Category Archives: Eastertide

Sending word

See the source imageLife is filled with false starts, abrupt stops, detours and wrong turns. We didn’t know it would take this long to come to ourselves, that there were so many copies to choose from, that being original is harder than it looks, that it is easier to repeat, to nod in agreement with the majority, that in going along to get along, we never find ourselves. We wake up one day and question aloud, “How did I get here?”

“Stop this ride; I want to get off.” I told Jesus to take the wheel so why do I feel like I want throw up? Hands in the air, we sing, “I surrender all.” But today, I worry about what I will have left.

When will things go right? When will all things come together to work for my good? When will this all make sense and come into focus? Because I can’t see what’s up ahead; I’m just tired of these raindrops falling on my head.

Tearstained faces, life is not a commissioned pretty picture and we don’t hold the paintbrush. We receive the brush strokes like everyone else—sickness and death, depression and debt, heartbreak and pain. In the course of our days, life can get ugly. And what we say in those moments can make or break us.

Henry David Thoreau said, “A written word is the choicest of relics. It is something at once more intimate in us and more universal than any other work of art. It is the work of art nearest to life itself. It may be translated into every language, and not only be read but actually breathed from all human lips; — not be represented on canvas or in marble only but be carved out of the breath of life itself.”

We are a collection of words. Ludwig Wittgenstein said, “Language is a form of life.” Whether we know it or not, we are a spoken word, words that both define us and diminish us, question and answer us, love and hate us, attack and defend us. We are who we say we are. This is why we must choose our words carefully.

Because words can make you or break you. Because one wrong word can cause you to lose your place. Because one word can set us back and set us up for failure. Because the world capitalizes on us forgetting ourselves, on losing ourselves around here somewhere. They squeeze out our voice so that we can’t get a word in edgewise. Oscar Wilde said, “To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.”

Because “life and death are in the power of our tongue.”[1] Because I learned a long time ago, good words are hard to come by. So, I carry my own. I call them journey words.

Some people collect rare stamps and coins, dolls and cars. I carry a deck of 3×5 cards that remind me of who I am, what I believe, what my work is and where I am going. When I cannot find the words or my way, they take me to where I belong. They are words of commission and calling. They are words of clarity and certainty. They are words of direction, pointing me back to the track I sometimes I get off of. Tripping on the tongue of others, they have picked me up on more than one occasion.

They are my conversation partners, my guides. They are words from the living and the dead. They are words past, present and future, words outside of me, that call me inwardly, words behind me that propel me forward, words that I desperately wanted to hear as a child, words that I listen out for as an adult.

They are words that sound like me, the woman I have heard of but have yet to meet.   They are words like:

“Voyager, there are no bridges; one builds as one walks” (Gloria Anzaldua).

And—

“I must see my understandings produce results in human experience. Productivity is my first value. I must make and mold and build life. As an artist, I must shape human relationships. To me, life itself is the greatest material. I would far rather build a man than form a book. My whole being is devoted to making my small area of existence a work of art. I am building a world” (Jean Toomer).

And—

“The time is always right to do what is right” (Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.).

And—

“Give me a place to stand and I will move the world” (Archimedes).

And—

“Loyalty to a petrified opinion never yet broke a chain or freed a human soul” (Mark Twain).

And—

“Treat people as if they are what they ought to be, and you help them become what they are capable of being” (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe).

And—

“As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3.27-28, NRSV).

And—

“Do the work your soul must have” (Katie Geneva Cannon).

Zora Neale Hurston coaches me, struts alongside me saying, “I have the nerve to walk my own way, however hard, in my search for reality, rather than climb the rattling wagon of wishful illusions.” Frederick Douglas is with her and chimes in, saying, “I prefer to be my true self, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false and incur my own abhorrence.” Thomas Merton nods in agreement, adding, “To be a saint means to be myself.” Less I be tempted to lose myself in the crowd, James Baldwin tugs on me, saying, “The effort not to know what one knows is the most corrupting effort one can make.”

Because it is easier to walk away, to take what is offered and leave ourselves on the table, on the cutting board, to erase the image emerging on the drawing board. Because we have reached our word limit and “if they say one more word…” This is why we need words like Abraham Joshua Heschel’s who declared, “Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible. … To be spiritual is to be amazed.”

Because what you say will determine what you see. Because in the words of Mary Anne Evans, “It’s never too late to be what you might have been.” Jesus’s words are a journey in themselves. We cannot read them and not be moved. And if we carry them, they will carry us home to our true selves, our new selves in him.

