On the eve of Good Friday…

I’m remembering two places I visited in Jerusalem. First, not surprisingly, is the Church of All Nations, which is located in Gethsemane. This may sound strange to say, but it was one of the most meaningful and beautiful churches I visited on my entire trip. It’s hard in a photograph to capture the aesthetic of the place, which is dark purples and blues, like a blanket of sadness. I’m holding that space in my mind tonight, as well as the majestic olive trees, some of which have stood just outside the Church’s doors for over a thousand years. God be with those who are suffering and alone tonight.

Secondly, I remember the Church of Gallicantu, which is debated to be the location of Caiaphas’ house, where Jesus was taken after he was arrested. As you recall, he was kept overnight before his trial the next day. I asked our guide, Nabil, whether he thought this was the place or not, and he said that some early Christians must have thought so, because they marked the hole of one of the chambers inside with a small cross as if to say, “This was the one where they kept him.” (In this photo below, you can just see the cross etched in if you look closely. Down below was the chamber.) I don’t know if this was the one or not, but I can say this: standing in that cold chamber, looking up at the hole from which they dropped prisoners down, and seeing that small cross…the aura of the place evoked something very close to a sadness of the innocents, a feeling of wrongful imprisonment which has happened to far more people than Jesus. I’m thinking about that tonight, too, and about my friend Kent who has spent his Lent in solidarity with criminals, guilty and innocent alike, by wearing an orange jumpsuit instead of his normal lawyer suit.

It’s the eve of Good Friday, and I’m sad. I’m always sad. I’ll be sad tomorrow, too, and Saturday. 

And part of me doesn’t want to say this, because it’s trite and because I firmly, deeply believe in holding space for this death and this sadness, but it’s also just true… I’ll be sad, but I also know Sunday’s coming.

So let’s go down into the darkness bravely. Let’s stay there as we must. But let’s remember the story continues, too.

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Houston with Pete Rollins

I’m excited to be doing an event in Houston on May 9-10 with the good people at Zeteo Church (which is pastored by former Journeyer Jenni Martin Fairbanks-woot!). Pete Rollins will be leading the way, dialoguing about faith, belief, doubt, and all the spaces in between.

From the event page: “By employing the figures of the Trickster, the Cynic and the Fool, the event will explore three different ways that we can engage with our political, cultural and religious beliefs. By focusing on one these figures as a subversive model for how to embrace complexity, conflict, self-examination we’ll delve into a different model for collective experience that has far reaching implications for community formation.”

I always have fun hanging out with Pete, and I’d love to see you guys there for what will surely be an interesting and stretching conversation!

You can register and find out more information about the event here.

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Moltmann: 2 Sides of Oppression

Happy Moltmann Monday, all. Today’s selection is from Experiences in Theology where Moltmann will engage mirror images of liberation theology (p.183). Before he does that, though, he reminds us of a basic precept that must undergird all our talks about ethics and justice if it is to be properly Christian (bold words mine):

The oppression of human beings by other human beings has many different faces. It can take the form of political oppression, economic exploitation, social exclusion, cultural estrangement and sexist humiliation. It takes other forms too. But it is always a crime against life. For human life is life in community and communication. Life means ‘loving your neighbor as yourself’, not ‘subdue him and make him submissive.’ To oppress other people means to cut oneself off from God too, ‘for if a man does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?’ (1 John 4:20)

Oppression always has two sides. One the one side stands the master, on the other side stands the slave. On the one side is the arrogant self-elevation of the exploiter, on the other the suffering of his victim. Oppression destroys humanity on both sides. The oppressor acts humanely, the victim is dehumanized. The evil the perpetrator commits robs him of his humanity, the suffering he inflicts dehumanizes the victim…

Because oppression always has these two sides, the liberation process has to begin on both sides, too. The liberation of the oppressed from their suffering must lead to the liberation of the oppressors from the evil they commit; otherwise there can be no liberation for a new community in justice and freedom. The goal of these reciprocal liberations cannot be anything less than a community of men and women, free of fear, in which there are no longer any oppressors, and no longer any oppressed.

