Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Barth on Christian Community and Civil Community: Polling Place Meditations for Election Day 2016

"The church is witness of the fact that the Son of man came to seek and to save the lost. And this implies that- casting all false impartiality aside- the Church must concentrate first on the lower and lowest levels of human society. The poor, the socially and economically weak and threatened, will always be the object of its primary and particular concern, and it will always insist on the State's special responsibility for these weaker members of society. That it will bestow its love on them, within the framework of its own task (as part of its service), is the one thing and the most important thing; but it must not concentrate on this and neglect the other thing to which it is committed by its political responsibility: the effort to achieve such a fashioning of the law as will make it impossible of ‘equality before the law’ to become a cloak under which strong and weak, independent and dependent, rich and poor, employers and employees, in fact receive different treatment at its hands: the weak being unduly restricted, the strong unduly protected. The church must stand for social justice in the political sphere.(Christian Community and Civil Community, 173). 
As we walk to our polling places and fill out our ballots, may this frame our work and witness as the people of God in the public sphere. May our voices echo those whom Jesus leveraged, befriended, and called blessed (Matthew 5:1-12).

Monday, April 18, 2016

The Prophetic and Idolatrous Power of Instead


The seven letter word can be the greater motivator of change. Instead of _______, let’s try ___________.  Instead can leverage creative thinking and alternative realities to what has always been done but no longer works. Instead can be a fulcrum for new possibilities in the midst of perceived irrelevance and dysfunction. The utterance of instead can provoke hope in the midst of complacency and the absence of individual and corporate imagination. 

Instead can lead people to change careers in light of a newly discovered call, to pick up and move as they work to alleviate poverty and various forms of injustice, or to surrender possessions and privilege for the sake of those who are most in need of solidarity and advocacy. 

Throughout history, great movements of justice and liberation have been sparked by those who pondered and lived into a particular instead.  These days, instead even frames new paradigms for organizing and sustaining the church and related initiatives for being God's people in the world. 

But instead can also distract us from the sacred now. Instead can place a wedge between and blind us to our neighbors and loved ones right in front of us. Instead can be the liturgical refrain within the temples of angst, envy, and ingratitude, recited as we offer the present moment as regular sacrifice to the idols of what we think we could be, should be, or want to be doing instead.  

Yet the call of the Christian is to live in the now as an agent of God’s grace, assured of our appointment that undergirds our work and witness right where we are. 

Remember Esther, "God has called you for such a time as this…"

Richard Rohr says it this way:
“It is living in the naked now, the ‘sacrament of the present moment,’ that will teach us how to actually experience our experiences, whether good, bad, or ugly, and how to let them transform us.  Words by themselves will invariably divide the moment; pure presence lets it be what it is, as it is.” (The Naked Now 12)
So where you work, live, and serve in this moment is where you are supposed to be for now.  Whether a working professional, social worker, doctor, stay-at-home parent in the suburbs, community organizer in the city, public high school teacher, international mission co-worker, church administrator, entrepreneurial innovator, or ecclesiastical leader, God has called you to sacred work in that time and place- in the sacrament of the present moment. 

So when you sit in a pew in the back of a church, wrangling children as they color on bulletins while others lead from the front and preach in the pulpit, we are both where God intended. There is no instead. 

But there is an until. And when that day comes, if our newly found instead hinges on prophetic witness rooted in God’s compassion and love versus idolatrous discontent fueled by envy and angst, we will be far more prepared and ready for what the Spirit stirs when that day comes. 

The difficulty is discerning between the two insteads

That takes more than a blogpost; instead takes an entrusted community of faith, hope, and love. 

Friday, March 25, 2016

Stop! No More of This Betrayal: Maundy Thursday and Good Friday Reflections 

“But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table.” (Luke 22:21)

Jesus’ preclusion that Judas would betray does not exactly make it into our regular invitations to the table- come all you who will betray the Christ. We redact this portion out of our familiar sacramental liturgy.

