Lent is drawing to a close and Sunday begins Holy week where the Church remembers the last week in the early life of Jesus the Christ. While I will write about the various aspects of Holy week to include Passion or Palm Sunday, Holy or Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter but tonight a short meditation on the final week of this Lenten season.
I have discussed how this Lent has been different than previous observances of Lent. In the past I was constantly trying to observe certain spiritual disciplines to include fasting, abstinence and prayer in a formal and legalistic manner. Last year as I was “melting down” in my spiritual, psychological and physical life facing an existential crisis where after my tour in Iraq, experience of forsakenness, disillusionment concerning the Church, political institutions and the media and doubt about the existence of God I attempted to change the way that I observed Lent. For the most part that attempt was an abysmal failure, however out of it came an association with the Pastor and people of Saint James Episcopal Church in Portsmouth which has been a place where at least part of me began to experience community and healing again.
This Lenten season has been one filled with an experience of God’s grace and love as well as a connection to others that I have missed for a long time. It has been a time of continued healing, self discovery in the light of God’s grace and change in the way that I do life. Admittedly this has been a gradual process that began back during Advent but has become more a part of my life. The rediscovery of God’s grace in Jesus and a life in community with others has been a key factor in this experience. I certainly have not figured everything out, far be it, I am re-learning my faith and it has been a time of refreshment. Part of this is the experience of Christ in Scripture and sacred Tradition, but also in reason. As such it has been a time where I have been able to enunciate how my Christian faith addresses the trying times that we are living in often through the witness of men like Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Karl Barth.
One thing that Bonhoeffer said has a particular resonance in my life because it aptly describes how I feel. In prison Bonhoeffer wrote: “I often ask myself why a ‘Christian instinct’ often draws me more to the religionless people than to the religious, by which I don’t in the least mean with any evangelizing intention, but, I might almost say, ‘in brotherhood’. While I’m often reluctant to mention God by name to religious people – because that name somehow seems to me here not to ring true, and I feel myself to be slightly dishonest (it’s particularly bad when others start to talk in religious jargon; I then dry up almost completely and feel awkward and uncomfortable) – to people with no religion I can on occasion mention him by name quite calmly and as a matter of course.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer – Letters and Papers from Prison
In fact I find it easier on many occasions to have free flowing, intellectual, spiritual discussions with people who have a faith far different than mine than I do with many people in my own denomination. I am making no judgment on them as I have been the one going through a fundamental change in the way that I do life, theology and relationships.
As this has occurred I have rediscovered just how much God loves and cares for real people, as Bonhoeffer wrote:
“God loves human beings. God loves the world. Not an ideal human, but human beings as they are; not an ideal world, but the real world. What we find repulsive in their opposition to God, what we shrink back from with pain and hostility, namely, real human beings, the real world, this is for God the ground of unfathomable love.”
As I interact more with those “outside” the church I often find deep faith and integrity which sometimes I find to be more “real” than some of the Christians that I know. I am not saying that somehow the non-Christian is superior to the Christian but that God has also made them in his image and as such they are not the enemies of God. As Paul the Apostle wrote “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2nd Cor. 5:17-21 NRSV and “For to this end we toil and struggle, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.” 1 Tim. 4:10 NRSV
Likewise I also have found it harder to deal with people who spout religious jargon and throw out Bible verses without any sense of context, history and or concern for their hearers. It seems to me that many parts of American Christianity have substituted cultural and political issues for the preaching of the Gospel of life. I recently saw some posts by religious leaders on social networking sites, websites and media outlets that accused pro-life Democrats of “betraying their faith” by voting for the Health Care Bill. Now I am not thrilled with the bill and have major concerns about it. However, if I decide to accuse someone of “betraying their faith” I had better be sure that I am on solid ground and stick to what is in the Creed over a particular interpretation of any moral or social issue on which even Christians disagree. Saying this will win me no friends in certain parts of the Church but I wonder the utility of alienating people and in our condemnation of them ensure that they will turn off anything that we say about Jesus who despite what they (and we) do still loves humanity with an undying and passionate love that is demonstrated by his death on the Cross as Paul wrote “But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8 NRSV
In all of the turmoil that has embroiled the country I still find myself at peace because of what has happened to me over the past couple of years. Going to war and seeing the tragedy of a people engulfed in civil war has given me an appreciation of seeking peaceful dialogue with those that I have disagreement rather than attacking them at the center of their being. I believe the Gospel lived authentically and not wrapped in the incestuous embrace of venomous and often hate filled political ideologies which seems to be increasingly the case in United States is far more powerful than that of a political movement of any kind. The church surrenders its authority and legitimacy by allowing itself to be a party organ of any political party or ideology. Unfortunately simply because political parties and movements pay lip service to certain “Christian” values many Christians and churches lose themselves and endorse power for power sake hoping that the party will implement their beliefs. Unfortunately history proves that more often than not when their party returns to power it will again sell them short with no return for their support. The unintended consequence is that people who need the Gospel identify it with the political ideology of the party that the church supported. This was not the witness of the early church, the Apostles and those that followed them.
The mimicking of ideologues by Christians gives credence and support to violent people who under the cover of God have no problem with praying for the death of their opponents and in some cases taking the responsibility of that in their own hands. Should bloodshed arise out of this latest partisan political struggle the religious leaders who urged violence and prayed for death will have blood on their hands. Having been threatened with violence on this website by a supposedly “Christian” person I take a deeply personal interest in just how violent some Christians have become and with actions and violent threats against members of the House of Representatives I wonder what will happen when someone assassinates one of these men or women or a religious leader who dares to oppose them.
The alternative to this is to cry “NO!” to the calls for violence and judgment no matter from what side of the political or ideological spectrum that they emerge. The alternative is to in thought word and deed demonstrate the truth of the Gospel in love even to those that we have strong disagreement on very important issues.
Anyway I must close for the night.