Tuesday, May 27, 2014

An Engagement with Peter Rollins

I'm currently working my way through Peter Rollins' The Orthodox Heretic, and it's given me pause to think about my own privilege and my own relationship with the subversive message that is Christianity.  Which is to say that I'll probably be wrestling with a lot of these parables on here.

So you should go out and buy the book.

No seriously...I'll wait.  It's that good.

Looks like this

Got it?
Ok.  Good.

The first parable is a play on that well known bumper sticker, "If Christianity was a crime, would there be enough evidence to convict you?"

This one

And, true to form, Rollins twists this bumper sticker on its head.

The judge (and the court) look through footage of the one convicted (that's us, by the way) and see what we would consider evidence: reading scripture, speaking in church, praying before meals, etc...

And then...after all of this "evidence" the judge pronounces us "not guilty."

And of course, we as the one on trial demand to know what's going on.  We're left saying, "wait, what?"

The response from the judge is that we haven't done enough to really fight the system, that we aren't actually bothering anybody.  Just making ourselves feel good.

And at the end of the parable, I'm left going...wait, what?

Is that all I'm doing?

Am I just working within a system to keep the status quo alive?
Am I just making myself feel good?
Am I thorn in the side of an unjust system?

What am I doing?

I think I like to tell myself that I'm the latter, but I have a sneaking suspicion it's actually one of the first two.

And then I wonder...
How do I become the thorn in the side of an unjust system?

Is it by preaching sermons that challenge the status quo?
Is it by preaching sermons that affirm the place of doubt in religion?
Refusing to give in to violence?
Advocating for others to be treated equally regardless of race, creed, or sexual orientation?
Living as if death isn't the defining force in the world?
Fighting to take care of the earth, and all that is in it?
Having a conversation with an ex-drug addict at the YMCA?
Losing my own ego, so that I can be fully present with someone else?
Ignoring the "rules" of retribution and recompense?
Offering forgiveness, not just seven times, but seventy times seven?

If yes, then those are all incredibly easy things to say.
But when I try to live them out, I find myself going, "wait, what?"

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Dissonant Chords

During the Festival of Homiletics, Otis Moss III gave a lecture titled "Preaching the Prophetic Blues in the Post-Modern World."  This is my brief reflection on his lecture.

"Blues is a motif to deal with life in a world that refuses to recognize tragedy." - Otis Moss III

"Blues looks tragedy in the face, and refuses to give in to despair." - Otis Moss III

These two sentences about the blues embrace the message of the Gospel.

In fact, if we were to switch blues with "The Gospel" we would have two equally important and powerful statements.

"The Gospel is a motif to deal with life in a world that refuses to recognize tragedy."
"The Gospel looks tragedy in the face, and refuses to give in to despair."

What incredibly powerful and liberating sentences.  The Gospel embraces the terribleness of the world and refuses to give in to it.

The Gospel refuses to let death have the final say, but the Gospel does not deny the reality of tragedy.  The Gospel is grounded in Good Friday and Holy Saturday in all things.  God embraces the pain of the cross, completely.

Jesus doesn't abandon the pain and suffering of the cross - even though he had the power to remove himself from the cross at any point.

Instead, Jesus opens himself up to the horror of the cross.

Jesus deals with life in a world that refuses to recognize tragedy.  Jesus looks tragedy in the face.

Jesus embraces the dissonance of the world - the pain, the suffering, the horror and shows us the terrible beauty of God that is still present in the midst of it all.

Isn't that why the blues are so effective?

They embrace the dissonance of the way the world is - in their very chords, and then have lyrics that continue to say "this is not the end."

Are we doing this?

Are we naming the pains and fears?  The sufferings?  Are we able to look them in the face and say, "You are not how the world is supposed to be."

Can we take these dissonant chords that we find in life and see that there is deep beauty in spite of, or perhaps because of, them?

Can we preach the blues?  Or perhaps, we should allow the blues to preach to us?

Treasure in Clay Jars

This morning at the Festival of Homiletics, Dr. Walter Brueggemann preached a sermon about treasure and clay jars.  Specifically the ways in which we confuse our treasure with the clay jars that hold them.

For some reason this seems painfully obvious.

Is it painful because it's true?

Do we confuse our churches for the Gospel that is preached there?
Do we confuse the number of people in our pews for the size of the Body of Christ?

Or perhaps, the better question is why are we doing these things?

Why are these clay jars, fragile vessels that are meant to be broken and smashed to let the contents flow freely, so protected?

Why are we afraid to be broken in order for true healing to occur?

It's not because we're afraid of death, is it?

We proclaim loudly every Sunday that Christ has destroyed death, that there is no final separation between us and God, that even in the midst of tragedy there is still beauty and grace and love - because God is in those moments.

We profess it with the words of the Apostle's and Nicene Creeds. Christ died to destroy death.
We hear it all over the Epistles of Paul.
We sing it loudly, using some of my favorite Easter hymns (among others)

And yet, even in the light of Easter change is still painful and scary.

How do we embrace the fear of change and let it go?
How do we stare this fear and death in the face, and in spite of that still live as God invites us to live?

And that living invitation looks like:

Loving our neighbors as ourselves.
Feeding the hungry.
Caring for the sick.
Dining with outcasts.

We are invited to live in God's kingdom, where death has no power.

And that is the treasure.  Everything else is just a clay jar.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Disillusioned by the Light of the Cross

So in my last post, I talked about what a gift disillusionment can be.  That it's really only in the disappointment we experience from one another, that we are truly able to see each other - as we are.

I think it's time we start doing the same thing for God. 

Can we let God disappoint us?
Can we let God show up and say "I'm not who you think I am."

Doesn't this happen time and time again in scriptures?

God chooses the dishonest brother, Jacob, and uses him to create a great people.
God chooses Moses - a murderer, and someone who was raised as an Egyptian to deliver the people out of slavery.
God chooses Rahab.
God chooses Solomon (not David's rightful heir, but instead a child of Bathsheba).
God chooses shepherds to be prophets.
God chooses a virgin to bear Christ.

And when God becomes flesh, Jesus does nothing but let people down who place tons of expectations on him.

He comes to Jerusalem as a king, and is killed.

That's not very God-like is it?

God is so opposed to people coming up with ideas about them, that he refuses to give them a name past "I am who I am."

Basically God is telling the people, "Don't put a label on me, cause I'm not going to live into that label.  I'm bigger than that."

And even though God tells us that, we are still really good at putting labels on God.

The Israelites created a golden calf to represent the God that delivered them out of Egypt.
The Israelites turn sacrifice into the only way to worship God.
The Pharisees turn following the Torah as the only way to live as God wants us to live.

We turn good fortune or coincidence into God's blessing.
We turn tragedy into God's punishment.

We spend our time chasing a God that will make us rich (the US dollar).
We spend our money creating God's kingdom on earth (what that looks like depends on if you're a Republican or a Democrat)

We create a God who loves those whom it easy for us to love.
We create a God who hates those whom are different from us.

And then I see Jesus on the cross, and I doubt the whole system.

Why would this God whom I've created in my image willing die because of sin?

And we can try and explain it away, by using facing words like penal substitution or atonement theory that simply fits into the system I'm living in to. (That'll be another blog post, I'm sure)

Or is there a better, more excellent way?

What if God on the cross is supposed to throw this image of God into doubt and turmoil?
What if I'm supposed to be thinking that things don't add up?
What if I'm supposed to be disillusioned in the light of the cross?

That God is telling me (and the rest of the world) that our view of God isn't what we thought it was.

God shows up and tells us that there's more to God than we thought.
God tells us again and again, that God is bigger than that.

That on the cross, all of my ideas about God should be thrown into question.

My doubts and questions about the system?  They are the questions of a vengeful God.  They are doubts about a God who wants to see pain and suffering.  

My doubts keep me from turning God into another golden calf.
My disillusionment is the very thing that allows me to see God more clearly.

They tell me that God isn't what I thought. 
Instead God is love.

God is sacrificial love that transforms all of creation, bringing all things into a renewed relationship with the very creator of the universe.
That's something that I don't need to understand or grasp to understand it's a gift.  
That's something that I don't need to understand or grasp to know that it means I can't live the same way I was living.
That's something that I don't need to understand or grasp to know that I am loved, and am freed to love.

That's something that I don't need to understand or grasp to know that it's something I can keep coming back to, time and time again.

And each time, I might bring different ideas about God with me to the cross, and each time Jesus will be there reminding me about the love God has for me, and for all people, and for all time.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Gift of Disillusionment

I've been reading a lot of Peter Rollins lately, and have been thinking about something that he talks about quite a lot - the gift of disillusionment.

Now, as one who experiences disillusionment more often than I would like (hazards of being a dreamer, I guess), it's really hard for me to wrap my head around the idea that disillusionment can be a gift.  Especially because so often it's disappointing and sometimes can even be painful.

Nobody likes to have their hopes and expectations crushed.  Nobody likes to have their ideas about their friends shattered.  Nobody likes being "let down."

There's a How I Met Your Mother episode where each of the gang's flaws are pointed out to them.   The episode is Spoiler Alert from Season 3.  Each time a flaw is revealed, we hear the sound of glass shattering.  It almost breaks up the group, because everyone chose to ignore what would irk them most about their friends.

Lily loudly crunching on carrots

And yet, it's only when the glass is shattered - both on the show and in our own lives - that we have an idea of who the other person is.  Instead of truly knowing one another, we create ideas of who the other person should be.

So, of course, instead of loving the other person for who they are, we love our idea of the person we think they are.

This happens all the time, and most of the time our ideas about the other person aren't terribly far off.  We like the same music they like or have the same taste in movies or books.  They think pretty similarly to how we think.  They have similar goals and aspirations.  The list goes on and on.

And our assumptions are helpful - to a point.  They give us places to go in conversation that help us build a relationship with one another.  They help create a sense of community and belonging.

The problem is that when are assumptions hold the relationship or community together.  In these cases our relationships aren't honest.  Our community isn't being faithful to its people.  We love our idea of the other person or our community too much to see them for who (and whose) they are.

In these cases, having our ideas about the other person are necessary.  We need disillusionment (and it's pain) to help us see more clearly.  Our disillusionment actually brings to light a more honest look at the other person.

In other words, the pain of disillusionment is actually a gift.  A gift because we now see the person or community we love on their own terms.  It's an opportunity to enter into a new relationship with the person and accept them not just in spite of, but perhaps because of the ways that they are different from us.

To enter into a relationship that challenges us and helps us to grow.

To enter into real community.

To truly love the person and not just love an extension of our self.

That sounds like a really powerful gift to me.