This week we are given a concurrence of events worth considering.  It is Holy Week, the pinnacle of the Christian year when we remember the final days, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ.  And in the US it is a week when our Supreme Court is considering two cases related to gay marriage.  I’d like to mention two ways I feel these events are related.

The first has to do with crucifixion.  On the day we call Good Friday Jesus was killed by the political and religious powers that conspired against him to take his life.  The Apostle Paul, while he was still an enemy of the church, encountered the living Christ on the road to Damascus, who said to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”  Saul had not been persecuting Jesus, per se, but had been hunting down and harassing his followers.  Yet, Christ identifies directly with those being persecuted – ‘why do you persecute ‘me?’  Since the very beginning there has been a strong tradition within Christian faith that has identified the suffering, the persecuted, the marginalized, the ‘least of these’ (Matthew 25) with the very being of Christ.  Crucifixion still happens, and has a thousand different faces.  Sometimes that face has been a gay man or woman, girl or boy, who has been excluded, ridiculed, belittled, dehumanized, imprisoned, tortured or killed because of who they are.  During Holy Week we remember that every time someone’s humanity is diminished, and suffers at the hands of another – or at the hands of ‘the crowd’ – that we can see in that person the face of Christ.  “Why do you persecute me?”

The second point of connection has to do with love.  The cross is the ultimate symbol of selfless, sacrificial love.  The Apostle Paul uses the love demonstrated on the cross to counsel husbands and wives how to treat one another, comparing Christ’s love for the church to that of husband and wife.  “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25).  This is love to the extreme, as challenging as it gets, and it’s a beautiful image of what marriage can be.  The prospect of gay marriage presents us with a pointed question about the nature of love.  Can the love of a man for a man, and a woman for a woman, reflect the same kind of selfless, sacrificial love that is also the ideal for a woman and man?  Can husband-husband love and wife-wife love also embody the love of Christ?  Experience is answering this question with a resounding Yes.  Gay love can be equal in quality, intensity, selflessness, purity, sacrifice, and covenantal fidelity as that of non-gay love.  Husbands are already loving husbands as Christ loved the church.  And wives are already loving wives as Christ loved the church.  This is a holy and blessed love, a witness to the everflowing love of God, which heterosexual marriages strive for as well, despite repeated failure.

Marriage is a legal question this week, but it also remains a theological question for the church.  Churches do not need to wait for a Supreme Court ruling to bless gay couples who wish to commit their lives to one another.  But the church can be a voice for justice and equality for enabling gay couples to marry to receive all the legal benefits of marriage that straight couples already enjoy.

Holy Week and Holy Matrimony go together very well.

The cross and justice

March 20, 2013

Palm/Passion Sunday approaches, and so does the crucifixion.  The cross is a central symbol in Christian faith, and how a tradition interprets the meaning of the cross says a lot about the central values of that tradition.  One can talk about the cross politically – Jesus died because he was a threat to the powers-that-be, who killed him.  Cross is to Jesus as bullet is to Martin Luther King Jr.  The cross can also be talked about theologically.  Jesus died for the sins of the world – which provokes a whole other series of questions about what that means, including the obvious question, How can one human’s death be a saving act?

The cross is often equated with God’s justice.  One way of talking about it goes like this: God is just and demands punishment for sinful humanity.  God sends Jesus to take the lightning bolt of divine wrath and thus save humanity from the punishment it deserves.  Believe this is true, and be saved.  This has its own kind of logic, until you actually think about it.  Jesus saves us from God?  Geez.

God’s justice is key to Christian faith, but the form of justice that is much more in line with the New Testament is restorative justice.  The purpose of justice is ultimately to restore relationships from their broken condition.  A recent article that has worked at this appeared in the Christian Century and can be read HERE, called “Why the cross?”  One of my favorite lines from the article is:  “The distinction, roughly stated, is that punitive justice is concerned with what may be done to evildoers and restorative justice with what can be done about evil.”

Exactly!

