Have we lost our souls?

I grew up understanding that I should live by the Golden Rule. In modern terminology, it might be expressed this way: “Treat others like you want to be treated.” When I was older, I realized that there is a version of that in all of the world’s major religions.

I also grew up with the understanding that love is the greatest commandment of all. “Love God with all your being…love your neighbor as you love yourself.”

And this…”Whatever you do to the least of these, you do to me.”

I also grew up reading (and in choir, singing) the last part of the poem by Emma Lazarus that is engraved on the Statue of Liberty. But the entire poem is worth reading today:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

And then I look around my country today…and the religion I have claimed…and I don’t recognize either of them.

Christianity–or what claims to be Christianity by so many people–seems so far removed from what I learned as a child. And my country–a place of freedom and hope, even if / when imperfectly expressed–now seems to have turned its back on the promise engraved on the Statue of Liberty.

do recognize that there are problems that we need to deal with re: immigration. But to separate frightened children from their one source of comfort? and then issue directives to staff that they are not to physically comfort them? To tell parents who are fleeing violence and oppression that if they come into this country–whether illegally or legally seeking asylum–their children will be removed from them without them having a chance to explain what is going on (if they can even understand themselves what is happening)…and to tell them they don’t know if they will see their children again?

I used to wonder how good people could have done what many Nazis did. What happened to their consciences? Did they not have any empathy for those parents and children? How were they able to separate parents from children and then go home without a qualm to play with their own children?

I used to think that we would never be like that. But I’m afraid that I’m wrong.

My own faith tradition believes that God continues to speak to us today. When I go back to re-read some of that contemporary guidance, I am challenged and convicted.

There are subtle, yet powerful, influences in the world, some even claiming to represent Christ, that seek to divide people and nations to accomplish their destructive aims. That which seeks to harden one human heart against another by constructing walls of fear and prejudice is not of God. Be especially alert to these influences, lest they divide you or divert you from the mission to which you are called.

God, the Eternal Creator, weeps for the poor, displaced, mistreated, and diseased of the world because of their unnecessary suffering. Such conditions are not God’s will. Open your ears to hear the pleading of mothers and fathers in all nations who desperately seek a future of hope for their children. Do not turn away from them. For in their welfare resides your welfare.

I pray that we will find our souls again before it is too late…for all of us.

 

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WWJD

WWJD? Remember those wristbands that were popular a few years ago with those letters on them? WWJD?

What would Jesus do?

If you wore that wristband, what did it mean to you? Was it just a nice thought? Or were you wearing it to say “I am the representative of Jesus to those I meet…and so how should I behave so that they see Jesus in me?”

Jesus wasn’t an easy person to follow! He didn’t just go along with the way things were…he challenged the status quo big time! He spent time with the marginalized…those who were considered unclean, who weren’t welcome in the “nice” settings. He wasn’t particularly concerned about keeping the letter of the law; he was more concerned about the spirit of the law being in the heart. He saw all people as being worth God’s love–and he made sure they knew it.

So…

WWJD? What would Jesus do today?

If you are his follower, what are you doing today so that people see Jesus in you? There aren’t easy answers to that question. But it’s an important question to ask.

There’s another question that I think goes along with this…If you were arrested for being a follower of Jesus, would there be enough evidence to convict you?

We’re each going to respond differently to those questions. But for those of us who claim to be followers of this guy who spent his entire life upsetting the way things were, how are we upsetting the status quo in ways that acknowledge the worth of each individual? What would Jesus do? What are we doing?

Whose church is it?

In Germany in the 1930s, Christianity had in many ways become a partner to the Nazi movement. Many pastors agreed with the Nazi ideology and supported laws and statements that were issued by its leaders. A major focus of this partnership was a reinterpretation of Christianity as an Aryan religion that had no Jewish influences–and that there were “undesirable elements” that weakened the country and should be removed for the “greater good” (i.e., mentally and physically disabled, members of the LGBT and Romany [Gypsy] communities, Jews).

There were others who watched this co-option of German Christianity with horror, and at Barmen, representatives of various Protestant leaders came together to create a declaration now known as the Barmen Declaration that defined their opposition to any interpretation of Christianity based on racial theories. This placed members of their churches in direct political opposition to the government.

Today there are leaders of American Christianity who see a similar need. Far too many who claim to follow Jesus are supporting statements and actions that are in contradiction to what the Jesus of the gospels preached and how he acted.

