Love is Costly

241Recently, I was having a conversation with someone who struggles to reconcile the idea of a loving God with the suffering that goes on in our world.  The question to which this person returns again and again is, “If God is love, why does God allow so much suffering?”

In talking about this question, we spoke about love in the context of human relationships, and he touched on the death of his wife a few years ago and on a love he shares with a woman now.   This woman is beginning to have memory problems, and he wonders how it will feel if and when the day comes that she no longer remembers who he is.   In the midst of this poignant conversation, the words, “love is costly” floated through my brain.

Love is indeed costly.  The moment we sign up for it, we are not only signing up for great joy, but also for deep pain.  The human condition is such that making a commitment to love a partner or a child or a friend also means making a commitment to one day be parted from that person — either because of their death or ours.   And before that happens, the commitment to love also opens the door to other kinds of suffering:  the suffering of disappointment in the relationship, the possibility of betrayal, of misunderstanding, of fundamental disagreement about some important matter, and a whole host of lesser pains that dwell always as possibilities in the realm of human relationships.  We continue to choose love in the face of all of this because, in part, we are made for love — we cannot really realize the full depth of our humanity without loving someone, somehow, in some way.   We also continue to choose love because we have faith that the joy it will give us will be worth the painful parts.   And, we probably also continue to choose love because we don’t think about the painful parts.   After all, we commonly use the phrase “to fall in love” — which carries with it that sense that love happens to us, we are caught up in it before we consciously make any choice at all.   Love is indeed joyful — but it is also certainly costly.

It seems to me that if this is the case with human beings, then it is also the case with God. I suspect we don’t really think about love costing God anything, but if the love of God is real and genuine, then how could it not be costly?  There simply is no such thing as love without cost.  For Christians, the crucifixion is certainly a sign of the costliness of love.  It shows us that God suffers because God chose to love.  And it shows us the nature of this suffering:  that God suffers every time human beings choose not to love.  And God suffers every time we suffer.  It is impossible to know what the suffering of God is like, because we cannot know what it is like to see as God sees, to know as God knows.   But what we can be sure of is that if God loves, then God also suffers — because love is always costly.

In the moments when we are overwhelmed by our own suffering, or that of others, it is natural and understandable that we would wish that God might somehow intervene to end all suffering once and for all.  But that would require that God bring love to an end.  And that would require the end of existence itself.   In Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, we read,  “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never ends” (1 Cor. 13:4-8a).   One of the points Paul is making is that love, by its very nature, does not seek to exercise control.  “It does not insist on its own way.”   We do not realize sometimes that when we wish for a God who intervenes to prevent suffering, or when we wish for a universe designed to exclude suffering, we are, in fact, wishing for an absence of love.   We might wish that God would create a love that had no cost — but the physics of theology tells us that is simply not possible.

So the love of God cannot provide us with a life free of suffering.  But that love does assure us of something very important:  that it will never leave us alone.  “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God” (Romans 8:38-39a).  Which means that, in the end, our suffering is not removed but it is transcended and transformed into a greater depth that surpasses our understanding — if we allow it.

All of this seems to me to be summed up in a quote from the great Frederick Buechner:

Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.

 

Whose Story Shapes Your Reality?

your-storyThe theologian James Alison has said of human beings that “we are the animals that tell stories.”  When one thinks of the ways in which we are unlike other animals that inhabit our world, this is surely something that makes us different.   And this story-telling is not just a propensity we have or a habit we indulge.   It’s not just something we do because we like to do it, nor is it something we could choose to give up doing.  For it is precisely this telling of stories that constitutes our reality and makes it meaningful.

The primary way in which we make sense of ourselves and the world around us is through the telling of stories.  Our connection to everything is primarily linguistic.  Most people have no sensible memories before the acquisition of language, for it is language itself that allows us to order the reality around us and to interact with it.  Those who for reasons of disability are unable to engage the world linguistically are still certainly a part of it, but in a limited way.  They find ways to engage, but that engagement seems foreign to most of us.  Because for the vast majority of human beings, our connection to reality is rooted in language.  In order for something to be meaningful, it must be named.  And once something is named, a story can than be told about it.  Our reality is constituted by narrative.

