Holy Suffering

I posted a portion of what follows as a response to something said on another site, and, on reflection, think it and a little more needs to be said here. It has to do with the idea that there is something inherent in the authentic Christian life that requires personal suffering. What could be more unappetizing than that? In fact, there is a principle in pastoral psychology of maintaining a calm, non-anxious and “disinterested” presence in order to be of greatest help to those who come seeking it while also maintaining one’s own well-being. It means that the pastoral care giver is to be empathetically present to another’s suffering without embodying it himself or herself. It’s a great idea, and it works most of the time, but embodying suffering cannot be avoided altogether when you are being the light of Christ in another person’s broken and dark world. It is a holy suffering in which you may become a conduit through which that person’s suffering flows to God and God’s blessing flows to them. The problem comes when you are overloaded and the embodiment of suffering has a very real, painful and sometimes quite dangerous physical and emotional effect. There comes a point when the pastor has to say NO for his or her own well-being and in faith that there is someone else not far away with capacity to say yes. I have not learned where that point is and sometime suffer the consequences. But I am very good at advising others about it.

Post a photo?

I’ve been trying and trying to post some addtional photos from my i-photo collection and blogspot.com doesn’t favor that idea at all. Does anyone know how to do that? I can post photos from my old pc but would rather not have to do that.

Tribalism, Pluralism and Respect

We live in a pluralistic society, the most pluralistic in the world, and it always has been. It’s been hard work to keep it going on an even keel, and failure seems close at hand in almost every age. Some two decades ago Arthur Schlesinger wrote about what he saw as the tribalisation of America. He recognized a trend in which the elders of various ethnic groups would, in the name of ethnic pride, set up barriers to engagement with one another that might lead to the dilution of ethnic identity. The largest and most frightened ethnic group was white European America, but others were not far behind, he suggested. The myth of American homogeneity had always been hard to maintain. That explains at least some part of why we’ve had such a history of blatant racism. The separation of black and white is the most obvious to us, but hidden in the back pages of history books are stories of national hysteria over Irish, Jewish, Italian, Chinese and Japanese invasions that would overrun us and destroy our traditional values. Those of northern European (Protestant) heritage did their best to demand that all others become as they were at the same time that they raised the frightening specter of out-of-control immigration. The full integration of all European immigrants took time, but it did happen. Ethnic pride and holidays still get celebrated but they are no longer seen as symbols of separation. The same is happening, more of less, with most Asians. But the black-white issue still haunts the nation, and we have a new target for irrational fear mongering – Hispanics, Mexicans in particular, especially illegal ones.

So how are we to learn to live with one another in peace? Schlesinger thought language and sex would do the trick. Every immigrant group, sooner or later, learns to get along in English, and there is nothing like a common language to link various ethnicities and cultures. But sex is even more important. Sooner or later young people fall in love outside the restrictions established by their elders and begin to produce a new “race” of men and women. Michner, in Hawaii, called this new race “the golden men.” All of that takes generations, generations often filled with hate and violence, so what can we do in the meantime? I think it has to do with understanding and honoring the cultures of those around us without the necessity of trying to make them our own. As Christians in the traditions of the Episcopal Church we take as a part of our Baptismal Covenant that we will “respect the dignity of every human being.” That does not require us to take on the traditions of another culture just to be nice. That never works. It’s always phony and is usually insulting to the other as well. But it does require us to do our best to know and honor those traditions, just as we desire that our own cultural traditions be known and honored. There is nothing like respect for setting a tone of civility that leads to conversation that ends in friendship. I wonder why we find it so hard to try?

The Case Against Christ

I ran across a blog the other day that was dedicated to building a case against Christianity. The writer was not endorsing some other religion in its place. As far as I could tell he was interested only in exposing Christianity as a myth of gigantic proportions with little or no historical substance to back it up. I wonder what is so important to him about Jesus that he would dedicate a substantial portion of his time and energy to him? I was reminded of a few self-proclaimed atheists I’ve met who are obsessed with the idea that God does not exist and are therefore obsessed with God himself. God as become the center point of their lives and haunts their daily thoughts. Likewise the crafter of the case against Christ. It could be that he is far closer to Christ than most Christians. At least Jesus is important enough to him for him to engage with him on a daily basis. I fear that the average Christian has very little concern for Christ, seldom thinks about him, rarely studies what he taught, and makes little effort to follow as a disciple where he led. I imagine that God is far happier with those who for whom he is so important that they will dare to question his existence than with those who trivialize him by a faith lacking substance.

Does God have a Political Agenda?

A parishioner recently complained that he did not want any social agenda preached from the pulpit. That’s why he left his last church. That could make preaching very difficult because the gospel message is ripe with social teaching. With some small knowledge of his last church, I think that what he meant was that he did not want preaching that advocated a particular political party, legislative agenda, or that made social issues into an object of worship instead of God. There are churches that are quite free with the names of God and Jesus along with carefully selected citations from scripture to underwrite what is essentially a well defined political agenda that has little to do with God. There are also churches where you are unlikely to hear God’s name at all, but you will hear a constant harangue on popular social issues of the day flowing from the pulpit. Both fail to understand the nature of God’s revelation as received through Holy Scripture.
Where might one start to learn what that is? Consider all of the stories of miraculous healings in the gospels. They are not so much about the medical healing of an individual as they are about restoring that which had broken the wholeness of the community. They are about restoration and reconciliation. Healing at the hands of Jesus restored right relationships with God, with families and friends, and with community. The restoration of right relationships brought with it a reconciliation in which past wrongs were made right and new beginnings made possible. But if it was left there the question would remain: What do right relationships look like?
That question is answered by a theme that runs throughout the story of God’s engagement with humanity, and it is most brilliantly illuminated in the Ten Commandments, the words of the ethical prophets, and most importantly in the life and teaching of Jesus, whom we Christians recognize as the very Word of God made flesh. It is the theme of how God has revealed to us a pattern of life together in community through which humanity might live well, rich with God’s blessings, and in harmony with one another. Moreover, as even a superficial reading of the prophets will demonstrate, it is a pattern that has deep and serious political intent. God has made very clear that living in a right relationship with God and one another requires both individual and community policies of social justice that are well articulated through God’s own self revelation. They are not Republican or Democratic, they are not liberal or conservative, above all they are not American; they are the revelation of God’s earnest desire for humans to live well together in a rich and blessed life. It is a desire that transcends both history and nationhood. To be a faithful preacher of God’s Word requires preaching that faithfully and fearlessly proclaims what looks an awful lot like God’s “political” agenda. Where can you find a copy of this agenda? It takes some prayerful discernment, but I suggest beginning with a careful study of the depth of meaning found in the Ten Commandments and not just their words, in an equally careful study of my favorite prophet, Amos, and in long prayerful meditation over the words of Jesus as reported in Matthew 5 through 7. They are, I believe, the very core of God’s agenda, but I must warn you in advance. You will find nothing there about homosexuality, gay marriage, abortion or evolution. God seems to have other things on His mind, and we should probably pay some attention to that.