Sunday, April 8, 2007


I wonder this day about the gift we know as hope. I've been pondering the notion that good Friday is more akin to a 'glass is half empty' kind of perspective than an Easter as a 'glass half full'. I guess one of the challenges that I'm often faced with is trying to use limited words and images to describe a profound and unlimited reality...God and hope. As we are so entrenched in our world and constantly aware of the deep brokenness that exists in and around everywhere we turn, how is it that we can speak of hope? Is hope some empty wish that helps us, for at least a moment, to escape the sober reality of today?

Recently I read an interesting twist on the notion of hope suggesting that life is not meant to be lived as constant happiness but confident sadness. I like this. I like this idea that hope is realistic by allowing the glass to remain half empty, void, but suggesting that it's not the totality of all that exists in the glass, perhaps even beyond the glass. It seems to me that the promise of Easter lies in the idea of looking at life, in all its brokenness, and still seeing it as worthy to be cared for, sustained, loved, held. What if the reality of hope was more about a place of knowingly being held by God than an attempt to hold on to God in all our sophisticated theological notions of God?

Jesus breaking free from the tomb maybe gives us a glimpse into the idea that nothing keeps God bound up, nothing ultimately keeps God held down. Perhaps the hope of Easter is not even my hope to begin with, as if it only belongs to me like my car or house or computer. That Jesus comes back again maybe speaks to the sense that humanity is never left behind and that in many ways, like a friend we never expected to see again, who shows up and around, we are brought to a place, a new place, of understanding, of being known and loved and held for the pure worth of who God says that we are, not for what we can achieve, but primarily because of who we are for God. Perhaps the hope of which we speak about in Easter is not really ours to begin with, but truly and deeply God's. It is God's Easter hope. Perhaps it is God's hope that we at times get glimpses to see, experience and sometimes even to know. And perhaps, it is enough to say that God's hope for humanity and all creation exists because God chooses to come back to us, to live with us and through us, and to hold us along our way. Maybe God's hope is embodied rather than described.

Dear Jesus, I'm not sure I understand this 'hope' thing, but I'm really trying. I'm beginning to get a sense that maybe you do and that somehow I'm supposed to be a part of it. Help me not so much to hold on to hope, as to learn to be grasped by it, in whatever way that may look, feel and be experienced in and through my life. Amen.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Good Friday

"Although many people suffer from physical and mental disabilities, and although there is a great amount of economic poverty, homelessness, and lack of basic human needs, the suffering of which I am most aware on a day-to-day basis is the suffering of the broken heart. Again and again, I see the immense pain of broken relationships between husbands and wives, parents and children, lovers, friends, and colleagues. In the Western world, the suffering that seems to be the most painful is that of feeling rejected, ignored, despised and left alone. In my own community, with many severely handicapped men and women, the greatest source of suffering is not the handicap itself, but the accompanying feelings of being useless, worthless, unappreciated, and unloved. It is much easier to accept the inability to speak, walk, or feed oneself than it is to accept the inability to be of special value to another person. We human beings can suffer immense deprivations with great steadfastness, but when we sense that we no longer have anything to offer to anyone, we quickly lose our grip on life." Life of the Beloved by Henri Nouwen

A night of darkness, emptiness, loneliness, death. That this night, in any way, is referenced as 'good' seems masochistic and down right barbaric. With theist theologies of substitutionary atonement, grotesque images from Mel Gibson's Passion supposedly lending greater credibility and purpose to his death just because it is more brutal, it is clear that we are driven to make meaning out of meaninglessness. What if the cross is just that, meaningless? What would that do to our entire theology of 'dying for a purpose'? What if there is no purpose? What if our attempts at arriving at a purpose say more about us than God?

'Oh, you mean, to die for the sins of the world? But doesn't God already do that before Jesus comes on the scene? Don't we hear about God's gift of forgiveness in Psalm 51, Jeremiah 31 and continual words from the prophets that what is acceptable to God is not sacrifices, but a contrite heart?'

Still, tonight I ponder and share in the emptiness of death with all those meaningless deaths out there for which there is no answer, for which there is no neat and tidy resolution to the dissonance of existence within this world. What of the hundreds of thousands of children dying this night of starvation and disease? What of the innocent joy-filled families whose lives are forever shattered by a bomb entering their living room? What of the over 600 young girls from Juarez, Mexico who never make it home to be reunited with loved ones and who only turn up brutally murdered and raped? Is there an answer for them? I suppose in each of these cases we could just demonize the perpetrators or justify their ends through our fancy intellectualized constructs like 'teleological ethics'. But in the end, it really is without meaning, that is, a meaning that really never satisfies, justifies or comforts.

