Sunday, March 22, 2015

Death March?

Our trek through Lent journeys with Jesus in a celebration—not a denial—of life

CROSS WALK. Lent tracks with Jesus as he sets out resolutely for Jerusalem...and a cross. But even after he began to walk and talk disturbingly about his and his followers' crosses, everywhere he went life broke through. 

PARADOX OF THE CROSS. The way to the cross is filled with paradox--hope intersects despair, understanding intersects confusion, promise intersects pain, life intersects death. It would be a mistake to walk through Lent--or any other season of life--with a somber heaviness, as if on a death march.

TWISTED IMAGERY. How does one march to death? Marching, after all, is most often an imagery robust with triumph and pageantry--with music of bands and prancing of horses and rows of rhythm-stepping regiments. Most often a march celebrates a victory, graces a holiday, or highlights heroic efforts.

ANOTHER'S AGONY. But not a few marches truly have the stench of death. One group's triumph is another's agony. Our family lived for a few years in Oklahoma, where Native Americans were marched from their homelands in what is now called the Trail of Tears. Many died along the way. I ponder 65-year-old photos of French spectators weeping despairingly as Nazi tanks and troops rolled into a Paris pounded into submission. History is full of prisoner-of-war and ethnic-purging marches that served to grind oppressed people into oblivion.

BREATHTAKING JOURNEY. But Jesus' march toward Jerusalem was neither morbid nor despairing. Though one of his disciples resignedly said "Let us also go with him that we may die with him," he did not understand either the spirit in which Jesus journeyed or the redemptive mission he resolved to fulfill. Jesus’ trek was no denial of life; nor is ours. The journey will be as breathtaking as heart-rending, as life-giving as disturbing. Let us grapple with the specter of the cross in light of the hope and life and grace that loom larger on the horizon.

CHRIST'S TRIUMPHAL PROCESSION. The Apostle Paul writes in terms of a marching procession: 
"But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task?" (2 Corinthians 2:14-16).
Who, indeed?

John Franklin Hay
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Poetry of Lent

Let's not be so morose about our 40-day journey

The poetry of Lent tends to be

Still, it can be poetry of

We cannot feign

So, let us
toward the Cross.

Rather than toiling

Let us stride
where Jesus leads.

John Franklin Hay
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Love: Openness to God, Openness to People

Kallistos Ware's statement strikes me as helpful and corrective

"This idea of openness to God, openness to other persons, could be summed up under the word love. We become truly personal by loving God and by loving other humans. By love, I don’t mean merely an emotional feeling, but a fundamental attitude. In its deepest sense, love is the life, the energy, of God himself in us. We are not truly personal as long as we are turned in on ourselves, isolated from others. We only become personal if we face other persons, and relate to them."

This quote by Kallistos Ware, the best modern-era articulator of Orthodox faith, came across my email inbox today in "The Daily Dig" from Plough Publishing.

This statement works on me, works me over.

The statement is common sense. But it is at the same time a corrective for many of us who earnestly try to be holy, to connect with God, to be tuned in spiritually. And, those of us who presume to lead others in spiritual formation--pastors, teachers, counselors, mentors, disciplers, faith leaders, theology professors.

Strangely, in the pursuit of godliness, many of us have gone through stages of being less than loving and even careless regarding people. We think we are being holy and leading people into holiness by preaching and teaching a "God first" policy. But "God first" priorities actually reflect an ungodly dualism. One is not above the other or at the expense of the other.

Jesus was pretty clear about the damning outcome of using devotion to God or deeper spirituality to excuse oneself (or a community of faith) from not being so attentive or responsive to loved ones and neighbors. 

Delivering sermons is not delivering people. Leading people in worship on Sunday does not supplant or supercede leading in loving neighbors and communities.

John Wesley, the forebear of my own theological stream, not only defined holy living as loving God and loving neighbor, but declared "there is no holiness but social holiness."

Kallistos Ware makes the point that only by loving people do we "become truly personal," or truly human--fully alive--ourselves.

Clearly, healthy spirituality--healthy living--translates love for God with love for neighbor. It's never either/or or one above the other. It's always co-equal--however difficult this sometimes seems. Loving neighbors is a lot messier and riskier than loving God. A faith community trying to love a neighborhood can be frustrating and at times feel all but impossible. We don't get to pick and choose neighbors. We just don't. Whoever they are, who we become depends on how we regard and treat them. 

Loving enemies, as Jesus compelled, gets crazier still. That could turn our world upside down.

Loving God, loving people. I take it as a fresh challenge to hold these two equally in heart and action. Come what may. 

So, God help me.

John Franklin Hay 
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA