Advent 2017.2: The Waymaker

“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’ ”
Mark 1:2-3 

The world needs waymakers just like John the Baptist. We need courageous voices who will speak not just a good word for Jesus Christ, as my former homiletics professor used to say, but a prophetic word. A pointed word. Direct. Clear. Uncompromising.

One such waymaker in 2017 is the Rev. Dr. William Barber, an ordained pastor in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Dr. Barber has taken up the call to lead the Poor People’s Campaign, originally began by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1967. He has brought to the national conversation a message that is biblical, moral, and Gospel-oriented.

The call by the Poor People’s Campaign for a moral revival is as timely as ever in these United States where economic disparity continues to widen, the dialogue is toxic, civil rights are threatened, healthcare is still out of reach among poorest citizens, and racial tension persists. The rotting of the American soul is further manifested in the dehumanizing treatment (especially by President Trump and some congressional leaders) of women, immigrants, Muslims, and the LGBTQ community. This is not the Way of Jesus. In fact, it’s immoral and rooted in evil.

If the Advent/Christmas season is merely a celebration of some magical event in the distant past then the point has been missed. The voice of the first-century waymaker prepared the people for the one who calls us to a wholly different way of life. Holy. Peaceful. Generous. Compassionate. Just

If the voice of John the Baptist is to be heard today, we need to bridge the span of time so his message can “cut us to the bone” (Joseph Donders). That’s precisely why we need more voices like William Barber.

May we be inspired and compelled by those who serve as 21st-century waymakers to go and do likewise.

iu-1
kairoscenter.org

 

 

I’m With You Thomas

“Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands,
and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side,
I will not believe.” ~ Thomas, the doubter
John 20:25

I started defending Thomas years ago. His skepticism resonates with me, even if for different reasons. I accepted long ago that doubt is just one part of the faith journey- a necessary part. It has prevented me from being “certain” and ideological.

Blessings may be upon those who “hear and believe”, but sometimes “seeing” goes a long way in restoring confidence to the doubtful.

Perhaps, one doubts the fundamental faith claims made by the church, like the resurrection of Jesus. I experienced such a faith crisis in my early 30s. I knew then my understanding of what it meant to proclaim “Christ is risen” needed to change. Later, a mysterious encounter with the divine at the funeral of a man I never met would reassure, for me, the promise of resurrection- but with new understanding.

Others need to see the church do something other than bully people, foster hatred, or abuse. There are a many congregations in our world that are authentic centers for sanctuary, healing, forgiveness, mercy, and acceptance.  The world needs to see- and hear- less of the brutish preachers (let’s not name them- they get enough media attention) and more of the fiercely loving communities that embody what Christ called his followers to do. “They will know we are Christians by our love,” as the old song goes.

So, Thomas, in my book, and I’m sure others, you get a pass- not that you need my stamp of approval.  I just hope others who share your doubt will embrace it, because, contrary to what some might say, it actually strengthens one’s faith.

The Incredulity of Saint Thomas
The Incredulity of Saint Thomas, Caravaggio, 1601-1602, , Sanssouci Picture Gallery; Potsdam, Germany

Advent Preppers

John went into the wilderness proclaiming:
“as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth;and all flesh shall see the salvation of God. ’” (Luke 3, Year C, Advent 2)

Advent is the beginning of the Christian liturgical year. It is a time of anticipation and preparation for the coming of the Christ child. So, what does it mean to prepare the way of the Lord? What does it look like? Sound like?

  • Does it look like a stockpile of guns and ammunition?
  • Doe is look like the gift of a weapon, of any kind, under the Christmas tree?
  • Does it look like a group of citizens standing outside a Mosque armed with assault weapons?
  • Does it sound like a preacher calling for the deaths of Muslims?
  • Does it sound like the empty prayers of politicians who stand before the public like whitewashed tombs but do nothing to stop the slaughter of the innocents?
  • Does it sound like speech that is xenophobic, incites fear, and dehumanizes?

No. Those are the actions people who are preparing for violence and death.

Preparing the way for the Christ means, like John the Baptizer, proclaiming the Good News in the wilderness that is our world . . .

            A wilderness that did not come from God
            a jungle that has been caused by innumerable
            human decisions that are 
                        wrong
                        short-sighted
                        selfish
            decisions that have created havoc on the lives of many. . .

           It means proclaiming that  Jesus is going to bring a total difference
          and will only be realized when justice and integrity are victorious.
          Then, and only then, will the whole of human kind will be saved.
                                  “In the Wilderness,” by Joseph G. Donders, adapted.

For the Christian, welcoming the Christ child involves a different kind of preparation. It means being “cut to the bone ” ( Donders) and facing the reality of our world’s current condition. It means humbling ourselves and being open to the possibility of mercy, forgiveness, and peace. 

People will prepare how they will in these times. But we must know the difference  between the kind of preparation that leads to fear and death . . . and the preparation that leads to life.

Why I’m Not Giving Up Beer for Lent

My Twitter and Facebook feeds are filled with updates from friends and acquaintances announcing what they are doing for Lent. Some are using it as a time of sacrifice, while others are being moved to action. 

