Is Holy Week more than observations of historical events?

As I reflect on the upcoming Holy Week, I wonder if the emphasis will be more on the “historical” perspective rather than the existential perspective of living out the events of Holy Week throughout our lives. There are several events held Holy Week but I will only examine three of them.

The first Holy Week event is the Stations of the Cross also known as The Way of the Cross. Is it only a reenactment of Jesus’ historical walk on the way to his crucifixion? Or do we celebrate that His walk of love is a journey of giving of ourselves to one another? Are we so trapped by the literal or the historical meaning of these theological acts that we cannot “imagine” beyond the events and experience the power of living them in our daily lives?

Is the meaning of Jesus’ Crucifixion trapped in his ancient death over many years ago? Or does the Crucifixion as way of life call us to “let go” or “put to death” our false self and offer our authentic self to each other? If we do not make room for the “other” can we truly encounter the “other” as “Thou”? If we do not “let go”, “make room” or “put to death” our imposed images of each other or our pre-conceived notions of life, we will miss the encounter with the “real”. Jesus’ crucifixion should bring to our consciousness the times when we choose power rather than partnership, when we choose certainty rather than the un-known, when we chose religious imposed dogma rather than each other and when we chose to shield ourselves rather than being vulnerable to the other. I am reminded of a quote that is thrown around but is rarely finished. The quote is “God is dead” but the rest of the quote is “and we have killed him”. How do we “kill God”? Do we kill God when we marginalize the poor as a “cause” we need to fix?   Do we kill God when we designate women as un-fit to lead in worship or sit on church boards? Do we kill God when we reduce the opposition to our cause as a “thing” to be hated and destroyed?

Now for the final act of Holy Week, the Resurrection. For some Christian the Resurrection is the only important event in Holy Week. Some live on the “other side” of the resurrection so there is no need to give meaning to anything prior to the “Good News”.   It seems to me that the Resurrection is often seen as a vindication, “proof” or evidence of God. Is the Resurrection more than a vindication that the Suffering Servant has been properly “put” in His place of authority? Is the Resurrection “physical proof” that God is God? Is a “miracle” evidence of God or is LOVE? Could it be that living our lives in response to love is the Resurrection? Or maybe the Resurrection is the moments when we “encounter” the divine? When the dignity of another human being is restored? When the poor are seen more than a label or cause? When women are seen more than a “baby factory”? When a homosexual is seen as a human not a sinner? Or when Mother earth is more than a resource?

O God of love, courage and freedom, may we “let go” of our false self and our pre-constructed lives so there is room to open our authentic selves in vulnerability and see the Divine in all of creation including each other.

A prayer @ the start of a new adventure

This post will not be the typical Karl’s Questions essay but a prayer written by the same author as the customary Socratic discourse.

This prayer was written for some friends of mine who were moving to New York to begin a new stage in their lives.  This young family was leaving their family and friends on the west coast and relocating themselves to not only a new state but also a new career and different environment.

O God, we stand in Your presence with those who are beginning their new adventure and we cannot help but come carrying various complex feelings of excitement, happiness, fear, concern and sadness.

In these times, we reach for security yet we only find Your loving presence.

In these times, we reach for answers, yet we only find Your listening heart.

In these times, we reach for assurance, yet we only find Your peaceful trust.

In these times, we hold tight to our pre-defined understanding of Your comfort, yet we only find You calling us to let go and experience Your unexpected and matchless strength.

In these times, we reach to receive from You, yet we only find Your joy in giving ourselves to You and each other.

O God, it is because of Your love, we stand before You with our vulnerability not asking for Your nearness because You are always with us instead we ask for the courage to open ourselves to Your life-affirming love.  For it is because of Your unwavering love and gentle courage, we can be Your loving presence to each other.

O God may Your loving presence be made “real” to those who embark on a new stage in life and may we be Your loving “arms and legs” to them and to others.

We ask in the name of Jesus.  Amen.

Is Christianity relevant anymore?

Has Christianity become nothing more than a manufacturer of creeds, doctrine-centric rhetoric or a defender of traditionally defined morals?  Has Christianity become nothing more than a narrowly defined interpretation of the sacred living scriptures?  Has Christianity been enslaved by the “minimizing and reductionist” paradigm?  In other words, can “life” be reduced to a couple of phrases trapped in ancient scriptures? Can the “divine” voice only be heard from a literal reading of the ancient literature of believers? Can “love” be defined by morals held by a declining group of people?

Has Christianity become nothing more than a creator of social programs for the needy?  Is Christianity just a producer of hospitals, orphanages, hospice centers, clinics, food pantries, and tutoring centers? Is Christianity more than a crusader of equality among all persons?  Is Christianity irrelevant when the marches against racism, sexism, heterosexism and all bigotry come to the end?  Is Christianity nothing more than a preparation for a “new world” that leaves us only responsible for ourselves and frees us from the care of this world and each other?  Has Christianity become nothing more than a gathering of like-minded people affirming our already convinced ideology whether progressive or traditional?