The Judeo-Christian tradition itself points to the centrality of language and story-telling when it identifies the creative power of God with the spoken word.  In the creation stories of the book of Genesis, every thing that is made comes into being when God “speaks” it into being.  “God said, ‘Let there be light’, and there was light.”   The ancient writers of the scriptures perceived the power of language to constitute our reality — they knew who they were and the history of their people through the stories that were told down through the generations.   Thus, they easily imagined that the divine power to constitute reality was also rooted in the power of language.

We see this reflected over and over again in the Bible.  The prophets are conveyers of the word of God to God’s people.  The name of God is considered unutterable because to know and say a name implies some kind of power over it.  God and Jesus both give people new names when a new divine calling manifests in their lives.   The Gospel of John is able to say that Jesus is the Word made flesh, the embodiment of the divine creative word spoken of in Genesis.  Language is power — profound and fundamental.  And the great teaching of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and most of the world’s religious traditions are all given by means of story-telling.   Jesus himself tells stories — parables, a particular kind of story — that are meant to collide with the narratives we have already inherited and offer us new narrative possibilities, which have the power to re-shape our lives.

Right now, in America, in the midst of a feverish presidential election campaign, we are all caught up in conflicting narratives.   Different political parties and different candidates promote different stories of what it means to be an American, of what leadership is meant to be about, of what the larger world is like.  These conflicting narratives are nothing less than conflicting versions of reality.  People are captivated or repulsed by one narrative or another, while some attempt to break through these stories with yet other narratives.   All of these competing narratives are seeking to shape our personal stories, the stories of our country.  Indeed, they are seeking to shape the way we see reality.  The person who wins the election in November will be the person whose narrative attracts the greatest number of people.

Those of us who seek to follow Jesus are, like everyone, narrative creatures.  But we have been warned to be wary of the stories people tell us.  Wolves can appear in sheep’s clothing, telling us stories that seem to liberate us but really are meant to enslave us to a particular view of reality.  As Christians, the only story that is truly liberating for us is the story of Jesus.  It is the story in which a brown-skinned Palestinian Jew becomes the victim of powerful elites who create stories that mark Jesus out as dangerous, stories that are sold to crowds of angry and frustrated people to convince them to sign on to Jesus’ execution.   Jesus is turned into a scapegoat for the problems and tensions of his time, and becomes the victim of powerful people who stir up resentment against him in order to deflect people from the real problems that they are facing.

The Risen Christ emerges from that victimhood in order to bring all victimhood to an end. This habit of scapegoating a person or group and making them the target of a society’s fears and frustrations must end — this is, in part, the message of the Risen Christ.  He comes among us to show us a different way, to offer us a different narrative that does not require the making of victims.

And so, as we listen to the competing narratives in this election season, we are obligated as Christians to ask ourselves an important question:  which of these narratives is the narrative of oppression and which is the narrative of liberation?  In other words, which of the stories the candidates wish us to sign on to most closely resembles the narrative of Rome, which led to the victimhood and death of Jesus, and which resembles more closely the narrative of Jesus himself, that is, the story of God’s radical embrace of humanity, setting us free from the need to make victims?

As Christians, we cannot subscribe to narratives of oppression.  We cannot subscribe to the making of victims or the singling out of scape-goats.  We have been claimed by the story of Jesus, we have been claimed by the power of the divine creative word that seeks to bring into being the reign of God among us, that tells a story of love and faithfulness, that speaks good news to the poor, recovery of sight to the blind, love of neighbor as self.  Our primary spiritual work is to make this narrative of liberation the central narrative of our lives, and to act in faithfulness to it.

From the cross, Jesus prayed God’s forgiveness on his oppressors, saying, “they know not what they do.”   The resurrection of Christ shown a powerful light on that moment, so that we might not slip into the darkness of that ignorance again.  Let us look now to that light, that we may not be overcome by the darkness of ignorance again.