Punitive justice, as we have come to understand it theologically, and practice it in our prison system, does nothing to address the underlying problem of evil.  The cross is God’s ultimate icon of restorative justice because it unveils the underlying problem and offers new restorative opportunities.  Jesus absorbs the violence of humanity and, rather than coming back with a vengeance on the evildoers, comes back with the words, “Peace be with you,”(John 21:19) which is what we say to one another every Sunday morning when we pass the peace.  The risen Christ provides for the new possibilities of victim and offender reconciled and joined together as part of the new creation (2 Corinthians 5:16-19)

If none of the above makes much sense, forget it.  But remember this: How we understand the cross matters, and restorative justice trumps punitive justice.

2013 CMF Lenten Beattitudes

Lent 1: Blessed are those who make space

Lent 2: Blessed are the decentered

Lent 3: Blessed are those who leave it

Lent 4: Blessed are the embraced

On Sunday Rachel Smith preached a thoughtful sermon on the Parable of the Prodigal Son, which is really a parable about two prodigal sons, the younger and the older.  Using Rachel’s definition of prodigal = reckless spender, the father of the parable is also a prodigal.  He recklessly spends his honor and love on his sons who, each in their own way, struggle to accept it.

One of the conversations Rachel and I had during the week was the challenge of shedding new light on a familiar story.  We already know it.  Except that we don’t, which is why we keep revisiting the same themes over and over again in the church.  Lent comes around every year.  We hear often the phrase, “God love you.”  We hear again the story of a father sprinting to greet his wayward son, throwing his arms around him and planning a homecoming party before the son can even finish the excuses he’s been rehearsing in his mind as to why he left in the first place.

One more time: We are loved and embraced from the very beginning, for who we are, not for anything we do.  We do good because we are loved, not in order to be loved.  Gospel truth.  Blessed are the embraced – which is everyone.  Just not everyone knows it already.

This Sunday, Lent 5: Blessed are the available.

 

Practicing Families blog

March 6, 2013

2013 CMF Lenten Beattitudes

Lent 1: Blessed are those who make space

Lent 2: Blessed are the decentered

Lent 3: Blessed are those who leave it

This coming Sunday, Lent 4: Blessed are the embracing

 

Rather than reflect on the beatitude of the week, I want to introduce a blog for which I am now an occasional writer.  Joanna Harader, pastor of Peace Mennonite Church in Lawrence, Kansas, has organized a blog called Practicing Families, focused on what it means to practice faith as a parent with children in the home.  The essays cover three different areas: Family Liturgies, Practicing with Children, Practicing Parents.  If this is an area of interest for you, you might want to subscribe to the blog feed to receive the several new entries each week.

My submission today addresses the tension between work and family time and suggests one possibility that can work in certain circumstances when commitments might otherwise take you away from family time – take a child with you.

It is below, as well as HERE on the Practicing Families blog.

Take them with you

I am a pastor and a father.  I love and appreciate how the boundary between my family life and work life is more blurry and permeable than the average vocation.  But there’s always the tension of how much involvement to have in certain commitments that call for more time away from family.  In some cases, I’m finding, situations that could take me away turn out to provide opportunities to be together, and do some learning in the process.  The key: take them with you.    

One of the efforts I am involved in these days is the Campaign for Fair Food, a movement of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in Florida who pick the fresh tomatoes we northerners eat in the winter months.  They get lousy wages under extremely difficult working conditions, at times bordering on slavery.  This decade-long campaign has worked with corporations who buy their tomatoes, getting them to agree, among other things, to pay another penny per pound for tomatoes, which goes directly to the pickers.  So far 11 major corporations have joined the Campaign for Fair Food.  I live in Cincinnati, the headquarters of Kroger, one of the next companies the Campaign is inviting to the fair food table.