Curiously, I meet more and more folks who are drawn to the season of Lent; some aren’t even Christian. Maybe it’s the appeal of a designated time for self-reflection. Christian or not, it is appropriate to enter the next few weeks with an awareness of Lent’s significance to the Christian faith.

The season observes the roughly forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness being tempted by the “evil one” and immersed in self-examination. We have limited testimony to Jesus’s words and thoughts. But his was a journey that helped refine his identify and purpose for this world.

Jesus emerged from his wilderness wandering transformed; he was ready to challenge oppressive paradigms, reach out to the the poor, and offer grace and forgiveness to those labeled “unclean” by others. He taught people how to pray and what people should really be praying for: daily food, justice, and forgiveness. He refused to take part in violence. He refused to give in to conventional forms of power and greed- and he had sharp words for those who did. He radicalized what it meant to be a neighbor. His embrace of the “other” was wide and his love for the unloveable deep. He ate meals with the unwanted. He didn’t even put up a fight when he was falsely accused, convicted and given the death penalty. This was the life he modeled.

Lent, particularly for Christians, is a spiritual journey to the foot of the cross. It begins with the acknowledgement of our mortality: our limited time. The hope is that the journey is a transformative one: that we each come out on the other side changed, renewed, and ready to respond to the one who beacons, “Follow me.”

Whatever your reason for choosing to observe Lent, I hope you made a commitment that will challenge and transform your inner being. May that transformation result in a greater self- awareness and a deeper sense of compassion and justice.

Oh, right, you started reading this because you wanted to know why I’m not giving up beer for Lent. That’s easy: St. Patrick’s Day. I’m parting with red meat instead.  There are a couple of other commitments but those are between me and God.

Cheers!

Christmastide Day 1: Humble beginnings

The way we like to interpret the birth of Jesus is that Mary and Joseph were poor.   All we really know is there just wasn’t enough room in the inn.  They tried to get a room so they obviously had enough for a night in a first century hotel in Bethlehem.  It’s a detail that doesn’t really matter.  There are weightier matters at work in this story.

The ancient prophet Micah once wrote the beloved words, “walk humbly with your God.”  What could be more humbling than for two parents, penniless or not, to have no other option than to lay their newborn child in a feeding trough? These humble beginnings are woven in the words and deeds of Jesus to the very end.  Through his humble nature some are lifted up, while others are brought down alongside the rest of humanity (and rightly so).

Once again God works through an unlikely scenario- in this case an unlikely child.

So, for those of us who celebrate the birth of Jesus today and claim to be his followers,  it would serve us well to, once again, be reminded it isn’t about the one we see in the mirror.  This child will spend the rest of his earthly life trying to get those who will listen to see “others” and teach people to embrace those “others” with dignity, respect, and mercy, particularly those without the means and voice to advocate for themselves.

So, in the spirit of how it began, walk humbly my friends.  Prepare for the unexpected.  Embrace the other.

“The Name Cuts Deep”, by Saffen

The Name Cuts Deep

Here’s another one.
A boy, eight days old.
It’s time: time to cut away
Unneeded flesh, to sign the scar
Of God in manchild’s private place.
No one else will know but him and his.

The rite calls for a name.
Have you a name yet, son?
What shall we call you, little giant?
Call his name “Jesus”? Why?
Because he’ll save his people?
What a huge load for such little shoulders.
What dreams parents have, what expectancies,
Poor little child, to have God’s work
Assigned so soon.

Cut the name in deep. Tattoo it indelibly on tortured Hebrew flesh.
Scare it with raw wounds to acquaint you early
With cross and barbs and nail.
You’ll be Jew soon enough to know

The Name cuts deep in certain flesh.
Now you belong to God.
There’s no escaping that.
His name for eternity. Get used to it now.
“Jesus” is the handle you’ll get used by.
You’ll wish you could change your name
Into incognito, when the whole world
Calls it out in curse and prayer.

Go home for now, lacerated boy,
Don’t grow up too soon. 

by Wayne Saffen

Luxury of Lent: 2013

I had every intention of writing some insightful words on this Ash Wednesday eve, as the Christian season of Lent begins, for anyone who might care to read.  But I’ve found that, being years removed from leading a faith community as my primary vocation, practicing my own faith has become a luxury.  I suppose it was a bit easier when it was my “job.”  Finding time for what is important to me has simply become ever so challenging.   I know I’m not alone.

The way we construct our schedules leaves little room for that which repairs and nourishes our souls.  When this becomes the norm that, to me, is a sign that something is terribly wrong.  Our bodies were not made for the life depleting expectations of the secular world. One purpose of Ash Wednesday, at least for the Christian, is to be reminded that we are limited, finite, and mortal.  We could all, Christian, spiritual, or otherwise, bear to be reminded of that great truth.

Even if Lent isn’t your “thing”, but you’re feeling dislodged from your center, it might be a good time to embark on a journey that, in the very least, involves an exercise in self care . . . and care for those around you.  We were meant to make this journey together. Peace.