We’re all Blind

“A Conversion,” by Martin Buber, was a difficult read. Within his writing, I struggle to discern exactly what his intention is with providing such a vague description of a moment in which he is having a rare experience with Mystery. He says at the start that “In the early years the ‘religious’ was for me the exception.” (Buber 84) However, what I believe we ultimately hear described is a conversion: Buber changes from one perspective to another. Where before Mystery was the exception, at the end of his work he says that, “I possess nothing but the everyday out of which I am never taken. The mystery is no longer disclosed, it has escaped or it has made its dwelling here where everything happens as it happens.” (Buber 84)

It is much easier to understand the difference between an “I-It” relationship (relating to another as an object, like viewing the world through the “arrogant eye” discussed previously) and an “I-Thou” relationship (relating to the other as a thou, like viewing the world through the “loving eye) when we examine it through the Raymond Carver’s “The Cathedral.” In the story, a man writes about his wife who has been friends with a blind man for around ten years. The man, this woman’s husband, doesn’t really want the blind man to come. To her husband, the blind man is summed up in his disability. At one point, while reflecting on the death of the blind man’s wife, he says, “And then to slip off into death, the blind man’s hand on her hand, his blind eyes streaming tears—I’m imagining now—her last thought maybe this: that he never even knew what she looked like, and she on an express to the grave.” (Carver 4) His understanding of the blind man is entirely constrained by the “It” of his blindness. He imagines how miserable the man’s wife must have been at not being seen by her husband, never considering all the ways we see each other without our eyes.

It isn’t until he sees the blind man as a thou that he begins to understand that this truly and fully a man, a person with depth and capacity similar to his own. After his wife fell asleep on the couch, they began watching a show together on cathedrals. At times where it wasn’t narrated, the man attempted to describe what he was seeing to the blind man. He says, “Something has occurred to me. Do you have any idea what a cathedral is? What they look like, that is? Do you follow me? If somebody says cathedral to you, do you have any notion what they’re talking about? Do you the difference between that and a Baptist church, say?” (Carver 10) The blind man answers in contexts that likely did not occur to the man: he speaks of the number of workers it took, the amount of years, the generations of investment. He shared that he understood that men would start a project knowing that they wouldn’t see it completed. Eventually, the blind man asks the man to draw a cathedral for him, and places his hand on the mans so that he might “see” what the man is drawing though the movements. This is really the point where the man truly begins to see the blind man as a thou. He put all his energy into trying to describe through these movements what a cathedral was.

At the very end, the blind man asked the man who was drawing to close his eyes, but to keep drawing. Finally, at the end, the blind man asks him to look at his drawing and tell him what he thinks. The man, now, is not quite ready to open his eyes. I think this is an expression of solidarity with the blind man, of really seeing the man in his wholeness. We witness the woman’s husband shift from viewing the blind man as an “it” to a “thou,” and the weird and beautiful things that can come out of that transition.

 

Works Cited

Buber, Martin. “A Conversion.” Meetings. London: Routledge, 2002. Excerpt.

Carver, Raymond. “Cathedral.” Carver, Raymond. Collected Stories. New York: Library of America, 2009. Short Story.

 

Advertisements

Being Beings and Discovering Mystery

John Shea’s essay, “Exceeding Darkness and Undeserved Light,” outline four different environments that we all share, best understood as “the basic contours of our existence.” (Shea 2) The environments are made up of the self, loved ones, society and institutions, and universe. Our experience as humans may appear to be summed up by our interactions with these four, but there is a fifth environment which encompasses these: Mystery. Our basic experience can be understood in having two points: ourselves and the environment we encounter (for instance, I (1) eat bread (2)).  When this interaction reveals a dimension of Mystery, we experience sacramental awareness (the addition of the third point). In the instance of eating bread, I might understand it to be not only bread but my personal participation in the account of Christ who gave his followers bread and told them it was his body, broken for them.

There are five primary ways Shea outlines as a means of becoming aware of the ultimate dimension of our experience as humans. First is contingency, “what Kazantzakis calls the luminous interval between two darknesses.” (Shea 13) Sometimes it looks like the gift of living fully and joyfully in the moment, amazed by the very experience of it all. At other times, it can be a reminder of how very fragile and finite out lives on this planet are. The second path is dialogue and communion. Through dialogue people discover who they are and in communion they discover a love and acceptance gifted to them by their community. The third path is collapse. “When order crumbles, Mystery rises.” (Shea 16) This is the falling apart of the beliefs or knowledge we clung to and our reaction to that loss. “A fourth path to Mystery leads through a deepened sense of the ambiguity of our moral activity.” (Shea) While we strive for moral ideals, we most often find ourselves falling substantially short.  Last is disenchantment. Well known throughout history, it refers to an awakening which ultimately calls us into a maturing religious consciousness.

When we read Pigeon Feathers, by John Updike, we see a boys journey to sacramental awareness. The main character, David, experiences these environments in such a way that he becomes disenchanted, one of the five paths mentioned by Shea. David has an encounter with Reverend Dobson over heaven when he didn’t answer David satisfactorily.  “His indignation at being betrayed, at seeing Christianity betrayed, had hardened him. The straight dirt road reflected his hardness.” (Updike 36) He searched and searched for truth, but he was lost in the darkness that can fall when one realizes there is a question but no answer. He saw his classmates and their ill-fated path towards imminent death and eventually lost his desire to read altogether. Although concerned, his parents resolved to give him a gun for his fifteenth birthday. We can see the “universe environment” and it’s influence on David as he practiced shooting, which put fear into his dog who he would sometimes comfort. “Giving this comfort to a degree returned comfort to him.” (Updike 43) Ultimately, David is asked to use his new skills to clear out the pigeons in the barn. Although he didn’t have a desire to, he did as he was asked. As he killed more and more pigeons, he enjoyed it more, feeling the power he held with his gun and his ability to predict the pigeons path. Yet it was when he went to bury them that Mystery entered into his world: “He had never seen a bird this close before. The feathers were more wonderful than dog’s hair… a pattern that flowed without error across the bird’s body. He lost himself in the geometrical tides…And across the surface of the infinitely adjusted yet somehow effortless mechanics of the feathers….no two alike… designs executed, it seemed, in a controlled rapture, with a joy that hung level in the air above and behind him.” (Updike 50) He was startled by the intention behind them and the fact that they were treated like pests. In this encounter, he rediscovered his God, “….that the God who had lavished such craft upon these worthless birds would not destroy His whole Creation by refusing to let David live forever.” (Updike 50)

References

Shea, John. “Exceeding Darkness and Undeserved Light.” Stories of God. Liguori, Missouri: Liguori Publications, 2006.

Updike, John. “Pigeon Feathers.” Olinger Stories. New York: Vintage Books, 1964. Short Story.

 

 

Wilfredo Choco De Jesús: Paying the Cost of Reconciliation (Catalyst Notes)

Wilfredo Choco De Jesús was one of Time’s 100 most influential people in 2013. The senior pastor at New Life Covenant Ministries in Chicago, he is a man not only of the Word but of action. He started his talk with Luke 19:10: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” This, he said, is why Jesus came. This is what we are called to: to seek and to save the lost.

How do we lead in a drifting culture dominated by fear? First, we must realize that nobody drifts towards holiness. Holiness is intentional. Therefore, a Church that offers transformation in a drifting world must be an engaged, purposeful, responsive Church. Prayer is not a crutch. It is the start of something, not the end of it. Revelation calls for a response. Understanding can wait, obedience to the revelation of God cannot. “When my Father says do something, I do it.”

Remember: God uses unusual people to do extraordinary things. It’s all over the Bible. Wilfredo De Jesús, also known as Pastor Choco, felt called to buy a farm and amazing things took place to make it happen through all sorts of crazy turns. That farm has, to date, rescued 625 girls and women from prostitution. There is a cost to reconciliation, but we, the Church, should be happy to pay it. He told a story of buying five prostitutes for one hour. They brought them to a place where they laid out a beautiful banquet. They spoke truth over them, that they weren’t born a prostitute and they were loved. Those women walked away from their path and, through the sacrifice and support of the church, ended up becoming leaders in the church. It’s just like in the parable of the lost sheep: the sheep is not rebuked for being lost, it is celebrated for being found.

