love.” I return to that statement often. Especially when I am made aware of the way others are suffering.
Pastors come by the sad news of suffering often. On occasion the events of suffering are highly visible. In other instances the suffering is very lonely and unknown. Then there is the range between these two poles of human experience.
There is little doubt Fr. Rohr had Jesus on the brain. Imagine arms outstretched. Without great suffering there cannot be great love. What keeps love from taking seed, then, is our unwillingness to enter into suffering – our own or with others. Maybe it is our cultural penchant for the narcissistic. Oddly some people seem to enjoy their own suffering. That surely does not resolve into great love.
I read with interest Scot McKnight’s piece, A Comment on No Comment. He begins,
It is the silence of the megachurches and pastors that bothers me. I have just finished writing a commentary on the most famous sermon in history, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, a sermon that calls followers of Jesus to a kind of life that issues into “good works,” and I must speak out.
I refer to the recent post by CNN’s John Blake on the CNN Belief Blog about the coverage gap in 25 states where, it is estimated by Kaiser, that some 5 million Americans will not qualify for insurance coverage. That is, part of the Affordable Care Act entails increase in coverage by Medicaid, while a SCOTUS decision gives states the option of implementing Medicaid expansion or not. The sad gap is that some will make too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to qualify for ACA’s subsidies. 5 million Americans in approximately 25 states, most of them Southern.
So John Blake went on a mission to see what Southern megachurch pastors had to say about what will be a sad lack of coverage for poor Americans. Time after time he got no comment, and his article ends with a stunning “no comment” from one of America’s (northern) finest pastors, Tim Keller from NYC, whose state did expand Medicaid but whose leadership extends to evangelical Christians throughout the world, including those states that did not expand Medicaid coverage. That “no comment” troubled John Blake. (I wish Blake had asked more non-Southern pastors, like Rick Warren or Bill Hybels whose commitments to justice for the poor are unquestionable.)
Twice in the past seven days or so, Scot goes on record. First, he renewed his “commitment to women — beginning at the local church and moving out.” Now he must speak out. I am glad he did. Especially when he concludes,
There is no reason, ever, for any Christian leader to have “no comment” when it comes to saying something on behalf of the poor and needy in our country.
Suffering is to be avoided, or so it seems. I wonder if the “one another’s” in the Scriptures could be construed as an invitation to enter the experience of the other even when the risk is suffering. “Bear with one another.” Too often our focus in removing what we bear. Little wonder that we would not be interested in bearing anything from the other among us. We could not expend the energy to comment.
Maybe Oscar Romero could help us a bit.
Therapeutic religion, especially a therapeutic form of Christianity, does not allow us to express, much less experience, the inter-connectedness of humans’ experiences. Other- ing the poor and needy keeps them out of our experience, away from empathic impulses. And there is no love. There is the illusion of no suffering. If there is suffering then it is all the sufferers fault.
Local pastor friends, if the mega-churches will not comment, how about the rest of us?
Leave your comments.
Photo credit: Christopher Macsurak (Creative Commons)
They Have Threatened Us With Resurrection (1980)
by Julia Esquivel; translated by Ann Woehrle
It isn't the noise in the streets
that keeps us from resting, my friend,
nor is it the shouts of the young people
coming out drunk from the “St. Pauli,”
nor is it the tumult of those who pass by excitedly
on their way to the mountains.
It is something within us that doesn't let us sleep,
that doesn't let us rest,
that won't stop pounding
it is the silent, warm weeping
of Indian women without their husbands,
it is the sad gaze of the children
fixed somewhere beyond memory,
precious in our eyes
which during sleep,
though closed, keep watch,
Now six have left us,
and nine in Rabinal,* and two, plus two, plus two,
and ten, a hundred, a thousand,
a whole army
witness to our pain,
What keeps us from sleeping
is that they have threatened us with Resurrection!
Because every evening
though weary of killings,
an endless inventory since 1954,**
yet we go on loving life
and do not accept their death!
They have threatened us with Resurrection
Because we have felt their inert bodies,
and their souls penetrated ours
because in this marathon of Hope,
there are always others to relieve us
who carry the strength
to reach the finish line
which lies beyond death.
They have threatened us with Resurrection
because they will not be able to take away from us
nor even their death
and least of all their life.
Because they live
today, tomorrow, and always
in the streets baptized with their blood,
in the air that absorbed their cry,
in the jungle that hid their shadows,
in the river that gathered up their laughter,
in the ocean that holds their secrets,
in the craters of the volcanoes,
Pyramids of the New Day,
which swallowed up their ashes.
They have threatened us with Resurrection
because they are more alive than ever before,
because they transform our agonies
and fertilize our struggle,
because they pick us up when we fall,
because they loom like giants
before the crazed gorillas' fear.
They have threatened us with Resurrection,
because they do not know life (poor things!).
That is the whirlwind
which does not let us sleep,
the reason why sleeping, we keep watch,
and awake, we dream.
No, its not the street noises,
nor the shouts from the drunks in the “St. Pauli,”
nor the noise from the fans at the ball park.
It is the internal cyclone of kaleidoscopic struggle
which will heal that wound of the quetzal***
fallen in Ixcan,
it is the earthquake soon to come
that will shake the world
and put everything in its place.
it is not the noise in the streets
which does not let us sleep.
Join us in this vigil
and you will know what it is to dream!
Then you will know how marvelous it is
to live threatened with Resurrection!
To dream awake,
to keep watch asleep,
to live while dying,
and to know ourselves already
* Rabinal is a town in the province of Baja Varahaz where a massacre against indigenous people took place, perpetrated by the military dictatorship.