The unique aspect of Christian justice is that the goal is not punishment or even a ceasing of oppression but a total reconciliation, evidenced by the creation of a community of beloved people. Justice is not about a sentence, or a verdict, or imprisonment. It’s not complete with sanctions or laws. All of these things may play an important role in the road TO justice, because as we all know, oppressors sometimes need to be contained or reconfigured to prevent them from doing further harm. But Christian justice cannot stop there, because God seeks the redemption even of the oppressor.

God’s goal is human life, vital and whole and free, lived in community with God. It is everyone seated at the table together at God’s feast, reconciled. This is why we come to the Table of communion. We live into the reality that we anticipate, where the world will be reconciled to God. We go there because it’s important for us to live into that reality now, even as we seek to be practical people of justice in the gritty today.

As always, our news feeds are flooded with stories of wars, violence, bloodshed, slavery, victimhood, oppression, economic disparity, discrimination, abuse. And as Christians, we’re allowed to be angry about that. Indeed, something’s wrong with our understanding of the gospel if we’re NOT angry about all that. But we can’t let our anger overtake us. We can’t let our anger cause us to forget that oppression has two sides, and that to truly follow the way of Jesus, we must also pray for the liberation of the oppressors who are causing harm. If we love what Jesus loves, then we must love the humanity of all people, and seek to see it restored.

So this week, let us lift up the forgotten, the oppressed, the downtrodden. Let us raise our voices for them and fight for them and seek to heal the systems that do violence to all of us. But let us also remember to pray for our enemies, because the love of God is waiting to see the redemption of their full humanity, too.

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What Do You See? A Sermon on John 9

Here’s the sermon I gave last night at Journey. It’s the last thing I’ll say about what happened at WorldVision last week. And, as with all sermons, it’s better heard than read, so I put the sarcastic bits in italics.

 

 

Today’s story from John 9—and it’s a long one—asks us the question, What do you see? And let me tell you, what we see is radically important. It affects what we believe, what we do, how we live.

Jesus and his disciples are walking along when they encounter a man blind from birth. And so, right off the bat, here’s the question: when encountering a blind man, what do you see?

The disciples, for their part, tell us what they see by the question they ask. Now, there are all kinds of questions they could have asked when they saw this: How can we help him? What makes society exclude him? What’s his story? What can we do to integrate him into the community here? Or even, Jesus can you heal him? But the question they ask, of course, is this one: Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?

What they saw was a man who was, to use a loaded phrase, depraved from birth. A man who showed physical evidence of spiritual sin. They saw a theological topic of discussion. What stood before them was the philosophical conundrum of generational sin, and what they wanted to know was, how does it work? Jesus, can you show us a flowchart of the generational effects of sin?

The disciples saw exhibit A in their philosophy course. Jesus saw a man who needed healing.

So he doesn’t take the bait. He rejects their question at its premise. Jesus answers, instead, “Neither of them sinned.” Now, the next part of verse 3 is often translated “so that.” “Neither sinned but he was blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.” This makes some people imagine this man being born blind and suffering all this time just so twenty years later Jesus can show up at the appointed time and heal him in front of other people for show. Because, you know, Jesus is like that. But this word in Greek is a transitional word. It’s used to move from one idea to the more central idea, so it can also be translated “nevertheless” which seems to make more sense. “Neither this man or his parents sinned. Nevertheless, God’s works may be revealed in him.”  You can also translate “so that” as  “Moreover.” He and his parents didn’t sin! Moreover, God’s works can be revealed in him! “Moreover” transitions the disciples from one topic (sin) to a different, more central topic (the healing work of God) without throwing Jesus under the bus as some diabolical anti-humanitarian in the process.

That’s a big change from seeing the man as a lab rat. This man can reveal what the right-side up world of God looks like. And so Jesus goes straight to what he does best, which is to heal and restore and show love.

He does this with mud, which is at least as equally impressive. Maybe he uses mud to show us it doesn’t take something entirely otherworldly to do this work. Maybe he uses mud as some symbolic, subliminal jab at our fear and preoccupation with cleanliness. Maybe he uses it just because mud feels really great squished between your hands. But mud it is, or technically dirt mixed with a little of his spit, which had to just put cleanliness freaks a little over the edge. He spreads that mud right on this guy’s face and says, “Go wash that off in the pool.” So the man does, and we know already the man begins to see. But the story continues, now with a new question: when encountering a healed man, what do we see?

