Tag Archives: Christ

Advent: That “c” word is with us, for better or worse

The season ahead signifies a most incredible claim: that God does not live in the clouds beyond but right here, now, among us. Christians call it Advent, which means exactly that, Christ with us. It signifies the birth of a very human man, Jesus, who made outlandish claims to be the Son of God.

This Thanksgiving, a kickoff to Advent on the spiritual calendar, I am trying to think about all the human challenges ahead, about how I can resist hate and not become hateful, how I can listen more, and what in the end is really important. I want to consider more deeply, what brings me purpose, joy and a glad heart, you know, the stuff I’m “thankful for.”

I know it has something to do with this notion of Advent, that God is here with me in all the sordid places I have dragged Her and yet loves me even still.

God’s love–and grace– compelled me to write my manuscript No Religion, Too.  It urges me to better understand the divine while resisting the American brand of Jesus as represented by those who speak the loudest. It demands that I love even while seething against those who take the Lord’s name in vain every time they take to the stage, the radio, the internet or perhaps even in public prayer.

I believe God is with us, and I believe She is pissed.

These thoughts kicked into high gear after I read an email sent to the members of First Mennonite Church of San Francisco by Pastor Sheri Hostetler (Sheri plays a vital role in my life, sort of a spiritual tuning fork. I am the worst church member–something about never going to church plays a part– but Sheri treats me like a vital cog,  which is a bit like Advent: God with me).  As I read about the notion of Christ with us, I realized how uncomfortable I am with Christ–not the person, but the brand, which is often very confused. This is the challenge Pastor Sheri addressed when she wrote:

“Most of us would rather talk about Jesus, the historical man, than Christ. We feel on surer footing talking about Jesus the wise teacher, whose parables confound and delight us; or Jesus the compassionate healer, whose miracles of wholeness we try to translate into our life and times; or Jesus the revolutionary liberator, who denounced the political, economic, social and spiritual oppressions of his day and who was killed as a threat to Empire.

“But, as we approach the Christ-mas season, as we sing hymns proclaiming that “Christ is born today,” we are confronted once again with the “c” word — Christ.  Christ is a confusing concept for many of us. Just who is Christ? How is Christ different from the human person named Jesus?”

Which spurred me to wonder how we can ransom Jesus back from his kidnappers. I think I am not alone when I say, I want God with us and I want  this cooked up Christ dismantled.

This real Christ is confounding, to the point that the dark history of atrocities done in the name of Jesus “have made it very difficult for some of us to want to even claim Christ. So, on top of our confusion about who Christ is, we have to add our profound discomfort with the very concept,” Sheri wrote.

So this is my challenge this Advent season, a time when the ugly energy of hate and fear rises with a new American Theocracy about to come to power.

“I hear a deep spiritual wisdom — that if Christ-ians were to reclaim the true Christ, it might actually contribute to the healing of the world. That if we were to allow the true Christ to be born in us today, the world might change for the better. That if we were to more fully embody and experience the wise, healing, liberating energy that is struggling to be birthed today, we might see new manifestations of healing and hope,” she added.

Which again brings me back to where I’ve so often been in times of trouble. Here, present, waiting, listening for the touch of God coming near.

For this, I am forever thankful.

Holy Saturday a ‘bonus’ of suffering, reflection

According to a song book I read recently the word of holy in Latin is bonus. 

Suddenly the idea of this ever-elusive trait of holiness made a bit more sense, even if it’s mostly illogical. Perhaps holiness is a bonus, not necessarily the lofty goal I could never reach. Holiness comes through the gift of God to those who survive life in the muck and mayhem of this dirty, wonderful, quixotic world.

Today, I read in my liturgy, is called “Holy” Saturday. After the vibrant celebration of Palm Sunday and the dark sadness of Maunday-Thursday, Good Friday envelops us in grief and loss and the humility of what Christ actually suffered at the hands of those he loved. We somberly reflect and pay tribute to a loving God who endured great evil for the sake of love, a plan that just never really makes sense when we embrace it up close.

As Tony Campolo said, “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s a comin!” Easter Sunday and the triumphant rises of The Christ from the grave, from the violence, from the depths of hell itself sets all the sadness and heartache and confusion to rights. We do not live with a broken, crucified God but a risen Lord. 

All is well Easter morning, right? Look around. Does it all seem right?

I’ve neglected this day in the middle, this bonus round called Holy Saturday. How on Earth does it get this name? What makes the numbing grief of the disciplines broken dreams, of Christ in the tomb, of the evil victory of those in power … holy? 

I sat and considered this and grew irritated. God seemed to shrivel a bit.

“This is your plan?” I asked. This earth looks more like a ruin than a remodel. It’s crumbling around us and we have no zeal to truly rebuild.

My thoughts on violence and brokenness grew as Christ seemed deeper in the depth of loss. Look around this world. It is so so so very broken. Despite all the religious certitude and all the warring over doctrine and power and control and who really gets the rights to the God Trademark of Truth, people just seem largely … broken. Flawed. Violent. Angry. Hurtful.