Or the prodigal son. The son who basically told his father, “I don’t care about your status, I wish you were dead.” He demanded an inheritance he wasn’t even owed and his father gave it to him, sacrificing his status for him. Then that son leaves and squanders it all. Eventually he came to his senses and returns humbled. What does the dad do? He RUNS to the boy. Men didn’t run in the first century; children and women ran. But again, the father disregards status and runs to the son. He embraces and covers the boy, showing that his protection is over him. He gives him jewelry which is a symbol that tells the son and others that he has complete authority to negotiate on behalf of the father with the assets of the family. That’s some crazy sacrificial love.

Why is the older brother upset? Well, this was all at a cost to him, in his mind. The inheritance was rightfully his, and already the father had allowed his younger brother to squander half of it. Now, he was paying for this celebration as well as giving the prodigal son his status back. You see, someone always pays the cost of reconciliation. There’s a cost to bringing others to the table, to gather those that Christ calls us to. The question is, what are you willing to pay so others can be reconciled to God? Are you willing to stand in the gap?

Bryan Loritts: Multi-ethnic Cultural Engagement (Catalyst Notes)

Bryan Loritts is the Lead Pastor of Abundant Life Church in Silicon Valley, California, a published author and the President of the Kainos Movement. He began his time by stating that multi-ethnic cultural engagement is challenging but necessary. Consider I Corinthians 9:19-23, “or though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.” What Paul is talking about is contextualization: the gospel doesn’t change and isn’t open to interpretation but the delivery is. Without the gospel, contextualization is compromised.

Bryan helped to put together a book called Letters to a Birmingham Jail, which includes the entire letter from Dr. King to the churches in Birmingham. He laments the evangelical passivity. Bryan points out that all great examples of teaching and preaching that pastors learn in school are written by middle aged white men; where is their voice? And why is the church silent when deaths happen? The only thing worse than hatred is indifference; when we fail to grieve with those who grieve. Is that the Church that Christ called us to? Yet this is what happens when our relationships aren’t multicultural.

People begin to brew in their bitterness, he said. He referenced Ephesians 6:12, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places,” and challenges us in responding to each other this way. People, bitter over their experience with the church or white America, also fail to engage. At the least offense, they want to take their ball and go home. He said, “Thank God that he doesn’t judge and condemn us the way we do our white siblings!” It is harm on all sides.

There is a call in the Church for redemptive impatience. This is different than passive! It is patient and aggressive. When we look at revelations we see a diversity in the people in God’s presence. Bryan reminded everyone that if you have a problem with diversity, you’re going to have a problem with heaven. Paul knew that this wasn’t a vertical gospel, focused only on you and those like you looking towards God. We are called to love our neighbor as we love our self. To give this some context, in Jewish culture hate is detachment. Therefore, if you say you love God yet are indifferent to the suffering of your brothers you are missing the point. We are call into a community of the beloved, we a robust orthodoxy and orthopraxy.

Relational intentionality is important. Your sanctuary is your dinner table; you need to invite people in. You can’t ask of others what you aren’t doing yourself, you cannot lead people to where you aren’t. Therefore, multiethnic cultural engagement is important. Homogenous churches become racist because your biases become entrenched in your systems and structures. We need people with differences in perspective to keep this from happening. How do we know it isn’t happening in most of the church body? When people get shot our disparity of response tells us we are disconnected. If you don’t see your brother in their death, you don’t mourn, you don’t protest, you don’t seek justice.

Paul says, “I have become…” This is the discomfort of change, where you lay down your rights and your preferences for the other. Bryan says that black folk who are successful necessarily learn the “I have become…” but this is not a requirement of white folks. At no point are white people force, out of necessity, to become. It is worth remembering the ultimate I have become is Jesus Christ: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:5-11

Prayer: Adoration

Abba, my God, how good you are. I praise You because all that is good is of you, and you have saved me from my past. You breathe life into dead places. You restore that which mankind sees as irredeemable. You are life which flourishes. “But anyone who does not know love does not know God, for God is love.” How glad I am that my God is love, Lord, that you dwell in the midst of us and lavish us with your love and compassion! Thank You for being moved in spirit by your people and their pain; thank you for being the God who comes alongside of us in our loss. In times of lament, thank you for being the God who weeps with us! Yeshua, thank you for  being the resurrection and the life, for bringing hope to places of violence and darkness. Abba, praise be to you that you hear your son always, that you sent him so that we might believe. Ruach Ha-Kodesh, how good you are that you would be another parakletos, that you would bring wisdom and truth, that you would search the depths of Adonai and all creation, that you intercede for us with groans too deep for words. What love is this that we can know only through you? I pray that the holy communion between our triune God would be like the communion between you and me, Elohim, and may the truth of that communion exist between all of humanity. Amen.