Christianity’s relevance is bigger than being a “doctrine factory” for our intellect although we need “touchstones” for speaking about our divine encounters.  Its relevance is bigger than cries of injustice for the “marginalized” found in our world although it seems we find it expedient to diminish each other’s dignity.  Christianity’s relevance is more than providing spiritual context to our lives and world although abandoning physical and emotional essentials for the supernatural experience empties it of its life-affirming gift.

Could it be that Christianity finds its relevance not in the “either/or” but in the “in-between”?  Could it be that Christianity’s relevance is found in both the life-affirming rituals and symbols and the abundant practice of compassion for each other?  Could it be that Christianity’s relevance is found in both the responsibility to each other and the freedom to rise above well-established rules and definitions?

Can Christianity live in the “existential abyss of the in-between”?  Can it existent in-between truth and evolving reality? How about in-between tradition and new-language?   How about in-between reason and experience?  How about in-between scripture and interpreter? Or to use New Testament language, Law and Love?

  “Religion declined not because it was refuted, but because it became irrelevant, dull, oppressive, insipid. When faith is completely replaced by creed, worship by discipline, love by habit; when the crisis of today is ignored because of the splendor of the past; when faith becomes an heirloom rather than a living fountain; when religion speaks only in the name of authority rather than with the voice of compassion- its message becomes meaningless.” -Abraham Joshua Heschel

When is a prayer not a prayer?

In May of this year, Representative Mendez of Tempe (AZ) led a prayer at the beginning of the daily session of the Arizona Legislature.  On the surface this might not sound like a big deal expect for the fact that Mr. Mendez is an atheist or as he says “from the secular humanist tradition.”  But the story does not end there; the following day Representative Smith of Maricopa (AZ) stood and declared that Mr. Mendez’s prayer was not a prayer at all and in fact Mr. Smith prayed a second prayer for repentance.  So when is a prayer not a prayer? Does a prayer require an invocation of a deity? If so, which deities are on the “approved” list?  I would speculate that Mr. Smith’s preferred deity would be the “conservative evangelical Christian God”, so would a prayer addressed to Yahweh, Allah, or maybe a Hindu deity be concerned a prayer?  Does a call to the common good or our “collective” humanity not count as an invocation? Or could it be that a call to our humanity might be too “close to home” and may require our responsibility towards those who are marginalized in our society.  Could it be that our invocation to a deity is nothing more than saying, we answer to a higher power and not the hunger, the “out-casted”, the mistreated, or the enslaved?

When is a prayer not a prayer? Maybe it is not whom we address but how we address that tells us when a prayer is not a prayer.  Does “bowing our heads and closing our eyes” make a prayer a prayer? What if we do not bow our heads and are asked to “look around and see each other as fellow humans working together for a better world” does that preclude it from being a prayer?

When is a prayer not a prayer? Did the quote by Carl Sagan disqualify it from being a prayer? Here is Sagan’s quote, “For small creatures such as we, the vastness is bearable only through love.”  Mr. Mendez goes on to say, “There is, in the political process, much to bear. In this room, let us cherish and celebrate our shared humanness, our shared capacity for reason and compassion, our shared love for the people of our state, for our Constitution and for our democracy- and let us root our policymaking process in these values that are relevant to all Arizonans regardless of religious belief or nonbelief. In gratitude and in love, in reason and in compassion, let us work together for a better Arizona.”  I say to Mr. Mendez, Amen!!!

 —Move beyond just tolerating each other and towards truly appreciating one another.


Does God have a Hero-Complex?

It seems inevitable that after a tragedy like a mass bombing, school shooting or someone shoots up a movie theater the articles entitled, “Where is God?” make headlines.  In these “probing” articles, you get the sense that God should have flown down from his lofty throne and scooped up children just before the bomb exploded or a ray of bullets violated their bodies.  When we ask this question, are we really searching for an objective proof of a deity or are we asking, “How do we find meaning is this horrible act”?  In a time of chaos and complexity, our tendency is to move towards our instinctual humanity and search for meaning.  In our search for meaning, why do we ask as if God can only be found as a “protector”? Is it our expectation that God’s role is to “grab our arm and pull us from danger”? But, are we really asking why God did not reach out and save our precious children from this unspeakable act of evil?  It seems as if God’s only reason for existence is to save helpless little ones from a short-lived life. And of course, that did not happen so we must conclude that God is not to be found. Yet I ask, can God only be found in acts of protectionism?   Is God trapped by our primal preoccupation to be safeguarded from the evils of our world?

Or maybe, God is less about guardianship and more about companionship.  Can God be found in the bravery of a man who runs towards the blast to aid the injured? Or in the courage of a police officer who confronts the madmen in order to bring them to justice?  Or in the boldness of a concerned citizen who calls “911” to report blood on his boat? Or in the determination of doctors and nurses who with great skill prevent the death of severely injured people?  Or could God be found in the hope it takes the injured to decide to amputate their leg and replace it with a prosthetic one? Maybe, God is discovered in turning the trauma of losing a child into a life-giving gift by donating her organs and creating a foundation to urge people to register to be an organ donor.  In our wanted pursuit to find God the hero, do we overlook the God of unrelenting love, unwavering courage, deepening strength and restoring presence or more simply stated, God with Us?

 —Move beyond just tolerating each other and towards truly appreciating one another.