Immediately following the election of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio as Pope came the predictable speculation. From the United States and other wealthy nations, folks wondered what the new Pope would say about issues related to gender and human sexuality. What about birth control, homosexuality, and women’s leadership in the church? Did the new Pope really support civil unions for gay and lesbian couples in Argentina, as some reported? Others, including many from Latin America, Africa, and parts of Asia responded to Pope Francis’ commitment to a simple lifestyle and his commitment to economic justice. While some fretted about his relationship with the Argentinian military dictatorship during the 1970s and 1980s, most have been impressed with his social witness. In one of his first public acts, Pope Francis entered a youth detention center in Rome and washed the feet of young offenders.
Lots of observers might wonder, “Why is the church expending so much energy on controversial social issues? Shouldn’t the church focus on spiritual matters rather than concerns of the flesh? Why does the church need to meddle in matters that lie beyond its purview?”
The Easter stories offer a direct answer. Whether we agree with the Pope or not, Christians care about human bodies. The resurrection story implies that bodies matter. Jesus’ resurrection is not merely a spiritual thing – the apparition of his ghost, or his ongoing spiritual influence. The Gospels all insist that the resurrection includes Jesus’ body.
In some way or other, I think it’s safe to say that we all have a kind of nostalgia for the innocence and purity of the Garden of Eden before what we call “the fall.” We have a sense that we are not supposed to be outside the gates of the Garden … out here. At the expulsion of the man and the woman in the story from Genesis, the cherubim (angels) are posted at the gate to be sure that those who have been expelled cannot get back in. The cherubim and a twirling, flaming sword keep Adam, Eve — you, me, all of us — on this side of the gate, outside the Garden of Eden.
Well it’s a story, of course, but isn’t it our story? Nostalgic for a world where nothing ever goes wrong. But illness comes, a marriage goes bad, a relationship with someone you love falls apart just when you think it’s to lead to something more permanent, you lose a job, you suffer depression, you suffer from an illness, you’re left alone in grief over the loss of a loved one. Or you yourself are dying, and there are wars and rumors of wars. We watch the children and wish that we could protect them, but we can’t, even though we are parents and grandchildren, aunts and uncles. Out here, outside the Garden, it’s rough sometimes.
(The Controversial figure Rob Bell has created another firestorm with his latest provocative book What We Talk About When We Talk About God. Raven Foundation Education Director, Adam Ericksen and Tripp Hudgins will share our thoughts on the book in this blogalogue. We invite you to join the discussion by leaving a comment below.)
Tripp Hudgins always gets me thinking. He is right that Rob’s chapter “Open” in What We Talk About When We Talk About God is about science and religion but that it’s also not about science and religion. This is the longest chapter of the book, and it’s full of scientific information that points to the mystery of the material world. What’s the point? As Tripp states, Rob is “asking for a little humility. He’s asking for a little poetic imagination. He’s asking for curiosity.”
That’s the point of the next chapter, too. Titled “Both,” in this chapter Rob points out a major problem we have with “God-talk.” That problem is language. Tripp set me up for this at the end of his post by asking, “Are words actually enough? Ha! Write about that. Words. Words. Words.”
When I was in seminary I learned about apophatic theology, or negative theology. It tries to define God by what God is not. A 9th century apophatic theologian named John Scottus Eriugena asserted, “We do not know what God is. God Himself does not know what He is because He is not anything. Literally, God is not because He transcends being.”
For the sake of the world, we should all be feminists. And given what we know about the role of independent, empowered women in the community of disciples, for the sake world, we might be “Christians.”
Raymond Brown, the late, great scholar of John, writes: “In this Gospel, where light and darkness play such a role, darkness lasts until someone believes in the risen Jesus.”
Therefore no darkness, no heartbreak, no grief, no injustice can long stand where the Risen Christ is proclaimed. Jesus Christ is the light of the world. The light shines in the darknessa and the darkness does not — cannot — will not overcome the light.
In Christianity’s passage through Holy Week to Easter Day, a moment of truth will arrive.
Every detail is well known, thoroughly studied, and dramatized by Hollywood and homespun pageants — and the familiar story will reach across the divide and touch, or try to touch, every person who is listening and watching.