Social Disability and the Trinity

Seeing disability through the lens of the social disability paradigm and the Trinitarian paradigm as opposed to the medical model of disability is critical in understanding what our role as Christians is within all of society, both personally and professionally. By understanding and applying what we learn, we are able to move towards a mature spirituality that reflects the Gospel more fully and enables a deeper relationship with God.

“The disability rights movement has identified the standard naturalized perception of disability in Western culture today as framed within a medical model of disability, which has pathologized unconventional bodies and has individualized disability as a personal tragedy.” (Tataryn, 19) This view of one’s embodiment as personal tragedy rather than the perspective of it being the natural outcome of living life causes society to view the person as incomplete or not fully human. This is exacerbated by an environment of hierarchies and competition; a race up the corporate ladder or an accumulation of prestige and respect in your personal life. In a society that values particular types of beauty, wealth and abundance, it necessarily creates a lower caste of people who disgust or struggle in poverty and with scarcity. This effectively disables groups of people, as described by the social disability paradigm.

“The social model of disability locates disability within society rather than in an individual… what we presume to identify objectively as impairment in a person may depend more on social factors than anatomical facts; we may be judging rather than simply observing.” (Tataryn, 19) In effect, it recognizes that what disables people isn’t often their embodiment as it is their exclusion from society and participating fully within it. This comes at a cost to all of society because we do not reap the benefits of the gifts given to every individual. Jesus was one who wanted to dismantle this hierarchy and he calls those who follow them to do the same. This can be exceedingly difficult when society teaches the opposite. “When you have been taught from an early age to be first, to win, and then suddenly you sense that you are being called by Jesus to go down the ladder and to share your life with those who have little culture, who are poor and marginalized, a real struggle breaks out within oneself.” (Vanier, 19)

A hierarchy within society that places those that do not conform at the bottom is best described as elitist; an accumulation of power and wealth in one group at a cost to another. They “win” at the cost of the rest of humanity suffering. “Elitism is the sickness of us all. We all want to be on the winning team. That is the heart of apartheid and every form of racism. The important thing is to become conscious of those forces in us and to work at being liberated from them and to discover that the worst enemy is inside our own hearts not outside.” (Vanier, 20) Embracing the trinity within the social disability paradigm encourages us all to relinquish our egos in order to engage within an inclusive community.

Jean Vanier, a man who did this in part by establishing communities where those disabled by society could have the freedom to live and grow together described the experience thusly: “And I come here to tell you how much life these people have given me, that they have an incredible gift to bring to our world, that they are a source of hope, peace and perhaps salvation for our wounded world, and that if we are open to them, if we welcome them, they give us life and lead us to Jesus and the good news.” (Vanier, 9) To experience this in our professional lives calls us to engage with all people, to consider the needs of all rather than most and to facilitate the growth and respect of every individual. Privately, this could look like being inclusive in those you invite to your home, who you develop friendships with, and how you raise your children to engage with others. Finally, from a spiritual perspective, this kind of engagement with others helps us to grow more mature and surrender our ego as we encounter the Trinity more fully.

In fact, by engaging with people different from ourselves, we encounter not only the person but the divine within them. “Those with whom Jesus identifies himself are regarded by society as misfits. And yet Jesus is that person who is hungry; Jesus is that woman who is confused and naked.” (Vanier, 25) We do not need to be at the top of the ladder or compete against one another to “win” at being Christian but rather, learn to value the differences of others without coming against it. “Just as Christ, the God-Human (theanthropos), has united the divine and the human, so now humanity, through love, can reconfigure that which has been seen as opposite and recognize difference without opposition.” (Tataryn, 64)

To take it even further, we should look at the people God chose above all others as his people. They were not chosen because they were physically or mentally superior, more faithful or purer. “Israel is the people of God not because of their own actions or merits, but by the graciousness of the Lord. In other words, it is a community called into being by the One who has loved Israel since before its birth. The Christian community is likewise a community that is called into being, not constituted by its own actions or decisions.” (Tataryn, 52) We exist, and our community exists, not by our own merits but due to a gracious God who calls us into deeper relationship with him through deeper relationship with each other.