My oldest daughter, Eve, who is seven, came with me recently when several of us were handing out fliers to customers in a Kroger parking lot, talking with them briefly about the campaign and asking if they would sign a paper saying they’d be willing to pay another penny per pound for tomatoes.  Eve and I had talked about what we were going to be doing as we drove to the store.  She was by my side the whole time; at first shy, and soon willing to share some of the spiel, and hold the papers that people had signed.  She got excited when people agreed to sign on, and disappointed when people said they were too busy or uninterested.  She wanted to know more about what it was like for the tomato pickers.  We made the connection that the fresh tomatoes inside Kroger were coming from workers who could barely support their own children.  When the management of the store asked us to leave, she was curious about that.  When we got home, she told the rest of the family about what we did, explaining with some confidence and clarity about what the campaign was all about.     

Eve has been studying some at school about the history of slavery in the US, and we have made connections between the abolitionist movement and the Campaign for Fair Food, of which she is now a part! 

I think it’s very cool that my daughter is starting to think about these kinds of things and make these kinds of connections – a growing awareness that not all is right in the world – while being a part of a group of hopeful people motivated by faith to do something about it.  What is just as cool is that I got to spend several hours with my daughter and give my wife a bit of relief from having to watch all three of our daughters at the same time. 

I am learning that, whenever I have the chance, if circumstances allow, take them with you!      

2013 CMF Lenten Beatitudes

Lent 2: Blessed are the decentered

The decentering of our own ego, our sense of I, allows us to relax into orbit around the great I Am, one of the names for God.  It is a startling but ultimately freeing revelation to know that the world does not revolve around us, and will go on without us.  It’s only after we know this, and have become decentered, that we can hear in a new way the other truth, which is that we are needed, even by God, to be agents of love, joy, peace, patience…the fruits of the Spirit…in this world.  When ego finds its proper place, we know that these fruits and graces do not originate from us, but rather flow through us from the ultimate Source.

Here is the quote from Reinhold Niebuhr, shared on Sunday, which speaks to this reality.  I have tried to line it out in poetic form.

Nothing that is worth doing

   can be achieved in our lifetime;

          therefore we must be saved by hope.

Nothing which is true or beautiful or good

     makes complete sense

     in any immediate context of history;

          therefore we must be saved by faith.

Nothing we do, however virtuous,

     can be accomplished alone;

          therefore we are saved by love.

No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our standpoint.

Therefore we must be saved by the final form of love, which is forgiveness.

( quoted by Martin E. Marty, University of Chicago Chronicle, Feb. 20, 1997).

 

Lent 3 Coming up: Blessed are those who leave it

2013 CMF Lenten Beatitudes

Lent 1: Blessed are those who make space

 

Making space through Attentive Silence:

+ Rumi said, “Silence is the language of God, all else is poor translation.”

+ Father Thomas Keating said, “Silence is God’s first language.”

 

Making space through Availability in our Relationships:

+ When we make ourselves available to one another, we open ourselves to that of God in the other, and that of God in ourselves which wishes to commune with the other.

 

Lent 2 Coming up: Blessed are the decentered

Remember that you are dust

February 13, 2013

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return.”

Today is the first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday, and these are the words that we will share with one another at the service this evening while putting ashes on one another’s foreheads.

 “Remember…”  Because, sure enough, we do forget.  We forget that we’re mortal.  We forget that life is incredibly short.  We forget that, because we’re made out of the same stuff as everything else on the planet, we have a deep kinship with all sentient beings.  And we forget our utter dependence on the Breath of Life which sustains us and gives us being.

So, we ritualize our remembering.  It comes around every year.  We can’t avoid it.  There are seasons of celebration and feasting; and seasons of contemplation and fasting. 

Our Sunday worship times during this season will feature different Lenten Beattitudes.  For the six Sundays of Lent, we will ponder: 

Blessed are those who make space (Feb 17)

Blessed are the decentered (Feb 24)

Blessed are those who ‘leave it’ (March 3)

Blessed are the embraced (March 10)

Blessed are the unencumbered (March 17)

Blessed are the joiners (March 24)