Many will get it, especially if they live in circumstances where people get falsely accused by the self-righteous; where the weak and vulnerable get mistreated by the powerful; where physical suffering is a daily occurrence; where death seems like the only next option.
That audience could well comprise the bulk of humanity — those who endure poverty, starvation, and violence of epic proportions, those who live in more prosperous lands and yet are the oppressed, the ignored, the expendable.
For that audience, the Gospel message is profoundly good news.
“Liturgical celebration is a re-entrance of the Church into the event, and this means not merely its ‘idea,’ but its living and concrete reality.”
—Fr. Alexander Schmemann
You and I bring our life experiences with us when we gather with other Christ followers for worship. Everything that has happened to us on our pilgrimage in this world accompanies us, in fact, wherever we go.
Our past is part of what makes us unique persons. What we have endured and felt and accomplished informs our conversations and often helps determines our actions in the present moment. This is what it means to be human.
I awoke in the middle of the night last evening and walked the house in the dark. Kenneth and Caitlin were still stirring, as the older children sometimes do on the weekend. As I climbed the stairs back to our room I felt a wave of gratitude.
Here we are all under one roof for who knows how much longer, yet such a privilege to still be together even as four of seven attend college and work hard and make us proud as they figure out what's next.
I got back into bed and Debbie put her arm around me in her sleep. I said "I love you," and she whispered, half-asleep "I love you, too," and for that moment all was well, and I had a sense that all would be well in the future, come what may.
As I lay there in the stillness, an encounter from five years ago came back to me in vivid color. I had just preached the funeral of a man taken unexpectedly following a routine surgery. I was at the wake afterward and sat next to an unassuming man in his mid-50s whose suit was impeccable and whose polite manners suggested a quiet grace and a bearing of humility in his obvious accomplishments, but also a bit of world-weariness.
Yesterday the Lord Awoke.
You see, God had been sleeping. Entombed again. How long, O Lord, must we sing this song of You Entombed? We bury you again and again. We crucify you again and again. Then, when you show us (again and again) that death cannot contain you, we run away. We're afraid. We cannot imagine a world in which Death has no sting. We cannot imagine a world in which Death does not hold the last word and our ability to deal in Death doesn't empower us.
The Gospel of St. Matthew, Chapter 28 tells us:
The angel spoke to the women: "There is nothing to fear here. I know you're looking for Jesus, the One they nailed to the cross. He is not here. He was raised, just as he said. Come and look at the place where he was placed.
"Now, get on your way quickly and tell his disciples, 'He is risen from the dead. He is going on ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there.' That's the message."
Poetry is language made material.
It presents us with objects and the world, yes, that is part of its materiality, but it also – and perhaps fundamentally – makes our very language into a thing, rather than simply a medium. Like remembering that you exist in time, and becoming aware of your temporality, poetry takes what we are always immersed in and says, Remember; become aware.
Thus it is like all art a meditative practice. You must slow down, quiet yourself, and actively receive – a strange gesture, perhaps paradoxical, but one that is, if nothing else, prayer. And so for Holy Week, I want to present four (mostly) contemporary poems that can direct meditation without limiting it, that can engage prayer in our physical existence and the existence of the Resurrection as event, that can slow one down, that can build sensual memory of the acts we do and life we live in constant remembrance of it, of Him.
It had been more than a week since the doctors had moved me into the ICU, and more than a week since I had tasted anything liquid.
My tongue was dry and felt like leather. At night, I would watch the machines around me blink. The IV bags hung next my bed and scattered the light across sterile white walls.
I tried not to cry when I could no longer control my bowels. I lay there in my own filth waiting for a nurse to rescue me.
I came into the world unable even to clean myself and now it seemed I would leave it in the same state.
Finally the nurse arrived to help me.
“I’m thirsty,” I told her. “May I have an ice cube?”
She said no.
“Please? My mouth is so dry. Just an ice cube,” I begged.
Oxygen tubes inserted into my nostrils had rubbed my nose raw. I pulled them out.
I felt relief. I watched the numbers drop on the LCD screen. An alarm sounded.
I tried to put the tubes back when the nurse ran in.
“Mr. King, you need the oxygen,” she chided, skillfully replacing al the tubes and checking all the machines and medicines that flanked my hospital bed — all the things that were keeping me alive.