____________________

End notes|

[1] Proverb 18.21

 

Life after Easter

“So. Jesus the Way, the ways of Jesus. He shows the way. He also is the way. He doesn’t point out the way and then step aside and let us get there our own as best we can. Jesus points out the way, but then he takes the initiative, inviting us to go with him, taking us with him across land and sea, through all kinds of weather, avoiding dead ends and seductive byways, watching out for danger and alerting us to enemies.”

| Eugene H. Peterson, The Jesus Way: a conversation on the ways that Jesus is the way

Where do we go now? We’ve reached the end of the story for Jesus. He died, was buried and has been resurrected. It’s the end of the road for his disciples, right? We can go home too.

Jesus’s resurrection is the high point of our liturgy. “Christ is risen; he is risen indeed.” Our work here is done, yes? No and not so fast.

We still have a long way to go. “Thy kingdom come.” There are also some changes that still need to take place. “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

After the resurrection, we are commissioned with the disciples. Jesus says to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28.18-20, NRSV). Jesus tells the disciples to get moving. His work is finished but ours has only begun.

Hands extended on a cross are now shooing us out the door. “Go out into the world and talk to strangers. Spread out and spread the word. Make students of my teachings,” Jesus says.

He adds, “And you have all that you need: God above you, the Holy Spirit within you and me walking with you every step of the way. And don’t you worry; I’m never leaving you again.” We will not lose him again; we will not come this way, pass by his tomb in sorrow again.

The worst is behind us and the kingdom of God is before us. Life after Easter looks like that of the early Church as recorded in the book of Acts. As the wind of the Holy Spirit blows, we, like Peter, John and the other disciples, walk in the authority of Jesus’s name. Preaching, teaching, baptizing, serving, our hands are extended. Jesus is and likewise, we are just getting started.

How Christ builds community

“Life in community is no less than a necessity for us— it is an inescapable ‘must’ that determines everything we do and think. Yet it is not our good intentions or efforts that have been decisive in our choosing this way of life. Rather, we have been overwhelmed by a certainty— a certainty that has its origin and power in the Source of everything that exists. We acknowledge God as this Source.

We must live in community because all life created by God exists in a communal order and works toward community.”

| Why We Live in Community, Eberhard Arnold

During the season of Lent, we followed in the footsteps of Jesus, were led to the cross and his tomb.   “He is risen,” we proclaim. So, we can go now, back to business as usual now, right?

But, the Jesus way is not a task to be checked off, a trip to be taken and completed or a set of tourist attractions for those entertained by his holy life. This is not a ticketed event; it does not come with glow sticks or wristbands— though his followers are few and there are actually more fans. The pews are not to be compared to open– aired seats in a bus that moves from his cradle to the grave. We do not gather on Sunday morning to point out the places where Jesus lived, served and died: “To your left is the cross.” And we are not merely repeating our favorite stories of what once was. Instead, we are being reminded of who we will be as members not just of a church— but his body.

This will take a community.

It will take more seasons, more holy days, more worship services, more prayers, songs and sermons before we are fully formed. It must be said that we will never “arrive.” I cannot think of any perfect or successful disciples of Jesus Christ. Eugene Peterson describes discipleship as “a long obedience in the same direction.” His way takes time.

Still, there is the temptation to return to the broad way, the crammed highway of commerce, to become busy with the building of our kingdom until God’s kingdom comes.  But, wait. Don’t take another step.

Jesus is going somewhere. While I don’t have a map with an X that marks the spot, it is a journey that we must treasure. Less we lose track of him, we need not stop to measure or to count our steps. There is no recipe for getting it right. Just keep walking and keep talking with those who have joined you on the road.

Hand in hand and one foot in front of the other, we go together or make no progress at all. For his body is made of many members. We must continue in our fellowship, joined together— not at the hip but by his cross. This is how Christ builds community.

“Where ever the facts lead us”

“We are going to follow the facts wherever they lead us.”  Then, why is the investigation taking so long?  It is a short trip from the podium to the White House.  Or is it because as soon as they are off and running in one direction, Mr. Trump’s tweets throw them off the scent?

Some rebuff, “All politicians lie” but when did our acceptance of intentional deception become expected, normative even?  Is this on the job description of our public servants: “Candidate must be able to lie”?

Then, perhaps, we don’t need politicians running our government.  Persons thought a businessman with no government experience was what America needed.  Next time, we might consider putting prophets on the ballot.  We could use an Isaiah or Jeremiah right now.

Because I wouldn’t want my doctor to lie to me.  Instead, I expect an accurate report of my health and if ill, an appropriate treatment plan.  I don’t want a police officer to lie to me.  “Was I speeding or not?”  I wouldn’t expect my pastor to lie to me concerning Christ’s sacrifice and the cost of the discipleship.  “Well, the world was in quotes so God may not have loved you.”

