Friday, April 18, 2003

Maundy Thursday: I am...

We are Judas, failing to understand, and betraying him by supposing that we ourselves can work out our own redemption.

We are Peter, swearing allegiance yet trying to prevent the very cleansing that makes us God's own. We skulk around in the torchlight and watch the rulers of this age condemn the One with whom we should have remained, at all costs

We are the Eleven, promising never to leave or forsake the only One who can and will keep that promise, and quickly diving into the shadows of the night when the time comes.

But we are also Mary, trusting in the promise of our Lord even when all hope has dissipated and left us in the dark.

We are Peter, who is forgiven and restored and given an apostleship that we will fulfill, not on the basis of prior repentance, ability and faithfulness, but rather on that of Jesus' deep and abiding love for us, and the power our Lord has to do anything through and in our lives.

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God On My Side

Or, Why Everyone Else Isn't Necessarily Going to Hell

God is on my side. I know, you see, because I prayed about it. I knew you’d disagree with me, too. The Bible says that anyone who tries to live righteously in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. So naturally if you give me a difficult time of things or disagree, you are a child of the devil. Or not “within God’s will.” Indeed, the Bible told me his will, and what more does a real Christian need? There are good or bad, worthy or unworthy people, and right or wrong beliefs. God loves the first and tolerates or even despises the second. I hear from people that there two sides: evil Afghanistan or guiltless America; evil Palestinians or divinely chosen Israel. I heard at church that Christians killed at the WTC hadn’t “heard from God” that morning. It’s enough to make me think twice about skipping morning prayers.

And yet...

Jesus characterized God as an equal opportunity lover: “He causes his rain to fall upon the righteous and unrighteous alike.” If this is true, the moral reasoning we credit to God is not his at all. It would seem he doesn’t categorize men and women according to simple ideas of good and bad as I do. Does he in some ways differentiate between those who obey and those who rebel? Yes. Do those differences determine his love for those men and women, or the whole of sinful humanity? No.

Christian theology (see Romans and John’s Gospel) holds that God loves all the people in the world so much that he expressed it in the death of Jesus Christ, in which he assumed the sinfulness of the entire world. Sinners are reconciled through Christ, and men and women can be called righteous (morally perfect) by virtue of his righteousness. This is what I’ve heard. But if grace is indeed God’s unmerited favor, and he insists upon justifying the unjust, then all disgraced men and women—oppressed and oppressors alike—are recipients of his unconditional love. If Christ crucified bore man’s burden as the godforsaken sinner and God raised him up, then each of the godforsaken has been brought near to God by this event.

If this is true, perhaps I’ve misunderstood some things and continue to do so. Perhaps the Risen Lord welcomes to himself the abused as well as their abusers: war hawks, pacifists, conservatives, liberals, fundamentalists, addicts, welfare moms, murderers, the wise, homosexuals, martyrs, thieves and everyone I (and society) seek to cleanly categorize as good or bad, worthy or unworthy of love and compassion. Perhaps the Master welcomes those we never would.

That admission does not come easily; people like to justify themselves by comparing their moral strengths and weaknesses to those of others. But if the Gospel is really good news, God does not honor such attitudes. He disagrees with them. Vehemently. Judge and you condemn yourself, says Paul. Judge and you will be judged by God, says Jesus. It would seem that my moral sensibilities often oppose God’s call to indiscriminate love. His judgments and mine are diametrically opposed.

Perhaps, then, the God who is for me is not necessarily on my side. If God loves indiscriminately, he certainly does not discriminate against men and women with respect to my shortsighted categories. Nor does he respect those of anyone else. Perhaps that’s why the Christ of God was so careful to say that a disciple’s deepest love should be reserved for his or her enemies. Perhaps instead of adopting our morality, God himself has a greater morality to which he calls us instead.

Tuesday, April 08, 2003

Of Street Preachers and Bad Religion

It must be springtime again, because a trio of sex-crazed religious fundamentalists has descended upon our campus again hurling hateful invective at us (three, including the former Georgetown student working the crowd). It’s generally the people who cannot cope with the challenges of their own sexuality who feel the need to denounce others for the wanton acts of carnality they may or may not be committing.

The older preacher has been showing up for the past several years sprouting fresh slurs against Greeks, fornicators, homosexuals, drunkards, pagans, liberals, and everyone in between for engaging in all manner of evils. These diatribes always seem to be a novel attraction to a number of students, but I must insist that the "gospel" these folks vomit out is not new, and it is not good news. Their sermons form an ugly caricature of Christianity, presenting their God as nothing but a small-minded accountant, doling out material blessings in exchange for moral behavior, and smiting his rebellious creations with sickness and destruction if they misstep.

St. Paul would beg to differ: he declares that while we were all separated from God and spiritually dead because of our mixed motives, sinful behavior, selfish living, and outright rebellion, Christ died for us. He offered himself for our redemption and in his resurrection, he made it possible that God might raise us from spiritual death now and physical death at the last day. The Christian Church is the Body of the Risen Christ—what Paul called the mystery of Christ in us. Christians are ordained as priests in God's kingdom by virtue of their baptism and equipped with the power of the Spirit to absorb the sins of men and women around them, forgiving and loving people deeply and authentically: God “has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Cor 3:6). This is the ministry of Jesus Christ in our midst.

The street preachers are not qualified to speak to us, because they do not love us. If they cared about our own experiences and perspectives and wished to commune with us by listening to us, then they might speak. But they will not, and so cannot. They flatter themselves in supposing that they can call us to repentance.

The Spirit, however, always calls us to convert to the love of Jesus Christ, the true religion of the Church. Convert with me. Let us bear an authentic witness to God’s love, standing against legalism, bigotry, and a culture of ungrace. We must dare to love creatively those folks who are not like us, who do not agree with us, and who fit nowhere into our neat social circles. If we would be open to the movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives we must dedicate ourselves to loving recklessly those we feel most justified in despising.

So I will repent, and deny a religion that seeks to bind folks up and choke them with the Word, instead of setting them free by it. I will say no to a religion that places the written rule above forgiveness and mercy. I will repent of the attitudes I hold toward people who irritate me. I will stop devaluing people. I will stop judging people according to my own standards. I will walk in grace and compassion. I will be a Christian.

Will you repent with me?

If the preacher men return, bear the witness of Jesus Christ the Compassionate One: refuse to curse, refuse to argue; these men aren’t listening to rebuttals, but wish only to anger us. Turn your back on quick judgments, and cold, calculating religion, and refuse to encourage their message. Walk away.

Christ have mercy.