The neighbors, and here we use that term loosely, questioned whether this healed man was, in fact, the previously blind man. They argue about this for a while, some saying it’s him, others saying it’s someone else. It’s clear they’ve taken good care of him, what with really knowing what he looks like.

Meanwhile the healed man is trying to help them out by just telling them the answer- it’s me! He says. I’m the man! But they kept asking him, then how were your eyes opened? So he tells them how Jesus took mud and put it on his eyes and had him wash it off and then he could see. And they ask, well where is this Jesus? And the guy says, I don’t know.

 

Everyone looks around. Nobody sees Jesus.

 

So now the neighbors decide to take this man to see the Pharisees. He’s asked the same questions, he gives the same answers. Again, responses are divided. Some say, this Jesus didn’t observe the Sabbath so he’s a sinner. Others said, then how can he perform such signs? This time, they turn voluntarily to the healed man and ask him what he thinks of Jesus. The man says, “He’s a prophet.”

The Pharisees decide they may be looking at a liar.

They call in the parents of the healed man, to verify precisely how blind he was. I mean, was he really, fully blind, or was he begging on the side of the road all these years because he just has some dark spots here and there? The parents say, no, he was fully blind from birth. Then the Pharisees ask the parents how he was healed. They know not to mention Jesus if they want to ever go back to their synagogue again. So they defer to their son. He’s of age, they say. Let him tell you.

What the parents see most prominently is not a miraculously healed son but a potential for societal rejection. And seeing this way, they acted accordingly.

The scene turns back to the healed man. The Pharisees now beg him to give glory to God by denouncing the man who just healed him of blindness. This is an impossible situation. What kind of answer can you even give to this kind of question?! The healed man sticks to the facts. “I don’t know whether he’s a sinner or not. All I know is that I was blind and now I see.” Well, this makes the Pharisees see red. Let’s read the next few verses:

They said to him, ‘What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?’ He answered them, ‘I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?’ Then they reviled him, saying, ‘You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.’ The man answered, ‘Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.’ They answered him, ‘You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?’ And they drove him out.

When the Pharisees encountered a healed man, what did they see? They saw not a healed person but a theological conundrum. How can someone perform miracles while breaking religious laws? For them, the glory of God is at stake here. The purity and righteousness of God is on the line, and it must be put even before the healing of a blind man. Give glory to God! They demand. But what they really mean is give glory to our hierarchy of holiness, where what someone does on the Sabbath is more important than what suffering and isolation a person endured every day of every year.

This conflict escalated for the same reason Jesus didn’t answer the disciples’ original question: the parties were discussing two entirely different things. The disciples wanted to know who sinned, while Jesus just wanted to heal the man. The Pharisees wanted to denounce sin, while the healed man just wanted to thank Jesus.

It seems that preoccupation with other people’s “sins” can really blind us to what is important.

Jesus gets word that the healed man has been thrown out, and he goes to look for him, and when he finds him, he asks the only on-topic question in this entire chapter, the only question in 41 verses worth asking: do you believe in the Son of Man? And the healed man answers, “Who is he? Tell me, so I can believe in him.” This guy trusts Jesus so much that he’s willing to believe by proxy in someone else. Jesus tells the man it’s him. The man says, “Lord, I believe.” And then Jesus delivers one of those cryptic lines he’s always spouting in John’s gospel. He says, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.”

At some point in this conversation, some Pharisees have come along, and they heard this last part. Part of me wonders if Jesus didn’t say it not only loud enough for them to hear it, but said it only SO they would hear it. Sure enough, they take the bait, because they are not half as smart as Jesus, which is exactly why he sets them up with sentences like this. They ask, “Surely we aren’t blind?” That’s an odd way to ask that question, isn’t it? It shows their hand, because it’s a question asked out of amusement. How funny, that this Jesus could think THEM blind?!

And Jesus says, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.”