And why is that we cover for people in power?  Why do we make excuses for persons who are expected to uphold a standard, represent our best interests and lead all American people?  But, show no mercy to those of lower estate?  They are the real liars, we surmise.  I suppose that I am expected to believe that Mr. Trump is a novice.

It is so interesting to see how we can expect American citizens to tell the truth in a court of law or risk perjury but the President of the United States can lie and persons who do not believe him are deemed unpatriotic.  I am so tired of the double standard.  Only in America is there a difference between a white- collar liar and a blue collar one.   More than above the law, this is beyond my ability to comprehend.  Where do you think we are going if we continue down this road?  Wherever it is, there is no amount of walking back his comments that will return America to some mythical state of innocence.

I had grown tired of the expression, “Speak truth to power” but it makes sense now.  Because the President does not seem to possess it.  These are not your usual run of the mill lies.  More than campaign promises that get caught up in bureaucratic tape, these are outright lies with the intention to mislead and to misinform the American public.

And to be sure, there are no big and little lies, no Democratic and Republican lies.  If this administration has done nothing else, it has reminded many of us of what happens when truth becomes relative, when we think that truth is related to us, a dependent of our political party or cultural ideology.

I’m no genius but Albert Einstein was and he said this about truth: “Whoever is careless with truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters.”  So, if you feel the need to lie about the size of your inauguration’s crowd size, when the picture is worth a few thousand people, what else will you lie about?  Because #truthmatters.

When Time recently asked on its cover, “Is Truth Dead?”, I knew that we had turned a corner.  With the celebration of Christ’s resurrection still fresh, the question carries even more meaning for me.  How does truth die and who buries it?  Will it rise again and will there be persons there to witness it?

“Where ever the facts lead us…”  If I had a dollar for every time I have heard this during the young Trump administration, the amount wouldn’t be worth much.  Because there is nothing valuable about being lied to.  Because what is a fact today when there are ‘alternate facts’?

Counselor to the President of the United States, Kellyanne Conway and White House Press Secretary, Sean Spicer are master weavers at this point.   The spinning of tales and half- truths is making me dizzy.  I need to sit down and perhaps, sit this one out.  Can someone come and get me in four years?  Because I don’t expect the resurrection of truth in America any time soon.

Put your money away.  I am not placing any bets on his impeachment.  And why should I?  I have watched commentators, politicians and regular folks explain away reprehensible behavior.  I would pick up my lip but the bar that has been lowered to accommodate Trump is on it.  There is nothing honorable or noble about standing behind a lie.

Besides, I am investigation- weary.  These fact- finding missions don’t come with breaks.  The air of suspicion is unhealthy if inhaled over a long period of time and paranoia goes well with conspiracy theories.

To be sure, Trump’s administration is not the first and will not be the last to be guilty of lying.  Attempting to be all things to all people, politicians make campaign promises they can’t keep all the time.  But, it is becoming increasingly more difficult to get a straight answer from this administration, a sure sign that something crooked is at work.

And with the accusations of fake news media reporting now a part of our social psyche, the good news of Jesus Christ becomes more essential to my mental health and well- being.  The truth of Christ’s life and ministry was reported by persons from diverse backgrounds, locations and socioeconomic statuses.  Still, there were persons who called the work of Christ fake news and warned his believers not to teach in his name.  So, in some ways, my faith has prepared me for this.  In short, don’t follow Trump’s tweets but the paper trail of Jesus; the former will get you nowhere.

Race will not survive

I shared a meditation at a Maundy Thursday service last night titled “Do as I do.” It is a command that highlights the disconnect between our words and our actions.  We know and say what is right but so often, we do not do what is right. We point out the rule while side- stepping the practice of it.  We are great enforcers of the law but poor practitioners.   The same can be said of our life in Christ.  What of his life do we imitate, especially during this Holy Week?

What of ourselves follows Jesus to the cross?  Thomas will see the nail prints in Jesus’ hands but where are yours?  What of you has died so that Christ might live more truly and fully?  Where have you made room for him?

As Christians, there is only one that we can follow.  We do not follow personalities but chase after the very presence of God in Christ and therefore, in us.  One with God, this is the deepest and truest fellowship.

We do not follow our culture or the social coloring of our skin but the Christ who is bound by neither.  He is the only one whose words match his actions and who can say, “Do as I do.”  So, we are not stereotypical people.  We are not your average, run of the mill, same old, racialized beings.  No, that was nailed to his cross, clinched in his hands.

No longer Jews nor Greeks, how do we see ourselves as colored people anyway?  That old self and its identity died on the Friday we call good.  We no longer live in our flesh but in, through and by the spirit of Christ.  The social construct of race, the racialized self has been buried with Christ.  It will not survive the resurrection.