** The phrase “inventory since 1954” refers to the year in which the government of President Jacobo Arbenz was overthrown by a CIA-backed mercenary army coup, which initiated the unrelenting and ever-mounting repression by the military regimes who took over power.
*** The quetzal is an embarrassingly beautiful bird found in the forests and woodlands of Central America. The name is from Nahuatl quetzalli, which means “large brilliant tail feather.” The quetzal is the national bird of Guatemala and figures in the oral traditions of the indigenous people of that area.
Could it be decades, or more, of talking only about that for which we look for after this life cheapens the gift of life itself? I think so.
Yesterday I noted how Phyllis Tickle viewed the Christian handling of slavery, and segregation, to be its own assault on Inerrancy. I have been cogitating on her analysis.
Reading the Gospel passage for the Third Sunday after Epiphany left me wondering if the assaults on Inerrancy are more a matter of practice that betrays belief. Even more I considered the possibility that we impose our practice back onto the text in something of a violent move against its Sacredness. When we champion our belief that is betrayed by our action, we simply become ideologues.
Luke 4 gives us the episode of Jesus in the Temple reading from the Isaiah scroll. Reading Jesus’ assertion that the portion read was fulfilled in their hearing invites us to ask just what was itself fulfilled. Is the reference to Jesus’ declaration of Good News or to the reality that would come to the poor, captive, blind, and oppressed through Jesus the promised anointed One?
Framed another way, is Jesus pointing to a future immaterial reality where the categories in the text will no longer define people in the salvation to come as a result of his announcement? Or, is Jesus asserting a change in the order of material reality, life now, that promotes the hope that the categories may be transcended by a new way of being in the world – and abundant life – forged by his very own life?
Socially conscious Christians point to this text as the inspiration for work among people who are described by the text explicitly and implicitly. This would represent an insistence on the material reality, the lived experience, of the life Jesus claims to bring. The one that wells up within us, that quenches thirst, which overflows the limited experiences often fraught with life’s perils. Certainly there have been those who pushed so hard in this direction it seemed the aim was to eradicate the social ills without addressing the need for human discipleship to do in the world the things that Jesus does. Is this a reference to disciples making disciples who would do greater things than these?
Another vision dependent on an eschatology of demise considers any material efforts a waste of time since the life Jesus describes could never overtake the darkness of a world whose vision is so marred it could not possibly bring about the sort that would bring and end to the way humans treat each other producing the poor, captive, blind, and oppressed. Or, Jesus offers a great message but it will only be realized in the life to come so we ought only point people there. Those who inhabit this side, of my admittedly risky binary, point to Luke 19 as the end to which we ought pursue.
Many would rightly assert we should overtake the binary with a both/and. Except the current vocabulary appears so narrowly defined that it sets up the two resultant camps. For instance, Gospel is now an adjective assigning orthodoxy to everything from preaching to parenting. The question begged is orthodox what? If somehow the human action does not explicitly speak of or promote a particular view of the work of Jesus then it is not Gospel? Are we to make what we preach or say about parenting, church planting, spousal relationships, etc., more important than the fruit produced by the disciples’ life that unquestionably points to the Way of Jesus? The way the matter is written and spoken of insists you cannot get the cart before the horse. We must say the right things before we do the right things. Or so it seems.
One attempt to clarify has been to talk about the Gospel and the implications of the Gospel. So, Jesus’ acceptance as the vision of the anointed One to come is the Gospel and the implications of the Gospel come to the poor, captive, blind, and oppressed? Except that had Jesus not tied the two inexorably, he could have easily only quoted the portion that identified himself as the anointed One, only. He often practices quoting bits and not long texts. The sorts of implications described cannot somehow, by our straining, be removed from what is indeed described as Good News out of fear of human agency. We cannot separate the person and the work, correct?
Jesus did not seem to fear human means. In fact, unless we do something interesting with our Christology, we have to recognize the very way Jesus shows us how human agency comes under the influence and power of the Spirit so that what we do may be construed to be the very will of God. I realize that is fine for many when we look to Jesus. But, what is insisted today is that a proper verbiage is needed to verify the same in our own lives. Forget that our lives do not produce the material vision cast by Luke 4 so long as we speak what we should.
The culprit seems to be an eschatology of demise. It is very simple. This material reality holds no hope. Our aim is to get as many people looking to the next life so we should not spend our time creating the atmosphere for improved lives here and now. Jesus seems to undermine that very thing when the focus of his teaching, the majority of words uttered, pertain to this life and not the next.
I like what Shane Hipps does to make this point. He writes,
Not only that [Jesus did not talk much about what happens when we die.], Jesus got to peak behind the curtain. He actually died. We’re talking three days dead. He spent a long weekend in the afterlife and lived to tell the story. People in our culture die for a few minutes on an operating table and go on to write entire bestselling books about the experience. But Jesus? He spent three whole days in that place and when he returned here’s what he had to say about it.
Nothing. Nada. Zip.
What did he talk about when he came back after death? Here is just a sampling: He tells his disciples to make students of him (see Matthew 28:16); . . .. (Selling Water,p.186-7)
Our calls to value life appear hollow when we look on the gift of this life as little more than that to be endured until the next. It really seems to actually rob God of his glory that we would prefer the next while not appreciating this one – the very one Jesus said he came to fill up. And, more, when we witness the poor, captive, blind, and oppressed to not do much at all but tell them about a future life seems vacuous of the compassion of Jesus, an affront to his work, and a resistance to his teaching – a denial of the Gospel.
All of which is duly noted in the Sacred Text.