In response to this concern, a number of American church leaders gathered in a retreat during Lent 2018 and have created a declaration for this time and this political environment. It is a call to the followers of Jesus to think again about what it means to truly live as his followers.

As in the Barmen Declaration, there are six specific declarations in the document titled Reclaiming Jesus. You can read the entire document at the link, but a short version of the concerns and responses follows below:

  1. We believe each human being is made in God’s image and likeness….Therefore, we reject the resurgence of white nationalism and racism in our nation on many fronts, including the highest levels of political leadership.
  2. We believe we are one body. In Christ, there is to be no oppression based on race, gender, identity, or class….Therefore, we reject misogyny, the mistreatment, violent abuse, sexual harassment, and assault of women that has been further revealed in our culture and politics, including our churches, and the oppression of any other child of God.
  3. We believe how we treat the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the stranger, the sick, and the prisoner is how we treat Christ himself….Therefore, we reject the language and policies of political leaders who would debase and abandon the most vulnerable children of God.
  4. We believe that truth is morally central to our personal and public lives…Therefore, we reject the practice and pattern of lying that is invading our political and civil life.
  5. We believe that Christ’s way of leadership is servanthood, not domination….Therefore, we reject any moves toward autocratic political leadership and authoritarian rule.
  6. We believe Jesus when he tells us to go into all nations making disciples. Our churches and our nations are part of an international community….Therefore, we reject “America first” as a theological heresy for followers of Christ.

The creators of this document call us to think again about whose church it is that we belong to…and what it means to go deeper into our relationship with God and with each other, especially across racial, ethnic, and national lines–and deeper into our relationships with those who are the most vulnerable.

Many of us believe that we are living in a time of darkness–but we also have hope in the one whom John calls “the light of the world.” This declaration calls us to share that light…and to live in response to the commandments to love God with all our being and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Jesus said that all the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments.

What will we do?

 

Church? When?

I grew up at a time when life was–in many ways–less hectic. And there were some times that were sacrosanct…kept free. Wednesday nights and Sundays were reserved…for church.

And the blue laws were still in effect. For those too young to remember, that meant that stores weren’t open on Sundays either. If you’d forgotten to buy something on Saturday that you were going to need on Sunday, that was too bad. You’d have to improvise!

But time moved on…and religion began to take a less important place in our lives–at least, in some ways. And sports began to take a bigger part. There were more and more opportunities for kids…and because more kids wanted to take part, the times when sports were scheduled began to expand…and moved into those previously sacred times.

So here we are now. Often there are rehearsals on Wednesday nights…and games on Sundays.

And yet, we seem to do church the same way we did all those years ago. And it’s not working…not well.

So…what do we do?

Yes, there are many people for whom Sunday morning church still works. I’m not advocating doing away with it, because I know that time and experience are still important parts of their schedules.

But there are many, many others for whom “traditional” church and traditional church time don’t work. Maybe because of jobs…maybe because of school activities…maybe because of sports or dance or other activities that their kids are involved in.

So can we look at some new possibilities?

  • Does church have to be on Sunday morning?
  • Does it have to be formal?
  • What if we set up some meetings in homes (house churches)?
  • What if we didn’t actually have a sermon?
  • What if we did a “chat and chow” activity?
  • What if we met at a bookstore? a Starbucks?
  • What if we met in the evening?
  • Could we create online communities of worshipers?

I’m sure there are other possibilities…I am still tied enough to traditional understandings of church that I find it a bit difficult to think outside the box. But I think it’s important to, because there are a lot of folks who are searching but not finding a spiritual home in our Sunday morning services.

I still love those services–they meet many of my needs. But I’m also excited about the possibilities that are out there…and trying to listen for where the Holy Spirit is calling us (me…) to go.

A resurrected church…

As we begin to move beyond Easter towards Pentecost, I’ve been musing a bit.

At Easter, we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. I know there are many perspectives on that experience…but it got me wondering.

What would a resurrected church look like?

I wonder if that’s what we’re experiencing today?

I hear many people bemoaning the fact that “Christianity is dying”…that congregations are closing…that young people are leaving (in droves)…. Maybe so.

But maybe what we’re experiencing is the death of something that has to die in order for a new, transformed movement to arise. A movement that truly lives out the Golden Rule…that bases its life experiences and worship on what Jesus said were the two greatest commandments–to love God with all our being and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. A movement that delights in the diversity of God’s creation…that sees humanity as stewards of creation, not consumers.