I read the barbaric treatment of The Christ — scourging, mocking, spitting, hitting, crowns hammered into his skull, nails driven through this limbs, mockery and embarrassment, taunting a broken man as he hangs naked in the air like a cruel flag — and realize we haven’t changed all that much in 2,000 years. Read the news and see the barbaric treatment, the genocides, the hate, the prejudice, the judgment, the arrogance and the atrocities (far too often done in the name of God) and these horrid, uncivilized, unsophisticated acts of violence acted upon The Christ are really not that different from the same today.

Suffering is abundant and many of us lift a finger at God and wave a fist in the face of it. “Where are you?” we demand, and mostly, like He did with Job, God refuses to answer. This… these people… me???… we are the evidence of your kingdom God. Are you Effin kidding me? This Godforsaken mess is what you call a plan?

Just what the hell is so Holy about all of this pain and suffering that if anything Holy Saturday brings to mind?

Then I recalled my earlier thoughts on holiness:

Holiness comes through the gift of God to those who survive life in the muck and mayhem of this dirty, wonderful, quixotic world. 

Somewhere in this tumult I find that measure of peace. Easter is coming. Christ is rising still. His kingdom is still advancing, right here on Earth. Flawed that we are, Christian, Jew, Muslim, Mormon, Buddhist, Hindu or None, we are part of that plan. The act of Easter is the start of something still playing out before our eyes, something we can’t understand and would do well to claim less knowledge about. Because it is holy, a bonus.

The very act of grace that put Christ in human form is one that recognizes our brokenness from the outset and forgives us. This is no Eden, God says, as She sends her Son back into it, but it will be again, On Earth as it is in Heaven. We don’t deserve any of it, but it is given even so.

How do we respond? By doing our level best to be part of the love and not the hate. But swimming in this muck and trying to find the blue water of redemption. By loving those who hate and staring at our own hate right in the mirror. By accepting that all the world’s violence and brokenness and flaws are neatly packaged right within me if it not for grace.

What we do with that knowledge What we do with the fact that Saturday leads to Easter Sunday, to rebirth and life and renewal is the bonus. What we do is holy indeed.

A blessed Easter to you and yours.

 

When guilt and blame give way

I’ve learned to never know when to expect Grace. It just appears like a mist and cools the heat of all that’s wrong in our lives. It’s a blessed chill touching us with the right kind of goosebumps that help us feel like all is well again.

But I’ve learned that though grace may remain ever mysterious and un-corralled, we can increase the likelihood of its presence when we confront that which is assuredly at odds. Like blame. Like guilt.

Lent is a time for reflection, which can quickly lead to an epidemic of guilt and/or blame. At a time when we are in a mode of deprivation and austerity, normal living, much less extravagances can inspire a lot of negative energy, which is exactly the opposite of the season. Lent is a time of grace. We would do well to remember this.

I couldn’t help but notice that Lent began right about the time The Bride and I hosted our Oscar Party, a celebration of the least austere, most superficial culture of excess I can imagine. We felt no guilt.

Just last Sunday we skipped out on a talk about White Priviledge and Structural Sin to go to a nearby pop-up pastry shop where we dropped $50 on pure decadance and ate them all without a note of blame.

Should we have reconsidered? I never gave it a thought. Because our life is on balance consistent with our moral obligation. We live as consistently as we can with a heart of service to others and a genuine expression of grace to those around us, especially those most in need. We are busy about the business of advancing God’s kingdom in this world in our own miniscule little way. So we don’t have much time for false blame or contrived guilt. We can always do more, but we’d rather focus on doing what we do and doing it well. Thank God grace arrives often enough to cover our shortcomings.

A recent mediation for lent focused on the structure sin of our society said in part, “naming ourselves as both the oppressor and the oppressed.” This is the tension we must hold if grace is to emerge. We need grace because of what we do to others. Others need grace because of what they do to us. That’s why it’s like a mist. It covers freely without merit.

Blame is a form of emotional and verbal violence. Guilt is an internal form of the same thing. Both oppress us and hinder the cooling touch of God’s grace.

Consider one of my favorite stories about the Christ. He wanders off and meets a so-called skanky woman. Instead of reviling her, he enlists her company and asks for her help. She is astonished that whoever he is would denigrate himself by simply associating with her. She thinks he must be unfamiliar with her sordid past. Jesus corrects her, saying he knows well she has had numerous “husbands” and some who weren’t even that. The girl gets around. Yet, the Christ registers no blame. He encourages no guilt. He is the mist of grace in her life.

I find that guilt and blame stir up a great many words. Whether it’s someone chastising another for a less than politically correct comment or someone berating themselves for a lack of commitment to a great social cause, it all swirls in a cloud of talk. We talk about eating this or donating to that or not buying this other or liking/reposting/tweeting/touting something else. We like to talk a good game, even when to do so is to blame someone else or bludgeon ourselves with guilt.

Guilt and blame are fueled by words, yet grace by action. All those causes and ills and concerns are valid and worthy of consideration. But to spread grace is far easier. It simply means expressing love or being kind or smiling or noticing the person next to you. As Gandi said, “be the change you want to be in the world.” That’s grace.

A Lenten wish: Be present. Be kind. Forgive. Love. Give. Then accept that as your best, guilt and blamed be damned. So much can happen when guilt and blame give way.