Thus, the Trinity and the social disability paradigm reveal the call away from disabling, competing and subjugating one another and into a relationship with all creation at all times. By doing so, we understand the expansiveness of our family and the value of inclusiveness even at a cost of not putting ourselves first. “More and more people are becoming conscious that our God is not just a powerful Lord telling us to obey or be punished but our God is family. Our God is three persons in love with each other; our God is communion. And this beautiful and loving God is calling us as humans into this life of love.” (Vanier, 35)

Works Cited

Tataryn, Myroslaw & Truchan-Tataryn. Discovering Trinity in Disability: A Theology for Embracing Difference. United States of America: Novalis Publishing, 2013. Print.

Vanier, Jean. From Brokenness to Community. United States of America: Paulist Press, 1992. Print.

Thoughts on Communion

Holy Communion… One of the definitions of communion is “the sharing or exchanging of intimate thoughts and feelings, especially when the exchange is on a mental or spiritual level.” How much thought do you put into this tradition? More specifically, what do you think Jesus was trying to say during this dinner where he offered his bread and wine to his community?

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank from it. “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them. “Truly I tell you, I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” Mark 14:22-25

When I read these verses and think about the frame of mind Jesus had to be in, and what he must have been trying to say and teach in this experience, I believe that he had to be doing more than giving a ritual to remember him by. While we cannot, of course, understand fully any aspect of God, we can understand from scripture what Jesus must have been feeling in that moment.

Now one of the scribes had come up and heard their debate. Noticing how well Jesus had answered them, he asked Him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus replied, “This is the most important: ‘Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is One Lord, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.  The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.”  Mark 12:28-31

Because of these verses, I have to believe that Jesus does these things primarily for love of God and love of humanity rather than pure obedience to the Father. In his actions, he demonstrates the love for both. First, he gathers around him his disciples, the people whom he taught and loved during their time together. Here we remember that he is using the bread as a symbol for his body, and the wine as a symbol for his blood, the source of life for all living things.

First he thanks God for his “body” and then he breaks his “body” and gives it to them.  He says, “Take it, this is my body.”  He is figuratively breaking his body for his community, but soon it will literal. Then he thanks God for his “blood” and gives it to all of them to drink. He tells them that his blood will be poured out for many, but the life that blood represents? He again shares it with his community. He is symbolically showing them what will come pass… that out of love, he breaks his body and pours his blood out for others.

Of course, this has great implications for us. He does this for us, for his community. But what are we to understand from the ways in which he sacrificially loves us?

Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” Luke 9:23

Jesus didn’t come here just to die and be resurrected (although it’s a big deal and I am forever grateful for that). However, if such were the case, he could have done so without the teaching, the miracles, the lifetime of being fully human. The prophets foresaw what they did and Jesus fulfilled it so that he could show us how to live. To demonstrate that those who follow him do not put themselves first but rather, prioritize others. They deny themselves and carry the cross daily, a necessary attribute to follow him. This call isn’t new; we are to do what was at the heart of our covenant from the beginning. Jesus reminds us of this when he says:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. Matthew 5:17

Jesus lives a life that fulfills both the prophecies as well as the Law: a law of love. A law that is a call to mercy, forgiveness, repentance, relationship, and hope. A law that is good news for the poor. To be a person of humility and justice. Because we could not figure out what that looked like, he came to show us in person.

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8

I certainly do not want to discourage people from communion. I think it is a great tradition that is meant to recall to us not just the sacrifice made by Jesus but also to remind us of the life to which we have been called as followers of Christ. Instead of empty ritual I want to see people experience communion in such a way that their hearts are set on fire for God; that they are inspired by his example and moved to carry their cross daily.

Jean Vanier, an extraordinary man moved by God to have relationships with people who are outcasts in our time, reflects the character of Jesus who also came alongside those who were rejected by the rich, powerful and religious. Vanier created communities where people with various disabilities could live with one another while experiencing love, reedom and hope. Here is how he describes communion:

To be in communion means to be with someone and to discover that we actually belong together. Communion means accepting people just as they are, with all their limits and inner pain, but also with their gifts and their beauty and capacity to grow: to see the beauty inside of all the pain. To love someone is not first of all to do things for them, but to reveal to them their beauty and value, to say to them through our attitude: “You are beautiful. You are important. I trust you. You can trust yourself.”  Pg. 16, From Brokenness to Community