The Limits of Forgiveness

repentance1-300x223“Then Peter came and said to [Jesus], ‘Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy times seven.” — Matthew 18:21-22

 

 

I have always carried with me a deep sense of God’s love.   While I have encountered many people who have struggled greatly with an image of God as judgmental, strict, demanding, and punishing, that has never been my struggle.   During my sabbatical last summer, as I worked on a writing project to put into words my understanding of God as known in the Christian tradition, I came to a realization that was really an expansion of this deep sense of God’s love that I have always had.  And that was that God is One who always moves toward us in a love shaped like forgiveness, compassion, and generosity.   I have come to see how clearly this shape of divine love is revealed and  known in Jesus.

And Jesus invites us into an imitation of this shape of divine love.  In John’s Gospel, Jesus says, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”  The term “father” (or, more accurately, “daddy”) is the primary term Jesus uses to talk about God, especially in John’s Gospel.  A little later in this same passage, Jesus says, “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these” (see John 14:8-17).   Here, John seeks to make clear that what Jesus enacts in his own life and ministry is an enactment of the divine love, revealing the shape of that love.  We, who are meant to do even greater things than Jesus, are called to similarly enact the divine love in the living of our own lives.   We look to Jesus as the one who reveals this love to us, and we see him constantly moving toward others in this love shaped as forgiveness, compassion, and generosity.

Within this context, then, it is not surprising that, in the passage from Matthew’s Gospel that appears at the beginning of this post, Jesus challenges Peter’s attempt to place a limit on one aspect of this love: forgiveness.   How often should I forgive someone who wrongs me?, Peter asks.  Seven times?   No, says Jesus, try seventy times seven (some variants read “seventy-seven times”).   I hope it is clear that Jesus is not saying, “490 times”.  Rather, he is using this mathematical expression to point to the limitlessness of God’s forgiveness and, thus, of our forgiveness.   God’s infinite love is infinitely forgiving, and this is what we are being asked to enact in our own lives, as we live into our call to be conduits of God’s love in the world.

This deepened understanding of the shape of the divine love has shown up quite a bit in my preaching since I returned from my sabbatical last fall.  Some of those who have to listen to my sermons might say it has shown up a bit too often!  Those sermons have always been, one might say, at a high level view.  That is, as we consider how we are to approach our fellow human beings in general, we are called to do so with a love shaped like the divine love.

Of course, people don’t live their lives at a high level.  People live their lives on the ground, within particular contexts, and with very particular people.  And, living life on the ground can include a lot of pain.   And so it was that I was recently reminded, by someone who’s life on the ground has included being the victim of emotional abuse, that this preaching on the need to approach others with limitless forgiveness has not been good news.  Rather, it has felt very much like the opposite.  It has sounded as though I am suggesting that there are no limits, and it has sounded to this person like an invitation to give an abuser a pass — and that feels like asking too much.  It feels like God might be okay with abuse.  It is asking too much, and God is not okay with abuse.

Hearing this very real testimony about very real pain has gotten me to thinking about the limits of forgiveness.   And it has helped me to see how limitless Jesus tends to be in the gospels.  After all, we are told that as Jesus was being crucified by his abusers, he said, “Forgive them, Father, for they do not know what they are doing”  (Luke 23:34).   So what are we to do in the face of those who do genuinely bad things to others?  What are we to do with those who do genuinely bad things to us, things that are simply not okay?  How are we to live forgiveness and preach forgiveness in the face of these painful realities?

I’m not sure I yet have a good answer to these questions.  And, more importantly, I’m not sure that I have the right to do so in any more than a tentative way.  While I have certainly been hurt by others’ actions in the course of my life so far, I have never been victimized by someone else.  I am not a victim of abuse.  And, therefore, I do not think it is for me to say what forgiveness can or should look like in the life of someone who has been victimized.  I can have compassion for those who have been victimized, but I cannot enter into their experience.

One of the things that seems clear to me as I look again at Jesus’ enactment of the divine love is that Jesus does not accept the ethical categories proclaimed by the privileged of his own time and tradition.  Instead, Jesus places himself among those who are the victims of those ethical proclamations, and he empowers them.  He gives them voice.  This pattern suggests to me that when it comes to deciding what is ethical, Jesus does not begin at the center and move outward.  Rather, he begins at the edges, and moves inward.  Ethics are to be informed by the victims, not by the powerful.   One might say that Jesus does theology from the margins.  And, as we seek to imitate his example, we cannot ignore this aspect of his ministry.