Moving towards resurrection is not easy. It’s hard to allow something to die, to let go of something that has perhaps formed us for many years.

But maybe…just maybe…it’s necessary. After all, a seed is just a seed until it dies to what it was…and becomes something else…something new and transformed.

And maybe…just maybe…in the dying of the church, we’ll regain the transformative experience of Pentecost when lives were changed…when the world was changed.

“Do you want to be healed?”

A number of years ago, I wrote a poem based on the incident in John 5:1-15–when Jesus encountered an invalid at the Pool of Bethsaida who had been waiting for thirty-eight years for someone to help him into the pool when the water was first stirred up (according to tradition, by an angel) so that he could be healed. I’ve found it interesting that Jesus’ first question to him was “Do you want to be healed?”

I thought of that this week, as I began reading a book that I’m going to be working through with my spiritual advisor – Healing Spiritual Wounds by Carol Howard Merritt. As I was spending some intentional quiet time after reading the first chapter, I started to do some journaling, a spiritual practice that has been effective for me.

To my surprise, the first thought that came to mind was the title of this post: “Do you want to be healed?”

If you’ve read my blog for very long, you know that I went through a very difficult dark night of the soul a few years ago…a dark night that lasted about three years. By the grace of God, I was able to come through it–and I have felt very much that significant healing took place.

But as I’ve thought about it, I’ve realized that healing is not a one-time event or activity; it’s a journey.

My journey of healing actually began about forty years ago, when–due to some circumstances that had taken me to the end of my rope–I had several sessions of counseling that helped me uncover some areas of pain I had not even been aware of. My counselor helped me bring them to the light so that they could be healed.

So when I was trying to find a way through the dark night, the idea of counseling was not something I balked at. Instead, I recognized that–again–there were areas of woundedness that needed healing…that I could not heal on my own. My counselor at that time was a great help.

And so, as the time has gone on, I had thought that the wounds in my life had all been healed.

But then I borrowed this book from the library and–as I read through it–felt that it was one I needed to spend more time with. So I bought it…and now am beginning working through it.

So…do I want to be healed?

Sometimes that’s a difficult question to answer. Sometimes it feels easier to hang on to the hurts we’ve experienced; they’re comfortable, in an odd sort of way. And healing may require confrontation–with myself and with the past. It may cause me to discover things about my attitude that I don’t really want to know.

But life without healing isn’t really life.

So yes, I do want to be healed. It’s not necessarily an easy journey or process…it takes courage and trust. But yes, I do want to be healed–to be made whole…to live in the spirit of shalom.

Unity IN diversity…

Unity…diversity. Those two words seem to be complete opposites, and putting them together an oxymoron. In fact, if we were to try, most of us would probably try something like “diversity in unity.” That version might make at least some sense…

But to reverse them? to say “Unity in diversity”? How is that possible?

I’ve been thinking about that because of a class I just recently taught…and because one of the emphases in my faith tradition is just that: “Unity in diversity.”

So what does that mean to me? It’s difficult..but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

If we separate the two words, my thoughts might go something like this:

  • Unity – working towards the same goal; being whole.
  • Diversity – being different

And when I look at those ideas, it’s kind of challenging to see how they might go together.

But there are other aspects to their definitions, according to Merriam-Webster:

  • Unity –  a totality of related parts; an entity that is a complex or systematic whole
  • Diversity – composed of different elements

When I look at those ideas, then the concept of “unity in diversity” becomes much more possible and makes more sense.

We–as a society/church/group–can be unified when we recognize that we are part of a complex system, made up of related parts. But all the parts make one. Diversity recognizes that multiplicity of those related parts.

And when we put that together as a concept of “unity in diversity,” I can acknowledge our differences in background, life experiences, understandings, and even beliefs…but at the same time recognize that there is something as the foundation of that diversity that makes us a whole.

Hard to understand? You bet!

Hard to live? Oh yeah!

There are times when it seems impossible to achieve agreement, but at those times, we need to commit to ongoing dialogue–to really work at listening to each other and not talk past each other. And at those times, it is important for us to acknowledge that our inability to agree on issues that affect each others’ lives is hurtful–both to humanity and to all of creation.

But it can happen…it can be lived, if we allow the Divine to work within us.