So how do I make sense, myself, of my grandfather living all those years as a Jew, whose father Albert Stern, sent him away when he was 18 years of age with a special book, within which was inscribed, "To our dear son Alfred, as a keep sake. Use this prayer book to remind you of us. Stay a faithful Jew and be a good human being! Berleburg, on the day before your exodus. 5 February, 1939, your dear parents."

What am I to do with this? To hell with all your explanations and justifications! Emptiness and darkness is all there is and seems to be. While he never saw his parents or his sister again, and it was reported they were killed in the camps, he did meet up with his aunt and uncle years later who would sponsor he, his wife Grace and my mother Freda (Frieda) into America in the early 50's. And so I often think back on his life at this time of year, and wonder about his thoughts on death and life. I was never old enough to engage with him in any serious way before he died, but in some way, I actually do find some semblance of hope in the meaninglessness of death, because it is there, where one is alone, in the loud silence, that perhaps we, or maybe just I, am comforted by the idea, that I'm really not as alone as I'd like to believe that I am. There is one, a powerful, holy and humble One, who is willing 'to be' in the isolation of the fullness of humanity.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Holy Thursday

This Holy/Maundy Thursday the church mirrors the Jewish celebration of a rich history of remembrance. Through the pasach/passover, Exodus 12, one recalls the promises of a God who, through a meal, assures a people by promising them an end to their oppression and slavery. The meal, a common-unity, provides sustenance of life, holding on and being held, into a future that what God says will happen, does.

This same meal Jesus celebrated some 1,200 years later. Through a guy who wrote a book to some community of faith around 90 a.d., whose name happened to be John, we hear that Jesus, while sharing this passover meal, mandates (hence the word 'maundy') his disciples to a new of being in the world. What is that mandate? It is to love. Simple enough, huh? But what makes his mandate particularly interesting is the notion that he ties with it "a new commandment I give to you."

What do you mean Jesus? A new commandment? This isn't a new commandment, it's actually a reiterated commandment from Leviticus (an older book that lays out the laws of the Israelite people). What exactly makes it new?

Jesus speaks about loving as I have loved you. Jesus demonstrates this later in the story by washing his disciple's feet, an action typically done upon entry into a home by either oneself or the slave of the household. It was never done by the host! And so this night, I wonder what it means that Jesus' mandate is new in so far as it means that, initially, we don't learn to love, but rather learn to be loved. I'm often curious, which is easier, to love or be loved? My conclusion has been that what is easier is to love, in some sense, because it is on our own, albeit fractured, terms. While being loved creates an even more vulnerable position of having to be at the other's disposal and loved in the way that the other desires. The question still lingers in me...

Perhaps this night, a night that is Holy ('set apart') Thursday, we reflect together on these words..."a new commandment I give to you, that you love one another even as I have loved you."

Lord Jesus, help me to learn the depths of what it means to be loved by you, that someday, I might be able to reflect and extend some semblance of that love to others with generosity, without judgment, freely and joyously. Amen.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

A Sunday of Palms

Luke 19:28-40 Who's sustaining whom? What does Jesus choose to sustain him into his final week? The cheering of the crowds waving palms? No! He chooses a measley donkey. What good is a donkey? What president, in their good mind, flaunts their great power by driving around in a pinto rather than a limo? The donkey is the key animal that carries Messiah's to their destination communicating their humble leadership. The donkey points beyond itself of course to the one it supports...the one whose very life speaks about being sustained by such humble means.

What does it look like for a community of faith to be sustained through humble resources? What changes would begin to take place in the life of church if the privileged infrastructure were more identified with servant, rather than corporate or capitalist, leadership? My guess is that a lot would change and with that change, frankly, a lot of people would be pissed off, kicked off their high horse. The ways in which pastors pastor would change. The ways in which people in communities of faith engaged as church would change. How resources were chosen to be used and distributed would change. The hierarchies of institutional church would change.

So what change is it that precisely occurs? I suppose there are numerous others more articulate than myself who could provide some semblance of an adequate answer to this question. But where I am tonight, I wonder if this occurrence speaks of a new kind of economics, a kingdom of God economics. Now I realize we can't subscribe to a high and lofty ideal since we remain in the world and value those things in the world as created and used by God. We do celebrate the fact that 'earthly elements' play a significant role in God's salvation efforts, for after all, even a donkey is chosen, in some way, sacramentally. In the end perhaps, sustainability comes by realizing that our integral role, the waving of our palms, our fleeting and enthusiastic efforts, our misguided motivations, are deeply and profoundly replaced by another who's palms are waved, not for his own sake, but for the sake of those who suffer.