So, where does this leave me?  I remain convinced that God’s movement toward us is, indeed, a love shaped like forgiveness, compassion, and generosity.  Jesus’ living out of this in such a limitless way is perhaps meant to challenge the limits that we tend to adopt — and, like Peter, most of us tend to impose a limit too soon and too quickly.  But this does not mean that Jesus does not consider certain kinds of behavior to be wrong. As he goes among the victims of his time, he is clearly saying that whatever happened to make them victims was wrong.  He is not saying that their victimization is okay.  He is not giving the powerful wrong-doers of his society a pass.  Indeed, his ministry among the victims of his time acts as an indictment of those wrong-doers.  We could, perhaps, sum it up this way:  it is never okay to make someone your victim.

It is tempting for those of us who have not been someone’s victim to suggest how those who have been made victims should enact the divine love when it comes to dealing with those who victimized them.  But that, I think, is wrong.  It risks making others into victims again.  Rather, we must be like Jesus, I think, and go among the victims in today’s world.  We must listen to their stories, we must hear their struggles, and we must ask them to take the lead in showing us what the limits of forgiveness are.  We must learn from them how our proclamation of the love of God is heard in the ears of those who have been abused.

God’s forgiveness may indeed be without limit. But to protect the dignity of every human being, there might indeed need to be a limit to our forgiveness.   We could, I think, give that limit a name: justice, which itself is a powerful and recurring biblical theme.  Justice is, of course, not revenge, but it is a clear calling out of wrong-doing as exactly that.  Justice permits no hiding, it does not allow wrong-doing to be justified.  It demands that the making of another person into a victim be acknowledged, and it asks for repentance — which is more than being sorry, but is a deep conversion away from the making of victims and toward a way of living that affirms and preserves the dignity of all the people in one’s life.   It seems to me that perhaps, in situations of injustice, forgiveness cannot truly be given or received until the injustice is acknowledged in the way that justice demands.

In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus says, “Nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed from the housetops” (Luke 12:1-3).  This is what justice requires:  a bringing into the light of all that is not light.

The love and forgiveness of God, where it is truly manifest, brings a light that illuminates everything.  If someone is holding on to darkness, if someone is truly refusing to allow the light to shine on the ways in which that person has caused pain to others, can there truly be forgiveness?  Perhaps not. Perhaps the forgiveness must wait until the darkness can be let go of, and the light can shine clearly.  Perhaps forgiveness needs repentance.

The Sound of Sheer Silence

soundofsilenceNow there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before God, but God was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but God was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but God was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.  When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.   — 1 Kings 19:11b-13a

Human beings seem to have a kind of natural attraction to power — both the kind of power that is inherent in being able to destroy something or force someone else to do what you want, and the kind of power inherent in both a well-articulated and delivered speech and in an angry rant.  The stories that gain traction in our culture (seen in movies and television shows, for example) are often stories that radiate power as good and evil collide.  The politicians and other sorts of leaders who gain traction in our culture tend to be those who who can rant with power.  Power is currency.   Those who have it want to keep it, and often to have more, and those who don’t want it try to figure out how to get it.

The Christian tradition is not immune to this fascination with power.  Church leadership has historically been very concerned with power.  And, we have imagined God as being the Most Powerful.   The biblical narratives that seek to introduce us to God are often stories of power:  God creating, God destroying, God punishing, God healing.  Religious people have loved these stories of the All Powerful God for centuries, and they reenforce the image of God we often carry with us — of God as the ultimate power-broker, who can do anything and everything.   We often find ourselves wondering about the ways God chooses to use this power — or to not use it — but we seldom seem to question God’s all-powerfulness.