And here is our difficult Lenten confession: when it comes to what we see, we see so little that we don’t even know where we are blind and where we are not. We assume  we’re people who see. We think we know things. But here’s the truth of the matter: We are blind to the people in front of us. We are blind to the needs of others. We are blind to our own navel-gazing self-righteousness. We are blind to what is most important because we are distracted by things that aren’t. We are blind to our own privilege, which allows us to debate things from a distance. We are blind because we can’t see the work of God when evidence is standing right in front of our faces. We are blind because we have done the wrong things, and we have left undone the right ones.

God have mercy on us. We can’t see a thing. And this is why we need Jesus. We need Jesus because his eyes are always focused where we, too, need to be looking. He shows us what it means to see, and to see rightly. And yeah, sometimes those eyes of his are blazing right on us and we know we need to change, but we never doubt for a second that he loves us, and that he believes we can do better, and that he trusts us, for some insane reason and certainly against MY better judgment, to do his work here in the world.

When I consider why I follow Jesus, it’s who he shows himself to be in stories like this that are my answer. Because if this week has reminded me of anything, it’s that humans can be self-righteous morons who are asking the wrong questions and debating actual human suffering as if it’s an idea and not a reality. And God have mercy on all of us, I’d like to see us all become more like Jesus, who did not ever debate pain in the third person. Suffering and loneliness and exclusion and discrimination were not ideas to him, or political positions- they were real, hurtful human experiences that were to be redeemed in every way possible.

This blind man was a pawn in society’s system. Every oppressed person plays this role. They are at the whims of what the social institution deems important. They are at the mercy of those of us with privilege who decide whether or not they are worth our attention. This man was also forced to play the role of the patsy. If he was the one they could point to as being born and steeped in sin, then they could feel that much better about themselves. His job was to make them—make us—feel more self-righteous. And more often than not, we will defend that system every chance we get, even if it means tossing oppressed people to the lions, or worse, simply living as if they aren’t there in the first place.

Jesus is the only one in this entire story who didn’t play this man like a pawn. He’s the only one who treated this man like a full-fledged human being, worthy of respect in his own right. Jesus healed him twice. Did you notice that? He healed his blindness, and then when the man was driven out because he wasn’t the patsy anymore, Jesus came to him and healed his isolation. This man was given a place in the beloved community of God, where there are no pawns.

Jesus is the only one who noticed this man, the only one who saw him.

I would like to be able to see like that. I think we all come here in no small measure because we’d like to be able to see like that, because we need to practice, and be reminded, and confess all the ways we don’t, and try again. That’s what Lent is for, certainly. But that’s what every day is for. Every day we can choose how we see the world. Will we notice suffering and respond? Will we leave our posts of privilege to see something or someone from a different point of view? Will we be wise enough to know which questions are worth answering, and which should be filed under “chess games?” Can we seek to create the kind of world where nobody has to play the pawn?  Will we try to see this world and all that is in it how Jesus sees?

May it be so. And thank God Easter is coming. Amen.

 

*the image at the top is an Ethiopian icon

 

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The Problem with the WorldVision conversation

If you haven’t heard, Christianity Today ran a piece about a change in WorldVision’s hiring policy. The charity organization has simply removed a clause that requires abstinence for anyone other than straight married couples to include any legally married couple, gay or straight. They still require unmarried persons to be abstinent. They still have lots of other requirements for hiring based upon orthodox Christian faith. The decision was made for the sake of unity, says President Richard Stearns. They defer to churches and denominations to decide that question (as well as states), so that they can keep their focus on their priority, which is to tackle poverty and injustice as it affects children.

OK. So- If you know me at all, you know that I have an opinion about everything. If you read this blog, you know that I do not often choose to discuss the lightning rod issue of the day, not because I don’t have opinions, but because in my opinion the biggest result of those blogs are a comment section and other blog responses that tend to bring out the worst in people. Please know, from the bottom of my heart, that is not what I’m trying to do here. But I do see a trend in Christian commentary on the day that I find very, very disturbing, and I’d like to point it out.

The problem is one of priorities. We do not know how to stack our beliefs in a meaningful way, or in a way that makes logical or theological sense. Think of it this way: imagine your beliefs are like Russian nesting dolls, one encompassing the next, until you reach the center. With regard to belief, the smallest, most inner doll is more primary. It’s most central.