Except for Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. Here, when we pass the bread and cup, we recognize the way in which we often identify more with Judas than the other eleven who reclined alongside Jesus in upper room. We are those whose hands cling to the Eucharistic table one moment and deny the crucified and risen One the next. We are those who are complicit with the powers that be and the social norms that are as we hand over the innocent for the sake of our personal and systemic gain. We are those who kiss the face of Christ only to run away as prisoners to fear, cowardice, and an inability to imagine the kingdom of God truly being able to make a difference and break into the madness of our world. 

As the hymn goes, “This night injustice joins its hand to treasons…” (This Is the Night, #206)

Maundy Thursday, when we remember the new commandment to love one another, also exposes Judas as parable for each of us and the church at large. We are called to faith yet caught within the lures of duplicitous politics of privilege and narratives of self-preservation that betray our call and witness. 

Much like the disciples, who reach for their swords and resort to old tricks of injustice and myths of redemptive violence, we need the words of Christ these days: 

“Stop! No more of this!” 

In the midst of endless streams of ignorance, discrimination, and fear of the other, Jesus says to the wayward church and world- Stop. No More of this betrayal. 

As calls to bear arms come from pulpits and faith leaders, politicians and social media feeds, and violence is assumed as able to solve violence, Jesus says to the wayward church and world- Stop. No More of this betrayal. 

When tempted to build higher walls and endorse legislation that prevents those fleeing instability and oppression from finding safety and security in our land, Jesus says to the wayward church and world- Stop. No More of this betrayal. 

When our personal, congregational, and corporate budgets exploit those who have less access and opportunity, Jesus says to the wayward church and world- Stop. No More of this betrayal.  

The list could go on and on and on...

Each of us are indeed welcome to the table on Maundy Thursday and every day we institute the sacrament. We also remember our hands are often joined with both those of Christ and those of injustice and treason. Thanks be to God for Good Friday, when Christ once and for all said, "enough," as invitation to cease our betrayal and embrace renewed faithfulness in the midst of a world desperate for resurrected hope and welcome. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

A Much Needed Holy Week & Barth's Warning Against Cloud Cuckooland

I need Holy Week. If it didn’t come every year, I wonder if I would ever stop to pause and reenact the drama from waved palms to upper room, wooden cross to empty tomb. I wonder if the story would be reduced to statements and doctrines, mere words on lifeless pages unable to inspire an alternative to the absurdity of the world around us. 

Thankfully, Holy Week annually confronts us and demands a pause on our pilgrimage as we linger in the same questions, mysteries, and lament that perplexed disciples two millennia ago.  Holy Week reminds us no matter how dark and troubled the world may be, God is with us and for us as those who follow a crucified Christ and embrace our call to bear cruciform witness right where we are:
“So we must not escape from this life. We must not take flight to a better land, or to some height or other unknown, nor to any spiritual Cloud Cuckooland nor to a Christian fairyland. God has come into our life in its utter unloveliness and frightfulness…We are not left alone in this frightful world. Into this alien land God has come to us.” (Karl Barth, Dogmatics in Outline 109). 
What I need most each Holy Week are the echoes of our agency within versus escape from this frightful world.  I need the seven-days of this liturgical narrative to leverage the cries for deliverance, prayers of forgiveness, movements of reconciliation, incarnations of enemy love, and demonstrations of nonviolent resistance in the midst of systems bent towards the powerful, drunk on privilege, and promoted by fear of the “other.”  

I need the hinge of Holy Week- a God who identifies with those who are victimized by whatever -ism the world invents and sustains through oppressive "norms." I need Holy Week to remind me that I am to be on their side, too. 

Then I need Holy Week to shape the other 51 weeks of the year as we cling to rumors of resurrection in light of overwhelming realities of death and despair.

What I don't need is Cloud Cuckooland. 

*I wonder if this is a bit of what Barth was warning us against, an escape to some naive and anarchist by and by disengaged from the real sufferings of God's beloved world. Who knew the writers of The Lego Movie were Barthians...?