In the midst of these stories of God’s power, then, we have this little scene quoted above, from the First Book of Kings.   It features the prophet Elijah, the “original prophet”, one might say, and one who occupies a special place in the Jewish tradition.  Leading up to this scene, Elijah has gotten fed up with the people of Israel, and has run away, believing that there is nothing to be gained by continuing his prophetic ministry.  He hides out in a cave. In the midst of Elijah’s crisis, God comes to him.   And that brings us to this scene, in which God’s “arrival” is narrated.  There is a list in this narrative of a series of powerful things that one might associate with God:  an immensely strong wind, an earthquake, and a great fire.  But, the story tells us, God was not in any of these things.  Instead, God showed up in the “sound of sheer silence.”

What a different image of God this is compared with the one we seem mostly to carry with us.  The sound of sheer silence suggests a number of things to me.  First, it suggests that silence is not an absence, but a presence.  We don’t normally think of silence as having a sound — instead, we think of it as an absence of sound.  But this text suggests that silence does have a sound.  That is, it has a quality of presence.  It is capable of carrying something to us.  There is something in silence to be discovered.  Second, this silence seems foundational to me.  Before there was anything, there was silence.  The biblical metaphor of creation is of God speaking things into being.  If you think about it, silence is like a canvass for speech — and for music, and for all other sounds.  Silence, then, is the foundation for everything.  And if silence is, in fact, not an absence but a presence — a bearer of the Divine Presence — then it becomes the foundation of creation itself.  Silence appears to be passive, but this text suggests that it has a power of its own — a power that, indeed, enables everything that is.

Mystics within the Christian tradition — and, indeed, within all the world’s spiritual traditions — have long appreciated the power of silence, and its capacity for connecting us  with God.  By plumbing the depths of silence through various spiritual practices, mystics the world over have found something profound and rich within it.  They have found in it the very sort of foundational, enabling power that this text seems to point us toward.

When we look at God’s power from the perspective of this sort of silence, it seems to me that it is revealed as a power that gives rise to life itself, as a power that seeks to anchor that life in the life of God, as the powerful foundation upon which each of us stands, whether we are aware of it or not.  And what the mystics and spiritual explorers down through the ages have tried to tell us is that when we are able to touch this power, we find ourselves drawn more deeply into the divine life.   As Christians, we would speak of this as encountering the Risen Life of Christ.  These same explorers have also spoken about how transformational these encounters are, particularly when we adopt spiritual practices that allow us to regularly encounter God in the way Elijah did — in the sound of silence.

Unfortunately, our modern lives are quite noisy.   As you think about your typical day, how much room for the sound of silence do you have?  Are there moments when you are really able to listen to the silence, to touch its power, and to encounter the divine life that pulses within it?  For most of us, I suspect that there are not very many such moments from day to day.  That means, of course, that we must intentionally create spaces for ourselves when we can listen to the silence.  Sometimes, that might look like it did for Elijah:  going off to a place apart, away from the noise of our lives.  But most of us can’t, of course, do that very often.  So we must look to create smaller spaces in the dailiness of our lives where we can meet God in the silence that is our life’s foundation.

As we create such spaces for ourselves, we might find that the silence is a little disconcerting.   Part to that will be because we not accustomed to spending much time in silence.  But part of that may be that there is some part of ourselves that knows that the silence is powerful, and not being familiar with that power, there is a sense of being unsettled.   In those moments, we should remind ourselves that this sacred silence is where we came from, and it is really the “place” in which we live and move and have our being.  It is the canvass upon which our life is painted.  It is, indeed, the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.   If we allow ourselves to sink into it, and it to sink into us, we shall be anchored more and more in God.

 

What to Make of the Risen Christ

resurrection_htmWhen it comes to speaking of the Resurrection of Christ in this Easter season, we often become preoccupied with the question of whether it “really happened” in the way the gospels describe it.  It is a question which, for me, is ultimately meaningless, because we can never get “inside” the experience of those first women and men who came to believe that Christ, though crucified, was still available and present to them.  Instead of pursuing this question, I would like to invite you to make a space in yourself that is able to acknowledge at least this: that the first followers of Jesus experienced him as somehow continuing to be present and available to them following his death; that they named this experience resurrection; and that out of this experience, they were able to proclaim confidently the existence of a Risen Christ. And, I invite you to also acknowledge that their lives were transformed and redirected in the light of this experience.