With that loose metaphor in mind, the problem is that people are arguing as if EVERYTHING is the small, central doll. Every issue simply cannot be the small doll. It isn’t. Not all the dolls can be at the center. That’s problem number one. We can’t talk to each other rightly when we treat everything like the center doll.

Problem number two is that people disagree on what the smallest doll IS. I’ll just put it out there: to me, without argument, the smallest doll is to preach Christ and him crucified. Everything else moves outward from that. You can argue for the smallest doll to be something other than that, but to me, at that point you’ve ceased to be what we’ve called Christian for 2000 years. I’m going to continue my argument assuming we all agree on this.

So then the question becomes, which argument/issue is closer in? Which doll is the smaller doll, closer to the middle? Which one has priority? In the WorldVision conversation, some think it’s child poverty and injustice and others think it’s marriage. If you think the smaller doll is child poverty, then what WorldVision decides to do about their marriage policy is secondary or tertiary or quinary (5th in line…which I say only because you rarely get a chance to say quinary). If you think the smaller doll/more important issue is marriage, then you  are choosing to drop the child(ren) you sponsored through WorldVision today because of their decision.

You can probably already tell, I think the people who are planning to pull their support from WorldVision are wrong. And here’s why.

Without arguing about gay marriage specifically, can we at least discuss gay marriage in relation to poverty and injustice?

Please, feel free to get out your Bibles and a paper and pencil. Make two columns, one for each issue. Please take a moment to think about or mark the instances in which Scripture talks about each of these. What you will find is that poverty and injustice have, roughly, over 2,000 verses and sections of Scripture that discuss it. If you mark how many times Scripture talks about homosexuality, you will find 7. Those 7 include verses that are talking about something totally different than adult consensual relationships, so it’s really less than 7. I’m going to count them all because the point is the same either way.

2,000 to 7. The poverty and injustice doll is 285 times more important than the homosexuality doll. 

You may disagree on gay marriage. But it is completely and utterly implausible for a Christian to stop doing the work of justice or supporting an organization that is doing the work of justice for something that is, mathematically speaking, 285 times less important.

You can say that you are going to take that money and reinvest it in the work of justice somewhere else, and some of you will. Some of you won’t. Either way, I doubt where you’re putting that money is going to be as well-connected or well-respected as WorldVision, who has been doing this work now for a long time and has learned a lot and made a lot of strong relational connections in the process. When we’re talking about an issue as far-reaching and as serious as world poverty, we should stick with the people who seem to have figured out a good bit of this complicated process.

It’s proof to me that the arguments over gay marriage are culture wars, not Scripture wars. Because if we look at Scripture, and we’re not talking at LEAST as much about something 285 times more important, we’ve got a serious problem.

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Shamrocks and the Trinity

Happy Moltmann Monday! And, in honor of St. Patrick, who, it is said, used the shamrock to explain the Trinity to the Irish, I thought I’d quote from The Trinity and the Kingdom today. Of course, I don’t know what good old St. Patty had to say about the trinity while using the shamrock as a teaching aide. It’s hard to say much of anything about the Trinity, in my opinion, without getting yourself into theological hot water. Moltmann, but of course, spends the whole book telling us why we’ve painted ourselves into a corner for no reason, and how we should just look at the whole thing differently to clear up all these pesky problems. Here’s what he proposes, which I’m sure I’ve talked about many, many times before. It’s called perichoresis.

Only when we are capable of thinking of Persons, relations, and changes in the relations together does the idea of the Trinity lose its usual static, rigid quality. Then not only does the eternal life of the triune God become conceivable; its eternal vitality becomes conceivable, too…

The Father exists in the Son, the Son in the Father, and both of them in the Spirit, just as the Spirit exists in both the Father and the Son. By virtue of their eternal love they live in one another to such an extent, and dwell in one another to such an extent, that they are one. It is a process of most perfect and intense empathy. Precisely through the personal characteristics that distinguish them from one another, the Father, the Son and the Spirit dwell in one another and communicate eternal life to one another. In the perichoresis, the very thing that divides them becomes that which binds them together…

The unity of the trinitarian Persons lies in the circulation of the divine life which they fulfill in their relations to one another. This means that the unity of the triune God cannot and must not be seen in a general concept of divine substance. That would abolish the differences… The Persons cannot and must not be reduced to three modes of being of one and the same divine subject. The Persons themselves constitute both their differences and their unity.

Here’s why I think we have such a difficult time talking about the Trinity: we just cannot imagine the kind of mutually beneficial, mutually indwelling, mutually respecting relationship that is shared between Father, Son and Spirit. To hinge the whole thing on the relationship seems impossible, and highly vulnerable, like they could suffer a “deity break-up” at any moment. Or it seems idealistic, or soft, or too emotional or something. So what we do, in order to feel a sense of control over this, is create these stalwart philosophical and theological declarations which show how God MUST work out logically to be three and one at the same time. But the Trinity isn’t based on logic. It is based on love. 

It is based on and exists as the very same steadfast and faithful love that binds God to us. Love and mercy that are unconditional and free and everlasting? That’s as illogical as one can get. It doesn’t make it any less real, or true. And it doesn’t mean it doesn’t make sense, either. It makes total sense–far more sense than all the philosophical leaps and twists we often have to do to hold onto many of the other trinitarian arguments.

We’re perhaps too skeptical to imagine the kind of unity that can have space even for difference, even for distinct Persons, and be strong enough in love to hold them together in total mutual reciprocity. But that’s what the biblical history of God shows us, time and again. Within the life of God, there is never-ending love. Within God’s relationship with God’s people, there is never-ending love.

The most important thing about the Trinity is not the substance or the subject, although we’ve got to talk about those. The center of the Trinity is perichoretic love, a mutual indwelling that does not eclipse one Person into the other but keeps them completely connected and yet distinct.

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On Death, and Life after Death

Well, it’s Lent, which means some of us are thinking about death. So this week’s Moltmann Monday quote is from The Coming of God, where Moltmann is talking about eternal life and personal eschatology. Since this is where I think much of American Christianity has a tendency to go off the rails, I thought it might do us some good to hear what my dear beloved German friend has to say about it.

The thought of death and a life after death is ambivalent. It can deflect us from this life, with its pleasures and pains. It can make life here a transition, a step on the way to another life beyond–and by doing so it can make this life empty and void. It can draw love away from this life and direct it towards a life hereafter, spreading resignation in ‘this veil of tears.’ The thought of death and a life after death can lead to fatalism and apathy, so that we only live life here half-heartedly, or just endure it and ‘get through.’…(It) can cheat us of the happiness and the pain of this life, so that we squander its treasures, selling them off cheap to heaven…The notion that this life is no more than a preparation for a life beyond, is the theory of a refusal to live, and a religious fraud. It is inconsistent with the living God, who is a ‘lover of life.’ In that sense it is religious atheism.

But if we have ever been close to death and have escaped some deadly peril, we know the feeling that life has been given back to us…We then suddenly realize with a blinding awareness what living really means. So the thought of death and a life after death doesn’t have to deflect us from this life; it can also give this life a new depth…It doesn’t have to make us indifferent; it can make us fully and wholly capable of love.

Life after death can be used as a really dangerous form of escapism. I’ve seen it time and again, when someone is having a hard time in life and the response is to deny or downplay the current situation because, after all, we’re just waiting for heaven. This does a number of things that, to me, are categorically unChristian. First, Christians ought to be extremely brave. We are the people who willingly mark ourselves with ashes. We are the ones who follow a Savior who died a gruesome death. We have a history filled with martyrs and prophets and people taking advantage of our commitment to the gospel. The last thing we should be doing when faced with a hard time is to try to escape it. We ought to have the mettle to face it, and to know it’s going to be ok. And, if “it’s” not going to be ok, then we have faith that God will eventually be all in all, which is more than ok. Theoretically, Christians should be able to sit with their own struggles and pains, and should be able to sit with others, too, because this is at the heart of what it means to be Christ’s followers. Escapism just has no place here. Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem, guys. Let’s not use him as an excuse to run away.