If we can hold this sort of space open within ourselves, then we can move to what is, I think, the much more important question: what does this mean for us?

One of the things that confounds us about the resurrection is that, in the dualistic way in which we normally think, life and death occupy entirely different categories. Our dualistic mind insists that either one is alive or one is dead, and our normal experience of life seems to confirm this. When it comes to the Risen Christ, we are talking about a dead man who is somehow still occupying the category of “alive-ness.” Let’s be as clear as possible: Jesus of Nazereth is dead. The man who was born somewhere around the year 3 B.C.E. and who was murdered by crucifixion somewhere around 30 C.E., and who was named Jesus, no longer exists. His life came to an end on that cross. Resurrection is not the same as resuscitation, and when we are speaking of the Risen Christ, we are not saying that the body of Jesus of Nazereth was reanimated, got up out of his grave and resumed his life. What we have when we speak of the Risen Christ is a dead man who is alive. In other words, we have someone who is — at one and the same time — both dead and alive. And our dualistic perspective cannot accommodate that. And so one of the first things that the Risen Christ does for us is short-circuit our dualism.

By blowing our dualistic mind, the proclamation of the resurrection is pushing our hearts out of our small self (the domain of the ego, dominated by dualistic thinking) and into our larger self (that deeper, more spacious place where we encounter God in ourselves and ourselves in God).  For it is only in the center of the larger self that we can live with the paradox of a dead man who is alive. As we contemplate this dead man who is alive, we begin to question the nature of death itself. Our dualistic mind sees in death the ultimate limit beyond which we cannot go. The things that support the identity of the small self — wealth, work, reputation — are all things that death overtakes. Consequently, the small self cannot see death in any way other than as extinction. As the mystery of the Risen Christ short circuits our dualistic mind, however, and drops our heart into the larger self, we can begin to perceive that death is not what the small self thinks it is. We begin to perceive that who we are in God, and who God is in us, transcends this limit we call death. We begin to see that while everything that constitutes the identity of the small self does indeed pass away, there is something deeper in us that remains untouched by this phenonmenon that we call death.

And it is that something deeper — the larger self, the “immortal diamond” as Richard Rohr call it: who we are in God and who God is in us — that the disciples saw shining forth when they beheld the Risen Christ. That larger self in which Jesus’ heart was centered, that place of deep intimacy, communion, and oneness with God that established the peace with which Jesus passed through the crucifixion — that is the self that continued beyond the limit of death, untouched and untouchable by death.

And in the Risen Christ we see also our larger self, our deep identity in God that, like Christ, continues beyond the limit of death, untouched and untouchable by death. This is where the good news of the Risen Christ becomes our good news, as well.

Subverting the Status Quo

crucifixionOne of my favorite stories in the gospels is one in which Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?”  The disciples give him all the gossip, what other people are saying about him.  Then Jesus asks the more important question:  “But who do YOU say that I am?”   Peter, always seeking to be the “A” student, blurts out, “You are the Messiah, the Christ.”   Jesus affirms that Peter is right.  But Peter has no idea what this means — and, in many ways, the Christian journey for each of us is to wrestle with this question, “Who do I say Jesus is?  What does ‘messiah’ even mean?”

As we enter the Great Triduum — the Great Three Days of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter — this question raises itself again for me.  And, this year, I am struck by a particular answer:  Jesus is the One who comes to subvert the status quo, to tell us that what we take to be “normal” is actually a twisting and distortion of God’s dream for humanity.

Jesus does this in a couple of ways.

First, he indicts the culture of his time and the ways in which it victimized and marginalized people whom it defined as “the Other”.   Jesus declares the accepted ways of treating the poor, the diseased, women, and foreigners null and void.  He says that the religious and cultural traditions that say these accepted ways are okay are human traditions, developed to accommodate the discomfort of the privileged and the powerful.  They are not, he says, of God.

Second, he subverts the expectations of people like Peter who are ready to call him Messiah.  Those expectations revolved around a kind of religious and cultural nationalism that focused on the desire to end Roman oppression of the Jewish people.  The messiah was supposed to be a general, a king, someone who would reassert and reestablish the Davidic kingdom.  But this was not what Jesus was about.  He was not interested in a political revolution that would reestablish a national identity, but rather in a revolution of the human heart and spirit that would root people firmly in God’s vision for humanity, one in which there is no room for nationalistic and tribal concerns.