The second thing is that it sets up an unbiblical sense of the afterlife, which includes some out-there or up-there heaven rather than the thing we have confessed as Christians since the beginning: Jesus is coming HERE to redeem things. He’s not coming back and then zooming his favorites back up into the ether. Whatever it means for Christ to come again to judge the living and the dead, it doesn’t mean any earth escapism. So: no individual escapism, no earth escapism. Here is here, and here matters. What happens, what we experience, what pain we feel- it counts. To deny this in any way is to practice what Moltmann boldly labels “religious fraud” and “religious atheism.” We follow the Living God. Not the biding-time-until-something-happens-later God.

What happens when we orient ourselves fully to this world, and to the lives and bodies in which we live in this world, is that life is given back to us. And then, our resulting hope for life after death is a hope which only increases our passion for life, our love for it, our defense of it, our desire for it to be good and full and beautiful and meaningful and just. That’s when we reach toward not “heaven” in the way we’ve contrived it, but eternal life. And that’s a really, really important distinction.

This is what we are heading toward in Lent. And yes, to get to eternal life at Easter, we’ve got to go through ashes first. We’ve got to enter into the fullness of our humanity, which includes our own death. We get marked by it because we aren’t people who run away. We are people who set our face toward God’s future with hope. It’s what allows us to be marked with ashes. It’s what allows us to consider what we ought to give up, or let go, as we practice walking this road to Easter. Lent shouldn’t be used as a form of escapism, either. It’s a way to grab more tightly onto this life we’re living. Where can I invest more? Where should I loosen my hold? What needs building, and what needs removing? If you tend toward some kind of escapism, maybe Lent is the time to ask yourself why, and consider how you might instead invest more deeply.

Lent is the least morbid thing we can do. It’s the thing we do to help us be deep lovers of life, so intent on living it rightly and fully that we will focus our energies on it intently for 40 days, so that we can look more like the Lover of Life who we claim to follow. Let’s not use God as an excuse to hit the escape button or the deny button or the ignore button. Let’s look at our lives, and pay good attention.

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Moltmann on the Marks of the Church

Happy Moltmann Monday, all! Since we’ve been talking about church, I thought I’d share from The Church in the Power of the Spirit today. It’s from one of the last chapters entitled “The Marks of the Church” where Moltmann discusses what he believes the “one, holy, catholic church” (Apostles Creed) or the “one, holy, catholic, apostolic church” (Nicene Creed) mean. We’ll jump right in:

 If we see them as the conditions (criteria) of the true church then we look for what distinguishes it from the false church, and ask what the premises are for fellowship between the different churches. If we see them as the signs (signa) or characteristics (notae) of the church, then we ask about the form by which it can be recognized in the world and their character as testimony. It is therefore important to substantiate these statements about the church theologically and fully if we are to legitimate their use and avoid one-sidedness.

The statements about the church are a component part of the creed. They are made by faith, and unless they are made in faith they lose their meaning…This distinguishes the ‘characteristics’ of the church named here from the characteristics of any other object of experience…They are consequently not merely distinguishing marks, but creedal marks as well…

If the church acquires its existence through the activity of Christ, then her characteristics, too, are characteristics of Christ’s activity first of all. The acknowledgement of the ‘one, holy, catholic and apostolic church’ is acknowledgment of the uniting, sanctifying, comprehensive and commissioning lordship of Christ. In so far they are statements of faith. The unity of the church is not primarily through the unity of her members, but the unity of Christ who acts upon them all, in all places and at all times…The holiness of the church is not initially the holiness of her members or her cultic assemblies; it is the holiness of the Christ who acts on sinners….The catholicity of the church is not initially her spacial extent or the fact that she is in principle open to the world; it is the limitless lordship of Christ, to whom ‘all authority is given in heaven and on earth.’.. Her apostolic character is also to be understood in the framework of the mission of Christ and the Spirit. Founded by Christ’s apostles in the Spirit, her charge is the apostolate in the world.

Well. That’s just lovely, isn’t it? Moltmann continues this section by describing these attributes also as statements of hope, and statements of action. We begin with our reality grounded in the reality of who Jesus is and not what the church is, but we are then called into action by our faith, by our hope, by our actions.

That’s a pretty healthy approach to being and doing church, guys. I’ll take it.

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