Jesus’ double-subversion of the status quo and traditional expectations is what led him to the cross.  The privileged and powerful voices of empire and tradition could not embrace the vision of which Jesus was the bearer and sign.  They lacked both divine imagination and courage.  And so they resorted to the remedy that the powerful and the privileged always resort to when nothing else is working:  they set out to violently suppress what Jesus represented by killing him.  And, in the process, they convinced the people who were at the center of Jesus’ vision to cooperate in his destruction.  The crowds that cheered Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem would call for his crucifixion just days later.  Authority convinced them to act against their own best interest, and to participate in trying to kill the dream of God.

But God in Christ continued to subvert the status quo, and the expectations of tradition.  In the Resurrection, God declares that the divine dream for humanity cannot be killed off or suppressed.  It will always find a way to confront the privileged and powerful, and to continue to call the human heart and soul into the transformed life of the kingdom of God.  The revolution of the human spirit goes on, even in those moments when it seems least possible — especially in those moments.

As we enter these Great Three Days, let us consider what is our participation in the status quo.  How is God confronting us?  How is God seeking to call us lovingly into a new life?  Will we find the imagination and courage to say “Yes”?

The Practice of Hate

teach-girls-end-world-povertyI have never in my life known a time when hatred has been so acceptable.

I cannot remember a time when politics and hatred have had such a close relationship.

Hate has become acceptable in America, even fashionable.

And Christianity has been co-opted to validate much of that hatred.

I don’t think I’m telling you anything you don’t already know.  Wherever you get your news, there you will find ample testimony to the well-spring of hatred in our society.  There is no shortage of people from politicians to pundits to pastors who will tell you who you should be hating, who you should be blaming for whatever it is you are angry about.  And there is some recent evidence that all of this hate-speak is fomenting an increasing level of violence in our society, directed against those who are the targets of this venom.

No, this isn’t anything you don’t already know.  The question is, What are we going to do about it?

Fr. Gregory Boyle, the well-known Jesuit priest who founded Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles to help people escape gang violence, talks a lot about the importance of kinship.  The development of kinship is, in fact, what he says lies at the heart of Homeboy Industries, the largest and most emulated program of its kind in the nation.  Without kinship, he says, there cannot be peace and there cannot be justice.   Indeed, he says, “If kinship was our goal, we would no longer be promoting justice, we would be celebrating it.”  His insight is simple yet profound:  it is only when we recognize our kinship or intimate connection to others that we can truly become interested in their well-being, including whether or not they are being treated fairly.

It seems to me that when Fr. Boyle talks about kinship, he is talking about what Jesus was talking about when he emphasized the importance of loving our neighbor as ourselves.  Very often, I have understood this teaching to speak of a connection between the way I regard myself and the way I regard others.  But Fr. Boyle adds another dimension to this teaching, which suggests that we are meant to see a kinship between ourselves and others.  It is not a kinship that is only to be extended to our family and friends, to those who love us and who are similar to us.  As Jesus said, everybody does that.  But we are to extend our kinship to the whole human family, to everyone we encounter.   That is the way we become interested and invested in the lives of others, and that is the way we truly develop a genuine desire for their well-being.  It is from this kinship that peace and justice truly flow.

We need to stop listening and giving privilege to those voices around us that seek to pull us away from any sense of kinship with others.  Those of us who are people of faith need to insist that our traditions stop being used to justify these voices that seek to prevent us from developing kinship with one another, for these voices are out of tune with the traditions they seek to co-opt.   We must dedicate ourselves to practices that nurture kinship with one another.   For whether we choose to acknowledge it or not, the reality is that we all live together or we perish together.  Let us begin to say “No” to the voices that would seek to plant hatred in our hearts and souls, and begin to say “Yes” to the divine voice that points us toward the sacred kinship we share with one another.

In the end, I am convinced that this is the only path that will save us from the hatred that swirls in our midst.